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Matt_28.16-20

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TITLE:  China Story              SCRIPTURE:  Matthew 28:16-20

 

The latest (May, 2008) issue of Christianity Today has an article by Rob Moll entitled, "Great Leap Forward" (pages 23-33) that talks about the great strides that the Christian church has made in China during the past 20 years.  It starts by telling the story of Job and his wife –– both Chinese physicians –– who became Christians five years ago.  They became Christians because of the influence of a friend who came to visit and who shared the Gospel with them while she was there.  Job says:

"She came for 24 hours,

and she preached the gospel for 20."

I don't know the name of the woman who visited Job and his wife –– the woman who shared her faith with them.  But I do know that she was doing what Jesus told all of us to do.  Jesus said:

"GO therefore and MAKE DISCIPLES of all nations,

BAPTIZING them in the name of the Father

and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,

And TEACHING them

to obey everything that I have commanded you."

When Job and his wife became Christians, they wanted to go to church –– but didn't know where to find a church.  They couldn't remember having seen a church in their city –– a city of nearly eight million people.  Their friend suggested that they start a Bible study, so they did that.  Within four months, a hundred people were attending their Bible study, so they decided to start a church.  As physicians, they were acquainted with Communist Party officials –– a number of whom were their patients –– so they made those Party members aware of what they were doing –– and even invited them to church.  Last Christmas, their church worked with local officials to distribute "Parcels of Love" to help needy families.

The article said that the church in China has experienced explosive growth over the past 20 or 30 years.  It is difficult to estimate the number of Christians in China, because so many Christians worship in hiding –– but we think there were about 3 million Christians in China 30 years ago.  Today the estimates run from 50 million to 130 million. 

Jesus said:

"GO therefore and MAKE DISCIPLES of all nations,

BAPTIZING them in the name of the Father

and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,

And TEACHING them

to obey everything that I have commanded you."

The China article went on to say:

"This is how Christianity spreads in China:

person to person.

Until recently, churches didn't sponsor public evangelistic outreach

or anything else that officials might perceive as disrupting order."

When I read that, I thought, "That's the way Christianity spreads everywhere –– person to person."  I remembered in particular the work of Herb Miller, who has done extensive research to determine how churches grow. 

• His most significant finding was that churches grow, in large measure, because church members invite friends to come to church with them. 

• He found, not surprisingly, that people are more likely to visit a church if invited by a friend or neighbor than if invited by the pastor. 

• Listen carefully now.  Miller found that 70 and 90 percent of the people who join any church come through the influence of a friend or relative.

• And he found that the best way to get people to come back a second time was for a layperson to make a short visit to the new visitor's home within 36 hours –– in other words, not later than Monday evening.  It doesn't work if the pastor makes that visit.  It only works if a layperson does it.  Miller found that, if a layperson would make a short visit to the new person's home within 36 hours, 85 percent would come back to church again –– and many of those would ultimately join the church.

Jesus said:

"GO therefore and MAKE DISCIPLES of all nations,

BAPTIZING them in the name of the Father

and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,

And TEACHING them

to obey everything that I have commanded you."

We call that the Great Commission.  It is the mission of the church to go –– to make disciples –– to baptize –– and to teach people to obey Jesus.  The Great Commission has four imperatives:

      (1) Go. 

      (2) Make disciples. 

      (3) Baptize. 

      (4) Teach –– specifically, teach people to obey Jesus' commandments.

That isn't just the church's job –– it is my job –– and it is your job too.  Each of us has a different set of friends and neighbors and co-workers ––and Jesus calls each of us to go–– to make disciples –– to baptize –– and to teach.  Each of us will manage that in different ways.  In the China article, a woman visited her friends and shared the gospel with them –– and in the process she won two people to Christ.  Then those friends, not knowing what to do next, started a Bible study –– and pretty soon they had a hundred people attending –– so they started a church.

You might be thinking, "Well, that might work in China, but it wouldn't work here."  But it does work here.  Churches that emphasize going and making disciples and baptizing and teaching grow –– and churches that don't emphasize those things shrink.  It's that simple.

I am not suggesting to you that you can start a Bible study and expect a hundred people to attend.  I am suggesting that you can make a difference in people's lives if you will remember these four steps –– go, make disciples, baptize, teach –– and do what you can to obey that Great Commission. 

These days Christians tend to be skittish about this sort of thing.  In one church, I suggested including some money in the budget for evangelism.  You should have seen the red flags pop up all around the table.  One of the board members asked guardedly, "What do you mean by evangelism?"  I mentioned several things –– none of which required going door to door doing cold calling –– and he relaxed a little bit.  I know of a church that changed the name of the Evangelism Committee to the New Life Committee because nobody wants anything to do with evangelism. 

The reason we are skittish about evangelism is that we think of evangelism as door-to-door calling and hard selling.  Most of us have had people knock on our door or call us on the phone to sell us something –– whether the something is magazines or Jesus –– and we don't like it.  We don't like to be on either end of a hard sell.  We don't want to be the person doing the calling and we don't want to be the person being called.

But Jesus didn't tell us to do cold calling.  He didn't tell us to do hard selling.  He said:

"GO therefore and MAKE DISCIPLES of all nations,

BAPTIZING them in the name of the Father

and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,

And TEACHING them

to obey everything that I have commanded you."

If there are (NUMBER) people in this church today, there are (NUMBER) different ways to do what Jesus told us to do.  We don't each one have to do all of those things.  But each of us needs to do our part.  Each of us has our own circle of friends.  Each of us has a friend or a neighbor or a co-worker who is unknown to any other member of this congregation.  Once we leave this church building, we move in our own circles.  We interact with different people.  We each have opportunities to witness for Christ that nobody else has.  That's why it is important for each of us to do his or her part.

So how can we do that? 

Let me draw your attention to the fact that the last of the four steps that Jesus outlined is that we teach people to obey everything that Jesus commanded.  What did he command?  When asked which commandment was greatest, Jesus said:

"'You shall love the Lord your God

with all your heart,

and with all your soul,

and with all your mind.'

This is the greatest and first commandment.

And a second is like it:

'You shall love your neighbor as yourself'" (22:37-39).

Love God!  Love your neighbor!  Jesus said that those two commandments summarize everything that we need to know.  Love God!  Love your neighbor!   

If we love God, our lives will begin to take on a sheen of holiness that people will find attractive –– not arrogant holiness –– not "better than thou" holiness –– but an authentic Godliness that will contrast attractively with the ungodliness that people have to deal with everyday. 

You know people like that –– Godly people –– people who seem to be rooted –– people who seem to be grounded –– people who have respect for themselves and respect for others –– people whose caring is genuine.  When we see people who love God, there is something about their lives that attracts us to them.  The Good News is that we can be like that –– we can be Godly people –– and, if we are, we will draw people to Christ.

Love God!  Love your neighbor!  If we love our neighbor and our friends and our co-workers –– they will sense that and be drawn to us.  The door will be open for us to ask how they are doing –– to show them a kindness –– to walk with them through difficult times –– to share our faith with them –– to invite them to come to church with us. 

One of the reasons that evangelism has become a dirty word in the minds of so many people is that Christians have too often gone about evangelism without loving the person to whom they are trying to witness. 

The first step in being winsome evangelists –– attractive evangelists –– effective evangelists –– is to make sure that our hearts are in the right place –– to make sure that we love God and that we love our neighbor –– and that our love is the motive behind our actions. 

The next step is to live lives steeped in prayer.  On our own, we have no power.  On our own, we cannot find the right words.  On our own, we are doomed to fail. 

But the Good News is that, as Christians, we are not on our own.  We can ask God for help –– for grace.  We can pray for friends and neighbors –– pray for them by name.  We can ask God to bless them. 

If we will do that, God will bless them –– and he will very often choose to do that through our witness –– through our love.  And when that happens, we will find that we have given a blessing –– that that we have received a blessing too.  That's what we mean by evangelism –– the giving and the receiving of blessings.  Let us live our lives in such a way that we spend our days giving and receiving blessings.  Amen.

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