We’re ok with loving people, with being friends, but we get nervous about the telling part, talking about Jesus, for lots of reasons. But as we’ll talk about, having a gospel conversation is as simple and natural as talking about anything else that you care about.
November 9-10, 2019
Pastor Joe Wittwer
You can do this!
Tell what you know
ILL: I recently had a meeting with a friend that I love. I was concerned because the meeting had the potential of going sideways, and I didn’t want that. So I prayed, and the Lord gave me very specific direction: what to do and not do. I did exactly that, and the meeting went really well. Afterwards, I thanked the Lord, and thought, “I would have handled that very differently on my own. The Lord had mercy on me.”
I’ll bet you have a story of God being at work in your life this week. We’re going to talk about that today. First, let’s worship the Lord with singing. God is worthy of our love—so let’s sing with gusto!
Introduction and offering:
This is Veteran’s Day weekend, when we celebrate all those who have served our country in our military. Would all the vets, and all of you who are serving now our military please stand and let us thank you.
ILL: When I was doing youth ministry in Eugene, we did a spring break youth conference one year. We brought it a great speaker and a nationally known band. The Third Avenue Blues Band was a big deal, and most of the players had recently met Jesus. Every morning, students met for prayer and teaching; every evening, we did a service at a local high school. And in between, we hit the streets, accosting strangers and passing out Jesus tracts and invitations to the evening meeting.
One afternoon, I was on a street corner with no one to talk to. So I flagged down a passing car. They pulled over, no doubt concerned for me. It was a sweet older couple, and she rolled down her window and asked if I was ok. I said, “Do you know Jesus? He loves you!” That was as far as I got before her husband said, “He’s a kook,” gunned it and off they went. Not one of my finest moments!
We’re not asking you to do that! But we are talking about how to help people find and follow Jesus. That’s our mission, and there are better ways—more natural and simple ways—to do that than accosting strangers on the street! My motivation was good—I wanted people to know Jesus! But my methods were not just suspect; they were probably harmful.
In this short series, You can do this! We are talking about some simple and natural ways to do the mission Jesus gave us. You can do this! In fact, you already do it in some ways and don’t even recognize it. Let’s start with:
1. A quick review:
What is our mission at Life Center? Our mission is to help people find and follow Jesus. Where did we get that? From Jesus. After His resurrection, just before He ascended to the Father, Jesus gathered his troops and gave them their marching orders.
Matthew 28:18-20 (p. 857)
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 called “The Great Commission.” In these final words to His followers, Jesus gives them and us our mission: to make disciples of all nations. To help everyone everywhere follow Jesus and do what He says.
How do we do that? Last weekend I told you our story of trying all kinds of things to help people find Jesus and finally landing on one very simple way that worked. And not surprisingly, it’s in the Bible. It’s how the first disciples did it—naturally.
John 1:40–42 (p. 912)
40 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.
What was the first thing Andrew did? The first thing he did was find his brother, Simon. Then tell him, “We have found the Messiah.” And bring him to meet Jesus. Find, tell, bring.
The same thing happens in the next few verses. The first thing Philip does after meeting Jesus is he finds his friend Nathaniel. He tells Nathaniel, “We have found the one Moses wrote about, Jesus of Nazareth.” Nathaniel says, “Nazareth? Can anything could come out of Nazareth?” And Philip says, “Come and see.” And he brings him to Jesus.
The same thing happens in John 4, where Jesus has a conversation with a Samaritan woman at a well. She went back to her village, and the first thing she did is find her neighbors, and tell them, “Come see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Messiah?” And she brings them to meet Jesus at the well.
They each naturally do the same thing. Find, tell, bring.
Find someone you love.
Tell them what you know.
Bring them with you.
This is so simple and natural. When something really cool happens to you, what do you do? You find someone you love and you tell them. “Guess what!” You tell them, and then say, “Come with me and check this out! It’s natural. No one has to tell you to do it—you just naturally do it. When you meet Jesus and He changes you, this is what happens! You naturally find, tell, bring.
So last weekend I shared some simple ideas about find someone you love. It’s all about relationships. Love people until they ask you why. Then tell them what you know. That’s what I want to talk about today—simple and natural ways to have a gospel conversation.
2. Tell what you know.
Ok, let’s be honest. This is the part of Find, Tell, Bring that is hardest for most people. We’re ok with loving people, with being friends, but we get nervous about the telling part, talking about Jesus, for lots of reasons.
- We fear rejection. Maybe that person will want nothing to do with us.
- We fear offending someone and driving them away from God—making it worse!
- We have negative images of “witnessing” and don’t want to do that.
- Buttonholing unsuspecting people.
- Going door to door, or accosting people on the street.
- Handing out tracts.
- Shouting through a bullhorn.
- We have been taught that religion is private and shouldn’t be talked about. When I was in high school, I was getting a haircut and asked my barber if he believed in God. He cut me off and said, “There are two things we don’t talk about in here: religion and politics.” Maybe you don’t think we should talk about it.
- Biggest one: We don’t know what to say or how to say it. We feel awkward and unsure. And what do we do to make up for this? We do what I did: teach a 12-week course on personal evangelism and give everyone a 1 inch notebook full of what to say. I thought I was equipping our church, but I was paralyzing them by making it too complex, too difficult.
Also, let me take the pressure off you right away. You don’t have to save anyone. That’s not your job. Whose job is it? That’s God’s job.
On Friday, I was reading 1 Corinthians 1-3 in our Bible reading plan. I was struck by these verses:
1 Corinthians 1:29-30 so that no man may boast before God. 30 But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus…
Whose doing was it that they were in Christ? It was God’s doing. God saves people—I don’t.
1 Corinthians 3:6-7 I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth. 7 So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth. 9 For we are God’s fellow workers…
Who causes the growth? God does. We are God’s fellow workers. We may plant the seed and water it, but only God can make it grow. I can’t save anyone, change anyone, heal anyone—only God can do that. That’s God’s work. I am God’s fellow-worker and want to do my part the best I can, but it is God who gives the growth. In the end, if someone becomes a Christian, it is not because of me, but “by His doing that they are in Christ Jesus.”
My pastor used to tell me, “You do the possible and God will do the impossible.” I can do the possible, and then I pray that God will use it and do what only God can do.
(I wrote about this in my journal and posted it in my blog which is on our website and app; you can subscribe and have it delivered to your device).
The pressure is off: You can’t save anyone—only God can. Love people, point them to Jesus, and let Him do the rest. I never feel like I have to force anything on anyone, that I have to convince anyone or “get them saved.” That’s God’s job. Turn to you neighbor and say, “I can’t save you. But Jesus can.”
So how do we have a gospel conversation? How do we share the good news of Jesus? It’s simple and natural.
A. Ask “tell me your story.”
Before I tell, I like to ask. And everyone’s favorite subject is themselves. Ask, “Tell me your story.” And then listen for where God is at work in that person’s life.
John 5:17 Jesus said to them, “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I too am working.”
God is always working and He is always working in each person’s life. When you move toward others, you are not bringing Jesus to them. He is already there, working in their lives. I want to listen for where God is at work so I can join Him.
Josh Schiel shared this with me: “Evangelism is us stepping into the conversation that God is already having with someone else.”
God is already at work in that person, having a conversation with them. Ask, “Tell me your story,” and listen for where God is at work. Often, that will be a point of pain, or conflict or confusion.
ILL: Last year, when I was on the Civil Rights Pilgrimage, I made lots of new friends. One of them was a very smart young African American woman who was a powerful lobbyist in Washington DC for Ford Motor Company. During one conversation I asked her, “Tell me your story.” Her story included this: She was raised in a Christian family in Detroit, and had lots of questions, but when she asked them, she wasn’t given answers, only told, “Just believe.” By the time she got to college, she had abandoned her faith as intellectually indefensible.
Where was God working? In her questions, in her intellectual struggle. I asked, “Can I tell you a story?” She said, “Sure.” And I told her that Jesus was once asked what was the most important or greatest of all the commands. He said, “Love God with all you’ve got: with all your heart and soul and mind and strength.” God wants us to love Him with all our mind. He doesn’t want us to turn off our brains and just believe. God welcomes your questions and there are answers if you’re willing to keep looking. Seek and you will find. She said, “I’ve never heard that before. Thank you.”
Then she dropped on her knees on the sidewalk and became a Christian. I wish. Whose job is that? God’s. I planted, someone else will water, and God will do the rest.
Ask, “Tell me your story,” and listen for where God is at work. There’s another great question you can ask:
Ask to pray for them. Sometimes I ask, “How can I pray for you?” Other times, after listening to their story, I see where God is working and know what to pray and I simply ask, “Can I pray for you?” I have never had someone say no. I usually pray right there, eyes open, short and sweet. I can’t tell you how many times people start to cry when you start to pray.
ILL: A few years ago, Laina and I were at lunch on our date, and we asked our server, a friend of ours, “How can we pray for you?” She leaned in and whispered, “I need a new job.” I said, “Ok. Lord, please provide a new job for Nicole. Give her something that she’d love doing!” I looked up and she was crying.
A week later, when we walked in, Nicole rushed up to us and said, “Guess what! I got a new job and it’s one I’ll love!” God is good! All the time!
That made it really easy to invite her to church!
First, ask. Then tell. Can you guess what you tell?
B. Tell your story.
Psalm 107:2 Let the redeemed of the Lord tell their story—
Often, when you ask someone to tell their story, they’ll ask you to tell yours. And if you’re a follower of Jesus, He is right in the center of your story. Your story is a gospel conversation.
John 9 tells the story of a man born blind whom Jesus healed. When the man was quizzed by the authorities (they were essentially asking, “Tell us your story”) the man told them how Jesus had healed him. When they asked for a theological explanation, the man answered, “I don’t know about that. One thing I do know: I was blind, but now I see.” Tell what you know. He didn’t know the answer to their theological question. What did he know? His story: I was blind, Jesus touched me, now I see. Jesus was in the center of his story.
And if Jesus is in the center of your story, then your story is a gospel conversation. Tell your story.
In Acts 22, Paul asks to speak to an angry crowd that wants to kill him. What does he say? He tells his story. In Acts 24 Paul is on trial before governor Felix, and in Acts 26 he is on trial before King Agrippa. What does he do both times? He tells his story. The gospel was embedded in his story. His story, like the blind man, was about how Jesus had changed him. “I once was a violent persecutor, then Jesus found me, and now I serve the one I once opposed! I’m a new person.”
If Jesus is in the center of your story, then your story is a gospel conversation. Tell your story.
My favorite example is Mark 5:1-20 (p. 862). It is the story of the Gadarene demoniac, a madman overcome by demons who lived naked in the local cemetery and terrorized the neighborhood. Jesus showed up, cast out the demons into a herd of pigs who did a swine dive into the lake. This oppressed man was freed and healed; the townspeople found him with Jesus “dressed and in his right mind.” (v. 15). That’s my goal every day: to be dressed and in my right mind! The local townspeople were afraid—afraid of this kind of power that could transform a hopeless case; afraid of this kind of power that could result in their whole herd of pigs taking a swine dive. This was a huge financial hit—they were afraid of what else they might lose if Jesus stuck around. So they asked him to leave. And here’s what happened next.
As Jesus was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon-possessed begged to go with him. 19 Jesus did not let him, but said, “Go home to your own people and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” 20 So the man went away and began to tell in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him. And all the people were amazed.
He wanted to go with Jesus. Understandable! But Jesus sent him home “to your own people”—to his family and friends and neighbors—to tell his story. “Tell how much the Lord has done for you and how he has had mercy on you.” Don’t know what to tell people? How about this? Tell your story. Tell how much the Lord has done for you. Tell how He has had mercy on you, how He has helped you, changed you.
ILL: I was a crazy petty thief, then Jesus found me and now I’m a crazy pastor!
Let me tell you some of the ways the Lord has had mercy on me.
Jesus has given me a great marriage! Because of Jesus, Laina and I have 44 years together, and it keeps getting sweeter. Without Jesus, I would have screwed this thing up royally.
Jesus has given us a great family: five kids, 9 grandkids and #10 on the way. And they are great kids—healthy amazing young men and women. They can tell you my faults. We all know it is the Lord’s mercy—God’s work in our family—that they all turned out so well.
One of our children, Jeff, had Asperger’s Syndrome—high functioning autism—that made him a handful. The Lord had mercy on us and gave us great help in raising him. And when Jeff died unexpectedly just before his 23rd birthday, it was the Lord’s mercy that helped us through. Friday would have been 36th birthday. I know I’ll see him again—I have this hope because of Jesus. God is at work everywhere—even in our brokenness.
I can keep going…but you get the picture. In every area of my life—relationships, work, character, family, finances, health…everything—God has been at work. My story is the story of God’s mercy, top to bottom.
I want you to think of one way the Lord has shown mercy to you. It could be something from today, or this week or this month or long ago. Then tell your neighbor.
Tell what you know. Don’t worry about all that you don’t know. Tell what you know. And you know your story. Tell your story. And here’s a cool thing: people can argue theological questions, but they can’t argue with your story. It’s your story. Tell what you know; tell your story.
C. Answer questions.
Often, when we’re talking about faith, about Jesus, people have questions or comments or objections. The Bible says that we’re to be prepared to answer those.
1 Peter 3:15–16 (p. 1049)
15 But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, 16 keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.
Always be prepared to answer someone who asks you to give a reason for the hope you have. Be prepared to answer questions. This freaks us out! “What if they ask a question I can’t answer?” That happened to the blind man in John 9. What did he say? “I don’t know that, but I do know this: I was blind, but now I see.”
What if I ask you a question like, “Which player had the highest batting average in the World Series this season?” Do you know the answer? So what do you say? “I don’t know, but I can find out.” (BTW: I looked it up. Yordan Alvarez of the Astros batted .412. You’re welcome!). Same thing in a gospel conversation. Never be afraid of questions. If you know the answer, tell what you know. If you don’t know, just say, “I don’t know, but I can find out.”
I used to try to train people by giving them all the answers to all the questions I could think of. It was overwhelming. It didn’t equip them; it paralyzed them. I discovered it was better to simply tell what you know. And if you don’t know, say: “I don’t know, but I can find out.” People actually learn more when they have to go ask or look it up and then come back with the answer. It’s on the job training!
Love someone until they ask you why—then tell them what you know.
D. Make it about Jesus.
When I’m having a gospel conversation with someone, I want to make it about Jesus. Not about me. Not about some other issue. Make it about Jesus.
When I tell my story, it’s really a Jesus story—it’s about how Jesus has radically changed my life. I want to make it about Jesus, not me.
And when someone brings up an issue or question or objection, I want to answer it honestly—tell what I know—or admit I don’t know and will get back them. But I want to bring the conversation back to Jesus. Here’s the deal: No one is going to heaven because they are gay or straight—it’s about Jesus. No one is going to heaven because they are Republican or Democrat—it’s about Jesus. Jesus is the issue—we’re helping people find and follow Jesus. We make it about Jesus.
Acts 1:8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.
“When the Holy Spirit comes on you…you will be my witnesses.” Notice two things.
First, the Holy Spirit will empower you to be Jesus’ witness. The Spirit empowers us and helps us. And I love this: the Spirit empowers us to be, not just do. To be a witness means that you—your whole life, who you are—is a witness to Jesus. Be filled with the Spirit—and then just be you. Be the new person Jesus made you to be and you’ll be a witness to Him.
Second, what does a witness do? A witness in court tells what they know. They tell what they saw or heard or experienced. That’s all—tell what you know. About what? Tell what you know about Jesus. It’s that simple.
3. My next step: ___________________________________________________.
Write down your next step. Maybe it is:
- Take a friend to coffee and ask, “Tell me your story,” or “How can I pray for you?”
- Tell your story to someone you love.
- Identify something God has done in your life recently and share it with someone.