Face to Face or Cyberspace

Last in a Series on 3 John,
Delivered July 26, 1998 by Dr. Ronald W. Scates

Sermon Text:
3 John 1:13-14
13 I have much to write you, but I do not want to do so with pen and ink.
14 I hope to see you soon, and we will talk face to face. Peace to you.
The friends here send their greetings. Greet the friends there by name.

The world-wide web is an amazing thing isn’t it. It is almost like mystifying. There are all kinds of neat stuff out there and there are also a lot of bizarre things. Recently I read about a fairly new web-site that has been created that is called The Church Of Diana and it is an alternative to biblical Christianity. You can log on to the Church Of Diana and pay homage to the late Princess of Wales and also download her latest from- beyond-the-grave commentary on current world events. Now it seems like I remember a story somewhere in the New Testament about people who got into a whole lot of trouble because they worshiped someone named Diana ; you can read all about it in Acts 19. But we have a web-site here at Central and I hope you will check into that web-page sometime. I firmly believe that the Church Of Jesus Christ needs to take advantage of all of the state-of-the art high-tech media that is out there in order to get the gospel out across the world, and yet as we finish up our sermon series on Third John, we find the apostle signing off his letter with a reminder that you and I better make sure we don’t get lost in cyberspace. What am I talking about? Well turn with me and keep your Bibles open during the sermon to John’s third letter and we are going to look at the final two verses, verses thirteen and fourteen.

This is the word of God, or should I say this is Word Perfect. Beginning to read at the thirteenth verse John writes to his friend Gaius:

I have much to write to you but I do not want to do so with pen and ink. I hope to see you soon and we will talk face to face – peace to you. The friends here send their greetings – greet the friends there by name.

Join me as we pray: And now father as my words are true to your word may they be taken to heart but as my words stray from your words may they quickly be forgotten through Jesus Christ our Lord – Amen.

As I speak you and I find ourselves in the vortex of one of the most mind- boggling shifts ever to occur in all of human history. The shift from the industrial age to the informational age where information is power. Where satellites and fiber optics and lasers and laptops are able to connect you and me literally with people all over the globe at the touch of a button. It is mind-boggling and I fully believe, as I just said, that the Church of Jesus Christ needs to be on the cutting edge; appropriating all of the latest high-tech media technology in order to get the gospel out around the world. That is why we have a web- page here at Central, that is why we have a phone system and fax machines and that is why we have e-mail and voice-mail and that’s why a couple of years ago we produced a video about Central during our Beyond These Walls campaign. That is why we do all of this stuff and we want to encourage and help provide these types of media for missionaries and mission agencies around the world. It is all for one goal and that is to get the word out, the good word out that Jesus Christ is indeed The Way, the Truth and the Life. And so high-tech media is great and good; we celebrate it, we use it and yet at the same time John ends this third letter of his as he writes to his child in the Faith, Gaius, and he says that there is a limit though – there is a limit to high-tech media in the authentic Christian life.

You see John was involved in the high-tech media of his day. In verse thirteen we see that he writes to Gaius on parchment using pen and ink, which was the state-of-the- art high-tech media of that day as opposed to clay tablets or smoke signals or pictographs or oral messengers and John says to Gaius I have a lot of information to give you, but pen and ink can only go so far – I’ve got to see you face to face. So in verse fourteen John actually beats Marshall McLuhan to the punch by nearly two thousand years with that whole idea that the medium is the message when he says I want to lay eyes on you Gaius, I want to speak to you face to face. Which gives us a clue that John is talking here about personal relationships, and the medium is the message, folks, because at the core of the Christian faith it is all about personal relationship between you and me and God, and between you and me and you and me. Christian faith is not about primarily the transfer of information, it is all about intimate personal relationships between us and God and within the body of Christ. So for all the grandeur and all the glorious stuff that we have with the World-Wide-Web and satellites and fiber optics and as good as that is for missionaries and for the church, it cannot take the place of laying on hands on Grace Shen and Maggie Cho as we are going to do later on in this service as we commission them as missionaries.

As much of a blessing as it is that worship is carried via radio and television and the Internet, as much of a blessing as that is for folks who can’t get to church because they are hospitalized or homebound or traveling or whatever, that can never be an adequate substitute for on-site corporate worship among other warm-bodied believers. In fact isn’t it true that for all of our great advancements in technology all that stuff has a tendency to really depersonalize us. I mean when was the last time you made a phone call and got a live voice on the other end? My machine will talk to your machine. Faxes, cell phones and pagers make personal visits somewhat unlikely if not unnecessary. Air-conditioning Oh how I love air-conditioning — and yet in a sense it keeps us inside at night rather than sitting on the front porch talking with our neighbors. We rent a video and watch it at home rather than go to the movie theater and be with other people.

Lately I heard about something our denomination is starting. An automatic electronic withdrawal system for your tithes and offerings out of your bank accounts, that is if you approve. But I am violently against that on theological grounds because that deprives you and me of the personal opportunity of that act of worship of dropping our gifts into the offering plate in a service of worship. So yes, the church needs to appropriate all of the high-tech media and technology that is out there and yet at the same time it just means that you and I just need to work that much more overtime to really be personal and to really make friends. Friends – you cannot have genuine, intimate, personal friends in chat rooms on the Internet. I don’t care what anybody tells you. Face to face – we’ve got to work extra hard at being personal in this high-tech age. That’s what its all about – being personal. That is why John writes a letter to Gaius but he realizes that a letter can only go so far and so he quits writing and he begins the journey to see Gaius face to face. That is the way God did it with you and me. He didn’t just give us an e-mail he didn’t establish a web-site. He gave us a book and yet that is not the core of our faith. What is? The fact that God came, personally, face to face, up close and personal, in the flesh, in the person of Jesus Christ, so that you and I could know God personally and know what it means to live eternally walking with God. So high-technology is great and high- tech media is wonderful and an asset that we need to utilize around the world to get the gospel out. So John writes a letter with pen and ink and yet it can never be a substitute for up close and personal, face to face relationships, and so John puts the pen down and makes plans to visit face to face with Gaius. It is all a personal relational thing, this authentic Christian faith, and I want you to look at the last word that John gives us as he signs off his letter to Gaius with Greet the friends there by name. You see there is nothing more personal about you and me than our names. Our names sometimes define us, sometimes they empower us. John Updyke in a recent novel In The Beauty Of The Lilies tells about one of the key characters Teddy Willmont and how he begins to search for his life’s work and Updyke writes He required something of respectability because he was a Willmont, and yet not that demanding because he was Teddy. You and I are bombarded and deluged in this high-tech age by computer generated junk mail that fakes the personalness of it. Do you know how your name is interspersed through the letter by computer? Doesn’t that make you long for a real handwritten note that is addressed to you personally by name? How about when someone speaks your name – it can make all the difference in the world.

Last week I took our van in for some needed work and as I left the receptionist, who didn’t know me from the man in the moon, said “Have a great day Ron.” Not “Mr. Scates,” but “Ron”, and it made all the difference in the world because she took the time to learn my name.

By the way, some of you occasionally ask me how I like to be addressed. Let me say this: I hate Pastor Scates ! There are two options that I throw out there for you and you have to choose one or the other. The first and preferred one is Ron. But if informality makes you uncomfortable and you need a title, then you can choose option number two and that is The Most Right Reverend Dr. Scates. So those are your two options. Do with it what you will.

But John writes to Gaius and he says “greet the friends there by name” because John assumes that Gaius does know them, and he assumes that Gaius will be able to address all of John’s friends there by name because part of the Christian faith is all about learning names, it really is!

The church, not Cheers, ought to be the place where everybody knows your name. You know how most of the episodes of Cheers, toward the beginning of the episode, they have that scene where Norm would come into the bar and what does everybody do when Norm comes in – they say Norm!. They say his name and that is the way the Body of Christ ought to be for you and me, where everybody knows your name. That implies that you and I need to be around here, and we need to introduce ourselves to people, and we need to work hard at learning names.

When I was getting my Masters degree, finishing up at Baylor Medical School in Houston, I worshiped at First Presbyterian Houston about a 4,000-member church and I did so because I didn’t want to learn anybody’s name and I didn’t want them to know my name. I wanted to be anonymous. I didn’t want anybody to bother me because I was busy finishing up my thesis and all this stuff and I wanted to zip in and out. Well let me just say I have confessed that sin. Anonymity has no place – it is not helpful nor is it faithful in the Body of Christ. That is why we pass that ministry of friendship pad in here every Sunday and some of you wonder why we keep doing that. The reason is because I’ve had people come to me and say You know I was sitting on a pew and I noticed the address of somebody down the pew from me that I didn’t know and we live on the same street and that emboldened me to be able to go and talk to them.

A point of contact. That is why we have the pictorial directory — not so that you can tell yourself how bad you looked that day — but it is so that you can begin to put names and faces together and then when you see that person you can go Ah, that’s Sally. Hi Sally. That is why we want you to be in small groups where you get to know people intimately, more than just on an acquaintance level.

Ten years ago, studies by the church growth gurus showed that if a new member in a church didn’t make six or seven significant friendships by the end of their first six months they were out the back door. Studies in 1998 showed that if new members in churches don’t make six or seven significant friendships in the first six weeks they are out the back door, which says to me that you and I need to work all the more harder to make sure that we are connecting with people and learning their names and saying their names – all of that invites people not just into Central — that’s not our goal but to invite people into the larger kingdom of God. It is all about names. God knows you and me and God has a name because God is personal. You and I have names because we are to know each other personally within the body of Christ and your name is of vital importance to the kingdom of God.

John ends that text with the word ‘name’ because he knows how crucial names are to the kingdom. Your name is important because it signifies that you are not an afterthought but are an intentional decision by God before the foundation of the world. By name God thought of you and me. And He is come in the person of Jesus Christ – the name above all other names and redeemed you and me by name in order that God’s greatest goal for your life and mine might be accomplished and that is that your name might be written in The Lamb’s Book Of Life. So it is important to learn people’s names.

Have you ever been embarrassed when you’ve been introduced to someone and they have told you their name and fifteen seconds later you can’t remember who that person’s name is and you are sitting there worrying about how is this conversation going to end – you know, am I going to have to use their name?

Let me teach you this morning a technique for remembering people’s names. It is the one I use so I’ll reveal one of my secrets here and it really does work. The reason you can’t remember a person’s name when your introduced to them is because you were busy formulating your response to them – what you are going to say and because of that you don’t really listen and then its gone. So instead of formulating a response when someone says Hi I’m Ralph, what I do is I say that person’s name three times not out loud, in my head. Ralph, Ralph, Ralph and it is in there and it makes all the difference in the world when I part from that person and I can say Hey – take care RRRRRRRalph.

If you and I for the sake of the kingdom, for the sake of men and women who do not know Jesus Christ being ushered across the threshold into the covenant community of faith, if you and I are willing to make that a priority and work hard at learning a person’s name, it could mean all the difference between them saying goodbye to you and hello to Jesus Christ.

True Story – A teenage guy, not a Christian, was invited to go to a Young Life camp in Colorado for a week with hundreds and hundreds of other kids. He goes and they bring in a famous high-powered speaker every night who hammers home the vital necessity of a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. On the last night of the camp, they issue an invitation for any of the kids there to receive Christ to raise their hands. That non- Christian kid raises his hand and they assign a counselor to him to talk with him about his faith decision and to encourage him on to the next step and the counselor is curious and asks him this question: Which speaker was it, which night was it that drove the point home that brought you to this moment? and he said None of them because I didn’t listen to any of the speakers and the counselor said Then why are you here? and he said Actually I decided to accept Christ last Tuesday afternoon during free time because as I was walking across this field and I saw the director of the camp coming toward me and he looked at me and smiled and said ‘How’s it going Jim?’ – He knew my name and I figured that anybody that took the time and trouble to learn my name had a faith that I wanted as well.

Join me as we pray:
Lord God, you are the name above all other names, ABBA, Creator, Sustainer, Redeemer, Lily Of The Valley, Alpha, Omega, Living Water, Jesu, Christ. Lord, we are thankful that you have revealed your name to us. We take it for granted Lord. And yet at the time you did that, to know someone else’s name meant to have power over them. You the grand and glorious omnipotent God of this universe would risk revealing your name to us weak, sinful, fallen, rebellious human beings and then reveal the core of who You are to us and Jesus. We thank you for that Lord, for entrusting us with your name, and Lord we know that you know us by name and that we are not a number or a statistic but You know us personally. Thank you for the opportunity that we have to know you personally. Lord, may you equip us now to take every human being we meet seriously, passionately and to learn their names that through that it may be a vehicle that your Holy Spirit moves and draws people to Christ – moves them toward your kingdom. That is our goal Lord, for your glory and honor and their salvation and that they might know the abundant life that we have found in that name, which is above every name even Jesus Christ our Lord – Amen.