Sharing the gospel (using a napkin)

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  • 1. Sharing the Gospel—the Good News about Jesus and the Kingdom of God Dave Detwiler – July 2010 The very last line of the book of Acts reveals what the apostle Paul was up to toward the end of his life. Here’s what it says: “He proclaimed the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ—with all boldness and without hindrance!” (Acts 28:31). Wouldn’t it be great if the same thing could be said of each one of us? This past Sunday, July 10, I shared a message that had that very goal in mind—helping each one of us to be better equipped to share the good news about Jesus and the kingdom of God with others. The approach I shared was adapted from the work of James Choung (who encouraged others to adapt it) in his book, True Story: A Christianity Worth Believing In (InterVarsity Press, 2008). Here’s what I shared in that message . . . Let’s consider a possible scenario: A friend of yours who is not a Christian has an increased interest in your religious commitment. He likes the kind of person that you have become, and realizes that it has something to do with your faith in Christ. What if he or she says something like this to you one day, over lunch, “You know, I’ve met a lot of Christians over the years who are pretty obnoxious, but I can’t say that about you. I really respect you, and was just wondering, What is it about Christianity that you find so appealing? I’m starting to think that I need to give more attention in my life to spiritual things, so I thought I’d see what your faith is all about.” Okay! How would you respond? What if all you had to help you in the conversation was your napkin on the table, a pen in your pocket, and your spiritually hungry friend across the table? Where would you start? • Start by drawing a circle with a couple of people in it in the upper right corner, representing the world in which we live. • Then ask, “What do you make of our world? Do you think it is the way it should be, or is something wrong with it? What do you think?” • While everyone can think of some things in our world that are wonderful, the list of things that are messed up is far longer, isn’t it? (You could highlight some examples, such as diseases, poverty, terrorism, racism, sexism, crime, drug abuse, environmental damage, family failures, unemployment, etc.) • Our world is truly messed up (add squiggly line to circle). • Most people seem to hunger for a better world—do you? Why is that? • Why is it that we all look at our world and, in our hearts, know that it shouldn’t be the way that it is, that it should be better? What does this tell us? • Well, it’s possible that it’s telling us that either the world we long for once existed, or that it will one day exist, and, interestingly, the Christian story affirms both!
  • 2. • (Draw a new circle, to the left of the first one, with a couple of people in it.) • The very first sentence in the Bible says, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth,” and when God was done, having put the first humans in the new world, he pronounced it all “very good.” • We were in perfect relationship with the world, perfect relationship with one another, and, most importantly . . . • . . . perfect relationship with our Creator God (add a smaller circle around the people). • In other words, we were “Created for relationship” (write this under the first circle). • So what happened to this world? How did we get to where we are today? • Well, the Christian story reveals that the first humans chose not to trust their Creator, but rebelled against him and went their own way and did their own thing. • (Add arrows pointed in toward people in the second circle.) • This is essentially what the Scriptures mean when they speak of “sin” and “evil.” • We put ourselves in the place of God, making our selfish desires and plans of utmost importance, and this messes up everything. • The world is not longer the wonderful place God meant for it to be. • (Add vertical squiggly line between people.) Our relationships with each other are damaged, so that now we lie, cheat, steal, manipulate, act pridefully, withhold love, refuse to forgive, and are just plain selfish toward one another. • But this is not our biggest problem (add squiggly circle around people): The greatest tragedy is that our relationship with our Creator is damaged. • We essentially reject God’s authority over our lives, and so he removes the blessing of his direct presence from our world, and everything begins to fall apart. 2
  • 3. • And so we have a world that is “Damaged by evil” (write this below the second circle) . . . • . . . and it’s our fault as much as anybody’s. The Christian story affirms that we all have sinned against a perfectly pure and loving God, and therefore we all stand under his just judgment. • I find this a rather difficult claim to deny—no matter how good we think we are. • Our world is damaged because we are damaged. We want God, or someone, to deal with the evil in our world, but we must realize that each one of us contributes to it through our self-centered and unloving behavior. • In other words, we are the problem. • The question is, has God done anything to fix the mess we’ve made of everything? • Yes he has. Christians have historically called this “the gospel,” which means “the good news.” • God himself, because of his great love for us, has entered our broken world to begin the process of restoration (draw a new circle, with a squiggly line around it, and an arrow entering from above). • This is the part of the story we celebrate at Christmas. On the night that Jesus was born, this is what the angel said to the shepherds (and this is what Linus quotes in the classic Charlie Brown Christmas special!): “I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord” (Luke 2:11). • “A Savior”—one who can save us from our sins, save us from God’s just judgment, and save our world from the mess that it is in (draw a cross below the arrow). • Jesus came to make all things right again, to restore us, and the world, back to what God intended in the beginning. • Jesus himself calls this “the gospel of the kingdom,” and it is great news indeed! • And at the heart of this mission of rescue and restoration is Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross for our sins. • One ancient Scripture puts it this way: “Christ suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God” (1 Peter 3:18). • Another says, “Jesus was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification” (Romans 4:25). • Yet another says, “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eterenal life” (John 3:16). • Do you see what these Scriptures are saying? Jesus’ death on the cross, and our response of putting our complete trust in him as our risen Savior, restores our relationship with God (draw a circle around the cross). 3
  • 4. • To put it another way, we are brought back into God’s kingdom (see Colossians 1:13-14), as we now gladly live under his gracious authority in the midst of our damaged world. • This is most profoundly seen in our love for one another (draw a couple of people in the circle around the cross). That is, through Jesus, our relationships with each other are restored, as we learn from him how to love one another deeply, from the heart. • So, we are “Restored by Jesus” (write this below the circle), the one who died to save us from our sins and was raised from the dead to give us new life and a place in God’s kingdom. • And while perhaps you’ve heard this all before, it’s huge! • But then again, sometimes this is where the story stops, as if that’s all there is to it. After all, Christianity is all about going to heaven when you die, right? And the church is just a safe place in which to hang around until that time, correct? • NOT EVEN CLOSE! The story is much bigger than that! • (Draw a new circle, as shown.) As followers of Jesus, we are called to continue his mission to the world—to give our lives in love so that others might be restored to a right relationship with God. • The Bible puts it this way: “God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors” (2 Corinthians 5:19-20). • This is what the church is supposed to be all about! • (Draw some people around the cross, with arrows pointing out.) We are to share the good news about Jesus and engage in good deeds that reflect his concerns. • As the Bible puts it, we are “to act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with our God” (Micah 6:8), in the hope that others will experience Christ in us and join us in following him. • And we have the gift of the Holy Spirit, received when we came to Christ, so we have the power now to actually live a life of love. • Let’s put it this way: We are “Sent together to love” (write that under the circle). • This, too, is a vital part of the Christian story—we are to be agents of hope; we are to do all that we can to make this world more like the good one God created in the beginning. 4
  • 5. • But this raises a fair question: “Can’t people do this without a commitment to Christ, or a faith commitment of any kind? That is, can’t anyone, if they put their mind to it and are willing to sacrifice for it, help to bring healing to our world?” • (Draw an arrow from the second circle pointed to the fourth one.) • Well, no one doubts that much good has been done in this world by people who are not connected to Jesus. No one can seriously argue against that. • But if what the Christian story affirms about human nature is true, that no one is free from the disease of sin, that we are all plagued by selfishness and pride, then how can we hope to take on evil and not be corrupted by it? • Isn’t this exactly what we see played out in our lives again and again? o We resolve to be good citizens, but then we cheat on our taxes when we know we can get away with it. o We resolve to be good spouses, but then we are not faithful and loving all the time. o We resolve to be good leaders, and/or parents, but then we abuse our power and influence. o We resolve to be good religious people, but then we become legalistic and self-righteous towards others. o We resolve to be good with our use of money, helping the poor and needy, but then we max out our credit cards on all kinds of stuff we really don’t need. • Are you getting the picture? How can we hope to truly succeed in promoting good in this world when we can’t even be good ourselves much of the time? • Maybe there really is something seriously wrong with us that only God can fix. Maybe we really do need Jesus, and the redemption and forgiveness and spiritual power that he offers. • And, remember, the issue is not just, “How can we be good?” but moreso, “How can we be in a right relationship with our Creator—the only One who is truly good? • I am convinced that, no matter how hard we try (and we’ve been trying for centuries), there is no hope of genuine, lasting transformation of our world, or our personal lives, apart from Jesus Christ (draw a couple of lines blocking the arrow). • And so . . . 5
  • 6. • . . . we must come to Jesus (draw an arrow from circle two to circle three), admitting our need, confessing our sin, and receiving his transforming grace and spiritual power. • And then we can really begin to love others and do good in our world (draw an arrow from circle three to circle four). • And this makes perfect sense, if you think about it: If the Christian story is perhaps true, that God created our world, and our rebellion toward him messed it all up, then how can we hope to make lasting changes for the better if we go on ignoring the very One whose world it is—the very One we were created to serve in love? • Or let’s put it this way: If Jesus is who God sent to rescue and restore us, how can we hope to make progress in our lives, and in this world, if we blow off this Jesus and seek to center our lives elsewhere? • Does that make sense? • And let me add one more world of encouragement as you take all of this in: The Christian story ends with a glorious vision of the very world that we hunger for. • What keeps faithful Christians going in fulfilling the mission of sharing the good news and engaging in good deeds in the midst of this damaged world is knowing that our work is not in vain. • The very thing that we are laboring to see realized, at least to some degree—the world as God intended it to be—will be fully established once again by God himself, when Jesus returns to this earth! • This is our hope; this is what keeps us going (see 1 Cor 15:58). • We read about this vision of a new world at the very end of the Bible, where it says, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away. He who was seated on the throne [that is, Jesus] said, ‘I am making everything new!’” (Revelation 21:3-5). • There it is! The perfect world that we long for—a world “Re- created for relationship” (draw an arrow from circle four to circle one, and add the prefix “Re-“ to the word “Created”). • And Jesus is at the very center of this new world (add a cross to the center of circle one), as he is the King of God’s kingdom! How do you react to this vision of the future? Does it make you skeptical, as if it sounds too good to be true, or does it perhaps stir up hope in your heart? God’s plan from the beginning has been “to reconcile to himself all things” (Colossians 1:20)—beginning with each one of us right here and right now, as we personally respond to the good news about Jesus and the kingdom of God. So, what is keeping you from surrendering the leadership of your life over to Jesus? That is, what is keeping you from turning from your sin and putting your complete trust in Jesus to save you and give you new life, where you can really make a difference in this world and look forward to the coming of the very best world? What questions or doubts stand in your way? How can I help with them? 6
  • 7. * * * This, of course, is just one way to present the good news about Jesus and the kingdom of God. And the point is not to give a “canned” presentation to a captive audience, as nobody likes that! Rather, this approach helps people who are genuinely interested (as in my scenario above) to see the larger story of what God is up to in the world—and not only their need for personal salvation—and to share it in a way that appeals to them as visual learners, as well as those who hunger for a better world (don’t we all?). And just as James Choung encouraged people like me to adapt his first crack at this approach, I would encourage the same of you. That is, don’t feel you need to woodenly stick to how I presented the story above. Use your own words, and feel free to make it shorter or longer. And if you can think of a better way to draw the story out on a napkin, go for it! The idea is to be better prepared to share the good news of Jesus and the kingdom of God when people ask us about the hope that we have in Christ (see 1 Peter 3:15). And, keep in mind, the only reason people will be asking this of us is because they can see that our faith is clearly making a difference in our lives. And so I’ll end with Paul’s encouragement to the Philippians: “Whatever happens, as citizens of heaven live in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then . . . I will know that you stand firm in the one Spirit, striving together with one accord for the faith of the gospel” (Philippians 1:27). 7