Opportunistic Evangelism

witness

The best witness follows God’s lead.

          “A little boy built a model ship, glued all the pieces together, and worked on it for hours.  It was perfect.  Every detail was correct, down to tiny sailors standing on the deck.  He put it in a glass case.  He wouldn’t let his brother play with it in the bathtub.  He was going to keep it perfect by keeping it safe.

“His parents bought a real boat so they could spend the weekends sailing out on the harbor.  They loved it.  At first.  It was a lot of work to maintain.  Boat owners will tell you that the day you bought your boat was the happiest day of your life, and the day you sold it was the second happiest.  At first, they used it a lot.  But then they used it less.  It was expensive.  After a few months, they went to spend a day sailing and found barnacles growing on the side, algae all over it, and a dead motor.  A real boat is only kept in shape by being used.

“The two boats worked in opposite ways.  The model was preserved by being kept safe.  The real boat was preserved by being used.”

<James Miller, found at https://illustrationexchange.com/illustrations?category=631.&gt;

CONTEXT: This is the last word in Matthew’s Gospel, the last thing Jesus says to His disciples, His final instructions before returning to heaven.  They were gathered on a mountain top in Galilee, their home territory, for this final encounter.  Incredible as it seems, Matthew honestly reports that some of the disciples WORSHIPED Jesus, but some still DOUBTED.   Let’s begin there.

For those who DOUBTED, the words of Jesus had no immediate meaning.  His promises of His authority and abiding presence were not for the doubters.  They weren’t committed and at that time, had no part with Him.  The promises were not for them.

Instead, Jesus’ promises were for those who had faith and WORSHIPED Him.  They knew and believed that He commissioned them under the AUTHORITY that had been given to Him by God the Father.  They knew and believed His promise to be with them ALWAYS was perfectly reliable.  They would count on His abiding presence to inform and empower their obedience to His commands.

And so it is for all of us in this very moment.  This passage is for everyone who worships Jesus as Lord of their life.  It will sound like mere words in the ears of those who have not crossed the threshold of faith.  Do you have a model faith or a real faith?  Know which you are as we begin.

  1. This passage has been misunderstood.

Matthew 28:19-20 is known as “The Great Commission” and is frequently cited as a call to evangelism.  On this basis we have been sending missionaries to foreign lands for over 150 years.

Preachers love to cite the four verbs as imperatives to soul-winning.  GO has been understood as being assertive in seeking out t unsaved, creating our own opportunities to tell others about Jesus.

MAKE DISCIPLES has been taken as a call to “soul winning,” a term that never appears in the Bible.  The emphasis is lopsidedly on making converts.

The fact that the word BAPTIZING appears here has been taken to mean that baptism is somehow necessary for salvation.  The evidence in Scripture points to baptism as a demonstration of salvation, not a means of obtaining it.

TEACHING is the most obvious of the four verbs and Jesus Himself explained the aim of our teaching ministry; “TO OBEY EVERYTHING I HAVE COMMANDED YOU.”

The usual use of this passage creates problems.  If Jesus’ Great Commission makes every disciple responsible to assertively create opportunities to witness, then we all bear responsibility for every human contact we make throughout the day.  This is a massive responsibility that none of us is capable of undertaking.  It is not biblical, not Jesus’ intended understanding of the Commission, and produces a lot of guilt about the subject of evangelism.

  1. How this passage should be understood.

At the risk of sounding like I am splitting hairs, a correct interpretation of the passage requires translating the word GO properly. We first need to observe the order of the words.  In the Greek, the word GO has emphasis because it comes first.  Here’s how a direct translation reads: “GOING THEREFORE DISCIPLE YE ALL THE NATIONS, BAPTIZING THEM IN THE NAME OF THE FATHER AND OF THE SON AND OF THE HOLY SPIRIT, TEACHING THEM TO OBSERVE ALL THINGS WHATEVER I GAVE COMMAND TO YOU; AND BEHOLD WITH YOU I AM ALL THE DAYS UNTIL THE COMPLETION OF THE AGE.”

Second, we must observe the nature of the word: GO is a verb and we are commanded to it, but it is assumed we are going already.

As translated above, GOING THEREFORE is not a command to get moving, but to do something as you are moving.  As you live, put your real faith to work.  To put it another way, Jesus said, “As you go, make disciples.  Baptize them and teach them to be obedient.”

Now we can move to application of the rest of the commands.

The word DISCIPLE means to make new converts and to mature those who have accepted Jesus.  Discipleship is a life-long process where followers of Jesus help each other to mature spiritually.  I believe Jesus had Deuteronomy 6:6-7 on His mind as He gave this teaching.

THESE COMMANDMENTS THAT I GIVE YOU TODAY ARE TO BE UPON YOUR HEARTS.  IMPRESS THEM ON YOUR CHILDREN.  TALK ABOUT THEM WHEN YOU SIT AT HOME AND WHEN YOU WALK ALONG THE ROAD, WHEN YOU LIE DOWN AND WHEN YOU GET UP.

Even though the word GO is crucial for our understanding of this passage, in the Gk it is the word DISCIPLE that is the main verb.  It can be said that GO, BAPTIZE, and TEACH are all explanations of discipleship.  If you live for Jesus, the reason you draw breath today is so that you can disciple and be discipled. That’s the bottom line.

The word BAPTIZE is important to all Christians but not all of them will agree with the way I am about to define it.  Baptism is an action that is both a proof of a real faith and a means of discipleship.  It serves the purposes of witness and maturing a person’s faith.

Throughout the centuries, the Church has recognized this dual role of baptism and has historically used it as a means of maturing new believers.  For example, in the first century church, candidates for baptism had to go through THREE YEARS of preparation before they were baptized.

Finally, the word TEACH takes in all forms of instruction in Scripture and spiritual disciplines.  Because the main ingredients for maturing followers of Jesus are prayer and the Bible, it will always be necessary to be taught.  Folks who figure they have no more to learn reveal they have a “model” faith, not a “real” one.  A faith that works and is not just limited to display purposes is a growing faith.  There is always more to learn.

What we teach and learn draws us closer to God.  We grow by book learning and by life experience; we must not rely on one or the other but seek both.  Teachers teach by setting an example to follow as well as by passing along information, illustrating it with personal experience.  Teachers are lifelong learners.  In this life, we are both teachers and learners.  This is our greatest duty.

The best witness follows God’s lead.

We usually see witnessing as something we initiate, an opportunity we create by being assertive.  Worse, what often motivates us to witness is a false sense of guilt when we aren’t assertive, leading us to approach people in ways that aren’t genuine.  The result is often an awkward, unproductive encounter that may cause more harm than good.

This passage in Matthew’s Gospel indicates a better biblical way to approach witnessing.  Witnessing encounters start with the knowledge that God is the Initiator.  He will guide us to persons on occasions where He has already prepared their heart and ours.  He will give you words to say.

The second step is ours.  We need to listen to the Holy Spirit for the urging to speak and the words to speak.  Awareness of a God-directed opportunity to witness will come to us quietly, a gentle urging that can be easy to ignore or overlook.  What’s needed is active hearts, eyes and ears to sense the opportunities as He sets them in front of us.

The third step is also ours.  We must speak up, say something.  What’s needed here is obedience, not eloquence.  These opportunities are time-sensitive immediate obedience is necessary.

The final step involves the witness, the other people, and God.  We need to fully see and hear the others as we enter into conversation with them, so we can find points of connection to them as people and points to connect them with God.  We need to be awake and aware of the Spirit’s guidance as the dialogue develops, and follow His lead.  In these instances, our book learning (the Bible) and our experience (testimony) will be useful, so we need to be prepared to talk about both of them.

Be forewarned.  These opportunities will not arise in moments convenient or comfortable for you.  Your adult skills of flexibility, risk assessment, and sensitivity will be required.  It will be tempting to “pass by on the other side” ala Luke 10, but you will not be obedient if you do so.

If you have never sensed God leading you in this way, then something is wrong at the center of the faith you’re claiming.  Persons with a “model” faith will not sense God leading them in this way; they’ve schooled themselves on how to ignore it.  Persons with a “real” faith will want to have this experience and will grow from it when they take a chance that Jesus’ promises of authority and abiding presence are true.

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Working on Your People Skills

  (Please read Colossians 4:2-6.)

MESSAGE: Aim at infusing life in your conversations with God and others.

A husband and wife were chatting with some friends when the subject of marriage counseling came up.             “Oh, we’ll never need that. My husband and I have a great relationship,” the wife explained. “He was a communications major in college and I majored in theater. He communicates real well and I act like I’m listening.”

http://www.ebaumsworld.com/jokes/read/322825

That, by the way, was a joke.  Some people believe that a sense of humor is to be hung up by the door of a church just like their coat.

When this is based on the notion that God does not have a sense of humor or that spiritual folk are supposed to be more serious, that’s just plain wrong.  God’s sense of humor can be plainly seen in the duckbill platypus and the person in the mirror!

http://www.humorpower.com/blog/2006/07/humor-skills-what-people-find-offensive/

One excuse for being excessively somber is that you run the risk of offending someone by telling a joke.  This sounds legitimate, so I did a little research and found an expert to shed some light on this.  Mr. John Kindle is a humor specialist (a great job if you can find it!) in Las Vegas, Nevada.  He has a blog called “Humor Power,” and thus is a very reliable source…

He listed 12 reasons people give for finding a joke offensive.  One thing stood out in the article.  It’s widely accepted as fact that 2% of people will take offense at anything you say and do.  I say, why let the crabby minority ruin the fun for the 98% of us?!!

But if you’ll permit me to be serious for a moment, we all can work on our people skills.  We can all intend to get along better.  That kind of improvement must obviously start with having the love of God in our hearts.  That’s why our passage for this morning concerns both our relationship with God and our relationships with one another.

CONTEXT: Paul wrote this letter while in prison, directing the church to avoid falling for the traps of false teachers and choose life instead.  J. Vernon McGee titled this chapter: “Fellowship of Christians is hearty.”

COMMENT:

  1. Have life-giving conversations with God (2-4).

Paul uses 3 words to describe a lively prayer ministry.

“Devoted” = DEVOTE YOURSELVES TO PRAYER. In the Greek, the root of this word means “to be strong.”  It refers to a strong attachment to the person or thing indicated in the sentence.

How are we to be devoted to prayer?  Devotion can be demonstrated in the QUANTITY of time we give to prayer.  1 Thessalonians 5:17 urges us to PRAY CONTINUALLY.  Devotion can be demonstrated in the QUALITY of our prayers.  This is not a matter of choosing the right words or having the right feelings; it means to enter deeply into fellowship with God.  We learn that by quietness and listening, and by repeating God’s words back to Him – use the Bible as a guide for deep prayer.  Devotion can be demonstrated in CONSISTENCY.  When times are hard, God’s people pray harder and they pray more: they don’t give up on prayer.

WATCHFUL.  For what are we watching?  We’re to be watching for opportunities!

– Opportunities to pray.  Not just when people are sick or have other needs, but to express joy and praise as well.

– Opportunities to serve.  Helping others is a gateway to bringing God into their lives.

– Opportunities to witness.  Telling others about Jesus is one of the most exciting things a Christian can do.

Watch your words and deeds.  We must safeguard the purity God’s forgiveness imparts.  We need to help others see that God’s way is the best way.  Watch for the in-breaking of heaven, especially in the form of the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.  Ordinary moments of life can be occasions for spiritual insight, visions, and revelations of the joy we’ll have in heaven.  We have a future, a new life, an eternal home with God.  In this life, He grants us glimpses of that life, to encourage us.  We don’t want to miss out on these experiences.  The Bible says we are visited by angels occasionally and we have the Holy Spirit always.  How can we hope to hear God’s messages if we don’t watch and listen?

Don’t confuse watching with waiting (inactivity, passivity).  As the old preacher said, “If you’re going to pray for a good crop, you’d better have a hoe in your hand!”

THANKFUL.  For what are we thankful?  Don’t wait until November to be thankful – practice it all year ‘round!  You may be surprised to see the transformative effect it has on your life and others.  More importantly, thankfulness directs our attention to God.  That is the most redemptive direction in which we can look.  Prayer should be like breathing; inhale with your asking & exhale w/ thanksgiving for God’s answer.

Lively prayer also focuses on God’s will for your situation.  The example in this situation is Paul requesting prayer for his ministry.  He asked for things he could be confident were in line with the will of God.

– OPEN A DOOR FOR OUR MESSAGE is asking God to provide opportunities for ministry.

– THAT WE MAY PROCLAIM THE MYSTERY OF CHRIST.  For Paul, this MYSTERY was something that was previously unknown being revealed by God; fulfillment of prophecy.

– FOR WHICH I AM IN CHAINS.  His CHAINS represented Paul’s commitment to the Gospel and it

spotlighted one of Paul’s needs: freedom.

– THAT I MAY PROCLAIM IT EASILY.  God-given opportunities are precious; we need to act on them as effectively as possible.  This requires speaking the truth in love with grace.

2. Have life-giving conversations with others (5-6).

BE WISE IN THE WAY YOU ACT = A wise person knows actions speak louder than words.

Especially TOWARD OUTSIDERS.  The unchurched, unsaved, unbelievers.  This is obviously not meant to make the church sound exclusivistic or stand-offish; it is a practical acknowledgement that MOST people are OUTSIDERS and we must act and speak WISELY to help them become INSIDERS.  Besides, if you know you’re headed to heaven, why wouldn’t you work to take as people as possible with you?

Notice it says BE WISE – what’s that?

– Be REAL.  Tell the truth in your own personal way.

– Be SENSITIVE.

— Be sensitive to the person; listening for their story so you can weave it with Jesus’ story.

— Be sensitive to the context; act and speak in ways appropriate to the situation you’re in.

— Be sensitive to the Holy Spirit; God will give you words and direct you toward effective means of ministry.

— Be sensitive to yourself.  The Holy Spirit will guide you with your intuition and feelings.  Respond appropriately to feelings that are clearly positive or negative and be wary of situations about which you have conflicted feelings.

– Be a FRIEND first; let God make converts.  We must not be driven to press for a decision in every conversation.

The purpose of this kind of wisdom should be obvious; to MAKE THE MOST OF EVERY OPPORTUNITY. This is what I call “Opportunity Evangelism;” let the Spirit make you aware of an opportunity to witness and then follow through to do the deed and speak the words He gives you.  The meaning of the Greek word for OPPORTUNITY means to purchase something with the intent of making a profit on it.  Take a similar attitude to the encounters you have with OUTSIDERS.  Invest in others wisely so you can turn a “profit;” bring them to Jesus.

This approach recognizes the biblical truth that no one comes to the Father except as they have been lead by Him.  So – as He reveals to us persons whom He has already been leading, we will help folks whom God has prepared, not just buzzing around on our own.

The first part of this is about actions, but words are important too, so we must take care to choose good ones.  One aspect of self-control is choosing the right words.  In fact, James 3:1-12 identifies control of one’s tongue as the PRIMARY form of self-control!  The Bible identifies many different sins of the tongue; that’s a subject for another time.  On the other hand, there’s just one way to get it right and that is to guard our speech.

– The first place to guard it is at the source: the heart.  Jesus said, “OUT OF THE OVERFLOW OF THE HEART THE MOUTH SPEAKS.”  (See Matthew 12:34; Luke 6:45.)

– The last place to guard it is at the lips.  Paul wrote, DO NOT LET ANY UNWHOLESOME TALK COME OUT OF YOUR MOUTH, BUT ONLY WHAT IS HELPFUL FOR BUILDING OTHERS UP ACCORDING TO THEIR NEEDS, THAT IT MAY BENEFIT THOSE WHO LISTEN.  (Ephesians 4:29)

Paul offers a three-fold definition of purposeful and wise conversation, the type that pleases God.

– FULL OF GRACE.  Wow!  Forgiving and forbearing; loving as God loved you.  The right words in the right way at the right time.

– SEASONED WITH SALT.  Conversation is a sensory experience, so don’t be tasteless.  Salt is also a preservative; it keeps conversations from becoming rotten.

– Knowing HOW TO ANSWER EVERYONE.  Obviously, we have to study the Bible before we can know what it says and use it to explain and defend the truth.  What’s not required is that we “win” every argument.  In fact, if you’re arguing with someone that may be proof you’re already on the “losing” side.  It’s enough that we stand firm in our faith.

Take a look at the “People Skills Test” in your bulletin.  Would you like to guess what the problem is?

* “We are doing our part.”

* “Can you make a little time in your busy schedule to take care of this?”

* “He won’t answer the phone.”

* “That division always goofs it up for everyone.”

* “I looked and you still haven’t done it.”

The problem is that all of those statements are, to one degree or another, accusations.  They all imply that the problem is the other person.  They could easily put the other person on the defensive, and communication problems will undoubtedly be the result.

Communicating in a civil and constructive manner is a problem in our society.  The internet and mobile ‘phones offer an illusion of anonymity and people feel uninhibited.  They put their worst thoughts into words and fling them into the public eye without any forethought.

Let’s be clear.  Saying, “At least I’m being honest” is not going to cut it.  God’s standard for speech is much higher than that!  In fact, let’s take notice of the fact that this passage addresses prayer (conversation with God) directly alongside conversation with one another.  This leads me to think of a simple rule of thumb: Think before you speak and think twice about saying something to someone else that you would never say before God!

Christians are called to be neither offensive nor invisible.  True wisdom is found in the middle of these extremes, responsive to context and the Spirit’s guidance.  Our words and deeds must reflect a Christ-like spirit which is loving and considerate.

And finally, a plea for balance.  I’ve seen too many church discussions end with, “We can’t do that.  So-and-so will be offended.”  I’ve also seen Christians censored in the public square with the excuse of not offending atheists or Muslims.  Well, no offense, but we all need to GROW UP!  Doing the right thing is almost always going to offend someone!   One way we can achieve balance/moderation is by asking, “Do they have a legitimate offense?”  If not, proceed and deal with the offense if it becomes a problem.  If yes, then reconsider – start over or let it go if necessary.