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Sunday, March 27, 2011

Obstacles to Sharing

1 Corinthians 2:1-13

Matthew 10:16-20

1 Corinthians 2:1-13 When I came to you, brothers and sisters, I did not come proclaiming the mystery of God to you in lofty words or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified. And I came to you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling. My speech and my proclamation were not with plausible words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might rest not on human wisdom but on the power of God.

Yet among the mature we do speak wisdom, though it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to perish. But we speak God’s wisdom, secret and hidden, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. None of the rulers of this age understood this; for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. But, as it is written,
‘What no eye has seen, nor ear heard,
nor the human heart conceived,
what God has prepared for those who love him’ —
these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For what human being knows what is truly human except the human spirit that is within? So also no one comprehends what is truly God’s except the Spirit of God. Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit that is from God, so that we may understand the gifts bestowed on us by God. And we speak of these things in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual things to those who are spiritual.

Matthew 10:16-20 ‘See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Beware of them, for they will hand you over to councils and flog you in their synagogues; and you will be dragged before governors and kings because of me, as a testimony to them and the Gentiles. When they hand you over, do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say; for what you are to say will be given to you at that time; for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.

The last two weeks we’ve been talking about how we can do a better job sharing our faith in Christ with the people around us. First we talked about how we needed to be intentional and deliberate about that sharing, first because we are stewards of the greatest news in the history of the world, and second because God has chosen us to be the bearers of that word to others. Last week we talked about boiling down the good news to its essence, and I proposed a sentence from the Baptist preacher Will Campbell: We’re all (jerks) but God loves us anyway. This week I want us to confess that we really stink, for the most part, at telling other people the good news about Jesus. So let’s look at someone in the Bible who was the least likely candidate for sharing the good news, and how he became the greatest evangelist in history: St. Paul.

All we know about St. Paul is the little bit he says about himself in his letters in the New Testament, and stories about him in the book of Acts. He was probably about ten years younger than Jesus, and was raised in the city of Tarsus, which is on the south-eastern coast of Turkey. Tarsus was a Roman city, so being born there conferred Roman citizenship, but Paul – whose Hebrew name was Saul – was the son of a Pharisaic Jew. The young Saul also became a Pharisee – which was a kind of back-to-the-Bible denomination within first century Judaism. Pharisees were reformers who were trying to restore faithfulness to Jewish law. In other words, they were fundamentalists.

When some Jews in Israel began to proclaim that an executed carpenter from Nazareth had been resurrected from the dead and was the long-hoped for Messiah, Saul became part of a group who hunted down these heretics and used violence to try to force them to change their ways. Saul is present for the stoning of the first Christian martyr, Stephen, and it is not beyond the realm of possibility that Saul even killed Christians himself.

It’s also clear that Saul was not a compelling speaker. Once, when he was preaching, a young man named Eutychus went to sleep and fell out of a second story window. Paul admitted that other early apostles were better preachers than he, and some scholars believe the famous “thorn in the flesh” he wrote about might have been a speech impediment. He was stubborn, opinionated, and arrogant. He had no problems telling people who didn’t agree with him to go home, and could stand up to Peter and the other original disciples without batting an eye. I suspect that Paul moved around a lot because frankly, he wasn’t the greatest houseguest.

But on the road to Damascus to hunt down Christians, the resurrected Jesus appeared to him, blinded him, and told him to go into Damascus and find a man who would heal him. Stunned, the blind Saul found his healer, confessed his faith in Jesus, and was baptized. The he went into the desert for three years to pray. When he came back, he had changed his name to Paul, declared to the original disciples that he, too, had spent three years learning from Jesus, and that they were wrong about only sharing Jesus with other Jews. Jesus had chosen him, he said, to share the story of Jesus with Gentiles – non-Jews. Peter and James, he said, were wrong – people didn’t have to become Jewish to become Christian. And off he went to change the world. You and I and almost every Christian for the last two thousand years is a believer because of this violent, stubborn, arrogant, lousy preacher from Tarsus.

If God could use such a person to spread the good news – not to mention liars like Abraham or cheats like Jacob and Rebecca or snotty brats like Joseph or adulterers like David or cowards like Peter – then you and I aren’t off the hook. In this morning’s first lesson, Paul gives us the key to what made his sharing of the gospel successful. Open your Bibles to 1 Corinthians 2 and look at this with me.

First, Paul says, he did not come sharing the gospel with lofty words or wisdom. That’s the number one excuse Christians give for not sharing their faith with their friends and family: they just don’t really know enough about the Bible or about obscure theological issues to answer questions from others. Last year I discovered in an antique store, entirely by accident, a pristine copy of a famous 1920 book by the great Methodist evangelist E. Stanley Jones: The Christ of the Indian Road. Stanley Jones said that when he got to India in the early years of the 20th Century, he was dismayed to discover that Indian people wanted nothing to do with Christianity or the Christian church. Christians, after all, were the people who had been killing and enslaving and subjugating them in the form of the British Empire for hundreds of years. Jones could make no headway trying to convert Indians to Christianity. But, he discovered, people were absolutely fascinated with Jesus. So Stanley Jones gave up trying to spread Christianity – he just told people about Jesus, because they wanted to follow him.

We’re in exactly the same place today. Thanks to the Westboro Baptist Church and financial and sexual scandals in churches everywhere, people aren’t interested in church and in Christianity. But virtually every person who says they don’t believe in organized religion (to whom I say, then come to our church – we’re pretty disorganized) says they really like Jesus. Now look at what Paul says about how he came to introduce the gospel in Corinth: When I came to you, brothers and sisters, I did not come proclaiming the mystery of God to you in lofty words or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified. That’s the message. Not why God allowed some awful thing to happen in their lives – the answer, by the way, is I don’t know, but I’m so, so sorry. Tell me about that. The heart of the gospel is that God has entered forever into the life and suffering and death of humankind, and when you and I weep with people in pain, then they discover in us the presence of love in the midst of their own crucifixions. Tell people about a God who knows what it’s like to lose his son – that that’s the God you believe in. Don’t use lofty words and wisdom – tell people about Jesus, and about his death.

Second, Paul says I came to you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling. Paul, who was as arrogant and belligerent as they come, came to Corinth confessing his faults. Paul became transparent, so God could shine through Paul’s weaknesses. I am no Paul, but I realized some time ago that perhaps the most important thing I ever do as your pastor is show you how to be wrong right. I make lots of mistakes. And when I say, I don’t know, or I did that badly, or I was wrong, please forgive me, I model for you that life goes on pretty well despite all our mistakes; that God loves us in all our imperfection; that the community of faith is a place where we can be wrong and be forgiven. Nothing turns unbelievers off more than Christians who have all the answers, or whose lives are perfect, or who never know how to ask for help or for forgiveness. Unbelievers don’t want any part of that kind of Christianity, and, frankly, neither do I. If the church is a museum for saints, I don’t belong. I need a hospital for sinners – and so does the rest of the world. So, don’t say my life is far from perfect, so I really can’t talk to anybody about my faith. As Paul says in 2 Corinthians, when we are honest about our own fears and faults and failings, then God’s strength can shine through us.

Third, Paul says, we speak of these things in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit. On our own, we can’t share the gospel. God designed it that way. On our own, all we do is share ourselves. That’s why there can be no genuine communication of faith in Christ except by the power of the Holy Spirit. If you say, I just don’t have it in me to talk to other people about Jesus, you’re exactly right. Only the Holy Spirit can give you that power, that courage, and those words. In the Gospel lesson this morning, there’s only one circumstance in the entire Bible when Jesus guarantees us the presence of the Holy Spirit to speak: when we are called to testify to Jesus. So, start praying for the Holy Spirit to direct you, and to speak through you with words and love and actions that are beyond your own abilities. I promise you, God wants to use you as a vessel of the Holy Spirit. But God wants us to cooperate. So, as you pray for the five people God wants you to share your faith with, ask God’s Holy Spirit to speak through you beyond your own courage and words and ability. And you will be amazed at what God through you.

· It’s not about us – it’s about Jesus, and Jesus crucified.

· Be transparent about your weaknesses, so God can shine through.

· You can’t do this on your own – but the Holy Spirit will speak through you, if you’ll just let him.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

What’s the Good News?

Luke 14:14-21

Ephesians 2:11-22

Ephesians 2:11-22 So then, remember that at one time you Gentiles by birth, called ‘the uncircumcision’ by those who are called ‘the circumcision’—a physical circumcision made in the flesh by human hands— remember that you were at that time without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, so that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it. So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling-place for God.

Luke 14:12-24 He said also to the one who had invited him, ‘When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbours, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.’

One of the dinner guests, on hearing this, said to him, ‘Blessed is anyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!’ Then Jesus said to him, ‘Someone gave a great dinner and invited many. At the time for the dinner he sent his slave to say to those who had been invited, “Come; for everything is ready now.” But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said to him, “I have bought a piece of land, and I must go out and see it; please accept my apologies.” Another said, “I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I am going to try them out; please accept my apologies.” Another said, “I have just been married, and therefore I cannot come.” So the slave returned and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and said to his slave, “Go out at once into the streets and lanes of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame.” And the slave said, “Sir, what you ordered has been done, and there is still room.” Then the master said to the slave, “Go out into the roads and lanes, and compel people to come in, so that my house may be filled. For I tell you, none of those who were invited will taste my dinner.” ’

In the spring of 1965, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., issued a call to Christian students and seminarians to come to Selma, Alabama, to participate in the civil rights march from Selma to the state capital at Montgomery, and then to work with poor blacks throughout the south to help register them to vote, to tutor children, and to help build bridges across the deep racial divisions in this country. One of the seminarians who answered Dr. King’s call was a graduate of Virginia Military Institute, Jonathan Daniels, who was a student at Episcopal Theological School in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Also active in the civil rights movement was a white Southern Baptist minister from Tennessee named Will Campbell. One night in August of 1965, Preacher Will was having dinner with his brother Joe and with an atheist publisher friend named P.D. East. P.D. loved to antagonize Will about his faith in Christ, and once challenged Will to sum up the message of Christianity in ten words or less. If it really means something important, P.D. insisted, you should be able to narrow it down to ten words. After a long while, Will gave his answer: “We’re all (jerks) but God loves us anyhow.” Now, Will, who is still alive and in his late eighties, used a much saltier work than jerks – but let’s use that word this morning.

As Will and P.D. and Joe sat around after dinner sharing beverages, the phone rang. Will answered the phone, and, after a few minutes, came back to the table in a rage. Jonathan Daniels had just been released from jail with a group of white and black civil rights picketers, and had gone with a few of them to a local store to get some soft drinks. They were met by an off-duty sheriff’s deputy named Thomas Coleman, who pointed his shotgun at one of the teenage girls. Jonathan Daniels pushed her to the ground and caught the full force of Coleman’s shotgun blast, dying instantly. A Roman Catholic priest grabbed another teenager and ran, but was wounded in the back by Coleman’s second shot.

Will Campbell was stunned and furious. He let loose a long string of curses at the deputy who had killed the young seminarian just trying to buy some soft drinks. The atheist P.D. East pounced on Will: Let’s see, Brother Will, whether your definition of Christianity holds up or not. Jonathan Daniels, was he a (jerk)? Campbell answered that Jon Daniels was one of the gentlest and most loving people he’d ever met, and didn’t deserve to die shot by a redneck Alabama sheriff’s deputy. P.D. waved him off: Was Jonathan Daniels a jerk or not? Will gritted his teeth and admitted that even Jon Daniels had probably committed a sin or two in his life. Now, what about Thomas Coleman? Is he a jerk? That, Will said, was a lot easier. Yes, he was a lowdown murdering racist jerk of the first order. Now P.D. closed in for the kill. So, Jonathan Daniels was a jerk, and Thomas Coleman is a jerk. Now, tell me, Preacher, which of those two jerks does your precious Mister Jesus love more?

Will said that as he sat there on that hot August night, suddenly everything became clear for him. All his years of going to church and Sunday School as a little boy, all his college and seminary training, all the theological arguments he had fought and the sermons he had preached and Bible studies he had taught fell away like scales from his eyes. The atheist small town newspaper publisher had shown him the heart of the gospel as he had never known it: Jesus had loved and died for Thomas Coleman every bit as much as he had died for Jonathan Daniels. Jonathan and Thomas were Jesus’ brothers, whether they knew it or not. They were both God’s beloved sons, whether they lived it or not. In God, there was no difference between Thomas and Jonathan. It was all clear as day now.

P.D., Will said, tears streaming down his face, I think I’m going to have to amend my definition. “Go ahead,” P.D. replied, “you’ve got a few words left.” We’re all jerks, and God loves us anyway, but you’re the biggest jerk of them all. Tonight you’ve made a Christian out of me, and it’s about to kill me.[1]

As we think in our Lenten series, with prayer and fasting, about sharing the Good News with our neighbors, we need to be clear about what that Good News is. Have you ever played the group game called, variously, gossip or telephone? You take a large group of people and sit them in a circle. You then whisper in the first person’s ear a somewhat complicated sentence. They turn and repeat it to the person next to them, and so forth around the circle. What happens twenty persons later, when it gets back to the head of the circle? Often, it’s completely unrecognizable. Imagine what twenty centuries of repeating the Good News of Jesus around the circle of the world has done. Ask people to define Christian faith in one sentence, and see what you get. If you’re lucky, you might get John 3:16 – For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not die, but have eternal life. But more often you’re going to get something like the United Methodist church sign I saw Friday: Change begins within, with a little help from above. Or God helps those who help themselves. Or, Just do the best you can, and leave the rest to God. Or, accept Jesus into your heart as your personal Lord and Savior.

The writer to the Ephesians understood that in Jesus, God had done something earthshaking. God had come to earth, to become a flesh and blood human being, just like you and me. God had been born, had lived and eaten and drank and laughed and cried just like you and me. And he had suffered, been humiliated and rejected, and had died. That meant that the insurmountable wall between God and human beings, between heaven and earth, between life and death, between hope and despair, between love and hate had been broken down forever. And if God had become human, then all the walls human beings build between each other had come tumbling down as well. When Jesus rose from the dead, it meant that God’s love was stronger than anything human beings could through at it, and would last forever. This was the Great Good News: that all the separations we create between God and ourselves, and between each other, had been bridged by the love of God. Now, not even death could divide us from God, or from each other. We are members of God’s family together and residents in God’s family home.

Jesus talked about that new family in the parable of the banquet. God had sent his servants out to turn over every rock to invite people to come to the great feast. Everyone was invited to the table, and the only people absent were the ones who thought there was anything else more important. God had broken down the divisions – all are invited. The only divisions that remained were those illusions maintained by people who thought that race, or nationality, or money, or politics, or anything else trumped the invitation to join the family at table.

Now, what’s so good about that news is that we’re not brought into the family and invited to the table because of something we’ve done, or because of something we haven’t done – like whatever unforgiveable sin you want to name. We are united with God and with each other because of what God has done by becoming human in Jesus and by triumphing over sin and hate and death. The good news is that if we’ll stop building fences, or pretending like children in the back seat of the car that there’s an imaginary line down the seat that can’t be crossed, then we can experience what it means to be part of an eternal family living out God’s love.

Jonathan Daniels knew Jesus Christ had broken down the walls between him and poor black people in the south, and he died because Thomas Coleman wanted to keep the fences up. What’s the Good News that the world is dying, literally, to hear?

We’re all jerks, and there’s absolutely nothing we can do about it. But God loves us anyhow, and there’s absolutely nothing we can do about that, either.

That’s really, really good news. Go tell someone.

[1] Campbell, Will D., Brother to a Dragonfly, Seabury Press, 1977

Monday, March 14, 2011

Sharing Jesus With Our Neighbors: Why We Need to be Intentional


Matthew 9:35-38

Romans 10:1-17

Romans 10:1-17 Brothers and sisters, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved. I can testify that they have a zeal for God, but it is not enlightened. For, being ignorant of the righteousness that comes from God, and seeking to establish their own, they have not submitted to God’s righteousness. For Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.

Moses writes concerning the righteousness that comes from the law, that ‘the person who does these things will live by them.’ But the righteousness that comes from faith says, ‘Do not say in your heart, “Who will ascend into heaven?” ’ (that is, to bring Christ down) ‘or “Who will descend into the abyss?” ’ (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say? 
‘The word is near you,
on your lips and in your heart’
(that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved. The scripture says, ‘No one who believes in him will be put to shame.’ For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him. For, ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’

But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him? And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!’ But not all have obeyed the good news; for Isaiah says, ‘Lord, who has believed our message?’ So faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the word of Christ.

Matthew 9:35-38 Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.’

Keith Boyette is the pastor of Wilderness Community United Methodist Church, west of Fredericksburg. Keith was a lawyer who experienced the transforming power of Jesus Christ in his life, and left a lucrative law career to become a United Methodist pastor. Eleven years ago Keith was the founding pastor of Wilderness Church, and I got to know him as his District Superintendent as he grew the congregation and built their church building on Rt. 3. Keith has a great passion for unchurched people to know the love and grace of Jesus in their lives.

Four years ago, Keith went to the microphone at Annual Conference after the Conference Statistician read the dismal news of the continuing decline in membership of United Methodist churches in Virginia. Keith moved that the Conference design a plan to build 250 new faith communities in Virginia in the next thirty years. Keith’s motion was adopted, and we’ve been trying to figure out what to do with it ever since.

For the next five weeks I want us to talk in some very specific ways about how you and I need to reach out to our neighbors and invite them to make Jesus Christ the center of their lives. I have asked you to pray and fast during Lent about five people you know who need to know the transforming love of Christ. On Easter Sunday, I want you to bring at least one of those people to worship with you, so they can experience the power of the resurrection through our congregation. I want this to become an evangelistic congregation, centered around bringing other people to the abundant life Jesus offers to the world.

Let’s begin with some statistics:

· Virginia is one of the fastest growing states in the nation, and it is projected to grow by 25% by 2030.

· Virginia is a young adult magnet state – unlike Florida or Arizona

· By 2030, 25% of our projected growth will be people under the age of 18, and the median age of the state will be under 38.

· In 1975, United Methodists represented 6.67% of residents of Virginia. By 2005 that shrank to 5%.

· Between 1990 and 2005, the population of Virginia grew 26%, but United Methodist membership shrank 3%.

· Providence Church has actually grown faster than has New Kent County! Between 1990 and 2000, the County grew by 28%, but Providence grew by 33%. Between 2000 and 2010, both the county and Providence grew by 34%.

· Providence Church, for the last twenty years, has claimed 3.5% of the residents of the county as members. BUT – if Providence claimed the same percentage of New Kent County as members as the state average of United Methodists – 5% ­­– our congregation would be half again as large as it is now (from 600 to 900 members).

· There are 18,112 residents of New Kent County. Of course, we also draw from Hanover, Henrico, Richmond, and a few other localities, but let’s just use the New Kent numbers. There are 35 churches listed on the web site. Our church is one of the larger churches in the county, at 600 members. If every resident of the county belonged to one of those churches, they’d average 512 members, so we don’t have to do anything, do we? Wrong. The majority of our neighbors are not active church members.

I want to be clear that the issue is not church membership – the issue is the transforming power of Jesus Christ in people’s lives. The issue is life in Christ. But people who are not involved in the spiritual disciplines of worship, study, mission, stewardship, and community through a Christian congregation are not likely to be experiencing abundant life in Jesus. We want to invite people to Christ, not to church. But this is the most likely place where people are going to come to know and follow and serve Christ. That’s God’s plan for communicating the gospel, not ours.

I’ve talked before about how American Christians used to let the schools and the government and the culture in general do our work for us in teaching people about God and reinforcing gospel values and church involvement. While there have always been problems with what values were actually being promoted, like racism, the day of Christians letting someone else do our job for us is done, and it’s not coming back. It’s not the school’s job to teach our children to pray or to read the Bible – it’s ours. It’s not the state’s job to help people keep Sabbath – it’s ours. It’s not the government’s job to keep garbage off the television – it’s our job to turn the wretched thing off. If people are going to learn about Jesus, they’re not going to learn by osmosis – by simply breathing the pure holy air of American culture. As St. Paul said to the church at Rome, of people are going to come to faith, they’re going to have to hear the word of God from believers who have been sent out to share the good news with their neighbors. I mean, you and I.

Many Christian thinkers are saying – and I believe they’re right – that we live in a “new apostolic age,” much like the first century when Paul and the other apostles were in ministry. Paul, in particular, understood that new life in Christ was not just for Jews – the insiders who knew the history of God’s love for the world – but was for everyone. Life in Christ was also for – maybe even especially for – people who knew absolutely nothing about Hebrew history, the nation of Israel, the Exodus, the commandments, or the hope for a Messiah. People who believed in different gods and in no gods at all needed to hear, in ways they could understand, what God had done in this carpenter from Nazareth, and how it was possible because of him to be at peace with heaven and with other people. Paul and the apostles knew they were strangers in a strange land, telling a story to people who had never heard anything like it before. Those people weren’t going to learn the story, or experience the life-changing power of its author, by accident. The apostles needed to be deliberate and intentional about their work.

You and I live in an alien and pagan world. I have said before and will say again until people believe it, it doesn’t matter who you elect – America isn’t going to become a “Christian nation.” It never really was, because if you’ll read your Bible, you’ll discover that’s not how God works anymore anyhow. God is depending on you and on me – but especially on you – to deliberately, intentionally, and lovingly share the good news of God’s love in Jesus Christ with our families, our neighbors, our friends, our classmates, and our coworkers. If you want to go door to door through Patriot’s Landing and tell people about Jesus, then you follow God where God is calling you. But I believe that you already have in your everyday life people who desperately need to know they are loved and forgiven, that God has a purpose for their lives, and that there is a new church family ready to receive them and love them and help them experience more joy then they ever knew was possible.

Next week we’re going to talk about what the Good News really is: what’s the heart of the gospel message? March 27th we’re going to talk about the obstacles in us and in others to us sharing our faith – the fear that people are going to think we’re weird, and that we’re going to get it all wrong. April 3 we’re going to think about who God is calling us to reach out to. And then we’ll end up April 10 with some really specific how-to’s for sharing our faith.

But right now I just want us to confess that we’ve done a lousy job telling other people about the person who’s supposed to be the most important person in our lives, which has made other people think maybe he must not be all that important for them, either. I want us to confess that we don’t want other people to think we’re weird. And I want us to ask God to show us who God is already preparing to receive the love of Christ from us, and for the courage and opportunity to simply do that, for the love of our friend, and for the love of Jesus.

You and I are not here by accident – we are here because a relative or a friend loved us enough to share Jesus with us. We are here because God deliberately and intentionally chose that person to love you. And now God is choosing you, and you, and you, and me, to share that same love with someone else. And if we will pray about that for the next five weeks, God will not only change our lives, but God will use us to change someone else’s. And that will change the world.