Thursday, 23 June 2016

Evangelism - Whose job is it anyway?

‘Are you missing one of the most exhilarating and fulfilling dimensions of the Christian life?  Here’s an energetic guide to everyday steps you can take to influence others for Christ.  Suddenly, what once seemed scary or daunting becomes an exciting and doable adventure that will energize your own faith while you make an eternal difference in the lives of others.’  That’s what is written on the back of an exhilarating book I recently read on sharing your faith.  Evangelism is important because we want the name of Jesus to be hallowed, people to be rescued from hell and we want to enjoy the happiness of a life lived actively for God.
In the book of Acts we are reminded that evangelism the calling of every Christian.  We read that after Stephen was killed for his faith ‘a great persecution broke out against the church at Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria … Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went’ (8:1-4).  The key leaders were in Jerusalem but the gospel went wherever God’s ordinary people went.  But, how do I do it.  I am going to give you six keys to effectively sharing your faith.

  1.  Use words
Francis of Assisi is reported to have said, ‘preach the Gospel at all times … if necessary use words.’  However, words are actually always necessary in evangelism.  The apostle Paul wrote, ‘… faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ’ (Romans 10:17).  The words of the gospel have power.

George Whitefield was a famous evangelist in the eighteenth-century.  He spoke to crowds of thousands.  But he had his detractors.  Some people loved to stand there and mimic him as he spoke.  On one occasions the ringleader of such a group was a man called Thorp.  Thorp entertained his friends as he put on an accent and imitated Whitefield’s gestures.  He was having great fun repeating Whitefield word for word, until the Holy Spirit used those words to convert him there and then.
Charles Spurgeon was a great eighteenth-century preacher.  On one occasion he was asked to speak to thousands of people in London’s Crystal Palace hall.  The day before the event Spurgeon was helping the organisers find the best place to erect the pulpit.  He tested the acoustics by speaking out ‘behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.’  Years later he discovered that a workman on one of the galleries had heard these words, was cut to the heart and been converted.
2.  Memorise a definition of the gospel
Has anyone every asked you what people believe in your church?  Don’t worry about Baptist theology—take the opportunity to tell them the gospel. 

Your presentation needs to include the bad news, the good news and a challenge.  I hope that the next time I am asked what we believe I will answer something like this.  ‘My rebellion and resistance against God is so serious that I deserve to be separated from him for ever and punished eternally.  Yet God loves is so amazing that he sent his Son to live the perfect life and die a death that takes the punishment I deserve.  Now he offers to make us his dearly loved forgiven and adopted children if we simply believe—which means to trust Jesus as our forgiver and king.
Now you may be thinking that you can do a better job than that.  So, I challenge each of you to write a short summary of the gospel, explain it to a friend who doesn’t attend any church, and ask them if they think it is clear. 
3.  Make sure that your message is complimented by your actions
Mitsuo Fuchida was the man who led the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour.  After the war he became a Christian.  One of the things that opened his heart to the gospel was hearing about eighteen-year old Peggy Cowell.  Mitsuo had wanted to show that all nations had treated their prisoners disgracefully.  But as he interviewed some of the Japanese prisoners of war that had been held in America they told her about Peggy.  She volunteered at a prison camp and showed incredible love and kindness.
On one occasion a prisoner asked Peggy why she cared for them so much.  She explained that her parents had been missionaries in Japanese Philippines, who been accused of communicating with the outside world and beheaded.  She believed that God wanted her to respond to this evil with forgiveness and blessing. 
Peter writes, ‘be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you for the hope that you have within you’ (1 Peter 3:15).  Earlier in that same letter he commands, ‘live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us’ (1 Peter 2:12).
However, be careful.  Our job is not to make ourselves look good, but to make God look good.  This means that we don’t have to pretend to be someone we are not.  We don’t have to hide our failings.  We can be honest about the fact that God is so amazingly gracious that he cherishes us even though we let him down every day.  Indeed, self-righteousness is a denial of the gospel.
4.  Remember that God directs your life
One Christian leader said, ‘when I pray coincidences happen, when I don’t they don’t

In Acts 17 the apostle Paul says that God determines the times set for people and the exact places where they should live (Acts 17:25-26).  Rico Tice takes this principle and reminds us that this truth is applicable to every detail of our lives.  This excites me!  This summer God might seat you on a plane beside someone he wants you to share your faith with.  Your neighbours are placed beside you for a purpose.  Pray that God would reveal that he has placed you in strategic places for heavenly purposes!  Pray that the Holy Spirit would guide you into conversations about the gospel.
5.   Learn to guide conversations towards Jesus

The story is told (it is made up) of the man who wanted to turn a conversation towards Jesus, so he looked at his friends earrings and said, ‘I see that you have piercings.  Do you realise that Jesus was pierced for your transgressions?’  I believe that we need to learn how to guide conversations gently towards Jesus.  Lee Strobel comments that ‘people are generally more interested in spiritual matters than we think they are.
How many of you have been waiting for people to ask you about your faith, but are frustrated that no-one has?  Kerry and Chris Shook wrote a bestselling book entitled, ‘One Month to Live,’ in which they encourage Christians to focus on how we would shape our priorities if we only had thirty days left in this life.  Who would you show more urgency in talking to if your time was short? 
Be intentional!  If you read a book that might help a friend understand more of the gospel, lend them your copy.  If you hear a sermon that might help them, get them one of the CDs.  But don’t avoid talking to them about faith.  Talk to them about your faith.  Ask questions.  Be a good listener.
I am working on this idea of transitioning with questions.  A friend of mine admires a particular Methodist minister, so a good question to open up conversation with him is ‘what is it about Tom that you admired?’  A cousin comes from a family that has atheists, agnostics and evangelicals in it, so a good question to open him us is ‘where do you fit in among the diverse opinions of your family?’  Ask people what they believe about life, the universe and everything.  But don’t be rude or pushy, for we are told to speak with gentleness and respect.      
6.  Your job is to witness, God’s job is to convert

Finally, remember that your job is to witness, and God’s job is to convert.  Even great evangelists like the apostle Paul couldn’t covert anyone.  He could only share the truth.  It is God who brings spiritually dead people to life.  When he explained the gospel to a woman called Lydia we read that ‘the Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message’ (Acts 16:12-15).
Rico Tice writes, ‘Our job is not to convert people.  It is to witness to Christ.  Conversion isn’t the mark of a successful witness—witnessing is.  Think about a courtroom.  Witnesses are there to tell the truth.  That’s successful witness.  If the jury doesn’t believe them, that’s not their fault or failure.  You have not failed if you explain the gospel and are rejected.  You have failed if you don’t try.’

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