Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Sharing Your Story - Earning the Right to be Heard

Click Here to Listen to the Sunday, June 26, 2011 Sermon by Pastor Rodger S. Loar

Click Here to Download the Four Neighbors Activity

Scripture Reference:  1Corinthians 9:19-23

“How much do you have to hate someone, to believe that everlasting life is possible, and not tell them about it?”  That is a quote by Penn Jillette, a performing magician and known Atheist.  Can you believe an Atheist said that!?!?!? !  Why is it that someone who doesn’t even believe in God gets it, and those of us who follow Jesus, so often do not?
There seems to be two very strong views about evangelism in our Christian Culture.  There are those who believe in abusive and manipulative tactics such as canvassing a mall with tracts, holding up signs or using bullhorns on street corners or at stadium events, or vomiting Jesus in every conversation they have with every person they meet.  Then there are those that use the quote attributed to St. Francis of Assisi, “Preach the Gospel always, and use words if necessary,” as an excuse to say, “My actions should show Christ without having to say anything.”  This then becomes an excuse never to share the hope of Jesus with others.
Somewhere in the middle ground must be the truth.  We must be willing to share our faith without being a scary, obnoxious, jerk.  Even then, people may have an issue with it, but at least we are doing our part.
I wrote in my personal blog about a couple of girls talking about the issue of proselytizing.  Like so many others in our world, they didn’t believe that a person should share their faith.  I don’t understand that point of view.  I am more like Friar Tuck in the 1991 Movie Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, when he says to Azeem the Moor, “Let us open a bottle and do our best to save each other's souls.”  If you are a Muslim, an Atheist,  or just about any other belief system, I’m willing to sit down and have an open line of discussion.*
Don’t you think there is more of an issue with a person who has a belief that is life changing who doesn’t want to share it with those they care about?  Especially when it is something as important as eternal life!
If you are a believer in Christ Jesus, they you are called to make disciples.  You are called to share your faith with your friends, family, neighbors, and coworkers.  What’s more, I would hope that you urgently desire to do so.  You would warn them if they were in a burning building.  You’d try to save them if a car was bearing down on them on the street.  Why in the world wouldn’t you care enough to share the hope of our Lord with them, a hope that could save them for eternity?
Yes.  It is scary to put yourself out their and share your faith.  Yes.  Some people take offense to any mention of religion.  Yes. They might reject you.
Or… Maybe they won’t.  Maybe if you have spent the time getting to know them, concerning yourself with their values, listening to their story, touching their life: then maybe they will listen.  You have to earn the right to be heard. 
This isn’t about manipulation.  It isn’t about false pretenses or pushy sales tactics.
It is about relationships.
It’s about caring enough about those who care about you that you can share hope with them.
I would much rather you share Christ in small ways on a regular basis with those ten to twelve people who are close to you in life than to hand out a thousand silly tracts to people you don’t know.  One way is making disciples, the other is annoying and provides little or no follow-up to help a potential new disciple take more steps.
Whatever happens, we CANNOT let the our fear keep us from sharing our hope with those close to us. 
God calls us to it, and if we care enough about someone else, then we must share in love.
Pastor Rodger

* I have a standing offer:  If you want to talk about God, have questions about the Bible, are interested in spiritual things, want to talk, or just want to share your story: I’ll meet you at a local Phoenix coffee house or restaurant and buy the first cup of coffee (or tea, soda, etc.)  Just visit www.mvccaz.com and click on the ‘Free Cup of Coffee’ button at the bottom of the page.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Sharing Your Story - Speaking of Spiritual Things

Click Here to Listen to the Sunday, June 19, 2011 Sermon by Pastor Rodger S. Loar

Click Here to Download the Four Neighbors Activity

Scripture Reference:  Acts 8: 26-38

Sometimes, we Christians get in our own way.  We get our panties in a bunch (that’s a theological term) about our non-believing friends acting like non-believers.  Our culture is full of books and movies that are spiritual in theme, but we get upset when they don’t line up with our Christian belief system.  Last time I checked, a non-Christian, by definition, isn’t going to line up with Christian ideals – hence the ‘non’ in front. 
Books like the Da Vinci Code or the Secret raise ideas that aren’t biblical.  Books on angels skirt the edge of biblical truth, often leaving the realm entirely.  Movies come out such as Eat, Pray, Love, or The Last Temptation of Christ.  Oprah often recommends books with spiritual undertones.  People like Deepak Chopra, Emmet Fox, or Edgar Cayce are read by many.  There are books on lost gospels and prophecy and self improvement through meditation and prayer.
Most of these things are absolute hooey (another theological term).  But, hooey or not, they raise people’s interests in spiritual ideas.  They intrigue our friends, neighbors and coworkers and get them talking about and considering creation and the creator.  They get people thinking about the divine, the sacred, and about the mystical.
And what is our reaction as a Christian community?
Picket, Protest, Boycott, Whine, and Complain.
Now, wait a minute here.  Shouldn’t we be excited for the chance to openly discuss religious topics with our non-believing friends?  Wouldn’t this make a great opportunity to compare ideas and let God’s truth speak for itself?  Don’t you think this could be an opening to share Christ?
I do.
The simple truth is, though most of these books and movies are full of ideas that are ultimately anti-biblical and false, they often include kernels of truth that will allow discussion to take place and ideas to be shared. 
The book of Jude in the Bible contains a quote from a non-biblical source (1Enoch).  Paul quotes from secular poets in Acts 17 and from a Cretan prophet in Titus 1! 
The truth stands up for itself and can endure questions.  So, why do we get all fussy about books and movies that question the Bible or our belief system?
Let’s take the example of Philip in Acts 8.  When we see someone reading something scriptural or spiritual, let’s open up lines of discussion with them.  When our friends, neighbors, family, and coworkers are interested in the divine, let’s take the time to encourage that behavior, but point them to the real truth that’s out there.
Pastor Rodger

Friday, June 17, 2011

Sharing Your Story - Daring to Know the Unknown God

Click Here to Listen to the Sunday, June 12, 2011 Sermon by Pastor Rodger S. Loar

Click Here to Download the Four Neighbors Activity

Scripture Reference:  Acts 17:16-34

“I believe in God, I just don’t need to go to church.  You see, God and I have got this agreement: I don’t bother him and he don’t bother me.”
This quote sums up the opinion of many people.  They believe in some vague notion of a god who is out there, but not one that actually affects their life or might actually require something of them.  It’s a nice neat way to box up the spiritual portion of your life and put it away and it’s a nice way to dodge conversation that might be a little uncomfortable or make you think.  It works great, all the way up to the point where you have to deal with hard times, the death of a loved one, or your own impending death.  Then the discussion about God gets personal.
The truth is, the idea behind this quote is pretty silly.  If you really believed that there was a being who was powerful enough to create and destroy the very universe, then it would probably be pretty urgent to discover who that being is and, more importantly, discover if that being expects anything out of you.
As Christians, we are called to bring hope to the world, to share the truth about a Messiah who came through our Creator, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  We can do this by challenging our friends to consider the vague god that they believe in, and wonder who that god might be.
Blaise Pascal, a physicist and philosopher suggested we consider belief in God as a wager.  He proposed it is better to bet on the existence of God and be wrong than to bet against there being a God and be wrong.  That is, it is in our best interest to look into belief in God, because, if we are wrong, then it is no big deal.  We’ve lost nothing.  But, if we bet against the existence of God and we are wrong, the consequences could be drastic.
Now, I don’t believe that Pascal’s Wager (as it is formally called) is a good enough reason by itself to believe in Jesus; there is much more evidence and understanding of history and prophecy needed before you arrive at that destination.  But, I do believe it is an excellent evangelism tool to challenge someone to consider whether or not there really is a God and then to challenge them to the importance of further consideration of who that God may be. 
Because, if there is a god, any god, then the consequences of non-belief could be dire and must affect how we live:
  • If god is Kali of the Hindu pantheon then we may be required to perform self-mutilation as a form of worship.
  • If god is Gaia then we must revere nature above all things and prepare our lives for a constant battle of kill or be killed. 
  • If god is Allah of Islam, then we would be required to extreme submission and obedience or face total annihilation.
  • If there is not God at all, then we are wasting our time being ‘good’ and should logically take whatever we can get, from whoever we can take it from, and in whatever way we can get it, so that we might live as comfortable as possible in our short brutal lives.
  • And, if God is YHWH, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and He is the God that sent a promised Messiah to redeem the world from sin; then we should recognize him and joyfully share the love and hope that he promises.  (and this is obviously what I believe based on the evidence that I have found).
It really is OK to talk about ideas, to challenge people to think about spiritual things, and even to be challenged yourself in your thinking on these things.
As followers of Jesus, we Christians have received the most amazing free gift in the world and have the added bonus of being able to share that gift with others.
Won’t you encounter the people you care about and challenge them to consider Pascal’s Wager? 
Won’t you take the time to listen to their story and share your own?
Won’t you care enough to share the hope of Christ with them?
Won’t you dare them to know the unknown God?

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Sharing Your Story - Evangelism and the Problem of Sin

Click Here to Listen to the Sermon for Sunday, June 5, 2011 by Pastor Rodger S. Loar

Click Here to Download the Four Neighbors Activity

Scripture Reference:  John 4:4-26

Evangelism is a scary word for many Christians.  We know we are called by God to share his word with our friends and neighbors, but we are scared.  Evangelism brings up all kinds of negative connotations because of the rude, obnoxious, and pushy ways that people have been taught to do it.

The truth is, if you are living your life as a believer and making a positive difference in this world, you are already doing basic evangelism.  You don't need a big testimony of conquered drugs or prison life, you have a story that you are sharing, just by being you.  Don't be afraid to share your story, and don't forget to ask your friends and neighbors what their story is.

One of the largest stumbling blocks of evangelism is our attitude towards sin.  Yes, we should hate sin for its effects on us and on the people around us, but a condescending judgmental attitude will show people a God who is unforgiving and hateful.  God does hate sin, but he loves the people he created.  He loved us so much to send his Son to die for us!!!  All of us!  That includes the woman who is single and pregnant, the homosexual at work, the new age lady at the grocery store, and even you.

We must learn to use care in how we deal with sin.  Don't be afraid to ackowledge it.  Jesus acknowledges the sin of the woman at the well in our scripture today, but he gives her hope.  We need to give the world hope.

Share your story with others, live your life out in front of your non-believing friends, but for goodness sake, don't be an overbearing, judgemental, jerk.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Philippians 4 - A Hero for the Next Generation

Click Here to Listen to the Sunday, May 29, 2011 Sermon by Pastor Rodger S. Loar

Click Here to Download the Philippians Outline Chart

Scripture Reference:  Philippians 4:4-13

Sometimes I think we Christians talk too much about our brokeness.  We say things like, "We're all just sinners," as if that explains everything or that is all that God wants us to be.  While it is biblically true that mankind is fallen, we also need to recognize that we are made in God's image and that we were made for something more than our brokenness.

The church today desperately needs people who are heroes.  We need people who rise above our broken state and demonstrate that God is working in our lives.  This demonstration isn't for our own glory, but for God's.  We do ourselves and our Lord a disservice if all we focus on is our sin, because other people are watching.  Why would someone want to come to Christ if all they see is a bunch of self-focussed, navel-gazing, whiners who project defeat?  How are our children supposed to grow into a vibrant and powerful church for a new generation if the message they get is that we cannot live up to God's expectations, so why bother?

Have we read 1Timothy 1:7?  We aren't supposed to be a bunch of shrinking violets or milk-toast weaklings!  God gives us the power to conquer sin in His name!  Can I get an Amen?!?!?!

In Philippians 4:8, Paul calls on us to focus on the good things, to ingest a diet of healthy thoughts about things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy. God's word is at the heart of all of this, but it also includes the stories we read, the shows we watch, the art we see, and the actions we contemplate.  How far these things truly are from the steady diet of mental junk food that we get from television, movies, and much of what passes for entertainment in our world.  Paul tells the Philippians to fill themselves up with good stuff, not garbage.  The same holds true for us today.

He then goes on to tell them in Philippians 4:9 that thinking about good things isn’t enough.  His message, which is consistent throughout the Bible is that we are supposed to put these things into practice.  He tells the Philippians that any example they saw in him should be put to work in their own lives.

This is where we need to take a hard look at our church today, and let’s not stop there, we must look into our own lives as well. 

Where are the heroes?  Who are our examples?  Where are the older men and women who we can look to in order to see faith put into practice in daily practical ways?

If you are a parent, ask yourself honestly; “Are the daily choices that I make in my money, my schedule, and my actions an excellent example or a poor one for my kids?”  Do you teach your kids to be generous and thrifty with their money or do you demonstrate wasteful spending and rampant materialism?  Do you teach your kids the importance of solitude and simplicity, or do you allow them to fill their schedules and your own with an overload of activities?  Do you teach your children selflessness and service, or do you put your own selfish wants and desires first?

If you don’t have children, or if your children are long grown and out of the house, then ask yourself; “How can I be an example to the next generation of Christians?”  Can you volunteer time as a mentor to a new believer?  Can you help out with Sunday School?  Can you lead a service project to give others in the church an opportunity to experience God’s work?  Can you bless a ministry with your time and money in a sacrificial way? 

Let’s build a vibrant church of powerful men and women of God.  Let’s be an extended family of people who can be honest about our shortcomings but not let them defeat us.  Let’s grow together, passing the message of hope and power to others.

Let’s be heroes that provide examples for the next generation to follow.

Here are five practical ways to become a hero:

  • Read the biography of a hero such as John Wesley, Jim Elliot, Corrie Ten Boom, or John Newton.  Read the writings of Charles Sheldon, Shane Claiborne, Chuck Colson, Erwin McManus, or others who call you to action in your faith.  Then brainstorm some ways you can follow their example in your own life.  Then do something about it. 
  • Make a commitment to turn the television and internet off for a week.  Use the time you would have spent on these activities to serve others by volunteering at Neighborhood Ministries or at one of MVCC’s ministries (call the church office at (602) 955-9414 for some ministry opportunities.
  • Select a ministry and begin helping out.  Make a donation that is over and above what you would normally give to bless this ministry.  Volunteer your time to work in the ministry.  Commit to support the ministry with your time and money for a year.
  • If you are a parent, take a break from extra-curricular activities, team sports, clubs, and the dozens of other outside activities your kids have taken on.  Commit to coming to church as a family every Sunday for the next three months.  After church, go to lunch as a family and discuss what each person learned at church that day.  Talk with your kids about how they (and you too) can put the lessons to work this week in practical ways.
  • Join one of our Revo Groups at MVCC.  The focus of these groups is on putting faith in action through regular meals together, regular study together, and regular service together.  For more information on joining one of these groups, contact our church office at (602) 955-9414.

Pastor Rodger – 05/2011