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Sermon 2019-04-14 Ross Woodhouse

 

Everyday Spiritual Conversations (4): A message, not a massage[1]

Well good morning everyone and welcome to Week 4 of Everyday Spiritual Conversations. If you’ve missed any of these talks a full script of the notes is available on our website.  This series, concluding today, is for equipping and encouraging us in our conversational evangelism.

Quick re-cap from last week:

  • Looked at Jesus’ response/s (John 8)
  • Respecting the person’s freewill
  • They may already be on the spiritual journey
  • Not compromising the trut, BUT using wisdom and care in what we say and how

 

Introduction

While a lot of thought has gone into how we might connect with people during this series, we must end in the most important place – and that is with a reminder that we have a message to communicate…

…before we get to that…how important to us is that message? How precious to us is that message?

Jesus said “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field. “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it. (Matt. 13:44-46)

The one point here across these two parables, is the kingdom is worth everything. “..it is not that the kingdom can bought, but that if it costs you everything you have, it’s worth it.”[2]

There is nothing that’s of greater worth, nothing of greater value. Its why Paul was able to say “for me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21) … “I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Phil. 3:8)

What value do we place, or even can we place on the kingdom of God and helping others through sharing the gospel, to come into a saving relationship through Christ? 

If we love Christ and when we have experienced his grace and mercy, we will want to love people the way he did—ready to lay down our lives even for those who oppose us[3]—and we will labour to spread the gospel of Jesus and a passion for Christ.

We will pray, yes, that God would move by his Spirit to revive our communities[4], to bring salvation to our city, but we will say, “Here I am, send me”. When we love Christ we are mobilised, involved, serving, partnering in what God is doing. Are we not? Being the answer to our own prayers.

When we treasure Christ, we will not want to simply feed ourselves, keep it to ourselves but reach others. When there is in us, profound excitement and joy and expectancy and faith and anticipation in God through Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit, that spills out. And we won’t be able to help ourselves. Like Peter and John, “we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard”

I believe we see this profound excitement and joy and outworking born of the Holy Spirit but requiring an obedience to the Spirit – in early Acts…we see that all led to the “Lord adding to their daily those who were being saved” (Acts 2:47). Priorities…

In life, it is easy to do good things – while not doing the best things.

For example, I might do different jobs around the house – while ignoring the one job my wife has been asking me to help with for months…!

Or as a parent/parents we can do lots of things, generous things for our kids – but never convey the most important thing: the words ‘I love you.’

It is exactly the same with the mission God has given us: We have a message to tell – but sometimes all we do is show God’s love through our actions, it’s only half the job! The good news involves words. Imagine going into our local Christian bookstore spending $100 bucks on a new snazzy bible with commentary notes etc only to get it home, when you open it to find its pages are blank. You’d feel pretty ripped off wouldn’t you?

To tell a hungry man God loves him, while eating a sandwich in front of him, will make no sense to that man. At the same, to give him the sandwich without telling him of God’s love and salvation in the person Jesus is surely unloving to the core.

The message of love and the works of love must go hand in hand. One without the other is unbalanced. But – whilst the two go together, one really is more significant, much more important than the other. (it is to pass on a message of love – Matthew 28:18-19, Romans 10:14). To do this is a matter of obedience – and a matter of love!

So today we’re going to summarise:

  1. What this message is
  2. How to share parts of this message through our everyday conversations
  3. How to share the whole message concisely when an opportunity comes
  4. Finally, how to build bridges to the gospel through the use of questions.

 

  1. We need to know what the gospel message is –

The briefest summary of the gospel message is often said to be the word ‘love’ – and it is true that God is love. However, I wonder if the word ‘salvation’ might say it better. Because, while it is a message of love…at its core, it is a message about Gods love in action to save us.

The word ‘gospel’ means ‘good news’ – and the good news is that, while we deserve punishment for our wrongs, God is offering us a ‘get-out-of-jail-free-card’ or for the relational person – while we are separated from God by our wrongs, God is offering full restoration as a gift of love, if we would turn to Him and His ways!

So what is the message?

Before I give you this, do bear in mind that though there are lots of different frameworks and summaries and ways of presenting the gospel, at the end of the day we’re talking about a relationship with Jesus, it’s not a prescribed thing. Jesus’ approach – as we have seen – was as varied as the people he encountered.

One of the easiest summaries is with the words:

  1. Creation
  2. Fall
  3. Redemption
  4. Restoration

In fact – if you can remember these words they can help you to summarise the gospel in 30 seconds.

Creation – God created everything good, and humans as the best thing in his creation.

Fall – God gave us free will so we could love, but we used it wrongly, and brought selfishness and suffering into the world.

Redemption – but God loved us enough to provide a solution through the person of Jesus.

Restoration – and if we will receive that solution, his plan for us is that we join him in his greater plan of restoring people’s lives, and also the entire creation.

There is a 5th point and it is an invitation to a response. Because this isn’t just a good message. It is a message from God – for which he’s looking for a response. So asking a person ‘what do you think?’ whenever you share the gospel…or to ask if they’d like to respond, or have a response to God’s love, is necessary.

 

  1. How to share this message in everyday life –

I know not many of you probably eat Pizza, but it’s a useful illustration. Not many of us would buy a pizza, sit down and try and squeeze the whole lot into our mouths at once?

In the same way, let’s think of the gospel like different and separate parts of the one pizza. It’s not going to work if we try and give someone the whole “pizza” all at once.

As we dialogue with people, we seek to discern what their point of need is, and then discuss the relevant piece of “pizza” with them. The conversation is driven by them; our motives are right but we are in tune with the Spirit as to what our response ought to be.

E.g. If they don’t believe God exists, telling them about forgiveness of sin is irrelevant. Instead, discuss what it is that convinces you God does (or doesn’t) exist.

We don’t need to deliver the whole pizza (gospel) every time. To engage a person with the relevant piece is much wiser. They may then be ready for another piece, and then another!

Our goal isn’t merely to state the message, we want to communicate it with them (discussion, dialogue, great questions), communicate the truth of a person and personal relationship with Christ.

 

  1. How to share the whole message concisely –

However, sometimes an opportunity comes up in which it makes sense to explain the whole Christian message, perhaps in only a few minutes if necessary. Again there are many different and varied ways of doing this. Here’s a link (https://alltogether.co.nz/equipping-videos-members/) where you can learn a short and simple way of presenting the gospel.

Sometimes, our sharing the good news with someone may lead to an opportunity for them to commit their lives to Christ. This is an exciting prospect isn’t it? When we get these opportunities can I suggest 3 things I’d like us to be aware of:

  1. This must be the voluntary decision of the person we are with, their choice.
  2. They must understand – hence the right questions – the significance of that decision and what it means for their lives going forward.
  3. As important as “the prayer” is, how we follow up with the person, journey with them and resource them is vital.[5]

To conclude I’d like to discuss some of the ‘bridges’ that could exist between people’s views and the gospel

 

  1. Building conversational bridges to the gospel –

The best way to communicate something new to a person is to build it on something they already know. When knowledge is connected to prior knowledge, it makes connections more readily.

What things exist within the gospel, that people around you may already accept? And what could we ask that might help them take a step forward in their understanding?

A couple of examples to consider:

Example 1: They believe in the existence of a spiritual realm – but not yet the idea of one specific God (80 to 90% of all NZers are like this).

Question: Do you think the complexity of life suggests design itself?

A forward step that could be achieved: They might comprehend that design infers the existence of a ‘God’ which is more specific than a ‘higher power’…

Question: Do you believe there are good and evil forces in the spiritual realm? How are you to know that the spiritual forces you are engaging with are good?

Forward step: They might realise that spiritual experience cannot be assumed to be good just because they feel or seem good. Other evidence need considering in the discernment process. Maybe God has revealed himself, so he and his nature can be known? 

Example 2: They believe in the existence of right and wrong

Have you heard people say ‘morality is relative’? While nearly all people believe right and wrong actually exist as ‘objective realities’ – most people’s beliefs contain no logical basis for their claim because they actually believe ‘morality is relative’ (which means, it’s made up by us, to suit us).

Question: Where do these definitions of right and wrong come from? If they come from us, doesn’t that make morality relative? If morality is relative – doesn’t that mean it is made up, by messed up people?

So the words ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ actually have no real meaning or basis?? I mean – you could think murder is wrong while I think murder is fine, it sounds absurd but neither has any right to judge the other person, right?

Question: If morality is relative – on what basis do we say pedophilia is wrong, or the moral code chosen by Germany in the time of Hitler was wrong?

The step forward here might be they might realise that for a moral law to exist there must be a moral law-giver.

Just as design demands the existence of a designer and intelligence the existence of an intelligent source.

Example 3: The fact that all have done wrong. This is a point on which most will agree

Question: Do you have a high standard of right and wrong for yourself?  Do you live up to your own standard all the time?  Do you think God’s standard would be higher or lower than your standard?

The step forward here might be they might realise that, if God exists, that we all fall short of his standard – and this could be a problem?

What all these examples illustrate is that the ‘Creation’ and ‘Fall’ parts of the gospel can be communicated without ever needing to refer to the Bible, even though this is biblical.

However – to accept Christ as Saviour, a person must then begin to consider the Bible. So if a person agrees that God could possibly be known, the next step would be to invite them to investigate the God of the Bible with you.

 

Resources

  1. One tool to help us (and there are many) is the 10daychallenge.co.nz tool (or find the app at the app store). There you’ll 10 short video tutorials (5mins) + discussion questions. The first topic here is: How can we have faith in a God we can’t see?
  2. There’s the link for a great yet simple presentation of the gospel, give it a go!
  3. We’ve left a number of copies of “99 wondering questions” to help resource you…

 

Conclusion & Series Summary – 

In this series, we’ve looked at four points related to what a conversational approach to evangelism is really about –

The importance of asking questions more than we talk, or ‘tell’ people things. The art of asking questions when there is disagreement, to understand why people believe what they believe – without creating tension. This can give us the opportunity to help them consider perspectives other than their own

The idea of our personal witness in daily life is a conversation rather than a confrontation. This message highlighted that there are further skills we can learn, not least being equipped and ready to share the whole gospel message

Let me bring it all this back to the core message. Because of love God left heaven to come to earth, died a brutal death, to enable us to be forgiven our wrongs. When we confess our sin, he is faithful and just to forgive us.  God has extended grace to us in the person of Jesus. And he is calling us to have that same love and pass on that grace….to leave our comfort zones to reach out to others through engaging in meaningful conversations.

Only through us will many people hear – and thus have the chance to believe for themselves. “how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard” (Rom. 10:14). ??This is our highest calling! “This is love for Christ; to obey his commands and his commands are not burdensome”

In closing, I don’t want to presume that everyone in the room is a Christian, a person who has committed their life to follow the person of Christ. I’d like to give an opportunity for anyone who would like to begin a journey in which you could get to know God personally, to respond in some way…. if that’s a step you’d like to explore today do make contact with the office at Fairfield Baptist Church. We’d love to meet with you.

 

[1] Adapted from the Hope Project

[2] Piper

[3] …and the message we bring

[4] Heal our nation, pour out your Sprit on this land…

[5] On a few occasions this won’t be practical, in that case we do what we can…exchange phone and email details etc.