Yesterday I preached from 1 John 3:16-24 on the topic, “How We Know What Love Is.” John wrote the first letter that bears his name to a specific congregation of the first century. In that letter, he repeatedly encourages them to love God and to love others. As a matter of fact, John says that we can’t say we love God if we aren’t showing love to others in our actions. Here’s the audio:
Photo credit: ABC News
Yesterday I preached on the story of Joseph and his brothers from Genesis 37. Arrogant Joseph with his multicolored coat, and his brothers who plotted to kill him when they saw him coming. This story resonates in light of the violence and hatred and death in Charlottesville, Virginia, just 110-miles north of where I live.
Joseph and his brothers illustrate the worst in our society today — division, hate, racism, and violence. Often, our first knee-jerk response to those with whom we disagree is to violent, vengeful thoughts. This Joseph story — with its division, hatred, and violence — is as old as humanity, and sadly often repeated.
Here’s the audio of my sermon yesterday. It’s only 18-minutes, but I think you’ll find it helpful. This is not about confederate monuments or free speech or political parties — its about violence, hatred, and vengefulness. These are never morally right, whether the cause is repugnant or righteous. Jesus has called his followers to respond in a totally different way from our society’s default to violence. Listen and tell me what you think. And pray for Charlottesville…and our nation.
Last Sunday, I preached from 2 Samuel 11:1-15, which is the story of David’s abuse of power when he saw, sent for, and violated Bathsheba. To further compound his sin, David sought to cover it up, and eventually had Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah the Hittite, killed.
It is a shameful story, but it is also a story that is a current as today’s headlines. In the sermon, I moved from the story of David’s abuse of power to the history of the abuse of power in American life during the era of slavery, the Civil War, Reconstruction, Jim Crow, and today. I offered this sermon treatment because that Sunday afternoon, white and black congregations were scheduled to gather for a meal and conversation together about race relations in our own community. This sermon prompted our congregation to examine our historical past, so that we could move forward to a more hopeful and inclusive future. Here’s the podcast:
Today, June 21, 2015, our church stood silently while the names of those killed at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC this past week were read. As the names were read, the pipe organ chimed for each person whose life was cut short during a Bible study in a church where they should have been safe.
The sermon I preached this morning was about David and Goliath, taken from 1 Samuel 17. But, I lamented the fascination we have with violence, and called us to a new day of hope because as David said, “All those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the Lord saves; for the battle is the Lord’s…” 1 Samuel 17:47 NIV.
Here’s the podcast of that message about how, even in the midst of tragedy, the families of those killed showed the world there is a God.
I have read lots of articles on church outreach in my thirty years of ministry. I’ve even written a few myself. However, I have never read an article on the ethics of outreach. Maybe it’s time for a look at the ethics of outreach. Here’s why.
In Hibbing, Minnesota, according to the KSMP-TV, the local Fox affiliate, a Muslim woman who had registered for a September 28 conference was asked to leave when she showed up for the meeting wearing a hijab. Previously the women’s conference advertising had stated, “All women are invited,” according to the station.
Ironically, the event organizers were People of the Book Ministries, a Christian outreach ministry to Muslims. Cynthia Khan, presenter for the conference, said that videos and material “offensive” to Muslims would be distributed. For that reason Khan asked that Rania Elsweisy, the hijab-wearing Muslim woman, be escorted from the conference.
As a result of Ms. Elsweisy’s ejection, the Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations filed a discrimination lawsuit against People of the Book Ministries.
“The only reason I was kicked out of the event was because of my religion, Islam,” said Elsweisy. “It is truly hurtful to be treated like you are lesser than somebody or that you don’t qualify to be talked to and treated equally as others,” according to the station’s website.
While the public discrimination suit will be worked out in civil courts, there is something ironic about a Christian ministry ejecting a member of the very group they claim to be trying to reach.
While I do not question the intentions of People of the Book, I do take issue with the ethics, or lack of ethics, involved here. Add to this incident a Texas megachurch that offered cars, flat-screen TVs, bikes, and other prizes for attending church on Easter, and my conclusion is that Christians do have an ethical problem with some forms of outreach.
All of this brings up the question, “Is there an ethical standard for Christian outreach programs and ministries?” Let me suggest five ethical standards that Christian outreach programs should adhere to:
1. Outreach must be open and transparent to all, including those being reached. In the Minnesota example, presenters knew that their material was offensive to Muslims, and probably for self-evident reasons, did not want Muslims present. However, Christians must ask themselves if our attitudes, strategies, and materials aimed toward those we are trying to reach are hostile, demeaning, or degrading, should we use them at all. Lottie Moon, a Southern Baptist missionary to China in the late 19th and early 20th centuries lobbied to have the label “heathen” dropped when referring to the Chinese people she ministered to.
2. Outreach must exhibit a genuine love and respect for individuals and their cultures. Demonizing the “other,” especially in the fraught relationships between the Muslim and Western worlds, may be an effective fundraising technique but is a poor strategy for loving neighbors who may not be like us. Jesus used the “other” — a Samaritan — as example of neighborliness in his parable we call the Good Samaritan. That’s quite a difference from presenting material that is known to be offensive to another culture.
3. Outreach must be grounded in the Deuteronomic command to “love God” and to “love your neighbor.” Jesus taught that these two commandments summarized all the Law and the Prophets. In other words, all we need to know and practice as followers of Jesus is love for God and love for others.
4. Outreach ends do not justify unscrupulous means. Evangelism methodologies continue to struggle with the idea that Christians must do “whatever it takes” to reach the world for Christ. However, the means we use to reach the world must be consistent with the message we present to the world. Christians cannot trick, deceive, misrepresent or mislead others into the Kingdom of God. Neither can we buy the attention of non-Christians through games of chance, lucky numbers, or attendance incentives. Jesus fed people, but he fed them after they listened all day, not to get them to listen.
5. Finally, although this is the first ethical principle, outreach must be modeled on the Trinitarian action of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The theology of the Triune God must inform our purpose, our practice, and our presence to those who do not know the good news of God. Trinitarian outreach is characterized by love, self-giving, incarnation, sacrifice, humility, patience, winsomeness, and hospitality.
Pastors and church leaders are assailed weekly with the news that church attendance is declining, baptisms are at all-time lows, and young adults are leaving the church in droves. That news, distressing as it may be, cannot become the pretext for desperate and unethical outreach strategies that discredit the Gospel and further damage the reputation of the Church of Jesus Christ.
In John 21:15-19, Jesus asks Peter three times, “Do you love me?” Most Bible scholars agree that Jesus is giving Peter the opportunity to atone for his betrayal of Jesus during Jesus’ arrest. But what does this mean for us today? How do we know if we love Jesus? In this passage we find the simple evidence of our love for Jesus.
During these Sundays between Easter and Pentecost, I am departing from the revised common lectionary to explore several of the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus. Here’s the link to the podcast, If You Love Jesus.
What is it about the Christmas story that captures the imagination of the entire world during this season of the year? I believe that the Christmas story is foremost a story about love. Of course, the Christmas story is historical, and it’s also a story about common people caught up in an uncommon drama, and that may explain some of its appeal. But at its heart, the Christmas story is a love story which spreads from person to person, even among those who have not yet come to know the Christ of Christmas as their Lord and Savior.
Here’s the podcast of my sermon from Christmas Sunday morning, December 25, 2011. http://traffic.libsyn.com/chuckwarnock/2-01_A_Story_of_Wonder.mp3
Did Jesus really mean that God would not forgive us unless we forgive others? And, if so, what does this do to the idea that salvation is by grace through faith, not by works? Join me as we look at this passage from The Lord’s Prayer today.
When You Pray: Forgive and Be Forgiven
Matthew 6:12, 14-15
12 And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
14 For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.
This is the sermon I ‘m preaching on Sunday, May 17, 2009. I hope your Sunday is a glorious one!
The New Commandment
9“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. 10If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love. 11I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. 12My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. 14You are my friends if you do what I command. 15I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. 16You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit—fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. 17This is my command: Love each other.
Remaining In Jesus’ Love
Last week we explored the idea of abiding in the Vine, from the lectionary passage from last Sunday, John 15:1-8. We discovered that abiding in the Vine meant abiding in Jesus, or remaining in Jesus. We also looked forward into the passage for this week and discovered that abiding in Jesus meant abiding or remaining in his love. Jesus explained that we remain in his love by obeying his commands, which is the statement he makes in this week’s scripture lesson.
We also noted last week that the commandment of Jesus, which we are to obey, is to love one another. Jesus, of course, was speaking to the disciples, but he did not limit this love to those within the disciple band. He did not mean for the 12 to form a circle, join hands and sing Kumbaya. He meant for them to abide in Jesus’ love by obeying his command, his new command, which was to love each other. That love would produce fruit, a result, a tangible by-product that would be obvious to both those who were acting in loving ways, and those who were being loved.
But this idea of remaining in Jesus’ love bears closer examination. For while it sounds like an easy and obvious thing to do, let’s look at it more closely.
You Can’t Stay Where You’ve Never Been
The first and most obvious point I want us to consider today is that you can’t stay where you’ve never been. In other words, you can’t remain in Jesus’ love if you’ve never received that love yourself. Jesus was talking to his closest followers, the 12. He had called each one walking by the sea shore, or strolling by the tax collector’s booth, or from other settings now lost to us. But he had called each one personally.
To Peter, Andrew, James, and John, he had called to them while they were mending fishing nets. Right in the middle of making a living, of carrying on the family tradition involving boats and nets and hard work and fish, Jesus called them to leave what they were doing and follow him. And they did.
To Matthew, Jesus called while Matthew was seated at the tax collector’s table, extracting painful sums of money from his neighbors. Some of the money Matthew could keep, most would be passed on to the Judean government, and then to Rome. Matthew, we are told, left the table of the tax collector to follow Jesus.
For many of the other disciples we have only legend, or no record of the circumstances from which they came. Judas, of course, is the most mysterious of all. And yet even Judas had personally been asked, and had personally accepted the invitation issued by Jesus to Judas. “Come and follow me.”
So each of these disciples to whom Jesus now speaks has made the decision to follow Christ. At first, they must have wondered what they had gotten themselves into. They had followed this Nazarene, this self-styled prophet from the wrong side of the tracks — if they had had tracks back then — and had spent almost the entirety of three years with him.
While some might have followed him at first out of curiosity, or political ambition, or nationalistic fervor as Simon the Zealot might have, during this three years something has happened to them.
They have watched Jesus perform wondrous signs and miracles, confirming that the kingdom of God is indeed very close. They have seen lives changed, heard strange new interpretations of Levitical law, and have witnessed Jesus weeping at a friend’s death, weeping over the city of Jerusalem, and struggling to present the invitation of the kingdom to God’s people.
They have seen Jesus rejected, ridiculed, targeted by the religious elite of their day. But they have also seen little children, old people, sick people, poor people, hungry people, and hopeless people as they are drawn to Jesus in a mysteriously wonderful way.
So when Jesus tells them to remain in his love, they know what that feels like, what it looks like, what happens when that divine love is revealed. When the love of Jesus is apparent the sick are healed, the dead are raised, the hungry are fed, the blind can see, the lame can walk. When the love of Jesus is revealed the multitudes are fed with one small lunch and 12 basketfulls are collected one for each disciple, to remind them that in the Kingdom of God there is always an abundance.
All but one will remain in Jesus’ love by being obedient to him. Judas, of course, will not. Judas will depart from Christ’s love, but Judas had at least been there once.
But Jesus command to remain in his love reminds us that we cannot stay where we have never been. So, the first thing we must ask ourselves today is, “Have I made the choice to follow Jesus, to experience his love.”
That choice is still a personal choice. Jesus says, “You did not choose me, but I chose you…” Jesus still calls people today. He still offers the opportunity to walk with him, to follow him, to obey his commands.
In the first century, not everyone who had the opportunity to follow Jesus took it. I’m thinking especially of the man I first learned of as a child, called “the rich young ruler.” Apparently this man had everything going for him — youth, wealth, and spiritual sensitivity. He was a seeker. And so he came to Jesus asking, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”
Jesus replied, “Keep the law.” The rich young ruler said, “I’ve done that. What else?” Then Jesus’ invitation to him was striking — “I’m inviting you to give all you have to the poor and come and follow me.”
Because Jesus knew wealth stood in the young man’s way. Wealth was the barrier to following Jesus. Wealth would keep him from Christ. And it did. So, this young man, this rich young ruler, cannot abide in the love of Christ, because he’s never been there to start with.
The invitation still comes today. It is not an invitation to join the church, although that is one result of following Christ. It is not the invitation to be baptized, although that is another result of following Christ. No, the invitation is to follow Christ, the son of the living God, as Peter confessed. To follow Jesus not just to the wedding at Cana where he performs his first miracle. To follow Jesus not just to the hill upon which the Sermon on the Mount is preached, or the valley in which 5,000 are fed. There were many who followed Jesus when food was free, or healing was available. No, the invitation is to follow Jesus to the Garden where he prays “Not my will but thine be done.”
The invitation is to follow Jesus to the passover supper, where he breaks bread and pours wine and says, “This is my body broken for you, this is my blog shed for you.”
The invitation is to follow Jesus out into the night. To stand with him while Judas betrays him, to protest when the high priest’s guards seize him. To follow Jesus to the headquarters of the religious court, then to Pilate’s hall, then to the scourging and mocking of the Roman soldiers.
The invitation is to follow Jesus as Simon of Cyrene does, who then carries the cross for a bruised and bloodied Jesus. The invitation is to follow Jesus up Calvary’s mountain “one dreadful morn” as the hymn writer says. The invitation is to stand at the foot of the cross, to be the trusted companion to whom Jesus commends his own mother. The invitation is to weep at the death of Jesus, the king of the Jews. To beg for his body, to anoint it for burial. The invitation is to witness his death in our place.
But the invitation is also to follow him to the tomb. To lose all hope, to despair for life itself. But there is one more place to follow him, and that is on the morning of his resurrection. To follow him to the tomb, where the stone is rolled away, where angels rejoice, from which the empire of Rome has fled in fear. To follow Jesus into a new era, an era where death has given way to life, where hopelessness has been replaced with hope, where Satan has been defeated, where the evil empire has seen the worst it can do sloughed off like yesterday’s clothes.
The invitation is to follow Jesus — the Lord of the universe — as he walks the path that love has plotted. A path that saves the world God so loved.
No, we cannot stay where we have never been, so we must be sure we have said, Yes to Jesus. What would the rich young ruler have said, if he had been at the empty tomb? Would he have realized that all the wealth in the world would have been a small price to pay for life eternal? Would he have then gladly given all he had to the poor, and followed Jesus? But you can’t stay where you’ve never been.
You Stay in Jesus’ Love By Living for Others
This week Debbie and I were at The Cove, the Billy Graham Training Center near Asheville, North Carolina. I had heard of The Cove for years, had passed the sign at exit 55 on I-40 just outside of Asheville numerous times in trips back and forth to Tennessee, but I had never been there. Tom Bledsoe, who for 39 years had been director of the Billy Graham School of Evangelism, asked me to lead two seminars during the week.
We arrived on Monday evening in time for the evening worship service where Dr. Robert Smith preached a powerful sermon about Phillip and the Ethiopian eunuch. By the time that service was over, I knew we were in for a treat.
The next day the guest speakers for the week gathered for a special luncheon in a separate dining room. Cliff Barrows and his wife joined us for lunch that day, and Debbie and I sat across a rather large table from them. But that night we had the privilege of eating at the same table with the Barrows in the magnificent dining room with walls of glass overlooking the majestic Blue Ridge mountains.
Cliff Barrows is 86, and macular degeneration has taken most of his eyesight. As we sat down, he said, “I know somebody’s over there, but I can’t see who it is.” His wife Ann, said, “It’s the Warnocks, we ate across the table from them at lunch.” We, of course, introduced ourselves and enjoyed the pleasure of eating with them and several Billy Graham Association staff members as well.
Of course, you remember that Cliff Barrows was the voice of the Billy Graham Crusades. He not only led the mass choir each evening, but he would introduce Billy Graham both during the crusades, and on the radio and TV programs that the Billy Graham association produced. Cliff Barrows, George Beverly Shea — who is 100, and Billy Graham, who is 90, started their ministry together and stayed together for all of these years.
At the table that evening, Cliff Barrows commented that he was going to speak the next evening on “How we got together, how we stayed together, and when we’re going to quit.” But then he began to tell a story that I found fascinating.
Cliff Barrows said that in 1948, the team was conducting a crusade near his hometown of Modesto, California. By then, they had become pretty well-known, although the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association has not been set up yet. They were still ministering under the Youth for Christ organization, and had not yet conducted the Los Angeles Crusade which would be extended again and again until it ran for six weeks. That was the crusade that brought the team to national attention, and got the nation talking about this young man, Billy Graham.
But even then, Cliff Barrows said that Bill, as he calls him, was concerned that their ministry not get caught up in the problems and scandals that plagued other evangelists. So, Billy Graham had asked each team member — Cliff and Bev Shea — to write down the issues they thought they would face, and how they should deal with them.
Cliff Barrows said the next morning they all met and compared notes. Each man had written the same four items. They were:
- To be men of integrity.
- To live lives of purity.
- To be accountable to God and others, including each other.
- To live with humility.
Mr. Barrows said they then prayed over these four items, asking God for guidance and confirmation, and upon ending their prayer agreed that these would be the four principles that would guide their ministry from that point on.
Cliff Barrows said he suggested they call their agreement “The Modesto Manifesto.” The name stuck and those principles governed the way they lived their personal lives, and conducted their ministry from that point forward.
Sixty-plus years, 419 crusades, 210-million people, and over 2-million professions of faith later, the principles still hold. Billy Graham, Cliff Barrows, and George Beverly Shea decided to live their lives for others, obeying Jesus, abiding in his love. And as a result of that, they did indeed bear much fruit.
So, this morning, there are two very simple questions we need to ask ourselves:
“Have I decided to follow Jesus and remain in his love?”
And, “Am I living for others as an expression of that love?”
That’s it. God will take care of the fruit. Jesus said,
You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit—fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. This is my command: Love each other.