Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Overcoming The Fear Of Sharing The Gospel

photo from Pixabay.com

If you have spent any length of time in an evangelical church, you've probably been encouraged to share the Gospel with as many people as possible. You are told that this is your responsibility as a Christian, to make disciples. But I know that many Christians have a fear of sharing.  The church has tried to overcome this through training programs. I've been a Christian long enough to have gone through several from Evangelism Explosion to F.A.I.T.H. I've memorized the Roman Road and used various methods on evangelistic outings here and in other countries.   

I came to the conclusion long ago that a programmed approach to sharing the Gospel is not the most effective way to lead someone to Christ. It may be the fastest way to touch the most people, but I don't think that it has the lasting impact that relationship evangelism has. It may also be the reason many Christians have an aversion to sharing the Gospel, being uncomfortable using this sterile approach which is more like a salesman trying to reach some numerical goal instead of a deep concern for an individual. 

Most pastors would agree that developing relationships and sharing with a circle of friends and neighbors is the most effective way to spread the Gospel. We build trust and a relationship before we talk about faith. We find common ground and discuss a variety of topics and begin to get below the surface conversation.  However, there comes a time in the relationship when we need to move into the intimate discussion about faith. This is often the most difficult part and where we fail.  How do I make a smooth transition from one topic to the Gospel? 

If you've ever been through an evangelism training course you've been taught to ask certain questions. A popular question is, "after you die, you stand before God, and God asks you why He should let you enter heaven, what would be your answer?"  That question may get to the theological position of the one you are questioning but it also puts them on the defensive. It assumes that the one asking the question has all the answers.  It is far from being the most effective way and may as easily shut down the conversation or turn someone away from faith.  

Here is a natural, relational approach with some suggestions and better questions to ask to open up a discussion about faith that can lead to sharing the Gospel.  

Start by sharing a frustration or problem that you have.  For someone to be more forthcoming about their problems, you often have to initiate by becoming more vulnerable. After sharing, if your friend still is not willing to open up about his or her life, you may ask a question like this.  
What keeps you awake at night?  
What do you struggle with the most?  
What brings you the most stress at this time of your life?

When someone begins to share a problem, we can respond with how we rely upon our faith in Christ to help us deal with problems in our life. So our testimony now becomes a part of the discussion. However, don't be too eager to talk. Take time to listen and probe about your friend's issues. 

Once you have shared on a deeper level about your own issues and how you handle them, then you can explore more about their faith. You've now opened the door to a faith discussion, and how your friend responds helps determine your next step. If you sense an openness, then you may want to ask questions such as:  
How do you cope with your problem?
What part does faith play in helping you with your stress or anxiety?  

The answer to these questions should help you to begin to discover what your friend believes about God and Jesus.  If you still are not sure what your friend believes, you may want to be a little more direct.  You can talk about your faith growing up, why you believe, or your conversion experience.  This leads to questions like:
Did you grow up going to church?  
What did your parents believe?  
Does faith play any role in your life?

If you find that your friend does not have a relationship with Christ, or their relationship with Jesus is not where they wished it was, the next question may be the key to helping someone take the a step to becoming a follower of Christ.

This question gets to the root of the issue and is one that Jesus addressed with the rich young ruler. In Luke 18:18 we read about Jesus' encounter with the rich ruler and the ruler's question to Jesus, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?"  Jesus doesn't answer directly but probes to determine the one thing that keeps the young ruler from a relationship with Jesus, and that is the ruler's love of money. 

This is a great question! 
What do you think is the greatest thing that prevents you from having a relationship with Jesus Christ?  

This question can be for the searcher who is struggling to make the decision to follow Christ or it could be for the believer who desires more in their relationship with God. Jesus knew what it was for the young ruler and he identified it for him. For us, we don't have that power so we must ask and probe to help one discover for themselves what the barrier might be to a life of full devotion to Jesus Christ. 

Once identified, then you can begin to suggest ways to overcome the obstacle that prevents them from believing. A common response is, "I don't feel worthy or good enough" or "I need to get my life in order first."  This can lead to a discussion about God's grace and what the Bible says we need to have a relationship with Jesus.  Now you are sharing the Gospel!  

Don't be afraid to share.  The key is asking good questions that bring about deeper discussion, intense listening, and the willingness to transition to sharing your faith and the Gospel. 

What is it that keeps you from having the relationship that Jesus desires to have with you?
What are some questions that you use in the process of sharing the Gospel?

Monday, April 18, 2016

681 God answers prayer in an amazing way!

Hurst Creek section of Lake Travis Jan. 2015
As I write this, much of central and south Texas is under a flood watch.  Only a few months ago we were praying for God to bring rain to the area and fill Lake Travis to 681 feet, the designated full level and now we are facing the prospect of too much water! Just two years ago the city officials of Austin were looking at an historic drought crises.  Not only was Lake Travis, an economic engine for this area almost dry, the city faced the prospect of having to buy imported water to meet its needs.  Weather experts were proclaiming that Lake Travis might never be filled again and that only a miracle, a massive amount of rainfall would fill the lakes back to normal. 

In May of 2014, Austin area pastors united with an idea to begin to fast and pray together specifically that God would fill Lake Travis (681 feet). So the pastors took the idea to the city of Austin officials who agreed to gather together for prayer on May 15, 2014 for a city wide time of prayer to end the drought and fill the lake. What is interesting is that God not only answered those prayers and filled the lake but from this prayer meeting to the day when Lake Travis was declared full, reaching the 681 foot level, was 681 days! God answered our prayers in an incredible fashion! And isn't it just like God to give us more than we asked for, to spill over the cup?  As Ephesians 3:20 says, God will do exceedingly more than you ever imagined.

Hurst Creek April, 2016
Was this a coincidence or act of God? We may never know for sure but your answer probably depends on your faith. The point we can gather from this though as Matthew 18:19-20 states, God answers our prayers when two or more are gathered in His name, and pray specifically.  Much can be accomplished in the body of Christ when we join together for God's purposes. As pastor Will Davis Jr. of Austin Christian Fellowship proclaimed, "it has never been about a full lake but always about our faith and our awesome God."

The Austin area pastors held another prayer meeting this past March celebrating and thanking God for his faithfulness in answering their prayers and they have not stopped praying for God to fill the cup. Now our prayer is to fill us up with his spiritual blessings, to move central Texas residents to be filled with the spirit of God so as to transform the city and surrounding areas. This of course is much harder to measure but we all anticipate seeing how God answers our prayers. 

  • There is power in individual prayer
  • There is great power in prayer when we pray unified
  • There is magnificent power in prayer when we pray together in Jesus' name 

Monday, April 11, 2016

How to receive God's blessings

People today are still very much like those in the New Testament times.  They want the blessings of God more than they want God.  We see in John 6:26-40, after Jesus feeds the 5,000, they begin to follow him wanting more food.  Feed us every day just like when Moses fed us as our ancestors wandered in the wilderness. 

We see the same kind of faith or lack of, today in the prosperity gospel churches where people come to receive "blessings".  "Give and you shall receive", the preachers proclaim.  "See how God has blessed me!  You too can have a nice car, a beautiful house and riches untold if only you give to God (me, my church) your money". 

And the prosperity gospel churches are not the only ones that rely upon such tactics. You can see it also used in mainline churches, only a more subtle version.  It's not the doctrinal belief system that the church is built upon like the prosperity churches, but in many churches you'll hear testimony from members to the fact that God has blessed them when they gave to the church, building campaign, pastors discretionary fund, etc.  It is a manipulatory tactic to get people to give more. Ironic that we use manipulation on our people by manipulating them to believe we can manipulate God into giving us material wealth, if we give to the church.  It's not that those giving testimony are not telling the truth. They believe God has blessed them and indeed God probably has. But the fallacy is in reason why God blesses his children. He does it because God loves us, not because we have earned it in some way.   

We see the same problem with those who followed Jesus around. They wanted to know just what they needed to do to gain the blessings of God, to get a free meal every day.  They wanted the blessings much more than they wanted Jesus.  Jesus didn't say you need to give money to the church or to me.  He didn't say you need to pray five times a day.  He didn't say you need to sacrifice a lamb or go to the Temple on the Sabbath.  He said in verse 29, "believe in Me". "God provided the bread from heaven, not Moses.  I am the bread.  I am the manna.  Put your faith and trust in me.  It is a relationship with you that I want.  Not your works or your money, just your time, your worship, your heart".

This may be the hardest concept for us to accept.  It is what separates all religions from true Christianity. We want so much to believe that we must accomplish something in order to receive God's blessings. It is so counter intuitive that this simple doctrine of grace is what keeps many from that relationship with Jesus.  
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. Ephesians 2:8-10

What would it look like if we understood that Jesus wants our devotion not works? How would I live my life differently if I could fully comprehend the depth of that relationship and the grace that Jesus offers? 


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