Sunday, April 3, 2011

Fourth Sunday of Lent - Growing through Witness

Fourth Sunday of Lent “So…Why?” Series – Part IV Growing Through Witness “Once I was blind, but now I see!” The essence of our witness is just that simple. “Once I was _____________, but now I __________” Witness is telling the Good News of the Gospel of Jesus Christ as it has impacted and changed your own life. Witness is not optional equipment in the life of faith. If our life in Christ is like a new car, we tend to have a consumerist approach. We think that there are choices to be made on our part – a deluxe interior, color or paint packages. What we are talking about this Lent isn’t those kinds of choices! The choice of whether or not we are witnesses isn’t an “accessory” decision – its choosing whether the car has a transmission – a drive train, wheels and tires, because witness, my friends, is where the rubber meets the road. As American Anglicans we have both a spotted past behind us and a daunting task ahead of us. We are part of what has been the most significant decline of Christianity since its beginning, especially over the past 30 years in the West. While the East and the Global South are seeing an unprecedented revival of Christianity, with literal thousands upon thousands coming to Christ each day, we in America – formerly known as a Christian nation and the primary sender of worldwide missions in the past century – have come to be the mission FIELD. If unchurched Americans were a separate country, we would rank in size at about number 5 in the world. As the Anglican MISSION in the Americas our stated purpose is to be a part of God’s MISSION to win this nation back to Christ. But this task is not something we undertake alone – it is a part of the MISSIO DEI, the very MISSION OF GOD. RENEWING OUR FOUNDATIONS There are two equally critical parts to the foundation for witness in the Christian life. These two parts are found in The Great Commandment: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God, with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind and with all thy strength… and the second is like unto it, “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” The first part is Love the Lord; the second part is Love Others. These are the twin aspects of all that undergirds our Christian witness. St. Peter, in his first pastoral letter to the churches of the First century, wrote these words: But sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who ask you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence (NASB) 1 Pet 3:15 Peter starts with the honoring and setting apart of Jesus Christ as Lord in our lives. Our lack of witness is a LORDSHIP question, first of all. Before we can talk about the mechanics of the power train in the car we have to settle the question, “Who’s driving?” Who has the steering wheel in hand? We must settle this question in our hearts: IS JESUS REALLY LORD? It’s hard! We don’t have any kings or lords in our American culture – quite the contrary, we have been raised, since the revolution, to reject such as intrusive and an infringement of our personal freedom. Our freedom and our control are the supreme good in our modern culture, and so the question of LORDSHIP is one that we continually struggle with as we encounter Christ in scripture and as we come to Him in submission and obedience. Who IS in the driver’s seat? I once saw a bumper sticker that read, “If God is your co-pilot, you’re in the wrong seat!” Lordship means that we’ve given up the pilot’s chair; to honor Christ as Lord means allowing Him to drive the car. I know it’s scary. But it’s the difference of night and day! Literally. The second part is love for others. The apostle Paul, in his second letter to Corinth, explains his motivation for ministry to the Gentiles: For the love of Christ controls and urges and impels us, because we are of the opinion and conviction that [if] One died for all, then all died; 15And He died for all, so that all those who live might live no longer to and for themselves, but to and for Him Who died and was raised again for their sake. (Amplified) We need the heart of God, for His world – for His creation and for His creatures. We are so familiar with John 3:16 that we often blow right past its implication, in v. 17. For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him, should not perish but should have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. The work of Christ in the world … and by extension as His Body, our work in the world… is salvation. We must understand as well that that word is very comprehensive as it describes the whole renewal of the person, spirit, soul and body, as we come to God through Jesus Christ, His Son. It bears repeating again what follows from that compelling Love of Christ for Others: A New Life 14-15Our firm decision is to work from this focused center: One man died for everyone. That puts everyone in the same boat. He included everyone in his death so that everyone could also be included in his life, a resurrection life, a far better life than people ever lived on their own. 16-20Because of this decision we don't evaluate people by what they have or how they look. We looked at the Messiah that way once and got it all wrong, as you know. We certainly don't look at him that way anymore. Now we look inside, and what we see is that anyone united with the Messiah gets a fresh start, is created new. The old life is gone; a new life burgeons! Look at it! All this comes from the God who settled the relationship between us and him, and then called us to settle our relationships with each other. God put the world square with himself through the Messiah, giving the world a fresh start by offering forgiveness of sins. God has given us the task of telling everyone what he is doing. We're Christ's representatives. God uses us to persuade men and women to drop their differences and enter into God's work of making things right between them. We're speaking for Christ himself now: Become friends with God; he's already a friend with you. 21How? you ask. In Christ. God put the wrong on him who never did anything wrong, so we could be put right with God. (2 Cor 5:14-21 The Message) 21st Century Witness So the road lies before us – the power of the Spirit’s engine is within us – we are allowing Jesus to drive: So now what? What is our part? Let’s go back to St. Peter’s instruction: “Always be ready to make a defense – to give an answer – for the hope that is within you” Of course, this begs the question of whether or not your hope is in tack and visible!! It means living a life that is visibly Christian – being willing to be know to be a Christian – not putting your faith on the shelf when you leave the house each day. And why is it that HOPE is what will spark their interest? Have you ever been without HOPE? It is a pretty desolate and desperate place – a place where many in our world find themselves. And if you are there, the hope in another person is like a long drink of cool water in a very dry desert place. You want to know where it came from. So the witness of our lives is the Hope we have in Christ Jesus, of life eternal, that begins today. Hope means that we live life differently – that there is light in our eyes, a smile on our lips, spring in our steps, and purpose in our hearts. Not manufactured light or a fake smile. Not a worked up “spring” or a “have to” purpose. But a life that is filled and overflowing with genuine joy, peace, patience, goodness … all the Galations 5 fruit of the Spirit’s life in us. This stuff doesn’t depend on your faking it: God forbid. It depends on your living it … your life IN CHRIST. What people of all kinds are looking for today is what is REAL. We have a hard time describing it, and sometimes a hard time believing it, but REAL will come through to those around you, if you let it. Jesus said it this way, “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” How do people see the light in you? By the things you do? This is the make it or break it of our witness for Christ. In the Truth Project, Del Tackett asks, “Do you really believe that what you believe is really real?” That is what people want to know. And they will see it, in your ways more than in your words. And that is not to say that words are not important. Paul urges his friends in Rome on with these words, and here I will close: The word that saves is right here, as near as the tongue in your mouth, as close as the heart in your chest. It's the word of faith that welcomes God to go to work and set things right for us. This is the core of our preaching. Say the welcoming word to God—"Jesus is my Master"—embracing, body and soul, God's work of doing in us what he did in raising Jesus from the dead. That's it. You're not "doing" anything; you're simply calling out to God, trusting him to do it for you. That's salvation. With your whole being you embrace God setting things right, and then you say it, right out loud: "God has set everything right between him and me!" 11-13Scripture reassures us, "No one who trusts God like this—heart and soul—will ever regret it." It's exactly the same no matter what a person's religious background may be: the same God for all of us, acting the same incredibly generous way to everyone who calls out for help. "Everyone who calls, 'Help, God!' gets help." 14-17But how can people call for help if they don't know who to trust? And how can they know who to trust if they haven't heard of the One who can be trusted? And how can they hear if nobody tells them? (Rom 10 The Message) In a few weeks, after Easter, in the first three weeks of May, we will be taking part in the Christian Life and Witness Course, offered by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Assn. to prepare the church in Denver for a coming harvest. I want you to consider being a part of this three night commitment, to find the words of your witness. Please pray about taking an active part in the coming of God’s Kingdom here in Denver.