Sometimes, as a pastor, I prepare with a particular goal in mind and when I’ve finished preaching my message, I have found it does not come out quite as I had hoped. Today was one of those days. It was not a bad message at all; but I’m not sure it said all that I hoped it would say. I may tackle the same passage next Sunday and see where that goes. But for now, here is the worship gathering from June 23, 2019 with a message, “Raising the Bar”, from John 13.31-38. The message itself starts at 32:28.
In case you’ve been otherwise occupied recently, I can tell you that the Toronto Raptors won the championship of the National Basketball Association last week, and that the city hosted a little party to celebrate the victory in downtown Toronto on Monday.
Oh, by the way: that little party had about two million people in attendance!
In some ways, the news about the victory parade from the Canadian National Exhibition grounds to Nathan Phillips Square (Toronto city hall) was a bigger story than the Raptors’ win itself. Everybody expected a crowd, but nobody expected the size of crowd that appeared.
Sadly, there was some violence that marred the happy occasion, but thankfully, it wasn’t as bad as it could have been.
I think there are a couple of lessons in this for the people of God.
One is that we should always be prepared. In the wake of the parade and its many onlookers, the City of Toronto sought to learn from its mistakes and be ready for such a gathering if it ever were to happen again.
A maxim to which I’ve long subscribed is that the church will always receive as many guests as it is ready to receive. So, for example, if a congregation is hosting a ‘big day’, such as Christmas, Easter, or an event to which the community is invited, it needs to be sure that it has sufficient priority parking spaces set aside for guests. It needs to have people prepared to be hospitable and welcoming to those who may be stepping inside the church building in fear and trepidation. It needs to be prepared with the words that are used so that no ‘insider language’ is used, and people who may be unfamiliar with the church and its worship can fully understand what’s going on.
Another lesson for God’s people is to be aware that, as Jesus said, “The fields are already ripe for harvest” (John 4.35, NLT). Many congregations struggle these days, but the aerial views of that parade last Monday were a reminder for churches everywhere – not just in Toronto – that there are still many people who have yet to be reached with the good news of God’s saving love in Jesus Christ.
That’s not to say that all the people attending that parade were not followers of Jesus; I know for a fact that some of them are! But when we despair that the church is going to die for lack of attendance, we do well to be reminded that there are many people in our communities, large and small, who do not follow Jesus. Our task from Jesus is to reach out to them in grace and humility with the truth of his love and mercy.
It’s God’s job to grow the church, but he yearns for willing partners in accomplishing that task.
So, congratulations to the Toronto Raptors! And may the church of Jesus be ready to receive the many people who have holes in their souls and need the good news that only he can offer…through us.
The sound of silence.
For some, it is a reference to Simon and Garfunkel.
For others, it is the noise made by the refrigerator or the HVAC system.
For some, it is deafening.
For others, it is the most beautiful sound on earth.
Whatever it may mean to us, the sound of silence is a gift, whether we acknowledge it or not. For it is in silence that we are most clearly able to commune with God as friend to Friend, as servant to Master, as disciple to Lord. Think about it: when you are having an intentional conversation with a close friend, you’re probably not having to shout over a loud racket, right? When it’s a serious conversation, there’s probably no discernible noise in the background.
So why not do this with the Lord?
At times, we may wonder why we don’t hear from God; it’s less likely that God is silent, and more likely that we are not making space to listen.
As you read the Bible, as you pray – whatever shape that takes – consider doing it accompanied by the sound of silence. You may be surprised how much you hear.
“For God alone my soul waits in silence,
for my hope is from him.
He alone is my rock and my salvation,
my fortress; I shall not be shaken” (Psalm 62.5-6, NRSV).
In a recent message, I cited a conversation that the great 19th century American evangelist, D.L. Moody, had with one of his critics. His critic said to him, “I don’t like the way you share the gospel.” So he inquired of his critic how she shared the gospel, and upon learning that she did not share her faith with anyone, Moody retorted, “I like the way I share the gospel better than the way you don’t share the gospel.”
It is our responsibility – indeed, our high calling – to share our faith in Jesus with other people. How can you do that? You can tell them what having a relationship with the Lord means to your life:
- how it gives you strength when you are weak
- how it gives you hope for the future
- how it assures you of freedom from slavery to sin
- how it promises you eternal life in the holy presence of God when you die
- how it builds your character to be a better human being by God’s grace
And you need to say not only how, but why. In short, talk about John 3.16.
Live in such a way that people see the difference in you, and want to know more. Then, be prepared to tell them more.
It has been widely believed that Francis Assisi said, “Preach the gospel at all times. If necessary, use words.” There is no evidence that he actually said this, and frankly, I think he’d disavow it. If we are not prepared to use our words, how will our righteous living be understood?
If you don’t think you’d be very good at sharing the gospel ‘off the cuff’, then write it out. Hold it before God as you do. And share it with a Christian friend who can help you reflect on what you’ve written, and thereby help you learn what you’ve written, so you will be able to share it more freely in the future.
“But how can they call on him to save them unless they believe in him? And how can they believe in him if they have never heard about him? And how can they hear about him unless someone tells them?” (Romans 10.14, NLT).