“Simply Spreading God’s Love”

1 Thessalonians 2:1-8

Dr. Robert J. Anderson

October 26, 2014

 

We share a lot of things with each other don’t we?  We feel comfortable with one another, and so we pass on this and that.

 

We share from our experience.  What we learn and what we know we pass on readily.  We tell people we know where to find the cheapest gas prices.  You’d think the way some of us look for the cheapest gas that we are talking about saving big bucks instead of less than a dollar on a tank full!  Someone recently told the story of a person that went to a full-service gas station and put in a $1.00’s worth; then went across the street to the station that was a couple of cents per gallon cheaper.  At least, they got their windshield cleaned!  You find a restaurant you like, you tell people.  You find a good bargain at the store and you share the news with others.  You receive poor service someplace, you tell your friends to “stay away from there!”  And, so it goes, we share with one another.

 

One of the reasons we share with one another is that there is so much stuff out there being shared by people we don’t know and we are suspicious!  We are cynical about the world we live just like the people in Thessalonica.  If we receive a wonderful letter offering a free gift our first thought is what are they up to? Is it a trap to try and make me buy something I do not want?  In our modern world full of late night infomercials and special offers for the next big thing we are skeptical.  We live in a world full of phone calls offering us help with our credit card or our roof.  We all know that almost all of these have some form of trickery involved.

 

The people in Paul’s day, just like our day, were skeptical of this man who came to town and proclaimed something new to them.  Our world is skeptical of the gospel.  We have the same challenges that Paul had when he tried to share his faith—may be even more challenges than Paul.

 

Evangelism scares us, doesn’t it?  After all our faith is personal!  What will happen if the person doesn’t want to hear?  Will they get mad at me?  Aren’t we told to avoid the topics of religion and politics?  What will we say?  How should we say it?  And our list goes on and on!

 

First of all we must decide if this is important enough to share.  Is our faith in Jesus Christ important enough to share?  Where does it rank in the list of things we share…?  A good restaurant.  Where to find the cheapest gas.  The latest bargain we found.

 

How important is it to have faith in Jesus Christ?  Is it important enough to share?  If our faith isn’t important enough to us to share, then we can stop thinking about the “E” word—evangelism—and ignore the great commission to go into all of the corners of the earth teaching about Jesus Christ and baptizing people in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

 

Members of the Mission and Stewardship Committee are reading several books by Clif Christopher.  Among the many gems in those books, I think of two.  The books focus on non-profits and the church competing in the non-profit arena for charitable giving.  One thing he notes is that “No army, no government, and no non-profit has the power to change the hearts of people like the body of Jesus Christ, and as those hearts change then so does practice, and so does the world.” (Christopher, J. Clif. Whose Offering Plate Is It?  New Strategies for Financial Stewardship.Nashville: Abington Press, 2010. p. xi)

 

Pick up the newspaper, turn on the television and you will find story after story of anger, corruption, moral integrity, and on and on.  Do you find yourself longing for the “good old days?”  Do you wish things were different?  The church of Jesus Christ has the power to change the hearts of people and so make changes in the world.  The disciples were transformed from cowardly fishermen into giants of faith!  Saul the persecutor was transformed into Paul the Proclaimer!  People suffering from addictions are released from their chains!  People consumed by anger are set free from destroying themselves and relationships!  Relationships on the rocks have been carried to calm waters where rebuilding can take place and strength found to go on!

 

Christopher writes that there is a lot of good being done by the non-profits that are asking for our financial support, and Christopher acknowledges that.  “Even though people may still find food and shelter and healing through these other non-profits, they will not come to know the saving grace of God through Jesus Christ.”  Christopher, J. Clif. Whose Offering Plate Is It?  New Strategies for Financial Stewardship.Nashville: Abington Press, 2010. p. 13)  The mission of the church is to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ.  It is through faith in Jesus Christ that God changes our hearts and transforms us from the enemies of God to his beloved children.  Just as our lives have been changes by our faith, we are to share God’s love so that other’s lives may be changed!  This is important!  This is our message!  God loves you!

 

Sharing our faith is challenging but it is not impossible.  But we should understand a few things.

 

We aren’t selling Jesus.  Jesus wasn’t selling himself, or the kingdom, or God.  He was locating those who already belonged to him.  He was giving sustenance to the indescribable hunger that true seekers have.  He was putting words to their deep thirst.  He was explaining why they felt strangely drawn to him.

 

Jesus’ approach is very liberating.  It reminds us that, as evangelists, we do not have the responsibility to create a hunger for eternal life. That’s not our job.  We’re only sent to point people to Jesus, let them hear His words of life, see Him as He is, and check for signs of spiritual life.  The whole endeavor of “converting” someone is a mistake. God converts people; we merely locate them and help them understand and trust what they are already experiencing.  But there is no burden to create a spiritual interest that isn’t there. (https://evangelism.intervarsity.org/how/call-to-faith/you-dont-have-sell-jesus)

 

So, what is evangelism—sharing our faith?  It is trying to get people to see what they will need in the future.

There was a man who crashed his plane in the desert. Stranded without water, the unfortunate man trudged through the desert for hours until he could no longer stay on his feet.  Then, as he began crawling across the burning sands, he encountered a necktie salesman. “Can I interest you in a nice new tie?” the salesman asked.  “Are you crazy?” the man gasped. “I’m dying of thirst and you want to sell me a necktie?”  The salesman shrugged his shoulders and moved on, and the dying man resumed his crawling.  Finally, he came upon an unbelievable sight. There, before his eyes, in the middle of the desert, was a magnificent restaurant with neon lights blazing and a parking lot filled with cars.  The desperate man crawled to the front door. With his voice growing weaker and weaker, he said to the doorman, “Please, help me in, I must have something to drink.”  To which the doorman replied, “Sorry sir, gentlemen are not admitted without a tie.” (Hodgin, Michael 1001 Humorous Illustrations for Public Speaking: Fresh, Timely, and Compelling Illustrations for Preachers, Teachers, and Speakers [Kindle, 2010-09-21, Zondervan] Locations 3181-3189)

 

The challenge we have is to share our faith in an age where people are living for the moment with no or little thought about the future.  (The average middle age person has $20,000.00 saved for retirement.)

 

Evangelism means changing our attitude from one of despair and nothing can happen to one of hope and the sky is the limit for change.

 

There were once two shoe salesmen who went to Africa to open new sales territories.  Three days after they arrived, the first salesman faxed a message: “I will be returning on next plane. I can’t sell shoes here. Everyone goes barefoot all the time.”  There was no report from the second salesman for about two weeks. Then came a fat airmail envelope with this message for the home office. “Fifty orders enclosed. Prospects unlimited. Nobody here has shoes.” (Hodgin, Michael 1001 Humorous Illustrations for Public Speaking: Fresh, Timely, and Compelling Illustrations for Preachers, Teachers, and Speakers [Kindle, 2010-09-21, Zondervan] Locations 3718-3722)

 

Now, we can approach sharing our faith from the perspective that everyone seems to be doing fine, or we can see the fields ripe for harvest as Jesus did.  Our perspective makes a big difference.

 

How did Paul do it?  How did he share his faith?

 

He did it with gentle persuasion.  You don’t have to grab people by the lapels and not let go until they recite the salvation prayer.  You simply tell your story of how God impacted your life and made all the difference in the world, a difference like night and day.  Use your own words.  Remember that sharing your faith is one beggar telling another beggar where to find food!

 

He didn’t use any trickery.  Tell your story with your own words.  No one can argue with you; it is your story.  Share your story with the passion of a changed person.

 

He shared his story unencumbered.  Share your faith story with no strings attached.  Share your faith story from a there is nothing in it for you other than the joy of sharing good news!  If the person you are talking to receives God’s good news, great!  If not, then you move on to someone in your search to locate those who already belong to him and help them understand the love of God they are already experiencing.

 

Each person here knows someone who is not a member of United; someone who is not connected to a Christian community of faith; or someone who is estranged from a community of faith.  We have lost people to the “church triumphant.”  We have people who have moved away.  We have plenty of space here for people to worship, grow, and serve.  But, they don’t know that unless we tell them.  Think about who you know that need to hear God loves them, and the people of God that gathers at United will love them in a way that is joyfully palpable!  Invite them to worship.  Invite them to the Covered Dish Dinner next week.  Invite them to Joy Bible Study.  Invite them to the men’s breakfast on Monday mornings.  Invite them to come with you, so they may hear your story as well as ours and so experience the God who is looking for them!

 

We don’t have to “convert people” only find the ones God knows are out there!  Simply spread God’s love in how you act and as you share your faith story.