Tuesday, September 28, 2010

sermon notes

I’ve had some requests for easy access to notes from the sermons on Sunday mornings, and thought this might be a simple way to make them accessible.

They are really just the notes I use for preaching, unedited except for a couple of hyperlinks here and there.  So I expect there will be a fair number of typos and other missing edits.  Also, some ideas that end up being fleshed out with stories or practical illustrations (swords being swung around, or seeds being tossed for example) may just not come across very well as written.  Sometimes those places are noted with bracketed italics, sometimes they are absent altogether.  Finally, there are many ideas and even quotes taken from books or sermons I’ve heard that I might give credit to when speaking, but which I haven’t put in my notes.  If you aren’t attributed, and you notice I’ve plagiarized something from you, please let me know and I’ll be happy to edit the notes with some props!

Nudge: Even The Empty Tomb Isn't Empty


sermon notes from the Vineyard Church of Milan 09/26/2010

[audio link]

Invitation to turn to Luke 24…

The good news lands with a nudge. And central to the practice of nudging is the understanding that nowhere is off-limits to the presence of God.

I have a friend who was born to missionary parents, but became an atheist as a teenager.

For the normal sorts of reasons.

The story he'd been given of God didn't match up with his experiences. His parents divorced when he was young, in part because of the stresses that mission work put on their marriage. It was hard to see God's presence in that.

In fact, everywhere he looked for God, God seemed conspicuously absent. So much so that my friend took to carrying around the atheist debater's handbook. So that he could show others how what they thought was God's presence in this world was nothing more than an illusion.

Then my friend was awakened to God's presence. Not in a church, or at a crusade. But in the very place it seemed God was most likely to be absent. In his mother's losing battle with cancer.

His mother's friends from her church came day after day to visit her. To provide her meals. To pray for her. To spend time with her. To love her, and to love her family who was losing her.

Each visit was a nudge to my friend. A nudge whispering, "wake up."

Wake up to the presence of the God who is present even in death. Even in cancer, the instrument of death. Even in the grief of the loss of his beloved mother.

Death was not God. The cancer was not God. The grief and loss were not God. But God was present, nonetheless. Present in the midst of death, in the same room with cancer, planting seeds in the soil of grief and loss. And the love of these women awakened my friend to presence of the God who had been there all along. Got under his skin. Disrupted his worldview. Added new light to the story of reality as he understood it.

Nudged him to look again for God in places he'd previously decided God was absent from.

And do you know, he found that after those first nudges his eyes were opened to see the God that was in those places, after all. And God met him afresh, anew, and new life was breathed into him out of his mother's death. Life that changed his life forever.

Those women from his mother's church didn't bring Jesus into my friend's life, or into the home where his mother was dying. Jesus was already there. They didn't come armed with arguments for the existence of God - he wouldn't have bought what they were selling if they had. They didn't try to take advantage of his grief and "close the deal" with him - that might have closed him off even further.

What they did was nudge him. They nudged him by embodying and demonstrating the good news that Jesus wasn't afraid of death, that love was more powerful than death, that God wasn't abandoning him or even his mother in her battle with cancer. And their embodiment and demonstration of the good news of God's kingdom was a gentle nudge that awakened my friend to the God who had been there all along.

The best nudging happens like that. Naturally supernatural. Almost unconsciously. Almost invisible to the naked eye - unless you have eyes to see.

We've been looking at Luke 24 to understand how we can participate with Jesus in bringing the good news of the triumph of God's kingdom over the kingdom of darkness and death to one another. And what we've discovered in the story of Jesus' resurrection from the tomb, and the gentle, patient, gracious, unhurried way he reveals himself to the first people to understand the good news in Luke 24 is that the good news lands with a nudge.

The work of the evangelist is not the work of a manipulative salesperson or a even a well-intentioned shover. The task of a good-news-bringer is to nudge.

Jesus calls us to join with him in being a nudger. People who are awakening each other to the presence of the God who is already here. A nudge here. A nudge there. Our only agenda to bless, to serve, to cooperate with God in announcing and demonstrating and embodying the good news of the God of grace and peace.

And nudging counts on God being at work everywhere. This is our focus today. God is present everywhere around us. All the time. It's a question for us of noticing. Of recognizing. Of having eyes to see him, no matter where he's present.

Nudge evangelism requires us, in a sense, to have a simple shift in focus.

The kind of evangelism that has become a dirty word to some requires that we look for the absence of God. Oooh, I think that person is lost. Look how they talk, how they act. They are probably a good candidate for a good dose of Jesus. Let me check my supply and see what I can offer them. Or, Oooh, I see a chink in their armor. Life isn't going good for them, their sin is finally catching up with them. Let's see how strong their arguments are against God now! If I can just be there at the right moment, when their defenses are down, I bet I can I can topple their resistance to God. This focus turns people into projects.

But Nudge evangelism is all about noticing the presence of God in someone's life, and helping awaken them to it. Oh, look what Holy Spirit is doing to bring God's blessing to them in the midst of their needs. Oh, wow, look at the image of God shining in them in their compassion for the hurting, in their love of creation, in their concern for their kids, in their gifts and talents. Hey, look at that, they've got a real hunger for justice and an instinct for what's good - God's already given them some characteristics I've been praying that he would shape in me. Nudgers honor people as image bearers of the one who died for us.

Let's try an exercise.

[The Monkey Business Illusion...]

We're followers of Jesus. The one thing in the world we should be best at - as followers - is keeping our eyes peeled for him. But we've somehow gotten the idea of evangelism twisted and as a result, we've become blinded to his presence anywhere but in Christians or Churches or Christian-y places and activities.

For some of us, some of the time, in some situations and relationships and places, our problem is that we're not expecting God to be present... And because we aren't looking for him, or even because we're pretty sure he wouldn't be there, we miss what his Holy Spirit wants to make obvious to us: The 800 lb gorilla roaming the earth.

[Recap beginning of Luke 24...]

v11: The words of the women were nonsense (appeared to their minds as nonsense) to the men, because they couldn't imagine Jesus was anywhere but in the tomb. Dead people stay dead in tombs.

How often do we miss opportunities to awaken each other to the presence of God because we think the living God can't be present there, so we're not looking for him?

God's not present in my family, let me tell you. I know them, and I know they are as far from God as you can get.

God's not present in my work place. That place is worse than dead - people scoff at God there.

God's not present in that painful situation. In that lifestyle. In that activity. In that "godless" passion or interest.

God's not present in my school. Or on my team. Or at my gym. Or at that bar. Or that party this weekend.

Thank God I can come to church and get away from all those deathly tombs, all those hostile environments.

Because dead people stay dead in tombs.


That's not what the resurrection says.

But the women's nudge doesn't move most of the men. Most of the men, they know dead people stay dead in tombs.

Peter though, his balance is thrown off by the nudge.

v12: Peter hears the news, and it disrupts his assumptions just enough to get him to check it out for himself. Something about Peter's soil lets seeds in. Something about Peter makes him say, "Maybe." He scopes out the empty tomb, and begins to wonder to himself what has come into the world. And sometime after the wonder begins, Jesus shows himself to Peter.

Or maybe Jesus has been there all along, but it's not until the wonder starts that Peter can see him.

And then, look at what's next in the story...

v13: And behold! (When something starts with "And behold!", it's a clue that beholding isn't always as easy as it seems at first glance. Like without a nudge, we just might miss it.)

The disciples on the road to Emmaus don't imagine that the companion who joins them could be Jesus, and so even though he is right next to them, talking to them, they can't see him.

So he nudges their minds. Tells them stories they already know, but re-interprets them in a way that prepares their minds to see him. (more on that in coming weeks...for now the important part is still coming...)

And then he nudges their hearts with a meaningful action. (again, more on that in coming weeks...for now the important part is nearly here...)

v31: And their eyes are drawn asunder.

Their eyes have been closed to seeing him, recognizing him, because they haven't been able to imagine that he could possibly be walking around. Anywhere.

What is Luke trying to tell those of us who want to be witnesses to the resurrected Jesus, who want to help awaken our friends and parents and co-workers and children and classmates and neighbors and brothers and sisters to the presence of the God who is already here?

He's telling us our eyes may need to be drawn asunder. He's telling us behold!

Jesus is everywhere now. He's liable to show up anywhere, anytime, no boundaries holding him back. Behold!

Luke's telling us:

The Veil of the temple is torn.

Tomb stones roll away.

Eyes are drawn asunder.

Gatherings are infiltrated.

Minds are blown open.

The first nudge says that the world isn't as we've always thought it was. Did we think God can be stuck in a box? Did we think God was only present in "godly" places and among "godly" people? Did we think we could only find him by looking for him where we last put him?

God has shaken off the chains of death and now he's roaming the earth, his Spirit blowing like the wind. Nowhere is off limits to the resurrected Jesus.

Isn't that the good news? The Kingdom of God is here? The Kingdom of God is near? The Kingdom of God is within you? The Kingdom of God isn't restricted to the religious leaders, to the blessed, to the well-off? That the kingdom is among the mourners, and the poor in spirit, and the meek?

What hope do we have of nudging others if we don't believe the good news ourselves? The truth is, the resurrection makes sense of everything the scriptures have always been saying - we just didn't have eyes to see it without the light of the good news.

In the beginning, God blessed everything. The earth - it's good, God says. The oceans, the land, the animals, the sky, the rivers, the plants. It's good. It's blessed. It's his, he can go where he wants, and he wants it all because it's good.

And then, in making us, the soil itself has been infused with Spirit, the breath of God.

Sure, Shalom has been disrupted by sin. But God has never left the building. Or maybe better said, God has left the building - and now he's everywhere, arriving with Shalom.

v36: Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, "Peace [Shalom] be with you."

Nothing made in the image of God or blessed by God is godless. The word "godless" in the scriptures never means "devoid of God. It always means lacking reverence for God, or polluted, corrupted, profaned. But never, ever "empty of God."

Even the empty tomb wasn't empty. Signs of his living presence lingered. And then he showed up everywhere.

Consider Ezekiel. A priest who is the son of a priest. A good priest whose whole life and experience of God is wrapped up in the temple, the place where God dwells. And the temple is destroyed. And the children of God are exiled to the land where Ishtar is god. And his wife is dead. And Ezekiel is dragged through the gates of Ishtar into Babylon. And one day, by a river in Babylon, he has a fantastical, wild vision, with multi-faced creatures and spinning wheels with eyes, and he realizes, God is here. In Babylon. And he falls face down in worship. Right there in the land presumably belonging to Ishtar. Only it doesn't. Nothing belongs to Ishtar. Because the earth is the Lord's and everything in it.

Consider the disciples in a boat out on the water, sans Jesus. And they see a figure out on the water. The water that is filled with terrors. They know, they absolutely know, that when someone shows up out on the water, not in a boat, it's a ghost. Something evil and undead. Only this isn't a ghost. It's Jesus. Courage. No fear. I am. God loves to be outside of our safe boats. Walking on the water all around us. Saying, Courage. No fear. It's me. Awaken each other to me.

The resurrected Jesus is everywhere, if we will let him draw our eyes asunder so we can recognize him. And then awaken one another to his presence.

Nudging is awakening each other to the presence of the God who is already there. God is already there. Wherever there is.

Our problem is that we aren't looking for him because we didn't imagine he could be there. It's hard to awaken somebody else to the God who is already there if we aren't awake to him ourselves, isn't it?

May we apprehend that the good news of the kingdom is that the kingdom of God is here. Wherever here is. May the Sower of Seeds plant that word in us like a seed, and may it take root and grow.

And then may we have eyes to see it already at work right under the noses of our friends and relatives and children and neighbors and co-workers and classmates and teachers and teammates. God already present in their lives. In their hearts. All around them. If only they had someone to nudge them. To help awaken them to resurrection reality.

Next time on Nudge, we'll talk about how to spot the bushes that are burning.

Practical Tips:

1. Turn and Burn.

Repent of any false assumptions you've held along the lines of "dead people stay dead in tombs."

Do it this way: write down the name of a person or place or situation that you've written off as "godless" or as an unlikely candidates for God's presence and activity. Especially a place you go often or a person you would love to be part of them experiencing the fullness of God's blessing.

Get a candle that you like the smell of, and put that paper under the candle. Every time you light the candle or smell it's scent, allow it to remind you that the light of the world is shining there, or on that person, that the wind of the Spirit is blowing there, or on that person. Pray: Jesus, Nudge me awake to your presence, so I can be a nudger.

2. Change your Identity.

Resolve to stop thinking of yourself as someone who "brings" Jesus to a place or a person. For one, that's a lot of pressure... And 2, Jesus already beat you wherever you think you're bringing him, so you're wasting your time.

Instead, receive a new identity as a member of the New Creation Road Show. Like the Antiques Road Show, only you're helping people identify the hidden signs of new creation already present in their lives. Put NCRS on a wristband if you like, or stick it on your review mirror. If someone asks what it stands for, suggest: "No one Can Really Say." If they laugh and ask again, take it as a sign of new creation at work, and tell them what it really stands for. If they look at you like you're weird and move on to another subject, maybe the time for a nudge is still a little down the road.

resource link: Nudge, Leonard Sweet

Seeds & Soil: The Sword vs. The Seeds

seeds and soil

sermon notes from the Vineyard Church of Milan 09/17/2010

[audio link]

After my request for a sword to borrow for today, a friend texted me, "Are the kids going to be safe at church this Sunday?" I replied, "I hope none of us are ever safe at church on Sunday...but the kids should have nothing to fear from the sword. It's the seeds that we need to watch out for..."

He was intrigued. I pray you are as well.

Mark 4v1-20:

Again Jesus began to teach by the lake. The crowd that gathered around him was so large that he got into a boat and sat in it out on the lake, while all the people were along the shore at the water’s edge. He taught them many things by parables, and in his teaching said: “Listen! A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. 6But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants, so that they did not bear grain. Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up, grew and produced a crop, some multiplying thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times.”

Then Jesus said, “Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.”

When he was alone, the Twelve and the others around him asked him about the parables. He told them, “The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you. But to those on the outside everything is said in parables so that,

“ ‘they may be ever seeing but never perceiving,

and ever hearing but never understanding;

otherwise they might turn and be forgiven!’”

Then Jesus said to them, “Don’t you understand this parable? How then will you understand any parable? The farmer sows the word. Some people are like seed along the path, where the word is sown. As soon as they hear it, Satan comes and takes away the word that was sown in them. Others, like seed sown on rocky places, hear the word and at once receive it with joy. But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. Still others, like seed sown among thorns, hear the word; but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful. Others, like seed sown on good soil, hear the word, accept it, and produce a crop—some thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times what was sown.”

This parable forms the basis for our series called Seeds & Soil: Spiritual Growth for Carbon Based Life Forms (inspired by & adapted from sermon series my dad did at the Ann Arbor Vineyard Church). We're doing that series in concert with the series on evangelism that we started last week called Nudge. Each series will take 4 weeks, so a total of 8 in all. We're doing them together for a reason. The process by which the good news finds a home in our hearts is the same process by which the good news produces spiritual growth in our lives. And so what we learn about nudge evangelism - bringing good news - will teach us a lot about spiritual growth. And what we learn about spiritual growth will teach us a lot about nudging. Each message should stand on its own - no other message is a pre-requisite for the other, but I do hope that all of them taken together would provide a set of meaningful nudges that help us both to awaken each other to the God who is already there and to welcome and cooperate with the work of his kingdom in our lives as we come awake to God's presence.

Over the four weeks of this series, we're going to concentrate on 4 ideas from this parable. One, the kingdom is a growing thing. That's today. Two, growth starts when seeds disrupt the soil. Three, spiritual growth and mixed results go hand in hand, even when Jesus is the farmer. And finally, growth is contested at every turn.

So let's talk about this parable, and about spiritual growth.

Almost all parables are designed to nudge us out of one way of thinking and into another. They are gentle in that we get drawn into the story, the word pictures, the scene, but then we discover that they tell us something different about the world than we thought was the case. Parables get into our hearts like seeds get into the soil, and then they start to come alive in there and mess everything up around them as they take root and push out shoots.

This parable was like that for the first people who heard it. They were people who were getting excited about Jesus because they thought maybe God's kingdom was about to bust into the world, and God was going to take over. That the Romans were going to be defeated in a military battle, that Israel was going to get its land back to itself, that a messiah like Jesus was going to be the new king in Jerusalem, and that prosperity and peace were on their way in short order.

But Jesus' parable of the seeds and the soil tells a different story about God's kingdom. It is in fact here, and it's coming, and everything is changing. But it doesn't happen like a big battle, like a lightning bolt out of the blue. It happens like a famer sowing seeds. Seeds that get scattered everywhere. And some of them take, and some of them don't. And some of the ones that take don't last very long. It's not instant, or even pretty fast. It's like growth that you can hardly perceive even if you're watching intently. It's a process, a process that takes time. Much of it is hidden, mysterious, and frustrating before it's glorious.

This isn't what people wanted to hear.

It's not necessarily what we want to hear, either, is it?

It sounds at first like bad news about the good news, doesn't it?

Don't we sometimes want God's kingdom to come in our lives like a big event that changes everything from one day to another, where we just aren't the same anymore? Don't we sometimes think there's just one big battle we've got to win, and once we win it, we will have arrived? Don't we sometimes think that's how it's supposed to happen, and when it doesn't happen for us, we feel left out in the cold, like God doesn't love us or have a plan for us, like he's given up on us or just wants us to suffer, or like we just don't cut it, don't have what it takes for this life with God?

We're expecting swords, but God comes with seeds.

How do kingdoms rise in our world? By the sword.

How does the Kingdom of God rise? By the seeds planted in soil.

There are no swords in the kingdom of God. In the kingdom of God, Swords are beaten into ploughshares and spears into pruning hooks. Ploughshares are used to aid in the sowing of seeds, aren't they?

But what about the sword of the spirit you say? Ephesians 6:17: "...and the sword of the spirit, which is the

[...wait for it...]



the word of God."

and what is the word in this parable? It's the seed.

The primary "weapon" that Jesus the sower wields is a seed, not a sword.

So why exactly is this good news? Wouldn't it be better if we could have it all, and have it now? Surely God could do that if he wanted to, could he not?

Sure he could. And maybe he would, if we were robots and not carbon based life forms. If we were robots, he could shut us down, and replace the broken parts and flash our firmware and install new software and reboot everything once and for all.

But we are not robots.

In the world God has made - the world he made out of his creative, generous, self-giving love, a world that is awash with life and breath -

Swords destroy and bring death.

(they puncture lungs and leak hate into hands that hold them)

Seeds disrupt and bring life.

(they fill the air with oxygen and love leaks out of the hands that hold them)

Swords stain the soil with blood, making it fit only for factories and junkyards.

Seeds transform soil into a home for flora and fauna.

What do I mean?

If the kingdom of God came in the manner we want sometimes, we might not survive it's arrival.

Because we are carbon based life forms.

In order to keep living, all of our life giving systems are essential for our ongoing survival and growth. Any individual part within us can only withstand so much change in a short period of time, without the whole system being thrown out of whack. Even those parts that aren't healthy have to be nudged towards health, so that they keep functioning even in a limited capacity while they grow healthy.

[Israel and sacrifices, women as property, kingship...]

If God came with a sword and eliminated from our lives everything that wasn't in keeping with his rule and reign, the only way we'd survive would be on life-support equipment.

God's goal isn't for us to be on life-support, brain dead, blood and oxygen pumping through our veins by machine. His goal for us is to be partners with him in the business of love and life and imaging him to one another and his creation.

And for that to happen, seeds are required, not swords. Seeds that come into our soil, become part of us, grow roots down deep and eventually break above the surface, soaking up water and nutrients and sunlight, bearing fruit and grain, releasing pure oxygen and bursting forth with beauty.

[headache experience. Andy Stanley experience.]

Spiritual growth is less about being concerned with taking more ground, and more about being concerned with what God's planting in the ground we already have.

Powerful, transformative experiences with God are real, but they do not override the nature of the kingdom as a growing concern. In fact, they primarily serve to aid the growth process - to make room for some seed we've been resisting, or get some water to a seed that's been dormant, or to prune a plant that had some dead branches keeping it from growing.

So what are some of the implications of this for us?

Because growth is a process, it's less important where you're at than where you're headed. So we can stop focusing our energies on whether where we are at is a good place or not, and start putting our energies into where Jesus is leading us. [centered set discipleship vs. bounded set discipleship...]

Because the kingdom of God is a growing thing, if the growing has stopped, maybe the kingdom has left the soil. The soil might be different as a result of the seeds that grew in it before, but the life is gone from it if the growing has stopped.

Because the kingdom of God is a growing thing, it is advancing towards its fulfillment, not guarding the fulfillment of yesteryear. Jesus to his disciples: "There is truth you're not ready for. But you are ready for the Spirit whom I will send and he will guide you into all truth." [John 16] Jesus, the living Lord, gave the church a living faith - that's why it wasn't handed down on stone tablets.

[we're not to be a new testament church, we're to be a future coming kingdom church...!]

Finally, because the kingdom of God is a growing thing, a thing that grows like carbon based life-forms, it requires a slower time frame than the one we are used to. [note the pace at which babies and plants grow...] We live in a time frame focused on seconds, minutes, and hours, which is all the fault of trains [railroads required accurate timekeeping...]. You don't need a clock to farm. You need a calendar.

Practical Tips:

1. Invite God to terra-form your carefully manicured lawn.

Have you been satisfied with where you're at spiritually? To the point where you'd be happy to coast from here on out? Invite God to disrupt your soil and put some seeds of his kingdom in there that might change the landscape of your life. If for no other reason than you don't want to start dying already. [any carbon based life form that stops growing has started dying...]

2. Stop looking for the sword and start looking for seeds.

Are you frustrated that no big changes are happening in your life, in your walk with God? Repent and let go of that frustration in prayer: "God, I'm sorry I want it all right now - I trust that you're a good farmer, and I'm willing to be patient with you since you're obviously willing to be patient with men." And then ask the Holy Spirit to show you any seeds the sower might be trying to plant in you.

"You can trust me." "I'm bigger than what you face." "You don't need that in your life - I have something better for you." "Come spend some time with me." "You don't have to settle for that. I have more for you."

When you notice a seed trying to work its way into your soil, tend to it. Accept it. Pay attention to it. Keep the birds away from it. Give it the best energy you have available, unconcerned with how long it might take to sprout.

3. Grow a seed to maturity if you've never done it before.

Everytime you see it or do something to care for it, say this simple prayer: "Lord, may your kingdom grow in me."

Communion: Signs of your kingdom before us—your presence with us—conveyed through grapes grown on a vine, planted, tended, brought to maturity, and wheat sown and grown in a field.

Nudge: The Good News Lands with a Nudge


Sermon notes from the Vineyard Church of Milan 09/12/2010

[audio link]

[Sign on all the pews: Hey there! This pew is recommended for people who sat on the other side of the church during the last celebration they attended, or for first time guests. Thanks. Signed, Jesse Wilson.]

This week and next we'll be kicking off two new sermon series for the fall. One is called "Nudge" and it's about evangelism. It will center on Luke 24, where the first evangelist awakens human beings to their first awareness of the living presence of the God who they thought was dead. We'll start that one today. The other is called "Seeds and Soil: Spiritual Growth for Carbon Based Life Forms." It will center on Mark 4, where the first farmer tells a story about seeds and soil and how real life takes root in us and thrives, and how it doesn't. We'll start that one next week. The two series will work hand in hand together - I hope - like graceful dance partners to bring the music of the good news of the kingdom to life in us and through us.

So let's start with Nudge, the series about evangelism.

For some of us, evangelism is a dirty word. And I'd agree, it is a dirty word. Not in the sense that it's made out of unholy stuff, but in the sense that it's gotten dirt on it, to the point where many can hardly stand to be around it.

Some of us hear "evangelism" and we think about the pressure tactics that can be exerted on people to get them to agree to a new way of thinking, a new way of living, whether they want to or not. We think about converting people, or proselytizing people.

And the pressure and manipulative tactics in that kind of evangelism make us go, "ick."

Or we think about how some people think they are better, or more right than some other people, and how those people invest their energies in relationships with those people in order to "win them over" or "get them on their team" or "close the deal", abandoning them if they don't get with the program fast enough or on the right terms.

And that false way of relating - pretending to love, but really just using people to accomplish some ulterior agenda - makes us go, "ick."

Some of us hear "evangelism" and we think about the skills and giftings of people who are so much better than us at that kind of stuff - whatever that kind of stuff is, maybe bold and persuasive talking, maybe super-spiritual evangelism gifts, maybe being good at memorizing and regurgitating things like the 4 spiritual laws or the Roman road.

And that gap between us and them makes us feel inadequate and inferior, and we go "ick."

Or we think about how much we long for others to experience the wonder and beauty of the good news, and how unsuccessful we feel about our attempts to invite them in, or about how scared we feel to say anything at all that might make us come across wrong or dumb or hypocritical.

And that tension between what we long for and what we feel like we should be doing makes us feel guilt and shame and we go "ick."

But evangelism doesn't have to be dirty. It doesn't have to make us go "ick." Whether we are on the outside of the inside of faith in Jesus, or whether are singing with the choir.

Not if we understood what it really is, and how we are meant to participate in it together. Not if we could see it before it had been dragged through the mud.

The word "evangelism" comes from a greek word (euangelos) used in the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Eu = good, angelos = messenger. So evangelism just means "bringing good news."

That doesn't sound so dirty, does it?

Casualty Notification Officers in the military have one of heaviest jobs in the world. When a soldier falls in the military, Casualty Notification Officers have to knock on the door of his wife or her husband or mother or father and deliver the news. They bear painful witness to devastating news. They have front row seats to the breaking of hearts. They are filled with grief themselves at the news they bear, and they are unwelcome guests at every home they visit.

Evangelists are not casualty notification officers.

We bear witness to good news, news that fills us with joy as we carry it. We have news that people who were long thought dead are now alive. We have news that the war is over. We have news that what was lost has been found. We have news of hope against all hopelessness. We have news of mercy triumphing over judgment. We have front row seats to broken hearts being mended.

No, our problem is not with the news we bear - not usually. Not if we really understand the good news.

Our problem is far more often with how we've understood what it means to deliver it.

We've gotten the notion that somehow we've got to convince people that they are dying so that they will want our prescription for living. That somehow we've got to convince people that they are wrong about everything we've figured out the right answers to. That somehow we've got to persuade people what they call good is actually bad, and what they think of as bad is actually good. That what they call smart is actually stupid, and what they call ignorant is actually insightful.

That's not our job. That's not the work of an evangelist.

Leonard Sweet recently wrote a book called "Nudge." The subtitle is "Awakening Each Other to the God Who's Already There."

That's what evangelism is really all about. Nudging each other into an awareness of a God who is already at work in our lives.

There's no manipulation or pressure in a nudge, is there?

Our job is to nudge.

Nudge. Wake up. Look.

Nudge. Hey, did you see that?

Nudge. Look at you! Well done.

Nudge. I'm here, how's it going?

Nudge. Shhh...something's happening.

Nudge. Wow, can you believe that?

Nudge. Woah, careful there.

Nudge. Woah, did you feel that?

Nudge. Oops, did I press to hard? my bad. Please forgive me.

Nudge. Do you need a hand?

Nudge. Here he is. The one you've been waiting for, right there.

Nudge. Your number just got called. It's your turn.

Nudge. Go for it. I'm cheering you on.

The best news finds its home in people through a series of nudges.

Nudging affects both the nudger and the nudge-ee.

Nudging is an act of friendship, of love.

Nudging is up close and personal.

Nudging is invited, welcomed.

Or sometimes it's not - but even when that happens, or especially when that happens - it can open the door for more honest relationship.

Nudging happens at the right time, in the right place, and it can happen anywhere, at any time.

Nudging isn't rushed or forced, yet nudgers never hesitate or sweat bullets either, because nudges happen naturally, instinctively.

Nudges produce smiles and embraces, not narrowed eyes and clenched fists.

The good news of the Kingdom of God arrives first with all kinds of nudges, and gets people nudging each other in wonder.

Luke 24 tells the story of the best news in the world being delivered through a series of nudges - all initiated and commissioned by the first evangelist. It takes place a couple of days after Jesus has been executed on Roman cross, and everyone who loved him is despairing and despondent.

Notice all of the nudges...

mysterious signs - Nudge.

a question: why do you seek the living among the dead? - Nudge.

a reminder: remember what he said to you? - Nudge.

a report of experiences that lands at first as nonsense. -Nudge.

nonsense that leads to investigation - Nudge.

investigation that leads to wondering and conversation - Nudge.

Jesus pays attention to them. Asks them a question. -Nudge.

Notices their expressions. Asks another question. -Nudge.

Listens to their answer. Surprises them with a very different perspective, an unexpected viewpoint - one that speaks to what they already know, but tells a different story about it. - Nudge.

stays with them. doesn't make himself a nuisance, acts as if he's going on. - Nudge

accepts their invitation. blesses their meal. serves them. - Nudge.

their eyes are opened, and they see him. and they see themselves. they see that God has been at work in them through him all along.

And they turn around.

And they tell their story.

This is the fruit of many nudges.

And he shows up with a simple word of peace. - Nudge.

And he offers himself for examination. - Nudge.

And he eats some fish. - Nudge.

And he disrupts their minds. - Nudge. [thus the pew switch...]

And he shows them the truth - shows them what they've seen all along but couldn't see. - Nudge.

And now they are witnesses.

Now they have eyes to see.

Now they can join in the nudging.

This is the fruit of many nudges.

This is how good news is delivered in the kingdom of God. A nudge here, a nudge there. There is no wham-bam-thank-you-ma'am. No techniques. No systems.

Just people paying attention to the resurrection-infused world around them.

The appearance of signs that nudge them to consider that everything isn't as they expected. That something is going on beyond their awareness.

Jesus accompanying them along the way. Paying attention to them. Paying attention to signs that God is at work.

Suggesting this or that when the time seems right. Helping them connect what they know to what he knows so that they can see it, or at least be open to it when the time for seeing comes.

Never pushing, always responding to their hunger and invitation. Patient. Never frustrated or angered at the slowness of the process.

Joining them in the normal, unexceptional things of life, looking for the right time to reveal the holy and divine present in the midst of the mundane.

Willing to open himself up for inspection, scars and all.

Never defensive about their doubts of him.

Never cursing them. Always blessing them.

Until all the nudges make a landing pad for the good news to happen, until all the nudges open the curtains enough for the light to flood in.

Everything you need to know about evangelism can be found in Luke 24. Things are not what they seem. Jesus is alive and present everywhere without boundaries, often unrecognized. We are often reading the signs wrongly, but the signs are there to be read. Every nudge is a part of long process. There is a bigger story to be told, if we can see it with God's help. The very things that disturb and frustrate and sadden us are sometimes the very things that bear witness to the good news, if we have but eyes to see it.

Next time we talk about nudging, we'll talk about the God who is already there. Everywhere. I think we'll call it "Even the empty tomb isn't empty."

Practical Tips:

1. Get nudged.

Put a target on your shoulder. Invite people close to you who love you and know how to pay attention to the God who is already there to nudge you. To point out something they see God doing in your life that maybe you didn't notice. Or to point out something they see God inviting you to join him in that you maybe haven't yet said yes to. Or to point out something they see God doing through you that you didn't notice was him so that you can cooperate with it more fully. Or to tell you a different story - a kingdom of God story - about the facts of your life than the story you've been telling yourself.

If you do this, you've just invited people to evangelize you. And isn't it true that none of us has all the good news we can use?

2. Repent of Sales Tactics and Shoves

You notice how nice people who work at good stores are to you when you come in? It feels good, but deep down, you know they might be being nice just because they want you to buy something. Not because they actually love you. Is that why you're being nice to an unbelieving "friend." Because you want them to buy something? Ick. That's not how God relates to us. He calls us to love people because he loves people. Because it's a family he's inviting us into, not a pyramid marketing scheme.

And shoves miss the point as well. We shove someone when we think we know better than they do where they should be at a particular moment in time. God surely knows better than we do where we should be at any particular moment in time, and how often does he shove us? Most of the time God seems more content to let us fall flat on our face, or even let us get hit by a train, than he is to shove us off the course we choose for ourselves, doesn't he? Because he's inviting us into a life of following him, not a life on a leash.

So do some business with God and make a settled decision in your heart to get out of the business of selling and shoving.

3. Do a little homework.

Read Luke 24 this week and ask the Holy Spirit to teach you about nudging like Jesus nudges. Ask the Holy Spirit to show you how Jesus has nudged you in your life so far.

resource link: Nudge, by Leonard Sweet