Worship Message Texts

I concluded my final interim pastorate in March 2016, so I am no longer preaching on a regular basis. I am available for pulpit supply and these sermon scripts and videos give a picture of my approach. For pulpit supply, I am happy to write new sermons targeted at specific concerns or needs of congregations, otherwise I will rework previous sermons based on the texts of the Revised Common Lectionary for that Sunday.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Why Stand Around Staring?

1 John 5:9-13; Acts 1:6-11
Ascension Sunday
May 20, 2012
© 2012

I.                On the first Easter Sunday, Jesus’ disciples seemed to have locked themselves into the house for fear of the Temple authorities (John 20:19). When the risen Jesus began appearing to them, he explained how his death was God’s redemptive plan as presented in the Hebrew Scriptures. In Matthew 28:7, the angel told the women to send the disciples to Galilee to meet Jesus. John 21 reports Jesus’ breakfast with seven disciples on the shore of the Sea of Galilee and the reconciliation with Peter. In Matthew 28:16 Jesus gave the disciples the Great Commission on a mountain in Galilee, but this was not the place of the Ascension which is described in Acts 1:6-11. Life had not gone back to normal: traveling from village to village teaching and healing. For forty days Jesus appeared to the disciples erratically and spoke to them about the Kingdom of God. (Acts 1:3) They waited for the barely understood coming of the Holy Spirit in power with little inkling of what was next. They were in an interim period of transition to a future they could not possibly imagine. I expect they did a lot of standing around staring at each other. Jesus told them to stay in Jerusalem until the received the promise of the Father and were baptized with the Holy Spirit. (Acts 1:4-5)
So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?”7He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority.8But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” 9When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.10While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them.11They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” (Acts 1:6-11)
A.           Luke is the only New Testament writer to report Jesus’ ascension.
1.              Sometimes the Great Commission in Matthew 28:16-20 is assumed to report the ascension in Galilee in contradiction to Luke, but it never says anything about ascension. Mark 16:19 does say Jesus ascended, but all scholars agree this was not written by Mark but added much later.
2.              Ephesians 4:8-9 does make an oblique reference to ascension by quoting Psalm 68:18, but the point is that Christ descended to be incarnate as the man Jesus and to give spiritual gifts to the Church.
B.            At the start of his Gospel (1:2), Luke said that he interviewed eyewitnesses to write an orderly account of the life of Jesus. At the conclusion of his Gospel, and as a bridge to his second book Acts, Luke 24:48 records Jesus telling his disciples, “You are witnesses of these things.” Witness, as both noun and verb, is the driving force in Acts and the thread that connects it to the Gospel of Luke.
1.              The Greek word for witness is cognate with martyr. It implies being so confident of what you have witnessed you will die for it.
2.              The Apostles were witnesses of all that Jesus did, especially of his death because of its centrality in God’s redemptive plan. After Jesus’ ascension, when the Apostles choose Matthias to replace Judas, Acts 1:22 specifies that he had to have been with them from the baptism of John through Jesus’ resurrection and ascension.
C.            For Luke, witnessing Jesus’ ascension was important to validate the whole story, to show that Jesus didn’t just gradually fade out after his resurrection. The Apostles were eyewitnesses of a spiritual reality.
1.               We will do well not to envision Jesus’ Ascension in spacial terms, as though he is rocket man zooming past the planets, stars and galaxies until he reaches a place called heaven at or beyond the edge of the universe. I think the iconographers give us a better picture than Renaissance or realist painters.
2.              The cloud is not a platform lifting Jesus from the earth. The cloud echoes the Shekinah Glory of God that guided and protected the ancient Hebrews. Now it hides the risen Christ and the Kingdom of God from human view until it is drawn back to reveal him at the climax of history.
D.           Knowing you have eternal life, Jesus sends you as a witness to his resurrection.
II.            If we’re going to be Jesus’ witnesses, we better know what we’re talking about.
A.           1 John 5:13 says that John wrote so we can know that we have eternal life. Sounds presumptuous and arrogant to people today. To know you have eternal life is beyond the scope of our usual ways of knowing.
1.              Scientific experiments and empirical measurements cannot investigate eternal life.
2.              The rational arguments and logical proofs of philosophy cannot establish eternal life.
3.              Subjective mystical experience may be an illusion.
4.              With the recent exonerations of many who were wrongly convicted of crimes by eyewitness testimony, we’ve come to see how unreliable that can be. I’m reminded of a great story in the Apocryphal book of Susannah (1:52-59).
Two lecherous old men spy on beautiful Susannah as she bathes in her garden. They try to seduce her, and when she refuses, they accuse her of adultery with a young man. The prophet Daniel rescues Susannah by separating the supposed eyewitnesses and asks them under which tree they saw Susannah and her supposed paramour. One said the mastic tree and the other the evergreen oak. So Daniel vindicated the righteous Susannah.
5.              Unlike the mystical writings of many traditions, Christians, Jews and Muslims believe God is known by revelation. Muslims believe that the Koran was dictated to Mohammed in ecstatic trances. The Bible is the record of God’s interaction with people through many generations in a wide variety of situations. 1 John 5:9 calls this God’s witness, and verse 13 supports Luke’s assertion that he wrote the witness of the Apostles. But if you have ever tried to quote the Bible to settle an argument with an unbeliever, you know that without the witness of the Holy Spirit the witness of Scripture is unconvincing.
B.            To be Jesus’ witnesses is not to talk about our faith or about pragmatic results, such as answers to prayer. Not that those things don’t matter, but as a way of knowing we have eternal life, they are susceptible to personal whims and changing circumstances. Rather, we are witnesses to God’s redeeming acts in Jesus, namely his death, resurrection and ascension. We can witness that we have been encountered by the risen Jesus. It’s not about us but about Jesus. While this witness is not amenable to our usual ways of knowing, we do witness an objective reality that is beyond ourselves. The validation of Scripture is not an abstract revelation but the cumulative testimony of many corroborating eyewitnesses.
C.            Knowing you have eternal life, Jesus sends you as a witness to his resurrection.
III.       In the Great Commission of Matthew 28:19-20, Jesus uses imperative language as you go, make disciples, baptize and teach them. He is giving instructions. In Acts 1:8, Jesus describes the mission of his Apostles in declarative language: you will receive power; the Holy Spirit will come on you; you will be my witnesses.
A.           To try to be Jesus’ witness without the power of the Holy Spirit is futile. We know we have eternal life by the power of the Holy Spirit. We speak of Jesus with confidence by the power of the Holy Spirit. We face opposition and ridicule with courage by the power of the Holy Spirit. By the power of the Holy Spirit, we witness Jesus encountering other people as we bear witness to his resurrection. Our witness does not convince people to trust and follow Jesus. The Holy Spirit does!
B.            Jesus also gives the mission of his witnesses a broad scope that becomes the organizing structure for Acts.
1.              Jerusalem was the home territory for the Apostles. Duncanville is your home territory – your Jerusalem. An important part of the mission of 1st Christian Church, Duncanville is engaging the people who live right around you.
2.              Judea was the surrounding region for the Apostles. People shared language, culture, economy. 1st Christian Church, Duncanville already reaches out into the surrounding area: Cedar Hill, Desoto, Lancaster, Waxahachie, and Dallas.
3.              Samaria was not only geographically a little farther away for the Apostles, its people were politically, culturally, socially, ethnically and religiously different. Going to Samaria pushed the Apostles out of their comfort zone. For 1st Christian Church, Duncanville, Jesus’ call to Samaria will mean crossing cultural boundaries to embrace the growing ethnic diversity of the area. It will also mean reaching out to a younger generation who have little if any experience with church or Jesus and finding ways to welcome them as well.
4.              For the Apostles, the “ends of the earth” was the Mediterranean world. They could not have imagined the Gospel’s expansion into Europe, Africa and Asia much less the New World. For 1st Christian Church, Duncanville the “ends of the earth” is youth going to Chicago, praying for Sue and Inga in Mexico, giving to the Week of Compassion. Vigorous involvement with the global mission of the Church will fuel the local witness of 1st Christian Church, Duncanville.
C.            Knowing you have eternal life, Jesus sends you as a witness to his resurrection.
IV.      When the Apostles came together, they were not expecting the ascension. They asked, “Is this the time you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” Even after all Jesus had taught them about the Kingdom of God for three years, they were still looking for a provincial political messiah. Jesus warns them off of speculating about the future and urges them to be about their mission as his witnesses in the present. They were not going to stand around staring toward heaven until he came. No! They were to be his witnesses in the power of the Holy Spirit.
A.           The US is now into the next presidential election cycle. Despite all the noise of campaigning, when it comes to doing the work of government, too many are standing around staring at each other until the election is over.
B.            In the interim between pastors, churches all too easily slip into standing around staring at each other until the new pastor comes. I want to commend the leaders of 1st Christian Church, Duncanville for being on the move, taking advantage of the opportunities of this time.
C.        A friend of mine grew up in Thailand with his missionary parents. He came to have a love and anguish for the people of neighboring Burma. The brutal military dictatorship not only suppressed the pro-democracy movement and violently oppressed tribal minorities. He and his family have been instrumental in a team that brings some level of compassion and relief to the tribal people. Even when it seemed pointless, they kept going to villages to help them rebuild after being burned by the army. They didn’t stand around staring at each other waiting for things to improve. Just a couple of weeks ago the leader of the Burmese pro-democracy movement Aung San Suu Kyi took a seat in parliament after being released from over 15 years of house arrest. Like the Apostles at Jesus’ ascension, like my friend in Burma, Jesus says to 1st Christian Church, Duncanville in this interim transition between pastors, “Don’t stand around staring at each other. You will receive power from the Holy Spirit to be my witnesses.”

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Conquer the Whole World

1 John 5:1-6; Acts 10:44-48
May 13, 2012
© 2012

Road to Santiago de Compostela, Rebecca Carroll, 2007

I.                To rejoice with the blessing of young children is a delightful Mothers’ Day experience for me as a pastor, for the whole congregation, and of course for families. We know how to rejoice with those who rejoice, as Paul wrote in Romans 12:15. On such a joyful day, we don’t think too much about weeping with those weep.

A.           For this week’s Hermanutics – a blog sponsored by Christianity Today ­– Courtney Reissig wrote about mourning with those who mourn on Mothers’ Day. I suspect some of you can identify with her.

Like a lot of doting children, I loved Mother’s Day growing up. The holiday usually involved eating out at a fancy restaurant (not the norm for our family), where we gave my mom carefully composed cards and handpicked gifts. Then I miscarried. Last Mother’s Day I felt deep down that I was supposed to be celebrating that day, yet my arms were empty. Mother’s Day can be a painful holiday for many women. Maybe you are facing the first Mother’s Day without your own mom. Maybe you are longing for a child [who doesn’t come]. Maybe you have a wayward child, and all you want is [a phone call] this Mother’s Day. It’s easy to be overwhelmed by the commercials for cards and flowers, and then you throw in the Sunday morning church service, and you are now one conversation away from a meltdown. How do you obey the biblical command to “rejoice with those who rejoice,” when rejoicing feels like a knife stabbing you in the heart?

B.            Rather than taking her comments as throwing cold water on Mothers’ Day, I hear it as a call for full orbed love – the kind of love we have been reading about in 1 John. Faith in Jesus conquers the world’s resistance to life by nurturing love between the most unlikely people within and beyond the household of faith.

C.            Perhaps you have heard the line, “The hand that rocks the cradle is the hand that rules the world.” It is the refrain from William Ross Wallace’s 1865 poem that celebrates the far reaching power of mothers. His father was a Presbyterian pastor who died when he was an infant. He was raised by his mother, and his poem celebrates what she contributed to him. This is the 3rd of 4 stanzas.

Woman, how divine your mission
Here upon our natal sod!
Keep, oh, keep the young heart open
Always to the breath of God!
All true trophies of the ages
Are from mother-love impearled;
For the hand that rocks the cradle
Is the hand that rules the world.

II.            With our highly individualistic culture and our emphasis on personal faith we easily miss the power and influence of parents, families and households. Four different times the Book of Acts records the baptisms of whole households. The first is Cornelius in Acts 10:44-48. Just so you know the others were Lydia’s in Acts 16:13, the Philippian jailer in Acts 16:33, and Crispus in Acts 18:8.

A.           In those very earliest months after Pentecost, the Holy Spirit was pushing the Church out of its comfort zone in Jerusalem. After Stephen’s stoning, the persecution by the Temple authorities scattered them through Judea and Samaria. The first revival came as the unlikely and despised Samaritans embraced the Gospel in Acts 8. Then God called Philip away to proclaim the good news about Jesus to the Ethiopian Eunuch. In Acts 10, the Holy Spirit used an elaborate orchestration of visions and promptings to send Peter to tell the household of the Gentile Cornelius. He was expecting Peter and the Jewish believers who came with him and invited all of his relatives and close friends. (v. 24) Peter had a substantial audience ready and waiting. Starting with his new realization that “God shows no partiality” but “anyone who does what is right is acceptable to him,” (vv. 34-35) Peter proclaimed Jesus.

While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word. 45The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles, 46for they heard them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter said, 47“Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” 48So he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they invited him to stay for several days.

B.            In the first century a household was a lot more than parents, 2.3 children, a dog and a mini-van. If still living, it would have included grandparents and aunts, uncles and cousins, not to mention in-laws. Farming families and prosperous families would have included servants and hired hands. While not a model for twenty-first century households, I do believe we can learn something important from the household baptisms in Acts.

1.              People take their cues for their major life directions and changes in social context. This is much more than peer pressure. People define themselves by the groups they associate with. Evangelism that focuses on one-at-a-time individual conversions will tend to reach people with the weakest bonds to their groups. To accelerate church growth, we will need to learn how to bring the good news about Jesus to groups of people, to welcome them together into the church.

2.              Identification with these groups is more organic than institutional. All organizations that have formal membership are struggling to reach young adults, not just churches. They use the on-line social networks not just for communicating with friends but for seeking input for their decisions. One of my 30 something Face Book friends is an orthopedic surgeon who just had her first baby. She asked her social network for advice about pacifiers for her baby. A couple of months ago another one in the same generation provoked a prolonged discussion by asking why atheists are so adamant about denying God. Why can’t they just let people who do have their beliefs even if they don’t agree.

3.              For all of their virtual connectedness, many young adults hunger for deeper loving relationships. As we have been seeing in 1 John, the love of Jesus is both the bond that holds the Church together and the draw for love starved, relationship poor people. Churches will not grow by asking these people to join a religious organization, but I am convinced that when people observe and receive Jesus’ authentic love, they will come to Jesus and to churches in which his presence is vibrant and obvious.

III.       Faith in Jesus conquers the world’s resistance to life by nurturing love between the most unlikely people within and beyond the household of faith.

A.           We know Peter’s eloquent Pentecost sermon, which he reprised when hauled before the Sanhedrin after healing the lame beggar. But this time, he barely gets started when the Holy Spirit interrupts his sermon by falling on all who heard the word. What is recorded of Peter’s sermon is a personal introduction about his change of attitude toward Gentiles and then a focus on Jesus: who he is, what he did, and that forgiveness comes through trusting him. I don’t know what Peter had planned, but he never got into all of the background Cornelius’ household would have needed to understand Jesus nor did he ask for an overt confession of faith. When the Holy Spirit interrupted, Peter was smart enough to quit preaching.

B.            Sometimes I think we talk too much when we’re proclaiming Jesus. We want them to understand everything. The Holy Spirit just wants them to trust. I must say I’ve wondered what I’d do if the Holy Spirit interrupted one of my sermons. Would I just keep going?

IV.      Sermon over, people filled with the Holy Spirit and praising God, Peter asks, “Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” (v. 47) This is a rhetorical question. The answer is obvious. No! They should be baptized. We all belong to Jesus.

A.           The Holy Spirit had already endorsed them. They didn’t need to have their theology or ethics examined. Sure, they have a lot to learn and needed to grow. Can we trust the Holy Spirit who drew people to embrace Jesus to work through the household of faith to bring them to maturity?

B.            Peter does not command the Gentile new believers to be baptized. They might not have had a clue about baptism. No! He commanded the Jewish believers to baptize these Gentiles whom the Holy Spirit has already included!

C.            1 John 5:1 says that “everyone who loves the parent loves the child.” Outside of their families, most of us hardly know the children we have blessed today, but we love them. We love them because we love their parents and grandparents. Whether they are rejoicing or weeping today, we love the mothers and fathers, the grandparents and other relatives. Indeed, we love each other because we love the one who is Heavenly Father of us all.

D.           The New Testament repeatedly speaks of the Church as the household of God. Having received the love of God through Jesus, we love each other and actively seek to include those who are hungry for love in this love. Faith in Jesus conquers the world’s resistance to life by nurturing love between the most unlikely people within and beyond the household of faith.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Love, Not Courage, Is the Opposite of Fear

1 John 4:7-21; Acts 8:26-40
May 5, 2012
© 2012

I.                Mark and Tisha Donnelly worshipped with Central Christian Church while Mark pursued an MBA at SMU in Theater and Arts Management. For me, they represent the next generation of young adults for the Church to reach. Mark had grown up in a Disciples of Christ congregation but had drifted away after high school. Tisha had never participated in church or been exposed to much about Christianity except what she had been learning from Mark. They are artsy, creative, thoughtful and intelligent. They loved the way Central Christian Church used the dramatic and visual arts as well as music. They were active and enthusiastic. We had them for dinner one evening because Tisha wanted to ask questions about Jesus and Christian faith. What really got the conversation going was looking at the pictures I had taken on my 2004 pilgrimage to Rome. The statue of Artemis of the Ephesians from the Vatican Museum was the jumping off point. For Tisha this was not the idol whose silversmiths protested Paul’s teaching in Acts 19. Rather, Artimis of the Ephesians was a symbol of feminist spiritual liberation. I did not turn the conversation to condemning Tisha for idolatry, but to talking about how Jesus and even Paul speak to the concerns of today’s women. Tisha did not make a confession of faith in Jesus before they moved to California to pursue their dramatic and art careers, but they both claimed Jesus as important to their journeys.

A.           Many churches are trying a lot of new approaches to reach people like Mark and Tisha. On Easter Sunday Ed Young of Fellowship Church made the news by having a live lion and lamb in their service. A couple weeks later they made the news again with a “pet friendly” outdoor service to help animal lovers feel welcome and comfortable. I had to laugh a little because many churches have had blessing of the animals on St. Francis Day in October. Central Christian Church had been doing that for years before I became their pastor. With a dog park as a primary community outreach, Central Christian Church also added a service for dogs and their humans on St. Roch Day in August. I’m not proposing that for 1st Christian Church, Duncanville, only mentioning it as an example of new ways churches are trying to reach people.

B.            In Acts 13:36, Paul said to the people in the synagogue at Antioch in Pisidia, “David … served the purpose of God in his own generation.” We face the challenge of serving God’s purpose in our generation, in which many of us feel like strangers in our own communities and even families.

1.              The sometimes superficial Judeo-Christian cultural consensus with which many of us had become comfortable has dissolved. With the turmoil in global Islam in the daily news, we are uncertain about how to respond to the growing number of our Muslim neighbors. Among young adults, the fastest growing religious identification is “atheist,” and the attraction is not so much intellectual rejection of belief in God as blaming religion for much of the violence and injustice in history and the world.

2.              Among the friends of my twenty and thirty something sons, few have any church experience. Among those that do, very few have continued to be active. Nevertheless, they do claim to be spiritual people. Our oldest son’s Pennsylvania church attempts to reach this generation with small home Bible groups that people may participate in for 2-3 years before they come to Sunday worship. Among the young adults who are active in church, denominational loyalty and identity and formal membership have become almost meaningless. Relationships with people who share their spiritual journey keep them involved.

II.            Acts 6-8 reports the parallel challenges the Church faced in its earliest days, setting the stage for Philip’s conversation with the Ethiopian Eunuch in Acts 8:26-40. Suddenly, those first Jewish disciples of Jesus found themselves unwelcome in the Temple and synagogues. Stephen’s eloquent preaching in the Synagogue of the Freemen got him hauled before the Sanhedrin and stoned. This prompted a persecution in Jerusalem that scattered the Christians through Judea and even Samaria. Though as Jews they would have considered the Samaritans to be ethnically, theologically and ritually impure, they did worship the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, so the preached Jesus to them, and a great revival broke out.

Then an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Get up and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” (This is a wilderness road.)27So he got up and went. Now there was an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of the Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, in charge of her entire treasury. He had come to Jerusalem to worship28and was returning home; seated in his chariot, he was reading the prophet Isaiah.29Then the Spirit said to Philip, “Go over to this chariot and join it.”30So Philip ran up to it and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah. He asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?”31He replied, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to get in and sit beside him. 32Now the passage of the scripture that he was reading was this: “Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter, and like a lamb silent before its shearer, so he does not open his mouth.33In his humiliation justice was denied him. Who can describe his generation? For his life is taken away from the earth.”34The eunuch asked Philip, “About whom, may I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?” 35Then Philip began to speak, and starting with this scripture, he proclaimed to him the good news about Jesus.36As they were going along the road, they came to some water; and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water! What is to prevent me from being baptized?”38He commanded the chariot to stop, and both of them, Philip and the eunuch, went down into the water, and Philip baptized him.39When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away; the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing.40But Philip found himself at Azotus, and as he was passing through the region, he proclaimed the good news to all the towns until he came to Caesarea.

A.           At the height of this revival Philip was sent on an unspecified errand to a deserted road notorious for dangerous robbers. He was sent toward the troublesome territory of Gaza. That was the home base of Israel’s ancient enemies the Philistines and is still a hotbed of turmoil today. The Spirit seems to drop him down in Azotus, which was called Ashdod when it was a leading city of the Philistines. Philip proclaimed the good news about Jesus to just one person, who though important in his own country, would not contribute anything to the growing, struggling Church in Judea and Samaria.

B.            The Ethiopian Eunuch was even farther off from the Jewish beginnings of the Church than the Samaritans. Ethnically, he was Nubian – a Black African, not even Abyssinian who shared a Semitic ancestry with the Jews. He had embraced the God of Israel and come to Jerusalem to worship. Though “eunuch” was sometimes used for high government officials, that he was also described as a court official of the Candace suggests he probably had been castrated to protect the integrity of the Queen. That would have made him ineligible to enter the Jerusalem Temple. The language of “come to worship” suggests he was on a pilgrimage rather than engaging in Temple worship.

C.            Philip’s interaction with the Ethiopian Eunuch is a tangled web of messy ministry. The Greek word for treasury is gaza, the same spelling as the unfriendly territory where Philip and the Ethiopian met. I think this word play emphasizes the messiness Philip is facing. The Ethiopian had the considerable sum required to purchase a hand-copied scroll of Isaiah. Though obviously intelligent, he did not have the education to interpret it. How did he know he could trust Philip to guide him? How did he know he could trust the good news about Jesus that Philip proclaimed to him? He was reading Isaiah 53:7-8 when Philip approached him. We can see how that easily leads to Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection. I wonder if he and Philip got as far as Isaiah 56 that talks about foreigners and eunuchs being welcomed into God’s covenant people. Is that what prompted him to ask to be baptized as eligible converts to Judaism would have been? None of the New Testament had been written yet. The Ethiopian would not have had the Gospel stories of Jesus nor the teaching of the Epistles. Isaiah is the only Scripture he brought back to Ethiopia from which to proclaim and teach the good news he had heard and believed about Jesus. Modern evangelism would consider this inadequate follow-up.

III.       Love drives fear out of messy ministry. I have long been fascinated by 1 John 4:18. “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.” I am convinced that when we respond to situations, challenges and crises out of fear, we almost always make the wrong decision. Fear makes us timid when we should be bold. Fear makes us lash out when we should listen. Fear makes us cling to what we might lose when we should be generous. Fear makes us focus on consequences when we should focus on faith. Fear makes us focus on punishment when we should focus on grace. Love, not courage, shows us how to respond to our fear. Courage rises out of that love to be able to do what love calls for even when we are afraid.

A.           We may well feel fear in the face of the unfamiliar and uncomfortable trends in our culture, particularly among the emerging generation of adults. Fear can lead us to retrench and withdraw. Or fear can lead us to capitulate and copy. But love will motivate us to proclaim the good news about Jesus to the people who do not know him and may have distorted ideas of what it means to trust him. Love will motivate us not to be satisfied with just getting enough people to keep the church going but to enthusiastically cultivate disciples who follow Jesus into a whole new life.

B.            Former National Public Radio reporter and social critic Ken Myers was recently asked by Ginny Mooney of the Christian Post how the church can be relevant to the broader culture to draw seekers to Christ. Myers replied, “Let’s substitute the phrase ‘way of life’ for the word ‘culture.’ How can the Church be relevant to the way of life of its neighbors? As Eugene Peterson has said, ‘by showing them a better way of life.’ … If people are just looking for a religious Band-Aid or spiritual Prozac, they are not seeking the redemption promised in the Gospel which calls them to die to self and live (really live) to Christ. … The Great Commission is all about making disciples, not converts. … Pastors (and churches) need to be committed to the long-term task of nurturing mature believers.”

C.            This Philip is probably a Greek convert, not the briefly mentioned Philip among Jesus’ twelve disciples. His encounter with the Ethiopian offers four simple, practical steps for addressing the unchurched and dechurched people of our generation. (Ralph Milton’s E-Zine for people of faith with a sense of humor)
1.              You have to be there.
2.              They have to be interested.
3.              You have to be willing to teach.
4.              You have to be ready to act.

D.           Love drives fear out of messy ministry. Love is the better way of life we show to the people to whom we want to proclaim the good news about Jesus. This is the love that permeates all of 1 John. Love is what pushed Philip past his fears, and the Ethiopian went on his way rejoicing! Unchurched people decide whether what we say about Jesus is authentic and trustworthy based on their observation of our love for each other and our love for those hardest to love. Unchurched people will hear the good news about Jesus if we love them enough to listen to their questions and opinions without arguing them. Every one of us has someone like Mark and Tisha in our lives whom we can love.