In this worship broadcast, we hear a message from Romans 15.23-33 that helps us understand the local church does not exist within its own bubble. We celebrate the Lord’s Supper near the end of the service, so feel free to have your bread and juice handy to join in. You can watch the whole broadcast below, or just the message below that.
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).
One of the delights of being on a pilgrimage that includes some people you don’t know is that you have the opportunity to get to know them while travelling. So one day, when someone I didn’t know was sitting across the aisle on the bus from me, I said, “Tell me a story.”
Among the things this young woman told me was how she got involved in the congregation in which she participates. Much to my delight, it was through the gentle influence of a mutual friend.
This friend would care for her children, and would invite the kids to sing Bible songs and learn Bible stories while in her care. And as time went on, and it seemed appropriate, she would make soft invitations – to church events, to fill Operation Christmas Child shoe boxes, to come to Christmas services, then Easter services, and then, well, she got involved whole-hog!
A whole family came to know Jesus because of the kind words and simple invitations of a Christian who cared.
Think of the gentle influence you may have…and think of the people over whom you might have it!
“…if someone asks about your hope as a believer, always be ready to explain it. But do this in a gentle and respectful way” (1 Peter 3.15b-16a, NLT).
Because we get most of our bills sent electronically, and not many people share handwritten correspondence anymore, except on special occasions, we find that we don’t need to retrieve our mail from the post office more than once or twice a week.
Lately, though, our mailbox has been fuller than usual. My wife is getting a lot of unsolicited mail – asking for money, of course – from unusual sources.
Yesterday, there was a letter for her from an organization, and when she got home, she looked at it and said, “Someone is selling their mailing list.”
This happens to everybody who has a fixed address, though perhaps less often than usual, because direct mail campaigns seem to be less effective than they once were.
It got me thinking, though. Because of privacy laws, fewer and fewer organizations are free to sell their mailing lists, but when they do, other groups will buy them because they hope, and maybe even expect, that they will recoup their investment through new donors. In other words, the cost involved in gaining more names will be exceeded by the results they will get from sending a campaign to those names.
When we share our faith, there is no money exchanged – I don’t think, anyway! – but there is a ‘return on investment’ side to it. For many of us, talking about our relationship with God has a cost: uncomfortabliity. Many of us find ourselves outside our comfort zones when we talk about Jesus with others. That’s why we don’t do it.
But consider the return on that investment: if we share our faith with others, and even one person says ‘yes’ to Jesus, what is gained from that act far exceeds the uncomfortability we may have had in sharing.
Think about that the next time you have the opportunity to open a door of faith for another person. What you’re feeling is nothing when compared with the changed eternity for that person who may come to the Lord as a result.
“So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us” (2 Corinthians 5.20, NLT).
If you walked by someone’s home and saw flames shooting up through the roof, what would be the first thing you’d do? You’d call 911, and pound on the door until you made sure that people inside knew about the fire and could get out safely.
If you’re a follower of Jesus and you meet someone who is not, what’s your normal reaction? Most people’s response would be to be polite and say nothing.
Theologian Michael Green said, many years ago, that too often, Christians are like people going through customs at the airport: nothing to declare.
You and I have something to declare – something of eternal importance.
If you’re a follower of Jesus who believes the Bible is true, then every person you know who is not a follower of Jesus is the equivalent of a house on fire. We have a responsibility to find creative ways to encourage them to follow Jesus, because eternity rests in the balance. We’ve got the best news in the world to share.
If you don’t tell them, how will they know?
“For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him. There is no judgment against anyone who believes in him. But anyone who does not believe in him has already been judged for not believing in God’s one and only Son” (John 3.16-18, NLT).
A couple of weeks ago, I had the privilege to listen to Professor David Haskell of Wilfrid Laurier University speak about the state of the church in Canada today. He said many noteworthy things in his all-too-brief 45-minute talk, but one thing in particular stood out for me: “Churches are hospitals. We need ambulances.”
What does that mean?
It means that while God’s people are in the business of soul care, we have, for too long, expected people to come to us for that healing, instead of us going to them. And today, if the church is to thrive, we have to go to them.
Who are “them”?
They are our neighbours, our friends, our loved ones who are suffering spiritually because they lack a personal relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. For a long time in Canada, we have simply expected that people who were interested in religious services of a particular brand would go to a church building of that particular brand, walk in the door, and engage. And on some rare occasions, this actually happens today…but not often.
No, today, we need to go out into the streets with proverbial stretchers and bring care to the spiritually sick right there in the field before we bring them to the hospital.
To carry that analogy further, we don’t wait for those in need to realize their need and come to the professionals for help. All followers of Jesus are called to be spiritual EMS workers, acting where and when the need is greatest.
For all of us, that means growing in our faith so that we are competent to provide basic spiritual care – to introduce our neighbours to Jesus – out in the field. None of us ever masters the faith, for if that were possible it would cease to be faith! But we should enjoy the Lord so much that we long to share him with others – over the back fence, in the post office, wherever we get the opportunity – without waiting for them to figure out their own need of Christ and finding your neighbour showing up at church, only to be surprised to see you there.
Churches are hospitals, and we need ambulances. Will you be an ambulance?
“Go into all the world and preach the Good News to everyone” (Mark 16.15, NLT).
The Internet erupted with praise and emotion as the world received news on Wednesday morning this week of the death of Billy Graham. Though I never met him personally, or even heard him speak in person, I am feeling a certain sadness about it.
I’m not sad for him, though – he was 99 years old when he died, and he was confident of his eternal destiny. In fact, he once said (borrowing from D.L. Moody), “Someday you will read or hear that Billy Graham is dead. Don’t you believe a word of it. I shall be more alive than I am now. I will have just changed my address. I will have gone into the presence of God.”
What saddens me is that with the passing of Billy Graham, we have seen the end of an era. When Billy Graham preached at crusades, God worked in mighty ways. Graham’s ministry led thousands upon thousands of people to embrace faith in Christ. And his connections with local churches at those crusades meant there was meaningful follow-up that took place so that these new believers could connect with faith communities that would strengthen their newfound walk with the Lord.
In a post-war, still-Christian western world, that approach worked. But in a post-modern, post-Christian western world, it does not work as well. Still, Graham’s passion for evangelism has inspired millions of Christ-followers to share their faith, in helpful and appropriate ways, with their friends. Evangelism today happens more effectively from neighbour to neighbour.
God has not given me the gift to be able to preach with the evangelistic fervour of Billy Graham, but that does not stop me from proclaiming Christ, crucified, risen and ascended, both from the pulpit and from the front porch. While I may not have a gift for evangelism, I have a heart for it – as should each of us. Why not step out in faith and share your love for Jesus with a neighbour this weekend? Don’t be afraid of the response; if you get questions for which you have no answers, your friend will be patient as you seek out answers.
Many have imitated Billy Graham, but none has been so used of God in mass evangelism. I recommend that you read his autobiography (available here) to get his own take on his life as an evangelist. Unlike so many who crave the spotlight, Graham remained a humble man of God his whole life.
There’s such good news to share – how can we keep from sharing it? Billy Graham shared it in word and in deed…and so can we.
“Well done, good and faithful servant…enter into the joy of your master” (Matthew 25.21, RSV).