Saturday morning I got up extra early, made some seriously strong coffee, and drove a couple of hours south to Laurel Hill where I was scheduled to keynote a regional meeting for the Presbytery of Coastal Carolina.
I am always excited when I get the opportunity to speak – especially when I’m talking to a roomful of ministers and elders.
The theme for the day was, “Welcome to the Banquet” so I wanted to deliver a keynote message that not only fit the agenda but also encouraged everyone there to see ministry as more intentionally invitational.
All I did was to share a series of stories illustrating the fact that Jesus is God reaching out to us – God’s wide-open invitation – and that our joyful response to being filled with Christ’s love naturally leads to sharing the Good News. Simple as that.
The congregation of ministers and elders received my words with wide open hearts, and of course there’s nothing like a roomful of receptive listeners to make speaking easy. Their generous response put me at ease and gave my words more weight and credibility. It was an affirming experience.
A lot of people asked for a transcript. So – without all the deviations I took – I’ll paste in my notes right after my salutation.
Peace and promise – enjoy a beautiful Sunday – DEREK
Here – for those who are interested – are the notes I used for my message:
We are living letters
When our daughter Naomi was a teen we experienced a number of challenges as a family. Sometimes things were very difficult, sometimes she even left our home.
However – and this was almost comical – she still came to church every Sunday. She’d sit three rows back, arms folded, glaring at Rebekah in the pulpit. And she would often come with three or four of her compatriots in tow. Tattooed, elaborate piercings, bright green hair, chains.
“We don’t get it,” they’d say to her. “We think your mom and dad are pretty cool.”
Later, working as a waitress while she was still trying to find her way out of the morass of angst, her least favorite shift was Sunday lunchtime.
“People come straight from church,” she said. “Looking down their noses at me, rude to the wait staff, unfriendly, sometimes just plain mean. Lousy tippers.”
One Sunday our daughter worked particularly hard with one obnoxious group. She was run ragged, they sent things back, there were last-minute changes, all the while talking about “Praise the Lord” this and “Thank you Jesus” that while treating their waitress as less than human. The tab was over $60, so she was hoping for at least a decent tip.
“I looked on the table and there was a twenty,” she said. “I immediately forgave them and felt a lot better. But then I picked it up – and I realized it was a tract printed to look like money on one side. The other said, ‘expecting a tip? You have already received your wages… and the wages of sin is death!’ There was a devil face in one corner and the word death was dripping with fire!”
Then, in smaller print, “Come to _________ church next Sunday. You can be sure of a warm welcome….”
I kid you not….
We are living letters, Paul writes to the church in Corinth – letters of recommendation. You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, to be known and read by all; and you show that you are a letter of Christ, prepared by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.
It’s not IF we share our faith… it’s WHAT do we share?
I am reminded of people who say things like: I’m not going to teach my children at home, that’s the school’s job… or that’s the church’s job. That’s ridiculous. The question is not IF you teach, it’s WHAT do we teach. We’re teaching something, all the time. Teaching is a natural mentoring occurrence. It’s not something we can turn on or off!
Likewise with our faith. “Evangelism isn’t my gift,” does not excuse you from the impossible to deny fact that you are – we are – sharing faith every moment of the day because people know who we are and they know we go to church and they pay attention, and they READ US LIKE A BOOK.
It’s not IF we say anything about faith… it’s WHAT we say about faith. And we say it most convincingly on Monday… Tuesday… Wednesday… Thursday…
One day I was standing on the first tee of a golf course with a church friend in Florida. We were paired with two club members he knew well. There was banter, there were jokes, there was laughter. Then two remarks in a row were not just off-color but blatantly bigoted and discriminatory. I looked at my friend and he just shrugged his shoulders.
But I had been introduced as his “church friend.” So I said, “hey, the last thing I want to do is come off as some kind of a jerk… but the stuff you guys were just saying made me uncomfortable. I can’t pretend I’m okay with comments that sound so disrespectful to women and people of color…”
One guy said, “sorry, man, I didn’t really mean it.” The other said, “that’s cool. Can we laugh at your game instead?!”
Later my friend said, “I never know what to say so I don’t say anything.” But we always send a message, always. Even when we keep our mouths shut.
It could have gone either way. But I’m getting more and more convinced that it’s exactly that kind of a situation where Jesus intends to make a difference.
We can’t just turn it on!
But we can’t “make-up” a witness to light and love. If we want to shine, first we must have some light inside us. If we want to love, first we must be filled to the extent that we spill over.
Filled up with Jesus to the extent that faith just spills over. Living letters.
- We’re not doing things for God as religious duty…
- we’re living our lives with God in response to the invitation Jesus is offering through the way that we are
My definition of salvation goes like this, “Getting caught up in God’s ongoing acts of mercy and grace. Participating in the work that God is up to. Getting involved in God’s initiatives here in this world.
“Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God” – the Apostle Paul continues in the 2 Corinthians passage… “Not that we are competent of ourselves to claim anything as coming from us; our competence is from God, who has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant, not of letter but of spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.”
This is what being a disciple looks like.
Oswald Chambers, one of my favorite Christian writers, wrote this:
Never forge ahead with your religious common sense and say, “Oh, yes, with just a little more Bible reading, devotional time, and prayer, I see how it can be done.”
It is much easier to do something than to trust in God; we see all the activity and mistake panic for inspiration. That is why we see so few fellow workers with God, yet so many people working for God. We would much rather work for God than believe in Him. Do I really believe that God will do in me what I cannot do?
I love the idea of mistaking panic for inspiration!
What is our message as a body? What do we advertise as Living Billboards?
Rebekah and I went to church while on vacation in Maine. It was raining and we tried a series of doors trying to get in. Eventually, we shoved hard and one of the four front doors opened.
“Your doors are sticky,” we told one disinterested “greeter.”
“Hope, they’re locked,” he responded. “You never know who might just walk in…”
Who we are… How we present ourselves… What message we live… It all says something about the church – and about the God we proclaim.
I think we all remember these advertizing campaigns:
- A diamond is forever – DeBeers 1948
- A little dab’ll do ya – Brylcreem 1950s
- Ask the man who owns one – Packard 1925
- Be all you can be – US Army 1981
- Breakfast of Champions – Wheaties 1930s
- Can You Hear me now? – Verizon 2002
- Don’t Leave Home Without it – American Express 1975
- Good to the Last Drop – Maxwell House 1959
- Have it Your Way – Burger King 1973
- Takes a Lickin and Keeps on Tickin – Timex 1950s
- It’s the real thing – Coke 1970
- Just Do It – Nike 1988
- Let Your Fingers Do the walking – Yellow Pages 1964
- Maybe she’s born with it… Maybe it’s __________ – Maybelline 1991
- Mmmm Mmmmm Good – Campbell’s Soup 1930’s
- Put a Tiger in Your Tank – Esso 1964
What might some church slogans look like??
- DownTown Presbyterian Church – “God’s Frozen Chosen”
- First Church of the Suburbs – “Where Excitement Goes to Die”
- Central Church of resting on our Laurels – “There is a place of quiet rest”
- My Home Church – “We’re Comfortable, Don’t Bother Us.”
- Politically Active Presbyterian Church – “We’ll argue about anything!”
- Campbell Memorial Pres – “Ummmm Ummm, boring.”
- Traditional Presbyterian Church – “Don’t Rock the Boat.”
So what might some better slogans look like? Bearing in mind that a slogan is only useful if it tells the truth.
- First Presbyterian Church – “Where the Word Still Becomes Flesh”
- Renewal Presbyterian Church – “So full with God’s love we can’t keep it to ourselves”
- Town Center Church – “Jesus is God’s Invitation!”
Okay, that last idea is mine. Every year I choose a new theme to pour my writing through – and my speaking and my teaching. The theme I’ve been pouring everything through this year, the prism through which I try to shine my light, is “Jesus is God’s invitation!”
Wrapping up the message:
All this makes me think of this important question: “If your church suddenly ceased to exist would your community even notice?”
- So… how can we encourage one another to push the envelope?
- how can we encourage our church family to embrace abundant life in terms of all that following Jesus makes possible?
- how can we intentionally get out of our depth, move beyond our comfort zones, and live like we mean it? Because God meant something amazing when we were created.
Sometimes we’re not even aware of the amazing potential God created us to engage. We need to discover more of what it means to “do life together”, to live in intentional community, and to help one another to “Be Church” – living joyfully (and reaching out) in response to what is possible.
You know, like that church in the Second Chapter of Acts who modeled community so well that “Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being invited into partnership with God.”
Remember how Jesus put it, “The world will know you are my disciples by….” what? Our doctrinal purity? our judgmentalism? our legalism? our religiosity? our rightness? our patriotism? our holier-than-thou-ness? our political allegiances?
No, of course not. “The world will know by our love, by how we love…”
So “Let’s hold on to the confession of our hope without wavering,” the writer of the letter to the Hebrews encourages, “because the one who made the promises is reliable. And let us consider each other carefully for the purpose of sparking love and good deeds.” (Hebrews 10:23-24)