As some of you know, I have been working at building a room in our basement for when Jonathan comes home. The part of the job that I have been doing this past week is wiring. I am a rank amateur when it comes to wiring and I have learned a lot. I learned that if you touch a live wire, you get a little surprise. I learned that if you plug something into a socket that is not connected to the source of power, nothing happens. I learned that if the wire is too short to reach the next plug, you will not be able to make a connection. I also learned that when you are connected to the source of power, when all your wires are connected up properly and you turn on the switch, you get light.
There are a lot of similarities in that to our work of evangelism. If we are not connected to God, we will have no power in our witness. If we are not connected with unbelievers, we will not give the light of the gospel. This morning, as we continue with our study of how we can become involved in evangelism, we will look at how we can make connections with people who need Jesus. When we become Christians, a whole new world opens up to us. We find a group of people who love us and who have the same goals as we do. We enjoy spending time with them and it seems that often we prefer to live our lives in that world. For people who have grown up in a Christian home, the temptation is even greater and before long, our whole world is lived primarily in the context of believers. It is comfortable, but it makes it very difficult for us to know how to fulfill the mandate of doing the work of evangelism.
I spoke with someone last week who told me about an experience they had which involved a witnessing campaign. As a part of the training, they were to go door to door. The question they were often asked was, “are you Jehovah Witnesses?” It is hard to make connections when people are suspicious. At various times, churches which I have been involved with have held evangelistic campaigns. We were encouraged to invite unbelievers, but I didn’t know any unbelievers well enough to feel comfortable about inviting them.
I am thankful for those who don’t have these same struggles and to whom God has given the gift of evangelism and I believe that as a church we need to free them from all other jobs in the church so that they can concentrate on doing the work of evangelism. I have discovered that I am not one of those with the gift of evangelism. On numerous occasions, I have been involved in evangelistic efforts and have realized that I do not handle these things well. At the same time, I also know that I must be involved in the work of evangelism. So there is a great tension within me. I find it difficult to do something that I know I must do. I feel ineffective in something that I know is of tremendous importance.
That struggle has been good for me. As I have wrestled to be obedient, I have learned some lessons that I believe will help ordinary Christians to be significantly involved in the work of evangelism. I would like to share a few of those lessons with you today.
We used to live in Cartwright which was less than 8 miles from the US border and we were sometimes able to pick up TV signals from US stations. On rare days, the signal was clear, but most often, there was just enough signal there to know that there was a channel coming in, but not enough to be able to watch the show. It was obvious that there was a message there, but the message was not clear.
The starting place for making connections with unbelievers is to make sure that the signal that is coming through us is a clear signal. The world has a scrambled message about who God is and what it means to have a relationship with Him. If that signal is not clear in our own life, then we will not be able to make a connection for other people. Therefore, we need to think about our life and how clear the connection between us and God is. Are we giving a clear signal?
What are some of the unclear signals and how do we present a clear picture of what God is like and what a relationship to Him is like?
One of the unclear pictures that people have is that they think that God cannot be known. If people even believe in God, they may see Him as lofty and living way above all that happens on earth. The communication which people are comfortable with is through angels. They do not think that a person can know God personally, only through angels. In recent years, a number of TV shows have illustrated this understanding. These shows assume that God himself is too far away and too unapproachable.
How do we make it clear that God is both a high and holy God and at the same time a loving Father who wants a relationship with his children? In order to make connections for people, we need to live lives which are genuinely in love with Jesus. We will not be able to make a clear connection if we are not making that connection ourselves. As we think about making connections, we need to examine ourselves and ask, “Do I know God in an intimate way?”
A second false impression that people have about the gospel is that knowing God is only for the spiritually elite. People admire Mother Theresa and Billy Graham, but they do not believe that the relationship to God that these people have is for the ordinary person. We reinforce that impression when we put on an act for people to demonstrate that we are spiritual. That does not mean that we should act in unrighteousness, but it also means that we should not act “holier than thou.”
The only way to remove that false impression is to live real lives. People need to see that we are quite ordinary people, that we are not perfect or a breed apart, but that we are just like they are, except for the power in our lives. As they learn that we are real, but still have a relationship with God, they will be able to consider the possibility of a relationship with God.
Our oldest son is really into camping. At one time, he learned that when you go camping, especially in winter, you should always wear wool, never cotton because cotton does not insulate well. He had a saying that became a family joke. He would say repeatedly, that cotton “sucks the life right out of you.”
There are many people who have the impression that being a Christian “sucks the life right out of you.” They think that being a Christian is boring and means that you have to give up on all fun in life.
The wrong way to remove that wrong impression is to participate fully in all the things of the world. The right way to change that impression is to live lives that are filled with the joy of knowing Jesus. If our lives are filled with purity and joy people will see a difference that is attractive.
A fourth fuzzy picture of the gospel that is often reinforced by the way we live is that following God means living by a whole bunch of rules. Legalism does not communicate the truth about what a relationship with God is all about. We know we are not saved by our works, so why live as if we are. Living a Christian life is about freedom - freedom from addictions, freedom from hatred, freedom from obsessions, freedom from fear and freedom to truly live.
The way to dispel that wrong impression is to live as the people who among all people on earth, are most free. Instead of communicating legalism, we need to communicate freedom in Christ. For example, in regards to the use of alcohol, legalism would say, with a long face and a longing heart, drinking is wrong and I am not allowed to do so. With the freedom we have in Christ, however, we are able to live with the recognition that we are free of the need to have alcohol in our lives because we are free of the need to numb our minds and free of the need to fit in with the crowd. It is as we live in a pure and holy freedom that we will remove the wrong picture.
The last false impression that we will look at that people sometimes get of Christians is that they are no different than anyone else. When they see Christians who lie and steal, who cheat on their taxes, who demonstrate prejudice, jealousy and lack of forgiveness, they get a distorted impression of what God intended. Unfortunately, that impression is often more accurate than it ought to be.
It is quite obvious what we need to do in order to change that impression. As we live lives of integrity and faithfulness, people will see what God is really like and what it really means to know Him. We need to be very careful to live so that what we live does not undermine our evangelistic intentions.
“The gospel will be perceived as a feasible alternative when those who do not know God have some positive, personal experiences with people who do know Him.”
How can we live with freedom, joy, integrity and a genuine love for Jesus and thus make connections for unbelievers? The only way that such a life is possible is by the power of the Holy Spirit. Galatians 5:22, 23, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.”
So it is obvious that we need the Holy Spirit of God ruling our lives. That kind of a life is possible as Ephesians 5:18 commands us, “Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit.” Are we allowing God’s Holy Spirit to fill our lives?
The other day I was cooking chilli. The light in the kitchen was on, but I was having trouble seeing if the meat was browned enough. The problem was that my body was between the light and what I wanted to see. We may have the brightest light around, but if it is covered it will not shine where it is needed. We may live in freedom, joy, integrity and love, but if no one sees it what good does it do?
Jesus provides us with the theology for making connections in this world by the example of his own life and ministry. When God decided to bring the gospel to the world, he did not only pronounce it from heaven. He did not only send an angel to make his will known. The wonder of the story of Jesus, from birth to resurrection is that God came among us. The name of Jesus, “Immanuel” means “God with us.” The theological term that has been used is the term “incarnation.” It is a word that expresses John 1:14, “The Word became flesh and lived for a while among us.”
If God chose the method of incarnation to make His gospel message known, then surely it is a method we need to use as well. In fact, this is what the Bible teaches. In Matthew 5:13-16, we are told that we are the salt of the earth and the light of the world. We are told that we must not hide that light, but must live it in the world. The implication of incarnation, of being light in the world is that we must be in the world and must be deliberate about contacts with unbelievers. How will they know if they do not see Christ lived in their world? We are the only ones who will make him known.
Sadly, as I indicated at the beginning, we seem to have a lot of trouble with this. We are uncomfortable in the unbelieving world. We do not understand unbelievers, we do not accept their values, we are afraid that they will not understand us and so we have chosen to live apart from them.
I do not want to make light of the dangers of this approach. What will happen if we make contact with the world and are tempted to do what they do? This is a serious concern, but not an excuse that we should use to stop making contact with unbelievers. Paul told the Corinthians in I Corinthians 5:9,10, “I have written you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world.” That is exactly the point. God has not told us to leave the world, but has left us in this world not so that we will hide from it, but that we will shine as lights in it.
Our children went to a public school and often faced challenges. They were not always successful in avoiding every temptation, but we always encouraged them by asking them “Are you an influence or are you being influenced?” Recently, our son told us that that question had made a real difference for him in the choices he had made.
God has called us to an Incarnational life. We need to take the first step by living our life of faith in full view of those who do not know Jesus.
So how do we make that practical?
Very simply put, don’t spend all your time with Christians! Where in your life do you have an interest that you could use as an occasion to meet unbelievers? If most of your world is now with believers, find a corner of your life that fits with an interest you already have that will put you in the path of unbelievers. Be deliberate about striking up an acquaintance with them. What interest do you have that could be a place where you could meet people who do not know the Lord?
As you seek to make acquaintance with them, be open about who you are as a Christian, not as a way of throwing it in their face, but as a simple statement about who you are and what makes you tick. As you share interests, it would be most natural to let them know that you go to church regularly, that you do it because you know God and want to know Him better.
A second important thing to do is to take an inventory of which unbelievers are already in your life. The power to change training material talks about our circle of influence. Who are the people who are already known to us who do not know the Lord? Sometimes we overlook the people who are regular acquaintances and we have gotten so used to them in our lives that we have forgotten that they don’t know Christ. These people may be among our relatives, people we regularly do business with, neighbours or co-workers. We have a tremendous opportunity among those in our circle of influence. Let us make sure that we are praying for them and that we are looking for ways to share the gospel with them. Because they are already people we know, there is less danger that we will see them as targets instead of people to love and share the faith with. The danger is to see them as friends and to forget about their souls.
A second circle of people we may have forgotten about is what the Power to Change training material calls our circle of circumstance. Who are the people whom you may not know well, but who keep showing up in your world - mechanic, hair dresser, grocery clerk. I have read about the concept of strategic consumerism. Instead of doing our business only with friends and Christians, why not make a deliberate effort to do business in a place that will give us an opportunity to make the acquaintance of unbelievers and to meet them on a regular basis.
As we are open to living our life in the world, God will bring people into our path that we can help. We need to “seek the Lord’s help in building towards genuine friendships.”
In the book Lifestyle Evangelism, Joe Aldrich tells about a real estate firm in Salem, Oregon which instructed each of their sales agents that they should adopt 500 family homes. They were to contact them once in a while without the intention of selling their home, just as a way of making themselves known. They found that after a time of such regular contacts, when a family came to list their home, 80 % of the time they listed with the agent who had taken the time to get to know them. They used this strategy because they learned some important lessons that can help us also. They learned that “people do not like to be confronted by strangers seeking entrance into their homes,” “people are more inclined to do business with acquaintances than strangers,” “it takes time and effort to build a healthy decision making climate” and “there is no substitute for time.”
“Witness begins with presence, moves to proclamation and on to persuasion.” Are we prepared to be the presence of Christ in an unbelieving world?
In order to be effective in the work of evangelism, we need to first of all know God and live a life of faithfulness before Him. Secondly, we need to be acquainted with unbelievers and let them see our lives. The last thing I want to talk about today is that we need to know unbelievers. The reason to know them is so that we can speak the gospel into their lives in an appropriate and relevant way.
When we first moved to Manitou, the community was in the midst of an evangelistic campaign. We were immediately drawn in and since we knew no one, we thought we would make contact with our next door neighbours. I believe now that we contacted them with the gospel too early. If we had taken more time to get to know them first and listen to them, we would have had a better opportunity to communicate the gospel with them.
“The temptation is to unload the entire evangelistic dump truck the first time the conversation turns to spiritual things. As a general rule, this is not a healthy pattern to follow. Gradually directing a person to Christ through seed planting is a much preferred approach.” In order to plant seeds effectively, we need to know them and we need to earn the right to be heard. How will we do that?
The key is to be willing to spend time with them. We have already talked about deliberate relationships that are relationships of integrity. The key to this is to listen to them. What are their areas of interest? What are their areas of struggle? As we are open about who we are, we must be just as open to allow them to open their lives to us. The best way to do that is to be a good listener.
“When you have cultivated a friendship and become aware of some of your friend’s needs, your gospel presentation becomes much more powerful because it becomes a potential solution to both his real and felt needs. When friendship has been established, it is much easier to sense the appropriate time for moving from presence to proclamation and persuasion. Often our attempts to “persuade” are premature because we really don’t know whether the individual is in a “sowing, watering or harvest” condition.”
In I Peter 3:15 we read, “But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect…” I believe this is a very important statement. There must be the readiness to speak the gospel, but it must be done with gentleness and respect. We are not like the salesman who gets his foot in the door and is not going to let you go until he has completed his sales pitch. We are not salesmen, we are witnesses.
One of the most powerful truths of the Word of God regarding witnessing is found in John 6:44 where it says, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day.” That reminds us that we are in this work with God. We need to ask, “What is God doing in that persons life?” As we relate to the unbeliever with a life that is a genuine expression of what God intends us to be and as we treat them as genuine friends and not as projects, we will observe God at work. If God is not drawing that person to himself, our efforts will not be fruitful. In the context of relationship and as we pray for them, we must watch to see how God is working in them. When we see God at work in their life, drawing them, asking questions, seeking something, then it is time to harvest.
Although not all of us are evangelists, all of us must be involved in the work of evangelism. We can do it! The basic task involves these three things. First of all, knowing God in a true relationship. Secondly, living our lives in the face of unbelievers by a deliberate choice of friendship. Thirdly, in the context of relationship, seeking to know unbelievers so that when God is at work in their lives, we will know that the time has come to speak His word that is specifically appropriate to them and bring them into the kingdom. All of us can do these things.
Where do we begin? First of all, I would encourage you to make a list of unbelievers you already know. Secondly, I would encourage you to think about ways that are appropriate to you to expand that list. Thirdly, I would encourage you to begin to pray for these people. Then, I would encourage you to think about whom you would like to invite to a Power to Change event and also to think about those whom you would like to ask about the Power to Change testimonies on TV. Finally, begin to look for God’s work in their lives.
We are God’s ambassadors, empowered by His Spirit. Will we make ourselves available to make His good news known?