Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Set the Gospel Free - Staying in Love

Preached on Sunday, January 24, 2016

Scripture readings: Acts 10:1-23; John 15:9-17

There’s a kid I know who’s in the pep and marching bands at the University of Montana. A few days ago he posted, on Facebook, a video made by a girl who also plays in the band. She made a one-second-long video every day of 2015, and she put them all together to make a six-minute-long video of the year in her life.
Photos Taken Walking by Crab Creek, Grant County, WA
January 2016
The second-long segments fly into each other. There’s the campus, her dormitory room, her friends, the band, ducks in a pond, a farm that might be her home. And there is this one boy who must be her boyfriend because he is in almost half the segments. So if you watch her video I think you can pick out the one she loves.
I wonder if he will be the one. At least all the pictures show that she’s in the crazy first stages. It’s a thing you could call “first love”.
There’s a verse from The Book of Revelation in which the risen Jesus gave a message to one of his churches. It was a warning. “Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love. Remember the height from which you have fallen. Repent and do the things you did at first.” (Revelation 2:4-5)
There are things you do at first. There is this enormous happiness to be with the one you love, and you would like to be with them all the time, and you probably find ways of doing just that. My greatest love happened when I was a junior in college.
I was insane; but of course I was also a nineteen year old turning twenty. I was happy, and excited, and scared to death at the same time all the time.
As she and I sort of got used to being together we got more serious about what we shared about ourselves. I think things began to go wrong when I started giving her advice. She would tell me about difficult things and I would try to help her sort those things out. But I think that’s not why women talk to men.
I also think that’s not why God talks to us, but the more we are together with God, the more we try to give him advice and help him sort things out.
Things change after the first signs of love, yet knowing that other person in a whole new way might bring you back to your first love for that person. Knowing God in a new way, knowing what you never knew before, brings your love for God back to your first love, even if you seem to have known him all your life.
We don’t see usually God, but his presence wears a face that is better than any other face. We don’t usually hear God with our ears, but his voice holds a kind of wonder for us, like music. Everything makes you think of him, and you see him in everything.
You find that other people know that you love him, and some of them might be amused or even annoyed at you, and you don’t think you’ve said anything about it at all. My family apparently knew when I was in love, and I wasn’t aware of having told them at all, except that there was this girl.
With Jesus, there is this first love and there is a secret for keeping yourself in that first love. Jesus said, “Abide in my love. Remain in my love. Make your home in my love.” (John 15:9; RSV; NIV; “The Message”)
With Jesus, it’s easy to know what it means to abide, and to remain, and to make yourself at home in his love. I think it’s easy to know. What would you say it was? What does it mean to “abide”?
I would have said that prayer was the way to abide in Jesus and his love. But prayer could also be like the thermometer that measures the warmth of our love.
My girlfriend and I talked a lot, but it changed from our first love: or I changed. She wanted me to be willing to do nothing but listen, and I wanted to give her advice. In our first love with Jesus maybe our first lesson in prayer is to do nothing but say “I love you” and then listen; but we slack off and we forsake the prayer of first love.
The other ways of abiding in Jesus work out in similar patterns. In our first love with Jesus, the Bible is simply his wonderful voice. When we forsake our first love, the Bible becomes our textbook for sizing up what other people say, or for finding out what we’re supposed to think and do. It sounds very grown-up for us to read the Bible this way, and it even has a kind of passion; but not the passion of first love.
The worship that abides in our first love for Jesus is probably more like resting our head on his shoulder, or manfully shaking his hand. When we forsake our first love, worship becomes more about our style, and our preferences, and the quality of the performance.
The words of Jesus that we have read from the Gospel of John, this morning, surprised me with a way of abiding that I had never put together before. We abide in Jesus when we never hesitate to do what he said about other people. Jesus said, “Love one another, as I have loved you.” (John 15:12)
I clearly remember that, in the great revival of my first love with Jesus, I simply loved other Christians. I loved the other followers of Jesus and I didn’t question them. I simply enjoyed them.
I think I still do that. I am sort of afraid of people, because I am painfully shy and introverted. But I know (from having been in love) that love and fear can gladly go together. I think I gladly love other Christians at first sight, until they scare me in a way that is different from the fear of shyness. I don’t have to size them up.
Different experiences can make us forsake our first love with Jesus. We can learn caution that steals our passion. We can let other people teach us that, since such things as prayer, and the Bible, and worship, and fellowship with other Christians is a duty, that we must take them very seriously.
I remember a young couple I knew, and how we were walking together in the park. The girl put her arms around the boy’s neck from behind, and he grabbed up her legs in his arms and ran with her, piggy-back, across the park. They were in their first love.
Of course, as they have grown older, they might not do that anymore. But they might carry each other in different ways. They would do that for love, and they would love doing it. A love like that will bear much fruit. Their love would still be their first love.
Jesus is timeless. There is always that first love, in him, for us, as he holds all time in his heart. He has not forgotten his first love for you.
His first love is really always first. “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit: fruit that will abide (fruit that will not spoil).” (John 15:16)
In my first church there was a woman named Margaret. She was in her eighties and she had long been a widow, but her face lit up as she told me her first memory of the man she would marry. One day, when she was young, she was walking down the street, and there were two men leaning against a storefront and looking at her, and she heard one of them say to the other, “I’m gonna marry that girl.”
He chose her before she chose him, and she had a fruitful life that was full of love and sorrow, and love and thankfulness. It was fruit that did not spoil.
When Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this; that he lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13) This makes me think of Jesus and his cross. Dying for us is Jesus’ way of seeing us, loving us, choosing us, calling us, and empowering us. It’s why I am afraid to say “no” to him. It comes from my first love. It’s as if Jesus tattooed my name on his wrists by having nails driven into them.
This always puts me in mind of what the writer of the Letter to the Hebrews said, “Let us fix our eyes upon Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:2)
This focus on Jesus and his love is at the heart of true Christian prayer and all our abiding in him. Prayer always looks, and always sees love, and always returns that love. There are times when you don’t know how to do anything else. It may sound strange, but this is our first love for Jesus, and nothing should ever replace it.
With this first love you see Jesus in prayer, in the Bible, in worship, and in your brothers and sisters in Christ. Without this love nothing is quite right.
There are a couple of strange verses in the gospel of Matthew. They are about prayer, but mostly about the kind of prayer that deals with sin, and forgiveness, and our fellowship together. Jesus said this: “Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose (or set loose) on earth will be loosed in heaven.” (Matthew 18:18) This has to do with prayer for the forgiveness and the putting away of sin from the followers of Jesus, but it also hints at some things about all kinds of praying.
Prayer can set the gospel free. Prayer is for setting loose the kingdom of God. Prayer can empower Christians to do and be what they pray to be. It’s like the fruit that Jesus talks about; and the first love and the abiding that enable us to ask anything we want from the Father.
Here is what I would say about prayer and abiding and asking. When I first came to this place, I spent my first couple weeks abiding at Ruth and Cliff’s house. I think it was because they were so completely hospitable and gracious to me, as hosts, that I never thoroughly learned the contents of Ruth’s refrigerator and cupboards. Ruth and Cliff would wait upon me out of the abundance of their refrigerator and cupboards. So asking depended on what they knew, and not on what I knew.
Prayer is like that, even in your first love, and in your first love you don’t really care. Our asking depends on what the Father knows and not on what we know.
The Father can give you anything he wants, and you are in love so anything he wants makes you happy. When you abide in Jesus and keep abiding, then you learn what he has in his refrigerator and cupboards.
Jesus, in his love that’s always new, knows what you are inclined to ask for. But he also knows what’s best for you and me. You and I are still learning what’s best for us, and for others. In our first love for Jesus, we will never be afraid to ask, and we will never be afraid to learn, and we will also learn the best fruits that Jesus and his Father want to give us.
The Book of Acts is full of prayer. There is a lot of answered prayer, and there are a lot of places where God says “no”. He blocks the way. He makes people move. The prayer never stops; and the first love, in most of the people there, never stops.
If you look closely, you will see a continual element of surprise in prayer. People have no idea what their prayers mean, or where their prayers will take them.
In the tenth chapter of Acts you have different people, in different places, praying as usual, and the Lord interrupts them and tells to think about something else. The Lord tells them to do something that was never part of their plans or in their prayers.
The Lord said to Peter, “Simon (Simon was one of Peter’s many names), three men are looking for you. So get up and go downstairs. Do not hesitate to go with them, for I have sent them.”
The Lord interrupted Simon Peter’s prayers to tell him, first of all, what he ought to be praying about. Then the Lord told Simon Peter to do something that he never would have done. The Lord told him to visit and work with people he would never have chosen to work with. Peter didn’t hesitate because he was living in his first love.
When you ask the Lord to guide you and help you to grow and serve him, the Lord may tell you something on that order. The Lord may tell you to think and pray about something else. The Lord may make you change your plans or your expectations. The Lord may tell you to do something you didn’t want to do. The Lord may require you to love and work with people you thought you were free to not love and work with.
When you are abiding in your first love for Jesus, you do it.
If you want to talk about the power of prayer, that is the real power of prayer. It’s true that prayer changes things; but it takes the most powerful of all prayers to change you and me and how we live and work together.
That’s what we must be ready for, or else we have become too ready to give advice and not to take advice. We have become estranged from our first love.

God gives us this strange power for setting him loose only if we are willing to set God loose on us. We will receive this power only if we are willing to forgive, if we are willing to change, if we are willing to love others and put ourselves on the line for them, and if we are willing to abide in the heat of our first love for Jesus.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Set the Gospel Free - The New Thing

Preached on Sunday, January 17, 2016

Scripture readings: Isaiah 43:18-19; Luke 9:10-17

Some Scenes Around the Feather River and Live Oak CA
January 2016
If you hold the good news of Jesus in your heart; if you have died with Christ on the cross, and if you have risen to a new life through him; then you have it in you to be an evangelist. You see that everyone in the world around you is busy trying to be as happy as they can in a world where good news is hard to find, and you know that the good news of God, in Jesus, is the greatest news in the world.
You don’t have information for the world. You have good news.
I bet that when you got married, you shared it with others and made people smile. I bet that when you had a baby, you shared it with others and made people happy. I bet if you won the lottery, you would be afraid to share the news with others, because you’d be afraid of other people wanting your money. Besides, winning the lottery is the worst thing that happens to some people. Winning the lottery might not be good news.
When you have real good news, you share it. And you never worry about not doing it right, because it’s good news.
OK sharing good news doesn’t always get the joy across. But let’s not go into that. Life is complicated. But good news carries its own motivation with it, and you share it with others.
The good news of Jesus does something to you. It’s like a good virus and you are the carrier. My favorite Christian writer, C. S. Lewis, called the good news “The Good Infection”. (“Mere Christianity”, Book 4, Chapter 4) As a disease changes the body, the good infection is an event and a process that changes your life; and it is something to be shared.
There is a great verse in the Old Testament that describes this change. It’s from the Book of Isaiah, and Isaiah is sometimes called the gospel of the Old Testament. The verse tells us about how God speaks of his own good news. “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See! I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland.” (Isaiah 43:18-19)
I’m old enough now so that, in my younger days, I once knew people who (as children) crossed prairies and deserts in covered wagons. As children they learned how to read from the newspapers that were pasted over the walls of their homestead shacks to keep the wind from blowing through the cracks.
For those children it was an adventure, but I wonder how the adventure felt for their parents? Of course the parents were in search of good news, but it didn’t come easily.
There was risk and danger. The oxen, or mules, or horses pulling the wagons needed water. The parents and their children needed water, and that was hard to come by when you had wide prairies and deserts to cross, or to settle.
Here, in the part of the country where we live, the pioneers had the Columbia River, and they had Crab Creek to lead them a long way westward so that they could get to the river. There were, “streams in the wasteland”. That was good news and they would have shared it with anyone who needed to know. They would have shared it with anyone who might find themselves in this desert.
The word “evangelist” means any person who is dedicated to giving good news. The pioneers were all “streams in the desert” evangelists.
Thinking of the words of Isaiah, it isn’t that hard to learn what they mean about the good news that Jesus gives us. We “forget the past”.
Forgetting the past is good news only because of the acceptance and grace which we find because Jesus died for us and rose for us. It means that we can put behind us the brokenness of the past. We don’t have to live in that brokenness anymore. Jesus has died for our sins and he has risen to give us peace with God, and with others, and with ourselves.
We can learn to forget what we need to get past, because we have a new life ahead of us. We have new motivations. We have forgiveness, and the healing of our brokenness, and a new way of seeing life and the people around us. And so we live with “streams in the wasteland.”
When we find the streams in the wasteland we always find other people who have found the streams with us. The good news always includes other people. Nowhere in the Bible does God ever call anyone to follow him alone. Jesus called people to follow him and it always brought them together with a fellowship of disciples.
Even in the Bible, all those other people don’t act or talk like they are good news for each other. Look at their stories. They compete. They fight. They don’t seem “spiritual”, or kind, or patient, or faithful. The disciples didn’t always have faith in Jesus, and yet Jesus often talked to his disciples about the thing that they would share together, about the way that they would belong together:  that thing they would have to share together would be his church.
The word Jesus used for church could be translated as an assembly, and that word sounds as strange and formal to me as the word church. It makes me think of school assemblies.  Whatever we call it, it essentially means people who are called together for a common purpose, and it only exists and works when they really are together and work together.
Jesus insisted on calling people together, and he insisted that they know and act like they belonged to each other. “By this all men will know that you are my disciples; if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35) For all the trouble this has caused, the strange fact is that Jesus intended this weird and troublesome thing called the church to be his evangelist.
Jesus intended his church (the people he has called together) to be his method for all people knowing him. According to Jesus, all people will come to truly know him, as he truly is, because they first know that we are his disciples, and that all of us belong to each other in love. Or maybe they need to know that, because of Jesus, they belong to us in love.
If we will believe that Jesus intended us to be called to be his evangelists together, then we will see that something has gone wrong. The church often doesn’t look like a good evangelist. We haven’t done so well.
Some parts of the church seem to have done better than others. Some congregations have done better. Some of what we call “denominations” seem to have done much better than we have.
Some parts of the church and some congregations seem to shrink and die while the others grow. And yet all of the church, according to the Bible, is part of the message of Jesus. The church is part of the good news of the gospel. Much of the church has not shared its part in the message.
Sharing the good news is supposed to be our way of saying, “I love you,” so others can hear it. Sharing the good news is supposed to be our way of saying, “Jesus, I love you.” (We do it because we love him.)
Sharing the good news is supposed to be our way of saying to our neighbors (and to the whole world) “Jesus was willing to die for you and so am I.” The church was created to say, with one voice, not “I love you” but “We love you.”
We are surrounded by people whose lives would blossom in ways they could never imagine if they heard you say, “I love you.” Even more, their lives would bear new fruit if they could hear us all say it with one voice, “We love you. Jesus loves you.”
Family is a wonderful gift. A stable family is a rare gift. But there are families that do not know how to say “We love you” very well. Some families show the message “We love you” without being good at saying the words. Some families don’t even know how to show the message. There are families that do not show the life of a family very well.
There are also families that attract other people’s children. They attract other people’s children because they know how to say “We love you” in word and deed.” Those families are good news in a world that needs it.
Large parts of the church have buried their love of Jesus in fear or confusion about how to show it and tell it. They might be afraid of seeming pushy. They might be afraid having it come out wrong and sounding like, “We love your money” or “We love the kind of elder or teacher you would make for us.”
Some churches do share the message in ways that don’t sound very loving. They might even say “We will love you if you take our side” or “We will love you if you promise not to talk like a Democrat.”
There are so many ways of loving conditionally, and these can never show that we are the disciples of the one who loves everyone unconditionally. The people with whom we share the good news know this.
Sometimes we may have been hurt or slighted by people who say, “We love you in Jesus’ name.” I’ll bet you that we have all felt this before. I have met Christians who thought I was unsaved because I couldn’t possibly be a Christian and a Presbyterian at the same time.
A lot of issues can make us afraid. A lot of experiences can make it hard for us to share the good news of Jesus, even when that is the most precious gift of our lives.
But I do think this has an affect we may not be aware of. I do think that, if you hold your love in, it becomes harder and harder to share. If you practice holding good news in long enough, you will only be able to change by great courage and by faith in a power and a love that is greater than yours.
That is exactly what we believe in doing.
There was this enormous crowd that had seen Jesus and left everything in a hurry to follow him and listen to him. No one, in over five thousand people, thought of bringing food with them.
The disciples had done better. They had five small loaves of heavy barley bread, and two dried fish (when I was young I had a neighbor who made the best salmon jerky in the world). Even the disciples weren’t as well prepared as they would have liked to have been, just for themselves.
No one was prepared. No one had enough. Even the disciples (who had seen Jesus do wonderful things) didn’t understand what Jesus wanted them to do, and they couldn’t comprehend what Jesus could do. The gospels never show the disciples as people of great faith.
Jesus gave the crowd the good news of his loving care in the form of an impossible meal. The crowd probably didn’t know, at that time, what Jesus was doing. Jesus was doing the miracle of taking inadequate gifts, and a lack of preparation, and a lack of faith, and making them into love. Jesus is able to do this.
The disciples shared their inadequate gifts, and Jesus did great things with those gifts. The disciples had the joy of being at risk and taking part in a process that was ruled by Jesus who was not limited by their limitations.
Jesus is not limited by your limitations, or by the limitations of this congregation, or by the limitation of our relationships with other churches (for example, the thing called denominations). In that good sense, Jesus doesn’t care. Jesus isn’t limited.
There are people, who don’t know Jesus, and those people will look at us and focus on our limitations, but they don’t know this Jesus. There are even Christians who will look at us and focus on our limitations, but they have forgotten what they knew about this Jesus.
We can never complain about their forgetting, because we forget too. The disciples were always forgetting about what Jesus had done for them. That’s the story of us all.
There are people who may think that the Jesus of the Bible is not willing to be the Jesus of the Bible for us. But the Jesus of the Bible is the Jesus who is there for sinners and for doubters like the twelve disciples and like us. We are no worse sinners or doubters than anyone who was fed by Jesus that day.
Our first obligation is honesty. To have true faith we must let the word of God tell us who we are and how limited we are. Then we must let the word of God give us faith in this Jesus: the Lord of the Impossible.
Our love and our motivation will grow in the care of this Jesus. Jesus will give us impossible things to do, and we will find countless reasons and excuses for not doing those things. Faith has nothing to do with those reasons and excuses.
Only do this. Let Jesus do a new thing because he loves to do new things. Remember to let Jesus be all that he can be for you. That is the good news. That is what you will learn to share, in word and deed. That will make you, and me, and this church to be evangelists. We have this in us, because Jesus is there.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Set the Gospel Free - Why?

Preached on Sunday, January 10, 2016

Scripture readings: Isaiah 45:22-25; John 3:16-21

Vacation December 2015 - January 2016
Desert Aire/Mattawa, WA to Live Oak at the Feather River, CA
First of all, I want to tell you, whatever you do, don’t be frightened. Over the next eight Sundays, or so, we are going to talk about evangelism and we are even going to talk about doing evangelism ourselves; but, whatever you do, don’t be frightened.
Do you think that some people get scared by evangelism because evangelism is an “ism” and “isms” have caused so much trouble in this world?
The “evangel” in evangelism means good news. The good news that Christians know about is really all about Jesus. It’s about the good news that Jesus taught, and about the good news of who Jesus is. It’s the good news of what Jesus has done and continues to do.
We think of news as information and facts (or you might think of news as disinformation and distortion) but Jesus is about life and love. This is what we call grace; which is means a beautiful gift beautifully given.
The good news isn’t merely information about the great even of what God has done in Jesus. The good news actually brings the gracious event or makes the event possible in the lives of those who receive it.
It’s the gift of God becoming human for us and God dying for us and rising from the dead for us. In the story of the Bible this grace is God’s unconditional and life-transforming love. It’s a miraculous story that contains this love.
I can barely remember, one day long ago, sitting on the grass in our back yard and I was just old enough to have been learning how to talk. My mom was sitting with me and she said something like this: “Do you see this grass? God made the grass and God made you.” “Do you see these flowers?” (I remember that they were red and white carnations.) “God made the flowers, and God made you?” “Do you see the sky? God made the sky, and God made you?”
You see it was all good news. It was all about grace, and love, and life. I was being loved by my mom, and apparently I was also being loved by God.
Long ago I remember feeling the love of Jesus come inside me, and fill me with joy, while I was singing “Jesus Loves Me, This I Know” in Sunday School, when I was four. I remember praying with Billy Graham while I was watching him on television, when I was nine.
I was old enough, at the age of nine, to know I needed the grace of God to make up for what I couldn’t do and what I couldn’t be, on my own. That could sound as if I was lacking in a sense of self worth, and I was; but grace, and love, and life from Jesus was good news for a kid who needed that.
I loved Jesus. I have always loved Jesus, even when I was resisting him and trying to figure him out.
It’s hard for me to describe how I got deeply involved and almost trapped, in a kind of spiritual strangeness. I always loved Jesus, but I also had a few people who were close to me who believed in things like spiritualism (which means contacting and getting information from the spirit world) and in reincarnation (which means taking many lifetimes to achieve your own spiritual development and maturity, which is also called karma, which is the spiritual accounting of the good and bad that you do which either lifts you higher or sends you lower).
In the midst of this trap, I still loved Jesus. I still loved the fact that he died for my sins, and to give me grace for heaven, and for abundant life, but I tried to mix that deep love with my fascination with all these other strange things.
Someone asked me, recently, why I stopped believing in spiritualism and reincarnation. My truth is that I finally realized what it meant to trust that God deals with us through grace (through the cross, and through the resurrection) and not by just our own learning and achievement.
Spiritualism and reincarnation are, at their core, about works (or about what we do, and learn, and achieve on our own). They are not about grace. God came in Jesus to personally (and at a great cost to himself) deal with our lives through grace.
I found (by the time I was finishing high school) that I had to trust and hold onto Jesus alone. But I didn’t want the church, because the church had been, in so many ways, a negative influence in my life and in my faith. Of course the church had also been a positive influence, but it was complicated.
Then, when I was eighteen, my best friend Danny met Jesus and the Holy Spirit in a life-changing way. He started to talk to me about Jesus in a very cheerful and happy way that made me think, because I had been putting conditions on God’s love; telling him and his Son Jesus that I loved them with all my heart, only don’t make me do certain things that make me feel uncomfortable. I had developed a conditional love for the unconditional love of God.
Jesus and the Holy Spirit had sort of broken down the introspective shell of my friend Danny that had made us so much alike. Danny’s love for Jesus was peace and freedom. My love for Jesus was a very intimate and personal intellectual discussion.
Danny’s faith was evangelistic because it was full of good news: grace, love, and life. But I think that Danny must have remembered the weird stuff I had believed and had talked to him about in high school. I had never told him that I had stopped the weird stuff, and I had never told him why.
So Danny started basically sharing with me something called “The Four Spiritual Laws”. (The Four Spiritual Laws are about God having a wonderful plan for our life, and about how he had created us for a relationship with him and, how our sin had created a separation between us and him, and about how Jesus had broken through that separation by dying for our sins, and how we could receive that new relationship by faith.
Danny shared this with me more than once. I finally told him with real impatience: “Danny, I know all about that and I believe all of that.” If only he had asked me, “Dennis, do you love Jesus,” I would have said, “Yes, I love Jesus!”
Danny’s love for Jesus, and all the changes in his life (and he had always been a good person, but now he was good in an even better way), and all of his talk about Jesus was perfect evangelism for me. Danny’s evangelism got me to make one of the greatest surrenders in my life. That was good evangelism.
The four spiritual laws were not good evangelism for me (although I believe it can be very good evangelism for some people). But those four spiritual laws were not good evangelism for me, because that wasn’t my problem. Danny needed to deal with a place in my life where he didn’t know so much about me or my spiritual history, even though he was, and is, one of my closest friends.
Danny didn’t know what I needed because I hadn’t told him. I wonder if I will hear from him about this because I do send him my sermons.
Evangelism is good news, but it’s not a thing, and it’s not information, and it’s not a list of laws and rules that fit everybody. The good news of Jesus is always grace, love, and life, as it is needed.
The good news is always grace. It’s about a beautiful gift beautifully given in Jesus. What could be more beautiful than to know that the ultimate reality in the universe became one of us and died for us to give us a life of peace and fullness with him? There is nothing here to be afraid of.
At the beginning of the Book of Acts, when Jesus had risen from the dead, and before he went into the heavenly world, he told his followers this: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses.”
Simply being a witness is not completely a matter of knowing the facts and giving factual information. Even in a court of law, if you are a truthful witness, your witness can still be challenged on the basis of who you are and what your life has been.
Being a witness to Jesus is a matter of the power of the Holy Spirit changing you into a person of grace, and love, and fullness of life. You are to become not only a factual witness of reliable information, but a good witness. And there should be nothing about that to be afraid of.
Belonging to Jesus is to be in love with a message that is so much more than information, because that information gives everyone who receives it grace, and love, and life. The message is the one who loves us. The message is God in Jesus.
And if your job is to share by being like Jesus, in grace, and love, and life, then there is nothing to be afraid of. When was the last time you heard anyone being condemned for being too much like Jesus? OK, that can happen; but the more you are like Jesus the less you will be afraid of that.
In Isaiah we read these words about bearing witness: “They will say of me, ‘In the Lord, alone, are righteousness and strength.’” (Isaiah 45:24)
Righteousness means knowing what to do and what to say in order for the right things to come about. Righteousness means knowing what to say and do in order for good to come, Righteousness makes whatever you deal with to be the best that it can be. Righteousness carries the possibility of making good come from evil. Well, righteousness and strength (together) form the ability to make righteousness possible in the world.
“In the Lord, alone, are righteousness and strength.” This is about a living relationship. This is about who the Lord is. It is also about what the Lord can give to those who belong to him.
There is a passage in one of the novels of George MacDonald that says this: “The power of God is put side by side with the weakness of men, not that He, the perfect, may glory over his feeble children…but that He may say thus: “Look my children, you will never be strong but with my strength. I have no other to give you.” (“Annals of a Quiet Neighborhood”, Chapter 28) “In the Lord, alone, are righteousness and strength.”
We are afraid of evangelism when we believe that it is about fear and hell. But it is hell to find out that you are not what you have thought you are. It is hell to have stopped being righteous and strong. It is hell when your light has gone, and you are living in the dark. It is hell to find that you have been blind to the truth, and even that you have been hiding from it.
Even the truth is not about information alone. Truth, as a part of God, is twice as true as any fact. Have you ever had anyone tell you the facts in such a way that it wounded you and made it hard for you to grow stronger and better?
A friend will be true in a different and better way. A friend will search for the wisdom to give you the truth in a way that will protect, and nurture, and strengthen you, and make new things possible for you. We mean this when we use the old phrase about being “true-blue”. God’s truth is friendship and love and faithfulness toward us, even to the point of death on the cross. Other religions miss the perfect truth because they lack the grace, love, and life that are only found with the God who came in Jesus.
The first time I almost drowned (when I was eight years old) I didn’t think I needed to be rescued. I got really mad at the kid who saved me, and I told him off. I yelled at him.
I know now that he was only trying to help, and I know that I looked like I needed help. I hope I didn’t make him afraid of saving other people. If he ever told anyone about how I had yelled at him for saving me, I hope that there was someone who was wise enough to encourage him to never, never be afraid of doing it again and again and again (bringing good news again and again and again), if it needed to be done.
Never be afraid of this. Never be too cautious.
Does knowing this love make you a different person? Does your new life in Jesus give you a message that is so much more than information, because it is grace, and love, and life? And, if you know this love, then you know that God’s love is not only about heaven. You know that it is just as much about life now. Eternal life in Jesus always begins now.
In Jesus, heaven comes down to earth for you, here and now. That is the truth. No one does this better than Jesus.
The Lord’s Supper tells us not to be afraid, because it tells us that Jesus can manage to come to us in tastes of bread and grape juice or wine. The bread and the wine tell us that Jesus can use any thing and any one. Jesus can live in anyone who is willing to be lived in by. If you let Jesus live in you then you will be able to live for him.
Evangelism is not about getting a decision based on information. It’s about feeding the real hunger and quenching the real thirst of others so that they want to eat and drink like never before, and live.

Find their hunger. Find their thirst. Be willing to be bread and drink for them. Be a holy meal for them, so that they are not afraid to see Jesus through you and find grace, and love, and life. Jesus and the Holy Spirit will do the rest. There is nothing to be afraid of.