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Sermon 2019-03-24 Ross Woodhouse

Everyday Spiritual Conversations 

It seems entirely appropriate given the events of last week and the conversation that has and will take place and in particular as we lead into Good Friday and Resurrectionn Sunday, that we talk about how we talk about our faith, about Jesus.

So we’re starting a new series today called Everyday Spiritual Conversations.[1]

In short, it is about conversational evangelism…

Evangelism, comes with all sorts of expectations and connotations doesn’t it. Some of us literally run for the hills at the thought of speaking to others, particularly strangers about Jesus, our vocal chords literally constrict at the thought of saying “I’m a Christian”

What are some of the reasons behind why we might find spiritual conversation difficult?

  • We believe it’s someone else’s task?
  • We can’t seem to ever find the right words?
  • I feel like I’ll put people off by saying the wrong thing?
  • More important that people remain friends than risk losing them by sharing – fear of rejection
  • We don’t believe the other person is ‘ready’ to hear about Jesus

Yet when we know Christ as Saviour it can be the most natural thing for us to share our story, and our faith. We might call this creating Godspace. A space and a place where God works and we’re available to God the Holy Spirit to work through us.

Why is this a matter we need to discuss? Because to be prepared, to have a spiritual conversation with those who don’t know Christ and prepared with the right *responses delivered in appropriate ways, is what we are called to do, as part of the Great Commission in Matthew 28:19-20.  “…go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” The “Going,” “baptizing,” and “teaching” are the means by which we fulfill the command to “make disciples.”

Other supporting texts: Jesus prayed in John 17:20 “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word.” We are ambassadors of Christ to a lost world, we have the Good News, grace known to us becomes grace we pass on.

Many understand Acts 1:8 as part of the Great Commission as well: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

Romans 10:14-15. How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”

When we are the recipients of God’s grace, by salvation in Christ, why wouldn’t we want to pass that on?

Doug Pollock[2] from Athletes in Action and author of Godspace claims there are at least 10 conversation-killers, I’ll mention a few over this series, today I want to mention just one. Unbelief. Because nothing else we talk about will matter if we fail to believe that:

  • God’s heart is for the lost
  • We are ambassadors of truth; we carry a message of hope, love and grace in the world
  • The Holy Spirit can open doors of opportunity every day – when we are willing and available

Can I start with this: God so loved the world, he gave his one and only son, that whoever believes in him will not perish but have everlasting life. God did not send his son into the world to condemn the world but to save the world through him (John 3:16,17)

…he wants all men to be saved (1 Timothy 2:4) …willing that none should be perish (2 Peter 3:9)

If that’s God’s heart…that needs to be our heart too!

My primary hope is that our courage to engage people in everyday spiritual conversations will increase as a result of this series. There’ll be a lot of information, but also very practical.

Here’s what we’ll discuss…

Week 1:          Ask, don’t tell

Week 2:          Enquire, don’t disagree (equipped to ask good and enquiring questions, versus, “No, no, you’re wrong about that…”)

Week 3:          Converse, don’t confront (Being a non-threatening person)

Week 4:          A message, not a massage (Building bridges to the gospel)

 

Ask, don’t tell!

[NZ Statistics] What portion of our nation do you think is ‘spiritual’?

Here’s some statistics from the 2013 NZ Census

  • 48% affiliate with Christianity
  • 42% said they had ‘no religion’ (likely to be the majority view at the next census)
  • 6% affiliated with religions other than Christianity
  • 4% declined to respond

Are we a nation that is closed to spiritual things?

Years ago a leader in a church said to me “arent NZer’s cold to the gospel?” That comment inspired me a little. Once a week a friend and myself set out to share the gospel with complete strangers, only to discover that NZer’s were actually quite open, a number of whom when given a clear gospel message received Christ.

So, what we’re asking in this series is how do we get past the fear, how could we get ourselves engaging more in everyday spiritual conversations with people, friends, family members and people we meet randomly.  My hope is that we’ll see spiritual conversation not as a scary, intimidating thing but just a normal part of everyday Christian living.

  • Would you believe that well over 80% of NZers consider themselves ‘spiritual’?
    • 46% believe in a God of some kind
    • 31% believe in a higher power
    • And, of the 19% who believed in neither, many still have spiritual views, such as we become floating spirits, or ghosts

Most people today don’t believe religious truth exists. Instead they believe all religions are essentially the same.

Here is a key question:

Q – How do you tell the truth to someone who doesn’t believe religious truth exists, let alone the truth of the person of Jesus. How do you share the truth with the person for whom the truth is whatever they want it to be (moral relativism)?

A – You can talk WITH them about it. It’s called conversation, and a great conversation is no further away than a great question. 

THE NEED FOR A ROLE MODEL

Who could we look to who could model this conversational approach to us? Jesus!

Look at Jesus engaging people in conversation:

  • He didn’t have one set method
  • Every conversation was different
  • And the records we have of these conversations show that they usually started with and included questions.

How about this as a summary of Jesus’ approach to ‘personal outreach’: Jesus talked with people, with an ear open to the Spirit!

  • (1) a conversational approach
  • (2) a Spirit-led approach
    • Might it be wise for us to use this approach also?

 

WERE GOING TO DISCUSS SIX BENEFITS OF ASKING QUESTIONS BEFORE TALKING

  1. It creates space for us to listen to people before we talk.

Who feels that they’ve said too much sometimes when trying to talk about spiritual things with a non-Church person?

Does anyone wish they could somehow take some of those words back?

  • Sometimes we assume we understand what a person has said when we really don’t, partly because we haven’t listened well and being attentive to their heart.
  • When you don’t know what to say – what do you do? Ask a question! But the right type/sort of question, an open question[3]. Then listen, in the Spirit!

I think listening, for evangelism purposes is understatedly important. Would you agree that listening…is not something we generally tend to do well? We ‘re so keen to get our words out, often by cutting others off and at the expense of hearing out the other person. The other aspect of being a good listener is self-awareness of our own talking and creating space for, conversation…

  1. (2nd benefit…) It creates space for us to listen to God before we talk
  • Look at Jesus in conversation: John 4 – He is with the Samaritan Woman and the Spirit gives him a word of knowledge: ‘She has been married five times, and the man she is currently living with is not her husband’.
  • We aren’t going to hear the Holy Spirit’s ‘whispers’ if we don’t develop a habit of trying to listen. By developing a habit of listening we will also hear the Spirit’s whispers.
  1. It potentially opens ongoing conversations

Imagine someone has asked a question. If you answer by stating your view, going on and on, they might say ‘Oh – thanks mate’ and the conversation is over!

And their reply doesn’t mean they have believed what you said! If they believe all religious views to be essentially equal, they have no motive to really worry about whatever you said either.

However, if we learn to reply to a question with a question – that can turn things around.

Consider 2 Corinthians 4:4 – The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.

Q – What is blinded according to Paul? The mind.

People can be blinded to the gospel by the way they are taught to think.

E.g. that all life can be explained away as the consequence of a long series of coincidences…that all religions are the same

If it is the mind that is blinded – they will probably be disinterested in a debate. They ‘know for a fact’ that what we’re saying cannot be true. However, through questions we could still engage a conversation!

Consider Jesus’ conversation with the rich man in Matthew 19:16-24

Just then a man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?” “Why do you ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, keep the commandments.”

“Which ones?” he inquired.

Note that Jesus returned the question with a question.

Note also that what we have here in the gospel are SUMMARIES of the conversations Jesus had, and also summaries of his teachings. Its’s likely this conversation was longer than the approx. 40 seconds it takes to read this story.

When Jesus asked ‘Why do you ask me about what is good?’ – it is possible that there was additional conversation taking place here. The writers of the gospel have given us an accurate overview of what the conversation was about, and how it took place – but they have not in many cases given us a complete transcript.

Had Jesus simply answered the rich man’s question, the conversation might have been brief, and the effect upon his life may have been minimal. However, by engaging in dialogue, the impact at the end of this particular conversation was quite hard hitting and impactful!

  1. (4th benefit of asking questions) It returns the onus of proof to the other person in a critical conversation.

Let’s look at Matthew 22:15-22

Then the Pharisees went out and laid plans to trap him in his words. They sent their disciples to him along with the Herodians. “Teacher,” they said, “we know that you are a man of integrity and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. You aren’t swayed by others, because you pay no attention to who they are.

*Tell us then, what is your opinion? Is it right to pay the imperial tax to Caesar or not?”

But Jesus, knowing their evil intent, said, “You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me? Show me the coin used for paying the tax.” They brought him a denarius, and he asked them, “Whose image is this? And whose inscription?” “Caesar’s,” they replied.

Then he said to them, “So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”

When they heard this, they were amazed. So they left him and went away.

How did Jesus answer their question? With a question!

What effect did it have? It put the onus of proof on them.

Example: Someone says “Look, everyone knows the Bible has been copied hundreds of times and it’s really just a myth”

“What do you mean by that?” and “Where did you get that idea from?”

Example: Someone infers that all religions are the same, and that anyone who thinks differently is narrow minded.

What might you say/ask in response? “Oh – do you think all religions are the same? In what ways? Where did you get this idea from? Have you looked into religion a lot have you, I wonder if all religions are the same? Could you explain how all beliefs are the same?” “Given that how might you think Jesus – is that someone you’ve heard about – could be different?”

  1. It is non-threatening

In conversation it is not initially essential for us to openly disagree. You’re talking to someone who doesn’t believe what you believe. If you disagree up front in a conversation, do you think that conversation will last much longer? (Probably not)

But if you ask a question/s, and if your general attitude and tone is positive, loving and encouraging, you could discuss what they have said without ever revealing what your disagreement. Trusting the opportunity will come.

Next week’s message deals with disagreement.

The final benefit of asking questions is…

  1. It can cause them to re-evaluate their beliefs

And this is the goal, right?

E.g. If they get your point about all religions being majorly different, and that there must either be a ‘god’ – or not be a ‘god’ (it can’t be both at the same time)

…this might cause them to think about things that they’ve not really given time to thinking about.

CONCLUSION

While we all want to see people we love choosing to accept Christ’s forgiveness, the journey towards faith for many happens one step at a time. Our job is to encourage and help them in taking those steps.

Consider again what 2 Corinthians 4:4 says:

The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.

  • If people believe all religions are the same – then they have no reason to seriously consider the Christian faith.
  • If people believe evolution answers the question of origins – then they ‘know for a fact’ that the Bible is based on myths, rather than the reality of God’s existence and power.
  • If people believe the Bible is unreliable – and no different to any other religious book – then they have no reason to ever take what it says seriously. In their minds they are blinded.

And how are we to ‘unstick’ their minds? This is a combination of the work of the Holy Spirit and our obedience to taking opportunities and as we do, we do prayerfully, exercising wisdom and care, in conversation. And the key to great conversations is great questions.

 

APPLICATION

It’s a different spiritual climate today isn’t it. Where once our culture may have been predominantly ‘Christian’, this is not the case anymore. The strategies of the past aren’t necessarily received as well today. But we can learn a lot from the model of Jesus.

Learn to engage conversations….in Acts “the Lord adding to their number daily those who were being saved” was the product of what? A move of the Holy Spirit, and the dedication and commitment of the church to the purposes of God!

 

TAKEAWAYS

  • The opportunities are all around us, every day
  • and the key to great conversations is? …Great questions!

 

[1] Adapted from resources provided by Hope Project

[2] Godpsace, 25

[3] Wondering questions, empowering questions