Evangelism: tell yourself first.

Evangelism: tell yourself first.

I'm going to share something that made me laugh just now. 

During General Assembly week, while I was in full politiking mode, I received a text from a rather famous (in pastor/theologian circles) person asking if I would have lunch with him. I felt pretty good about that. We had spoken the evening before, it was a friendly and, I thought, substantive conversation. I accepted the invitation and a few minutes later received an apology from my friend because he had meant to text someone else (a good man I also know), not me. I had some sense that this was a familiar event, but I couldn't figure out why.

Just now I was typing the first paragraphs of a sermon I'm calling "Tell," the first in a new series at New City called "A life in 9 words," a topical essentials series. Anyway I was thinking about the connection between evangelism and creation and the New Earth - the sons of adam and daughters of eve call things what they are, and the nations are gathered. God allows us to have the dignity of separating the created stuff, calling people to their real names and real lives. That's evangelism. In the middle of that I thought about how I fall into a little pit every couple of weeks - it's good for my writing but it is a real sadness. And I feel cut adrift for a day or so. During which I try to stay away from social media for obvious reasons. That regular sadness is a part of who I am, even if it can be an overwhelming presence from time to time.

I remembered, then, why the mis-text felt so familiar. The same famous friend had written me an email maybe a year ago offering to send me a first draft of a book he was writing. Again, I felt the swell of pride and belonging. I am somebody. Not cut adrift. I saw that the email was sent to his family members - it meant a lot to be included although it seemed we were better friends than I thought. I accepted the offer of course. A few hours later he wrote apologizing that he had meant to send the email to his very close family member James, not me, and that he was terribly sorry. I laughed and covered my disappointment in misdirection. Somehow I had forgotten this; the same person, the same embarrassment! Twice I was nearly somebody.

I am committed to the idea that both of those disappointments revealed something unhealthy, the malignant need to be important, to be tethered in the ether, the swirl of anxiety and busyness that fills everyday life. But the Good News, if I can stand it, is that I get to be evangelized too; I get to tell myself, as much as anyone, that I am a son, and someone, inheritor of the promise, beloved, etc., etc. I have to tell myself first, the good news. Nearly every day. God gives me that grace, so I don't lose myself. 

Only broken people become pastors, by the way. It's worth remembering.

Q&A from Sunday's sermon.

I ran out of time Sunday to answer all of the questions submitted anonymously following the sermon, so I will give them a response here. Note that I am answering them in much the same way I would have Sunday, with no preparation, no outside resources. So I am glad to spend time talking in person about these questions if helpful. 

Q. How do we show mercy can kindness to others without enabling their behavior? Or for example in the workplace without being seen as a pushover - where we can't necessarily talk about our faith?
A. This is a great question. First let me say that to a certain degree we must be ready to admit that there is a cost to following Jesus. The command in Micah 6.8, the text we talked about Sunday, discusses mercy/kindness (Hesed) as a way that we allow ourselves to be made crooked by the crooked - we receive the brokenness of others, we are affected by it. We cannot disqualify ourselves from that command no matter our context, so the question here is especially helpful: how do we proceed with our Lord's command while in an environment that does not reward kindness and mercy? Mercy does not always contain tenderness but it does always contain sacrifice. If you are a supervisor, for instance, and you express mercy for a person in your authority, it may look like stern correction, or an action plan for their improvement that requires extra work and energy (and prayer) from you. While this may not always be received as a kindness it is one way that you are receiving the sin and brokenness of the person and being affected by it. So there is a way in which mercy intersects with just being a good manager. On the other hand, good management doesn't always exclude gossip and ill will toward an employee, but your Christianity does. So sacrificial kindness/mercy may mean that you silence gossip where it happens and you commit yourself to believing the best about and for this person. You pray for them, you pay the price to treat them with dignity, even where you must express discipline.

There is also the case where you listen and give second chances, where you meet a coworker's sin with humanity and kindness, and they view you as a pushover as a result. Again let me say that it would be consistent with everything the Bible tells us for your Christianity to cost you a promotion if you are seen as not bloodthirsty enough to take the next step on the ladder. It would be okay if your Christian duty costs you materially. But while mercy may sometimes makes you appear to be a pushover, it does not require you to be a pushover. Some may wickedly use your kindness to get ahead, they may abuse your trust. For those I say you must protect yourself. While Jesus says turn the other cheek he does not say that you must run around in arm's length of abusers. I would be very open and honest with someone that attempts to walk on you. "I dealt with you kindly but you abused my trust. You need to know that this will never happen again." In the Gospels Jesus uses the example of the forgiven debt to show that a good king who is tricked by his debtor (the king forgives much but the wicked debtor shows no mercy to those who owe him a small amount). In the parable Jesus sends the wicked debtor to prison for treating him like a pushover. 

Q. How do we make time to fight for justice in the busyness of life? What does that look like and how does it fall into living 'the good life'?
A. So this is the subject for next Sunday's sermon - a continuation of last week's study on Micah 6 which will explore what it looks like for us to pursue the Good Life. I'll be glad to take this up again if you're still looking for clarification. A brief point: God's response to the difficulty and even brutality of living this life is to give himself to our work. When you find yourself in the pit for expressing justice and mercy you will also find Jesus there.

Q. In the attempt to answer the question, 'Where can I best be used by God for good?' How does one go about evaluating what is the 'best' situation instead of just a 'good' situation?
A. Right, so this question was one I asked our congregation to consider in light of the Bible's statement that the Good Life is a life of justice. We should be looking for how we can best be used by God for good. I think I'm not as worried about the decision between the best and merely good situations for justice. I think God will honor the question, and the honest attempt to find the best way to do justice and will lead us by conscience and good counsel. I would love to live in a world where I, and all of us, are simply seeking a good way to do good. If we found ourselves struggling to find the best of those options, it would mean the Holy Spirit had greatly changed our hearts. I typically find that the question of where and how I can do the most good rarely plays into our life choices about where to live, work, go to school, etc. 

Q. The Lord is forgiving but also just. Would the Devil get another chance if he professed faith in the Lord? Would he be forgiven of his sins? How can we forgive as flawed humans as our flawless God does?
A. If Satan had professed faith in the Lord and sought forgiveness would God have forgiven his sins? Yes. The name 'Satan' simply means 'the Adversary.' He is defined by his opposition to the Kingdom of God. If he were to follow God he would no longer be the Adversary and would be as deserving of forgiveness as any sinner who repents. Grace does not work on our merit. The most vile sinner can be forgiven and washed clean by seeking forgiveness. People often talk about the 'unforgivable sin' and some Christians worry about whether they've committed it. The unforgivable sin is the determined unwillingness to believe in the Lord Jesus, so if you've placed your faith in Christ you are not able to commit the unforgivable sin. God is close to the broken, needy, repentant sinner. How can we forgive like that? Well we can't, exactly. But we can grow in the direction of that kind of forgiveness. The best way, personally, is to nurture a discipline of prayer and confession - rehearsing the grace of God in your life and how you've been forgiven will equip you for forgiveness of others. This is the meaning of Jesus' statements in the parables when he says that the one who has been forgiven much, forgives much. Another way to grow in your ability to forgive is to make use of the means of grace: to attend worship regularly to hear the Word of God preached, to pray, and to take the Lord's Supper which strengthens you for life in His world.

This week's community reading schedule:

Yearly Bible-reading plan:
*Plan takes you through the Psalms twice per year, the New Testament once, and 1/3 through the Old Testament.

Mon Psalm 96, Ezekiel 3, Romans 9
Tue Psalm 97, Ezekiel 4, Romans 10
Wed Psalm 98, Ezekiel 5, Romans 11
Thurs Psalm 99, Ezekiel 6, Romans 12
Fri Psalm 100, Ezekiel 7, Romans 13
Sat Psalm 101, Ezekiel 8, Romans 14
Sun Psalm 102, Ezekiel 9, Romans 15

Today's community reading: Psalm 91, Lamentations 3, Romans 4

Lamentations give God’s people a practical theology for living in a world filled with pain and hardship. Understanding the role of ‘lament’ in the Christian life wasn’t something I grasped until seminary. For the first time in my life, I had a new category for living in the easier-said-than-done tension of experiencing profound loss and suffering, while at the same time, believing the LORD when he says that hope, not despair, has the final word.

The structure of Lamentations 3 describes this exact tension as the author begins by vividly describing how God’s people have suffered because of their sin (v.v. 1-18) and then how he has regained hope (v.v.19-24) as he remembered the LORD’s character and commitment to his people. In the final half of the lament (v.v.40-66), the author moves towards urging others not despair but pray to the God of Hope for Jerusalem’s restoration.

This week's community reading schedule

Yearly Bible-reading plan:
*Plan takes you through the Psalms twice per year, the New Testament once, and 1/3 through the Old Testament.

Mon Psalm 89, Lamentations 1, Romans 2
Tue Psalm 90, Lamentations 2, Romans 3
Wed Psalm 91, Lamentations 3, Romans 4
Thurs Psalm 92, Lamentations 4, Romans 5
Fri Psalm 93, Lamentations 5, Romans 6
Sat Psalm 94, Ezekiel 1, Romans 7
Sun Psalm 95, Ezekiel 2, Romans 8

Today's community reading: Psalm 82, Jeremiah 47, Acts 23

Psalm 82 demonstrates God’s heart and commitment to right what is wrong. He brings justice where injustice reigns. This psalm is a community lament as God’s people pray for him to act righteously against the unjust human rulers. God is concerned for bringing justice to the weak and fatherless (v.3), to preserve the rights of the afflicted (v.3), and to rescue the helpless from the hand of the wicked (v.4). This psalm is also instructional for God people today, as it teaches us to work towards building a new community right here in Hilliard where God’s justice is visible to everyone and that all the nations might come to know the one true God.

This week's community reading schedule:

Yearly Bible-reading plan:
*Plan takes you through the Psalms twice per year, the New Testament once, and 1/3 through the Old Testament.

Mon Psalm 82, Jeremiah 47, Acts 23
Tue Psalm 83, Jeremiah 48, Acts 24
Wed Psalm 84, Jeremiah 49, Acts 25
Thurs Psalm 85, Jeremiah 50, Acts 26
Fri Psalm 86, Jeremiah 51, Acts 27
Sat Psalm 87, Jeremiah 52, Acts 28
Sun Psalm 88, Jeremiah 53, Romans 1

Today's community reading: Psalm 77, Jeremiah 41, Acts 17

One of the beautiful things about the Psalms is that they model for us how we can come to God. Psalm 77 begins with Asaph, one of David’s chief musicians, crying aloud to God in his distress. Asaph’s doubts surface in v.v. 8-9: “Has his steadfast love forever ceased? Are his promises at an end for all time? Has God forgotten to be gracious? Has he in anger shut up his compassion?” Asaph is real and unpolished in his approach. His candor about his doubts is refreshing. Yet, what is just as refreshing is his candor about God’s work in v.16. Here, Asaph recalls the Exodus, which was God’s means to demonstrate his great love and unending commitment to his people as he brought them out of Egyptian slavery. This psalm models to us that in the midst of our doubts about God’s promises, sometimes all we can do in our worship is remember and recall God’s faithfulness to us in the past.

This week's community reading schedule:

Yearly Bible-reading plan:
*Plan takes you through the Psalms twice per year, the New Testament once, and 1/3 through the Old Testament.

Mon Psalm 76, Jeremiah 40, Acts 16
Tue Psalm 77, Jeremiah 41, Acts 17
Wed Psalm 78, Jeremiah 42, Acts 18
Thurs Psalm 79, Jeremiah 43, Acts 19
Fri Psalm 80, Jeremiah 44, Acts 20
Sat Psalm 81, Jeremiah 45, Acts 21
Sun Psalm 81, Jeremiah 46, Acts 22

Today's community reading: Psalm 70, Jeremiah 34, Acts 10

By definition, favoritism says that some people are more valuable than others. It creates a system where people feel like second-class citizens and this happens everyday all throughout our society. And yet, the church has the opportunity to mend what is broken because we’ve been the gospel message, a narrative in which God doesn’t play favorites. He doesn’t show partiality and this theme is woven throughout the Scriptures. In Genesis 12, all the families of the earth will be blessed through Abram and his lineage. In the Gospel accounts, Jesus’ hospitality is winsome to the lease of these. 

This theme continues in Acts 10 as we read about the gospel being proclaimed to an ever-expanding audience with the conversation of Cornelius, a Gentile commander in the Roman army.  Here, God crosses the paths of Peter and Cornelius. Peter testifies how the gospel has shaped him (v.v.28, 34-35) and then shares with with Cornelius’ family and close friends the good news (v.v. 34-43). So why does all of this matter? Well, this text shapes us to be a community that is non-partial in our welcome of others. It shapes us this way because each of us, were once far off and have been brought near. The gospel mends what is broken and pushes back against the darkness and unfair treatment of others. 

This week's community reading:

Yearly Bible-reading plan:
*Plan takes you through the Psalms twice per year, the New Testament once, and 1/3 through the Old Testament.

Mon Psalm 69, Jeremiah 33, Acts 9
Tue Psalm 70, Jeremiah 34, Acts 10
Wed Psalm 71, Jeremiah 35, Acts 11
Thurs Psalm 72, Jeremiah 36, Acts 12
Fri Psalm 73, Jeremiah 37, Acts 13
Sat Psalm 74, Jeremiah 38, Acts 14
Sun Psalm 75, Jeremiah 39, Acts 15

Today's community reading: Psalm 64, Jeremiah 28, Acts 4

In the closing verses of Acts 4, the believers had everything in common. There was a great sense of generosity among the believers and this created much unity and harmony. Central to this harmony is the resurrection - it has social implications. One theologian says that if we push the resurrection to the margins or leave it out all together, we don’t just lose an extra feature, like buying a car without heated seats, we actually lose the central engine which drives and gives every other component its reason for working. 

The church that is shaped by the message of Jesus’ resurrection is thrusted out into the world to participate with God in his renewal of all things, including spaces and places. This means that we push back on corruption and decay holistically through mercy and justice. We protect the vulnerable, help to establish policies that are for the well-being of all, campaign for better housing and care for those in need, both inside and outside the church. 

This week's community reading schedule:

Yearly Bible-reading plan:
*Plan takes you through the Psalms twice per year, the New Testament once, and 1/3 through the Old Testament.

Mon Psalm 62, Jeremiah 26, Acts 2
Tue Psalm 63, Jeremiah 27, Acts 3
Wed Psalm 64, Jeremiah 28, Acts 4
Thurs Psalm 65, Jeremiah 29, Acts 5
Fri Psalm 66, Jeremiah 30, Acts 6
Sat Psalm 67, Jeremiah 31, Acts 7
Sun Psalm 68, Jeremiah 32, Acts 8 

Today's community reading: Psalm 57, Jeremiah 21, John 18

Exodus 34:6 is a key OT passage that the writers of Scripture refer to time and time again. It’s a passage that puts the character of the LORD on display: "The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness…” David draws our attention to the steadfast love and faithfulness of the LORD at the beginning and end of Psalm 57 (v.v. 3,10). This psalm is David’s lament as he cries out to the LORD for help (v.4,6) and protection. What started out as a relationship filled with appreciation and love between David and Saul (1 Samuel 16:20-23) has now turned into David on the run from Saul, hiding in a cave, and fearing for his life. The culprit: Saul’s jealousy of David’s success (1 Samuel 18:6-8). Even in the slightest bit, the jealousy we experience is poisonous and left unchecked, it is capable of destroying the beauty and harmony of our closest relationships. David is right to lament “what once was” and seek refuge and comfort in the LORD’s protection.

This week's community reading schedule:

Yearly Bible-reading plan:
*Plan takes you through the Psalms twice per year, the New Testament once, and 1/3 through the Old Testament.

Mon Psalm 55, Jeremiah 19, John 16
Tue Psalm 56, Jeremiah 20, John 17
Wed Psalm 57, Jeremiah 21, John 18
Thurs Psalm 58, Jeremiah 22, John 19
Fri Psalm 59, Jeremiah 23, John 20
Sat Psalm 60, Jeremiah 24, John 21
Sun Psalm 61, Jeremiah 25, Acts 1

Today's community reading: Psalm 49, Jeremiah 13, John 10

From time to time, many of us place our faith in success, a picture-perfect family or being liked by others. When we take good things like working hard or the well-being of our families and make them the ultimate aim of our lives we find ourselves on a performance treadmill running at a pace that is physically impossible for us to maintain. John 10 tells us that Jesus isn’t like other gods and in this text we see us a picture of the God that we all really want, a Savior who truly satisfies our hearts. 

Jesus is our Good Shepherd and he gives up his own life for us (v.v. 11-12, 18). He gives himself and is self-serving unlike the self-seeking gods of success and reputation. The Good Shepherd also knows his sheep. It can be easy for this truth to lose its meaning. What is expressed here isn’t a ‘Jesus sorta or kinda knows his sheep’, but instead it is a knowledge of his sheep in the same manner that God the Father and God the Son know one another (v.v.14-15). There’s no closer intimacy than this. In Jesus there is salvation and that’s when our hearts can truly find rest and truly be satisfied (v.v. 7-9).

This week's community reading:

Yearly Bible-reading plan:
*Plan takes you through the Psalms twice per year, the New Testament once, and 1/3 through the Old Testament.

Mon Psalm 48, Jeremiah 12, John 9
Tue Psalm 49, Jeremiah 13, John 10
Wed Psalm 50, Jeremiah 14, John 11
Thurs Psalm 51, Jeremiah 15, John 12
Fri Psalm 52, Jeremiah 16, John 13
Sat Psalm 53, Jeremiah 17, John 14
Sun Psalm 54, Jeremiah 18, John 15

Today's community reading: Psalm 38, Jeremiah 1, Luke 21

In Jeremiah 1, we see that Jeremiah, a prophet of the LORD, was given the task to call God’s people back to being the vehicle of blessing to the nations. Jeremiah’s audience, Judah (the Northern Kingdom), had forsaken the Lord their God. They had formed allegiances with other gods (v.16) and their hardness of heart was going to make it very, very difficult for them to hear Jeremiah’s preaching. As daunting as they were, we miss out on the grace of God in this text if we focus solely on the circumstances (v.v. 14-16) facing Jeremiah. In the midst of the heated opposition and arduous persecution, God’s grace enables Jeremiah for his uphill battle. Jeremiah must get ready for work and be willing to rely on the LORD for the words to say (v.17) and for the protection (v.19) needed to call God’s people back to be a light to the nations. 

This week's community reading schedule:

Yearly Bible-reading plan:
*Plan takes you through the Psalms twice per year, the New Testament once, and 1/3 through the Old Testament.

Mon Psalm 35, Isaiah 64, Luke 18
Tue Psalm 36, Isaiah 65, Luke 19
Wed Psalm 37, Isaiah 66, Luke 20
Thurs Psalm 38, Jeremiah 1, Luke 21
Fri Psalm 39, Jeremiah 2, Luke 22
Sat Psalm 40, Jeremiah 3, Luke 23
Sun Psalm 41, Jeremiah 4, Luke 24 

Today's community reading: Psalm 30, Isaiah 59, Luke 13

A few weeks ago in youth group our middle school students talked about Jesus comparing the Kingdom of God to a mustard seed. Admittedly, this seems fairly obscure to us today but Jesus’ original audience would have understood his illustration. In Luke 13:18-19, Jesus makes the point that, like the mustard seed, the Kingdom of God begins in a seemingly small and almost unnoticeable way, but eventually becomes a source of great blessing too big to ignore. The take-away from the evening was that being present with a friend who is hurting, building someone up with kind words or being patient with a sibling are all ways God's people can bring significant blessing to others.