For you parents I am willing to bet that you have played Hide and Seek with your children. And especially when your children were young, you had to feign have difficulty finding them to make the game interesting and fun… And just as young children are not able to hide from their parents, imagine our repeated attempts to hide from the All Seeing and All Knowing God. And yet, that hardly stops us from the vain attempt…
Latest NewsletterGrace Notes 2021-06-16
Christianity is relational! Doctrine, faith, and compassion all matter. But at the heart of the Christian Faith is our relationship to our Heavenly Father.
Being created in the image and likeness of God means, at least in part, that humans are meant to share in the fellowship of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And we were meant to be in community with others made in God’s image!
It is by God’s grace, through faith in Christ, with the help of the Holy Spirit that estranged sinners have been forgiven and reconciled to God. In spite of our fallen state from fellowship with the Lord in the Garden of Paradise, through the work of Christ our Lord we have been re-reunited to him.
I mention all this, because at the heart of evangelism is relationship. Let’s call it friendship. This provides an important understanding of how to go about evangelizing (gospeling) others. Make friends! But to have a friend, we must be a friend. That is, we need to take an interest in others, engage them, enter into conversation with them, show yourself trustworthy and willing to support and come to the aid of them.
Then there is one more thing. We need to be open about who we believe we are as Christians. And quite unlike the spirit of the age, rather than a personal quest of self-discovery or self-assertion, we can share that we have been given an identity. Let your friends know that you are a Christian, that you belong to God, that you are his and that is what you are living for. He came and sought us. He is reclaiming that which he first created for himself, but then became estranged due to our rebellion.
The making of friends on that basis is evangelism. And we must continue to be a friend whether or not those we befriend come to the faith. The friendship after all is a gift, indeed a witness in itself! It testifies to the importance of relationships!
Since You Asked…
Why do we celebrate Holy Communion nearly every Sunday?
The celebration of the meal we call Holy Communion has consistently been the chief act of Christian worship since the age of the Apostles. The Lutheran Reformation did not break with this tradition of 1,500 years. In fact the Augsburg Confession (our principal statement of faith) declares Holy Communion to be the chief act of worship for Lutherans on Sundays and festivals (Art. 26). (from “Manual on the Liturgy” companion to the LBW, from Augsburg Pub.)
You might think of Holy Communion as spiritual bread and drink for our journey (pilgrimage), for our Lord’s Body and Blood is true nutrition indeed!
And now, after mentioning that we should focus our evangelistic efforts on those to whom we have been put in close proximity, I will embark a little in the “how to” of sharing the faith.
Our mindset is important. We need to keep in mind that we are called to give witness and to share the faith. In our consumerist society we can easily succumb to thinking we need to make a sale, or sign a new recruit. This way of going about it is actually warned against in Scripture. The Apostle Paul insists, “For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God’s word, but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ” (2Co 2:17).
Think of it terms of sharing. We hope to be able to share the reason for our hope and joy. That is, we hope to speak about Jesus, share who he is, and what we have discovered as his disciples. The Apostles’ Creed with Luther’s explanations can prompt us on important things to share. This includes Jesus’ unusual birth and identity. It includes the centrality of his death on the cross, and what that accomplished. It includes the hope his resurrection gives, and the connection his death and resurrection has on the forgiveness of sins. And it certainly includes his promise to return at the end of the age.
We hope to come to that point. But commensurate to sharing this amazing love in words, we first begin to share our lives in compassion and genuine interest in others. Again, Paul put it this way, “We were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us” (1Th 2:8).
In short, begin your witness by taking a genuine interest in those around you. Show compassion. Take chances now and then to share about Jesus, but respect whether a person is ready to listen to what you have to share.
Since You Asked…
What is the significance of the Day of Pentecost?
A principal Festival, The Day of Pentecost (Jewish harvest festival) was the occasion when the promised gift of the Holy Spirit was sent and poured out on the expectant church. It accordingly marks the culmination of the Easter Season. It occurs 50 days after Easter Sunday. Jesus had promised his followers that when he departed from them (the ascension, not the crucifixion) that he would not leave them as orphans. In fact, until his return at the end of the age, it would be to their advantage that he was departing, for then he would send the Holy Spirit as one called alongside them to comfort them, teach them, guide them, and empower them, even as the Holy Spirit continued to sanctify them (to make holy).
Before I venture further in the “how to” of evangelizing, or gospeling, others, I wish to reflect on the people we should be reaching out to. I hope that sounds a little strange. But really, who should I be witnessing to?
Of course we can say that we should be seeking to evangelize everyone, you know, make disciples of all nations. And yes, of course, in general this is true. But I would suggest sharing your faith with some particular individual rather than everyone in general. It is like the man who is madly in love with the whole world, but really struggles to love his neighbor.
As Lutherans we join other Christians in speaking about our baptismal vocations. And we understand three realms in which we are to serve the neighbor. First we are to serve the family that God has placed us in. Seldom do we have any choice in this. We were not consulted at our births or adoptions. God has seen to it that we are taken care of in a family.
Second, our family lives in a community. Most immediately we are surrounded by neighbors. We are called to live our faith, to be little christs, to our family and our surrounding neighbors in our community. In many cases we had little to do with who these people are.
And third, as baptized believers we have been joined to a Christian Community, a Church, in which we are part of a family of faith. Sometimes we have some say where this is. Other times, especially when we have been raised in the faith, this too was determined for us. Here also we are called to constantly gospel and serve others.
I say all this, because one of the less than helpful ways evangelism is pictured for us is with complete strangers. Without denying the possibility, it is not a good model. And when we pay attention it is not the way it is usually done in the Scriptures…
Since You Asked…
What is the significance of The Ascension Day Commemoration?
Forty days following Easter the Resurrected Christ ascended to heaven, where as we confess in the Creed, he is seated at the right hand of the Father. The account of the ascension of our Lord occurs in both Luke 24:50-51 and Acts 1:9-11. As described in these passages Jesus led his disciples up Mount Olivet near Jerusalem where suddenly they witnessed his being elevated up into the sky until a cloud took him away from their sight. This signified his return to heaven where, as we confess in the Creed, he is seated at the right hand of the Father. This enthronement is a description of the all-inclusive authority he is given by the Father. Christ’s going away necessarily preceded his promised sending of the Holy Spirit. Another hint at the significance of his ascension has to do with his serving as a High Priest interceding for his Church.
This week I wish to begin the discussion on the “how to” of evangelism, that is, sharing the Faith, or as I have said, gospeling others.
At the outset I wish to emphasize the avoidance of a formulaic way of going about the business. Perhaps this aversion is in part because my disdain of canned approaches. But hopefully it has more to do with the creative, individual, and natural ways being more compelling. That having been said, I have no doubt that God has worked through such things as “The Four Spiritual Laws”, “The Roman Road”, or “The Kennedy Plan”. Don’t worry if you are unfamiliar with those names, the point is they are formulaic and memorized ways of going about the endeavor. Even so, I like the saying , “I like his way of going about evangelism poorly, better than your way of not doing it at all.”
We tend to think of conversation as being necessary in the work of evangelism. And ultimately, indeed some words are needed. But the needed words tend to be more effective if they stem from our actions, especially our acts of compassion and mercy. And yet, people don’t learn of the Gospel, namely, the love of God shown us in the death and resurrection of God’s Son for forgiveness and rescue from sin, death, and the devil, by our actions alone. To learn of this requires words!
The easiest and most natural sharing of the faith comes when people have observed our lives and they ask us what motivates our lives, especially the hopefulness they see in us as we go about loving God and loving our neighbor. It is best when they are already inquisitive and ask such a question. But of course, that begs the question. Do they in fact see anything different in us?
This brings us back full circle to our constantly being formed in the Faith and exercising the same 24/7, and our being full of hope and deep seated joy.
Since You Asked…
What is the significance of sharing the peace?
“The peace which enables people to live in unity and in the spirit of mutual forgiveness comes only from Christ whose word has been proclaimed. … The peace is a sign that those who participate in it open themselves to the healing and reconciling power of God’s love and offer themselves to be agents of that love in the world. … The personal exchange of the peace should be as unpatterned as possible, but its meaning and significance should be kept clear. It is not the occasion merely for conviviality. The choice of gesture, whether a handshake, holding hands, or an embrace, should be left to the persons themselves.” (from “Manual on the Liturgy” companion to the LBW, from Augsburg Pub.)
I mentioned last week that we first need to be evangelized ourselves before we can effectively be employed to evangelize others. This is true, but it is also the case that gospeling others needs to begin before we are fully gospeled ourselves; for the simple reason that since being evangelized is a lifelong process, we would never get around to it at all if we needed to be fully evangelized first.
This is a case of being able to walk and chew gum at the same time. But in the sharing and formation of the Gospel, as evangelists we need to keep receiving that Gospel formation ourselves. The more we are filled, the more we have to pour out.
It is probably also true, that if we never venture out and share, that which we are filled with will become stagnant. God’s love and mercy is poured out in us, so that in turn it can be poured out to others. And as God’s love is infinite we need never fear that he is unable to refill us as we empty ourselves with the Gospel to others.
So there is a balance here. We need to have something to share, so we need to make being filled a priority. And yet, if we do not quickly pour out what we have received we also don’t receive all that we can. Think of it as emptying to make room for ever fresh and new blessings and mercy.
It is also true, if we just dabble and are sporadic and haphazard in our own formation by God’s Word, we not only will not be well equipped to share Christ’s Word, but we will also lack confidence, excitement, and familiarity with what we try to share.
It helps immensely to come alive in sharing devotionally with other believers. If we are not practiced in talking faith with other believers, it won’t be easier to have such conversations with the uninitiated and outsiders…
Since You Asked…
What is the meaning of the Incarnation?
The word incarnation is taken from Latin term incarnatio. It literally means “taking flesh” and in the Christian Faith it refers to God becoming human. In John 1:14 we learn of God the Son becoming flesh with the birth of Jesus of Nazareth. Indeed the child born to Mary was a man, but it is the insistence of the Christian Faith that Jesus was also fully God. He is sometimes called the God-Man. Without ceasing to be fully divine, inseparable and equal to God the Father and God the Holy Spirit; God the Son also fully assumed our humanity in the womb of the Virgin Mary. In this way Jesus mediates God to man and then also represents man to God. The mystery of the Incarnation becomes a necessary means by which Jesus’ death and resurrection accomplishes our salvation.