SO excited. I think this series could be for a lot of us, a turning point in learning how to share our Christian faith.
Our hope in this series is that by the end of it, you will BE and FEEL equipped to share the gospel message in a way that's not offensive, but it is courageous and most of all, effective.
This is all part of this season that we're in a church called 'Refocus' - Where we're taking these months to refocus both on how we do church and also how we represent Christ to our city.
And if you're with us this morning and you're not a Christian, first off, we're so glad you're here, and just to explain briefly: Communicating our faith is something that we've really done wrong in. We've been threatening, we've been non-compassionate, and we've been devisive. So this is us trying to do this better. And we're so glad you're here with us.
Before we get into it, I'd like to make 2 book recommendations.
The Exorcist Me watching Exorcist movie - Scaring the heck out of myself and bringing my bible to the bathroom. Fear is something that we all face.
I'd like to introduce you to a fear that I suffer from, and I suspect many of you do to:
Evangelphobia. - The fear and/or disgust of everything associated with the word "evangelism."
It's a type of PTSD. And it's PTSD that is not just found in Christians, it's also found in non-Christians. It's like we don't want to talk about Jesus, and they don't want to hear about Jesus, so we just have this silent pact to keep our opinions to ourself. WHY is it such a tender subject?
And it can occur on either side one the situation. The trauma can be from your attempts to evangelize, and it can also happen from someone else's attempt to evangelize you. There have been segments of the Christian faith, especially in the last 50 years or so that in order to get people to tell others about Jesus, they would motivate us by shame and by fear.
WHY DIDN'T YOU TELL ME?!
I'm sure many of us have heard a preacher say that on judgement day, you are going to have to give an account for all the people you failed to convert to Christianity. That there will be all your non-Christian friends being dragged to hell and putting their finger in your face and saying 'WHY DIDN'T YOU TELL ME?!' I remember hearing that (never a this church) but in the church at large and it just scared the living heck out of me. And so I think that for a lot of people, including me, there's this PTSD when it comes to talking about evangelism. And so one thing that we're believing for in this series is that God will help us get over our Evengel-phobia.
But to evangelize, and by that we mean to share the gospel, is something that each and every Christian is called to.
Just a quick comment on how to get the most out of this series.
The American National Training Institute has what they've entitled 'The Learning Pyramid' that shows us the least effective ways of learning all the way up to the most effective. (Pic) (Go through them.)
That's why for one thing, I'm giving you a hand out in that it makes it a little more active. But we also have a challenge for you at the end of the message. So get ready for that.
The word Gospel means 'Good News'
I'm not the smartest person in the entire world, but I did go to bible college, I have my degree, and so I want to share something that I hope is not too hard to understand.
The way you can tell the difference between good news and terrible news is that good news is good.
Good news should make your heart happy, it should make you smile. And the gospel is good news. It's good news for you, it's good news for me, it's good news for the whole world.
Which brings us to the question: Why is it so hard to share our faith with those around us? Christianity in it's early years was incredibly evangelistic.
Think about Paul and Silas, or Peter and John. Thrown into prison, why? Because they were caring for the poor? No. Because they would not stop preaching the gospel.
As for us, we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.” (Acts 4:20 Peter)
"The enthusiasm to evangelize which marked the early Christians is one of the most remarkable things in the history of religions. Here were men and women of every rank and station in life, of every country in the known world, so convinced that they had discovered the riddle of the universe, so sure of the one true God whom they had come to know, that nothing must stand in the way of their passing on this good news to others."
Michael Green, Evangelism in the Early Church
I'd like to tell you the story of one such lady (women were absolutely pivotal in the early evangelism efforts of the Christian church) - And this lady's name was Mary (Maeyken) Wenz. 1573 in Belgium, she was a mother of 4 kids and she starts telling everyone about Jesus.
And the religious powers of the day didn't like her hippie, Jesus message so they warned her to keep quiet. She refuses and she starts a bible study with 3 other women until at the request of the church, the police break in and arrest all 4 women, taking them to prison and for Mary, her husband and 4 kids are left at home.
We get most of her story through her oldest son who kept a few of the letters that his mom Mary wrote from Prison. - They were smuggled out.
"My dear, dear son, I write you this letter with my love and a reminder to be a follower of Jesus. Do not let the world lead you astray. Take seriously the call of God on your life. You are of the age to make a public commitment to Jesus through baptism."
It's amazing that she's encouraging her son to do the exact thing that got her sent to prison. Eventually Mary and the 3 other women were sentenced to death. - Burned at the stake.
"Dear Adriaen, do not fear what the world can do to us. It is better to suffer here, than to suffer for an eternity. Think on the Lord Jesus Christ and his love for you and his flock.
Please take the little ones and hug them and kiss them for me. Should your father also be taken, care for your brothers and sisters.
I pray that you will have the courage to be a follower of Jesus Christ.
We will meet again in the New Jerusalem, for I want you to know that I have remained true to his teaching till the end.
Your loving mother,
On one hand, it's hard to read. Especially when you remember that the people doing these things to her were people who claimed to follow Jesus.
On the other hand, it's encouraging, because you get a glimpse of this women who is literally staring death in the face and there's absolutely no sense that she's backing down, or becoming less committed to sharing the gospel.
The captors had a big problem when it came to the Jesus Freaks. And it's that the Jesus freaks would speak about the good news of Jesus wherever they went.
And an execution by design, was public to dissuade other people from following their path. So when it came time to walk them through town to their execution, they knew they were gonna talk about Jesus to their dying breath.
So for some of the men, they would cut their tongues out. And for the women, they would use what's known as a tongue screw (pic).
And so they would put it on their tongue and just tighten and tighten until their mouth would fill with blood and the tongue would swell and they couldn't talk. This was common practice because these Christians wouldn't shut up. This was the device put on Mary and her 3 friends.
So Mary and her 3 friends were marched through town with a tongue screw, until their were brought to the execution site, and burned alive. This is our heritage. This is where we came from.
One more image from this event. (Pic) And this just looks like a guy bending down. Not his best side! - This is illustration of her son Adrian, just after witnessing his mother being burned alive. History tells us that he passed out during the burning. And this is a few hours later where Adrian went through the ashes to find his moms tongue screw, put it in his pocket and kept it with him to say 'Now it's my turn'. And as he went home to help care for his brother and sisters, he committed to spreading the gospel just like his mom did.
Now fast forward 500 years and we live with absolute religious freedom where there's effectively ZERO chance of something like this happening to you or to me, but the vast majority of us find it incredibly hard to tell someone about Jesus. WHY IS THAT?
I think one of the reasons is that we've convinced ourselves that it's not that important.
We love quotes like this one from St. Francis of Assisi:
"Preach the gospel at all times. When necessary, use words."
Don't you love that one?! Gosh, what a great quote. There's only one problem: St. Francis of Assisi never said that. There's no record of him ever saying that.
And I think the greater problem is that we take quotes like that and use them as an excuse to validate our own cowardice.
Just live a good life
It lets us say things like this: "Here's how I preach the gospel, I just live a very good life." And to say that is to misunderstand what the gospel is. The gospel is news. It's a message.
Both words and deeds
Now OF COURSE we preach with both our words and our deeds. So we're not people who say 'I preach the message with my mouth and it doesn't matter how I live.' - No that would be a mistake. But I think we're seeing a generation that's making the opposite mistake. Where they say "The gospel is something I live, but I don't really talk about it.' That's impossible. - The gospel is a message that is communicated.
In fact, if all you do is live a good life but never bring Jesus into the conversation, you might be communicating something more like 'As long as you're a good person, that's all that matters' which is the opposite of the gospel.
So it's time for us to learn how to communicate the good news of Jesus.
Wow that was a long intro. My times almost done and that was just the intro. That intro counts for the whole series. Now we move on.
What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? (James 2:14)
Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. (James 2:15)
If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? (James 2:16)
In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. (James 2:17)
But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. (James 2:18)
You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder. (James 2:19)
You foolish person, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? (James 2:20)
Was not our father Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? (James 2:21)
You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. (James 2:22)
And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” and he was called God’s friend. (James 2:23)
You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone. (James 2:24)
In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction? (James 2:25)
As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead. (James 2:26)
The Gospel is something we communicate AND it's something we live. In Christian contexts you'll hear it phrased like this: Word Ministry & Deed Ministry nd they both must exist hand-in-hand.
In fact, if one side outpaces the other, the whole thing falls apart.
And that's true in both church ministry and one-on-one ministry.
BUT, when you bring the two together. When the gospel becomes something you Live (in deed) AND something you Give (in word) - they both become more effective. And that's true in both the church ministry context but it's also true in one-on-one ministry.
Neighbor - Suzy. Ok so let's say you have a neighbor and her name is Suzy, and you're trying to talk to her about Jesus or maybe invite her to church. Now let's say Suzy has a sibling in jail, and she's single mother working 2 jobs with no one to babysit. You can see how word and deed ministry MUST work together. You better not just go to Suzy and say 'Hey, man that looks like a real tough situation you're in. Anywho, you wanna come to church with me?' - No of course not. To love Suzy means to help Suzy. So the gospel is something we give, but it's also something we LIVE. And most of the time living the gospel in deed comes before giving the gospel in the form of words. But again, it's both.
Early Christians - hospitable.
We just talked about these Christians who were extremely bold in their profession of faith, but they were also known as being some of the most hospitable people the world had ever seen. They would open their houses to strangers. I'm not necessarily recommending you do that, or if you do, at least check with your wife first. But both.
And here's what amazing. Often times it's our deeds that open people up to our words.
Countless examples of this. Think about these ministries like a21 and freedom house who help rescue women from sex trafficling. Now imagine they get a tip about a women who needs help. And imagine they show up and say 'First things first, do you confess Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior?' Of course not. Step one, help the person. Sometimes it's step 47 before it has anything to do with communicating the gospel.
Key you might be missing
That sound obvious, but I think that for some of you, that might be the key that might be the key you've been missing. You've had someone in your life that you care about, and you want to somehow help them come to Christ, but it just feels completely weird to say anything, a great question to ask yourself is this: "Have you done all you can to share the gospel with your actions?" Because once you do that, you might be amazed at how open people are to what you have to say when they know that you really care about them.
Remember I said I was gonna give you a challenge? Here it is:
Challenge: At least one time this week, try to casually incorporate Jesus into an everyday conversation.
And if Jesus is the most important thing to you, that really should be a very easy idea. It's just natural to talk the stuff you're passionate about.
In the coming weeks, we're gonna get really practical. We're gonna talk about getting the gospel RIGHT, and we're also going to be really practical with steps on how you can begin to share your faith in a way that's not creepy or offensive, but courageous and effective.
Closing Thought: The Gospel is both something we live and something we give. We must LIVE the gospel (with our actions) if we want people to take our message seriously. And we must GIVE the gospel (with our words) for it to bring about real life change.
Closing Question: What is currently functioning as my own self-imposed tongue screw?
Fear For many of us, of course, it's fear. Fear of what other people might think of us, fear of being offensive or annoying, fear of not having enough knowledge and looking stupid.
Indifference Or maybe is it indifference? - Maybe, if you were being really honest, you'd admit that maybe your love for Jesus has grown a little cold, and you're not as passionate about Him as you used to be, so it makes sense that he's not coming up in your conversations.
Whatever it is, we believe that in these coming weeks, God is going to come and help us with whatever it is that keeps us silent.
One of the things I love about communion is that it's the great equalizer. This is one place (perhaps the only place) where status, race, income, position, mean absolutely nothing.
No matter who you are… No matter who you are, no matter what you've done, no matter how many times you've done it, and no matter how ashamed and unworthy you feel, you have been invited to the table. And on the other hand: No matter how Holy you think you are, no matter how long you've been following God, you come to his table simply because he invites you.
And so as we receive communion together, this isn't a room of pastors, and doctors, and students, and retail workers. No this is a room of brothers and sisters who are coming to their father, simply because he invites us.
And so as they pass, and we sing, deliberately put your attention back on Jesus. And his kindness, and love, and patience that is available for each and every one of us.
(Invitation) / (Pray)
Remember death Proclaim resurrection Await return