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Saturday, January 7, 2017

Everyday Evangelism for Everyday Christians

We start our ministry at All Age Worship in 2017 with Jesus beginning His ministry: from Luke as our main gospel reading and with a short verse from Mark’s gospel. Both these readings give us a beginning point for 2017 … let’s begin where Jesus began. In both of these readings we see Jesus doing evangelism, Jesus began with evangelism. What is evangelism? Wikipedia puts it like this:
Evangelism is the preaching of the gospel or the practice of giving information to others with the intention of converting others to the Christian faith.

We are going to work through the Scriptures before us at the start of this new year and see what we can learn and hopefully how we can apply it in the year ahead. Jesus is big on evangelism and we should be too. In Luke 19:10 we are told by Jesus: For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost. Notice that He seeks … He didn’t wait for people to come to Him, although that happened, … No, He went out looking and was always on the lookout for opportunities for evangelism … we should be too, because we are now the ones who have good news to share, so we are to seek, and in some way or another, bring others to Jesus and to His salvation. There are two good reasons for evangelism; one is selfish in a sense: Doing evangelism is good for us, it grows us … show me someone who feels stagnant in their faith and I’ll invariably show you someone who hasn’t been big on sharing their faith … you see, sharing your faith constantly makes you reflect on why you have faith; the second reason for evangelism is: If you and I don’t do this … who will? Perhaps this is why evangelicalism in the West is in the decline it is in … we, you and I, aren’t sharing with others the amazingly good news that Jesus is, present tense, in our lives.

So, starting with our reading from Luke, I want to lift 5 points about what I’m going to call “every day evangelism” for people like you and me:

1. Evangelism begins at home (your centre of existence, your “Jerusalem”):

Jesus returned to Galilee …. He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up.
Begin with the people you know; people with whom you’ve already developed and earned a degree of trust. People who know you’re not a looney. When they hear your testimony, it is coming from someone they already know is (hopefully) prone to truth telling without exaggeration or understatement. I mention testimony, because, and this is really important, every Christian has a testimony … You have a testimony. What is a testimony: your personal experience of God, of Christ … and that is an ongoing experience, so while it always includes how you met Jesus, perhaps many years ago, it is also always how you chatted this morning; how He guided you last week and how He is influencing you for the better, day by day, week by week, year by year. You have a testimony and I encourage you to practice it, recount it to yourself, perhaps even write it down to help clarify your thinking. You have a testimony because we are talking about a living relationship. This is what Peter has in mind when he in his first letter always be ready to share the reasons you have for the hope you have (1 Pet 3:15). I sometimes go over my testimony before I go to sleep … I encourage you to do the same.

So, Evangelism begins at home, your Jerusalem, with family, neighbours, workmates, school friends etc. Don’t worry about Africa and China … worry about your street.

2. Evangelism is always in the power of the Holy Spirit:

Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit …. The Spirit of the Lord is on me … because he has anointed me.

Getting back to your personal testimony: Your testimony is always about your rebirth and your rebirth was and continues to be a Spiritual event. “Unless you are born of water and the Spirit” says Jesus (Jn 3:5) … and: “I will send you the Helper … and He will teach you and bring to your mind and give you the words” (Jn 14:16). Before any faith sharing on your part, pray for the Holy Spirit, who not only guides you, but also, mysteriously, works in the heart of your hearers. He does the work when you witness.

3. Evangelism begins in and flows from life in the church:

He was teaching in their synagogues … on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom.

Evangelism needs to be rooted in an accountable life in the church. It is here that our Christian life began or begins with our baptism into the body; it is here that we feed on and are nourished by the Body and the Blood to which we testify in our testimony; it is here that we worship and it is here (hopefully) that we are taught, encouraged and held accountable. It is here (hopefully) that we experience love and acceptance … regardless of how our personal pilgrimage may be going. Again, hopefully, this is where we hear the testimony of others … new converts at their baptism, but also the ongoing witness of those around us as they might be led to share what the Lord is doing in their life right now. I would like to encourage us to include occasional opportunities for personal testimomy. If we are not first doing it in the safe environment of the church, it is so much harder to do it out there.

4. Evangelism is Word based: it begins with Scripture, conforms to Scripture, is accountable to Scripture:

He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him.

Methods might change, words might change, but the message never changes. In this book, the Bible, is the message of evangelism. That message begins in Genesis and ends in Revelation. The message of evangelism begins where Genesis begins: with God … and ends where Revelation ends: … with Christ. Therefore, one of my big passions for the people of God is this … Please read your Bible. Please read your Bible regularly. Please read your Bible from beginning to end. Just 20 minutes a day and you’ll read your Bible through in a year. Google “Bible in a Year” and get a reading programme (or ask me). In the Bible, you find your story … in the Bible you hear your God speaking to you … in the Bible you find your problems … in the Bible you find ways through your problems … in the Bible you find your God and He finds you. In the Bible you find teaching and encouragement, affirmation, rebuke and … warning, which brings me to my next word on evangelism from our reading;

5. Evangelism is risky:

All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this. They got up, drove him out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him off the cliff (4:28-29).

We follow and serve a crucified King … and although we have a wonderful message, just like He did, sometimes it is just not well received … but much more on that when we look at discipleship.
So, Evangelism, faith sharing, witnessing,… begins at home;  is always in the power of the Holy Spirit; begins in and flows from life in the church; is word based; can be very risky.

So much for Jesus beginning his ministry in Luke; let’s look at how He starts His ministry in Mark’s gospel:
Mark 1:14-15
After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. 15 ‘The time has come,’ he said. ‘The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!’

6. This reading gives us the message of evangelism, which plain and simply is: The kingdom of God has come near,

7. and it gives us the response we hope for, namely: Repent and believe the good news!

Now you’ll often hear me say that the good news can be summed up by the words of John 3:16:

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

 Others look to Eph 2:8-10:

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God - not by works, so that no one can boast.

You might well have your own verse which for you sums up the good news, the gospel … but we should still have our own personal formulation of what the good news is and how it has, and still is, playing out specifically in your life …. That’s what makes it your testimony.

So how do I present the gospel in a faith sharing situation? With very broad sweeps (for the purpose of this sermon, but bear in mind that evangelism must not be rushed) … with broad sweeps I begin the gospel with the Genesis story of God walking in the garden with Adam and Eve and their experience of full and abundant life with God … paradise ... walking and talking with Him in the garden. God given free will led to sin and Sin disrupted that walk and that life … in fact, destroyed that walk and that life. But God still longed and longs to walk and talk with you, day by day, to be Immanuel, God with you. The long history of God’s people recorded for us in Scripture shows that only God could put that relationship right … and He could only do that by lovingly and graciously doing everything Himself, to put it right, and that could only be properly and justly done, on the Cross of Jesus, God in the flesh. Sin kills, something in us dies every time we sin … and God decided to let our sin kill Him in the form of God the Son, Jesus Christ. However, to show that He rules all things, even death, and that His kingdom has burst into this world, God the Father raised God the Son from death by the power of God the Holy Spirit and calls on us to believe those events of Easter, to confess our sinful nature which killed Him and turn from it towards our new kingdom nature, and then miracle of miracles, He forgives our sin, …. And … it gets better … He forgets our sin, and because it is dealt with and removed,  He can walk and talk with us again: in the garden, in the kitchen, at work, at play, in sickness, in health and even through persecution to death, if that is to be for us. And that is what is called abundant life, life to the full, blessed life because it is life with God … and it begins in this life, it began for me in 1969 … and it continues forever. Sin dealt with so that life in all its fullness can be a reality … Now. “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” Jn 10:10.

That is the message and invitation of evangelism and we’re all called by God to play a role in sharing that message … I mentioned two good reasons above. Often, our early attempts at evangelism are perhaps just to ask/invite folk to come to church with us. That’s often the beginning of our part in “seeking the lost.” Later might come the sharing of our testimony, of what God is doing in our life; later might come actually asking folk to believe in the God you’ve come to believe in. Wherever you might be in sharing your faith, the same principles apply. It begins at home and your neighbourhood; is always in the power of the Holy Spirit; begins in and flows from life in the church; is word based; and can be risky.

As Elders we’re encouraging everyone at MWC to consider inviting folk to our services … and many of you did that over Christmas … perhaps follow up now, or perhaps move further down the street, or into the office. Why??? Because you want them to have the abundant life you’ve got!

That’s often the problem though, you can’t share what you don’t have!

So I remind you this morning that you are invited into a personal and life-giving relationship with God through Christ. Sadly, many Christians have an impersonal relationship with Christ … a kind of one size fits all type of relationship … I’ve said the prayer, I still believe, … I’m saved ... because salvation is by faith, right, and I have faith. But you know that you’re not experiencing and living the abundant life that is meant to accompany salvation; and you know that when Jesus says streams of life giving water will flow from you, from you, (Jn 7:38) … well, you know the well ran dry some time ago. And it’s not that you’re not saved, you’re just running on empty … you’re missing out on why He’s saved you, which is so that you can have a deeply personal, life giving relationship with Him, and He with you.

I think that might describe how some of us feel at the start of this year; and if that’s you, I want to close in prayer for you.

Hide Your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me away from Your presence, and do not take Your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of Your salvation, and uphold me by Your generous Spirit (Ps 51:9-12)

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