This post,we will focus on elevating others; specifically,
going & showing & telling the Gospel to non-Christians.
I won’t spend much time on the “what” of the Great Commission—
we have covered this in detail in the past (HERE).
But briefly, the “what” is this: all Christians are missionaries—
we have a specific mission from our Lord & Savior Jesus Christ.
Our mission is to proclaim a message—
the Gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ—through our words & actions.
Christianity’s mission has always been going & showing & telling a message—
that is our purpose in this world that is not our home. That is the “what.”
I won’t spend much time on the “why”—but briefly, the “why” is this:
Romans 10:13-18:“…13for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
14How, 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?
15 And how can anyone preach unless they are sent?
As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”
16 But not all the Israelites accepted the good news. For Isaiah says,
“Lord, who has believed our message?”
17 Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message,
and the message is heard through the word about Christ.
That’s the why. We will invest the rest of this post focusing on the “how.”
That is a huge hurdle—how.
- It is one thing to find Mt. Everest, to clearly see the goal—
climb to the top & back down–& see the reason for the goal.
- But it is another thing to stand at the base looking up at the mountain—app. 30,000 feet up—& figure out how to get to the top and back down safely.
There are numerous challenges to the how
that are not part of the what and the why.
The answer to the how is both beautifully simple and complex,
both obvious and mysterious, a mission that,
with the Word of God & full of the Holy Spirit,
we can start doing right now and also spend a lifetime learning how to do.
It is beautifully a both/and mission.
Thus, I cannot wrap it up neatly with a bow in this post.
In fact, it is the reason we will have a Bible study this fall
on Sunday afternoons starting next Sunday—
we will dig into parts of three books—one of which is 1 Peter—
to try to understand the “how” of our mission to non-Christians.
As I have been preparing for that Bible study,
here are some things I am learning about the how
of introducing others to the Lord Jesus Christ & His message:
It isn’t enough to just say, “Tell others about Jesus”
just as it isn’t enough to say, “Water your plants.”
- Watering at noon in summer causes plants to be scorched. We must learn when to water.
- Watering plants too much causes roots to drown & die. Some plants require heavy or light water saturation. We must also learn how much to water.
Christ said He would make His disciples fishers of men & women.
In nature, certain fish require certain types of hooks/worms,
certain types of line, certain times of day to catch.
It isn’t just as simple as cast your line and wait for the fish to bite.
- In John 21:1-6, the Lord Jesus’ disciples were fishing passionately
but unsuccessfully; they were on the wrong side of the boat.
He needed to instruct them to fish on the right side. Then they caught many!
Another question we will wrestle with is this:
Do we really need training for evangelism? Did the early Christians train?
Training can definitely go too far,
treating the Great Commission as a “paint-by-number” project.
We don’t want to turn non-Christians into a factory product we start & finish:
3 easy steps, 7 minute abs, etc.
But read thru Paul’s interactions with non-Christians in Acts;
there are things he does & doesn’t do as he proclaims the Gospel.
The Lord Jesus too: it is fantastically interesting
to look at His interactions with people & see how He used story,
used illustrations people would understand,
how He set expectations (e.g. the cost of being His disciple), etc.
There are some things regarding the Great Commission
that cannot only be learned in a classroom:
- the Holy Spirit giving off the aroma of Christ in our lives,
- having a heart of compassion for non-Christians,
- being so close to the Lord Jesus in our daily lives
that people sense there is more to us than what they can see, etc.
But there are some things we can learn in a class room:
- if I have a great song I want to share with people, it would not be wise for me to pass our cassettes or records. Some people have ways to play tapes & records, most do not. It would be wise for me to put that same song into a format that people can actually listen to, either a CD or mp3.
- As long as the song itself isn’t changed/altered,
we still need to learn the way people listen to music.
Another question we’ll address: What Is Modern Culture Like?
“The root idea of modernity was the overturning of all authority outside the self.
In the eighteenth century, European Enlightenment thinkers
insisted that the modern person must question
all tradition, revelation, and external authority
and subject them to the supreme court of his or her own reason and intuition.”
(Center Church by Tim Keller, p. 381).
Foundations of society, like tradition, family, nation,
“are eroding, worn away by the ‘acid’ of the modern principle
that individual happiness and autonomy must come before anything else.
People’s identities constantly ‘shape shift’ as they move through life episodes.
They are always ready to change direction
and abandon commitments and loyalties without qualms
and to pursue, on a personal cost-benefit basis,
the best opportunity available to them.
- [e.g. Many won’t commit to an activity til the last minute;
they wait to see if any better options come around.]
The underlying thread that ties all of this together
is the inconceivability of a moral order based on an authority
more fundamental than oneself” (ibid)
[e.g. that there is one way, absolute Truth, One unelected Monarch above us, etc.]
It is to that society/culture/audience
that we proclaim the Gospel in our words & deeds.
Another topic we will dig into: Inside & Outside the Church Building
“Changing what we do in church will not reach [non-Christians].
We need to meet them in the context of everyday life…
the Christian gospel and the Christian community should be central
to every aspect of our life and mission.
This book…is a call for us to be an every day church with an everyday mission” (Everyday Church by Tim Chester and Steve Timmis, p. 10).
“We need to shift our focus from putting on attractional events
to creating attractional communities.
Our marginal status is an opportunity to rediscover
the missionary call of the people of God…
It is also an opportunity to reconnect with our Bibles.
The New Testament is a collection of missionary documents
written to missionary situations.
It was written by Christians living on the margins of their culture.” (ibid).
“We can no longer assume that if people want to find God
or discover meaning or cope with a personal crisis, they will go to church.
They may attend any number of religious bodies or sects.
Or they may go to a therapist. Or read a self-help book.
Merely opening our doors each Sunday is no longer sufficient.
Offering a good product is not enough…
what is clear is that great swathes of America
will not be reached thru Sunday morning services” (ibid, p. 15).
“We need to do church and mission in the context of everyday life.
We can no longer think of church as a meeting on a Sunday morning.
We must think of church as a community of people
who share life, ordinary life.
And we cannot think of mission as an event
that takes place in an ecclesiastical building…
Mission must be done primarily in the context of everyday life.
An everyday church with an everyday mission” (ibid, p. 28).
We’ll also look at the importance of:
Everyday Community [among Christians] (1 Peter 1:13-2:8)
“Imagine you woke up one day to discover
that you had become a missionary in a foreign land.
The language, the culture, the worldview, and the values are all unfamiliar.
Fortunately you are part of a team.
What are you going to do?
Together you are going to learn the language and the culture.
You are going to explore how the Bible story interacts
with the outlook of the people around you” (Everyday Church, p. 37).
“This is the situation in which the church in the West finds itself.
The culture has moved on…
We need to wake up and realize we are in a missionary situation.
We cannot continue to undertake mission in a pastoral mode
[i.e. treating people as if they are Christians
& needing to RE-commit their lives to Christ].
We cannot assume people feel any need or obligation to attend church.
We cannot even assume we understand the culture.
We need to operate as missionaries in a foreign land” (ibid, p. 37).
We’ll also explore: Really Loving Non-Christians
“Some of Peter’s readers [in 1 Peter] may have responded to hostility with passivity, keeping their heads down, keeping quiet about their Lord, and conforming to social patterns as much as possible. The equivalent today are those who hide in a [huddle] or reshape Christianity into more socially acceptable forms.
Others may have responded with aggression, wanting to fight back.
The equivalent today are those who assert the Christian-ness of the nation
and fight for Christian values to be normative within society.
Peter charts a third route: doing good in suffering,
what we might call ‘proactive gentleness.’
Christians are not to become a sectarian ghetto.
Instead they are repeatedly called to respond to hostility with good works
(1 Peter 2:12, 15, 20, 24; 3:1, 11, 13, 17; 4:19)
[while being ready to give an answer for the hope that we have].
It is an echo of Jeremiah’s call to the exiles in Babylon…(Jeremiah 29:7)…
we need to love the city” (Everyday Church, p. 44-45).
“It is so important to love your neighborhood…
As we sense our growing marginalization with the wider culture,
it is all too easy to view it as a threat.
But viewing the [people] around you as a threat is not a good starting point for reaching people with the gospel. Awhile back I did some research on small groups and visited a number of small-group Bible studies. In two cases, they began to speak of Muslims in their neighborhood. The language used suggested they felt they were embattled with Muslims poised to ‘take over.’ It turned out that no one had talked to the Muslim neighbors. Muslims had become a dehumanized other. This attitude rendered relationship building for the sake of the gospel all but impossible” (ibid, p. 45).
Evangelism requires not just a decision, but compassion.
Jonah eventually made the choice to proclaim the LORD’s message to Ninevah,
but he didn’t have the compassion of Christ,
Who longed to gather the people of Jerusalem in His arms,
as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings (Matthew 23:37).
We need Christ to transform us to both
give His message & have His compassion…
We’ll also explore: What Is The Message of Christ?
Symphonies must play their parts off the same sheet music,
same score, same piece of music, or else it’s audio chaos.
“The Gospel is ‘this He did’ not ‘this I do’…
“We must not, then, give the impression that the gospel is simply a divine rehabilitation program for the world [e.g. fix/enhance a portion of your life], but rather that it is an accomplished substitutionary work [be made completely new by trusting Jesus as the way the truth and the life]. We must not depict the gospel as primarily joining something (Christ’s Kingdom program) but rather as receiving something (Christ’s finished work)” (Center Church, p. 30).
Like stage four cancer or a malignant tumor: it is not a disease that you get rid of by exercising more/changing eating habits. The cure is not something new for you to do but something to be received: surgery, chemo, radiation, etc.
We’ll also dig into the question: Evangelism As Good Deeds Only?
“Preach the Gospel always, use words only when necessary” (St. Francis).
Many Christians live by this, and spend their lives doing nice things for people
but never getting around to sharing the Gospel with words.
- Like building bridges that never have cars drive across them;
just a city full of freshly paved but unused bridges.
To the extent that our good deeds earn the respect of non-Christians
to listen to our good news, we need the Holy Spirit’s help
to drive across those relational bridges & deliver the Gospel message with words.
If you had the cure for cancer, how could you not share that cure
with those who have cancer? How much more should we share the good news of the Gospel? But the cure for cancer could not be clearly shared without words,
it couldn’t be given to people just by doing kind deeds for them.
Furthermore, my dear friends, non-Christians can be and are nice.
They do many deeds of outward kindness in many ways.
But what is something that only Christians can do, can give?
introducing people to our Lord & Savior Jesus Christ,
sharing Who He is, what He did, & what He will do for all who trust Him,
sharing what it is like to be in a faith-relationship of worshipping Jesus,
enjoying Jesus, & obeying Jesus. Only we can do that.
Imagine a surgeon who wanted to only or mostly focus on
holding the door open for the sick and greeting them warmly,
getting them a cup of cold water, etc.
All of those things are important and good, and it is great for a surgeon to do that.
But many people can do those things, and only a few people can perform the surgery.
To focus on hospitality at the expense of doing the surgery would be criminal.
And so it is with Christians who only do earthly good deeds
but rarely or never share the Gospel with our words.
Another important practical question to discuss:
So How Do We Have Conversations About The Gospel
Here are some roadblocks we face:
- People are busy—non-Christians AND Christians! No one has time for this…
- It’s awkward and scary to talk about Jesus with people.
Humbling to consider: do we as Christians ever share with other Christians
what God is teaching us, how we are growing in Christ,
ways that we are amazed by the LORD, etc.
If many Christians have a hard time praying out loud in church with other Christians or reaching out to get to know new people at church, how will we have courage to start a conversation about Christ with a non-Christian?
- We don’t really know what the Gospel is.
Many simply don’t know it clearly in our minds/hearts,
& thus we are unable to share it with others
(like those ridiculous plastic packages for batteries that you almost need
a chainsaw to open; if we can’t get the Gospel “open” inside us,
how can we pass it out to others?)
- We don’t realize that we are all missionaries.
The Great Commission is not for certain Christians but all Christians. There are some non-Christians that only you and I know. You might be the only Bible they ever read…
- Maybe we think that others can get to heaven without
repenting of sin & trusting in Jesus Christ as their Lord & Savior.
I say all this not to make anyone feel guilty but to simply be honest about some of the reasons we have difficulty living out the Great Commission. This is what we will be focusing on in the Elevating Others group—how do we get through these roadblocks?
- You sometimes hear about pro athletes getting stuck in traffic on their way to the game…they need a new route…& sometimes a police escort! That’s us! The traffic we allow in our lives—avoidable busyness & distractions—often keeps us from our mission, but we can get there with the LORD & each other!
And this is what we as a local church need to focus on together…
so much more important than training for a marathon
or our fantasy football leagues or remodeling our house
or keeping up with our favorite shows on Netflix.
Not saying that it’s wrong to do those things,
but if all of that secondary stuff keeps us from our primary mission…
it’s even more serious than a soldier going AWOL,
an athlete choosing to not go into the game,
a surgeon staying out of the operating room to scroll FB in the lobby.
Spiritually, we need to train & study & practice & work out
& pray & carry out this great mission together.
I know many might think, “Great. Just one more thing to do…”
Please listen, my friends: This isn’t just one more thing.
- For a student, attending class & taking notes & studying with classmates & reading isn’t just one more thing–it’s the thing!
- For a parent, learning how to raise their children better, listening to them, teaching them how to do chores, helping them with homework, is not one more thing—it’s the thing! I could go on…
Training as Christians, praying, repenting, Bible study, digging into hard questions like these together, learning how to gently, respectfully & boldly share the Gospel with others, these are only “one more thing”
if Christ is just one planet in the solar systems of our lives
where we are the sun, the center around which everything else revolves.
But when we repent of that—when I repent of that—
& cry out to Jesus Himself–God’s Son–to be our sun,
- when we turn down the volume of the culture so we can hear the voice of Christ,
- when we get back to the kindergarten of Christianity and remember the price He paid for us,
- when we remember what He told seekers: “Take up your cross & deny yourself & follow me, or else you are not worthy to be My disciples,”
- when we remember how willing & compassionate He is to make clean even lepers like us,
- when we remember how lovingly He goes after sheep like us who have wandered far from our mission & how He carries us on His shoulders back to the flock, back to the mission,
when we reflect on all that, the mission & the training becomes a privilege,
an honor, even a joy to be part of.
I am excited and honored to carry out that mission
with the Trinity & with all of you, all of us, together,
in this city & to the ends of the earth. 🙂