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.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for this. I came to Christ through a pamphlet left on my windshield at work, one you also know as the Four Spiritual Laws. There were no explosions after I said the prayer at the end, but I knew something had changed inside me; something was different. Evangelism is another subject. A sense of failure comes to mind. A feeling I failed to reach those most important to me with the gospel message. I appeared to fumble every attempt. Of course you might say we never fully know the impact of our Christian witness, but that was the final effect on me. Evangelism makes me nervous, so I'll be watching this series with interest!