Lee Strobel tells the story of how his friend, Jack, shares his faith. Jack lives in a residential facility for the developmentally disabled in suburban Chicago. Jack wears thick glasses, speaks in a low mumble, his hair is always tousled, his cloths are dishevelled, and he wears a tie that is askew. He thinking is unfocused and his speech tends to consist of a string of disconnected thoughts. Although, when Lee told his story, Jack was probably in his late thirties, talking with him was like communicating with a child. Jack attends the same church as Lee.
People in the church wondered how much Jack understood of the gospel. Until he came to church with his arm in a cast and sling. ‘Did that hurt?’ Lee asked.
‘I come here … and hear … about Jesus … and I think about … all the pain … he went through … for me … and I think … this is nothing.’ There is no doubt that Jack loves Jesus! And what happens when a person truly adores someone? They can’t keep it to themselves. So Jack is involved in the adventure of sharing his faith. He routinely tells the other residents and staff at the home where he lives that Jesus loves them, and encourages them to visit his church.
In that residential home there is a stereo in the common room. Each of the residents get half an hour a day to choose what is played on it. Most of the residents tune in to a sports match or play music. Jack uses his half hour to play sermons from his church.
One of the staff at the home is a woman named Michelle. Over and over Jack would tell her that Jesus loved her. He would lend her Christian tapes and invite her to come to church with him. Michelle was deeply touched by his genuine concern, after all, she was supposed to be caring for him, and here he was turning the tables. But she kept turning down his invitations to join him at church.
One day Jack reached the conclusion that he was getting nowhere just asking Michelle to come to church. So, in his own endearing way, he told her. ‘Meet me there Sunday.’ He really wasn’t demanding it, but he was gently insistent. Jack was so sincere, so full of love and perseverance that Michelle thought ‘why not?’ She went, listened intently to the message of grace, felt her heart begin to open to ideas she had long resisted. By the end of that day she found herself saying yes to Jesus. She now thanks God that Jack cared enough to persist in reaching out to her even though she rebuffed him so many times. ‘Jack,’ she declares, ‘is my hero!’
Sharing our love for Jesus is something all Christians are commanded to do. We called into an adventure. However, this adventure can be scary, and fear often causes us to miss opportunities. Today, I want to share some honest thoughts about evangelism.
Evangelism is not easy
Just before he sent his disciples out for the first time, Jesus warned them ‘I am sending you out like sheep among wolves’ (Matthew 10:16).
Think about it. You are sharing a message that is considered intolerant—Jesus is the only way to God. You are telling people that they are spiritually blind, lost and condemned. Not everyone is going to thank you for such opinions.
Peter tells us to ‘be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have’ (1 Peter 3:15). Maybe we have waited for that opportunity hoping that someone will come up to us and say, ‘what’s the difference about you? I want what you have. Please tell me about your hope, and where it comes from.’ However, the reality is often far more hostile. The whole of Peter’s letter is filled with warnings about how Christians suffer for their faith. In fact, the previous verse speaks about suffering for doing what is right. It is more likely that they will approach you with an attitude that says, ‘the way you live offends me, your beliefs are ridiculous, why on earth would someone believe such superstitious nonsense?’
Of course, being sneered at, is nothing compared to what Christians face in most of the world; it is nothing compared to what we have in Jesus; and our current afflictions are light and momentary compared that are preparing for us an eternal weight of glory (2 Corinthians 4:17).
Evangelism is exciting
Lee Strobel and Mark Mittelberg write a wonderful book about taking everyday risks to talk to people about Jesus. In it Strobel says, ‘this is the missing ingredient in so many Christian lives. I’ve never heard anyone complain by saying, “My spiritual life is so dry right now; it’s like I am living in a desert,” and then add, “Oh, by the way, I’m actively trying to reach a friend for Christ.” Sharing our faith is one of the thinks that makes our faith feel alive.
Evangelism is important
When we pray the Lord’s Prayer we say, ‘hallowed by Thy name.’ ‘To hallow his name is to be overwhelmed by the sweetness of his sacrifice’ (Rico Tice). It should grieve us that those around us do not hallow his name—that they do not worship him, adore him and acknowledge his incomparable glory. Ordinary Christians in the early church went out to evangelise ‘for the sake of the Name’ (3 John 7). Many Christians rightly get upset when Jesus’ name is used flippantly. However, our concern for his name must not stop there. We want to see people speak his name in love and commitment. John Stott writes, ‘we do not speak for Christ because we do not so love his name that we cannot bear to see him unacknowledged and unadorned.’
Evangelism is also important because love for people must compel us to warn them of the danger they are in. Rico Tice writes, ‘The reason Jesus talked about hell is because he does not want people to go there. The reason Jesus died was so that people wouldn’t have to go there. The only way to hell is to trample over the cross of Christ.’
Tice tells the interesting story of an occasion when he was a student and he gave a guy on his rugby team a tape of a sermon that he had preached. It was on ‘behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world’ (John 1:19). In that sermon he pointed out that we either pay for our sin in hell, or the Lamb pays for our sin on the cross.
His friend, called Ed, played that sermon one night to his housemates, who were on the same rugby team. One of them, Dave, got very upset, and said, ‘if that’s what Rico believes, the fact he’s said nothing of it to me in months means he’s really my friend.’ So Ed rang Rico and said: ‘Rico, you need to speak to Dave; he’s upset that you’ve not talked to him till now about what’s in the sermon.’ Dave understood that if a Christian believes what Jesus said about hell is true, then we are not very loving if we do not warn people about the dangers of been sent there!
Of course, becoming a Christian is more than simply escaping hell. If you see a great movie you want others to see it to. I enjoy going to Thomond Park for a big match hoping that they will get the same thrill from it as I do. We should want others to share the delight we have in Jesus.
Have you forgotten how great it feels to realise that your sins are forgiven? Are you growing in the awareness of the width and depth of the love God has for us in Christ? Do you enjoy that peace of knowing that we no longer need fear death? Do you realise that you are not only justified, you are adopted as a dearly loved child and heir of the most gracious and kind of all fathers? Do you understand being in Christ is life in all its fullness? Do you know that you have being rescued for the empty ways of our world, and now have real purpose?
Our idols will stop us evangelising
So what stops us sharing our faith? Our idols stop us sharing our faith! An idol is anything that is more important to us than our love for God. If I love the approval of my friends and relatives more than I love the name of Jesus then I will keep silent about my faith in case they reject me for what I believe. Of course this not only reveals that I love popularity more than I value Jesus, it also says that my love for my friends is based more their approval of my than my concern for their eternal well-being. I am nervous about how some of my friends will react when they begin to understand what I believe; I feel a huge responsibility that if I don’t speak to them about Jesus they may never hear the gospel; and I dread the fact that they might not like me for what I believe. But we must love the name of Jesus, and those around us, enough to step out and face the consequences.
The only way you will be able to handle the inevitable rejection that comes through sharing the gospel is through experiencing God’s ever-present love, the comfort of his people and the certainty of your heavenly hope. Indeed, as I read about evangelism I am reminded how gracious is in giving us each other. Our church fellowship is to be a place where we come together and encourage each other, because it is difficult out there in the world, and a need the support of God’s people.
Conclusion—being faithful doesn’t guarantee conversions
mentioned a book that I have recently read by Lee Strobel and Mark Mittelberg. It is entitled, ‘The Unexpected Adventure’, and it encourages all of us to be engaged in sharing our faith. But one of the things that struck me was the amount of times they talked about speaking to someone and being left with no sense of whether that person came to Jesus or not. I actually found it encouraging. They weren’t judging success in sharing their faith in the numbers of conversions they had seen. They were judging success in terms of lovingly, respectfully and gently telling people about Jesus. After all we can’t open the eyes of the spiritually blind, or raise the spiritually dead—only Jesus can do that. Our responsibility is to be motivated by a passion for God’s name and a love for people.