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What Makes an Evangelist? October 23, 2011

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1 Thessalonians 2:1-13

 Proper 25

October 22-23, 2011

Focus: God loved us and set the stage for us to love others.

Function: That the hearers more willingly share God’s love with others.

Structure: This is the promise of the gospel, here is how we may live out that promise.

 

What Makes an Evangelist?

            What does it take to be one of the great evangelists of our day?  It’s really easy to answer by pointing to the men and women we see evangelizing on television.  They’re all very charismatic, full of energy and have faces made for TV.  They all seem to share these qualities.  And when we see that, it can discourage us and make us think that we aren’t capable of evangelizing.  Thankfully, those aren’t the qualities that make for a good evangelist.

If you remember back to last week’s sermon, I came on pretty strong.  I really wanted to hammer home the idea that Yahweh alone is our God.  Not only that, but also that He is always faithful to the covenant that He made with Abraham.  He is our God and we are His people.  And ultimately, God showed His faithfulness to the covenant when He provided us with His Son.

In Jesus Christ, we have everything God can give us.  Jesus came into the world, lived and walked among God’s people, preaching, teaching, healing, and just talking.  And Jesus knew how His life was going to end.  He knew about the cross hanging in His future.  And yet He continued onward and faced it like only God could do.

Jesus bled and died on that cross as the sacrifice for our sins.  Because of Christ, we are forgiven.  We are God’s children.  But Jesus didn’t stop with forgiveness, with mercy.  He continued on and in rising from the dead gave us a gift to look forward to.  We have the promise of everlasting life with our God and His Son Jesus Christ.  We will live in a paradise with all our brothers and sisters forever.

We know the gospel.  We believe in Christ and His forgiveness and love.  But what do we do in the meantime?  It’s the age-old philosophical question: why are we here?  Or at least, why are we still here?  Have you ever stopped to think about it?  If we have faith and believe in Jesus as our Lord and Savior, why are we still living the temporary life in the broken world?  Why don’t we just fast forward to the everlasting paradise?

Well, God may have plenty of reasons that we aren’t aware of, but He does communicate one to us directly.  His kingdom isn’t done growing yet.  Before Christ left to return to Heaven to the right hand of the Father, He gave His disciples the very familiar command of the Great Commission in Matthew 28:19-20.  “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

It’s the idea of evangelism.  But in order to truly answer the question of what makes a successful evangelist, we first need to realize what evangelism is.  The word is transliterated, translated, straight from the Greek word euaggelizomai, which means to preach the gospel or to share the good news.  So by definition, an evangelist is simply someone who shares God’s love, the gospel, with someone else.

This is what Paul is talking about in his letter to the church in Thessalonica.  It’s a rehashing of his ministry among them.  He gives thanks for the brothers and sisters in that church and rejoices in their faith.  His ministry is an excellent example of the qualities of an evangelist.  The qualities that first come to our minds today have nothing to do with what Paul and his coworkers did in the early church.

First, Paul says they spoke the Word no matter what.  It didn’t matter if they were being opposed or even persecuted, they spoke God’s Word to others.  Of all the qualities we’re going to talk about, this one may just be the hardest for us.  All but one of the disciples was killed for their faith.  And yet, all too often, we’re afraid to share the gospel with others because they might make fun of us, or even worse, argue with us.  We don’t like to be rejected.

Paul next makes the important point of where the Word comes from.  The source of the gospel isn’t men.  This isn’t our message for others that we’ve come up with.  It’s God.  This is God’s Word of salvation for all men to hear.  It’s not about what we’ve done, but what God has done for all of us.

Another quality is that the evangelist isn’t self-seeking.  When you’re sharing the gospel, why would do it selfishly?  The gospel is shared for the sake of the person who hears it.  And we’re not trying to make ourselves look good either.  Pastor and I don’t preach to you to just to make you happy, instead, we preach what you need to hear.  If you ever suspect us of falling into the temptation of doing what we do solely for our own benefit, slap some sense into us.  In our American culture, you and I aren’t getting anywhere for ourselves by talking about Jesus.  Christianity is no longer the majority.  It won’t make you popular.

Next, Paul compares what he was doing to the love that a mother has for her child.  That certainly speaks more about being selfless.  A mother would do anything for her child.  She loves the little one and does whatever possible to feed, clothe, comfort, shelter, protect and help them.

The point to take here is just putting the other person’s needs before our own.  Helping people is a simple way to show that we care about them.  Jesus sets up this example when He said “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.”  Whatever we do for others, we do for Christ.  A few weeks ago, this church sent volunteers to Feed My Starving Children.  They packed enough food to feed 47 kids for a year.  Those children will want to know who fed them.

And that fits well with the next point also, that they were “blameless and pure.”  The point here isn’t to argue about whether or not Paul and his companions ever sin.  The point here is to live your faith.  Do you remember the song, “They Will Know We are Christians By Our Love?”  Loving and helping other people when we don’t have to in our world forces them to wonder why.  And if Christians were all to do this, non-Christians would want to know what sets us apart.  It opens the door to talk about God and what He has done for us in His Son.

Our behavior fits into this too, which is where Paul went with the text.  If we act out our faith, they will see that, and it opens doors.  But if we go about committing sins and acting no different than the rest of the world, what reason do they have to find out more about God?

Paul uses the image of a father’s encouraging, comforting and urging of a child to live a life worthy of God.  Paul is urging the people to live out their faith as a witness to others.  And when he says a life worthy of God, he qualifies that by saying that God is the One who first calls us into His kingdom.  We can only live as Christians because God first called us to be Christians.  We can only love others because God first loved us.

There is one last element that Paul focused on in his letter to the church.  We don’t see explicitly in our pericope, this one small snippet of the letter, but it’s everywhere.  At least once per chapter of this letter, Paul makes reference to the return of Christ, to His second coming.  The Thessalonians understood this point too well.  They knew Jesus was coming back to judge.  They knew the last day was coming.  But, when they heard soon, some of them thought immediately.  A big problem for their church was that some didn’t feel like they needed to work anymore.  Christ is coming soon.  Why do I need to worry about the harvest a few months from now if Christ is coming back tomorrow or next week?

It’s obvious to us that they were wrong with that thought.  Two thousand years have gone by since then.  But haven’t we gone the opposite way?  Do we really stop to think about what it means that Christ is coming back?  Do we still live our lives as though He will be coming soon?

The holidays are coming soon.  They will be here.  If you aren’t prepared, there’ll be some arguments, fights, and disappointment.  You might get embarrassed that you weren’t ready for the in-laws on Thanksgiving.  Children will likely get upset that there aren’t any presents under a tree; in fact, there’s not even a tree this year.  If tax return day is coming soon, do you want to wait until May to deal with the IRS, or do you get prepared, and get your taxes turned in?

None of these examples quite do the trick, but I’m hoping you get the point.  Christ is coming.  He could return before I finish this sermon; He could return tomorrow.  Sure, there’s a possibility that soon may mean another two thousand years.  But can we afford to take that chance?  He is coming like a thief in the night.  For our own sake, can we go unprepared?  We can’t afford to.  When you sin, there is an urgent need to confess, to repent, to receive forgiveness.  And in Christ we have that forgiveness.  When a Christian commits a sin, they can rest assured that they are forgiven when they’ve confessed it.

But what about everyone else?  If Christ comes back before dinner tonight, what happens to all of them?  We have that answer, and it’s not pretty.  Christ’s call to make disciples of all nations is urgent.  We don’t know when He’ll be back.  Would you risk your child’s life on a wager?  How about a family member or friend?  The neighbor across the street?  They can’t afford to wait.

Evangelizing simply means to share the good news.  Who of us here doesn’t like to share our joys, accomplishments, or good news?  Was it difficult for Pastor last week to rejoice in his new grandson?  How many of us when we get married or have kids have a tough time spreading the word?  When it’s your birthday or someone has given you a great new toy, don’t we celebrate?  Don’t we share?  The gospel of Christ trumps all of these things.  He is the good news.

All of the qualities of an evangelist can be seen in Christ.  Jesus spoke the Word of God no matter what.  He wasn’t afraid to suffer and die for the gospel.  He did what He did for us.  There was no selfish reason for Christ to die.  He gave up His life to save us because of His love for us.  Jesus loves us more than we can even imagine and takes care of our needs.  And He led by example.

One reason that life doesn’t just end when we believe is that we live in a community.  God created us to be relational, not independent.  If all the Christians were suddenly gone, how would God’s Word be shared?  Life goes on so that we may share it in our lives and vocations.  As parents, we raise our children in the church.  As friends, we share God’s love with others.  As co-workers, we live a life that stands out, and opens a door for someone to ask why we’re different.  We help those who are in need of earthly things so that we can then share with them the message of everlasting life.  We are God’s children, loved and saved by Him, and as His children, we share that love and the gift of salvation with others.

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Yahweh Alone is God October 16, 2011

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Isaiah 45:1-7

 Proper 24

October 15-16, 2011

Focus: Yahweh alone is God, and He is faithful.

Function: That the hearers put their trust in Yahweh alone.

Structure: Historical; Then and Now.

 

Yahweh alone is God

            Their city had been ravaged by war for the last several generations.  Not only had their trusted neighbor turned on them and attacked, and allies turning out to be enemies, but now they were under siege.  King Nebuchadnezzar had them trapped.  Nothing in, nothing out.  For nearly two years, they lived liked this.  The food supply gone, parents found themselves eating their own children to fend off starvation one more day.  Sickness and death ran rampant.  Music and joy ceased.  Dancing turned to mourning.

It was almost merciful when Babylon broke through the walls of Jerusalem.  They burned the palace of the king and the homes of the people; they demolished the temple of God and destroyed all the remnants of a once-thriving civilization.  The army of Nebuchadnezzar carried off most of the people of Judah into captivity in Babylon.  Some managed to escape and flee to neighboring lands.  And the poorest of the poor were left behind to tend the vineyards and the fields in order to increase the empire’s food supply.

Those who were carried off were punished severely, imprisoned, beaten, raped, and put to work in even worse conditions than slaves.  King Zedekiah was forced to watch as his sons were killed before his very eyes.  And as if that weren’t enough, he was then blinded, bound, and locked away.  Estimates put the death toll near half of the total population; imagine one out of every two people gone.  All who remained of God’s chosen people worked in forced labor to a new empire, a new king.  The very promised land lay devastated by famine and war.  All hope was lost.

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

It’s really easy for us today to pick up the Bible and forget what it really is.  It’s not a story.  The Old Testament isn’t some fictional tale of how the world came to be.  God’s Word is the true history of mankind.  The image I painted for you just moments ago really happened.  Those men and women actually lived, bled, and died.

What happened?  These men and women were the chosen people of God.  They were His holy nation, set apart to be His people.  Perhaps that’s what the author of Lamentations, whom most Christians now believe was the prophet Jeremiah, perhaps that’s what he had in mind when he finished his writings

Why do You forget us forever? Why do You forsake us so long? Restore us to You, O Yahweh, that we may be restored; Renew our days as of old, Unless You have utterly rejected us and are exceedingly angry with us.

 

He puts the blame on Yahweh for the circumstances.  He accuses Yahweh of forgetting, of turning His back on His people.  That’s the furthest thing from the truth.  When push comes to shove, Yahweh is the only One capable of keeping the covenant He made with Abraham and his descendants.  But sin blinds us from always seeing that.

In fact, sin is precisely the reason for the suffering of the people of Judah.  They were not living the covenant.  They did not hold Yahweh to be their God alone, and they were surely not being His people.  They turned their backs on Yahweh to worship and follow other gods.  It was their disobedience that brought about their problems.

We do know through Scripture that Yahweh used the nation of Babylon, under King Nebuchadnezzar, to punish Judah for their unholy living.  But God wasn’t aiming to obliterate His chosen people.  God used the Babylonian Captivity to bring about repentance in the hearts of His people.  But even after realizing their sins and their need to repent, the nation of Judah still forgot the covenant.  As Lamentations says, “Renew our days as of old, Unless You have utterly rejected us and are exceedingly angry with us.”  They failed to truly believe that Yahweh would be their God.  They thought it was conditional on their actions.  But that goes entirely against God’s covenant faithfulness.  He is faithful 100% of the time.  He is always their God, whether or not they’re acting like His people.  And Yahweh delivers His children.

As we see in our Old Testament reading today from Isaiah, God chose Cyrus, the King of Persia, to deliver Judah from their bondage, to put an end to their fifty years of captivity.  While His people sat and quarreled over whether He’d take them back or not, God was already in the act of sending Cyrus to Babylon.  We see in the text Yahweh proclaiming the power that He is giving to Cyrus.  But we also see that Yahweh leads the way, humbling nations and kings, tearing open doors, clearing the path for Cyrus, breaking the bonds of His people, and revealing every hidden treasure in the land, ripe for the taking.  Babylon was ready to be conquered.

Yahweh called Cyrus to be His servant; He anointed him and established him as the King of Persia.  He did all of this even though Cyrus didn’t know Him or believe in Him.  And He goes on to say that He did this so that Cyrus, Judah, and the whole world would know that He is Yahweh, He is God.  And more to the point, He is the only God.  Besides Him there is no other.  From the rising of the sun to its setting, Yahweh is there in everything.  He formed light and created darkness.  He made peace and created chaos.  He is the architect of all things.  There is no other God.

That’s the point that Yahweh is so dramatically trying to get across.  I am Yahweh, and there is no other.  God uses Cyrus to call His people back, to deliver them from captivity.  And Cyrus goes on to instruct them to return to their land and rebuild the temple.  Cyrus even goes as far as admitting that that is Yahweh’s bidding.  Cyrus acknowledges Yahweh’s existence after all of these things.

Often times people talk about the value of studying history as making sure that history doesn’t repeat itself.  In this sense, we’d have to say that the people of Judah were terrible historians.  Sin creates a cycle.  It’s a cycle of falling away and being restored, being delivered.  The cycle traces all the way back to Adam and Eve in the Garden.  They sinned, separating themselves from God.  But after punishing them and removing them from the Garden, Yahweh spares their lives and promises deliverance through an heir.

We see it again in Noah and the flood, where God chose to save a small portion of people from this sinful world.  And it comes again in Israel’s bondage in Egypt.  Yet God sends Moses to set them free and take them to the promised land.  Again, they falter with the golden calf and constant grumbling, and only their children inherit the land.  Those children fail to obey God and find themselves at the hand of their enemies.  God sends a judge, a deliverer, in Othniel, to bring them out of service to Mesopotamia.  And after they’re delivered, they turn away again.  The cycle continues through twelve different judges in the Book of Judges.

And it continues into the period of kings, when God’s people split into two kingdoms, Israel and Judah.  And when God uses Assyria to break the pride and sinfulness of Israel, to call them back to Him, Israel never returns.  They miss the point.  And while Judah followed Yahweh a little longer, they didn’t learn from Israel’s demise either.  They too fall away.  And that brings us to where we were in the text this morning with Cyrus.  No matter how many times the people turned their backs to God, He always remained faithful to His covenant.  He remained faithful to His people.

Now before you get too proud of yourself for thinking that you could have seen the historical repetition, seen the pattern and avoided it, think again.  We all fall right back into the cycle of sin.  We constantly forget that Yahweh is God alone.

How often do we break the first commandment?  Thou shalt have no other Gods before Me.  Anything in your life that you trust more than Yahweh for even a second, you’ve put in the place that belongs to Him alone.  These idols and false gods are rampant in our lives.

Take, for example, money.  How much time do you spend worrying about whether you’ll make it to the next paycheck?  How often do you find yourself stressing out over financial problems and debt?  And what about work?  How many of us devote ourselves so much to our jobs, that our relationship with God takes a backseat?  And if you don’t think that happens, how often do you read the Bible?  Are you in it every day?  Do you pray regularly, and by that I mean at least daily?  Do you come to church every Sunday to nourish your relationship with God in a community setting, or do you miss sometimes because you’re too tired?  When there are Bible studies, servant events, mentoring roles, volunteer opportunities, and all kinds of other ways to serve God and to grow in your relationship with Him, do you take advantage of them?  If you answered “no” to any of these for just about any reason, there are times in your life when you aren’t putting Yahweh first, worshipping Him alone.

If the answer is “I don’t have time,” welcome to one of the biggest, and sinful, traps of our culture.   We have filled our lives with so many things that are truly meaningless.  Think about it.  Do we really need to run errands every night?  Is shopping that important?  Do kids really need to play sports at the same time as the rest of God’s children our worshipping in His house?

This is perhaps Satan’s greatest triumph.  He has used busyness to distract us and separate us from the God that loves us so dearly.

Money doesn’t escape the judgment of the last day.  You can’t take it with you.  Groceries, restaurants, schools, homework, sports teams, businesses, television, cars, you name it, none of these things are coming with you.

Despite any of Satan’s efforts or the greatest of sinfulness, Yahweh is God alone.  And thankfully, Yahweh is always faithful to His covenant.  And while in the past God has supplied temporary deliverance through various means like Cyrus, He has since given us the ultimate deliverance.  Yahweh acknowledged our need for a Savior from ourselves.  And because of this He sent His Son Jesus Christ into the world to do what we couldn’t.  He fulfilled His promise of delivery from sin to Adam and Eve.  Christ is the cyclebreaker.  He came among us and sacrificed His life in order to break sin’s power over us.  And because Yahweh raised Christ from the dead, He has also destroyed sin’s punishment: death no longer has power over us.

Life isn’t about the things of this world.  For God, it’s always been about His relationship with us as His people.  You and me, that’s what it’s all about.  Yahweh is God alone and we are His people.  Rather than being consumed by Satan’s timetrap, God has graciously freed us, and we need to use our time, resources and money to find ways to share and spread God’s love and faithfulness with people who don’t have it.  Because when the last day comes, everything is meaningless except our relationship with God.  And if you don’t have one, you’re Israel who failed to realize that you’ve fallen away.

We are God’s chosen people.  We are His children.  Yahweh alone is our God, and we are His people.  Whatever this world throws at us, be it hardships, trials, suffering, or just plain busyness, let us learn from history.  Let’s allow Yahweh to be God in our lives at all times.  Let’s take a lesson from the saints who have walked before us, and let us focus on our relationship with our Creator, the One and only God, Yahweh.