June 21, 2013

Blessed* to Tell His Story


Over the past few weeks, we have been talking about being Blessed*. Hopefully, by now, we fully understand that being Blessed* is not about the amount of money in our bank account or the fact that we have a car or home or that the ones we have are even all that nice. In fact, the more we want, the less we are able to recognize and receive blessings from God.

Today we are looking a little more deeply into something we touched on last week...That one of our greatest blessings, and one we are meant to share, is our faith.

Rebecca Pippert, author of Out of the Salt Shaker and into the World, writes, “Christian and non-Christians have something in common, we're both uptight about evangelism.” Whenever we think about evangelism...our minds automatically rush to the worst case scenario...

A few years ago, I was going to Panera on Brown Street when I saw a guy standing in the parking lot. He was wearing a white shirt and tie. I don’t know if it is some kind of dress code for the corner shouters, but they all seem to wear the same thing. He was waving his Bible around, preaching at people as they walked past, but really just being ignored for the most part. I really wanted to ask that guy how much of a difference he thought he was making.

I have watched this form of “reaching people for Jesus” do more damage than good. I watched a friend in college close her heart to hearing about Jesus because a corner preacher started wagging his Bible at us as we crossed the quad. No amount of not all of us are like that seemed to help. I saw people drive right on by, no one stopping to talk to him, as a guy stood a block down on Troy and Taylorsville preaching to the passing cars.

I believe more people are turned away from Jesus than are being drawn to Him when we see methods like this used. I also think they cause more of us who follow God and want to see people come into a relationship with Jesus a bit gun shy...we don’t want want to be lumped in with those people...

 And that is so different from what we see in the Bible. There was something about Jesus and those who followed Him that drew people in. Rather than feel judged, condemned, and rejected, they felt loved and accepted. Rather than being shouted at they were allowed time for God to work in their lives. They recognized that something more...something different was being offered through Jesus.

Recently an article hit the Facebook and Twitter circuit concerned with a military ban on proselytizing. I watched as one of my friends got into a discussion with one of his atheist friends concerning the article. Knowing my friend, I think he was caught up in the discussion and, if he had taken time, he would have realized he had more in common with the atheist friend than with the author of the article.

In response to all the things floating around, the military released further explanation, and I think it gets at what we wrestle with too. They said, “It’s ok to evangelize, but it’s not ok to proselytize...discussing matters of faith and religious practice with a willing audience is allowed, but pushing religious beliefs on those who don’t want to hear it is a form of harassment...” That is the main difference for all of us; isn’t it?

I think we would all agree. We feel harassed when the someone of another faith wants to lecture us about religion at the front door and will not let us get back to our ball game...or someone at work goes on and on about how right their view is and how wrong our view is...As a pastor, I can’t tell you how many times people have attempted to convert me on airplanes, street corners, even on our own outreaches.

Proselytizing has given evangelism such a bad name that out of fear of being lumped in with them...many have stopped evangelizing.

Maybe, we just don’t feel cut out for it. We have this picture in our mind of what someone who evangelizes looks like...and we know we don’t fit.

Or we think we have to have all the answers...and we don’t have them...we don’t have all those Scriptures memorized...we just can’t do it...so we have clammed up.

And when we do, we keep ourselves from some of the greatest blessings God has to offer.

In 1 Corinthians 9:19-23 Pauls says, “Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.”

We may not witness because of fear, or because we feel we don’t fit the mold, or because we don’t have it all together, but when we fail to witness...As Christians we know we should, but don’t...so we struggle with some guilt...or maybe we don’t because we have managed to block that out...But when we fail to tell others about Jesus we miss out on the biggest blessing God wants to give us!

Paul knew his limitations. He knew that sometimes he had to do what he didn’t want to do in order to be obedient to God’s will...He made himself a slave to everyone. He gave up some of his freedoms in order to win as many as possible because he knew that some would be saved, and that he would be sharing in the blessings of the Gospel!

This morning I want to take a look at a couple of unlikely evangelists. These are people who overcame their fears and reticence and give us a great example of what it means to take part in the blessing of evangelism.

The Samaritan Woman
The first one we are going to look at is the Samaritan Woman at the Well. Here is a lady who has a few strikes against her...She is a Samaritan woman...hated by the Jews...She is a woman...also placed lower on the status level...and she is considered a rather immoral woman in her day.

The Bible tells us that one day, she goes out to the well. It is the middle of the day. The perfect time to get water so that you avoid everyone else in town. They collected their water early in the morning or later in the evening to avoid the scorching sun. She wanted to be unseen and unnoticed...but Jesus was there.

In the midst of the discussion, Jesus begins a conversation with her that opens some spiritual doors in her life. He isn’t pushy. He isn’t abusive. In fact, he knows that she might run if he comes off as too forward. But eventually she comes to the realization that Jesus is the promised Messiah! He is the one everyone has been waiting for!

John 4:28-29 says, “Then, leaving her water jar, the woman went back to the town and said to the people, “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Messiah?”

One of the biggest techniques God wants us to use is the simple, “Come and see” approach! Come and check this out for yourself! Come take a look at what I have experienced!

She didn’t go back and start leaving Gospel Tracts all over town.

She didn’t go home and start a Bible study.

She didn’t  start knocking on doors and working her way through the 4 Spiritual Laws.

No, she simply said, “Come and see.” And they came...Because of her simple approach. John 4:39 says, “Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony...”

That is the simplest way we can approach people. We can invite them to simply come and see.

Did you know they’ve done studies that show four out of five people will come to church, if simply invited by close and trusted friends? Four out of five people. Who do you know that you could invite next weekend? Four out of five of your friends will come, if you simply invited them. Maybe not the first time. You might even have to bribe them with lunch afterward.

The Samaritan woman teaches us that sometimes, all you have to do is invite someone to observe what God is doing.  And who knows what God might do in their lives.

The Blind Man
The second unlikely evangelist is a blind man.

Jesus is walking with his disciples and comes across a beggar who was born blind. Jesus performs a miracle by making using some dirt and spit to make a mud pack for his eyes, and having him wash it off in a town fountain called the Pool of Siloam.

After he regained his eyesight, some Pharisees and others standing around said, “We don’t believe it! There is no way Jesus could have done this!” After being questions and accused several times the blind man says in John 9:25, “Whether he is a sinner or not, I don’t know. One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!”

You sometimes, what we need to do is simply tell our story. This man didn’t have all the answers. He didn’t really understand what happened to him or even who did it. But he knew that before he met Jesus he was blind, and after he met Jesus he could see.

We all have a story to tell, and everyone of our stories can speak to someone.

Maybe you can say I was addicted, and then I met Jesus...

Maybe your marriage was in trouble, and you can say, we met Jesus and healed our marriage.

I was broken and hurting and Jesus healed my pain...

Maybe you have always been in the church, and you are tempted to think, “I don’t really have a good story...” Well go do something really bad and come back...no...your story is valuable...because so many people think, “I’m a good person. I haven’t really done anything all that bad.” What they need to hear is that following Jesus isn’t about good or bad...It is a realization that we are all separated from God and need His forgiveness.

Telling our story is really very simple...this is what my life was like...this is how Jesus has changed my life since I met him. I can’t answer every question, but I know this is what has happened in my life.

Can you put your story into words? If I asked you to share in just a minute or two what Jesus has done for you; could you? Do you look for simple ways and places to tell your story?

God has blessed us to share Christ. It’s as simple as sometimes saying, “Hey, come and see.”  Other times, it’s as simple as saying, “Hey, here’s what Jesus did. Here’s my story.”

Dorcas/Tabitha
The third unlikely evangelist also has an unfortunate name in modern times...her name is Dorcas. Acts 9:36 tells us, “In Joppa there was a disciple named Tabitha (in Greek her name is Dorcas); she was always doing good and helping the poor.”

Do you see what she did...she was always doing good and helping the poor!

Culturally, Tabitha had a burden. She had a purpose. She saw the pain and suffering her culture caused widows. When a husband died, all the family wealth went to the first born son or, if there was no son, a male relative. Many times, woman was left with nothing on her own. In that culture, if a widow didn’t remarry or wasn’t taken in by relatives she was driven to a life of begging or prostitution.

When she died, the widows wept and begged Peter to pray for her and bring her to life. They showed him all the things she had made for them...and God brought her back to life.

There is an old saying that goes, “People care how much you know until they know how much you care.” Connected to this, I would say that people often don’t think Jesus cares for them because they don’t that we care for them.

We have the opportunity to give our lives away on a daily basis by serving and caring for those around us. Maybe it is the older neighbor who needs a little extra help around the house. A single mother down the road who needs to know that someone cares. We have the opportunity to invest in people who need help in practical ways.

And we are called to get involved in their lives...not just our own. Serving others gives us opportunities to speak into their lives about Jesus, and because you have loved on them, cared for them, and been a part of their lives...they listen. God will often place us in a position so we can meet a need around us.

I have seen so many people miss this opportunity because rather than meet the need placed in front of them...they will say, “Let me find a way to help you! I will get my church to help you.” And sometimes we need a few extra resources, but often God has placed them right in front of us so we can help...opening an opportunity to share Jesus with them.

Sometimes, it’s as simple as to say, “Come and check this out.”  Other times, it’s, “Let me tell you my story.”  Some, sometimes, it’s just “Let me just serve you and give my life away.”

Peter
Our final, unlikely evangelist, is Peter. Here is a guy who was a Ready, Fire, Aim! kind of guy! He was the kind of guy who would go overboard. He cut a guy’s ear off who was trying to arrest Jesus. He was aggressive, but in a not so good way. But God was able to use that.

Despite all the way He messed up, God was able to use him on Pentecost to witness for Jesus. He was the guest speaker God used to tell others about Jesus. And he got in their face.

He basically said, “You are sinners. You’re going to Hell. You need to turn. If you don’t turn now, you’re in big trouble.” He confronted them very directly and very boldly. What happened?  Acts 2:38.  Here’s part of his message. He said to them, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.”  Scripture says, “With many other words he warned them, and he pleaded with them, ‘Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.’ “ And as he confronted them, scripture says that three thousand of them were saved.

There will be times, when the Holy Spirit prompts you to step up and confront someone about their sin. This is never easy. It certainly isn’t fun.

If it seems like fun, then God is probably not calling you to do it. There are too many angry, unloving “Christians” willing to tell someone how they went wrong.

But there have been times when I have just had to say to someone...you are wrong...this area of your life is not in alignment with what God requires. We do it with love. We do it with the purpose of helping not hurting the spiritual life.

You might be with with someone, and just sense the Holy Spirit saying, “Now is the time! Ask them to start following Jesus!”

Maybe it is as simple as God prompting you to ask the question, “Where are you spiritually?”

Because of our fear of the street preachers we often shy away from actually pushing a little. But there must come a point where all of our good deeds, all of our story telling, all of our come and see has to tell them about their sin and Jesus’ desire to forgive it.

Some of us here may need to hear that this morning...our sin separates us from God and what we need is the forgiveness provided by Jesus Christ! Call on Him. Follow Him. Pursue Him. Give your life for Him. You will be blessed!

Conclusion
The secret is being open to how the Holy Spirit is working and moving and being willing to step up in obedience. As my friend Steve Bowen always says...it is looking for the God Space...those moments and times when God is working and being willing to take part in those. God places us near people and in situations and in our neighborhoods and in our jobs in our relationships to be the source of His presence and His witness.

This morning, I want us to begin praying on two different fronts.

I want us to pray for opportunities for us to witness on His behalf. Pray that God will give you opportunities to share the Gospel, even if in a small way, this week. Be willing to step out a little. Maybe start with a simple invitation for them to come to church and then lunch with you next week. But pray that God will give you the opportunity...and then be looking for it...and jump on it when you have the opportunity.

Begin praying for someone you know needs Jesus. So often we fail to actually pray for those who need Jesus. Barb was telling me of how she and a friend made a commitment to pray for her son. He was far from God and it looked as though there was no way to reach him...but they prayed, and prayed, and prayed...they prayed for several years, and now He is walking with God.

Right now what I want you to do is think about someone who doesn’t know Christ. Your mom, your dad, your son, your daughter, your brother, your sister, your friend, your old college roommate, the person you work with, the person you see at the gym, your neighbor, the person you see at Starbucks, and I want you to think of one or two or three or five or twenty people.  And, I want you to write them down, and I want you to commit to pray for them.  And I want you to ask God to use you.  Take this time and, and make a list of those who God is showing you, and pray for them.

List of people who need God whom you can pray for their salvation.

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