Pr. Eric Swensson
Sam is a friend of mine, a fellow pastor I’ve known for six or seven years, and he recently sent me a LinkedIn request. If you don’t know already, “LinkedIn” is a social media site for professionals to be able to network with others who have the same vocation, or work with people who do.
I know Sam mainly from the Internet but we’ve talked on the phone, traded emails, and once when our family was headed his way and we were scheduled to stay overnight in his town. I let him know, and asked if we might meet up, and we did, in fact, he met us for breakfast. He suggested a place, and the food was great, we would never have been able to pick that spot, and he even picked up the tab. You can’t beat that.
How did we meet on the Internet? Well, we both used to go to a forum where Lutheran pastors and laypeople would discuss theology and what was going on. I liked Sam because he called a thing a thing. He was bold. I have to tell you; in the beginning I wasn’t as bold. As a matter of fact, sometimes after I wrote something to defend an idea or to criticize something I knew to be false, I would fret about it, and kept checking to see if anyone had taken exception to it. After a while I learned to not worry so much what other people thought. I realized that if I was to become some sort of expert that could tell other people they were wrong I had better actually know what I was talking about so I would search Scripture, and I would look in my books and on the Internet for what Martin Luther had said because he has authority with these folks. I would pray, pray that God would help me think -- help me reason with people and would protect me by removing this unreasonable fear about what other people thought about me… and I would look to people like Sam. If Sam could do it, why not me?
Sam and I had not contacted each other in a few years as I don’t go to that forum anymore. The way I see it, I gave my witness. After a while I kept getting this message that what a waste of time it was to continue to try convincing people who think they are religious experts that their views on religion are wrong. It kept occurring to me, as I logged in, that if we would put as much effort in taking this information out to people who don’t know Jesus at all, as we do with infighting, it would be a much better use or our time.
Back to Sam, he sent me an invitation to link up, and in it he asked, “Hey, Eric, how's it going in life? What are you doing churchwise these days? Hope you're well. Peace and joy, Sam.”
Well, I replied immediately. I was happy to hear from him, and I thought, well, heck, what do I tell him? It is not so easy for me to do these days because I have several projects, none of them are what you could call successful yet, they aren’t so easy to describe, and I tend to ramble a bit. I didn’t know if he knew my wife worked a year in Lebanon, that I had written a novel, or that I was trying to get a social media business going to promote various ministries. I decided to keep it short, and since he was also a pastor, I replied, “Hey, Sam. We're good. How are you? Check out TDSHIP.org! Peace and joy, Eric.”
I had decided to share with him this new evangelism effort called The Disciple Ship. Tdship.org, “T” is for “the,” “d” is for disciple and ship is the little row boat that the disciples rowed across the Sea of Galilee.
Sam replied, “Looks great! Glad to see you're laboring so fruitfully in God's vineyard. Peace and joy, Sam.”
I was very glad to read that reply the next day. Sam liked The Disciple Ship. He thought it was good. I have to admit, sometimes I wonder if I’m out of my mind. We say right up top that our goal is to re-evangelize North America, and we began it with three people, another pastor, Jaynan Clark and a web guy in Minnesota, Jerry Youngquist. We are trying to form a team of people who will get seized by the idea that God is calling them to be a missionary, not to go off to training and then go to Nepal or China or someplace, but here, in Canada and the United States, go to the local McDonalds, or the gas station, the market or wherever, and be ready to witness, as Peter said, "...but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil." (1 Peter 3:15-171)
Jaynan is better at this than me. She is like Sam, bold. She has become a chaplain to a battered women’s shelter in town, and then the sheriff’s office asked if they could call on her. She makes these short videos where she testifies to the theology of the cross in everyday life and her sons put them on YouTube. Jerry puts the most recent one up on the website, and we are kind of just doing our thing, trying to raise a team of people who know that we don’t need another conference, we don’t need another Evangelism Committee and heaven knows we don’t need another Synod Task Force to study the issue, give them a glass a water, people, OK? Me, I do what I know how to do, I do social media for The Disciple Ship, I manage our Facebook page where we have about 150 people from Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ from across the country and a few people from Canada because their denomination up there is embroiled in the same insanity that the ELCA was, and beyond that we have a bunch of people following on us on Twitter.
In 1 Thessalonians 2:21,2 Paul suggests being bold in God to speak the gospel of God… “Being bold in God,” I like that. Talk about taking your hero with you. I’m “LinkedIn” to God. When I’m bold for the gospel, I’m in God… In Him.
What else I like is it is plural. It says, “But though we had already suffered and been shamefully treated at Philippi, as you know, we had boldness in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in the midst of much conflict.” He’s talking to them about what had happened in Philippi. If you look that up in Acts of the Apostles you’ll see the “we” was Paul and Silas. See, Paul was “LinkedIn” to Jesus who told the apostles not to go out by themselves but have a partner in evangelism. Good advice. It doesn’t mean you have to have the other person there all the time, but you should have someone you partner with, someone with whom you share accountability, ideas, and resources.
Boldness. This boldness is an essential quality of the Christian life. We do not need it only to be able to give a witness. We need it in order to pray. This is the boldness which we have toward Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He listens to us. “And this the confidence that we have toward Him, that if we ask anything according to His will He hears us.” (1 John 5:143)
Being bold in prayer gives us the one key insight, the only one I need in order to see this thing clearly, about how I can be bold to proclaim the gospel to another in difficult times.
Jesus taught us in Matthew 7:734 - "Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.”
Ephesians 3:125 – “…he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in Him.”
Hebrews 10:196 – “Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus,”
Hebrews 4:167 – “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”
God calls Christians to be bold. If you have the tendency to not take chances in life because you're afraid of making mistakes, God wants you to know He's pleased with you when you try. It doesn't matter if you don't do everything exactly right. What matters is that you step out in faith, believing God will help you!
II Timothy 1:78 says, “for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.” And He wants us to use it! It doesn't take courage to do what we already know we can do. True courage is displayed when you're afraid to do something but you go ahead and do it anyway. The truth is we don't ever have to fear because we can ask God for His help anytime we need it.
Here is another reason to be bold: “For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete.” (2 Corinthians 10:4-59) When we are bold to give a testimony, we do so because we know if any good comes from it that is not because we are skilled in eloquence, but this is God’s business and it is the power of God at work. As for each of us, what we want and what we think we would probably be just as happy to mind our own business. The fact that we even think about witnessing shows God has been up to something. He has already impressed upon us our own need for salvation long ago and has seen to it that someone put a Bible in our hands and taught us to pray. We have been convinced that by grace we are saved by faith and that it is necessary that we repent and become new creatures. We have learned what is good and upright and it is not us, not our natural selves anyway. So when we are ready to open our mouths to inquire of someone’s soul, we know something about the soul, that is, we know our own and how it is hardly anything to brag about, why on its own it is a helpless little child looking around for someone to come and rescue it.
However, we also know that the last thing someone all caught up in trouble wants to hear is that they are the reason for their trouble. The soul in answer to another person addressing it is “How dare you?” “Who are you?” and “You hypocrite.” Knowing that is enough to stop most of us cold and we never speak the name Jesus. Whatever boldness we had can evaporate. Unless, unless, we are bold to pray. Pray what? Something like, “Oh, Jesus, would you take over from here?”
We are all called to share the true gospel. Our hope is that The Disciple Ship provides encouragement to persevere as well as fellowship for those who are persevering. We Lutherans ought to be more concerned with being bold than being holy. Only God can make us holy, that is none of our own doing. If we are bold, it is only because we are “LinkedIn” with Jesus. Amen.