A Pattern For Evangelism – A Recent Sermon on Luke 10:1-20

Imagine you discovered that you had some heart trouble. It needed an immediate operation, an operation which could only be done by a specific skilled surgeon. The operation needed to be performed straightaway otherwise you will die. Once you had had the operation you would make a full recovery. Fortunately, such a surgeon was resident in the city. And so your doctors contact him. How you feel if the surgeon sent a reply back saying “No thanks – I do not want to do the surgery.”

If you and I are not telling people about Jesus Christ then we are the surgeon. We have the knowledge of life through CHRIST by the message of the gospel. If we are not sharing this message, then what are we doing being a Christian? Why are we coming to Church? The Church itself, is a vassel, a conduit, and mouth-peace from which the message of life should be shouted.

Our Gospel reading this morning is so clear. Jesus send’s out the disciples. He uses the farming metaphor of a harvest. The harvest is plentiful. The workers are few. The same is true day. The harvest is plentiful. Workers are needed. And the workers are to come from the church.

Jesus says some very important things about sharing the faith in these verses which we need to understand.

1. Firstly, prayer is a vital part of evangelism. Jesus begins with the instruction for the 70 disciples to pray for laborers for the harvest. There may be many excuses about why we can’t evangelize (and we will tackle some of them today) but the one thing every single Christian can do, and should do, every day without fail, is to pray for the success of the gospel. If we are not praying daily that the message of Christ would be proclaimed and heard in our community, nation and world, then begin today.

2. Harvesting / evangelism requires workers who actually want to harvest / evangelize.  From a Farmer’s perspective, a Harvest is no good until it is harvested. And it can only be harvested when workers go and DO the work. Right now, a lot of the church is like a worker looking at a harvest and doing NOTHING! I think it is an oxymoron to be a Christian and not want to others to become a Christian. A Church that does not want to see others hear and receive the Gospel of Christ is no Church of Jesus Christ. We can receive all the training available and all teaching we can handle on the why’s and how’s of evangelism. But we will only DO it if we WANT to – if we have a DESIRE to see people come to Jesus Christ and know him as savior and Lord.

3. To be a Christian and to share the faith is not easy, and indeed, may even be dangerous. Jesus says “I send you out as lambs in the midst of wolves.” What do wolves usually do with lambs? They attack them and they kill them. Jesus is killed for speaking the truth about God. And we are told that if they treated Jesus like that we should not be surprised that the world hates us. For you and I our physical lives may not be in danger, but we need to willingly and happily accept and understand that sharing the faith is likely to cause us to be ridiculed, and verbally attacked and we might even have our reputation attacked. Evangelism is a serious thing. Sharing our faith is a serious thing. We become a target, not just for those who are against Christianity but we become a target for the enemy. When we became believers in Christ we became a soldier of Christ. Our battle is not against flesh and blood, but against the spiritual forces of darkness and when we become one of Christ’s own, we become a target for the enemy. As a soldier we should be willing to give our life if necessary. For 2000 years the Church has had thousands and thousands and thousands of martyrs. Not all soldiers die physically for Christ but all soldiers must be willing to die.

4. The task is urgent. Notice what Jesus says to the disciples – do not take a purse, or a bag, or sandals – in other words don’t waste time packing. Don’t get weighed down by the things of this world. The issue is NOT that you should NEVER take a money or extra clothes – Jesus at the close of his ministry tells the disciples “if you have a purse take it.” The point is that the things of this world can distract us from the urgency of the task ahead of the church. The urgency is emphasized by Jesus’ command not to salute anyone on the way. This is was very rude for the culture. If you were traveling and meet a fellow traveler or even a fellow Israelite you would go through a complex ritual of greeting before you could carry on. Not to do so was an insult. The disciples are not talk to anyone, Jesus says. This task is that urgent. Do we have the sense of urgency to reach out to people with God’s love, compassion, healing, his presence and his life giving Spirit?

5. We are to harvest where we are; our community, our work place, our homes, our families, our friends. Jesus instructs the Disciples to stay were they were given hospitality. They are not to look for a better place, or a more comfortable place to stay, or more receptive area of town. They are to accept the hospitality and the food they are given without questioning it’s standard or level.  And then they are to minister where they are. I have often heard people say to me, “Oh I would like to come to do some evangelism but I am not knowledgeable enough… or I am no good talking to people….  Or  I would prefer to evangelize where no-one knows me”. No, we must start where we are or we will never start. We are to start now, not when the timing is favorable because we will never start – the timing will never be favorable, the right moment will never come. We are to share the gospel – we are to minister were we are, NOW. And how do we do this? We live our life according to the way of Christ’s commands – love God with all our heart and love our neighbor as ourself. What do we say? The message is relatively simple. Jesus tells his disciples to heal the sick and to say “The kingdom of God has come near to you.” Is someone ill at work – ask them if you can pray for them there and then! Do you know someone struggling right now – ask them if they would like to know Jesus Christ and his peace? Do you know someone who feels lonely and unloved or unwanted? Tell them you know someone who loves them very much and is waiting to begin a relationship with them – Jesus Christ. Most of us would have no trouble speaking with excitement and animation to someone about how our college team had won a football game or about our children or grandchildren . And yet we struggle to speak at all about the one who died for us and through his sacrifice gave us eternal life.

6. To share our faith means we will be rejected. We must learn rejection. Many people pullback from evangelism because they do not want to fail. People will say no. People will be angry. We are not to take it personally. Just because someone whom you spoke to for 20 mins about your faith has not fallen on their knees crying for God’s forgiveness does not mean you have failed. We may have to plant many spiritual seeds before someone begins to consider Christ. We are not called to bring all persons to Christ but to bring Christ to all persons.

We can do nothing to change a person’s mind about God. That is the job, the work of the Spirit of God. Our role, our part is to share the message. Notice – Jesus sends the 70 ahead of him – he will come to the towns the 70 went to. They went as messengers – it is Christ through the work of the Spirit that actually transforms people. Not to share the message – to be like the Surgeon who refuses to operate, places a terrible burden upon us. God, when speaking to Ezekiel the prophet says: 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 them no warning, nor speak to warn the wicked from his wicked way, in order to save his life, that wicked man shall die in 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 in his iniquity; but you will have saved your life.

To share the message places the burden on the one who has heard. That is why Jesus instructs his disciples to wipe off the dust from their feet. To reject the messengers of God is to reject God’s message. The disciples are not to fret or worry or try harder – they are to leave the town and move on with the message.

7. We must never be arrogant, condescending or holier than thou. This is NEVER about the fact that we are better than others. We’re not. We are sinners who have found grace through Christ. The disciples return to Jesus after their incredible time of evangelism with a little bit of arrogance. “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name.” In other words – “WOW – let us tell what we did in your name – it was so cool.” Jesus tells them that that is not the point. It’s not even impressive. Jesus saw Satan fall from heaven like lightening – that was impressive They are not, Jesus says, to rejoice in the fact that they have been given authority to tread upon serpents and scorpions and the enemy. That type of feeling can too easily turn into a self reliance. That some how we are agents of grace, that we are the cause and focus. No. Jesus says rejoice that YOUR NAMES ARE WRITTEN IN HEAVEN. That is the point. That is our joy. And it’s because our names are written in heaven that we want to tell others about Jesus.

So, no matter who we are, what age we are, whether we are healthy or very ill, if we are believers in Christ we MUST be involved with evangelism. It is a non-negotiable command. Be it by praying every day for the advance of the gospel in our community, country and the world; or by our witness from the way we live our life, to actually speaking to others about our faith, we are called to share Christ with the world. We are called to share our faith because God has moved powerfully in us. We are called to share our faith because we have experienced God’s salvation. We are called to share our faith because we have received the forgiveness of Christ. We are called to share our faith because we know the joy of being reconciled to God. We are called to share our faith because have experienced the glory of God in our lives. We know the freedom of being Christ’s servants, forgiven our sins and given the promise of eternal life. It is only from this attitude that we should share our faith. All evangelism, all sharing our faith should come from a compassionate heart – longing for others to know what we know and experience what we experience in Jesus Christ our Lord, in whom is all glory and honor and majesty, forever and forever. AMEN.

The Passionate Intellect: Christian Faith and The Discipleship of the Mind by Alister McGrath

Not every Christian believes they are a theologian. For some, theology is a distant and unattainable discipline, only for those who have been to seminary and read certain books. Theology has become separated from the everyday part of the church. Alister McGrath, in this book, aims to bring the two together again.

Theology must be part of the everyday language of the church and of every believer, not because we must be intellectually superior but because it will help us engage our culture and be ‘Christians’ to our community. To read the Bible IS to do theology. McGrath, one of the most gifted theologians of today has managed to produce a book for EVERY christian, not just academics.

The first part of the book provides a short, but packed overview of  the purpose, place and relevance of theology. It is one of the best summaries of Christian theology available. Part two brings the theology into the realm of our culture, showing how theology relates to everyday life, and especially is responding to the rise of New Atheism.

They say that to explain something simply requires profound understanding. McGrath has produced a book which explains simply the basics of theology and how it can relate to our culture. Those who read it will  realize that theology is not a distant and unattainable discipline but a transforming and vital part of being a believer. To read this will give the reader a wonderful foundation and confidence from which to begin to explore  more theology.

Highly recommended.

Augustines Sermon On Pastors – Part 2

Let us consider the unflattering words of God which Scripture addresses to shepherds who feed themselves and not the sheep.You consume their milk and cover yourselves with their wool; you kill the fatlings, but my sheep you do not pasture. You have failed to strengthen what was weak, to heal what was sick, and to bind up what was injured. You did not call back what went astray, nor seek out what was lost. What was strong you have destroyed, and my sheep have been scattered because there is no shepherd.
This is spoken to the shepherds who feed themselves and not the sheep; it speaks of their concern and their neglect. What is their concern? You consume their milk and cover yourselves with their wool. And so the Apostle asks: Who plants a vineyard and does not eat from its fruit? Who pastures a flock and does not drink from the milk of the flock? Thus we learn that the milk of the flock is whatever temporal support and sustenance God’s people give to those who are placed over them. It is of this that the Apostle was speaking in the passage just quoted.
Although he chose to support himself by the labour of his own hands and not to ask for milk from the sheep, the Apostle did say that he had the right to receive the milk, for the Lord had established that they who preach the Gospel should live from the Gospel. Paul also says that others of his fellow apostles made use of this right, a right granted them, and not unlawfully usurped. But Paul went further by not taking what was rightfully his. He forgave the debt, whereas the others did not demand what was not due them. Therefore Paul went further. Perhaps his action was foreshadowed by the Good Samaritan who, when he brought the sick man to the inn, said: If you spend any more, I will repay you on my way back.
What more can I say concerning those shepherds who do not need the milk of the flock? They are more merciful; or rather, they carry out a more abundant ministry of mercy. They are able to do so, and they do it. Let them receive praise, but do not condemn the others. The Apostle himself did not seek what was given. However, he wanted the sheep to be fruitful, not sterile and unable to give milk.

Augustine’s Sermon On Pastors – Part 1

You have often learned that all our hope is in Christ and that he is our true glory and our salvation. You are members of the flock of the Good Shepherd, who watches over Israel and nourishes his people. Yet there are shepherds who want to have the title of shepherd without wanting to fulfil a pastor’s duties; let us then recall what God says to his shepherds through the prophet. You must listen attentively; I must listen with fear and trembling.
The word of the Lord came to me and said: Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel and speak to the shepherds of Israel. We just heard this reading a moment ago, my brothers, and I have decided to speak to you on this passage. The Lord will help me to speak the truth if I do not speak on my own authority. For if I speak on my own authority, I will be a shepherd nourishing myself and not the sheep. However, if my words are the Lord’s, then he is nourishing you no matter who speaks. Thus says the Lord God: Shepherds of Israel, who have been nourishing only themselves! Should not the shepherds nourish the sheep? In other words, true shepherds take care of their sheep, not themselves. This is the principle reason why God condemns those shepherds: they took care of themselves rather than their sheep. Who are they who nourish themselves? They are the shepherds the Apostle described when he said: They all seek what is theirs and not what is Christ’s.
I must distinguish carefully between two aspects of the role the lord has given me, a role that demands a rigorous accountability, a role based on the Lord’s greatness rather than on my own merit. The first aspect is that I am a Christian; the second, that I am a leader. I am a Christian for my own sake, whereas I am a leader for your sake; the fact that I am a Christian is to my own advantage, but I am a leader for your advantage.
Many persons come to God as Christians but not as leaders. Perhaps they travel by an easier road and are less hindered since they bear a lighter burden. In addition to the fact that I am a Christian and must give God an account of my life, I as a leader must give him an account of my stewardship as well.

Operation Mincemeat: How a Dead Man and a Bizarre Plan Fooled the Nazis and Assured an Allied Victory by Ben Macintyre

While on a visit back to England in January of this year, I read a serialization of this book in the London Times and it captured my attention. I have been wanting to read this ever since. I was not disappointed.

This book revolves around the attempt to convince the Germans that the allied forces were going to attack Greece when in reality Sicily was the target. In order for such a deception to be accepted by the Germans meticulous detail was taken to create  a fictional character, Major William Martin, who would be found dead floating in the mediterranean off the coast of Spain carrying documents relating to the deception. Using the personal papers of the commander in charge of this operation, the book explains how this incredible deception was created and executed and finally reveals who the ‘body’ was. The end result saved tens of thousands of lives.

A truly fascinating read and Highly recommended.

Adopted For Life: : The Priority of Adoption for Christian Families & Churches by Russell Moore

There have not been many books that I am aware of written on the spiritual / doctrinal aspect of Adoption. In fact I have read only one other book that is even close to this one some 11 years ago; From orphans To Heirs by Mark Stibbe.

What this book does so well is intertwine Moore’s own experience of adopting two boys from Russia with theology about adopting. There is a stigma about adoption especially for those who are struggling to conceive naturally. There is a sense that an adopted baby is not really ‘yours’. Moore bluntly asks one couple who he was counselling whether their reticence to adopt was because they wanted to propagate their DNA rather than be parents. Moore himself has felt the discrimination of adoption when he was ‘told’ that he must of course be proud of his son. When the inquirer was told he was proud of all his sons, the reply was, ‘but especially Sam as he is your own flesh and blood.’

While Moore touches us with his own story, and educates us with a theology of adoption, he also challenges us both individually and as a ‘Church’ to consider adoption. Moore writes Adoption would become a priority in our churches if our churches themselves saw our brotherhood and sisterhood in the church itself rather than in our fleshly identities.

While millions of dollars a year are spent on IVF treatment, babies lie languishing in orphanages around the globe. For the cost of one IVF treatment, which may or may not work, a couple could adopt TWO children and give them homes filled with love.

Moore’s challenge is: [what  would it mean if ]our churches and families were known as the people who adopt babies – and toddlers, and children and teenagers. What if we as Christians were known, once again, as the people who take in orphans and make of them beloved sons and daughters?

Highly Recommended.

Ignatius Of Antioch On Dealing With False Teachers

I know that the bishop obtained a ministry (which is for the whole community) not by his own efforts or through people or out of vanity but in the love of God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. I am impressed by his forbearance; he accomplishes more through silence than others do by talking. For he is attuned to the commandments as a harp to its strings. Therefore my soul blesses his godly mind (well aware that it is virtuous and perfect), his steadfast character, and his lack of anger, as one living with all godly gentleness.  Therefore, as children of the light of truth, flee from division and false teaching. Where the shepherd is, there follow like sheep. For many seemingly trustworthy wolves attempt, by means of wicked pleasure, to take captive the runners in God’s race; but in your unity they will find no opportunity.  Stay away from the evil plants, which are not cultivated by Jesus Christ, because they are not the Father’s planting. Not that I found any division among you: instead, I found that there had been a purification. For all those who belong to God and Jesus Christ are with the bishop, and all those who repent and enter into the unity of the church will belong to God, so that they may be living in accordance with Jesus Christ. Do not be misled, my brothers and sisters: if any follow a schismatic, they will not inherit the kingdom of God. If any hold to alien views, they disassociate themselves from the passion.   Take care, therefore, to participate in one Eucharist (for there is one flesh of our Lord Jesus Christ, and one cup that leads to unity through his blood; there is one altar, just as there is one bishop, together with the council of presbyters and the deacons, my fellow servants), in order that whatever you do, you do in accordance with God. My brothers and sisters, I am overflowing with love for you, and greatly rejoice as I watch out for your safety—yet not I, but Jesus Christ. Though I am in chains for his sake, I am all the more afraid, because I am still imperfect. But your prayer to God will make me perfect, so that I may attain the fate by which I have received mercy, since I have taken refuge in the gospel as the flesh of Jesus and in the apostles as the council of presbyters of the church.

Letter of Ignatius of Antioch To The Church in Philadelphia

Generous Orthodoxy?

Other Christian leaders express anxiety concerning the tendency of theology to create division and conflict within the church. J.I. Packer, one of evangelicalism’s most influential and wise voices, has written of the problem of “entrenched intellectualists” – “rigid ,argumentative , critical christians, champions of God’s truth for whom orthodoxy is all.” I think we all know people who seem to have an obsession with what Packer calls “winning the battle for mental correctness” and little interest in any other aspect of the Christian faith. They may love God, but they seem to have problems loving other people – especially when they disagree with them.  It’s not always easy to discern how this fixation on theological correctness links up with the gospel accounts of the ministry of Jesus of Nazarath. Surely the better way is to pursue a generous orthodoxy, seeing disagreements in the context of the greater disagreements which bind us together?

Alister McGrath The Passionate Intellect