Making a Methodist Disciple "A Voice to Speak the Good News"

Bret just entered 4th grade. 'Neat kid, and a little rambunctious. Ron's his dad. At the game last week they left their seats for, um, a "pit stop". Bret came back alone 15 minutes later. He got separated from his dad. 'Lost in the crowd, but with the good sense to return to the beginning, back to his seat. The lost came home, so to speak. Ron got back 10 minutes later. Frantic to find Bret, he'd scoured the crowded concourse with that knotted stomach any parent gets when their little one gets lost. It was a sweet reunion. Have you ever had your youngster step out of view at the mall? 'Ever waited or walked the floor for your teen to drive up in the car, 30 minutes overdue? Then you're in touch with that awful feeling of being severed from the-one-you-love-best-in-that-moment. It's not that you don't still love your other kids, your spouse, your mom and pop, it's just that just now, your unquenchable concern and most penetrating passion is for the one you're missing! No husband should bring home 2 of the 3 kids he took to the movies and tell their mom, "Hey, 2 outta 3"s not bad!" Oh no, lose just one, just for an instant, and the drive to reclaim the lost is overpowering! Jesus says THAT… is how it is… with God. So God sent Jesus to organize a search party to reclaim and recover the lost. That's the Church. Us! We're God-in-Christ's Plan A. There IS no Plan B!

Now, we're in our third week lifting the marks of Methodist (or any other) disciples of Jesus Christ. There are lots of lists, it's said, but recently, Glenn McDonald (The Disciple Making Church, Dry Bones to Vitality) has helped us all with a sacred six. They could appear in any order in our lives, but always, this one's #1: a heart for Christ alone! Closely on, a mind transformed, made new, by God's Word. Our youth bore witness last week to the arms of love and the knees for prayer that mark everyone who wants to be like Jesus. That's what a disciple is: one who wants to be… like Jesus! (Is that you? You? You?) Well if it is, then you'll want to be marked, just like Jesus, with a voice to speak the Good News. God is out to find and bring home, every lost soul! 2 outta 3 won't do! Not for God, Christ, me, you! And the church, this one, ours, is Plan A. There is no Plan B.

This is no time for laryngitis. Disciples do not require a program but a passion. A voice, not just a vision. How are we doin', you and I? According to researcher *George Barna, only 4% of all those in the U.S. who don't "do church" got an invitation (over 12 months) to attend from a friend… and did so. 23% who got invited stayed home. But 73% never received an invitation at all! *Three billion dollars in new church buildings and signs and outreach a year nationwide can't replace the one thing that costs but a word. The invitation to come and see! (*Rechurching the Unchurched)

There are opportunities everywhere. Bill Rittinghouse, on a Kansas highway, e.g. A passing vehicle losses a suitcase strapped to the roof! Bill tries to signal. 'Too late. He retrieves the case, searches for i.d. Amongst the usual items he finds a $20 gold piece, a retirement gift inscribed to Otis Sampson from …Portland Cement Co. They help him locate Otis who says, "Keep the stuff. Return the gold piece. It's my most prized possession." Rittinghouse does as directed, boxes the coin, but includes a personal note. It tells of his experiences as a p.o.w. and his calling to God for help. He says how for him now, "My relationship with Jesus is my most prized possession." Done. At Christmas, a surprise. A card from Otis. "Dear Bill, Last Sunday my wife and I were baptized… here in Colorado. … I'm 74, she's 72. We want you to have the gold piece to carry with you always. You were the first to tell us of Jesus Christ. Now he is our most precious possession." Out fell the coin. In Randallstown, Md., the UMC there put the whole Ad. Bd. on a bus. "Let's go look together and see whom we're called to serve." Three hours later, all kinds of ideas. Most, not doable. One soul saw all the elderly struggling to walk to the stores, maintain their properties, many isolated. "Why not affordable co-op housing on some of the church ground, a community within the community? Then we could show the Good News as well as tell it, 'As you have done to one least of these…'" says Jesus. Today, that passion is a fact for scores of elder saints because one simple soul on a "cheese (school) bus" tour found his voice to speak the Good News. You received a little handout today. It describes "My Fran Plan." (A fancier version's on the way.) It's a practical prompt to help you identify friends, relatives, associates, neighbors you can invite to "Come and see" Jesus through NBUMC. May you find your voice!

It wouldn't seem that hard. Why does it feel so unnatural for so many of us? What makes us hold back? A couple of things. First, lots of us have had bad experiences (or know of them) with folks who don't so much want to introduce Jesus as hit somebody in the head with him! Check out the morning insert. See the ALL CAPS words from Paul, "Here's the good news we have received and now pass on to you." How do you fill in the blank, Jesus ______s sinners. I have in mind, Jesus saves sinners. The Pharisees in today's lesson complain Jesus dines with sinners, befriends sinners, accepts (receives) sinners. (Glen Mc Donald's right.) What they really want is to be able to say Jesus condemns sinners. See, despite their words, their attitudes and actions reveal their true hearts. I tell you a truth. Bad news people never carry good news. Especially the Good News of Jesus! So… some of us lose our voice for Christ for fear of mistaken identity with the wrongly religious! How we fill in that blank, Jesus____s sinners makes all the difference in our witness. Here's the other thing that makes it hard. Either we don't feel we know how to tell our own spirit-story or we don't feel we know enough to tell the Jesus story. The 1st Letter of Peter gives very sound advice, "Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to explain the hope you have. But do this with gentleness and respect."

We can't entirely prevent bad news folks tainting the Good News. But we can resolve not to be among them or to add to their numbers. The little letter of James is right on. "If any one thinks he is religious, and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this man's religion is vain." And again "The tongue is a little member and boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire!" 1: 26; 3: 5 Still, I am convinced that we can help each other with the "unknowing" that keeps us all-too-quiet about Jesus.

Relationships… and preparation. These are the two keys. First, relationships. Folks who don't know Jesus, and folks who'd like to, or barely do, are not in need of churchy marketing. They're really looking for God-in-Christ at work within us. They want to see and feel God's heart-pounding love for them, like a dad desperate for a lost child. They want to feel like young Bret did in Ron's embrace. That's what our arms are for, in Jesus! That's why it's important we're here whenever we can be. To support each other. That's why all those opportunities we announce ought not go begging. Somebody is literally begging to experience Christ through you. It's why you can count on us when you're the one begging to feel loved… of God in Jesus Christ. You can't NOT tell others about Jesus. Just telling is great, and so often the missing first step, but not the last. After you tell, you gotta show, committing yourself for a while, maybe a long while. Tell and show somebody about Jesus and, as the old song goes, "This could be the start of something big, grand, absolutely divine!" Relationships and preparation. Are we prepared to answer when asked to explain the hope we have? With gentleness, clarity, respect?" Our staff has spent some-weeks identifying about 150 programs and ministries we offer here. To you. To our community. The world. We've asked how we're doing with those just seeking faith, new to it, in mid-journey, well along. Just days ago I personally noticed what a blind-person should have seen some time ago. Nowhere in all our offerings do we encourage, train, practice, perfect each other in shaping and telling our own spirit-stories. Nor is there a partnering experience in how to tell somebody else the basics of Jesus and invite them to walk with us and walk with him. Let's fix this! Now! Go back to that insert. The one titled, Making a Methodist Disciple, A Voice to Speak the Good News. Check out where you are, where you think we-are-together in speaking the Gospel. Take some time with it this week. That little chart there will help. Let's resolve, each of us, all of us, to move toward that golden moment when all of us can say, "Freed by the love of Christ, embraced in his arms, I freely share the good news of his love, embracing others by his grace. I have no doubt, leave no doubt, of the hope I have in Him!"

In our company today, three little boys, Austin, Patrick, Daniel. We offer them baptism. The waters of life. We tell them, "You are hereby sealed by the Holy Spirit, and marked as Christ's own, forever!" I tell you a secret. Like young Bret, a time will come. They'll get separated from us on the concourse of life. We'll pursue them with heart-pounding love. Please, everybody, help them know God will do the same! Please, everybody, tell every little girl and boy. And every grown-up too! We are given a voice… so we can tell the Good News!

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