October 12, 2014

Get To Work

Have you ever needed a push to get going on something you knew you needed to do?  I was watching the TLC show 19 Kids and Counting with Lisa the other night (I’ll admit, I enjoy it…even though it comes on at the same time as SHIELD) and saw a perfect picture of this.  Half of the episode was dedicated to one of the two-engaged daughters picking out her wedding dress.  That wasn’t so exciting.  But, to throw a bone to the husbands who watch the show with their wives, the other half of the episode featured some of the guys, including both sons-in-law-to-be, rock climbing and cliff jumping in the Ozarks.  Apparently several members of the Duggar family are afraid of heights so the climb was taxing enough in and of itself.  But the final part was to jump what looked to be about 60 feet off a platform that had been built into the side of a sheer rock face and on to the trail below.  Each of the future sons-in-law walked right up to the edge and jumped off without much of a thought.  But then, Jim Bob, the dad, had his turn.  He stood up there for several minutes repeating over and over that he didn’t think he could do it.  The guides were really good and patient with him, but the simple fact was that there wasn’t another way down.  It was jump or stay.  Eventually he threw himself over the side after a good bit of encouragement from the rest of the crew there, but for a while it looked like the guide at the top was going to have to give him a good push to move things along.

This morning we are in the final part of our God’s Not Dead series.  For the past four weeks we have been taking a look at the question: If God’s not dead, who are you going to tell about it?  In the movie God’s Not Dead, we are treated to an encouraging story about a young man who is given a big stage to defend his faith and share the Gospel with a largely unbelieving crowd and who steps up to the challenge with grace and gusto.  He did the work he needed to do and boldly proclaimed the truth to his professor and classmates.  In the end, he was very much convincing (it would have been a pretty disappointing movie without that).  At the tail end of the film Willie Robertson encourages the audience to get on their phones and text the phrase “God’s not dead,” to everyone on their contact list as a way to get the news out there.  Well, in the emotions of the moment it feels like a good thing to do, and it is.  But…for the vast, vast majority of folks out there, simply getting a text at random declaring that God’s not dead isn’t going to cut it as far as sharing the Gospel goes.  The process—and it is a process—is likely to be much more involved than that.  The problem here, of course, is that most Christians aren’t really looking to get into an involved process, let alone one that might result in any number of challenges for which we feel unprepared.  In the end, while the movie is challenging and encouraging, I doubt anyone who saw it left feeling all that much more prepared to share the Gospel than before they watched.  Thus, God may not be dead, but I suspect most folks who saw the movie didn’t tell anyone about it.

The hard truth here, though, is that if you are a follower of Jesus sharing the Gospel isn’t an optional activity.  In fact, it may be the most central activity in which Christians need to be engaging.  Whether or not that’s the case, though, it is an activity to which we are both called and commanded.  To this end, in this series we have been covering some of the basics of sharing the Gospel.  In the first part we saw that getting prepared and dispensing with fear form the heart of the necessary prep work we need to do before hitting the streets.  In the next couple of weeks we explored some of the main pieces of evidence and lines of argument we’ll need to engage successfully in conversations with people who are skeptical of the faith.  We talked about the evidence from various fields of science that all points to God’s existence and how to respond to the challenge that the presence of evil in this world presents to our belief in God.  Well, with only those three conversations and a consistent personal study of Scripture you have all the tools you need to be out sharing the Gospel with everyone you know.  But…my guess is that some of you are still waiting just like Jim Bob Duggar up on the top of the cliff.  You may even be having an internal conversation very much like the one he was: I can’t do this, I can’t do this, I can’t do this.  What you need is a bit of a push.  This morning as we wrap up this series I intended to give you that push.

For some help in making this push I am going to take us to some words written by the apostle Paul in his second letter to the believers in the ancient city of Corinth, a place that was so messed up they needed two letters from Paul to get straight.  In the early portion of the letter Paul offers them some insights into his approach to ministry with them and in general.  In the process he points out a couple of fundamental truths that should propel Jesus followers forward to share the message we bring of a way to be reconciled with God that is better than anything else on the market.  You can find these words in 2 Corinthians 5, starting at v. 11.  If you have a copy of the Scriptures handy, turn there with me and we’ll take a look at what Paul writes together.

In the verses just before where we’ll start, Paul offers a little reflection on what happens after we die.  Namely, if we are committed to Christ, we’ll be with Him in the immediate future.  Looking a bit further down the road than that, though, eventually everyone is going to have to appear before “the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.”  In other words, judgment is coming for everybody.  The question is not whether we will face judgment, but rather how it’s going to go when we get there.  For those who are in Christ, who have placed our faith and trust on Him, we can have confidence in the judgment because of the promises of God offered through Jesus Himself and the various apostles.  For those who are not, things don’t look so good.  In short, though, everyone is going to go somewhere when they die.  Where that will be will be determined by what happens at the judgment.

With all of that in mind, look with me at our text for this morning starting v. 11: “Therefore [that is, in light of what we were just talking about], knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others.”  In other words, in light of the oncoming day of judgment and our awareness of our inability to make it through that experience on our own, we persuade others, we share the Gospel with them so that they can make it through the judgment.  This is the first fundamental truth that should propel our efforts to share the Gospel.  Eventually, should our Lord tarry, everyone is going to die.  When we die, everyone is going somewhere.  The two options as far as destinations go are not roughly equal either.  One is good beyond all words or imagining.  The other is awful in the same way.  It’s bad enough that if we really understood it, no one would wish it on even their worst enemy.  Furthermore, while God is undoubtedly merciful and loving, He is also holy and just.  All people will receive their just end.  No exceptions.  Well, almost no exceptions.  All those who are found in Christ will receive His just end which is a lot better than ours since He was without sin and, well, we’re not.  These folks will go on to experience unending life.  The other folks…won’t.  Even if nothing else does, this reality should drive us forward to share the Gospel with everyone we know and like because we don’t want to spend eternity separated from them.  It should also lead us to share the Gospel with folks we don’t like because the prospect of eternity apart from God is bad enough we shouldn’t want that anyone should face such an end.  That’s a no brainer.

Well, in the next few verses Paul goes on to explain a bit further his approach to sharing the Gospel generally and specifically with the Corinthian believers.  He unpacks a bit more of what drives him forward in his work.  Keep reading with me in the second half of v. 11: “But what we are is known to God, and I hope it is known also to your conscience.  We are not commending ourselves to you again but giving you cause to boast about us, so that you may be able to answer those who boast about outward appearance and not about what is in the heart.  For if we are beside ourselves, it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you.  For the love of Christ controls [or compels] us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.”

Got all that?  Here’s what he’s saying.  Paul is holding himself out as an example for the Corinthian believers to follow.  He’s holding himself out as an example to which they can point and about whom they can boast when sharing the Gospel.  When they encounter someone who thinks they have it all together because they’ve got plenty of money in the bank or friends who love them or family who supports them or a killer job or looks to die for or whatever it is that might give someone cause for boasting, the Corinthians could point to Paul and say, “You may think you have it all together, but this guy’s where it’s at.  His life may seem a lot worse than yours, but he has this peace and hope and joy that pervade whatever his circumstances happen to be.  It’s like nothing in this life can touch him, no matter how hard, because his real life exists somewhere else.  He’s the kind of guy you want to have at all your parties, but also the guy you want to be able to have around in a pinch.  You may think you have it all together, but if you were more like this guy, you really would.”

And, if it seems really arrogant of Paul to hold himself out as an example like this, let me challenge you a bit.  If you’ve been following Jesus for 20 or more years (which is about how long Paul had been a Jesus follower when he wrote this letter), and you can’t hold yourself out as an example for younger believers to follow, you’re the one with a problem.  If you aren’t able to come alongside younger believers and with a strong spirit of humility saying, “I’m doing pretty well with that, try doing it like me,” there are some growth issues you need to address.  Putting a bit finer a point on all this: your life itself is as important a part of your Gospel sharing efforts as your words are.  If you don’t feel confident enough to use it, you need to change that.  If you’re doing something well, it’s not arrogant to use that as an example for someone else who’s struggling to follow in order to do it better.  It’s actually a Christ-like humility.  It’s a humility you as a follower of Jesus need to be sure you’re practicing.

In any event, Paul goes on to explain that as people who have embraced the Gospel and its countercultural message, we not only cease thinking about things as if this life is all that matters, we stop thinking about people as if this life is all that matters.  The implications of this mental transition lead to another perspective shift and the other critical point here about sharing the Gospel.  Look how he does this with me starting back in v. 16: “From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh.  Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer.  Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.  The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.  All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.  Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us.”

Pretty powerful stuff, isn’t it?  Now, there’s a lot there worthy of comment, but let’s stay focused on the task at hand.  Did you catch what Paul said there right near the end?  In light of the fact that God is busy reconciling the world to Himself through Christ, and—he didn’t say this but it’s implied and obvious—in light of the fact that Jesus isn’t physically around anymore, we are ambassadors for Christ.  God makes His appeal to be reconciled to Him through Jesus through us.  Think about that now.  If you are a Jesus follower, what Paul is saying here is that you are an ambassador for Christ.  You represent Christ to the world.  You are the medium through which God is calling people to be reconciled to Him through the work of His Son.  Now, certainly God can and in fact does use a variety of means to draw people to Himself.  But, the primary means by which He intends for this to happen is…are you ready…you.  When it comes to sharing the Gospel, this incredible message that God has reached out to reconcile a people to Himself who could not otherwise be reconciled to Him through the death and resurrection of His only Son, God’s first plan is to see the message shared through you.  If you are a follower of Jesus, when it comes to sharing the Gospel, you are God’s plan A.

Think for a minute about how crazy that is.  I don’t want to offend you, but I suspect I wouldn’t have to try very hard to convince most of you that you aren’t really the best choice God could have made for this particular task.  I mean, sharing the message by which God intends to save people from their sins so they can experience eternal life instead of eternal death seems like a pretty important task, right?  Remember that thing you did one time that nobody else knows about?  How can God possibly expect you to be a worthy ambassador for His Son in light of that?  Or how about that ongoing issue you keep dealing with, you don’t want to be dealing with anymore, but you can’t seem to get rid of?  Yeah, that right there should totally disqualify you.  And yet, when it comes to sharing the Gospel, you are God’s plan A.  Sure there may be options B-Z available for Him to use, but He’d rather use you.  Well, what on earth could He be thinking?  He’s thinking the same thing He’s been thinking since He began laying the plans for salvation in the first place.  If He accomplishes His purposes on His own, that’s great and even spectacular, but it’s not like anybody doubted He could do it.  I mean, He’s God.  Of course He can get the job done.  But, if He accomplishes His plans through you in spite of that one time thing and that ongoing thing and all those other things you are pretty sure should make you His last choice, that’s where the real magic happens.  That’s where the glory He receives gets increased exponentially because, honestly, nobody expects you to succeed…except God.  And His confidence is absolute.  Because, it’s Him doing the work.  You and I are just the ambassadors.  When it comes to sharing the Gospel, you are God’s plan A.

Now, if you don’t do it, I’ll be honest with you, God can still get the work done.  Again, He’s God.  But, you will miss out on the blessing.  That’s a big deal, but I would argue there’s even more at stake here than that.  God laid this out to the prophet Ezekiel over 2,500 years ago.  The message was for him, but I think the spirit of the words applies to us today.  Ezekiel wasn’t really feeling up to the task of proclaiming the words of God to his culture and was trying to find a way out of it.  God pretty much laid things on the line for him.  Listen to this: “Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel.  Whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give them warning from me.  If I say to the wicked, ‘You shall surely die,’ and you give him no warning, nor speak to warn the wicked from his wicked way, in order to save his life, that wicked person shall die for his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand.  But if you warn the wicked, and he does not turn from his wickedness, or from his wicked way, he shall die for his iniquity, but you will have delivered your soul.  Again, if a righteous person turns from his righteousness and commits injustice, and I lay a stumbling block before him, he shall die.  Because you have not warned him, he shall die for his sin, and his righteous deed that he has done shall not be remembered, but his blood I will require at your hand.  But if you warn the righteous person not to sin, and he does not sin, he shall surely live, because he took warning, and you will have delivered your soul.”

When it comes to sharing the Gospel, you are God’s plan A.  The task is steep and fraught with significance, and it is not a task you can accomplish on your own.  You are right in that much.  But, as you rely on the God who has a vested interest in seeing you succeed, succeed you shall.  Succeed you shall beyond your wildest dreams.  When it comes to sharing the Gospel, you are God’s plan A.  But, rather than send you out of here with merely a kick in the pants, I want to give you one last set of tools to help in the process.  Here are five points to keep in mind as you do your work; five points that if embraced will enable you to experience the success for which you are hoping.  Let’s finish with this and then we’ll head out and get to work.

The first principle is: Understand the Gospel.  Here’s the thing: you can’t share what you don’t have.  You can’t share what you don’t understand.  If you are going to be out sharing the Gospel, you must first make sure you understand it well.  You need to be able to boil the Gospel down to a few-phrase summary.  More than that, you need to have fully embraced it for yourself.  I’m aiming this at two different groups of people.  There may be some folks in here this morning who have not fully embraced the Gospel.  Let me share it with you in a nutshell: You are broken and everything you’re doing isn’t working to fix you.  The truth is that the whole world is in this same place with you.  This brokenness is an offense to the God who created the world and everything in it and the penalty for this offense is death.  Thankfully, this same God wasn’t content to see you die.  As a result, He sent His only Son, Jesus of Nazareth, to earth 2,000 years ago to live a perfect life—a life that wasn’t an offense to God—and then to die in your place, paying the penalty for your brokenness.  Three days later, He rose from the dead to defeat the brokenness that leads to death once and for all.  Now, if you place your life in His hands, you can experience the same life He now lives.  There will be a chance for you to do that publically in just a minute.  See how easy that was?  There may also be, though, some folks in here who went through the motions of embracing the Gospel one time, but for whom it never penetrated to the depths of your heart and as such you’ve mostly just been going through the motions ever since.  Know this well: you can’t share what you don’t have.  If you aren’t sharing it and don’t feel any real need to share it, go ahead and ask the hard question: do I really have it?  If the answer to that question turns out to be no, fix it.

Principle two: believe the Gospel.  If you have embraced it, own it.  Believe it.  Considered what you have embraced and act on it.  Belief affects behavior.  If you have wrapped your heart and mind around the Gospel, that’s going to show through in your life.  If, as Paul wrote, “for our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God,” then you and I need to do something about that.  If Paul is right that you are a new creation, live like it.

Principle three: Share the Gospel.  Once you own it, get out and get to work.  There are lots of ways to go about this.  Perhaps the best is in the context of a relationship.  There is a place for Gospel cold calls, but unless you have the gift of evangelism or unless God specifically lays something powerful on your heart in a moment, you’re probably not up for that approach.  Share the Gospel with people you already know and have a friendship.  How do you do it?  Just remember the word SALT.  First, start a conversation with someone.  If you already have a relationship with them that should be easy.   Second, ask questions.  Ask good questions that point them in the direction of the Gospel; good questions that serve to draw out their real beliefs about faith and life and God.  Third, listen well.  Don’t try to interpret their story as they tell it.  Don’t try and jump ahead to the Gospel.  Don’t judge them for what they say.  Listen really well.  Let them share their heart and as much of it as they are willing.  Finally, tell the story.  Tell the story of the Gospel.  Tell the historical story of Jesus as recorded in the Gospels.  Tell the story of how the Gospel has played itself out in your life.  Tell the story, because you are God’s plan A.  When it comes to sharing the Gospel, you are God’s plan A.

The last two principles here are more reminders for you personally as you go out and get to work.  First, the Gospel is the power of God.  Paul said it is the power of God for salvation for all those who believe.  When you are sharing the Gospel, you are handling the power of God.  That’s a lot of power.  You’re no longer operating on your own strength, but God’s.  Remember that and be bold in your sharing keeping in mind that bold is not unloving.  Last one: the Gospel produces good works.  When the Gospel has been embraced, there will be no doubt about it.  Life change will happen.  People will be drawn to doing the first real good of their lives.  Encourage this.  Encourage the person who embraces the Gospel for the first time to begin living it out.  The best and easiest place for this to start happening is the local church, so invite them to come with you.  When it comes to sharing the Gospel, you are God’s plan A.  I know it is still probably a bit of a scary thing, but, again, you’re going with the power of God.  His power doesn’t fail.  When it comes to sharing the Gospel, you are God’s plan A.  Consider yourselves pushed.  Let’s get out of here and get to work.