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Last Sunday, I was a cheerleader for the church: I celebrate the church of Jesus because it is a great place for people to find community, healing and love. I celebrate the church of Jesus because it provides motivation for the most lasting, valuable, selfless efforts of humankind. I celebrate the church of Jesus, the Christ because it is the only institution in society that provides perspective to give dignity to all human beings. I celebrate the church because it is the only institution in society dealing with the ultimate issues of life and death.
Today I want to expand on that last point. As I mentioned last week, the whole ball of wax boils down to the fact that you and I are either creations of God or we are not. You and I are either complex neuro-physical beings moving without rhyme or reason throughout time and space, who came from nowhere and going nowhere, or else WE ARE UNIQUE CREATIONS OF A HOLY GOD. If we are simply cosmic accidents, if we just happened to have evolved from some primordial soup and this whole thing is some kind of great cosmic joke, the worst thing about that joke is that in the end there will be nobody around to even laugh about it. If that is true then you and I have a deep problem that we cannot solve with all the oratory in the world.
But if on the other hand, this is our Father’s world and if Jesus Christ is the Son of God who was born into this world with the express purpose of dying on a cross so that sinners such as you and I could be reconciled to God if that is true, then some institution on the face of the earth must stand up and remind us of those truths. And Jesus said that His Church is going to be that institution and that He Himself is going to build it one life at a time through people like you and I who have the honor and privilege to point people to Him!
So last week, I was painting a sort of philosophical/theological picture of the church, meant to increase our appreciation of the church, today is more a nuts and bolts message that will enable us to faithfully participate in the evangelistic task of the church.
With that in mind, listen to the scripture for today:
Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age. (Matthew 28:18-20).
If you openly declare 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 openly declaring your faith that you are saved. 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.” 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!” (Romans 10:10-15).
There’s a humorous story of a guy who prayed this prayer every morning: “Lord, if you want me to witness to someone today, please give me a sign.” One day he found himself on a bus when a big, burly, tattooed man sat next to him. The reticent Christian decided to wait for his stop so he could exit the bus. But before the bus went very far, the big brute burst into tears and began to weep, “I’m a terrible sinner and I need to be forgiven. Won’t somebody please tell me how I can get right with God?” He turned to the Christian and pleaded, “Can you tell me how?”
The Christian immediately bowed his head and prayed, “Lord, is this a sign?”
Are you looking for a “sign” to start witnessing? It can be found in Matthew 28:18-20 where we told by the Lord of the church to “Go!”
A few days or perhaps a few weeks earlier, John records that on the day of resurrection, the Risen Lord appeared in the Upper Room and said, “As the Father sent Me, so send I you.” (John 20:21) As the Father sent Me into the world to seek and save those who are lost, so now I am sending you into the world to seek and save those who are lost. Why? “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son such that whoever believes in Him might not perish but have everlasting life.”
While He was here, Jesus was constantly being coerced into hanging out with the religious folk. But He wouldn’t be swayed from His mission to seek and save the lost. He was constantly modeling for His disciples the art of reaching out to the least, last and lost of His society; a prostitute, a tax collector, a Roman soldier, the lost son.
Indeed; the religious Pharisees unwittingly paid Jesus His highest tribute when they chastised Him for hanging out with people far from God. Jesus didn’t hang out in the Temple at Jerusalem. He went there when it was appropriate to worship God, but He didn’t make the Temple His base of operations. He didn’t have an office at the local synagogue. Jesus was out there among the people.
This is the model of Jesus, and this how he wanted His followers to follow Him. “As the Father has sent Me, so send I you.”
The church needs to follow the example of Jesus and go to where the people who are hungry and thirsty are.
But alas, this has not been the church’s first priority. Somehow the church has gotten itself sidetracked. Rather than rub shoulders with people who need the Lord, the church has by and large insulated itself from people who need the Lord.
I can still recall becoming a Christian at the age of 30 and feeling that somehow I had arrived. I was better than all those heathens I worked with because I was a Christian now. And although I continued to work on the railroad with the same group of guys that I had known for 10 years, I began to weave a cocoon around myself. Railroad family picnics at the local park gave way to pot-lucks at the church. Over time, I even began to feel a little above the guys on the railroad; after all, I was a new person in Christ, they were still sinners.
Especially Larry; he was already living with another woman while still in the midst of divorcing his second wife. He was a heavy drinker; swore like a railroader and was constantly trying to goad people into fighting. Never once did I even imagine trying to reach Larry for Christ; didn’t think he was the type. Boy was I wrong.
A couple of years after I left the railroad guess who walked into the church I was attending. He came up to me and apologized for anything he may have done to me. Told me that he had met Christ and how Christ had changed his life.
And I wondered to myself, “Why hadn’t I tried to reach Larry?” The first mistake I made was that I wrongly assumed he could never be interested in spiritual matters because his personality seemed so contrary to all that Christ stood for. And the second mistake was that I stopped hanging with him.
What should I have done? What you and I should do now.
Well for starters, I should have kept rubbing shoulders with him. All of us should make it a point to be like Jesus and hang out with people who need to know Him. Do you have a place where you can rub shoulders with folks who need the Lord? I was recently invited to join the Medina Eagles. I don’t really have the time to start something new, but I thought maybe there’s a Larry there that I am supposed to reach. We’ll see.
Secondly, I should have started praying for Larry, asking God to soften his heart and make him receptive to my story.
Third, I should have shared my story with him:
Larry, you know that I used to be an atheist. Well, I had a dream that prompted me to attend a church service where the preacher was talking about how much Jesus loved me, so much that He gave His life for me so that I could be forgiven. And when the preacher invited me to pray and ask for forgiveness and as much as I was capable of understanding then to invite Christ to be part and parcel of my life. And guess what Larry, I can’t fully explain it but things started to change for me. I discovered a new found, never before experienced, peace in my life. And I began to attend a church, and read the Bible and the more I went and the more I read, the more this Christian life began to make sense.
If I had simply done that, then I would have been fulfilling Jesus desire for me to reach others for Him.
Now Larry could have responded in one of several ways: He could have picked a fight with me; he did have that tendency or he called have called me a Jesus freak. He could have passively listened and never said another word. That’s okay, at least I would have had the chance to plant a seed. Or more likely he might have asked a question . . . ah ha! Because then I could have told him more, or if I didn’t have the answer, I could have told him I would find the answer and get back to him or I might have invited him to attend a worship service with me.
But alas, I didn’t.
You can benefit by my mistake.
Who do you already have a relationship with who needs the Lord? Begin to pray for them that God would open their hearts to your story.
And when you perceive the time is right, share your story with that person. Your story revolves around why you believe in Christ and/or why you are exploring the idea of trusting Christ and/or why you are attending a Christian worship service.
Your story is so very important for several reasons.
First it’s important to you. When you know your story, it helps when doubts creeps in.
Second, real friends and family are interested in what makes you tick. They already know your background, education, vocation, personality, etc; but they also want to know something about your faith. They probably won’t ask you about it because most people view matters of faith as private. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t interested and would most likely listen with baited breath as you explained why your faith in Christ is important to you. A recent survey indicated that 95% of the non-Christian, unchurched community are openly receptive to faith conversations. 1
Third, your story is important because it is hard to argue with. People may deny/argue your doctrine. They may criticize the church. But they cannot really argue that Christ has made an impact on your life.
Lastly, your story is most important because it has the potential to change a life for all eternity!
And if your story involves something about your experience here at CrossPointe whether you met Christ and His grace and forgiveness here or you are being fed here or you enjoy being a part of a community church that has a goal of sharing that grace and forgiveness with others, then by all means invite them here.
In another survey of 8,000 people who gave their lives to Christ:
0.0001% did so by participating in a Crusade or watching a TV program;
1% became such through door-to-door visitation;
3% because the church had a program they liked;
4% through the Sunday School;
5% visitors who stayed;
7% because of the influence of the pastor;
80% through invitations from friends or relatives. 2
I remind you that we are talking about the greatest need of humanity.
Yes, I know that there is the need for food, shelter, education, medicine. We cannot forget that 3/5ths of the world’s population lives on the border of starvation. We cannot forget the millions of refugees who are homeless. We dare not forget that thousands die of inadequate health care. Jesus, out of a heart of love and compassion, ministered to the physical and material needs of the multitudes. As His followers, so must we.
But all of these needs can be met and still the most basic need can go untouched. Mankind’s most basic problem is our estrangement from God. Man is not only hungry and needs to be fed, ignorant and needs to be educated, naked and needs to be clothed, he is spiritually lost and needs to be found.
So you see, it is not enough for us to give people bread to eat, we must also give them the Bread of Life. It is not enough to give people technical know-how, we must also give knowledge of the Heavenly Father. It is not enough to build homes for the homeless, we must offer them a home for the heart. It is not enough to introduce people to a better way of life, we must introduce them to the One who can impart eternal life!
For without Christ, people are lost and they need to be found.
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? (Romans 10:14).
C. S. Lewis once wrote, “The Church exists for nothing else but to draw men to Christ. If the church does not do that then all the cathedrals, clergy, missions, sermons, even the Bible itself, are simply a waste of time. God became Man for no other purpose. 3
The most famous ship of all time is possibly the Titanic, the supposedly unsinkable ship that went down on its maiden voyage. Many movies have been made and many books written about the fateful journey. Few include the story of Scottish evangelist John Harper travelling to Chicago to take up his appointment as Pastor of Moody Church. He had his daughter Nana on board with him, his wife having died a few years earlier.
When the Titanic struck the iceberg and began to sink he put Nana into a lifeboat then ran throughout the ship yelling, “Women and children into the lifeboats!” When the ship finally went down he had already given his lifejacket to another passenger. Survivors say that to the very end he was witnessing to anyone who would listen. One recalls clinging to a piece of wood when Harper floated near him. “Man, are you a Christian?” cried Harper.
“No I’m not” replied the man.
“Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved,” pleaded Harper.
The waves carried Harper away but brought him back a little later. “Are you a Christian now?” asks Harper.
“No, I cannot honestly say that I am” says the man.
Again Harper pleads with him, “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved.”
Shortly afterward Harper went down. The man who survived was one of only six people rescued, but in a church service four years later, recounting this episode he said, “There, alone in the night, with the stars above me and with two miles of water under me, I believed. I am John Harper’s last convert.” 4
I was thinking this morning about how Jesus was born in a borrowed manger. He preached from a borrowed boat. He entered Jerusalem on a borrowed donkey. He ate the last supper in a borrowed room. And he was buried in a borrowed tomb. Now he asks to borrow the lives of Christians to reach others. If we do not speak then He does not speak.
3 C. S. Lewis. Mere Christianity [New York: Simon & Schuster, © 1996), p. 171.
4 Source: Reported by Elesha Coffman, Christianity Today, August 7, 2000.
The story is told in The Titanic’s Last Hero (Moody Press, 1997)