November 1, 2015
Pastor Joe Wittwer
I Once Was Lost
#3—Tell: I’ve got some good news for you!
Today is part 3 of our series, “I Once Was Lost”. In this four-week series, I’m reminding you of our mission:
We help people find and follow Jesus.
Let me start with a little review.
In week 1, we talked about the why. Why is it so important to help people find and follow Jesus? Or put another way: What is with you Christians, always trying to convert people? Why can’t you just live and let live? We saw that Jesus came to seek and save lost people. Why? Because lost people perish! God loves you too much to let you perish, so Jesus came looking for you, to find you and bring you back to God. And Jesus passed that mission on to us. That’s why we help people find and follow Jesus.
Last week, we talked about how we do it. I told you the story of Life Center trying all kinds of ways that didn’t work, and then stumbling into something that did. We noticed that when we loved our friends and shared with them and brought them to church, often they became Christians. It’s simple friendship. We call it “find, tell, bring.”
- Find someone you love.
- Tell them what you know.
- Bring them to church.
We found that in John 1 where the first thing Andrew did after he met Jesus was to find his brother Peter, tell him what happened, and bring him to Jesus. Last Sunday, we focused on find someone you love, and I encouraged you to simply love people. When we love people, God works! So,
Love people and see what God does.
It all starts with a relationship, a friendship. Most people come to Christ through the influence of a trusted friend or family member. So love people! Be an authentic friend, be a good neighbor. Just love people and see what God does!
Jesus said, “Love your neighbor.” Your neighbor is whoever is near you right now. It includes the clerk at the store, your co-workers and classmates. And whoever that term includes, it certainly includes the people who live next to us—the folks on our block or in our apartment complex or across the field. What would happen if all of us simply got to know our neighbors? When you came in today, you were given a My Neighbor Love List. Would you pull that out now? (Go over it.) We’re going to give you a few minutes to fill this out. Write down these three things about the five neighbors closest to you.
- Personal info—something you might know if you’ve spoken once or twice, not just observation you can make from your driveway. For example, “drives a red car” doesn’t count; “teacher” or “two kids” does.
- In depth info—something you would know from connecting with someone. For example, “heart surgery” or “hates job”.
You can see the example on the front of the card: “Clive Smith, teacher, 2 kids, heart surgery.” Clear? Go!
Ok, how many of you were able to write names in all five boxes?
How many of you were able to write personal info in all five boxes?
How many of you were able to write in-depth info in all five boxes?
How many of you did better this week than last?
We’re going to keep working on this. What would happen if all of us simply got to know our neighbors? Love people and see what God does. God works when we love people.
So we start here: Find someone you love. Then, tell them what you know. Most of us are good with find, with loving people. It’s the tell part that freaks us out. How many of you admit that you’re uncomfortable talking about your faith? It can be awkward. But it can also be very natural! So here’s:
The Big Idea: How do we talk about our faith? Naturally!
How do we talk about our faith? Well, about like we talk about anything else. Naturally. We don’t need to use canned sales pitches for the gospel.
ILL: One time several years ago, a guy came to our house to give a sales pitch. I don’t even remember what the product was, but he had a notebook with glossy pages. At the end of each page was a question with only one right and obvious answer. Each answer led to the next question, which led to the next answer, until the close. I was like a lamb being led to the slaughter. The only problem was I could see the whole time where this was going, and I didn’t want to be slaughtered. I didn’t want the product. I didn’t care how logical it was—I just didn’t want it. So when this guy got to the close and asked if I was ready to buy, I said “no.”
He was incredulous? “What do you mean, no? You said yes to every question leading up to this. How can you say no?”
“Easy. I don’t want your product.”
He tried really hard to show me how stupid I was, and when I finally showed him the door, he acted offended that I could agree with his sales pitch and not buy the product.
Afterwards, I was thinking about it and realized that some of the evangelistic pitches I’d been taught were the same thing. We led a person to a logical conclusion against their will. I vowed to give up pitching the gospel like a salesman and just be a friend.
Here’s some good news for you: you don’t have to convert anyone. Whose job is that? God’s. I’ve never saved anyone! God uses me—and you—as His messengers, His ambassadors. We represent Him. But I can’t save anyone, or convert anyone. That’s God’s job. I just love people and let God work, and then tell them what I know. How do we talk about our faith? Naturally. Let me give you some ideas and examples.
- Start by listening: ask good questions.
The best place to start is not by talking, but by listening. Ask good questions and listen. I like to start by asking people to tell their story, and as they do, I ask more questions so they fill in the blanks. “Tell me your story.” Most people have few people or no one who is interested in their story. I’ve had people tell me, “No one has ever asked me to tell my story.” So when you show interest, you are giving them a great gift. It’s one of the simplest and most practical ways to show love. And it’s fun! Everyone has an interesting story! I love hearing people’s stories! “Tell me your story.”
Our stories are usually not a one-time deal. People can’t tell you everything in one sitting—and you don’t want them to—so they’ll tell you what they’re comfortable saying, or have time for. But as your friendship grows, you’ll hear other parts of their story, and good questions will reveal new layers of the story. You will hear things that are natural prompts to spiritual questions and conversations.
ILL: Recently a new friend was telling me about a terribly difficult thing he went through. He mentioned that he felt abandoned, that he was facing this alone. “Was there anyone who stuck with you through that time?” I asked. He thought for a moment, and said, “Yes, I had one friend who really stuck with me.” I replied, “That’s good—a friend like that is a gift from God.”
“Yes it is,” he replied.
“Did you feel like God was with you through that time?”
This led to a significant conversation about his faith.
I wasn’t trying to artificially steer the conversation to God; I was just trying to understand his story and see where God was at work. God is always at work in people’s lives—we just need to look for it, and partner with Him. God is drawing people to Himself. Look for the places in their story where God might be at work.
“Tell me your story.” That’s where I start. Here’s my other favorite question. “Can I pray for you?” As people tell their stories, you’ll almost always hear some heartache, some pain. My response is almost always to ask, “Can I pray for you?” I’ve never had anyone say no yet! Then I just pray right there. Eyes open, short and sweet, but honest. I’m always surprised by how moved people are. But I shouldn’t be—when we pray, God is present and active. People can feel His presence and love through you.
ILL: A few months ago, Laina and I were talking with a friend who we met at a restaurant. I asked her, “How can I pray for you?” She teared up, and said, “I need a new job.” I prayed right there. “Lord, please give Nicole a new job. You know what she needs even before we ask. Thanks for taking care of her.” I looked up and she was crying. We gave her a hug, and assured her we’d continue to pray for her.
Our next time in, her first words to us were, “I got a new job! It worked!”
“God is good,” we told her.
“Tell me your story.”
“How can I pray for you?”
Both of these questions assume and show a genuine interest in the other person. They go back to our first step: love someone and see what God does! Of course, if you don’t have a genuine interest in the other person, if you really don’t care about them—well, you’ve got another problem. You need to repent and ask God to give you His love for people. In fact, I’m going to pray for you right now. Pray.
First, start by listening: ask good questions.
- Create curiosity: love them until they ask you why.
ILL: Don Everts mentioned to his friend, Matthew that Don and his family were moving into one of poorest and most dangerous neighborhoods in Denver. Matthew was shocked and asked Don why he would move his pregnant wife and one-year old son into this neighborhood.
“Well,” Don said, “I know it sounds crazy, but Jesus said that the poor were blessed…or lucky.”
“Lucky? What are you talking about?”
Don told him about Jesus’ care for the poor, and His command to His followers to do the same. They talked about Mother Teresa as an example. This was all news to Matthew. Don encouraged him to read the New Testament. Matthew did, and some time later became a Christian.
But it started with a friendship…and then some curiosity.
In their book, I Once Was Lost, Don Everts and Doug Schaupp tell the results of their research among 2000 young adults who became Christians. They discovered five thresholds on the journey to faith:
- Trusting a Christian.
- Becoming curious.
- Opening up to change.
- Seeking after God.
- Entering the Kingdom.
It starts with friendship—trusting a Christian. And then you grow curious.
How do we create curiosity? First, by living curiously. This is what Don did, and why Matthew asked his questions. “Why would you do that?” When you love people deeply and sacrificially, often they’ll simply ask, “Why do you love me? Why are you so kind to me? So good to me?” And the answer is Jesus. We love because He first loved us. We are simply passing on what God has given to us! Love people until they ask you why. Live curiously.
To live curiously means that we live by different values. We march to a different drummer. I’ve had people tell me, “You’re different. What’s different about you?” That’s curiosity. And it’s so much easier and better to answer someone’s curious questions than to try to force your faith on an uninterested person.
I think this is part of what Jesus meant when he said that we’re the salt of the earth. When we live with a salty difference, we make people thirsty, we make them curious. Are you living curiously? Does your life make anyone around you curious—what makes you tick?
Another way to create curiosity or intrigue is to ask questions. Good questions push people to think and to become curious.
ILL: A guy named Tom Hughes counted all the questions in the gospels. Jesus is asked 183 questions. He only answered 3 of them directly—but he asked 307 questions back! Why? I believe that Jesus wanted people to think. Rather than just giving answers, Jesus asked questions to help people discover the answers. For example, when a man asked Jesus what to do to inherit eternal life, Jesus answered, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” Jesus could have given the answer, but he challenged the man to think.
We can do the same thing. When you friend says, “Man, the world’s a mess!” instead of giving a sermon on sin, ask them, “Why do you think that is?” or, “What do you think we can do to change it?” We usually want to go straight to the answers—preach a sermon—but Jesus usually went to the questions first, and stirred people’s curiosity.
ILL: Ros Rinker was sitting in a dining car on a train when the porter seated a woman across from her. After a casual greeting, the woman picked up a card on the table that gave Protestant, Catholic and Hebrew prayers over meals.
“Hmm. They all look the same to me,” she said.
“Yes, they are all the same,” Ros said, “except for one thing.”
The woman looked at Ros, and then back at the card. “What do you mean? I don’t see anything different about them.”
Ros said, “The name of Jesus is in one of them.” Ros continued eating.
The woman looked at the card again. “How did you notice?”
Ros said, “Because that name is very important to me.” Ros continued eating again.
After a few minutes, the woman asked, “What do you mean? Why is it important?” And what followed was a long talk. The woman told her story and asked many questions about Jesus. And before she left, she told Ros, “You know, it was your reticence to talk that prompted me to question you. I knew that you knew something, and I wanted to know it too!”
Sometimes a good question is better than an answer! Create curiosity by asking questions and living curiously.
“But,” you say, “this is tell—tell what you know. Do we ever tell people about Jesus?” Yep. Start by listening. Create curiosity. And then…
- Share your story: tell what has happened to you.
Think back to our find tell bring story in John 1.
- What did Andrew tell Peter? What had just happened to him: he meant the Messiah!
- What did Philip tell Nathaniel? What had just happened to him: he meant the Messiah!
- What did the woman at the well tell her neighbors? What had just happened to her: she meant the Messiah!
Do you see a pattern?
When something big or good or important happens to you, what do you do? You tell people. It’s hard not to.
ILL: Thursday, we took Laina’s car into the shop. We know the owner from years of doing business there. So he asked Laina, “What’s going on?” Well, what’s the big news in Laina’s life lately? Her dad, Pastor Noel, passed away on September 5. It’s the big news in both our lives. We’re still adjusting to a new normal, life without Noel in our home. So we told Jeremy, and told a couple Noel stories. And was God part of this conversation? Naturally!
This is natural—it’s normal. It’s what we all do.
Guess what? The biggest thing that has ever happened to me is finding Jesus and following Him. My relationship with Jesus is the most important thing in my daily life, so He comes up in my story, in my conversation naturally.
When you ask other people to tell their story, they will often ask to hear yours, and if Jesus is a big part of your story—well, that’s just part of the story. That’s natural. People can argue theology with you, but they can’t argue with your story. So tell your story. How did you meet Jesus? What difference has it made in your life?
I encourage everyone to have a 3-minute version of your story. Short and simple.
ILL: The first time I was ever asked to tell my story (we called it “giving your testimony”) was when I was in the 8th grade and was a brand new Christian. My youth pastor asked me to give my testimony to the other junior high students at a bonfire on the beach on a retreat. I talked for an hour! I told them every agonizing and irrelevant detail of my entire 13 year-long life! It was torture! It was awful! It was stupid! But I didn’t know any better. I’d never heard a testimony, so I thought it must be my whole life story. Afterward, my youth pastor took me aside and gently suggested that I only needed to tell how I’d come to Jesus and the difference He had made in my life—maybe 5-10 minutes. Oh.
Now you know. Create a 3-minute version of your story. Short and simple. Leave them curious, wanting more—not exhausted and dreading more.
Here’s my short story: I was 13 and in the 8th grade. One day, my friend Don Lang knocked on my door on a Saturday morning. He invited me to a youth rally that night at his church. I didn’t want to go. I didn’t believe in God, and the last thing I wanted to do on Saturday night was sit in church! But Don was my friend and I didn’t want to disappoint him so I said yes. I went that night and was ambushed by Jesus! The speaker talked about Jesus like He was alive, like He was a real person that he talked with during the day. And he was funny! I remember laughing the first time, and slapping my hand over my mouth and thinking, “Can you do this in church?” I’d never seen anyone laugh in church. Afterwards, I walked home alone, and I made my decision: “Ok, God, I don’t know anything about you. I don’t even know if You’re there. All I know is, what that guy has, I want.” No lights flashed, no voices from heaven. But I got up the next morning, and walked back to that church. And my life started changing—so much that my friends at school the next week said, “You’re different! What happened to you?” And I said, “I’m religious now.” It makes me gag to say that—because I’m not religious, I am a follower of Jesus, and there’s a difference. But I didn’t have vocabulary yet to describe the change. My entire life changed, and everything good in my life today—my marriage, family, friends, career, health, everything—I can trace back to Jesus. I owe Him everything!
That’s my short story. Here’s the question I have to ask you: do you know Jesus? Has He changed your life? If He has, tell your story. It’s not hard; it’s natural. And if He hasn’t—we’re going to give you a chance in a few moments to do what I did: simply say yes to Jesus and see what He’ll do with your life.
Start by listening. Create curiosity. Share your story. And finally:
- Keep it simple: share the Jesus story.
When you read in the book of Acts about the first Christians spreading the gospel, they kept it very simple. They just told the Jesus story. Here’s what Paul wrote:
1 Corinthians 2:1–2 (The Message) You’ll remember, friends, that when I first came to you to let you in on God’s master stroke, I didn’t try to impress you with polished speeches and the latest philosophy. 2 I deliberately kept it plain and simple: first Jesus and who he is; then Jesus and what he did—Jesus crucified.
I kept it plain and simple: Jesus—who He is and what He did. When I’m sharing my faith with people, I always tell them that it’s all about Jesus. And then I tell some Jesus stories. I try to tell a story that might be meaningful or important for them. I use these stories to create curiosity, and then encourage them to read the gospels. “Read the four gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. They all tell the same story, but from a different perspective. You’ll get acquainted with Jesus, and He is the center of our faith.”
Often people bring up secondary issues—it may be things that are bothering them. I try to address those simply and honestly, and if I don’t have an answer, I admit it and promise to get back to them. But then, I always come back to Jesus. Jesus is the issue. Who is He? What did He do?
ILL: I’m going to finish with a story that’s an example of the power of the story of Jesus—in its simplest form.
Barry McGuire was a rock star in the late 60’s—he had a #1 song, “The Eve of Destruction.” He was rich, famous, and lost. One day, Barry was walking along Sunset Boulevard and a guy asked him, “Are you ready for Jesus?” Barry smirked and said, “I’m not ready for you,” and walked on. But he couldn’t get the name of Jesus out of his head. He started noticing it everywhere. The gas jockey slammed the hood on his thumb and cried, “Jesus Christ!” Barry noticed and wondered, “Why Jesus? Why not, ‘O Buddha’ or ‘Hare Krishna’?”
Barry went over to a friend’s to smoke some dope. While his buddy got the stash, Barry saw a book on his coffee table. Good News for Modern Man. He thought, “I’m a modern man,” and opened the book and started reading. His friend came in and said, “Barry, I didn’t know you liked to read the Bible.” Barry dropped the book, and said, “The Christians are disguising the Bible now!” Barry took it home with him and started reading.
He couldn’t get Jesus out of his mind. He was at a party and was so miserable that while everyone else was getting loaded, he was curled up in fetal position under the dining room table. A friend saw him there, and said, “Barry, what’s wrong?” Barry said, “You are, man; and I am; we all are.” “Dude,” the guy said, and walked off. Lying there under the table, Barry cried out to God. “If You’re there, show me.” And he said that every cell in his body felt the presence of God.
You know what I love about that story? It started with a simple question, “Are you ready for Jesus?” There is power in the name of Jesus. There is power in the simple story of Jesus. Keep it simple—share the Jesus story.
Challenge for the week: Keep meeting your neighbors. Love people and see what God does! Be open to spiritual conversations—naturally.