Week 6- Share

Pastor Tim Inman

03-29-15

 

John 13:35, 1 Corinthians 3:7, 1 Corinthians 4:20, 2 Timothy 4:2

 

Have you ever wondered how some people find countless opportunities to share Christ? One such person is a friend named Kathleen. Kathleen is friendly and opinionated. She is of the opinion that everyone needs Jesus, from her hairdresser to her shirt­-tale relatives. And you know what? When she talks to people about her faith, she often finds people are interested and open. We say people like Kathleen are natural evangelists, but could it be that they are also cultivating the right kinds of practices and attitudes which lead to those opportunities? What can we learn from people like my friend who seem to be naturals at sharing their faith? I believe there are some guiding principles which will point us toward effectiveness and away from bad practice.

“Jesus First”

Religion and politics get pretty tied up together in Northern Ireland, and even if many aren’t personally religious, it’s the religious labels which end up getting used to name groups of people. In Northern Ireland, the Protestant, or British population celebrate the 12th of July as their national holiday and marches and bonfires are part of the celebration.

The organizers of the bonfires will tell you that they are just a fun way for young people to celebrate their heritage. The truth is that they are divisive in a community trying to move on from a difficult past. Violent songs and chants are performed, and effigies, which are dummies dressed to look like real people from the other side, living or dead are burned atop the pyre.

One of my Christian friends in Northern Ireland asked me if I thought it was OK for Christians to attend these bonfires. I said I wouldn’t attend. ­ I don’t want it to become a barrier between me and people Christ may want me to reach out to.

My friend reminded me that as an American I have the Fourth of July to celebrate. For him, he said this was just a bit of fun, and didn’t he also have a right to celebrate his own cultural heritage? What would you say? I asked him if he thought it might be a right worth giving up for the sake of Christ.

A while back a few men approached my house carrying flyers and political signs. They found out I was a Christian. They asked me if I agreed with their campaign. I did. They asked me if I would plant one of their signs in my yard and I explained that I couldn’t. It wasn’t due to a lack of conviction. I want to represent Christ’s love to my neighbors, I explained. Although I agreed with their controversial political point of view, I couldn’t afford to let this point of view be the only thing my neighbors knew about me. Love had to come first. Jesus had to come first.
What are you known for? What are Christians known for? Real Christians are known for love. Jesus told his disciples: “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another."

When we use the word witnessing, we mean talking, verbally sharing your faith, and conjure up an image of talking to a stranger, but the word witnessing isn’t even in the Bible. Jesus called us to BE witnesses. Your life is the witness, your words are just the tip of the spear.

Ask yourself: ‘Is there anything about my life that speaks louder than my love for Christ?’

Additionally, it’s critical that when it is time to share, we have the right motives.

“It’s not about me.”

Have you thought about what motivates you to share Christ? In a perfect world, it’s His love that motivates us, but I think we have to admit that sometimes, other desires get mixed in and can threaten to spoil our attempts. Sometimes we want to be successful, or to have a story to tell, or to convince someone our way of life is superior. Whether or not they know what Christianity is all about, folks can smell a bad motive a mile away.

Cepta O’Donnell is a dear friend of ours who lives out a beautiful witness of Christ through her work, family and social life.

One day while running errands, she drove past a newly immigrated Iranian family. They looked disoriented. She couldn’t shake off the sense that the Lord was directing her to help them, so she turned her car around and put her plans on hold. She found out that although they had made extensive arrangements in advance, upon arriving in the country their plans had fallen through. They desperately needed help and hadn’t known who to turn to.

Cepta and her family befriended this beautiful family and helped them get on their feet as they found a house to rent, a school to attend and jobs. Before long they were attending church with the O’Donnells. The mother and daughter were the first to commit their lives to Christ. One day in kids’ church, the little girl just could not hold it in. She raised her and and, smiling from ear to ear, bursted out, “I just love Jesus! He is so wonderful. I want to sing to Him and Praise Him”

That summer, the little girl was brought by her father to Kids’ Week, our summer outreach to the children of our city. At the close of a session, I explained the gospel in simple terms: that through Christ’s death on the cross, God had mercifully made His forgiveness available all of us. That in Christ we are made new.

I gave the kids an opportunity to commit their lives to Christ and hundreds did. After the event, I spoke with this man, the father, and he told me that right along with the kids he had committed his life to Christ that afternoon. Although they had attended church as a family for months, “It was the first time it made sense to me,” he said.

So who gets credit for leading this man to Christ? Me or Cepta? Neither! Jesus called him to Himself, and we both got to share in the joy of participating at different stages in the process.

Scripture affirms this! “So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.” (1 Corinthians 3:7)

“Who am I to look down on anyone?”

Once, about 5 years ago I went to a meetup for people who were using various forms of digital technology to express creativity. I attended for two reasons: the subject­ matter was interesting to me, and I hoped to make some new friends, outside of church whom God might allow me to eventually allow me to connect with for His purposes. The event was really fun ­ there were several great memorable speakers. As everything was tying up for the night, the event ­organizer thanked everyone for coming and announced that several of the speakers and some others would be heading over to Sandinos for a few pints and some socializing.

I was in the car and headed home when I felt what I believe was a prick from the Holy Spirit. The conversation in my head went something like this:

“I thought you wanted to make some connections...”
“I can’t really go hang out at a bar. What if people see me? I’m a minister.” “Is that really your objection?”

The truth was, I was uncomfortable with the idea for a lot of reasons. I had admittedly lived a bit of a sheltered life as a youngster, and Sandinos was not just a bar, it was a communist leaning bar with a bit of a reputation. From the look of things, it’s customers lived pretty different lives than mine. I knew I would have that horrible fish out of water feeling.

As I drove on, I was pretty sure God wanted me to join these guys at the bar, so I turned my car around, walked into the bar, sat down at a table and awkwardly ordered a water.

I had so many great conversations! The event organizer came over and approached me and thanked me for coming to hang­out after. Somehow, he already knew who I was and that I was from the church and he wanted to assure me that he had been getting his life in order and that he was limiting himself to one beer, and cutting it with ice! That conversation ended up being a gateway to several more conversations with him in the future, and a gateway to more connections with more people!

I don’t suggest hanging out at bars in general, especially if you are under­age or have been known to be susceptible to addiction, what I do suggest is that we engage courage to step over our cultural and class barriers to sincerely reach out. The cool thing I can report is that as I have done this, it has actually been a lot of fun. You tend to find out that people aren’t as different as you thought, and every one has some special beauty and potential to celebrate.

John Fischer is a Christian author and singer/­songwriter. A lyric from one of his songs sums up his approach to sharing Jesus: “I’m just one old hungry beggar, telling you where I found food.”

“I’m ready for anything.”

In February 1962 Abraham Kaplan, a Professor of Philosophy at UCLA, wanted to urge scientists to exercise good judgment in the selection of appropriate methods for their research. Because certain methods happen to be handy, or a given individual has been trained to use a specific method, is no assurance that the method is appropriate for all problems. He gave them the following analogy: “Give a boy a hammer and everything he meets has to be pounded.” A variation on this is: “If your only tool is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.”

Back in the 1980’s evangelical Christians had our own hammer. There were several systems of evangelism people could memorize. ­ One had 4 steps, one had 5, and one had about 16. The motive was to help Christians be better prepared to share their faith in Christ, but the problem is that these ‘Gospel Presentations’ often came off ‘canned’ or insincere ­ more like a high­ pressure sales pitch.

What if, instead of memorizing 5 good scriptures for sharing the gospel, we saturated ourselves in God’s words on a regular basis, and let the Holy Spirit take all that good material and help us work it out on the spot, wherever an opportunity presents? Have you ever had that happen? Have you had something from your devotions just jump right out and be useful during the day, or maybe even had a verse you had just read to share with someone who’s situation it spoke to?

Paul’s instruction to Timothy about proclaiming God’s message in 2 Timothy 4:2 gets translated as “Be instant in season or out of season.” He’s saying that we should constantly be ready to be confronted with someone who needs what we have to offer. ‘In season and out of season’, means there is no such thing as an off­-duty Christian.

 

I usually find that my greatest opportunities to share Christ come from addressing some kind of presenting need, first.

One highly intelligent young man got caught doing something he was ashamed of, something many more people get messed up in without getting caught. Because he was caught, he faced the prospect of jail. We weren’t sure if he’d do hard time or get off with a ‘slap on the wrist’, since it was his first offense. I met with him several times while he was awaiting trial.

He told me he enjoyed the love he felt within in our church community, the positive vibe, and that he felt a nice, peaceful feeling during our worship service. I asked him where he stood with Jesus and he told me sincerely that he had come from more of an agnostic viewpoint and wasn’t yet convinced of the reality of God.

I tried to suggest that Jesus was behind the love and positivity and that I believed the Holy Spirit was responsible for the sensation he felt during the worship service. I also took the opportunity to try to explain God’s grace. He politely listened. Finally, I asked if it was okay if I prayed with him before we went our separate ways.

As I prayed with him, his emotions were touched ­ to the point of tears, which probably surprised him as much as me! I shouldn’t have been surprised. In First Corinthians, St. Paul teaches us: “The Kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power.”

As it turned out, my friend was convicted by the court and sentenced and I ended up visiting him in prison. After small talk he let me know how he had progressed in his beliefs. He told me that in discussions with other skeptical inmates, he stood up for the Bible as a source of Spiritual teaching.

 

Another young man had a problem with anger and addiction, another had identity and self­-esteem issues. All of these guys were stirred, not by my words, but by God’s Spirit when they allowed me to pray with them. That’s just fine, because when it’s the middle of the night and temptation calls, I might not be available, but the Holy Spirit will be.

Let’s ask ourselves: what can we do to be prepared for a divine interruption? What are your plans for the day? Does God have permission to interrupt them?

 

Even in my talk of ‘share­-ing’ the Gospel, I’ve spoken mostly about prayer and care. Maybe it does need to be said: when the way has been prepared and the time is right, take 60 seconds of courage and sincerely share the hope you have found in Christ. Share what He means to you, what he’s done for you.

 

So there you go, this 40 days of love and light jumpstart is nearly complete. The engine is purring. Are we going to fish or cut bait?! The Italians say it this way: “O mangiar questa minestra o saltar questa finestra,” which means “Either eat your soup or jump out the window.” That doesn’t make it any clearer, I know! But seriously, if Jesus wants us to fish for people, let’s fish! Even in fishing there is a variety of approach. Some people like to bait the hook, chill out and enjoy the scenery, some geek out with homemade flies and $500 rods and still some prefer to strategize and lure them in. Don’t get caught up in how other people do it, let’s each just challenge ourselves to take steps and reach out as the Lord leads.

 

With Easter and the AD series approaching we have an interesting opportunity to invite. Let’s Pray, let’s Care, and let’s Share! As our friend Alan Graham likes to say, “We were born for days like these!”