Saturday, October 18, 2003

A Ride and An Example
Don Gilmore died on Wednesday. That might not mean much to people who have never heard of him. But it has some significance to me.

Gilmore, a former cop and deputy sheriff, served in the Ohio House of Representatives from 1979 to 1991, representing the Columbus neighborhood where I grew up and spent my early adult years. I was the supervisor of the House's pages back in those days, a politically-disconnected employee who served at the pleasure of the powerful Democratic speaker, Vern Riffe.

Gilmore was a freshman Republican member of the House, dealing with budget matters in a rare late-night session. Like the representatives and other House staffers, I had to stay until the House adjourned. Gilmore knew that my wife Ann and I usually shared a ride to our downtown Columbus offices each day and that with her already home, I would be riding the bus late that night, maybe not walking through the door of our apartment until one in the morning. In the back of the House chamber, Gilmore approached me and asked, "Need a ride?"

As silly as it may seem, I felt a little like the Samaritan woman at the well in Sychar felt when Jesus spoke to her one day. Knowing of the taboos against fraternization between Jews and Samaritans, not to mention those against men speaking to women in public in first century Palestine, she asked Jesus why he would do such a thing. Back when I worked for the State House of Representatives, no self-respecting Republican representative would have had much to do with an underling Democrat staffer. But Don Gilmore didn't care about all that.

We had an enjoyable chat during the half-hour ride home and occasionally thereafter, we had other such chats. What I learned and respected about Don Gilmore was that he was a down-to-earth guy whose overriding principle was that government ought to do its best to give people opportunities to live good lives.

In the Associated Press article I read recounting Don Gilmore's death, another former state representative who I knew better than Gilmore in those days--Mike Stinziano, a Democrat who came from the neighborhood next to mine--commented, "Don was an extremely independent guy. He always fought hard for his constituents, much to the dismay of the party leaders."

These days, I'm a Republican making my own bid for the state House of Representatives in the area where I live now. (I'll remain as a pastor serving Friendship Church, no matter if I'm elected or not.) But if I am elected to serve in Columbus, I won't emulate the fire-breathing ideologues who grab headlines and create gridlock. I'll try to be a principled guy who works hard for my constituents.

Don Gilmore always seemed to remember that a better word for "constituents" is "people." He remembered that those people were the ones who paid his salary and whether they said it or not, depended on him to do a good job.

Thanks for the ride, Don, and thanks for the good example.

Friday, October 17, 2003

Thoughts on John Paul
Throughout this past week, celebrations commemorating the twenty-fifth anniversary of Pope John Paul II's pontificate have been happening in Rome. It's a bit weird being old enough to remember when a man now routinely described as failing and frail was hardy and jock-like. It makes me feel old and understand that one day perhaps, senior citizen status will descend on me.

Upon his election by the College of Cardinals in 1978 and for several years thereafter, John Paul seemed to be an ecclesiastical wunderkind: poet, playwright, skier, hiker, multiple-linguist, resister of Nazis and Communists, peripatetic world traveler. Even after surviving an assassination attempt in 1981, there seemed little that this pope wouldn't or couldn't do.

Even now, suffering from Parkinson's Disease, he drives on with his work!

In that driving, he also manages to drive many of my Roman Catholic friends crazy, mostly owing to his intransigence on priestly celibacy and the ordination of women.

Belonging to a denomination which allows the ordained to be married and which also ordains women, I have a slightly different perspective on John Paul, I suppose. Not engaged in controversy with him, I may be a bit more charitable and detached.

For one thing, I note that he tends to drive both conservatives and liberals--whether of the religious or political varieties--equally crazy. The implacable foe of the communist system that once enslaved his native Poland has also opposed the materialist excesses of market capitalism. (This "conservative" it turns out, is a socialist.)

Pleasing conservatives, he has ardently opposed abortion. (As did Mother Teresa, who was beatified by the pope earlier today.) But displeasing those same conservatives, John Paul has also opposes the death penalty.

He pleases traditionalists of his own faith when adhering to convential Roman Catholic practice. But he raises those same traditionalists' eyebrows when he repents for the Church's past treatment of the Jews and reaches out to Protestants and Muslims.

As a Protestant, I believe that authority in the Church is not ultimately expressed in priests, bishops, or popes. As a Lutheran, I reject the very notion of an episcopal succession and believe, as the confessions of my church hold, that the Bible is the authoritative source and norm of the Church's life, faith, and practice. The Bible, I believe--based most explicitly on a passage authored by the man that Roman Catholic tradition holds served as the first pope, First Peter 2:9-10--commends no hierarchy in Christ's Church. Instead, all who confess Jesus Christ as Lord are part of a "priesthood of all believers." Followers of Jesus differ only in function, not status.

But for all these differences in theology and misgivings I have about the propriety of the very office of pope, I agree with evangelist Billy Graham, who has described John Paul as the greatest pope of his lifetime.

Gerard Baker, in yesterday's Financial Times, points out that behind all of John Paul's dizzying activity and stubborn intransigence is a consistently-held and consistently-pursued principle, the principle of life over against the culture of death. John Paul II has been a truly Christian countercultural figure, standing against the warped values of a dying world, proclaiming a still more excellent way that begins by following Jesus Christ.

For his constant loyalty to life's sanctity in the midst of bloody, violent times, John Paul deserves the appreciation and applause of all the world. Tonight, before this Protestant goes to bed, I'll say a little prayer, thanking God for the pope from Poland who drove us all a little nuts and gave us all important things to think about, to pray about, to act upon.

Sunday, October 12, 2003

Purpose Driven Living:
Your Mission, Sharing Christ with Others
Acts 20:17-24

(Shared with the people of Friendship Church, October 12, 2003)

Today, we’ve come to the final installment of messages on Purpose Driven Living. So far, we’ve talked about four of God’s major purposes for our living:

loving God all the time;

being loving participants in the life of Christ’s family, the Church;

opening ourselves to God’s discipline and guidance to become more like Jesus;

and serving others in Jesus’ Name.

The first three purposes for our lives are the tools by which God makes positive change in us.

The last two–ministry and the purpose on which we’re focusing today–are the means by which God uses us to positively change the lives those we touch.

God’s fifth major purpose for us is sharing Jesus Christ with others so that, like us, they can turn from sin and receive Him as the God and Boss of their lives and because of Him, live with God forever. The one word summary of this is mission.

Time and time again, Jesus and the writers of the New Testament make it clear that you and I are to be His witnesses. Dotted throughout the footnotes for today’s worship celebration program, you’ll find references to many of these passages. Because of the importance of our mission as followers of Jesus, Rick Warren, author of The Purpose Driven Life, saves his most provocative sentences for the section of his book that deals with sharing Jesus Christ with others. Listen to two of them:

“This commission [to tell others about Jesus] was given to every follower of Jesus, not to pastors and missionaries alone.” [p.283]

“The church that doesn’t want to grow [by inviting others to know and follow Christ] is saying to the world, ‘You can go to hell.’” [[295]

But being a witness for Jesus isn’t just, or even mostly, something that God commands of us. Being a witness for Jesus is also a privilege for us. We're God's co-workers. And we're God's agents. A passage in the New Testament portion of the Bible says:

"So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making His appeal through us..." (Second Corinthians 5:20)

The fifth purpose for all of our lives is to share Christ.

But how do we do that?

Our Bible lesson comes from the New Testament book of Acts. Acts, as Amy mentioned in the introduction to the lesson, is the story of the first century church from the time of the risen Jesus’ ascension to heaven. Our lesson records a meeting between the preacher and evangelist Paul, who faces the probability of being killed for his faith in Jesus, and the people of a church he started in the city of Ephesus. In it, we find five helpful hints for sharing Christ with others. Please turn to the Bible lesson in the bulletin and get ready to read the verses I mention out loud with me. Five hints for sharing Christ with others...

Read Paul’s words from verses 18 and 19 with me:

“You yourselves know how I lived among you the entire time from the first day that I set foot in Asia, serving the Lord with all humility and with tears, enduring the trials that came to me through the plots of the Jews..."

The key watchwords here are: Be open. Paul, like you, had a day job. He worked as a tentmaker. He lived like other people and was open about it. He didn’t pretend to be anything he wasn’t. But unlike many Christians these days who try to blend in with the woodwork, he also didn’t pretend that Jesus wasn’t his savior. More than that, he didn’t pretend that as a person of faith, he didn’t confront adversity or the reality of his own sins. He let people see his tears and personal faults. One of my favorite writings of Paul appears in Romans 7, where he openly talks about being a sinner who resolves to do right, but often does wrong. Paul knew that he was a recovering sinner who still struggled with sin. I can identify with that and I'll bet that you can too. Jesus Christ is a real Savior Who died for real people. Jesus doesn’t need holier-than-thou witnesses who pretend to be perfect. If we want people to pay attention to the God Who gets us through the good and bad times of life, we need to be open.

Read verse 20:

"I did not shrink from doing anything helpful, proclaiming the message to you and teaching you publicly from house to house..."

The key words here: Be helpful. As you know, my brother Marty is a fledgling comedian. He does a regular gig at a Columbus restaurant. Recently, a man told him, “You know, Marty, I’m not a Christian. But I really respect the way you live your faith.” The man recalled an incident from several weeks before in which Marty stepped in and defended an atheist who was being condemned by some so-called Christians. Marty was helpful and because of that, there’s a good chance that the man who approached him–as well as that atheist he defended–might become open to hearing more about Jesus.

Next, verse 21:

" I testified to both Jews and Greeks about repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus."

If you and I are going to fulfill our God-given call to share Jesus with others, we need to heed these key words: Be prepared.

A woman named Marnie prayed to be sensitive to people who needed Jesus Christ. She later visited an elderly friend named Jim in the hospital. She was tongue tied and simply told Jim that God loved him. Jim wanted to hear more, but Marnie simply didn’t know what to say. A few weeks later, Jim was feeling better and at the end of a telephone conversation with Marnie, said, “Tell God, hi.” Marnie could see that Jim felt far from God and she knew that God wants to have a close relationship with everyone. How could she give that gift to him? Well, simply, we can’t give away what we don’t have. Marnie realized that to be prepared for her God-given mission, she needed to get to know God intimately herself. So, she began to pray and read God’s Word each day. Just like us, Marnie didn’t get to know all the answers. But she did get to know the One Who does know all the answers and so was able to share Christ with others.

Verse 21 also points out another principle. If we’re to fulfill our mission from God, we need to: Befriend non-believers and people you may not even personally like. Paul reached out to Greeks, a first century Judean word for non-Jews or Gentiles, as well as the people he would more readily like and identify with, his fellow Jews.

A member of this congregation recently revealed that he had decided to invite some guy he never liked to do something with him. Our member is militating against his own emotions in order to embrace Christ’s mission of sharing Christ even with someone he doesn’t like.

One thing I always think about is this: If God loves me in spite of my many sins and faults and annoying habits, I can lay aside my prejudices and impatience with people in order to love them a little bit as I’m loved by God.

Read verse 24 with me:

"But I do not count my life of any value to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the Good News of God’s grace."

The key words here: Be perseverant. It’s always too early to give up on helping people move from hell to heaven.

Bill Fay owned one of the largest houses of prostitution in America. One day, he saw a man that he thought looked Jewish in the locker room of the health club where they both were members. It was Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement, and Fay asked the man sarcastically why he wasn’t doing his religious duty. Paul Grant, a physician, explained that he was in fact ethnically Jewish, but he was a follower of Jesus Christ and that because of his faith in Christ, he knew that all his sins had been atoned for. Fay dismissed Grant’s words. For months after that, Fay, a man with ties to the mob, would pepper Paul Grant with sarcasm and putdowns.

A year-and-a-half after their first encounter, Fay’s “business” was shut down. The only telephone calls he got were from men concerned that in the investigations, their names would be discovered. That is, all except for one person who was calling him regularly: Paul Grant. Each time he called, he asked Bill Fay, “Are you OK?” Some weeks later, Grant and his wife invited Fay to their home. Fay got the shock of his life when Grant’s wife, Kathie, a woman who seemed as innocent and wholesome as June Cleaver told him about how Christ had turned her from His enemy to His friend. He never would have guessed that she had been abused as a child or had once been an Indonesian oil baron’s mistress.

You might imagine that with that dramatic testimony, Bill Fay would have given his life to Jesus Christ right that moment. But it wasn’t until another year-and-a-half later, that he came to faith in Christ. We need to not give up on our mission of changing people’s lives by sharing Jesus with them!

No matter what our jobs, God has given us five major purposes for living. None of them is more important than sharing Christ with people who will be separated from God forever unless they receive Jesus Christ. In our missions, we aren’t guaranteed success. Not everyone will follow Christ. But unless we do share Christ, failure is guaranteed. So, let’s commit ourselves to God’s purposes for our lives, including telling others the most wonderful news any of us can ever know: the Good News of new life that belongs to all who follow Jesus!

[The true stories of Marnie and of Bill Fay appear in Bill Fay's book, Share Jesus Without Fear, co-authored with Linda Evans Shepherd. This series of messages was inspired by the book, The Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren. While I don't agree with everything Warren says in his book, it is great.]