September 27, 2009
A Different Kind of Christian
ILL: Stephen moved from Phoenix to New York City when he was 34, and was feeling pretty alone until a guy approached him on a subway and struck up a conversation. Stephen was impressed and surprised that a New Yorker seemed to take an interest in him. They exchanged numbers and said they’d hang out sometime. The next time Stephen heard from him, the guy invited him to a Bible study, and that’s all he wanted to talk about. When Stephen said “no thanks”, he never heard from the guy again.
Stephen has a dim view of Christians. He, like many other young people, thinks Christians aren’t really interested in you; they just want to get you saved.
Today, we’re going to talk about our second guiding purpose as a church, which is to win our friends to Christ. But we need to talk about it with Stephen’s story in mind. We need to be a different kind of Christian.
Offering and announcements:
The Hole in Our Gospel
a. How many have received their book? Still one per family and one per person (other people can pick up their own) – also available at the Info Center after the service.
b. Reading plan on back of tear-off (for best audio price, go to amazon.com, then follow link to audible.com).
c. Life Group sign-ups (completed forms to white cart in Commons or the Info Center).
Two new classes—“The Rest of the Week” (item #1)
Ministry as a Lifestyle is a weekly class that focuses on a broad range of ministry opportunities in our daily lives. Begins Sunday, October 11—no fee and no need to pre-register. It’s taught by my friend and classmate, Tim Johnson.
Business by the Book is a one-day seminar that focuses on the special opportunities business owners and executives have to minister through their leadership in the workplace. All day on Wednesday, October 14; details of price and registration at the Info Center.
Information about both is available at the Info Center.
Neighborhood awareness. Please be sensitive to our neighbors. Let them out into traffic. Don’t drive through the neighborhood.
Introduction: Our second purpose is to win our friends to Christ.
We’re talking about our four guiding purposes as a church, and for sake of memory, we use four one syllable words. What are they? Love, win, grow, send.
- Love God and people.
- Win our friends to Christ.
- Grow into all God wants us to be.
- Send all of us to do God’s work in a broken world.
Last Sunday, we talked about our first and highest purpose, which is love: to love God with all we’ve got and to love people. We call that “the Great Commandment” because Jesus said it is the greatest of all the commandments, the most important thing we can do. Love is doing what is best for another no matter what it costs you. Love is doing; it is expressed in action. If our lives are characterized by an all-out love for God, and a genuine love for people, we will be a different kind of Christian. That’s first…the Great Commandment is love. And Jesus gave us the Great Commission; here it is.
Matthew 28:18-20 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 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.”
These are the last words of Jesus in the gospel of Matthew; it is His final charge to His followers. “Here’s your mission.” And what is the mission?
There are four verbs in the Great Commission: go, make disciples, baptize and teach. Only one is imperative in mood—a command. The others are participles that support the primary verb. What is the command? Make disciples. “Wherever you go, as you go, in all your going, make disciples, baptizing and teaching them.” Make disciples of all nations. What does it mean to make disciples? It means we help someone come to faith in Jesus and then follow Him whole-heartedly. So there are two parts to making disciples: we call them “win and grow.”
Let me picture it for you this way. Turn your outline over and draw a line. This line will represent the process of making a disciple. Right in the middle of it, draw a cross. This represents the point of belief or decision. We call this a number of things: (solicit ideas)
- “accepting Christ” or
- “being born again” or
- “being converted” or
- “getting saved” or simply
- “becoming a Christian.”
At this point, a person decides to become a Christian and starts following Jesus. When that happens, have we made a disciple? No; we’ve got a decision to start. We’ve got a start, but now we have to follow through.
ILL: How many of you have ever started a diet, but didn’t stick with it? How many of you have started exercising, but didn’t stick with it? How many of you have started a relationship, but didn’t stick with it?
Starting is one thing; but you’ve got to stick with it. Accepting Jesus is one thing, but you need to follow Jesus with a fully surrendered heart.
I just want to be clear that when a friend believes in Jesus, prays the prayer, our job isn’t over; it’s just begun! Now we have help them become a whole-hearted follower of Jesus. We use the word “grow” to describe this—everything that happens after the cross, after the decision to follow Jesus. We’re going to talk about that next week, in the “grow” talk.
And everything that comes before the decision to follow Jesus, we call “win”—it’s what we do to help a person come to faith in Jesus and make the decision to start.
And all of it together—win and grow—is making disciples. It takes both. So let’s think about the win piece.
1. How do we win our friends to Christ?
ILL: Imagine that it’s Saturday morning; you’re home relaxing when you hear a knock on the door. You look outside and see two young men on bicycles dressed in white shirts and ties.
Why are they there? To convert you.
How do you feel about that?
Did you know that many of those outside the Christian faith often feel that way about us? Many of them think that Christians are only interested in “getting them saved,” that we don’t truly care about them as people.
We need a different kind of Christian.
Do we want to win our friends to Christ? I’d answer with an unapologetic “yes”. It’s the mission Jesus gave us. And besides that, I want to share the good news of what happened to me with others.
ILL: Several months ago, my shoulder was bothering me; I couldn’t lift my arm without pain. I joined a gym and started working out; a trainer gave me some exercises to do, and within a few weeks, the pain was gone. I have a full range of motion with no pain.
Since then, I’ve met several people with shoulder pain. What do I do? I think, “It sucks to be you.” No, I tell them what happened to me. I say, “You should try these exercises.” No one told me I have to do that; I do it because I care about those people. I want them to experience the same benefit I did.
As a Christian, I share Jesus for the same reason—because I care about people and want them to experience the benefit of Jesus.
Do we want to win our friends to Christ? Yes we do. But how we do it is very important. We can do this wrong and simply turn people off. So I want to suggest a couple ways to do this and be a different kind of Christian. The first one is almost second nature for us here at Life Center. We call it: Find, Tell, Bring. And we found it in the Bible.
John 1:41-42 The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, “We have found the Messiah” (that is, the Christ). 42 And he brought him to Jesus.
Andrew found his brother, Simon, told him what had happened to them, and brought him to Jesus. Later in the chapter:
John 1:45-46 Philip found Nathanael and told him, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”
46 “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” Nathanael asked.
“Come and see,” said Philip.
Philip found his friend, Nathaniel, told him what had happened to him, and brought him to Jesus. “Come and see,” he said. Later, in John 4, Jesus met a woman by a well.
John 4:28-30 Then, leaving her water jar, the woman went back to the town and said to the people, 29 “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Christ?” 30 They came out of the town and made their way toward him.
She found her neighbors, told them what had happened to her, and brought them to Jesus.
When someone met Jesus, they found their family, friends and neighbors, told them what had happened, and brought them to Jesus.
Find, tell, bring. It’s natural; it’s relational. Here’s how it works.
Find: find someone you love.
Notice whom they found. Andrew found his brother. Philip found his friend. The woman found her neighbors. They all reached back into their immediate network of relationships. They found people they loved.
Most people come to faith in Jesus through the influence of a trusted friend or family member. Impersonal or intrusive methods rarely work; in fact, they are usually counter-productive. The Barna Research Group discovered that impersonal mass evangelism programs, such as mass mailings of Bibles or videos, create 3-10 times as much negative response as positive. We’re doing more harm than good. The negative figures would be higher for more intrusive measures such as street witnessing or door-to-door cold calling. We justify it by saying, “If one person comes to Jesus, it’s worth it.” Consider this:
ILL: Author and speaker Mike Bechtle questions our use of what he calls “spam evangelism.” He believes that when the gospel is shared outside of relationship, unbelievers often put up thicker emotional walls. He shared a personal story to emphasize his point:
Mike’s college classmate decided to walk down Central Avenue in Phoenix at lunchtime and ask women to kiss him. He wanted to see how many people he would have to ask before someone took him up on it. After being repeatedly cursed, ignored, and slapped a couple of times, the 98th woman gave him a kiss. Using the logic of spam evangelism, he might say, “It was worth it, because I actually got one person to kiss me.” Mike wondered about the other 97 women who might be more hardened than ever, more suspicious, and more wary of men approaching them on the street.
In the same way, I think a lot of unbelievers have been hardened by insensitive, impersonal evangelism techniques.
It’s all about relationships. Most people come to faith in Jesus through the influence of a trusted friend or family member.
It all starts with relationships. Find someone you love. And if everyone you love is already a Christian, then build authentic relationships of love with pre-Christians. Go out of your way to cultivate new friendships. Be intentional about it.
ILL: I mentioned joining the gym. Laina and I did it for two reasons. First, we wanted to get in shape. Second, we wanted to be out in the community meeting new people. We try to always be cultivating friendships with pre-Christians. We didn’t go in and start passing out tracts. We don’t wear Jesus tank tops when we work out. We’re just making friends.
We need to be intentional about cultivating authentic friendships.
Here is where we need to remember the story of Stephen. Love has to be authentic; it can’t have a hook in it. If you love people only to convert them, you’ll do what the guy did to Stephen. I wonder if Stephen would feel differently about Jesus if when he said “no thanks” to the Bible study, the guy would have said, “That’s ok. Let’s grab coffee and hang out. What do you want to do?” What might have happened if he had been truly loving and patient? We can’t love people with a hook. We love people because loving people is the right thing to do. We love people because that’s what Jesus said to do. We love people to show them the love of God. And God loves us even if we reject Him, or ignore Him. We have to love authentically—no hooks—because it’s the right thing to do.
And here’s the good news. When you truly love people, you win a hearing. When you truly love people, they’re more likely to want to hear what you have to share. It all starts with love.
Love them until they ask you why, then…
Tell: tell them what you know.
What do you talk about with your friends? Everything. Friends talk about what matters to them, so when you build an authentic friendship, you’ll have lots of opportunities to share your faith…naturally.
Tell them what you know. And for most of us, that starts with our own experience. Share the difference Jesus has made in your life.
ILL: Before our team went to Kenya, David Opap insisted that we all write a 3-5 minute testimony—he wanted us to be able to tell our story in 3-5 minutes. Before we left, we each shared our story. Guess what happened? They all went longer than 3-5 minutes because we started asking questions of the speaker. Why did we do that? We were friends. We were genuinely interested in each others’ stories.
It starts with love, with friendship—then we care about the stories, theirs and ours. Love them till they ask you why and then tell them what you know.
I’ve always loved the story in John 9 of the blind man Jesus healed. When the religious leaders pestered him about Jesus—“this man is a sinner”—he replied, “I don’t know whether he’s a sinner or not. One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!” He couldn’t spar with the theologians, so he stuck with what he knew. “One thing I do know: I was blind, but now I see.” What’s the one thing you know? What’s Jesus done for you? Tell them what you know.
By the way, if you would like to be able to explain the gospel more fully, I recommend that you listen to a talk I did at this time last year, called “The Big Story.” Go to our website and type in the search box, “The Big Story”. You can also get that on CD at the resource center.
When you tell someone you love your story or the gospel, many people will want to know more. Next step: bring.
Bring: bring them to church.
How many you came here the first time because someone you knew invited you, brought you, or recommended it?
Why bring them to church? Because Christianity is a team sport; we do it best together, not alone. The Christian faith is experienced and practiced in community. So it makes sense to let them get a taste of Christian community—see it, hear it, feel it themselves. Many people need to belong before they can believe. Psalm 34:8 says, “Taste and see that the Lord is good.” They need to taste before they can see—they need to experience God’s love and Christian faith in community before they own it themselves. And if we do it right—if the church lives out its faith genuinely, honestly, in love—it’s a beautiful thing.
If we do it right. That can be a big “if”. How many of you have been part of churches where you would never take a seeking friend?
- Maybe the church was toxic. I was part of a church once filled with conflict—you could feel the tension in the air every time we met. I never invited anyone there. “Come watch us fight!”
- Maybe the church wasn’t sharing or living the gospel. Sadly, there are churches that have abandoned the good news of Jesus. These churches are dying; people are leaving in droves, not inviting their friends. “Come watch us die!”
- Maybe the church was simply irrelevant. It was so in-grown that no one but an insider could possibly understand what was going on. “Come to church—you won’t understand a thing.”
If you’re going to invite a friend to church, it better be good. It better be healthy. It better be genuine. It better be understandable. You want them to experience healthy Christian community.
We work really hard every week to provide a worship experience that will nurture and challenge believers, and make sense for your seeking friends. Church looks different when you have a seeking friend at your elbow, doesn’t it? You’ve loved that person and brought them, and now you’re sitting there seeing the whole thing through their eyes.
ILL: Many years ago, when Life Center was still on Mallon Street, we did a Sunday night talent show. Now, it would have been fine if it was just us. But I made the mistake of encouraging people to invite their friends, and made the even bigger mistake of inviting our neighbors, whom we had spent years loving.
How many of you ever watch the American Idol auditions? That’s what the talent show was like. You wonder, “Do you have no friends, no family, no parents to tell you that you are not good at this?” The clue phone was ringing, but no one was picking up.
I sat there sweating through the whole show—I totally pitted out. I was seeing it through my friends’ eyes…and it was awful! They were very polite on the way home, but they never came back.
We never want that to happen to you here! We respect all the prayer and love you invest in people. So when you bring them, we want to present the good news in a way that they will understand and find compelling. And we want to do it in a culture that radiates God’s love and grace. If we ever do anything other than that, please let us know!
What if someone refuses to come to church? Invite them to your Life Group! Bring them to experience Christian community, God’s love shared through people.
Find, tell, bring. Find someone you love, tell them what you know, bring them with you to church. It’s the way we win people to Jesus.
I want to add one more idea.
2. We win people by demonstration as well as proclamation.
There are some people who will never be won by our proclamation—by our telling them the good news. They need to see it demonstrated. They need to see our faith lived out in good works.
Matthew 5:13-16 “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men.
14 “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.
Let your light shine before men so that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven. We want people to love God. Do good deeds, and people will say, “If that’s what Christianity is about, I’m in.”
What good deeds? Our minds often go first to being good, to morality. However, morality is often defined negatively, in terms of what we don’t do: we don’t murder, don’t steal, don’t commit adultery, don’t lie, don’t cheat, don’t do drugs, don’t get drunk, don’t sleep around. Morality is often defined by what we don’t do. Certainly we need to be moral, and when we aren’t, we tarnish God’s reputation. So we need to be moral…and we need to do good.
James 1:27 Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.
Keep yourself unpolluted—that’s morality. Look after orphans and widows—that’s doing good. We need to do both. We need to be people of high integrity, sterling character, and good deeds, especially for the poor.
ILL: In the second and third century, when plagues swept the cities, it was the Christians who stayed when everyone else left. They tended the sick and buried the dead bodies. They did this for everyone, Christian or not, it didn’t matter. And the church grew like crazy because a watching world saw their good deeds and said, “If that’s what it means to be a Christian, count me in.”
ILL: Larry Reed and his wife hung door hangers on their neighbors’ doors, telling them they would stop by in a few days to collect non-perishable food items for a local food bank that feeds the needy. When they came by to pick up the food, they met their neighbors, explained their work with the food bank to feed the hungry, and began a relationship. Every two months, they would stop by for another food collection. When someone gave a third time, they would thank them again, and tell them that they were praying for the families receiving the food and those giving it. Was there anything they could pray for? After doing this for a year, they asked their neighbors if they were interested in a Bible study; nearly everyone was. They started a neighborhood Bible study and several people became Christians. And it all started with collecting food for the hungry.
We need to be a different kind of Christian—Christians that live morally and do good deeds; Christians who love God and love people; Christians who live out our faith by doing good for the poor, the oppressed, the marginalized and forgotten. Then the words of Margaret Feinberg may come true:
“I hope people would look at us and say:
- Those Christians are the ones who run in when everyone else is running out.
- Those Christians are the ones who didn’t give up on the crumbling inner cities.
- Those Christians are the ones who brought peace to Darfur.
- Those Christians are the ones who put an end to human trafficking.
- Those Christians are the ones who helped win the war on AIDS around the world.
- Those Christians are the ones who write those incredible lyrics, pen those unforgettable books, and create artwork that’s mesmerizing.
- Those Christians are the ones who helped my mother when she got Alzheimer’s.
- Those Christians are the ones who were kind to me when I was new to the area.
- Those Christians are the ones that made me want to believe in God.
Amen! Let it be true! Think about it as you watch and listen to this.
Song and dance: