A sermon delivered by, Joel Snider, Pastor, First Baptist Church, Rome, Ga., on October 16, 2011.
O God of every heart and Lord over all the earth, we pray today for those who do not know you through Christ. We pray for those who do not recognize the fullness of the good news or what it could mean in their lives. We pray that those who are wounded might know there is a balm in Gilead. We pray that those who are lost would know that there is a true way. We pray that those who live every day of their life as the sheep without a shepherd would know not only that Christ is the Good Shepherd but it is possible for goodness and mercy to fill every day. We pray, not for these, but also for ourselves. We pray for ourselves that we would be willing witnesses so that others might know these things. We ask you to inspire the inadequacy of our words. We know that you inspired Moses when he did not know how to speak, that you inspired Jeremiah when he felt too young to say the right words. Do the same for us. We ask not only that you would inspire our words so that the Good News would not be hindered by our limitations of character or our actions but that you would inspire our living to match our testimony. Fill us with your love so that our heart’s desire is to reach and claim each person in the world for Christ. Fill us also with your grace. Grant to us an extra portion so that the message of Christ’s death and resurrection and of abundant and eternal life would appear to the unbelieving as a red apple might appear to the hungry or a glass of cool water might appear to those who might thirst. May the Gospel be advanced because of our words and because of our lives, and remind us regularly what is the greatest need in this world. In Christ’s name we pray. Amen.
We don’t tell people why they should believe or what they should believe. We tell them why and what we believe.
–Eddie Fox and George Morris in Faith Sharing
For those of you who do not know our daughters, one is just on the far side of 30 and the other one is still in her late 20’s. This story occurred when Rachel was in about the 4th or 5th grade and Jordan was that much younger. I had preached a sermon the Sunday before that was entitled, “The E Word.” It was based on how we try to talk to our children about bad words. We will say things like, “Did I hear you use the X word” or “You know we don’t use the Z word in this house.” I had preached a sermon based on that approach that was called “The E Word.”
Rachel and Jordan were in the bathroom, side by side, brushing their teeth. I was coming down the hall and I heard Jordan say, in a very low voice, “Rachel, Rachel, what’s the E word?”
Rachel who was older and had been paying attention said, “Why evangelism.”
Jordan thinks, and brushes her teeth a little and says, “That’s a bad word?”
You would think it was a bad word sometimes, wouldn’t you? It is a dilemma for those of us who find ourselves, more or less, in the main stream of the faith. There is a strong sense that what we believe about Christ is vital and critical, and that it really does matter now and later that a person knows about Jesus. But the truth is we have seen some fairly poor examples of evangelism and we are just not quite sure what to do with it.
One of my favorite examples comes from the world of the Peanuts comic strip. I have saved this for years. Linus is the little one with the blanket and Sally is Charlie Brown’s little blonde-haired sister. It looks like they are walking to school and Sally says, “I would have made a good evangelist. You know that kid who sits behind me in school?”
Then she turns to look at Linus and says, “I convinced him that my religion is better than his religion.”
To which Linus says, “How did you do that?”
Sally said, “I hit him with my lunch box.”
We live in this tension where we know that faith is important, but we have seen too many lunch box tactics and we find ourselves stretched in the middle. Are evangelism and witness good words or bad words? Are these things we want to be associated with or not? We all have probably had the experience of someone who invaded our space or someone who got in our face or raised doubts in the minds of our brother, sister or child about their experience with Christ, the denominational brand name they wear, or doctrine. How could you say you are a Christian when you don’t know whether or not you believe x, y, or z? People wind up being very unsettled and offended. We turn up our noses at it and say, “Evangelism. I don’t do that. Witnessing. No, sorry. Wrong group.”
It reminds me a little bit of the situation of D. L. Moody. If you don’t know D. L. Moody, he is in the long tradition of American evangelists. He would have been the 19th Century version of Billy Graham. He was exceptionally popular and tremendously effective. He was preaching a crusade in a city somewhere when a man of the city was able to approach him and said, “Mr. Moody, I don’t like the way you do evangelism.”
Moody was a pretty smart guy and he said, “Well, I don’t either. How do you do it?
The man said, “I don’t.”
Moody said, “I like my way better.”
Is there a better way than lunch box, in your face, offensive kinds of things to be able to tell people what Peter says. In Acts 2, there is the great story of Christ and of what David foretold, and the message to all the Israelites who have gathered. In verse 32, Peter says, “This Jesus hath God raised up, and of that, we are the witnesses.” In the world, the things that God has done in people’s lives, how God has richly come in and sustained a person in the midst of crisis, and what begins in that generic sense, the Higher Power becomes real to them as Jesus Christ. We know that God has, indeed, reached down, pulled us up, and lifted us to a place where we would have never been before. After all the years of trying to play at forgiving ourselves or self-help, we recognize that true forgiveness comes from our relationship with God through Jesus Christ in the sense that the burden has been lifted. We are the witnesses to these things. These are the things that have happened to us, to our family, and to our friends where Christ has been real. We are the witnesses. How does somebody hear about those things unless some of us tell it? How does the word of Christ get out? How do people know that there is a peace that passes understanding, that forgiveness does lift the burden, that there is strength for crisis, that there is a fuller life in serving others in Christ’s name, that there is a richer life in loving like Christ loves us, and that prayer honestly and genuinely can sustain us?
If we want to find a better way, we have to decide that these things, first and foremost, really matter to us. These things really matter. I am going to give you a couple of simple points about how to find a way that matters. There was a time when God in his power reached down, and through Christ, did this thing that I hold on to. When my faith wants to be shaken, I go back to it and I know that God has done a work in my life. My life would not be the same without it. Does it matter? This would be the first point.
The second point is to think about what do we not tell other people about that is really good? I saw gas at $3.27 to $3.32 a gallon on my way to church. Let’s just say you passed a gas station where it was $2.99 a gallon. How many people would you have told on your way into church or on your way out?
If you got a letter in the mail saying that Macy’s at Town Center was having a private, one-day sale and everything in the store was 90% off, would you tell your friends about that? I would be mad if you did not tell me about that.
What if we found a diet that really worked? We have all tried this diet and that diet, but what if we found the one? Would we not tell our friends about this diet?
What is it that is really good in our lives that we don’t tell other people about? Why do we not tell them about this good thing that God has done for us in Christ? What we need is simply the conviction that this is worth telling. If I don’t tell it to someone in particular, maybe that person will never get the opportunity to hear it?
Here comes the method. It is in the meditation text today and it is so simple. I wish I had written this. “We don’t tell people why they should believe or what they should believe. We tell them why and what we believe.” Isn’t that easy? I am not required to tell somebody all this doctrine. I am not required to be able to explain everything about the Holy Trinity and Pentecost. I am not expected to be an expert on the Holy Spirit. All I really need to know is what I believe and why I believe it. That is so easy. That is usually just a personal story. Let me tell you what happened to me, and this is why I believe.
We have probably all been to worship services and crusades where we got a long map with 13 points about how to witness to people. If I did Point 13, everybody would be gone. I would have to skip right to it and let that be the first one. So I am going to give you two points, and these are so easy.
The first is in telling people what I believe and why. Sometimes all you have to do is offer an invitation. I can’t explain all this. Come with me to my church. Come with me to my Bible study. Join us on Sunday morning. I will meet you.
Don’t say, You really ought to be going to church. Why are you not going to church? Say, Come go to church with me. I wish I could explain all these things, but let’s learn together.
This is what Andrew did. Andrew finds Jesus, and he goes and simply offers the invitation to Peter. Peter, could this be the Christ? Let’s go together.
If you have someone in your life that you really think doesn’t know Christ and needs Christ, what is so hard about an invitation? Come, go with me. I’ll pick you up. I will meet you out front. Let’s find out. I don’t have all the answers, but I bet somebody at church can help. That’s No. 1, the invitation.
The other is what I would describe as the offer. Make the offer. A few years ago, members of the ministerial staff participated in a ministry where people who came to get the benefit of the ministry had to go through the witnessing room. In order to get what they were giving out, people had to come through and sit down with a minister. What we found was that as people came into that room, they had already been there before, they knew why they were there, and they were not happy.
I would usually ask, “Do you know what we are doing here?”
“Yep. You are going to try to tell me about God.”
There was usually a barrier up there that was very difficult to knock down. They would say whatever they had to say to get what they needed for their family, not because they wanted to lie but because they were desperate. If the preachers were going to make them jump through a hoop, they would jump. What we decided to do was when we encountered people who knew why we were there and didn’t like it, we would ask the simple question, “Then tell me, since you already know what this is about, how can I pray for you?”
“This is a joke, right. You are going to come around and grab me or something.”
I would say, “Look, you already know. You have heard this before. You just tell me. You are here and you obviously have a need. How can I pray for you?”
This question can be asked in so many different settings. Someone at work is clearly distraught and everybody makes a big circle around them and nobody knows what to do. We often use the throw-away line, I’ll be praying for you. Don’t just say that. Instead say, I am genuinely sorry. Tell me the best way I can pray for you. How can I pray for you? When people realize you are willing to stand beside them and you are willing to extend the ministry of God’s spirit in their lives simply by being willing to pray with them, it is amazing how the barriers come down and the hearts open up. At least in that moment, people are receptive to the witness that we offer.
Neither one of these are hard. An invitation; come with me; an offer. How can I pray for you? In a world where we are tired of hard sell and tired of people who are trying to trick us into buying some magazine that was supposed to be free, could not any of us do this with integrity so that there is no E word? Reaching out to others in the name of Christ is like giving a cup of cold water to somebody who is thirsty. Their hearts are anxious; their hearts are troubled; their hearts are empty; they are looking for something to fill it.
We are the witnesses to these things, but Christ is the answer.
Joel Snider is a coach for the Center for Healthy Churches.