Sunday, March 27, 2011

Just Do It

This is the message I preached in January in Temple City and this morning in Montrose.


The Nike Approach to Sharing Your Faith

Acts 8:26-38

Hey I want to start today by showing a commercial. Yep, I’m not kidding. Here it is:

For years, Nike has used the tagline, “Just do it.” Listen, I think that the reason that works is that it’s simple and to the point and that it speaks volumes about the tendency we all have to put off doing the things we really should be doing.

Go on a diet? Hmm, maybe this summer. Getting into an exercise program? Later this spring, maybe. Need to sock away more savings? Not in this economy. Maybe later.

And it extends to the church. We get pestered all the time about all the church stuff we should do. Come, get into a class, tithe, serve, yadda, yadda, yadda (it all gets to be a buzzing sound after a while.)

And then the pastor gets up and talks about evangelism—about sharing your faith with other people. And that sounds hard. It sounds complicated.

I knew a guy who was a pastor in Minnesota. He decided to do some special training for people to share their faith. Seven weeks of training. The first week, he had 8 people. The second, there were five. The third week, it was the pastor, his wife and the janitor. That’s when he cancelled weeks 4 through 7.

Maybe we make this thing way too complicated. Maybe we need to Nike this thing. Hey, don’t over-analyze. Just do it. When you encounter someone who doesn’t know Jesus, pray, ask for guidance and strength and just do it.

Easy for you to say. Yeah, I know. I don’t live in your world, so it’s easy to say.

OK, good point. Let me give you a good example of Nike style faith sharing from the Bible and let’s see if we can’t pull some principles out that we can take with us. Here we go.

It’s one of my favorites—it’s the story of Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch found in Acts 8:26-38. I see three very simple, just do it, Nike principles for sharing your faith.

First Principle: Listen to the Spirit (8:26-29)

26Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, "Go south to the road—the desert road—that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza." 27So he started out, and on his way he met an Ethiopian eunuch, an important official in charge of all the treasury of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians. This man had gone to Jerusalem to worship, 28and on his way home was sitting in his chariot reading the book of Isaiah the prophet. 29The Spirit told Philip, "Go to that chariot and stay near it."

I think this is the single hardest principle for us westerners to understand and to live by. We’d rather have a program, a booklet, a system and a plan for evangelism that just listen to the Spirit. Listening to the Spirit just sounds spooky and weird and emotional. But it’s essential.

One of the lessons I’ve learned is that for many of us, we have about a 50% understanding of what it means to be filled with the Holy Spirit. We have idea that being filled with the Spirit means that we’ll resist sin and be holy people. Great start! But what about what Jesus says in Acts 1:8?

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.

Jesus closely ties what it means to filled with the Spirit to being His witnesses. We forget that. The Spirit-filled life is the Jesus-sharing life. The Jesus-sharing life is the Spirit-filled life. He sends His power through the Holy Spirit for this purpose: so we’ll be His witnesses.

I’ll take it a step further: you can’t be filled with the Spirit without being committed to sharing Jesus with others. Why would God give His to people who don’t intend to use it?

Power. When the men of Citadel of Faith church in Detroit looked at their community, they saw that their church was just a few blocks from one of the most notorious crack houses in the city. They camped out in front the house for three days, singing and praying that God would shut down the house. After three days, every person in the house was gone, and the house was closed for good. And in the days to come, people who were in that house turned from drugs to Jesus Christ. That’s transforming power. That’s the power of the Spirit unleashed.

In Acts 1:8, Jesus says, “You’ll receive power when the Spirit comes.” Chew that over. Power when the Spirit comes. Power—in Greek, that’s dunamis, the word we get dynamite from.

Remember when Jesus told Peter, “Hey, when My church really gets going, even the gates of Hell won’t be able to resist it.” What blasts the gates open? The power, the dunamis of the Spirit.

What does that power look like? I think it consists of three elements: courage, faithfulness and Spirit-guided wisdom.

Look at this guy, Phillip. He went on a mission right after seeing what was probably a good friend of his killed, murdered in the street by a mob: Stephen. And then he said, I want to do what Stephen did. I want to tell people about Jesus Christ. I want to go up to Samaria to do it—where people already hate Jews’ guts. That’s courage. That’s saying, this may get me killed, but I’m going on mission for Jesus Christ. That is going to a center of spiritual darkness, just like those men in Detroit going to the crack house. If the gospel wins there, the ripple effect would be enormous. That’s where he went. It was a strategic move.

Courage. Most of us don’t even want courage. We want security. I know I do. I am a creature of habit. I like knowing what I’ll be doing a week from now, and a month from now and a year from now. I like that. But I’ve learned that that doesn’t take courage.

Courage is a virtue that we associate most with what? With soldiers in battle. The Spirit-filled person knows that we are in a battle. They know that we are at spiritual war. They keep their weapon at hand. They look for targets. They drill. They practice. They are on alert. They know that the danger is real.

Then there is faithfulness. It’s one thing to obey once, but faithfulness is revealed by staying true. Faithfulness is obeying again and again and again. It’s staying at your post until relieved by the Commander. The Spirit of God comes to give us the strength to stick with it over the long haul.

Then there is Spirit-guided wisdom. Much of wisdom is knowing when to do the right things. There are a lot of good things to do, but knowing when to do them is the hard part. As we listen to the Spirit, He gives us wisdom; He gently whispers and we listen, and we act—just as Philip does here. Here, the Spirit tells Philip, “Go down to the road that leads to Gaza, the one out in the middle of nowhere.” He listens, and he obeys.

Second Principle: Ask questions (8:30-31)

Next, we read in vs. 30-31:

30Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet. "Do you understand what you are reading?" Philip asked.

31"How can I," he said, "unless someone explains it to me?" So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.

About six months before I gave my life to Jesus, my best friend asked me, “Glenn, are you saved?” I really didn’t know what it meant but I suspected it was some religious thing.

I am so grateful, to this day, that he didn’t say to me, “Glenn, since you are an unrepentant sinner, you are under the wrath of God and are a hell-bound soul. Have a nice day.”

Instead he asked me a question. He asked where I was. It was the beginning for me.

A lot of times people try to shock me as a pastor by saying that they are atheists. Then I surprise them by telling them that I’m a former atheist and then I ask them, “Please, tell me about the God you don’t believe in.” Then I listen, and often as not discover that the God they don’t believe in isn’t worthy of being believed.

Philip’s question was, “Do you understand what you are reading?” He didn’t presume that the Ethiopian was stupid; instead he saw it as a sign that this was the man God had sent him to. You see, God was already at work in the Ethiopian’s life.

It took me years to realize that God was at work in my life for many years for me to come to know Him. God is at work all around us, in the lives of people around us. You are simply partnering with the work of the Holy Spirit when God uses you this way. For that to happen you must be available—you must listen. And you must fit like a key into the lock of their need by asking good questions. That’s when people will invite into their lives, just as the Ethiopian invited Philip into the chariot.

Third Principle: Use Scripture (8:32-35)

We read in vs. 32-35,

32The eunuch was reading this passage of Scripture:
"He was led like a sheep to the slaughter,
and as a lamb before the shearer is silent,
so he did not open his mouth.
33In his humiliation he was deprived of justice.
Who can speak of his descendants?
For his life was taken from the earth."

34The eunuch asked Philip, "Tell me, please, who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?" 35Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus.

The eunuch was reading from Isaiah 53:7-8. This is part of the fourth and last so-called “Servant Song” found in the prophet Isaiah. You see, God was at work in His heart, and he was looking to the word for guidance—he was what the Jews called a “God-fearer”, someone who honored God but who hadn’t gone the next step of actually fully converting to Judaism. He’d been to Jerusalem and was on his way home, the long journey to the kingdom south of Egypt when Philip caught up to him.

In the case of this man, with the Scripture already open on his lap, the approach was easy and direct. In the case of others, the approach may be less direct. When Mark Zook and his wife went to the Mouk people in Papua New Guinea, he took a much longer route to explain who Jesus is by telling them the story of God’s creation of the world and the story from Adam to Abraham to David to Jesus. When Paul spoke to the Greek intellectuals in Athens, he stuck to Scriptural principles rather than to specific passages of Scripture.

In the seminar I’ve taught for sharing your faith, I don’t rely so much on verbatim verses of Scripture so much as on Biblical truth. You know, you can say, “The Bible says” and finish that with a general statement of Biblical truth.

I draw a simple diagram of a bridge and us that looks like this (see PowerPoint). Then you can, if you want to, use a single verse like Romans 6:23 to explain the way to God:

For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Use the written word of God—the Bible—to share the Living Word, Jesus. God’s Spirit inspired the word; God energizes that word and goes with that word. It becomes the undeniable voice of God to the people you share Jesus with.

Fourth Principle: Call for Decision (8:36-38)

Here’s where a lot of us choke. Here’s where a lot of us say, “Hey, I’ll just plant seed.”

Well, it’s true that if you want to reap plentifully that you have to sow with abandon. But no farmer would be content to sow without reaping. The harvest is in the reaping, not the sowing. You just sow without reaping, that’s a recipe for starvation.

In fundraising, there’s this principle called The Big Ask. When Haddon Robinson was president of Denver Seminary, he asked a donor if he would give $100,000 dollars so that the seminary could modernize its phone system. He said he would, but then he asked, “What’s going to be the total cost of the modernization?” Well, that was over $200,000. He smiled and said, “If you’d asked me to cover the whole modernization, I would have. But you asked me for $100,000, so that’s all you get.” Haddon didn’t make the Big Ask. He settled for a half-measure.

Look at the Big Ask that Philip makes of the Ethiopians in Acts 8:36-38:

36As they traveled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, "Look, here is water. Why shouldn't I be baptized?" 38And he gave orders to stop the chariot. Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptized him.

Now you kind of have to fill in some gaps here. He and Philip had been talking for a while. You have to fill in that they’d talked about faith and baptism and a lot of other things already. So when the Ethiopian sees some water—one of the brooks in the area leading down to the Mediterranean—he asks to be baptized.

Now, every now and then I encounter someone who’s that ready to go forward. But most of the time, you have to nudge people a little. Just a little. Nudge them too much, and you can mess it up. It’s the Spirit who draws people to faith, and any time we force the matter, the Spirit withdraws. People can tell when they are being manipulated, and they can tell when it’s God at work, and they know the difference.

A good way to do this is to ask simple questions like, “Have you crossed the line of faith?” “Have you given Jesus the keys to your life and said to Him, you drive now?” “Have your crossed the bridge of the cross by faith?” The point is to make it clear that you don’t get right with God by knowing certain things about God, but by actually coming to know God Himself.

The Big Ask here is—OK, here’s Jesus, now what are you going to do about Him?

Do I need to point out the obvious—that Philip didn’t tell the Ethiopian to come to church with him that Sunday so that Peter could preach a message and then maybe he could decide if he wanted to be baptized or not? No, he didn’t do that. Now let’s be clear—that was and still is an option. Sometimes—especially in our current American context that’s a good way to go. But any thought that this was the only way is out. We have to have an “all of the above” kind of mentality when it comes to making the Big Ask. You do it in a conversation, by asking someone to church, by whatever means. As Nike says, just do it!

Well, how did it work out for the Ethiopian? Ask anyone from the country today and they’ll tell you that this man’s witness led to Ethiopian becoming one of the first Christian countries in the world. It survived the Muslim conquests and today over 50 million people in Ethiopia are professing Christians because of the faith of this one man.

What if—Philip had said no? What if when the Spirit of God spoke to Philip, he’d said, “Hey, I’m too tired, I just can’t”? I suppose you could say that God could have sent someone else. But what if He didn’t? The things we do—or leave undone—have a huge impact in time and for eternity. So what can you say except, “Don’t kid around, don’t make excuses; just DO IT, for Jesus’ sake!”

“Just Do It.” It sounds too easy to be useful. We have tired excuses for not “just doing it.” “Just do it”—maybe we need to keep it that simple.

You don’t know what to say. Well, start by saying something and allow God to give you the words you need. Just do it.

You don’t think you’re much of an example. Well, it’s by God’s grace anyway. You don’t have to be perfect. Just do it.

You’ve got responsibilities elsewhere. Sure, we all do. And yet we have time chat with our neighbors about our pets, for crying out loud. Tell them about Jesus instead. Just do it.

Don’t worry; you won’t mess up and accidentally send some to hell. And it’s OK if you don’t have all the answers; if you get stumped, just tell them you’ll get back to them. Hey, just do it.

Now, this week, listen to the Spirit. Open your eyes to people. Pray about it. Open your mouth. That’s right. Just do it.


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