Many years ago when my kids were small one of them was learning to play ball (the plastic bat and wiffleball variety) and I was doing the pitching. I can remember my frustration when every pitch was in the right place but he still missed time after time. I finally stopped and asked “Why can’t you hit the ball?” His reply demonstrated that he had been feeling the same frustration. He shot back: “Because you’re not throwing it where I am swinging.”
Why is it we have such difficulty taking responsibility for our own actions? Certainly it has something to do with heredity. Our first parents demonstrated that evasive technique when the Lord asked them if they had disobeyed Him and eaten the forbidden fruit. Adam replied, “The woman you put here...she gave it to me!” When He asked the same question of Eve, she likewise insisted “The serpent deceived me….!” By the time He got to the Serpent there was no one left to blame. Maybe that is why the Bible calls the Serpent (or Satan) the “Accuser.” He’s been trying to put the blame back on us ever since.
Whenever I ask the question in group study “What are some indicators of maturity?” someone invariably (and rightly) responds, ‘When we learn to accept responsibility for our own actions.” Our entire society is shot through with people who are avoiding responsibility and others who are willing to let them. “It’s not my fault, I was temporarily insane!” Or, “It’s not her fault, she comes from an abusive family!” But if any of us is to have any kind of relationship with a holy God he must learn to say often “Forgive me, I have sinned!” Some people have difficulty understanding why God referred to King David as “a man after my own heart” when he was guilty of adultery and murder. I think one answer lies in this fact: when he was confronted with his sin he didn’t make excuses, but admitted “I have sinned against the Lord.” The Bible informs us that we have reached a turning point when we are willing to “repent” (a good word, but don’t count on public comprehension of it. It has been out of popular usage for years). Repentance provides the road back, the road to peace and forgiveness and fulfillment--in short, the road to God. It’s a road you and I need to spend a great deal of time on.
One of the books of the Old Testament I used to avoid when I was a seminary student begins with the words: “Meaningless! Meaningless!...everything is meaningless.” You guessed it—Ecclesiastes, written 3,000 years ago by wise King Solomon. Since it began in such a cynical fashion I felt it couldn’t really provide much inspiration for me. Sometime later when I was forced to study the book in detail I discovered that Solomon was only stating his conclusions up front about living a life without a secure tether to God, regardless of which direction it might go. The real message Solomon had to give was in his last words, not his first ones. He concludes his book like this: “Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man…”
I saw these same words rephrased in modern dress by Leon Morris in “The Cross of Jesus,” when he stated, “the tragedy of much of modern life is that the abandonment of the knowledge of God means that futility has taken over.” Those are the two words that really describe the condition of people who don’t know God: “meaningless” and “futility.” It wouldn’t matter if you lived in an Eastern culture 3,000 years ago or in the Western culture of today. You always arrive at the same dead end when you omit God from your everyday life. That is a description of what has taken over our own nation. Of course that problem has always been around, but never has it so absorbed the lives of so many of our people. The greatest mission field we face is not across the ocean in some third world country. It is barely across the street. The culture most lost to the gospel is our own. I believe they are not so much lost like the prodigal son in Jesus’ parable, but more like the lost sheep. They are just out there, a long way from where they should be. They can make no real sense out of their surroundings, and they have no idea how to get home. That is why every Christian is a rescuer, or, if you please, a shepherd. We should be the first to notice their location, their futility, their meaningless lives, and provide loving directions back to the sheep pen where the Good Shepherd waits to welcome them home where they belong.
A pastor visited a church he once served. He ran into George who had been an Elder and leader in
The church, but who wasn’t serving there any longer. The pastor asked, “George, what happened? You used to be there every time the doors opened.” “Well, Pastor,” said George, “a difference of opinion arose in the church. Some of us couldn’t accept the final decision and we established a church of our own.” “Is that where you worship now?” “No,” answered George, “We found that there too, the people were not faithful and a small group of us began meeting in a rented hall at night.” “Has that proven satisfactory?” asked the pastor. “No, I can’t say that it has,” George responded. “Satan was active even in that fellowship, so my wife and I withdrew and began to worship on Sunday at home by ourselves.” “Then at last you have found inner peace?” asked the pastor. “No, I’m afraid we haven’t,” George said. “Even my wile began to develop ideas I was not comfortable with, so now she worships in the northeast corner of the living room, and I am in the southwest corner.”
This is the kind of story that creates nightmares for pastors. Everywhere you go you find churches that have formed from a split, churches that have produced a split or churches that are undergoing a split. In every church I know of, there are enough strong feelings about opposing points of view to blow them completely out of the water. What makes some of those churches survive and grow while others continue to divide?
I think the answer to that has to do with two things: “Mission” and “Family.” If a church feels a mission to accomplish a given project or goal it tends to put differences aside in order to cooperate with the goal. This explains why some churches experience their worst trials following the completion of a building program. The goal was obvious and everyone wanted to reach it. But, when a goal is reached, what then? Problems which were temporarily put aside now begin to compete for attention. The second factor—family—has to do with relationships. People must bond together rather than just sit together for family to be formed. Do we provide the opportunities necessary for our people to know each other as real people struggling to grow and mature in Christ? When left on the fringes with no personal involvement or attachments, people feel little loyalty or motivation to continue with a church.
It is our hope that those who visit us will resist the temptation of our culture to remain uninvolved, but will, instead, plunge into the work with us as partners in ministry to our community and open their lives to become family. We need you and are praying for you.
Many people today reject moral absolutes, are deeply skeptical of religion, and know very little about the Bible. All of that makes evangelism in this new millennium more difficult than before. Often, people won’t be willing to listen to the Gospel until you’ve first engaged them in conversations that prepare their hearts and minds to hear it. Here are some ways you can use conversations to help people get ready to respond to the Gospel:
View evangelism as a process rather than an event. Sharing your faith is a process that’s best done gradually through a series of conversations with people, building trust with them over time. Don’t try to do everything at once. Drop seeds one at a time.
Pray for more passion. Ask God to give you more passion for lost people so you’ll be motivated to engage them in conversations that relate to their relationship to Christ.
Focus on availability rather than ability. You must remember that it’s the Holy Spirit who ultimately draws people to Christ. Your job is simply to lead them and give them opportunities to respond. If you will make yourself available to God His Spirit will empower you to speak the truth to others. Quit hiding behind “I don’t know enough.”
Ask Questions. Rather than always telling them what they should believe, tactfully ask probing questions in ways that allow them to see the truth for themselves. If someone says, “I’m a pretty good person so I’m going to get into heaven,” you could ask, “What do you mean by ‘good’?” If they say, “All religions are the same,” ask, “How is it possible for all religions to be the same when some of them contradict each other’s key beliefs?” Pray for wisdom to know which issues you should focus on.
Be a builder. Find common ground with the people you’re trying to reach, and use those areas you have in common as the basis for meaningful conversation. Build bridges from a point of shared beliefs toward the Gospel. Build “heart bridges” by showing people how Jesus satisfies the longing of their hearts and helps them realize their hopes. Build “head bridges” by helping people come to understand the Christian faith better.
Always be ready. Be prepared to answer people’s spiritual questions at any time. Realize that opportunities may just come at any time and any place. Use every encounter you have with non-believing friends to help them take another step closer to Christ.
—- Adapted from Conversational Evangelism by Norman Geisler and David Geisler
Senior Pastor of Cactus Christian Fellowship