15 – “If you love me, you will obey what I command.
19 – Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,
20 – and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
If you are our guest today, then let me get you up to speed by telling you that we who make up this church have felt lately that God is calling us to be a church that is driven by grace. We are learning that law INSISTS on our ministry to this community but Grace INSPIRES and EMPOWERS it. We’ve adopted a purpose statement that reflects this belief. We’ve even made an acronym of the word GRACE to help us remember that it IS what compels us to do each of the five basic tasks that God gives every church: Discipleship, outreach, fellowship, ministry, and worship.
Today is the second in a series of sermons on these five grace-driven tasks.
So, this morning we are focusing on the R in the acronym which stands for REACHING in the name of Christ. – or outreach.
You know, for a little over a year now I have been using Colossians 3:15-17 as a benediction for our morning worship. The last words we hear as we leave this place and re-enter our mission field out there are, (say it with me) …whatever you do, in word or deed, do it all in the NAME of CHRIST. I think this is a great way for Christians to end a service of worship because these God-breathed words remind us all that, as CHRISTIANS, we represent Christ Himself to our neighbors and friends and co-workers…everything we do in word or deed reflects on Him whether we want it to or not. That certainly includes PERSONAL EVANGELISM — REACHING IN THE NAME OF CHRIST. We are the agents….the ambassadors….of Christ Himself! In Acts 1:8 Jesus said, You are MY witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the Earth. Truly this IS a GREAT commission, for Almighty God has chosen or appointed ordinary, sinful people like you and me to be HIS spokespersons. In II Corinthians 5:20 the Apostle Paul writes, We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors! It is as though God were making His appeal through us.
Well tragically this is an area that CHRISTIANS are not doing as well as they could. Most of the lost people in the world do not see us as clear reflectors of God’s grace. I have never been a fan of THE SIMPSONS but I read this week that they apparently have a Christian neighbor named Maude. In one episode Maude had been gone for a couple of weeks and when she returned Homer Simpson greeted her by saying, I haven’t seen you around in a couple of weeks. Where have you been? Maude replied, I’ve been away at Bible camp-learning to be more judgmental.
Now this is one reason I’m not a fan of this show. Christianity is never put in a good light. But I imagine that when this episode aired, millions of non-Christian viewers across the country erupted in laughter and whispered under their breath, AMEN! Because unfortunately many people think Christians are unloving, judgmental people. They think we don’t care about them. They think that they don’t matter to us. They know us for those things that we legalistically DON’T do instead of what we graciously DO do. Sheldon Vanauken said, The best argument FOR Christianity is Christians: their joy, their certainty, their completeness.
But the strongest argument AGAINST Christianity is also Christians — when they are somber and joyless, when they are self-righteous and smug in complacent consecration, when they are narrow and repressive, then Christianity dies a thousand deaths. William Hart recently authored a book on the top one hundred most influential people in history and in it he ranked Jesus third (after Muhammad and Sir Isaac Newton) saying, saying, On His own merits, Jesus would definitely be the most influential person ever. The problem is His followers. They have done a relatively poor job of carrying out His message.
All this reminds me of a story from the life of Alexander the Great, who of course was one of the greatest generals who ever lived, conquering almost the entire known world with his vast army. One night during a campaign, Alexander couldn’t sleep and left his tent to walk around the camp. He came across a soldier asleep on guard duty-a very serious offense. In fact, the penalty for falling asleep on guard duty was, in some cases, instant death; the commanding officer sometimes poured kerosene on the sleeping soldier and lit it. Well, this particular soldier began to wake up as Alexander the Great approached him. Recognizing who was standing in front of him, the young man feared for his life. Do you know what the penalty is for falling asleep on guard duty? Alexander asked. Yes sir, the soldier responded in a quivering voice. Soldier, what is your name? demanded Alexander. It’s Alexander, sir. Alexander the Great repeated his question, What did you say was your name? My name is Alexander sir, the soldier repeated. A third time and more loudly, Alexander the Great asked, WHAT is your name?! And a third time the soldier meekly said, My name is Alexander sir. Alexander the Great then looked the young solider straight in the eye and said, Soldier, either change your name or change your conduct.
Well, I don’t think we should change our name. Christian which means little Christ is a very appropriate name for followers of Jesus Christ like you and me. But I do think that if we are to REACH in the NAME of Christ we need to change our conduct. We need to allow our own experience with God’s saving grace to change and deepen our understanding of evangelism.
So, this morning I want us to reflect on our own salvation experience and in so-doing remember six basic things about evangelism that will help us to maximize our efforts to share the grace of God with a grace-needing world:
1. First of all we must remember that evangelism is basically sharing a PERSON not a PLAN
As Christians, we follow a Person — not an idea nor a set of religious codes.
So to share your faith, you don’t have to be a documented expert on the Bible. You simply talk to others about Someone you know. You introduce them to the PERSON of Jesus Christ. Remember, this is what the disciple Philip did when He met Jesus. John 2 says that Philip immediately went and found his friend Nathaniel and invited him to come and see Jesus for himself. Philip’s evangelistic come and see technique was effective because when Nathaniel met Jesus and talked with Him he responded by boldly exclaiming, You are the SON of God! And that is what we do when we REACH in the name of Christ. We are introducing lost people to a real Person. The goal of evangelism is not to obtain decisions for Christ, but to introduce people TO Christ. We have a new YOUTH MINISTER on staff here. His first day in the office is tomorrow. He has a lot of mail waiting for his attention! Now I know Steve Holt and am already very impressed with him but the other ministers in our state and association don’t know him. And, as pastor, it will be my responsibility to introduce him around. Now I won’t do this by saying, Steve is this high and weighs this much and here is his college transcript. No of course not. I’ll do much better than that…I’ll take Steve to minister’s meetings and say, HERE IS STEVE HOLT…come and meet him. We do the same thing when we REACH IN THE NAME OF CHRIST. We simply introduce people to the Person of JESUS CHRIST. The second basic truth of evangelism that we must remember is this:
2. It is done in God’s POWER and not ours.
We do not have the ability to change lives. We do not convict people of their sin. We are not responsible to draw people to Jesus. That is God’s job. Only He can do these things. Three scriptures leapt into my mind when I was dwelling on this point:
The first was Acts 1:8 where Jesus says You will receive POWER when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and THEN AND ONLY THEN you will be MY witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.
Another was Romans 1:16 where Paul wrote, I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the POWER of God for the salvation of everyone who believes.
The third was our growing from the inside out memory verse this week, Galatians 2:20, which says, I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in-THROUGH THE POWER OF — the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me.
You see, without God’s power it is not only difficult to lead a person to faith in Christ. It is impossible. But in God’s hands we become powerful evangelists. Years ago a tornado ripped its way through Wichita Falls, Texas, leaving a path of destruction and debris in its wake. The sheer power of the storm was uppermost in everyone’s mind as they viewed trees which had been plucked from the ground like weeds and buildings which had been shredded like aluminum foil. But, one of the most fascinating witnesses to the tornado’s awesome power was rather small and almost unnoticeable. A small piece of straw had been driven deep into a telephone pole like a nail! This was made possible because of the unbelievable power of the tornado. Evangelism apart from God’s presence and power is impotent and ineffective but when we allow ourselves to be driven by God’s power people repent of their sins and respond to the grace of God. When missionary Robert Morrison first sailed to China, he was asked, Do you really expect to make an impression on the idolatry of the great Chinese empire? In reply Morrison said, No, sir, but I expect God will. And he had the right idea because evangelism is done in God’s power and not out own. Many times when I was sharing my faith with someone I have experienced a flood of boldness and courage and insights that I can only attribute to the work of God in and through me.
This is because effective witnessing is done in God’s power and not our own. The third thing we must remember when it comes to REACHING in the name of Christ is that….
3. …It is not just what you SAY….it is also what you DO.
Lee Stroebel is one of the teaching pastors at Willow Creek Community Church in Chicago. He was an atheist all of his life and turned off by many Christians whose evangelistic efforts were not grace-driven. Stroebel was also repelled by what he referred to as cosmetic Christians who had a skin-deep spirituality that looked good on the outside but didn’t penetrate deep enough to change their behavior and attitudes.
- Like the journalist he knew who was one of the most crooked reporters in Chicago but who let everybody know what a church-going family man he was.
- Or the politician who proudly publicized his church affiliation during election years but who was a vicious back-stabber behind closed doors.
- Or the police officer who was the most racist individual Stroebel knew but who also never missed a Sunday service.
I think Stroebel could relate to the lyrics of a song by Kyle Matthews which refers to hypocrites when it says, Your life speaks so loud I can’t hear a word you say.
Well, fortunately these cosmetic Christians were not the only believers Stroebel encountered during his years as a skeptical atheist. He also met mature disciples who let the power of the Holy Spirit shape their character and actions in such a way that they gently pulled Stroebel to embrace a faith in Christ.
One of these authentic believers was a man named Ron. Before he became a Christian, Ron had several run-ins with the law. When he was 8 he threw a hammer at someone’s head and ended up in juvenile court. Later he dropped out of school, got mixed up with drugs, and rose to second-in- command of the Belaires, a vicious street gang that terrorized parts of Chicago in the 60’s and 70’s. When he was 21 Ron got in deep trouble. A rival gang called the Palmer Street Gaylords brutally assaulted one of Ron’s friends and Ron vowed revenge. He borrowed a gun and went hunting for the teen who had led the Gaylord attack. It didn’t take long for Ron to track down this Gaylord as he was emerging from a tavern. Ron started chasing the guy down the sidewalk, shooting at him as they ran. Finally one of the bullets found its mark, tearing into his back and lodging next to his liver. The teen collapsed face-first on the pavement. Ron came up to him and flipped him over. Then, ignoring his pleas for mercy, Ron shoved the gun in the wounded boy’s face and pulled the trigger — but fortunately the gun was empty. By this time the police were closing in so Ron fled the scene and ended up in Oregon with his girlfriend. There Ron got his first legitimate job working in a metal shop…which by divine coincidence was owned and operated by Christians. Through their influence Ron received Jesus as the forgiver of his sins and the leader of his life. With this decision, his values and character began to change. He and his girlfriend got married and had a little girl named Olivia. Ron became a model employee, an active church participant, and a well-respected member of the community. But something kept gnawing at him. Even though he had been reconciled with God, he hadn’t been reconciled with society. There was still a warrant out for his arrest. And although police had stopped looking for him and he probably could have spent the rest of his life in Oregon without getting caught he felt that the only honest thing to do would be to give himself up and face the possibility of twenty years in prison, away from his family. Otherwise he’d be living a lie and as a Christian he decided that was not an option. At this point in his life Lee Stroebel was a reporter for The Chicago Tribune and so he was present in the courtroom the day Ron’s case came up. Amazingly, unlike other defendants, he was not trying to wiggle off the hook. Ron looked the judge in the eye and said, I am guilty. I did it. I’m responsible. If I need to go to prison, that is okay. But I’ve become a Christian, and the right thing to do is to admit what I’ve done and to ask for forgiveness. What I did was wrong, plain and simple, and I’m sorry. I really am. This blew atheist Lee Stroebel away. This was not COSMETIC CHRISTIANITY. He knew that when someone takes a costly step like Ron did then it must be prompted by a faith that has radically transformed him from deep inside.
Stroebel was so intrigued by Ron’s actions that he asked him about his faith. This experience was the beginning of Lee Stroebel’s conversion to Christianity. From his experience we can learn that if we want to REACH OUT in the name of Christ we must remember to live out our faith even when it is costly as it was for Ron. Because when we take our faith THAT seriously, others who are watching will begin to take it seriously too. Effective, fruitful evangelism is not just what you say…it is also what you do! By the way, the judge in Ron’s trial was so impressed by his actions that he didn’t think it was necessary for him to go to prison. Instead he concluded that Ron was no longer a danger to society and he put him on probation. Lee Stroebel remembers asking Ron for a reaction to the judge’s ruling. Here is what he said, What the judge did was show me grace — sort of like Jesus did. And Lee, if you let Him, God will show you grace, too. Don’t forget that. Stroebel says, Coming from a guy like Ron, that carried a lot of weight. The words of an obviously grace-driven Christian always do. Then, a fourth thing we need to remember as we reach out in Jesus’ name is this:
4. …There is more than ONE way to share THE way.
In I Corinthians 9:19-22 Paul reminds us of this when he says, Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all means I might save some. Paul is telling us here that effective evangelism is flexible in nature. The message of the Gospel has not changed but the method of sharing it must change. James White, author of Rethinking Evangelism said that he was once leading a conference in Florida in which he had touched on the issue of using contemporary Christian music as a means to become more sensitive to those who were exploring the Christian faith. Afterwards an elderly woman came up to him walking with a cane. He braced himself for her criticism. She said, Young man, I want to have a word with you about what you said tonight. I want you to know that when it comes to music, Montovani is about as contemporary as I get unless it’s a weekend and then loosen up and enjoy Lawrence Welk. Then she pointed her cane at him and continued, … but if rock ?n’ roll is what it takes to get people back in church all I’ve got to say is….?Let’s boogie!’ This saintly old woman was right on track. We must be flexible in our methods to reach our ever-changing world. Here at Redland our deacons have been studying a book by Bill Hybels this year and our last session dealt with authentic evangelism. In it we looked at six different styles of evangelism that are all listed in scripture:
There is the confrontational style of Peter which led 3,000 people to Christ at Pentecost and the intellectual style of Paul which he used to debate with the philosophers in Athens on Mars Hill.
Then there is the testimonial style used by the blind beggar healed by Jesus in the 9th chapter of John’s gospel. Remember? He simply shared what Jesus had done for him by telling the critical Pharisees, One thing I know. I was blind but now I see!
We also looked at the interpersonal style of Matthew who, when he came to faith in Jesus, threw a party for all his sinner friends and invited Jesus to come so they could meet Him.
We studied the invitational style of the Woman at the Well who met Jesus and then ran through town inviting people to come and hear Jesus for themselves.
Finally we looked at Acts 9 where Dorcas used the serving style of evangelism and in so doing impacted her city by doing deeds of kindness making clothes for the poor and distributing them in the name of Christ.
And you know, as we studied, we realized that there are people here at Redland who are skilled at using each of these styles. And that is great because there are all kinds of people in our community….individuals who will only respond to one of these styles. We are well-equipped here to share THE Way in more than one way! The fifth thing we must remember as we reach out in the name of Christ is that…
5. … It is a REAL JOY….not a RELIGIOUS JOB.
When we went to Mexico this summer we were divided into four teams. And each team had one segment of the week in which we were assigned to do door-to-door evangelism. I remember several of our people commenting to me that they felt uncomfortable about that assignment and would be relieved when it was over. But do you know what happened? Introducing the people of Matamoros to the person of Jesus Christ was such an exciting….FUN, rewarding experience that those same people who dreaded witnessing ended up using their free time the rest of the week to go out on the streets sharing their faith in Christ with people. It is not a religious job to share our faith! It IS a real joy! That famous missionary to China, Lottie Moon, said, Surely there can be no deeper joy than that of saving souls. I think if there were some way to give all of you the experience of leading just one person to Christ, you would all be hooked! Then finally, to reach in the name of Christ we must remember that…
6. …We are sharing GOOD NEWS that meets REAL NEEDS.
We must remember that our unsaved friends and co-workers and family members really need to hear what we have to say about Jesus Christ. The things we tell them about Jesus’ love have direct application to their lives. Ephesians 2 says that without Christ people are, spiritually dead. and without hope. Colossians 1 says they are prisoners in the domain of darkness…..enemies of God and cut off from Him. In Matthew 9:36 Jesus said that without Him people are without real direction and purpose. Titus 3:3 says that non-Christians are enslaved by the pleasures and passions of this world.
So our witness is GOOD NEWS to them….what we have to say….IS relevant to them in the here and now. But you know, we tend to forget that it also has relevance to the there and then ….to their future eternal destiny. II Thessalonians 1:9 says that without Christ — people are destined for Hell. Listen to the horrible fate that awaits people who die without Christ: They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of His power.
The reality of HELL should be a powerful motivation for outreach. It was a major theme in Jesus’ evangelistic ministry. He grieved over the rich young ruler because He knew he was walking the road to hell. Jesus wept over the people of Jerusalem because they were sheep who had rejected His shepherding and He knew it was only a matter of time before they’d wander off the cliffs of eternity and into Hell’s abyss. Jesus shared stories like that of Lazarus and the rich man in Luke 16 which plainly told of the agony and desperation of those forever separated from God. Jesus confronted the Pharisees, the scribes, the tax-gatherers, the politicians, the rich, the poor….anybody and everybody….with the hard truth that they would die in their sin and face eternal condemnation unless they repented and put their faith in Him. Our belief in the reality of hell should impact us each and every day…it should jar all Christians out of their evangelistic complacency. Andrew Meekens, an elder in the International Evangelical Church of Addis Ababa, was one of those who died on November 23, 1996 when a hijacked jet ran out of fuel and crashed near the Comoros Islands in the Indian Ocean. According to survivors of the crash, after the pilot announced he would attempt an emergency landing, Meekens stood up and spoke, calming passengers on the Ethiopian Airlines flight. Meekens then presented the gospel of Jesus Christ and invited people to respond. A surviving flight attendant said that 20 people accepted Christ before that plane went down. Meekens used the last few minutes of his life witnessing because he believed in the reality of hell. He knew that eternity was only seconds away so he shared the GOOD NEWS that would prepare the crash victims to face it. You know, in a sense eternity is only seconds away for all of us. James 4:13-14 says, You do not even know what will happen tomorrow. Your life is a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. There is a hell. And people are going there unless we give them an opportunity to hear and respond to the GOOD NEWS that we have been commissioned to share.
The words to our hymn of invitation remind us that our salvation….our experience with the PERSON of Jesus Christ was an incredible gift of grace. We have FREELY RECEIVED. But the song teaches that our experience of grace should compel us to FREELY GIVE. In the chorus Jesus says, Go in MY NAME and because YOU believe OTHERS will know that I live. In Romans 1:14 Paul wrote that since he had experienced the grace of God he was obligated to share his witness-he was eager to preach the gospel to everyone. This morning as we sing let us all embrace this same obligation and eagerness to REACH IN THE NAME OF CHRIST.
Our evangelism as a church has eternal consequences. People out there desperately need to hear the GOOD NEWS that we have to share. You may be one of those people. Why not make this the day that you allow us to introduce you to the PERSON of Jesus Christ? Why not accept His free gift of eternal life and make Him the Lord of your life today? If you will come talk to me now as we sing or even after the service, I will be glad to personally introduce you to Him. There may be other decisions God is leading you to make….to go from cosmetic Christianity to authentic discipleship or to walk forward and join this church in it’s GRACE-DRIVEN ministry. We sing to give you a chance to respond….won’t you do so?