Theme: Have you ever wondered, “When a person becomes a Christian, why doesn’t God just take them on to heaven?” The answer is that God has an assignment for each of us; you were made for a mission. What is that mission? You don’t have to speculate. Just as Jesus was leaving to go back to heaven, he left clear instructions for each of us. Read on and explore the only one of the five purposes we can’t do in heaven! Then check out all the ways our church reaches out to our community and our world. Make it your personal challenge to find a mission or outreach to try!
Let’s pray. Lord, thank you for this morning. Again, you are the maker of the weather so we rejoice in this day regardless of what it is. We pray that your Holy Spirit would shine in our hearts so that we might understand your Word, not just understand it Lord, but to live it into our lives, we pray in Christ’s name.
A monastery in Germany trained Christian brothers for various responsibilities within the Roman Catholic church, and one Christian brother in training lived with mortal fear of being called upon to preach the chapel service So, he thought he would cut this off at the pass, and he went to his prior, the chief monk, and he said to him, “Look, I will do any job that you ask me to do. I will go out into the fields, I will fertilize, I will irrigate, I will scrub floors, I will polish silverware, just please do not ask me to preach at the chapel service.” Well, the prior said to himself, this is exactly what this guy needs to grow. So he decided to say to him right there on the spot, “Tomorrow you are going to preach the chapel service.” Well, the guy went back to his cell and he was like, he did not know what to do. He got up the next morning and he looked into the eyes of his peers, he was so apprehensive and his insides were turning. He was so nervous he did not know what to do, and he started his sermon by asking, “Brothers, do you know what I am going to say?” And they all shook their heads in the negative like this. (shakes head no) And he continued, “Well, neither do I, lets stand for the benediction.” And they all went out. Well, the prior was so angry he came to him right away and he said, “Look I am going to give you another chance tomorrow and you better do it right. You are going to preach the message. This is what you need.” So the next day came. The scene was the same. The young man began as he had the day before. “Brothers, do you know what I am going to say?” And they all nodded, (shakes head yes) they knew he wasn’t going to say anything. And he goes, “Well, since you already know, there is no point in my saying it, let’s stand for the benediction.” And they all went out. Well, now the prior was livid with anger and once again he says, “I am tired of your shenanigans. I want you to preach this service or you will go to solitary and just have bread and water. That’s it.” The third day the scene was the same. Brother had begun the way he had the two previous days. He said, “Brothers, do you know what I am going to say?” Well now they are really confused and some were going like this (shaking heads yes) and some were going like this (shaking heads no) and he said, “Well, let those who know tell those who don’t, let’s stand for the benediction.” And out they went.
Brothers and sisters, we are on the fifth day of our five purposes. The fifth purpose of our 40 Days and the key word is the “E” word. Evangelism. And that in and of itself may want most of us to go out and have a final benediction, a quick benediction when we hear the word evangelism. We want to get out of here. We say, “You want me to tell somebody else about God, and about Christ and how they can know him.” But the bottom line of the “E” word is that it is not a suggestion. It is a command, and so I want you to listen with me and follow with me in Acts, Chapter 1,Verses 1-8 these words, the beginning of Luke history of the Book of Acts and especially note the last verse. Let’s read together.
“In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and teach until the day that he was taken up to heaven,after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen. After his suffering, he showed himself to these men and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days (how about that, forty days) and spoke about the kingdom of God. On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift that my father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” So when they met together, they asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them: (listen carefully to verse 8 “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. 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.”
You will be my witnesses, that is our fifth purpose. To share the good news of Jesus Christ and his love. That’s what evangelism means. Evangelism is taken from the Greek word, evangelon, which sounds very similar and evangelon simply means good news. So evangelism is sharing the good news of Jesus Christ, of his death and his resurrection, of forgiveness of sins. Let those who know, tell those who don’t. Now, where are we supposed to share this good news? Well, you can see from Acts 1:8 that there are three places. I am going to put that up here on the slide for you. Acts 1:8 says that we are suppose to share in Jerusalem. We are supposed to share in Jerusalem. And Jerusalem are the people closest to me. Okay, that is the people that I live and work with everyday. We are also supposed to share in Judea and Samaria. That would be people who are close to me, but different in need. Maybe in the next county or maybe in the next city, people who are relatively close, but have different needs. And then thirdly, after Judea and Samaria, it says you will also be my witnesses to the ends of the earth. That is everybody else that we have no understanding of who they are.
Now notice that it does not say in this text, in Acts 1:8, that you are to be my defense attorney, or that you are to be my salesman. It says you are to be my witness, and a witness is somebody who simply says what they had seen and what they have experienced. That’s all. You don’t have to be a great theologian. You are the expert on your life. All you need to do is share what God has done in your life. But, you can’t be a silent witness alone. Many of us want to be silent witnesses and you say, “Well, my deeds are my witness,” and I would say, “You know what,,your deeds can be a mighty witness for sure. But, if you don’t explain why you are doing your deeds, who gets the credit? Right? So you have to tell people why you do what you do, so that God can get the credit, that its God’s work. You see, the scripture says when the Holy Spirit comes in you, then you will be my witnesses. I mean it is very difficult to be God’s witness apart from the power of the Holy Spirit and when we do these deeds of love and mercy, we need to tell people where the power comes from in order to do that. So deeds without words are kind of a half a witness, but perhaps that is better than words without deeds, but God wants both.”
Now, why does God want this? We have to go back to week two. Week two said that God is forming a family. God is building a family for eternity and people from every tribe and every nation and every tongue will gather around the throne of the land and worship him, and we will be an eternal family. This is not mission impossible. It is mission inevitable. This is God’s plan from the beginning of the world. Now, let those who know tell those who don’t. That is the message today. Where do we start? Right where we live. In our Jerusalem. Friends, family, coworkers, neighbors, people who cross your path.
A couple of months ago, maybe six weeks ago I was in SuperFresh and it was after church and I had my shirt and tie on and I was going through the line to grab something quick and a very friendly checkout worker was working there. He says, “You look like a doctor.” I said, “Oh yeah, how about that.” And I said, “I am not a doctor.” And he goes, “Well, you look like a doctor.” I said, “Well, I guess you could say I am a doctor of souls.” He looked at me and said, “What?” He said, “Oh, you are the pastor at Central Presbyterian aren’t you?” And he said, “I visited there just a couple of weeks ago. We are looking around and we are searching for a church.” I said, “Well, come back and see us sometime.” So, you never know when you will get an opportunity to plant the seed or just say something, and you are not even thinking about it and somebody will engage you and interact with you. You know again I think of the Promise Keepers coming up this week for men. I mean, what a great opportunity to bring along another hurting puppy. Right? I mean another hurting person, a person to come. Invite them, bring them along. You don’t know how many men have been brought to Promise Keepers and their lives have been transformed by Christ. Why? Because somebody invited them. Because somebody invited them.
I like the approach that Towson University Campus Crusade group has been using lately. I went over there to speak about a month or so ago, and they handed me a survey that they use on the campus and Campus Crusade is famous for these surveys you know to engage people and I thought that these questions were great. And I will share them with you. They are very simple. Once you have established a rapport with somebody, you can ask them a question like this. “What three words would you use to describe your life these days?” You know that can start a pretty good and interesting conversation. And so, then the second question that I picked up from them was, “What is one thing you think you would like to do before your life ends? What would you love to do? Someplace you would love to go, where would that be?” And then the third question could be, “What do you think happens when life ends? What do you think happens?” Now, by this time you are going to know pretty clearly whether you are going to engage in any kind of conversation about spiritual things. Right? Because somebody is either going to be very receptive or they are going to shut it down. But, your job is not to beat the door down. It’s just to put the bait out there, and if they engage you and if they are interested and if God is preparing their heart, then you go the next step and you can say, “Would you like to know what I have come to believe about that question? About what happens after life ends?” “Well, yeah, I would really like to know that.” “Oh, okay well let me tell you.” And then you can tell your story. You just share how God touched your heart. How you came to know Christ. How now you have an assurance and a peace that you will be with Christ in heaven when you die and that eternal life starts right now. You will be able to share. And if you are thinking, I don’t know how to share that. Well then, like anything else it is good to get some training. Very easy to get training and we will be doing that in the future. But nothing is more powerful than your story and your witness about what God has done in your life. And frankly, there have been very, very few times where I have engaged a person in evangelism where boom right there on the spot, that was it and the deal was sealed. You are normally going to be planting seeds and watering seeds. So, share your stories liberally and give people sense that they will want to talk to somebody else after they are done talking to you. Right, if the subject ever comes up again.
We’ve got to be like an optometrist you know. A Christian optometrist, he was so wise. He uses the four spiritual laws as his eye chart. You know, and he says, “Now read that.” “God loves you and offers a wonderful plan for your life.” Now he says, “Now read that second line.” “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Now, there is a guy who is thinking. He is using his work to be a witness. You know why we don’t get bold? You know why we are not bold? Because we think people are not interested. And I am telling you right now; nothing can be further from the truth. Gallop poles show that now North Americans are more interested in spiritual issues now than they were ten years ago, by a long shot. He did another survey, another Gallup survey. 65 million Americans say that they have no church connection or church home. 34 million of them, over half say that they would go to church if somebody would just invite them. 34 million people just waiting to be invited. That’s a form of evangelism.
I want to show you a video, one of our own members, Gloria, just recently married last year and she has a heart and a passion for evangelism and I want to run this. This is about three minutes.
“Hi, my name is Gloria, and I have been going to Central Presbyterian Church for about a year now and the topic for this week, for the 40 Days of Purpose study is evangelism and I know because of my own life and most of my friends and family that this is a pretty terrifying topic and something that people really do react like the guy in that video, pulling his hair out and screaming and just not wanted any part of it. Just wanting to pass it off to the next person down the street. I wanted to tell you a little bit about how I have overcome some of my fears and what that’s been like in my life.
I grew up as a missionary kid in Taiwan, and grew up around evangelist parents whose goal was to share the gospel with people. So, I started out at a pretty young age, being very comfortable sharing the gospel. I starting sharing the gospel probably in about first or second grade, and from that point on it has just grown and grown and grown. The freshman year of high school I saw the movie “Ghost” and most people in that movie cried on the part where Patrick Swayze dies, sorry for those who have not seen it, but I cry on the part where the demons came and took the bad guy away, mid-way through the movie. I just remember being so struck by the fact that everyone that does not know Christ is not going to spend eternity with him and that has stuck with me to this very day.
I went to Wheaton College and had a very big focus on ministry and evangelism during that time, and since I have graduated from college, the big part of my focus has become evangelism in the workplace and building relationships with your colleagues and just being real and open with people so that they will want to know what is different about me. I work on an AIDS floor at Hopkins as a nurse and everyone on the floor knows that I am a Christian and some people tease me about it and say how religious and spiritual I am, so I think for me my biggest fear related to that video would be the religious nut one, because Christians on my floor, there are probably about two or three of us and it is just a general label that we have that you guys are intense, you know you read the Bible. Some of the connotations are negative too. They think that we know everything or we are very judgmental. And so the biggest challenge for me is overcoming the stereotype of what Christianity is, and actually loving people and forming relationships with them and being able to take that first step and say, “No let me tell you what’s different about Christianity that you don’t understand,” and being able and willing to take that step. I think that is the biggest and hardest part to do.
What we all need to realize is that as Christians, we are all called to share the gospel. Whether or not we think we have the gift of evangelism, the gift of discipleship or whatever it is, we are all called to share our faith because we have been given a gift that people in our workplace, around our world and church, everywhere around us don’t know who he is. They don’t know about his gift of grace. And I think it is an exciting and a powerful calling that we have, to be able to partner with Christ, for Him to be able to say, “Listen, I don’t care how small you are, or how bad you are speaking. I am going to give you the words to say and you are going to be able to do this with my help.” So just words of encouragement, I think that one of the biggest parts of evangelism is to start asking God to make you aware of those open doors. Ask him to not let you pass up on those opportunities. For example, if a doctor comes on my floor to get a consent from a patient and I only have five minutes with that doctor. In those five minutes I want to find out enough about that person’s life, to be able to say, okay I think there is an open door here. Let me ask this person if they want to know about Christ, if they want to come to church and believe it or not, having an open heart and being aware of this opportunity, God does miracles. He really does. Just being able to trust him is a big part of it. So, I think that being bold, being real and trusting Him are three steps that we each need to start taking today and each day, and we will grow in our ability to evangelize and our ability to love those who are lost.”
You know Gloria? She would have done that live, but she had to work today. And that’s why she did it on video. And, you can just tell from listening to her that she is a Christian who happens to be a nurse. Right? Instead of the other way around. You can just tell that because she is thinking, how can I share. What can be the entree in to a conversation here and there? She kept referring to a video. We didn’t see that video obviously. There is a video called, “Eight reasons why I don’t share my faith” and it is kind of goofy and long and I just thought that was way out, but I think it is going to be shown at EPIC, so if you want to come back and see it, how not to share your faith, then come on back for that. But, that is what she was talking about. But here is the point. God wants you to share the good news of Jesus and notice that it says, to be my witnesses. To be my witnesses. Not to just talk about spiritual stuff in general, but to talk about Jesus. It reminds me of a little girl who went to Sunday school and she came home and her mother asked her, “Well who was your teacher?” And the little girl said, “Well, I don’t know her name, but she must have been Jesus’ grandmother because she didn’t talk about anybody else.” Okay? And here is the point. The best witnesses are those, not who have been Christians the longest, they are the people who have the deepest joy in their heart and the people who love Jesus and love to talk about him. Those are the folks who are the best witnesses.
You know I like the way Rick Warren put it in his simulcast. He says, “There is only two things that you can’t do in heaven.” So he listed a bunch of things that you can do. You can sing, you can serve, you can pray, you can fellowship, you can even rest, but there are two cant’s. You can’t sin and you can’t tell those who don’t know about Jesus. And he said, “Now which of these two do you think God wants you to work on while you are still here on earth?” Now lets see, sin or share. I think it is share, right? You know some of you were waiting. You weren’t sure what the answer to that was. One question comes up in conversation around here at Central Church. We start talking about philosophy, the future and we say things like, well which side should Central be? How large should Central get? You know, that is the wrong question. The right question is, Should anyone not have a chance to be included? Should anybody not have a chance to know more about the gospel? And, if that means it grows larger, then it grows larger, because it’s about sharing and being God’s witnesses. And that is the second area that we are to do that,not just our Jerusalem, telling those in our immediate sphere of influence the good news of Jesus, but then Judea and Samaria, Jesus said. And these are folks, this is the area where we reach beyond my immediate world, my immediate comfort zone, people near me but different in background, education, perhaps economics. Paul said in 1st Corinthians 9:22, “I become all things to all people, so that by some means I might save some.” He said “to the Jews, I become like a Jew. To the Greeks, I become like a Greek. To the weak, I become weak.” Okay? He was trying to relate to people and build bridges across the differences that he encountered with people.
Our entire emphasis and mission at Central both here and abroad is about touching needs beyond the immediate sphere of influence; our Judea’s and Samarias. That is what the ministry fair was all about in some ways. The ministry fair was about going beyond our comfort zones and working with folks and people in needs that we might not normally do unless we were very intentional about it. And so, that is why we are going to keep those booths up in the concourse, to keep reminding us that God calls us to minister and build bridges, whether it’s Woodbury Crossing or an AIDS ministry or whatever. It is to try to reach into Judea and Samaria where we live.
You know one day Fulton Sheen, a famous Catholic bishop was in a leper colony over in Africa, and he was repulsed by the open cankerous sores that he saw all around him and the lives of everybody there laying in the dirt. He walked by one man laying there and he not only had leprosy, but he had a bunch of other skin diseases and open wounds. And as Fulton Sheen leaned over to talk to him, the cross that he was wearing on a chain around his neck broke and the chain broke and the cross fell into the wounds on this guy’s leg. And he says that for a minute he was repulsed. He wanted to step back and then all of the sudden by the power of the Holy Spirit I was filled overflowing with love for this man, this person who had nothing and I reached into the sore and I took up the cross. See, that is what Christianity is all about. It’s messy. It’s not easy. It sometimes is going to hurt. It’s going to repulse us initially. But by God’s power and by God’s grace we will be able to minister and get past our self-centeredness and our own comfort. God has promised eternal reward and he said that one of the basis of our judgment, sheep on one side, goats on the other. Right? What you did to the least of these, you did to me. Did you feed the hungry? Did you clothe the naked? Did you visit the prisoner? Did you go and see the sick and help them? See those are the issues that God will raise in judgment, and so part of our Judea and Samaria witnesses is going beyond our comfort zone to the hurting and the needy.
And that brings us to our third and final area of Acts 1:8 and that is the ends of the earth. You know Central Church is known for outreach to missionaries and 30% of Central’s budget goes to reaching others, not right around us. To the support of missionaries and many of you have gone on mission trips or are yet to go on mission trips. That’s another important part of reaching out to the ends of the earth. And you know what, the ends of the earth this day is a lot different than the end of the earth 2000 years ago. Isn’t it? I mean it took half of your lifetime to get to the end of the earth back then, but now you can go around the world with a click of a mouse. You can do evangelism. You can do “E”vangelism, electronic evangelism. You can talk to somebody on the other side of the world by email or communicating some other way. But nothing substitutes for an incarnational approach and so I want to ask Grace, one of our missionaries who is just about to go out and into the field to East Asia to come and share a little bit about how God has touched your heart and why are you are going to the ends of the earth.
It’s a pleasure for me to be here this morning back at Central. This church is very special to me, not only because of my time here in the past, but also through your support and prayers for me over the last few years through my short term trips and also in seminary, and now as I go over long term with the missions organization OMF International. I am going to East Asia as Pastor George said, and I will be going to a people group that is very strongly Buddhist in background and they have had very little exposure to the gospel at all. The actual location that I will be going to, the government there does not allow traditional missionaries to work there, so I hope you understand that I won’t be saying the specific location that I will be going to. But historically, these people have lived very secluded from the people around them in order to preserve their culture and religion, and as a result they are very underdeveloped technologically. But, the good news is that recently they have started to open up and sought help from the outside to help them with some of their basic development needs. And so I will be joining a team that is already there and part of my responsibility will be to hopefully use my civil engineering background to help them find ways to meet their basic needs. For example, it is a very dry area, so they need ways to collect water. And also it is very cold, so we are trying to find ways to use the passive solar heat to help them stay warm in the winter.
But, as Pastor George also said it’s important, we will hope to demonstrate God’s love to them in a real way through helping them with their needs, but also their most important needs are spiritual. So, as we spend time with them and share our lives with them, we will also be intentionally sharing Christ with our word and telling them how the God of the Bible is the true God and that Jesus Christ alone can save them. So, I would appreciate your prayers for me and for them. Over the years with my relationship with God, as I have grown to know him more deeply, I have come to realize even more how worthy he is of worship and I really enjoy singing these songs of praise to him and just praying to him directly. But, I have also realized that he is worthy not only of my praise, but the praise of people all over the world in all different cultures and with all different languages and I also think the Bible is filled with passages like that, starting from the first book in Genesis, talking about how its God’s desire that the people all over the world would be made right with him again and to come to know and worship him. And so, it is my privilege to be a part of seeing that God’s desire for people to come to know him be fulfilled, and also I believe that it is people’s real heartfelt desire, whether they realize it or not, yet to come to know their Creator and to be made at peace with Him. So, I am thankful to be a part of seeing that happen and I am really also thankful for your part. So thank you for your prayers.
Grace will be sharing a little bit about how we can pray for her. We are going to commission her at the end of this service shortly. Thank you Grace for sharing.
You know the question that is often asked is, when you get to heaven is anybody going to say thank you, to you for something that you did to help move them toward God and toward Christ? Thank you for not keeping it a secret. Thank you for passing it on. You know in Acts 13:36 the scripture says, “David served God purposes in his own time.” What a wonderful thing to say about somebody. That David served God’s purpose in his own time. What a great thing to put on our tombstone. You know, he or she served God’s purposes in his or her own time. That is something that we should be praying for each other, that we serve God’s purposes in our generation. What’s more important than that? What is more important for taking up space on this planet than that? Serving God’s purposes.
And again, Rick Warren asks a poignant question. And here is the test to know whether or not you have completed our mission or not yet. He says, “Are you still alive?” You check your pulse, right? If the answer is yes, then your mission is not complete. There is still something more for you to do. So as we close, we can have four possible responses to this call to be Christ’s witnesses everywhere. We can say like Moses, who me? Or we can say like Jonah, not me. Or we can say like Jeremiah, why me? Or we can say like Isaiah, send me. Send me Lord. Let those who know, tell those who don’t.
Let’s pray. Gracious Lord, we thank you so much for your love that you came, you were sent to us, and we thank you that you come as a shepherd seeking lost sheep, and I know that you are calling each one of us to accept our mission from you. I pray that you will help us be a people of courage to do the right thing and not walk away out of fear or disobedience. Thank you for the privilege of being invited to be a co-laborer for the greatest enterprise of all time, the greatest thing that will last for all eternity. And so we pray Lord, that you would help us from this day forward to walk into your eternal purposes for you, to bring others to you, to fulfill your purpose in our generation and we ask it in Christ’s name. Amen.