Archive for Evangelism
There are three things you need to know about having dinner with Levi. First, Levi’s take time. They’re a lot of work. Marginalized people take a lot of work. They can’t be fixed with money. They can’t be fixed with a manual. You have to get your hands dirty and walk with them where they are. Second, Levi’s may not offer much in return. You don’t invest in a Levi expecting to get something in return. And you don’t spend time with a Levi just so you can feel good about yourself. Finally, when you start hanging around with Levi’s, someone is going to criticize you. They didn’t “get” Jesus, and they won’t “get” you.
Jesus is in the business of relationships…of inviting people to trade tables. He’s in the business of reaching out to those who are passed by or looked over. Revelation 19 speaks of the marriage supper of the lamb, an event where one final table is spread. Around that table will be people of every tribe and tongue, gender and socio-economic status. Though John doesn’t mention it, I’m sure there will be plenty of “Levi’s” around the table as well.
Who’s your Levi? We need one in life to remind us that relationships are not just about what we get from others. Its important for us to learn to give back.
In the text cited yesterday from Luke 5, Jesus invited Levi to leave his table for a life of discipleship. It is at that point that we are introduced to a second table. Levi was so happy that Jesus provided him an opportunity to walk away from the margins that he threw a dinner party for his fringe friends and invited Jesus to be the guest of honor. That may not seem like a big deal to us, but it was a very big deal in first century Jewish culture. Sitting down to dine with someone at “table” meant acceptance, forgiveness, and equality. You didn’t eat with your enemies, and you certainly didn’t eat with sinners. Which leads me to an important question. Who are you eating with? Or to ask it another way, how hypoallergenic are your relationships?
Jesus didn’t draw lines of exclusion. The lines he drew were against hypocrisy and judgment. Jesus ate with tax collectors and sinners. He hung out on the fringe and walked the boundaries of culture and society. And, in typical Jesus fashion, he didn’t care what others thought about it.
Later, as Jesus left the town, he saw a tax collector named Levi sitting at his tax collector’s booth. “Follow me and be my disciple,” Jesus said to him. So Levi got up, left everything, and followed him. Later, Levi held a banquet in his home with Jesus as the guest of honor. Many of Levi’s fellow tax collectors and other guests also ate with them. But the Pharisees and their teachers of religious law complained bitterly to Jesus’ disciples, “Why do you eat and drink with such scum?” Jesus answered them, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do. I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners and need to repent” (Luke 5:27-32, NLT).
This weekend I spoke about a man named Levi from the above mentioned text found in Luke’s gospel. We know him better as Matthew, the author of the first book of the New Testament. But he wasn’t always a follower of Jesus. We are introduced to Levi who was working as a tax collector. Because of occupation, he was viewed as a betrayer to the people of Israel. Socially, Levi was an outcast who had been rejected by society. Today we might refer to him as “marginalized.” When Jesus found him he was sitting alone at his little table, surrounded by the long arm of the Roman government, collecting taxes from his fellow citizens. Most people would have passed by Levi, avoiding him at all costs. But not Jesus. Jesus didn’t walk by. He stopped and invited Levi to a new relationship…to get up and leave his little table and follow him into a new life of discipleship.
This week I want to ask a simple question: Who are you walking by?
“But how can they call on him to save them unless they believe in him? And how can they believe in him if they have never heard about him? And how can they hear about him unless someone tells them? And how will anyone go and tell them without being sent? That is why the Scriptures say, ‘How beautiful are the feet of messengers who bring good news!’ But not everyone welcomes the Good News, for Isaiah the prophet said, ‘LORD, who has believed our message?’ So faith comes from hearing, that is, hearing the Good News about Christ” (Romans 10:14-17, NLT)
Paul has listed five verbs in direct succession: calling, believing, hearing, telling, and sending. If you invert that listing, you’ll see a marvelous description of God’s mission in the world. God sends the messengers, the messengers share good news, people hear the message of good news and believe the message, and believing leads to calling on the name of the Lord.
At the heart of the prayer for those who don’t is the prayer for God’s mission to be unfurled in the world. The prayer for those who don’t pray does not begin with the unresponsive or the unreceptive; it begins with the sending of the church into the world.
But this concept isn’t original with Paul. Decades before, Jesus said it this way, “When he (Jesus) saw the crowds, he had compassion on them because they were confused and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. He said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is great, but the workers are few. So pray to the Lord who is in charge of the harvest; ask him to send more workers into his fields’” (Matthew 9:36-38, NLT).
When we pray for the mission of God to be unfurled in the world, remember that God may use you to answer your own prayer.
So since self righteousness is not a valid option, what are the benefits of the righteousness provided by Christ? In the next section of Romans 10, Paul reveals the benefits of the righteousness that are available through Christ.
For example, we do not have to ascend to God through our own efforts because Christ has come near to us. In Romans 10:6-8, Paul continued, “But faith’s way of getting right with God says, ‘Don’t say in your heart, ‘Who will go up to heaven?’ (to bring Christ down to earth). And don’t say, ‘Who will go down to the place of the dead?’ (to bring Christ back to life again).’ In fact, it says, ‘The message is very close at hand; it is on your lips and in your heart.’ And that message is the very message about faith that we preach” (Romans 10:6-8, NLT). Through the incarnation and the resurrection God fully demonstrated His commitment to come near to us, rendering our efforts to ascend to God unnecessary.
Not only did God come near to us, righteousness is made available by believing and confessing the gospel. “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is by believing in your heart that you are made right with God, and it is by confessing with your mouth that you are saved” (Romans 10:9-10, NLT). Self righteousness is pursued through external efforts which are believed to transform one’s inner life. But in these two verses Paul has shared that life change happens inside-out. Believing in the heart leads to confessing with the mouth. In other words, when the heart is right, right behavior will follow.
This Christ righteousness is available to all who ask! Regardless of race, gender, or status; all are welcome, and those who come to Christ are not disappointed. The next section of Romans 10 goes like this, “As the Scriptures tell us, ‘Anyone who trusts in him will never be disgraced.’ Jew and Gentile are the same in this respect. They have the same Lord, who gives generously to all who call on him. For ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the LORD will be saved’” (Romans 10:11-13, NLT).
Tomorrow I’ll conclude this series on praying for those who don’t. Thus far I’ve observed that we should pray with understanding. What remains involves you and me and God unfurling His mission in the world.
“Dear brothers and sisters, the longing of my heart and my prayer to God is for the people of Israel to be saved. I know what enthusiasm they have for God, but it is misdirected zeal. For they don’t understand God’s way of making people right with himself. Refusing to accept God’s way, they cling to their own way of getting right with God by trying to keep the law. For Christ has already accomplished the purpose for which the law was given. As a result, all who believe in him are made right with God” (Romans 10:1-4, NLT).
How do you pray for those who don’t? The first suggestion that Paul offers is to pray with understanding. Our prayers for those who don’t pray can be guided by understanding the heart of the problem. Paul shares three problems that his fellow Israelites have that are not uncommon with people today.
The first problem is what I would call religious enthusiasm. Paul acknowledged that his Jewish brothers and sisters had ample enthusiasm about spiritual things. It wasn’t just an observation that Paul had made about the Jews. He had observed the same thing about the Gentiles (cf. Acts 17:16-34). Clearly he would say the same thing today.
A simple search on Amazon.com revealed that if you searched on the word “christianity,” 280,099 results would pop up. For “spirituality” you would net 131,619 results, and “new age” would yield 13,307. If you amplify the search to a broader domain such as Google, “christianity” would provide a return of 116,000,000 hits. “Spirituality” would produce 136,000,000, and “new age” a whopping 422,000,000!
Our Christian houses of worship may reflect otherwise on Sunday morning, but the world is buzzing about spirituality with zealous enthusiasm!
A second problem that Paul identified was spiritual blindness. While people throughout history have demonstrated abundant zeal for spiritual things, “they don’t understand.” This enthusiasm is without knowledge. In other words, their passion is sincere, yet without truth.
In 2 Corinthians 4:4, Paul writes about how the god of this world has blinded the minds of people so they have a difficult time comprehending the truth about God’s way of making people right with himself. There is a spiritual battle involved concerned that we must be made aware.
Problem number three is perhaps the heart of the issue when it comes to understanding those who “don’t pray.” At the core is the attempt to make themselves right with God apart from Christ. Any righteousness they hope to attain is by self effort. In the specific case of the Jews, it is by keeping the law. But in principle, there is a sense that out of self effort will evolve the ability to connect with God. They refuse to accept God’s grace and acknowledge Him as the source of righteousness. With stubborn independence, they prefer to get to God based on their own efforts and accomplishments. Does that sound like anyone you know?
So what’s the point? The point is self effort is hard! In the next verse, Paul continues, “For Moses writes that the law’s way of making a person right with God requires obedience to all of its commands” (Romans 10:5, NLT).
Self effort is hard because it requires the continual, unending process of learning and earning; of trying to impress God through dutiful observances and good deeds. It is based on the theory that if a person can accomplish enough good behavior that the good behavior will transform their hearts. In short, my external life will transform my internal life. The obvious problem is this: How good does a person have to be in order to be good enough for a holy God?
Let me explain it this way. How many times per day would you say that you sin? Let’s suppose for a moment that the number is three. Just three sins per day. There are 365 days in a year, so that would roughly calculate to about 1,000 sins per year. How long do you expect to live? Let’s say a number like 80 years. If you live to be 80, committing only 3 sins per day, at the end of your life you would have amassed 80,000 sins! How good would you have to be to overcome that? How many good things would you have to do to surpass that mark?
That’s Paul’s issue with self righteousness. It’s never enough. So when you pray for those who don’t, pray with that understanding in mind. Tomorrow I’ll continue in Romans 10 and share how Paul contrasts self righteousness with the righteousness provided by Christ.
Who do you know that doesn’t pray? Who do you love that doesn’t pray? How do you pray for those who don’t? The Book of Romans has been called the “Gospel According to Paul.” It is his treatment of what the gospel is and what the gospel does and how we are to approach it and spread it. As part of this great book, Paul spends some time talking about praying for those who do not have a relationship with Jesus Christ. Check out the following passages and observe Paul’s burden for those he holds near his heart:
“With Christ as my witness, I speak with utter truthfulness. My conscience and the Holy Spirit confirm it. My heart is filled with bitter sorrow and unending grief for my people, my Jewish brothers and sisters. I would be willing to be forever cursed—cut off from Christ!—if that would save them” (Romans 9:1-3, NLT).
“Dear brothers and sisters, the longing of my heart and my prayer to God is for the people of Israel to be saved” (Romans 10:1, NLT).
Paul’s prayer for his fellow Israelites was passionate and vulnerable. It was hopeful and optimistic. He doesn’t condemn them, neither does he judge them. It is hard to imagine loving someone so much that you would be willing to take their place in hell if that would mean they would discover the righteousness that is provided through Christ.
What follows in Romans chapter 10 is an explanation of the righteousness of God and Paul’s description of the “never to be embarrassed faith” that one can find in Christ. Throughout this week I want to unpack Paul’s challenge for us to pray for people who have yet to discover God’s grace through Jesus Christ.
Yesterday I posted the outline of Paul’s story as found in Acts 22:1-21. Today I want to share some simple tips to help you write your personal testimony in a clear way. First, magnify Christ, not sin. Years ago when I served in St. Louis we had an itinerant evangelist come share his story in our church. His name was Rick Stanley, and his claim to fame was that he was the step brother of Elvis Presley. For over 30 minutes our guest described his personal experience with the decadence of “sex, drugs, and rock and roll” to our wide-eyed congregation. His conclusion was that he came to Christ and began traveling across America sharing his story about life with Elvis. He had traded life with the “king” for a new life with the “King of Kings.” While his story was certainly powerful and compelling, Rick did what many do who have experienced a colorful past: he magnified his sin. Your story may be colorful in its own right, and certainly that does provide the context for the change that Christ brings. But if you choose to share that in your story, don’t glorify it; glorify Christ!
Second, use everyday language. I have a friend named Dave Bennett who once described to me his frustration with Christians who use “insider language” when they communicate their faith. Take for example the simple phrase, “I asked Jesus to come into my heart to be my Lord and Savior.” For those in faith, that communicates. For those who have not grown up in the culture of church, however, it doesn’t. Bennett told me he went to Webster’s Dictionary and looked up the words in that common phrase. He discovered that according to Webster’s, Jesus was a religious leader who lived in history 2,000 years ago; that the heart was the muscle in the center of your chest that pumps blood to the rest of the body; that a lord was a feudal castle owner; and that a savior was a person who rescued you from a situation of danger. Bennett argued that when we say “I asked Jesus to come into my heart to be my Lord and Savior,” people might actually hear us say, “I asked a religious leader who lived in history 2,000 years ago to come into the muscle in the center of my chest that pumps blood to the rest of my body to be my feudal castle owner and rescuer from situations of danger.” Ok, you get the point. Use everyday language as you think about how you will communicate your faith. Don’t assume that everyone you talk to has knowledge of church culture.
Next, be brief. If you’ve been to a management or a leadership seminar you’ve probably heard people talk about giving the “elevator pitch.” In other words, it’s important to have your story so concise you can share it in the length of time it takes to ride the elevator with a potential client. There’s something about being brief that helps us stay on point and communicate effectively. Sometimes less is more.
Fourth, be yourself. Don’t try to be anyone else. God made you to be you, so be yourself. Resist the temptation to borrow elements from someone else’s story. When we try to be someone or something we’re not, we diminish the authenticity of our testimony.
Once you have written your story, commit it to memory. Learn it “by heart,” as they say. Then look for opportunities to share it. They say that as many as 95% of American Christians have never shared their faith. One of the reasons why is that we aren’t prepared. God can’t use what you haven’t prepared to, but if you’ll take the time to write and memorize your own story, God will meet your preparation with opportunities to share it.
One of the things I’m working on this year is changing the culture of our church from one that values numbers to one that values stories. Not just any story, mind you, but stories about life transformation. One of my favorite quotes is by G.K. Chesterton, who said, “The only thing that can satisfy the soul is a story and a person…and even then the story must be about a person.” I believe that going forward churches are going to be built one “story” at a time.
Yesterday I taught our congregation how to write their own story using the model presented in Acts 22:1-21 by the Apostle Paul. To set the context, Paul had been brought up on charges and had been given the opportunity to present his own defense. At that point Paul simply shared his own story of life change. I’ve provided the outline to the text so that you can see how it works.
1. My Life Before I Came to Christ (Acts 22:1-5)
“Brothers and esteemed fathers,” Paul said, “listen to me as I offer my defense.” When they heard him speaking in their own language,a the silence was even greater. Then Paul said, “I am a Jew, born in Tarsus, a city in Cilicia, and I was brought up and educated here in Jerusalem under Gamaliel. As his student, I was carefully trained in our Jewish laws and customs. I became very zealous to honor God in everything I did, just like all of you today. And I persecuted the followers of the Way, hounding some to death, arresting both men and women and throwing them in prison. The high priest and the whole council of elders can testify that this is so. For I received letters from them to our Jewish brothers in Damascus, authorizing me to bring the Christians from there to Jerusalem, in chains, to be punished.
2. How I Came to Know Christ (Acts 22:6-13)
“As I was on the road, approaching Damascus about noon, a very bright light from heaven suddenly shone down around me. I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?’ “‘Who are you, lord?’ I asked. “And the voice replied, ‘I am Jesus the Nazarene,b the one you are persecuting.’ 9The people with me saw the light but didn’t understand the voice speaking to me. “I asked, ‘What should I do, Lord?’ “And the Lord told me, ‘Get up and go into Damascus, and there you will be told everything you are to do.’ “I was blinded by the intense light and had to be led by the hand to Damascus by my companions. A man named Ananias lived there. He was a godly man, deeply devoted to the law, and well regarded by all the Jews of Damascus. He came and stood beside me and said, ‘Brother Saul, regain your sight.’ And that very moment I could see him!
3. My Life Since I Have Come to Christ (Acts 22:14-21)
“Then he told me, ‘The God of our ancestors has chosen you to know his will and to see the Righteous One and hear him speak. For you are to be his witness, telling everyone what you have seen and heard. What are you waiting for? Get up and be baptized. Have your sins washed away by calling on the name of the Lord.’ “After I returned to Jerusalem, I was praying in the Temple and fell into a trance. I saw a vision of Jesusc saying to me, ‘Hurry! Leave Jerusalem, for the people here won’t accept your testimony about me.’
“‘But Lord,’ I argued, ‘they certainly know that in every synagogue I imprisoned and beat those who believed in you. And I was in complete agreement when your witness Stephen was killed. I stood by and kept the coats they took off when they stoned him.’ “But the Lord said to me, ‘Go, for I will send you far away to the Gentiles!’”
While your story may have different content than Paul’s, you can still use the same outline to hang your thoughts upon. Your story is valuable to the Kingdom of God! It’s worth sharing, but you can’t share what you haven’t prepared! Tomorrow I’ll post some simple tips on how to write and share your story.
I found this interview with Bill Hybels at ChurchLeaders.com on the subject of Personal Evangelism. The most compelling insight is his observation that believers have done a much better job over the past three decades learning how to speak authentically with one another, although it is perhaps to the exclusion of honing their skills on speaking with people who have yet to make a life commitment to Jesus Christ. I think he’s spot on about this. You can find the article by clicking here.