I wonder what you think about preachers… I heard a funny story about a lady who fell asleep during the sermon. Pointing to the man sat next to her, the minister said, ‘Would you please wake that woman up!’ The man replied, ‘You put her to sleep, Reverend, you wake her up!’
Henry Ward Beecher was a famous American preacher and a great orator. One day he went to his church to preach and as he placed his Bible on the pulpit he noticed a blank sheet of paper with the word ‘FOOL’ written on it. Someone obviously didn’t agree with his preaching! Beecher’s keen sense of humour seized the moment. He lifted the paper for all to see, then his booming voice filled the church as he announced, ‘Generally I receive letters from people who write and forget to sign their name. This letter is different. The person has signed his name but forgotten to write the letter’!
You know how sometimes people are sent or persuaded to go on a training course at work that they really don’t want to go… Well, at the beginning of a recent seminar the opening speaker addressed his delegates with this question: ‘Let me ask you… why you’re all here? A voice in the audience piped up, “Because we are not all there!”
Now please don’t think I am trying to imply ‘you are not all there’ but why are you all here on Alpha? Can I suggest that the reason you are here, ultimately, is because you want to find out more about the Christian faith and about Jesus? (Whatever answer you give to ‘why are you here’ is the same reason why you should go and tell others.) This evening we are going to look at WHY and HOW we should tell others… not to preach to them, as such, but to share the good news of Jesus with others… because God calls us to be conduits of his good news not cul-de-sacs!
I remember when I became a Christian after attending a nurture course, similar to this one, twenty-seven years ago. For me, there was a definite decision point, 10th July 1993, when I finally realised the truth about Jesus… that He loves us so much, and that I could be forgiven, restored and renewed into a right relationship with God… and so I prayed the prayer of commitment and received Jesus into my life.
Up until that point I had been wrestling with everything I had learnt on the course. I wanted to believe it but I was hesitant, stubborn, proud, scared and reluctant, all at the same time. I wanted to accept God on my terms, but I knew what I had to do – repent and believe – and this made me really miserable. One night I went out for a run and I remember simply crying out: “God help me.” At that very moment I sensed someone running up behind me and as I turned I saw a vision of Jesus, smiling and running alongside me. I didn’t hear an audible voice but I knew Jesus was saying: “Come to me, Ian, trust me and I will run alongside you all the way.” Immediately I was ‘charged’ with the Holy Spirit; like a mild electric current running through me. Every hair on my body stood on end. I had more bumps than a Lincoln biscuit and I was tingling in places I didn’t even know existed! I felt joy surge within me and I ran like the wind!
That evening I finally said the prayer of commitment and I wept… I didn’t know why. I didn’t feel happy or sad… It was only later that I came to understand my weeping as a washing or re-birth, like in baptism, and a sheer relief on the part of my soul that my spirit had finally come home to God.
Now we don’t all need to have a conversion experience or a ‘conversion date’ to prove that we are Christians. There has been some research done and in a recent survey 69% of the people said they had become Christians gradually – rather than having one dateable conversion experience. Sometimes the experience is like a capital V – a sudden change, but for others it is more like a gradual U – as the realisation of Jesus’ love for them impacted their heart.
You know all of us who are involved in running Alpha have willing given up our free time to do so: why do you suppose are we doing this? No one is forcing us, and we are not paid for doing it… so what’s in it for us? And we are not after your money. The course, workbooks, food, everything is free. So what’s our motivation? Why share the Christian message?
WHY SHOULD WE TELL OTHERS? … I want to say three things:
Because we want to
We want to share the good news about Jesus because we have discovered it for ourselves and, frankly, it would be so very selfish to keep it a secret. When a pregnancy or birth, or an engagement or marriage happens in your family, its good news and you don’t keep it to yourself; you share it. On the other hand, imagine discovering the cure for some debilitating, life-threatening disease and keeping it to yourself: how selfish would that be? The reason we tell others is because we have fantastic news for all mankind: As the angel announced to the shepherds at the beginning of Luke’s gospel (2:10-11): ‘I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David, a Saviour has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.’
Because we are told to
In Matthew’s Gospel (28v19-20) Jesus gave us a directive: ‘Go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.’ Jesus commands us to Go and make disciples. We are to go… not wait for folk to come in and ask, ‘Excuse me, how can I become a disciple of Jesus’? – In Romans, chapter 10 Paul talks of his desire to see his fellow Jews accept Christ and in v13 he states: “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” Then, in the next verse (v14), Paul goes on to pose a number of penetrating questions: “How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?” How indeed? How can people today believe in Jesus and come to faith; how can they call on the name of the Lord and be saved if they don’t actually hear the good news in the first place? – We are meant to tell others… just think, if we didn’t follow Jesus’ command, Christianity would die out and the church cease to exist in just one generation! (In actual fact, as we’ll see later, the good news of Christ has spread and church continues to grow and is larger today than at any other time in history. It’s maybe not the largest it has been here in the UK, but around the world. Wow!)
Because people need it
There are some 70 million people in the UK. Recent statistics from the NHS show that in just 1 year 43 million prescriptions were written for depression. Some of these, no doubt, will have been repeat prescriptions but even after taking this into account, that’s still an awful lot of unhappiness! In the UK there is a crisis of purpose: people are lost and looking for meaning and direction in life. There is also a crisis of spirituality: a spiritual vacuum that people try to fill with all sorts of mystical stuff! In fact, never before has there been so much choice in life. Try asking for a painkiller from your chemist. Aspirin or paracetamol? Tablet, capsule or liquid? Brand name or chemist’s own? Regular or extra strength? Small or large packet? It’s enough to give you a headache! In the UK there is a crisis of purpose, a crisis of spirituality and there is also a crisis of happiness, which ‘affluenza’ (affluence and wealth) have not been able to satisfy. We should tell others about the good news of Jesus because people need to hear it.
In summary, we should tell others the good news of Jesus because we want to, because we are told to and because people really need to hear it. But in telling others there are two common mistakes we need to avoid.
The first is insensitivity: Walking around town with a sandwich board draped over your shoulders that says: ‘THE END OF THE WORLD IS NIGH’ on one side of the A-board and ‘TURN OR BURN’ on the other; or hijacking every conversation and Bible-bashing people is not only insensitive, but frankly, it usually has the opposite effect and puts people off.
The second common mistake we need to avoid is being so scared or fearful that we end up not saying anything at all. Too many Christians are like Artic rivers: They remain frozen at the mouth! Usually people are fearful of telling others about their faith and what Jesus has done for them, because they are frightened of what others will think or how they will respond. It boils down to a fear of rejection or a fear of being ridiculed or insulted and so they justify their position saying, ‘I prefer to keep my faith a private matter!’ – Aren’t you glad that someone was willing to invite you to come on Alpha; that someone wanted you to learn more about Jesus and what He has done for us? – In my experience, the problem with people being fearful of telling others is mostly because there’s been lots of bad practice in the past, and this has put people off sharing the good news. But, it really is good news so…
HOW THEN SHOULD WE TELL OTHERS?
One man was asked this question said, “I feel rather like a mosquito in a nudist camp: I know what I ought to do, but I just don’t know where to begin.”
Following the headings in the Alpha workbook, let me share with you some ideas all beginning with the letter P:
In Matthew 5v13-16, Jesus said: ‘You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men.’ – Reminds me of the little girl in Sunday school was asked, “What does salt do?” She said: “Salt makes you thirsty.” Now, perhaps you and I cannot make people drink, but we can make them thirsty. – Jesus continued: ‘You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.’
Let your light SHINE, said Jesus. In other words, let people see the light of Christ in you… Someone once put it like this: ‘We Christians should offer living proof, of a loving God, to a watching world’.
In John chapter 12v21, Jesus and his disciples were in Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover and some Greeks came to Philip and said, “Sir, we want to see Jesus.” – That’s what the people are saying to us! Oh, they might not quite articulate it like that but that’s what they are saying: – Wife, husband, parent, friend… that loved one you long to see become a Christian; they want to see Jesus! Love them. Let them see Jesus in you that they might be attracted to Jesus through you.
Jesus said, let your light shine, don’t hide it or cover it up or under a bowl. Put it on the table. Let it shine for all to see. – We are to let the PRESENCE of Jesus shine through us. – One man said, ‘I want to believe in Richard Dawkins but he’s not as happy as you are!’ He ended up becoming a Christian. There is something really attractive and compelling when we let the light and joy and PRESENCE of Jesus shine through us. Live a beautiful life and overwhelm people with kindness and love. If we demonstrate God’s extravagant and unconditional love, with our own words and acts of charity and kindness, then it won’t be long before people are asking: ‘Why are you doing this?’ And if someone asks a question like that… well, you can bet they want to know the answer… what motivates you?
Let your light shine, said Jesus. Let the PRESENCE of Christ shine through you.
Years ago there used to be a workman called a ‘lamplighter’ – whose job was to carry a lighted lamp on top of a special pole and to move from one lamppost to the next lighting the street lamps. I read about an old man who, as a boy would often look out from his bedroom window to watch the street lamps being lit around the town. As darkness began to fall, he would lose sight of the lamplighter but he could always tell where he had been because of the trail of bright lights he left behind him, and he could always tell where he was because he’d see him punching holes in the darkness.
We need to be lamplighters, shining for Jesus, punching holes in the darkness and always seeking to leave a place or a conversation brighter for having visited.
Some people are unaware of the relevance of Jesus. I’m convinced this is because they have just never taken the time to really explore Christianity and discover who Jesus is and what he came to do. Strange really, especially when you consider that the whole world records time as either before or after his death! How more relevant does a person have to be? Your own date of birth is a permanent reminder of Jesus life and death. Phillips Brooks, an English bishop who lived over a hundred year ago, wrote this about Jesus:
He was born in an obscure village, the child of a peasant woman. He grew up in still another village, where he worked in a carpenter shop until he was thirty. Then for three years he was an itinerant preacher. He never wrote a book. He never held an office. He never had a family or owned a house. He didn’t go to college. He never visited a big city. He never travelled two hundred miles from the place where he was born. He did none of the things one usually associates with greatness. He had no credentials but himself.
He was only thirty-three when the tide of public opinion turned against him. His friends ran away. He was turned over to his enemies and went through the mockery of a trial. He was nailed to a cross between two thieves. While he was dying, his executioners gambled for his clothing, the only property he had on earth. When he was dead he was laid in a borrowed grave through the pity of a friend.
[Twenty] centuries have come and gone, and today he is the central figure of the human race and the leader of mankind’s progress. All the armies that ever marched, all the navies that ever sailed, all the parliaments that ever sat, all the kings that ever reigned, put together, have not effected the life of man on this earth as much as that one solitary life.
Some people think Christianity is irrelevant and the church is dying but, far from it, the church is alive and well and growing. The church is not in decline, as some would have us believe… well, it is in Western Europe, but it’s maybe no longer the case here in England… and around the world the church is growing faster today than ever before. The fact is, there are more Christians in the world today than at any other time in history. Listen to some of these statistics:
- 2 billion: the number of Christians in the world (a third of the world’s population, comprising Roman Catholics, Protestants, Eastern Orthodox, Anglicans, Pentecostals, and many others – all different flavours of the same thing).
- 80 million: the number of Anglicans worldwide (17 million in Nigeria, which has had to double the number of dioceses in the last ten years to cope with the growth of the Church).
- 70,000: the net increase in the number of Christians every single day worldwide.
- Western Europe is the only part of the world where the Christian faith is struggling. Everywhere else the Church is growing, especially in South America, Africa and South-East Asia. It is estimated there are 10,000 new Christians every day in China.
- While we are about it’ let me wave the Church Of England flag… 1.7 million: the number of people who attend a C of E service each month, with about 1 million attending every Sunday.
- 23 million: the number of hours of voluntary service given by C of E parishioners each month.
- 1 million (just over): the number of children educated in Church of England schools… including our very own St Sebastian’s.
And what is really exciting… there are signs of large-scale church growth here in England, chiefly in the charismatic evangelical churches but also especially in the black Pentecostal churches in London. (There has been over 500 new churches in the London boroughs in the last 10 years. One of the largest, Kingsway International, has 10,000 Christians meeting every Sunday.)
Just as Scripture predicted, the Church is continuing to grow as people hear the truth about Jesus and respond to Him.
1 Peter 3:15 commends us to: ‘Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.’
Like the boy scouts’ motto: ‘Be Prepared,’ we need to know how to answer people’s questions, especially the common ones like: What about other faiths: aren’t all religions the same? How do we account for all the suffering in the world? – If you are not clear on how to answer these, you might like to discuss it later on your tables later. (You might also like to know that responses to these and the Top 10 Questions people ask can be found in the Appendix at the end of my book: Empowered Personal Evangelism.)
The more we equip ourselves and become conversant with the reasons and arguments for Christianity (known as apologetics), the more effective we will be in sharing our faith with others: Which leads us on to our third ‘P’…
Again, we should tell others about Jesus (1) because we want to do (2) because Jesus told us to and (3) because people need to hear it… but in order to hear the good news someone needs to proclaim it or tell them, or at least to invite them to come and see or hear for themselves. And on that note, can I just say that the good news is for everyone: Everyone loves to hear the gospel…
- Englishmen love the gospel because it is something to argue and debate about.
- Welshmen love the gospel because it is something to sing about.
- And Scotsmen… well, they love the gospel because it’s FREE!
In John chapter 1(v35-42), Andrew (who became one of the first disciples) wanted to find out more about Jesus and so he asked him and Jesus said: “Come and see for yourself.” Andrew spent the day with him and immediately afterwards he went out and found his brother Simon and told him: ‘We have found the Messiah! Come and see.’ And he brought Simon to Jesus. – Jesus gave Simon the nickname, Peter (which means the Rock) and it was through Simon Peter’s leadership that Christ said he would build his church. – Now you and I may not be like Peter, who preached one day and three thousand people were added to the church. But we can all be like Andrew who found his brother and said to him, ‘Come and see’. – If Peter was the only person that Andrew ever brought to Jesus, what a difference that one person made. And likewise, if we bring just one person to Jesus we have no idea where it will lead.
In 1934, a twenty-four year old farmer, Albert McMakin, who had recently become a Christian, was so full of enthusiasm for the gospel that he filled his truck with people and took them to a meeting to hear about Jesus. There was one particular good-looking farmer’s son whom he was especially keen to get to a meeting, but the young man was hard to convince – he was too busy falling in and out of love with different girls, and just didn’t seem attracted to Christianity at all. Eventually Albert McMakin managed to persuade him by telling him he could drive the truck. When they arrived, Albert’s guest decided to go in and he was ‘captivated’ and began to have thoughts he’d never known before. He went back to the meetings again and again until one night he went forward and gave his life to Jesus. That name of the good-looking farmer’s son, who went because he got to drive the truck, was Billy Graham… who went on to lead many to thousands to faith in Jesus… Now we can’t all be Billy Graham, but we can all be like Albert McMakin – we can all bring our friends to hear about Jesus; to come and see.
People need to hear the good news and so someone needs to proclaim it. A great way to share the gospel and tells others about Jesus is to tell them your story. Christians have two stories: the gospel and their own story, their testimony. Remember, you’ll never meet an atheist who ever said, atheism has really changed my life, but every Christian can say that. A great way to share the gospel and tell others about Jesus, is to tell them your story; the story that God tells about you in heaven. Everyone has a story. Who is Jesus to you? (Tell them how things were for you before; what happened; and how things are now.) In the final analysis people can’t argue with our experience, which is why a Christian’s testimony is so effective.
It’s not our responsibility to bring people to faith. That’s God’s work… ours is simply to be His visual and verbal aids; to shine and share! It’s our job to witness and testify, and it is the Holy Spirit who convicts and brings people to faith.
Paul says to the Corinthians: ‘I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling.’ He admits he was nervous and apprehensive, but he continues… ‘My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power.’ (1 Corinthians 2:3-5)
As we look around us it’s easy to think that our feeble efforts and prayers are worthless and futile, and that we stand little chance of reaching the lost for Christ, but consider this story:
One day a man was taking a stroll along a beach. As he’s walking along the man notices someone in the distance, keep bending down to pick something up and then, almost delicately, throwing it into the ocean. As he came closer the man saw thousands of starfish washed up by the high tide and now left stranded and dying on the beach. He observed a young man picking up the starfish and one by one tossing them gently back into the water. After watching this seemingly futile effort, the observer said, “Young man, I’m afraid you’re wasting your time. There are literally thousands of starfish washed up on this beach and for that matter, probably on every beach along this coastline. It would be impossible for you to save them all or to make even the slightest difference.” The young man smiled and with a determined look in his eye, he bent down to pick up another starfish. Tossing it gently back into the ocean he turned to the older man and replied, “Well sir, it certainly made a difference to that one!”
If we will allow God’s presence to shine through us… if we will seek to invite and persuade people to come and see… if we will proclaim Jesus, share our testimony and rely on the Spirit’s power to draw people to Jesus… then we too will make a difference to that one, and that one, and that one…
There is, however, one other thing we need to do; our final ‘P’ stands for prayer:
‘Perhaps you have heard of the massive church growth there has been in Korea. The number of Christians has grown from virtually nothing to about a third of the population. If you ask the people there why the church has seen so much growth, they would say, ‘Because of prayer.’ If you are a bit cynical like me, you will probably respond to that by saying, ‘Yes, of course… but what’s the real reason?’ We’re not happy that it might be that simple; that God is answering a people who are devoted to prayer. (One of the largest churches in Seoul has a prayer meeting at 4:30am every day. That’s a church devoted to prayer.)’ Citation
John Bunyan wrote: “You can do more than pray after you have prayed but you can’t do more than pray until you’ve prayed.”
We should always be praying for those who are closest to us, that God would open blind eyes and give them spiritual insight to see Jesus; we should pray for those who God has laid on our hearts; that they would come to know and accept Jesus for themselves. Most of us find when we come to faith in Christ, that there has been someone praying for us. My grandmother prayed faithfully for me for years. She died in 1992. I became a Christian the following year. Even when we think our prayers go unanswered, God hears them.
In Luke 18v1 Jesus told the disciples that they should always pray and not give up. Let me close with a true story…
A few years ago, my wife’s aged aunt, Daisy, fell out of bed and injured herself but not seriously. She was taken to hospital and kept in for observation but ended up contracting the MRSA bug, and died… Daisy was kept in an isolation room and was unconscious for most of the time. Her sister (my mother-in-law) visited her every day but the killer-virus worked very quickly. One morning just before Aunt Daisy died, I was coming back from dropping the children off at school and I felt the Lord calling me to visit Daisy in hospital and pray with her. The feeling was so strong that I was obedient and went.
Aunt Daisy was unconscious and so I sat at her bedside, held her hand and told her that Jesus had sent me to talk to her and pray with her. She remained unconscious throughout my visit but I had my Bible with me and so I read to her from John 14… Jesus said, “In my Father’s house there are many rooms… I am going to prepare a place for you… I am the way and the truth and the life.” Then I said a short prayer of confession and finished with the Lord’s Prayer. I couldn’t be certain but I thought I saw her lips move ever so slightly when I said, “Amen.” I left knowing that I could do no more.
Later that evening, my mother and father-in-law went to visit her, for what was to be the last time. To everyone’s amazement, Aunt Daisy, was fully awake and sat bolt upright in bed, bright eyed and smiling after just finishing a meal. She told them she had had a wonderful visit earlier that day, and that Ian had come to see her, and pray! – Later that very same night Daisy passed into eternity. After what my mother and father in law told me, I have no doubt that she is in heaven… And I believe God brought her back to consciousness one last time, so that I would know that I was right to go and tell her about Jesus.
God never intended you to be a reservoir that just takes in, but a river of blessing that flows out to others. Tell others about Jesus… they may really need to hear it! And keep on praying and never give up.
Let’s bow our heads and pray now…