PRS — SHARING [PART 2]
by Pastor Mike Fortune
November 21, 2009
Introduction Video: YouTube: Evangelism Linebacker
Specifically how should we pray, read, and share?
- Pray for open doors and clarity [Colossians 4:3,4]
- Do what you can [Colossians 4:5; Mark 14:6-8]
- When in doubt, live grace [Colossions 4:6; 1 Corinthians 9:19; 2 Corinthians 5:13,14]
Some of you may recognize that clip as a parody of the Terry Tate Office Linebacker commercials Reebok aired between 2002 and 2005. Aren’t you glad this church doesn’t have an Evangelism Linebacker screaming “Get off the floor and go door to door!” Yet some denominations still do. But this practice has become controversial as privacy has become a stronger value in American society and knocking on anyone’s door without an appointment has come to be considered bad manners. Just out of curiosity, how many of you here today would prefer I call first if I want to come visit you? See what I mean? How can one represent Christ rightly when one starts by behaving badly?
This is an especially relevant question because for many years now there has been strong data collected showing that cold turkey knocking on doors in an attempt to share faith with strangers is very ineffective. If you’d like to read more info on that, please read Monte Sahlin’s January 30, 2009 Faith in Context blog post entitled “Door-to-Door Evangelism.” So if we have strong evidence from years of reputable studies revealing that some sharing actually has the opposite effect of the desired response, why do some still do it? Maybe it’s because they don’t know any other way. But another and more pervasive reason I suspect we continue doing reverse evangelism, as I like to call anything that has a larger negative impact than a positive one when sharing, like knocking on doors uninvited, is because many of us have not learned to let the Holy Spirit help us navigate our lives. We do not pray or wait for open doors and clarity. We have not widened our network of friends beyond those that go to church with us and are like us. And even when we do, we too often revert to living law instead of grace. Which is another form of reverse evangelism.
But I think there’s a better way to live. And I think the Holy Spirit is calling us to live that new way by praying for open doors and clarity, doing what we can, and when in doubt, living grace. So that’s what I want to talk about today in conclusion to our series PRS. Which has been all about how we become and stay Christian. Rightly understood, if we’re praying, reading, and sharing what we experience with God, the Holy Spirit will help us navigate our lives by compelling us to share Jesus in winsome ways.
But before we go there, let’s turn in our Bibles to a passage of Scripture that I think makes these points abundantly clear. It’s found in Colossians 4:2-6. One of the four so called “Captivity Epistles” written by Paul during his first imprisonment in Rome — the other three being Ephesians, Philemon and Philippians—we think it was written between 61 and 63 AD because Colossians 4:3-4 makes references to his chains and Acts 28:16 says he was guarded in a Roman home there. Colossae was a city situated about 120 miles east from Ephesus in Western Asia Minor and the great majority of the Colossian Christians appear to have been Greek converts. From the context of chapter one, we can also say with certainty that there was a small proportion of Jews also living amongst them [cf. Colossians 1:26-27; 2:13].
To this eclectic mix of people far off the beaten path in apparent need of some Holy Spirit navigation in their lives, Paul writes: “2Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. 3And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. 4Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should. 5Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. 6Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.”
Specifically, how should we pray and read and share Jesus with others? I think it starts by praying for open doors and clarity. This is point number one. And who opens the doors? God! Acts 12 tells the story of how the early church in Acts prayed for the miraculous release of Peter from prison. And how God sent an angel to literally open the doors to his prison cell and lead him out. Does it always happen that way? No. But did God open them that time? Yes. So the point is God may not be in control of this world, people can still choose evil, but in fact he still is in charge. As Paul Young writes in The Shack, “God is not justifying the evil in this world. He is redeeming it.” And that takes a little longer than we’d like. But His will can still be done on this earth as it is in heaven. Or Jesus would’ve never asked us to pray for that in Matthew 7:10. So what’s the point? The point is we should pray for open doors to share Jesus because God may not be in control, but he is in charge. God still opens doors. This Thanksgiving, we can be grateful for that!
But it doesn’t stop there. Verse 3 defines the message to be proclaimed once those doors are opened. “Pray that God may open a door for our message.” But what is our message? Well, that’s what we’ll be talking about in February 2010, but as a preview, the rest of verse 3 defines the message for us. That same verse says, “So that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ for which I am in chains.”
What is the message? The message is Christ! The clarity issue our church needs to come to grips with is whether we’ll let Christ be the message and head of our church or if our church will be ahead of Christ. I used to think EE Cleveland was crazy for saying in his sermons that he didn’t care if anybody he preached to ever became an Adventist. But I don’t anymore because I’m convinced that Christ will build the church [Matthew 16:18]. Therefore, our job is to let Christ do so. By sharing Jesus with others.
Could that be another reason we’re hesitant to share our faith? Because we think doing so means we have to simultaneously build the church? But what if that’s simply not the case? So we’ll be talking about that in the new year. But in the meantime, maybe you could start thinking about these questions: Would you be a member of this church if it never gets to march triumphantly through the end of time? What if God is calling us to be a church that limps to the end bloody and beaten and broken? Would you still want to be a part of a church like that? Because that’s how Jesus looked going to the cross. And that’s how I see Paul looking writing in chains from prison. I’ve told you before: “I want to die broke. And I’m well on my way! But I’m not sure my church does.”
What if God is waiting for the church not only to be broke but to go for broke. So that Christ will increase even if we decrease. According to John 3:30, that was exactly the role John the Baptist played when Jesus came the first time. And I think it’s possible that this will be our job before Jesus comes a second time. But that’s for February. After my Sabbatical in January. Did I tell you Rachel and Jackie and I are going to Israel in January with a bunch of other Ohio pastors? I can hardly wait to walk beside the Sea of Galilee and take communion on the Mount of Olives!
For those of you nodding off or just now tuning back in, we’re still on point number one. Specifically learning how we should pray, read, and share. And what we’ve said in point number one is we should specifically pray for open doors to share Jesus. Because God can open them. Even if they look closed right now. We should also pray for clarity about the message. Because as Colossians 4:3 says, the message to be proclaimed is not about you. It’s not even about your church. As beloved and flawed and special and unique as it is. It’s about Christ.
But now point number two is on deck. And that is found in Colossians 4:5 which says, “Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity.” This is why reverse evangelism isn’t a good idea. Doing something is not always better than doing nothing. Not if the harvest of your something yields a greater proportion of people turned off or driven away from Jesus than to Jesus. If 97% of people don’t like scary brochures, but 3% do, should churches really keep sending them to everyone?
I don’t’ think the end justifies the means. Maybe that’s why Paul pleaded with the church in Colossae to pray for wisdom, especially when we share with outsiders. That’s one reason this summer Pastor Rachel and I invited you to fast with us for five days to see if God would open the doors to downtown storefront ministry we thought he was leading us into launching. And as of yet, that hasn’t happened. And we don’t know why. One possibility it hasn’t happened yet, is because God wants more of us to want what he wants. Whether that’s the store front or something else. We believe he’s happy with the outreach our church is doing. More than a few of you, without comparing notes, wrote that down on your confidential cards you filled out individually last summer.
But maybe he wants more of us to experience inreach as well. To pray, read, and share all of our lives with Him and with each other in community before he opens the doors to a ministry downtown. So let’s do what we can. This is point number two. Colossians 4:5 says it this way: “Make the most of every opportunity.” In other words, do what you can. Especially in the way you act toward outsiders. Jesus said Mary did this very well. In Mark 14, the story is told how she bought this alabaster jar of expensive perfume and knowing that Jesus was prepared to die, she annointed Jesus with perfume before he died. And in response to this simple but extraordinary sacrificial gift of love, Jesus told those present to “‘Leave her alone. Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me. She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial.’”
Pray for God to open doors and pray that we can proclaim the message of Christ humbly and with clarity. Point number one. But as we’ve learned in the previous weeks, practicing the presence of God cannot be limited to asking and receiving things. It is also about doing. Whatever you can. Wisely. Not to reverse evangelize people. And make them care even less for Christ than they did before. But by wisely doing whatever you can so that the outsiders will know and experience the beauty of living as a sacrifice for Jesus [Romans 12].
Not to be morbid, but you can do that whatever your age, by specifically naming our church or school in your last will and testament. How many of you here have one? Would you raise your hands? Good news, if you don’t have one, the church will provide you a lawyer for free to write your own—whether you include the church in your will or not. Jackie and I did ours right after Joshua was born. So in the new year, we’re going to be offering every member here an opportunity to purchase group church life insurance. Whatever your age or health conditions, you’ll be accepted. Maybe some of you already have some. This would be in addition to whatever you’ve already got. Because with this additional insurance, we will build a sizeable endowment whose interest alone could fuel our ordinary outreach efforts each year or provide scholarships for many more worthy students at our school. For as little as $25/month, whatever your age, your family can leave a sizable contribution to the church or school that will ensure winsome ministry continues to take place inside and outside these walls long after you die.
God’s not asking us to do something impossible. Something we cannot do. But he is asking us to do what we can. And I’m convinced we can do more with less. But what if you encounter a witnessing opportunity or sharing situation and you don’t know what to do? And since God’s ways are beyond our ways, this is a very reasonable possibility. What then? Well, when that happens, you’ll have the opportunity to be right or in relationship with someone else. And what Colossians 4:6 recommends is when that occurs, choose relationship! When in doubt, live grace. This is point number three. Extend the benefit of the doubt. Refuse to keep a record of wrong. Eat anyway. Whatever the issue, if you’re in doubt, live grace. Colossians 4:6 says it this way: “Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.”
I remember a few years ago when I was in Cambodia, visiting this village on the side of a swollen river bank. In many of these places, the children have never a white man so before I broke out my individually wrapped Twizzlers, I was getting all these funny looks from villagers who had to touch me to make sure I wasn’t see through. When we finally got to this village on the side of a river where ADRA had installed their first running water, we washed our hands and crawled up this ladder to eat in the leader’s hut. I started with the food I recognized. Like these giant bananas. But when I hesitated to eat the sticky rice with my hands and dip it into the various toppings and sauces, the village chief and ADRA guide encouraged me to eat up. A pastor friend of mine asked the ADRA guy what was in those various dishes. The chief said something. And then the ADRA guy translated, “Walking vegetables. Swimming vegetables.”
Eat up. Don’t worry about what’s in it. For you, they are walking vegetables and swimming vegetables. At that moment, we could offend the entire village or eat whatever they put on our banana leaf plates. So we chose to eat up not knowing for sure what it was! Whatever the issue, if you’re in doubt, live grace. Yes, you will have doubts. And fears. And hurts. And frustrations. But choose to live grace anyway. That’s what will make it even more memorable!
Too often though, because of how we’ve been raised or what we know about the Bible, we revert to law based decision making. And when we do so, we may be right, but we won’t be in relationship. So if it’s not illegal, immoral, or unlike Christ, live grace. When in doubt, live grace. Choose to be in relationship instead of being right. We don’t need any more reverse evangelism. This is point number three.
In my experience, doing so will not compromise your faith. It will build it. We will learn to let the Holy Spirit help us navigate our lives. We will widen our network of friends beyond those that go to church with us and are like us. And when we’re around them, we’ll choose to live grace not law. And when we start living this way day after day, it will become the new normal way we do things and will cease to be weird to us. And because the people we’re in community with know we love them, our bold invitations to obey Jesus won’t be as weird to them either.
As crazy as it sounds, that’s the way sharing is supposed to work. But some people will say, “Pastor Mike you’re out of your mind! You can’t build a church like that!” You wanna know what I say in response? You’re right. I can’t. But in Matthew 16:18, Jesus said he can! Besides, it’s not my job to build the church. It’s my job to share, as Daniel 4:2 says, the good things God has done for me. If that means people think I’m out of my mind, so be it. I’m okay with that. Because 2 Corinthians 5:13,14 “If we are out of our mind, it is for the sake of God. 14For Christ's love compels us.”
May God bless you and keep this Thanksgiving as we pray for open doors and clarity to do what we can to share Jesus and live grace.