This week, we continue with our series of SONshine in the Summertime and the basic idea of this series is that sharing Jesus’ love with others should be just as simple and just as natural for a follower of Jesus as it is for two children on a beach to pass a beachball from one to the other.
As we begin this week, I invite you to imagine something with me for a moment. A lot of the time, we Jesus followers tend to think of evangelism as another task on our to-do list, like taking out the garbage or filling the car up with gas. What would it be like if we were so motivated by Jesus’ love for us and for others that evangelism was something that was part of our life all the time? What if we started the day asking God to give us opportunities to share Jesus’ loves with others? What if we watched throughout the day for opportunities to share Jesus’ love with others? What if we made changes in where we walked or how we spent our leisure activities so that we would have more opportunities to interact with people who are not Jesus followers? What if, every time we were involved in a conversation with someone who is far from God, we were looking to the Holy Spirit for guidance about what we should do or say? Well, if we were living like that, we would be living a lifestyle of evangelism, and ideally, that is how every Jesus follower would live.
But the reality for many of us is that we don’t. I don’t know about you, but I am a very reluctant evangelist. I can go on about my daily life without even thinking about the spiritual well-being of the people who live around me. There are long stretches of time where I am not even concerned about the fact that some of my neighbours are headed towards spending eternity without God. And when I do tell others about Jesus, most of the time I walk away thinking that I really messed things up. Does anybody else feel like that?
So today, let’s think about the ideal of lifestyle evangelism, let’s look at where we are, and let’s consider how we, with God’s help, can move as close to that ideal as we can. To help us make that move, we are thinking about Motivation and Mechanics, in other words, the why and the how of Lifestyle Evangelism. And let’s begin by reflecting on Luke, chapter 8, verses 26-39:
26 They sailed to the region of the Gerasenes, which is across the lake from Galilee.27 When Jesus stepped ashore, he was met by a demon-possessed man from the town. For a long time this man had not worn clothes or lived in a house, but had lived in the tombs. 28 When he saw Jesus, he cried out and fell at his feet, shouting at the top of his voice, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, don’t torture me!” 29 For Jesus had commanded the impure spirit to come out of the man. Many times it had seized him, and though he was chained hand and foot and kept under guard, he had broken his chains and had been driven by the demon into solitary places.
30 Jesus asked him, “What is your name?”
“Legion,” he replied, because many demons had gone into him. 31 And they begged Jesus repeatedly not to order them to go into the Abyss.
32 A large herd of pigs was feeding there on the hillside. The demons begged Jesus to let them go into the pigs, and he gave them permission. 33 When the demons came out of the man, they went into the pigs, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned.
34 When those tending the pigs saw what had happened, they ran off and reported this in the town and countryside, 35 and the people went out to see what had happened. When they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone out, sitting at Jesus’ feet, dressed and in his right mind; and they were afraid. 36 Those who had seen it told the people how the demon-possessed man had been cured. 37 Then all the people of the region of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them, because they were overcome with fear. So he got into the boat and left.
38 The man from whom the demons had gone out begged to go with him, but Jesus sent him away, saying, 39 “Return home and tell how much God has done for you.” So the man went away and told all over town how much Jesus had done for him. (Luke 8:26-39)
Here’s a question for you: “When the man who was healed of demon possession, begged Jesus to let him go with Jesus, what do you think was the reason that Jesus told the man to return home instead?” Does anyone have an answer that they would be willing to share with the rest of us?
There is only one reason that I can think for Jesus to send the man back to his home. Because more people would be saved if the man went back to his home town and told everyone there how much God has done for him than if the man went with Jesus. At the end of this section of Scripture we read, “So the man went away and told all over town how much Jesus had done for him.” (Luke 8:39b)
This is a pattern we see in the Bible. In John, chapter, 9, when a blind man was heal by Jesus, he cannot help but tell people about what Jesus had done for him. In John 4, when a Samaritan woman encountered Jesus and realized that He was the Messiah, she went back to her home town and told everyone about Him.
And these people told others what Jesus had done for them even though the circumstances made it difficult for them to do so. It is not easy to go back to your home town when you have been living in abandoned cemetery for years where you ran around out of your mind because of demon possession and you wore no clothes. It is not easy to go back to your home town when you have had five husbands and you live with a sixth man to whom you are not married and going home means facing the very people who witnessed all the brokenness in your life and normally you would be very ashamed to face them. It is not easy to tell others what Jesus has done for you when powerful authorities are out to get Jesus because He healed you on the wrong day of the week and you could get kicked out of your home church if you insist on telling the truth about how Jesus healed you. And yet the man healed of demon possession, the Samaritan woman who met the Messiah and the man healed of blindness all went and told others their story of what Jesus had done in their life.
So why would their story with others in spite of the challenges? I think that it was because they were so overwhelmed by the awesomeness of what Jesus had done for them that the challenges were insignificant by comparison. When you have been healed of demon possession, or when you have experienced Jesus’ unconditional love and acceptance or when you have been healed of blindness, what other people may think of you or do to you doesn’t really matter. You have experienced the power of God’s love to heal, redeem and save in your life, and that love will sustain you in the face of all the challenges that you will face in your life. And you know that because you are not the same person that you were before. You are the proof of the saving power of Jesus’ love and you want to share what you have been given with others.
So what has Jesus done in your life that fills you with awe? What has Jesus done in your life that has changed you forever? If you are having trouble thinking of something, let’s review some basic facts. Every human being is, by nature, a rebel against God. As a rebel, each and every one of us deserve the penalty for our disloyalty and treason, which is death. As a rebel, each and every one of us is estranged from God. We have no relationship with Him. On our own, we are all enemies of God and we are at war with Him.
But Jesus has done what no ordinary human being could do. He lived a human life of perfect obedience to His father. Then he took our place and suffered the estrangement and the death penalty that we deserve for our rebellion. All this Jesus did because He loves us.
Jesus does what no other religious figure does. Jesus gives you peace with God. Jesus gives you a new relationship with God. Jesus gives you a place in the family of God. Jesus gives you a new identity as a child of God. And, because you are a child of God, Jesus invites you to join with Him in His mission of seeking and saving the lost.
All of these gifts that Jesus gives you are pure grace. You don’t deserve any of these good things that Jesus gives you for free. You didn’t earn any of them either. There is nothing special about you that moves Jesus to love you. Jesus loves you because of who He is: Jesus is God and God is love the Bible tells us. So the love coming from Jesus to you does not depend on you at all. It is unconditional love that Jesus gives you.
So what has Jesus done in your life that fills you with awe? What has Jesus done in your life that has changed you forever? I invite you to think for a moment about those questions and try to identify your life-changing moment with Jesus. When you have an example fixed in your mind, I encourage you to remember it because that is your motivation. You will find it helpful to remind yourself of your life-changing experience with Jesus on a regular basis because, if you are like me, you will tend to forget it.
Now we are going to shift from Motivation and turn to Mechanics, that is, how do we live a lifestyle of evangelism? We PLAAY. First of all we Pray. We pray each day that God will give us an opportunity to share Jesus’ love with someone else. We pray that God will help us to see the opportunity that He sends us, that He will guide us in what to do and say, and that He will work through us to draw others closer to Him. Second, we Listen. We listen to what the other person is saying and we listen for any challenges they may be facing or emotions they may be experiencing. Third, we do a personal Attitude Check. Are we motivated by love: love from Jesus, love for the other person? Do we have an attitude of openness and acceptance? Fourth, we pay Attention. We pay attention to the opportunities. We pay attention to the Holy Spirit and what He is prompting us to do or say. And pay attention to the fact that we don’t have to convince the other person. The Holy Spirit does that, we only have to do what the Holy Spirit prompts us to do.
Finally, when you are given an opportunity by the other person, you can tell Your story. There are different kinds of stories that you could tell. You could tell your salvation story. A salvation story usually consists of three parts: a. Before Jesus – what life was like before Jesus was part of your life, b. Jesus coming into your life, and c. After Jesus – how your life is different now that you are following Jesus. Another option is to share a story about how Jesus helps you. This story would include a struggle you faced that others face too, how Jesus helped you in that struggle, and how life is different now. Or you tell THE story. What I mean by that is this: When you become aware of a need the other person has , you can share the Good News of how meets that needs and transforms it into something good and life-giving. For example, Sadness + Jesus = Joy; Sin + Jesus = Forgiveness; Despair + Jesus = Hope; Death + Jesus = Life; Slavey + Jesus = Freedom; a Sinner + Jesus = a Saint; Alienation + Jesus = Belonging; an Enemy + Jesus = a Friend; Shame + Jesus = Honour; Poverty + Jesus = Wealth; Hardship + Jesus = Patience; Failure + Jesus = Success; Defeat + Jesus = Victory.
Here are a couple of important things to remember when you tell Your Story: Use the KISS method, that is, keep it simple and short. Also, avoid churchy language. That will only create barriers between you and the other person.
And finally, remember that, motivated by Jesus’ love for us and for others, we PLAAY to live a lifestyle of evangelism.
(Shared at Walnut Grove Lutheran Church, Langley BC on July 6, 2014.)