We had some technical glitches with the recording of this morning’s service, but the message is so important, I wanted to find a way to make it work anyway, so you can try watching it from here. I’d be interested to know from you if you found it worked. Make sure the sound is turned on. You *shouldn’t* need a Facebook account to watch this, but I’d be curious to know if you can. Apologies for the challenge. The Scripture focus is from James 4.1-17, and the video I show early in the message can be viewed here.
Every year, on or about the fourth Sunday of September, St. Paul’s Church, Nobleton celebrates “Bring A Friend” Day. While any Sunday is a good Sunday to bring a friend to church, we make a special effort on that weekend: invitations are issued, lunch is shared, guests are ‘expected’.
It’s become challenging for many people to issue the invitation, to make the ask. As I’ll say on Sunday, we’ve been taught for a few generations now not to talk about politics or faith in polite company, and the result, especially in our polarized society, is that we are no longer able to dialogue in a civil manner about the Lord Jesus.
The key is to build relationships.
When we are engaged in healthy relationships with our neighbours, our friends, our family members, and when faith is an integral part of our lives, those with whom we share those relationships will naturally want to know why faith is part of who we are.
And that opens the door to inviting them to join you for worship.
I’ve occasionally shared a vlog done by Penn Jillette some years ago about how, despite his avowed atheism, he admired a man who gave him a Bible after a show. His point was this: If we believe we know the way to eternal life, how much do we have to hate someone else to be unwilling to share it?
It’s a good question. And a haunting one, if we’re honest.
Whatever congregation you’re part of as you read this, I hope you’re not waiting for an excuse to invite someone to worship with you. If you’re looking to understand why this is important, I will be talking about our role as ambassadors this Sunday. I’m inviting you!
“So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, ‘Come back to God!’” (2 Corinthians 5.20, NLT).
I am grateful that I have the opportunity, quite often, that I can walk to work. It’s a privilege not everybody receives. I don’t have to fight traffic, losing hours from family time just trying to get to and from work. Being able to walk to work enriches my life, both for the physical activity and for the enhancement of family life.
But it has another side benefit, too, that I experienced recently.
I was walking to work, taking my usual route, and a young neighbour, to whom I would wave when I’d see him, called me over to where he was sitting outside his front door.
Perceiving that I worked “at that church over there”, he proceeded to start a most interesting conversation about the life of faith. We chatted for perhaps 10 minutes about similarities and differences between denominations, and he seemed genuinely intrigued with my subtle presentation of the good news of Jesus.
I invited him to our “Bring A Friend” Sunday at St. Paul’s Church, Nobleton on September 22, and he gladly accepted; I will pray for him, and hope that he comes! (If you’re in the area and don’t have a church family to call your own, please come as my guest – that Sunday, or any Sunday at 10:00 a.m.!)
Even if you don’t have the opportunity to walk to work, you do have the opportunity to take walks through your neighbourhood. Consider whether the Lord is inviting you to do so – for exercise, yes, but also for sowing seeds of new relationships with important conversations that can lead to spiritual discussions…and possibly spiritual transformation.
“We should help others do what is right and build them up in the Lord” (Romans 15.2, NLT).
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.
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).