We are now 2 weeks into the power to change campaign. What has happened? How has God been at work? As of Thursday, there were over 500 calls to the call center, and 12 people have prayed to receive Christ. What has happened to individuals is, of course, something we don’t know. In one of the first few calls that came in a 20 year old girl was answering the phone for the first time. She talked to a man who only had short answers to her questions, but when she asked if he was interested in spiritual things his response was “sure.” After sharing the gospel with him, she asked if he would like to pray to receive Christ, to her surprise he responded that he would like to accept Christ and she prayed with him. She wept with joy to know that God had used her to lead someone to Himself.
Several weeks ago, we examined the great privilege it is for us to be able to share good news with others. We noted that it is the realization of Christ’s great love for us that moves us to tell others of his love, we noted that the message we have is a message of the power of God to change lives and we also were reminded that we have a commission from God himself to do this work.
Power to Change is one strategy in what ought to be a lifestyle of helping others get to know Jesus. I do not think it would be overstating the case to say that helping others get to know Jesus is our reason for living. What kind of opportunities have you had to make his name known this week? Have any of you spoken to others about the Power to Change campaign? Have any of you had a chance to hand out any of the Power to Change literature?
Last week, someone mentioned that they had every intention of getting involved and were trained and prepared to use the opportunity that power to change was giving them. But as they began to get involved, they suddenly had difficulty. They admitted that it wasn’t as easy as the resolve made in a worship service or a training session. This morning, I want to share with you a few more things which I hope will help you to get involved and to actually live a life of faith sharing.
In the book, “Reinventing Evangelism” Don Posterski tells about a time when Christians in Calgary had organized a Christian festival. They rented the old corral which is next door to the Saddledome. As the event drew near, they realized that they would be competing with hockey. It seems the Calgary Flames had made it to the Stanley Cup finals. It was a jarring contrast for them as a capacity crowd of 17,000 people filled the Saddledome, while next door, at the Christian festival, 2500 people looked lost in the 7000 seat arena. He writes, “I had a strong sense that God was not winning in this world.”
When Moses sent Joshua, Caleb and the other 10 spies to look at the promised land, they came back and reported about how wonderful the land was. They told about the amazing produce in the land and that it was definitely a place that would be a great place to live. But, 10 of the spies, also told about the great difficulty of taking the land. They told about the giants who lived there. In Numbers 13:33 we read their report, “We saw the Nephilim there … We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them.” They were intimidated by the enemy and by the situation that seemed so much out of proportion to their ability to meet it.
When Peter was standing around the fire warming himself at the time of Jesus’ arrest, a servant girl asked him if he had been with Jesus. The fearful events of the moment so overwhelmed him that he denied knowing Jesus. He too was intimidated by the events that were taking place around him.
We can identify with the spies of Israel and with Peter. As we go out to tell others about Jesus, we too feel like grasshoppers and are afraid to identify with Jesus. We recognize that God is not winning in this world and we are not sure we want to be identified with what looks like a losing cause. Posterski writes, “The social pressures and values of our modern times trigger spiritual intimidation, and many of God’s good people become casualties.”
It is easy to be intimidated because we hold the minority opinion. When we come with a message which says that people need God and tell that message to a world that is largely self sufficient, we wonder, who is listening anyway. Posterski says, “Being open about needing God to help cope with the pressures of life is in poor taste. Our culture programs us for self-reliance.” We look around and see people who have everything they need, they are healthy and seem completely whole and seem to have no need of God, how do we communicate God’s solution to that kind of a culture? In the book, The Closing Of The American Mind, Allan Bloom writes “There is one thing a professor can be absolutely certain of: almost every student entering the university believes, or says he believes, that truth is relative.” “There are no absolutes, freedom is absolute.” “How do we communicate that God’s good news is more than a lifestyle option? How do we communicate that God’s revelation of his son is ultimate truth…?”
We are intimidated by the majority culture. We are also intimidated by unfamiliarity. You know how sometimes when you meet new people, you are shy and find it hard to be open with them? Then, when you come to know them, you are quite free. Some of our intimidation comes because we are unfamiliar with unbelievers and don’t know how they think and so find it hard to share with them.
We may also be intimidated by not knowing what to say. We understand our own salvation to a degree, but do not have answers to all the potential questions that might come up and so we are afraid to speak, in case we say the wrong things or someone may ask us questions which we can’t answer..
On top of that and in the midst of all of that is the reality that we are in a spiritual battle with an enemy who is determined to destroy the witness about Christ in any way that he can.
No wonder we are intimidated! And yet the same Peter who denied knowing Jesus, just a few weeks later boldly proclaimed Jesus in the face of opposition and arrest. What can we do about it? When Joshua and Caleb listened to the fear filled report of the other 10 spies, they responded, in Numbers 14:8,9, “If the LORD is pleased with us, he will lead us into that land, a land flowing with milk and honey, and will give it to us. Only do not rebel against the LORD. And do not be afraid of the people of the land, because we will swallow them up. Their protection is gone, but the LORD is with us. Do not be afraid of them.” The way to face intimidation is to remind ourselves, as Joshua and Caleb remind us, that “the Lord is with us.” Acts 1:8 assures us of this power, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” One writer said, “The people God can use are not those who claim to be strong and invincible.” He uses those who know that they need Him.
As we take courage and rely on the God who has all power, let me share with you several more things which I hope will help you share your faith.
Although I am not a mechanic, I have learned a few things about cars. I once worked on rebuilding a Volkswagen engine and one of the things that had to be done after it was all together was to make sure that the timing was right. If the fuel mixture does not arrive at just the right time for the spark to ignite it and then to exhaust it, the engine does not run right. In order for an engine to run smoothly, the timing has to be just right.
Right timing is also an important factor in helping people come to know Jesus. If we ask a person who does not know anything about God or understand anything about what who Jesus is or what he did if they want Jesus in their heart, they will not be in a position to accept Him. A few years ago, I found a chart which has helped me a lot in understanding two important things about timing. One is that we need to understand where a person is at in their spiritual pilgrimage and we need to do activities and say things that are appropriate to that stage of their journey. The second is that understanding their pilgrimage is important so that we know when is the right time to invite them to accept Christ.
As we think about timing, however, we need to recognize that timing does not override the work of the Holy Spirit. When the Holy Spirit prompts us to get going, we need to obey the voice of the Spirit. However, as a general rule, it is very helpful to be aware of timing. Let me share this chart with you.
As you can see, there are three stages of readiness for the gospel. The first stage is cultivation. At this stage, people do not even know that there is good news from God. They need to become aware of the gospel first of all and aware that the gospel makes a difference in a person’s life and that the Bible has relevance for life. At this stage, the strategy for gospel proclamation is presence. There needs to be a focus on caring and on being Christ to them. The strategy of building bridges of friendship is very important at this stage. What we need to understand is that this act of making friends and moving people from one part of this stage to another by simple acts of kindness and by living with integrity, joy, freedom and peace are as much the work of evangelism as the final stage of helping them accept Christ. And so, I want to encourage you to be involved deliberately in this stage of evangelism for the unbelievers in your life.
The second stage is the sowing stage. At this stage, people have already gotten to the place where they are aware of the gospel messenger and realize that it is God who has made a difference in their life. The second stage is the stage at which it becomes important to find ways of helping people understand the basics of the gospel and the implications of the gospel. At this stage, it is time to speak, but the speaking that must take place is not an invitation to receive Christ. The speaking is the speaking of dialogue in which we share our faith story with them and in which we tell them the truth of the gospel and how it has impacted our life. At this stage, we can take them to events which will help them understand the gospel. The important thing to realize is that as we have simply shared our faith or shared our understanding of the gospel, we have not failed if we have not invited them to receive Christ. They are not ready at this stage to receive Christ, they are still on the way and the task of telling them, without making an invitation, is as much the work of evangelism as the final invitation to receive Christ. So don’t think you have failed if all you have said is “God helped me through a crisis this week” or if all you have done is say that you have peace because Jesus has given it to you.
The third stage is that of harvesting. This is the time when they have understood the gospel and have come to recognize their personal need. It is at this point when an invitation to accept Christ is finally relevant. But even here, we need to be very much aware of their readiness. We need to be sensitive to the work of the Holy Spirit in their life. John 16:7,8 tells us that it is the Spirit of God who convicts men of sin, righteousness and judgement. We also need to remember that in John 6:44 Jesus said, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, ….” Joe Aldrich, in Lifestyle Evangelism, writes, “The effective evangelist is in a cooperative relationship with God Himself.” “To be insensitive to or to fail to wait for evidence of the moving of the Spirit in the unbeliever’s life is to hinder God’s work.”
I read about a salesman’s tactic which also applies to us, “I will not begin talking about my solution until I’m certain my prospect is eager to hear about it.”
So we see how important it is to have right timing. Furthermore, how important it is to understand that evangelism happens at all levels and therefore to work at all levels.
This applies to our own personal work of evangelism as well as our work as a church. Programs which allow us to minister to unbelievers at all stages of the process are also the work of evangelism. So the work of compassion ministries and doing kind deeds like going on MDS assignments are also a part of the work of evangelism. The work of proclamation of the gospel in Sunday School is also a part of the work. Being people who love each other and live lives of integrity with each other is part of the work of evangelism. A person who is an usher and helps people feel welcome on Sunday morning can have as much impact toward the final goal of evangelism as the person who has the privilege of harvest. So I would like to encourage all of us to think about our whole life. How is what I do all week at work, contributing to the work of evangelism? How is my involvement in church contributing to the work of evangelism?
As August approaches, farmers begin to gear up into the ready mode. You can drive down any country road and meet a farmer out checking his crops. You can go onto their yards and see them greasing machinery and making sure that everything is ready so that when harvest time comes, he can get out there and do it.
So too in the work of evangelism, we need to be ready for harvest time. When the Spirit indicates the right time, how do we help a person find Christ? When God is at work in a person’s life, our questions can help that person find what they are looking for. What kinds of things do we say to help them find faith? Don’t forget that “Verbal silence keeps God‘s good news a secret.” It would be like going fishing when the wheat needs to be combined. Witness of action is important, but there comes a time when words must also be spoken. How do we make the transition to speak? This is often the most intimidating part of the process.
Let me share with you several questions that can help us invite a person to consider making a decision for Christ. Of course we understand that this is based on a genuine relationship with this person. We have already talked about that, but I want to reiterate that people are not projects, they are people and our relationship with them must remain genuine.
When we sense the Spirit of God moving, then we can begin to ask more specific questions. One good question is to ask, “At what point are you in your own spiritual pilgrimage?” We are often tempted to ask, “Are you a Christian.” The problem with that question is that many people will answer in the affirmative because they are from North America, they are not Buddhist, Muslim or anything else, so that must mean that they are Christian, even though they do not have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. The question of a spiritual pilgrimage, acknowledges the journey and affirms that it is OK to be in process. It is general enough not to put a person on the spot, it gives an opportunity for spiritual appraisal. It also puts the ball in their court and gives you an opportunity to listen to their story. I believe it is not judgemental and respects the persons space, yet gives an opportunity to hear how God is working in their lives.
As you listen and find that there is interest, the next question could be, “Has your spiritual pilgrimage come to the point of a personal commitment to Jesus Christ, or are you still on the way?” Once again, the idea of a journey is raised and the persons own journey is respected. By asking this question, we are sensitive to their agenda and not trying to push our agenda into their space.
If there seems to be interest, then it would be appropriate to ask something like, “Someday I’d like the opportunity to share with you what it means to establish a personal relationship with Christ.”
If there seems to be interest, that would be the time to ask, “When would be a good time?” and follow that up with actually scheduling a time. What is being done here is that the person is being respected all the way along. I think that is very important because we are not trying to gain points for ourselves and we are not trying to change them, we are trying to cooperate with God changing them.
When the appointment is made and the time to tell the gospel story comes, then we need to let them know how they can have a personal relationship with God. The way that we share the gospel can vary. The Power to Change booklets provide the four spiritual principles. The four spiritual principles are also available on-line. You can also use such helps as those developed by Billy Graham - Steps to Peace With God. Or you can share what has been called the Romans Road. Whatever you use, it is important that we be prepared. I Peter 3:15 says, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” That means that if someone asked us today, “How can I have a relationship to God,” we should always be able to answer them. If you have not prepared what you would say if someone asked you that question, I would encourage you to make such preparations.
After the presentation, it becomes important to also ask them if that is something they want to do. A question like, “Is there any reason why you wouldn’t want to receive Christ?” helps focus the invitation and we need to make an invitation.
When they have made a decision, we need to provide assurance of salvation and also help them continue to grow in Christ.
But what do we do if at any point along this trail of questions it becomes clear that they are not interested or not ready? If we see them as friends and not targets, as we ought, then we should be quiet and not press the point, but should continue to relate to them as genuine friends.
What I have shared with you this morning is intended to be a challenge and an encouragement which helps you develop a mindset and lifestyle habits of being people who tell good news.
With the Power to Change campaign, we have an opportunity to make this very practical. I would like to encourage you to take some concrete step. If you have been encouraged by what you have heard this morning, but would like more information, I would encourage you to take the training which is being offered tomorrow evening at 7:00 at the Morris Baptist church.
If you have someone you would like to contact and you would like to use the Power to Change material, I invite you to pick some up after church. We have the booklet and CD, we have the youth material and the magazine, “Women Today.”
Let’s not just think about it, let us actually do it!
As we conclude this series of messages which call us to an evangelistic lifestyle, I would invite you to think of what you have. As a Christian, you have a relationship with the creator of the universe. The assurance that everything you have ever done wrong is forgiven. The encouragement of knowing that no matter what happens you have the comfort, guidance and help of God. The knowledge that the one who made you loves you very much. The promise that when you die, you will be able to spend all of eternity in the presence of the one who loves you, you will see His face and conditions will be perfect. You will experience the beauty of mountains, forests, plains and lakes without earthquakes, storms or forest fires. The temperature will always be perfect and it will never be too dry. You will have good relationships with others and never have to deal with conflict. There will be no more tears.
As we think about what we have, and realize that there are many people who do not have this, may the love we have experienced in Christ move us to develop lifestyle habits which involve us in sharing God’s good news with all those who do not know it. Let us who have become friends with God, make others his friends also.