Sunday, August 9, 2015
Pastor Joe Wittwer
Introduction and offering:
Let’s start with a story.
ILL: Mark Mittelberg is the author of Becoming a Contagious Christian. Mark had invited friends to go to a special event at his church, but they had cancelled at the last minute. So now he had two extra tickets and no one to bring. As he pulled into his driveway that evening, he saw the young couple next door walking on the sidewalk. He barely knew them, but thought, “Why not?”
“Hey Scott,” he called out. “I was wondering if you two are busy tonight. I’ve got some extra tickets to a concert at our church. Would you like to go with us?”
Scott glanced shyly at his girlfriend and then awkwardly looked at the ground, and finally said, “Uh…thanks anyway, but I don’t think we’ll go this time. But…well, if you’d ever like to get together in the backyard for a barbecue, let us know.”
As they walked away, Mark thought, “What was I thinking? Of course…you’ve got to barbecue first!”
That’s where I got the title for this talk. If you want to help people find and follow Jesus, you’ve got to barbecue first. First, be friends.
For the next season in our church, we are going all in to help people find and follow Jesus. We are rethinking how we do our services, we are planning special events, we are going to inspire and equip you, and all our ministries are aligning to this goal. We help people find and follow Jesus. This is our mission and we’re going to turn up the heat!
The Big Idea: Our mission is to help people find and follow Jesus. The first step is to build an authentic friendship. Barbecue first!
Before I dive in, I have to answer the why question.
ILL: My 2 year old granddaughter Ruby is in the “Why” stage. After everything you say, she asks, “Why?”
“What is that, Papa?” It’s my reading glasses. “Why?”
“What are you doing, Papa?” Pushups. “Why?”
“Where are you going, Papa?” Crazy! “Why?”
I know that when I say, “Let’s help people find and follow Jesus,” many of you are thinking, “Why?”
- Why bother?
Why should I help others find and follow Jesus? What’s the big deal? Why are you preachers always pushing us to tell others about Jesus? It’s so uncomfortable! Why not live and let live?
I’m going to answer the why question with two things Jesus said. First, here are Jesus’ last words to His followers.
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.”
This is often called “The Great Commission”. Jesus gave the church its marching orders: we are to make disciples. We do it wherever we go, and by baptizing them and teaching them to obey everything Jesus said. Wherever you go, make disciples. Help people find and follow Jesus: in your neighborhood, at home, at school, at work, wherever you go.
That’s our mission—it’s what Jesus said to do. Plain and simple. Are you a follower of Jesus? Then make disciples. Help others find and follow Jesus. Why? Because He commands it. It’s our mission.
But why? Why did Jesus command it? Why did He make this the big deal? Here are Jesus’ most famous words.
John 3:16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
God gave His one and only Son. Why? Because He loves us, and wants us to have eternal life. Everyone loves this verse. It tells about God’s love. That’s what we focus on: for God so loved. But notice what’s at stake. God gave His Son so that we would not perish but have eternal life. Here are two potential outcomes: perish or eternal life. Without Jesus, we perish, we die. With Jesus, we have eternal life. It’s life or death.—and it’s eternal life or death.
This is what’s at stake.
Without Jesus, we perish. We die. There is a debate about whether hell is eternal punishment and torment, or whether it is eternal death—extinction, you cease to exist. I’d rather not find out personally. Neither option is good.
ILL: I just finished reading In the Presence of My Enemies, by Gracia Burnham. Gracia and her husband Martin were missionaries in the Philippines when they were kidnapped and held for ransom for over a year by a radical Muslim group. During that year they were terribly mistreated, and Martin died in the rescue operation. But when Gracia learned later that several of her captors had died in a shootout, she wept. Why? Because these men had died without Jesus. They perished.
Without Jesus, we perish.
With Jesus we have eternal life. Eternal life is not only life forever with God, but life right now with God.
John 17:3 Now this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.
Eternal life begins right now, the moment you say yes to Jesus. And this eternal life is life to the full, abundant life, more life than you can imagine. Jesus said:
John 10:10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.
So it is not just a person’s eternity that is at stake; it’s their life right now. This life is transformed by Jesus into a life so rich and full that it can only be described as abundant life. Life to the full. I don’t want you to perish. I don’t want you to miss out on heaven. And I don’t want you to miss out on life to the full right now. No matter how good your life is, Jesus will make it better, richer, fuller.
So why bother helping people find and follow Jesus?
First, because He commands it—it’s our mission.
Second, because of what’s at stake. Without Jesus, people perish. With Jesus, people experience eternal life!
That’s why. How do we do it?
- How do we do it? It starts with friendship.
People follow Jesus because of friends or family members. All the evidence points to this conclusion.
- Church history shows that the gospel travels along relational lines. It spread from person to person through relational networks.
- Studies have been done and they all indicate that more than 90% of those who follow Jesus do it because of the influence of a trusted friend or family member.
- Our own experience confirms this. We have tried many different things to help people find and follow Jesus, but the one that works consistently is friendship evangelism: friends sharing with friends.
- Even the Bible confirms this…imagine that!
John 1:40–42 Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, was one of the two who heard what John had said and who had followed Jesus. 41 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.
The first thing Andrew did was find his brother. Who did he find? His brother. And he told him about Jesus and brought him to meet Jesus.
Later in John 1, Philip does the same thing with his friend, Nathaniel. Who did he find? His friend. He found him, told him about Jesus and brought him to meet Jesus.
In John 4, Jesus had a conversation with a woman by a well in Samaria. She ran back to her village and found her neighbors. Who did she find? Her neighbors. She told them about Jesus and brought them out to meet Him.
Brother, friend, neighbor—they each found someone they knew, someone they loved, and told them what had happened, and brought them to meet Jesus. We call it: Find, Tell, Bring.
Find someone you love. It could be a family member, a friend, a neighbor, a co-worker. But it’s someone you know, someone you love, someone who trusts you.
ILL: About three months after I met Jesus, our church held a 3-day revival, with Bud Grogan preaching and the Good Twins singing. I was so revved about Jesus—He had changed my life—that I found my buddies at school and drug them to these meetings. Some of them became Christians. Why did they say yes and come with me? We were friends. They trusted me.
By the way, when you’ve had a life-changing encounter with Jesus, it’s not hard to tell others. It’s hard not to! You’re excited about what He’s doing in your life and you want to share it. That’s what I want for you! I want you to have that life-changing relationship with Jesus that makes you contagious!
So you meet Jesus and then you find someone you love, and you…
Tell them what you know. Tell them what Jesus has done in your life. Tell them about God’s love and forgiveness. Tell them the difference between religion and the gospel—it’s not DO, but DONE; it’s not what we do for God, but what He’s done for us. Jesus has done for us what we could never do for ourselves. Tell them that God has an abundant life with their name on it. Tell them what you know, and then…
Bring them to church. Invite them to come with you and let them experience Christian community. It could be to a weekend service, or to a Life Group. People who find Jesus in the context of Christian community tend to get connected and stay and grow. We are here to partner with you as you help your friends and family find and follow Jesus.
I’ll talk about all this more in depth in a few weeks in a series called, “I Once Was Lost”.
Let’s go back to that first step: find people you love. But what if everyone you are close to is already a Christian? Many of us who have been Christians for longer than 2 years have very few significant relationships with pre-Christian people. Our social circle has changed: our old social circle has either been converted or left, and our new social circle is Christian. That means that we have to be intentional about building new friendships, creating new social circles of influence. We need to build authentic friendships with pre-Christian people. I want to emphasize the word “authentic”. People can sniff a fake a mile away. If they think that you have an agenda, or if you treat them like a project, it’s over before you start.
ILL: I have a couple friends who only call me when they want something. They always have an agenda. One is out of town and only calls when he’s driving through and needs a place to stay. Another is in town and only calls if he needs a favor. They don’t call because they like me or want to hang out with me. It’s only because they want something from me.
Don’t be that kind of friend. “But,” you say, “I do have an agenda. I want them to know Jesus.” Good. Just remember that people receive Jesus from those they trust. So first, be a trustworthy friend, an authentic friend. Be interested in them as a person, not a project. Be a trustworthy friend, and be committed to love them no matter what, whether they come to Jesus or not.
How do you build these authentic friendships? Well, you barbecue first. Do something fun together. And once again, Jesus is our model.
- How did Jesus do it? He barbecued first!
Luke 19 tells the story of Jesus and Zacchaeus. Jesus was passing through Jericho, on His way to Jerusalem, where He would give His life for us. He saw Zacchaeus up in a tree—Zac was short and had climbed the tree to see Jesus. Jesus said, “Zacchaeus, quick, come down! I must be a guest in your home today.” Jesus invited Himself to dinner! He barbecued first! Now normally, I recommend that you invite your friends to your house for the barbecue. Don’t invite yourself to their house…at least, not at first.
Everyone in town began to grumble, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.” Zac was a chief tax collector, a job which made him a traitor, a cheat, and filthy rich—a combination that made him the most hated man in town. Jesus chose the worst sinner in town and invited himself to a barbecue! Everyone was scandalized.
Everyone except Zacchaeus. He welcomed Jesus and because of this time together over a shared meal, he was saved. He repented, promised to repay anyone he had cheated, and be generous with the poor. Jesus said, “Today, salvation has come to this house!” Or translated: “This dude is saved!”
Usually, people don’t get saved at the first barbecue…usually. But sometimes, love works fast!
ILL: Last week after camp, I was talking with Noah Wimberly, a junior high pastor from Olympia. Noah’s folks have been on staff at the church there for over 20 years, but just resigned to go to Cambodia as missionaries. They raised 5 sons (that’s Tim, Noah’s dad, in the middle), and the youngest just graduated from high school. At a time when most couples would be kicking back and living the good life, they’re selling everything and moving to one of the hardest places in the world… for Jesus. I have mad respect for them!
They’re selling everything. A guy came to buy their couch—saw the ad on Craigslist. Tim showed him the couch and then asked a few questions. It turns out the guy is a vet; Tim asked about his service in Afghanistan, and for the next hour and a half, Tim listened and asked questions as the guy poured out his story. Tim was a friend. When they were finished, the guy handed Tim $300 for the couch. Tim gave it back, gave him the couch and thanked him for his service.
Later, Tim got an email from this guy. It said, “You are the first person who has ever asked about my story and listened to me. I want to know more about the God you know.”
Sometimes love works fast. But sometimes it takes lots of barbecues.
ILL: Kurt Bubna and I had lunch during the Summit on Friday and he told me that he’s been barbecuing with his neighbors for the last year. No agenda: just be a friend. Several have visited Kurt’s church, Eastpoint. No one has made a decision to follow Jesus yet, but Kurt has earned their trust, and their friendships are growing and he’s having a blast.
Kurt is encouraging his church to form Neighboring Groups. Just invite your neighbors over, barbecue first and build friendships—no agenda—and see what God does.
Sometimes it’s fast, sometimes it’s slow…but you have to barbecue first. Be an authentic friend.
The other Scriptures are about when Jesus called Matthew (also known as Levi, maker of cool jeans). What’s the first thing Matthew did when he met Jesus? He threw a big party and invited all his friends. He barbecued first! Matthew, like Zacchaeus, was a tax collector. Who do you suppose were a tax collector’s friends? Other tax collectors…and assorted notorious sinners! Matthew knew that if he wanted his friends to follow Jesus, he needed to barbecue first. So he threw a party and invited Jesus to the party. We’re not told if many or any of them started following Jesus. But Matthew started at the right place: barbecue first. Throw a party. Get together and have fun. There are so many ways to do it.
- Have a game night.
- Eat together.
- Watch sports or a movie.
- Eat together.
- Share a hobby: golf, photography, scrapbooking, motorcycles, gardens.
- Eat together.
- Help them with a home project, or ask them to help you.
- Eat together.
Have fun! Be friends.
This is where it starts. And today we’re going to practice having fun together. We’re going to barbecue first! We’ve got good grub on the grill; lots of meat and there are vegetarian options; drinks and dessert. We’ve got inflatables for the kids, games, music…it’s going to be a blast. So don’t hurry off—go have some fun and make some new friends.
Then…sometime this month, inspired by this talk and our barbecue, I hope you’ll invite a neighbor over for a barbecue or dinner or dessert. It could be someone from your block, or your work, or even your family. Build an authentic friendship with them. Barbecue first…and then see what God does. It starts with friendship.