Decisions – Part 13

In Sermon Series by Rachel Schultz

Hiding Your Faith Behind the Gospel Blimp

Becky’s pulse was up to a hundred and twenty-five. She could feel her heart pounding. Her breath began to come in short, helpless little bursts; in fact, she was almost gasping for air. Her palms had a sudden clamminess to them and she could feel a small river of perspiration begin to flow down the small of her back.

“This is ridiculous!” she said to herself, feeling the tightness in her throat. At this moment, the airport terminal and its crowds of people almost seemed to float in front of her as she felt a wave of dizziness. Could she do it? Could she actually go through with what she had promised to do?

“I’ve got to do it right now,” she muttered to herself. “This is it!” Across the terminal she had spotted a large woman with graying hair and a big suitcase at her feet. Maybe she was the one. Becky wiped away the new beads of sweat that had popped out on her forehead and began to walk over toward the woman and her slow-moving knitting needles.

“Uh . . . excuse me.” With the extra-large frog lodged firmly in her throat, the words came out sounding like a croak. She could feel her face flushing a bright red.

“Huh?” The lady looked up, a little bit of impatience on her face, as if to say, “Now what? Who are you? Why are you bothering me?”

Becky took a deep breath and tried to swallow the lump in her throat. “Do you know . . . Jesus Christ?

*   *   *

Whew! End of story. Are you glad that’s over? What a horrible, gut-wrenching experience!

But do you know something? I’ll bet a lot of us here today have been on a similar adventure. A church-planned witnessing trip. You take a church van over to the mall or out to Chicago’s O’Hare Airport and then you’re supposed to talk to people about God.

I think most people would just as soon ride out on the wing of that DC-10 all the way from Chicago to Denver as they would go up to a stranger and witness. To ask someone if they’ll go to heaven when they die. To ask them if they’re saved. To give someone you’ve never met a tract about the four spiritual laws or about the prophecies of Revelation. We’d rather die! And yet being a witness is part of the package we’ve been talking about in this sermon series as we look for a newly born relationship with God. That kind of friendship requires three things: Bible study, prayer, and—witnessing. Actually opening up your mouth and telling others what Jesus means to you.

Maybe you’ve spent your whole life looking for an out. Is it possible that we can just read our Bibles and pray and hope that God will be satisfied with two out of three? Well, no. The plain truth is that the Bible commands us to witness. One of the most famous verses about it is in Matthew 24:14, the well-known Gospel Commission: And this gospel of the kingdom WILL be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.”

The gospel will be preached, the Bible says. Someone in God’s army is going to tell the world about Jesus.

Well, I can imagine what you’re tempted to say. “That’s right—someone will tell the world. Someone else, that’s who. In fact, Pastor, YOU do it. Here. Here’s fifty dollars. I’m putting this money into the offering plate just for you; now you preach the gospel. I’ll sit here in this pew, focus on Bible reading and praying . . . and while I’m at it, I’ll pray for you too.”

But you know, that excuse isn’t going to work. Let me share with you two biblical reasons why it won’t.

Let’s turn together to Mark chapter five. Jesus has just healed a man who had been possessed by demons. And this man, newly freed from his chains of torment, is so grateful. This stranger from Galilee has just given him a new lease on life. He’s savoring liberty for the first time in many years. He’s giddy with emotion and gratitude. Naturally, he wants to stay with his new Friend and with the 12 disciples, who are all semi-pro preachers. But notice what Jesus says to him in verse 19. “Go home to your family and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how He has had mercy on you.”

We can understand why this new believer would want to stay with the Savior. First of all, out of sheer gratitude to his benefactor. “Thank You, Jesus! I want to stay with You forever.” And maybe he even was thinking, “Jesus is a wonderful preacher and healer and speaker. I’ll stay with Him and support Him as HE tells the story of salvation.”

But notice that Jesus doesn’t let that happen. He sends the man home and says to him, “No, you go and tell your friends and your family. This is your story now; you do it. No one can tell your experience like you can.”

Now, it’s true that oftentimes a witnessing team will have a main presenter, and then support people who carry suitcases and handle microphones and PowerPoint files. It’s not wrong to create an army where people have specialized skills. Many of us have participated in such adventures for Jesus. But we see here that, in some way and fashion, and at some point, every single person is going to actually express their confidence in the Savior.

Do you want to know some good news? First of all, Jesus makes it clear that when we witness, we simply tell others what Christ has done for us. That’s all! We don’t need to prepare a long string of proof texts or a full-length series of Bible studies . . . although it might come to that later. But witnessing is basically telling others what Christ has done for you, what He’s accomplished in your life. Nothing will compel someone else’s interest more than your simple sharing of how much your own life has changed for the better since you accepted Him as your redeemer.

In his book, Love, Acceptance, and Forgiveness, Pastor Jerry Cook tells about a man who did this with his neighbor. Over the back yard fence, he gave a plain but effective testimony about how happy he was to have a friend like Jesus, how he was confident of eternal life. How God had answered his prayers.

Well, the first thing he knew, his neighbor wanted to become a Christian! And in a panic, this guy called Pastor Cook. “Please come over to my house and walk my neighbor through the process. Share the six steps, or the four spiritual laws, or the twenty-eight fundamental beliefs or whatever. It’s time to bring in the professional team; I’ll go and sit in the back of the bus.”

And you know, old habits die so hard that Pastor Cook was out in his car and halfway down the block before reality hit him. Wait a minute! I’m doing what this church member should be doing. So he went back into the house, called the man, and said, “I’m not coming.”

What! How come? Why aren’t you doing your job?

And Pastor Cook said to him: “Jesus wants you to do this! Just keep telling your friend how it was for you. Show him how to pray. How to study God’s Word. How important it is to be a part of a faith community.” Then he added this: “Look, brother, to bring a friend to Jesus—to just tell this story and have it work—is the most wonderful thrill in the world. I’d be acting the part of a thief if I robbed you of this incredible joy.” The next weekend at church, he saw both of those men sitting there . . . and he could see on his member’s face that it had been a glorious moment.

Now, let’s notice something else. Jesus sent this man home to witness to his friends and family. To the people he already knew.

Doesn’t that make sense? You tell those you have a relationship with; after all, they’re the ones who are interested in what’s transformed you! You don’t have to prowl airline terminals and bus depots and shopping malls—even though God might open an opportunity for you there as well. There may be a place for “cold calls,” for door-to-door encounters where we just go up one street and down the next. There are people out there to be won for Jesus who may not have any friends in this congregation. But your best chance to witness is one-on-one with people you’re already connected to. People whose lives are already being touched by your goodness and your unique life experience.

In his book, Becoming a Contagious Christian, Pastor Bill Hybels has a chapter with this simple title: “First You’ve Got to Barbecue.” The very first thing you say to someone in your neighborhood can’t be: “Would you like to come sit next to me in church next Sabbath?” No, we have to start with birthday parties and garage sales and sharing cookies at Christmas time. After someone has sat with you at a baseball game a few times or enjoyed a pie you make for them, well, then, that earns you the right to begin to talk about more important things.

Here’s a second point. Jesus told that newly healed man, “Go home and tell people what I’ve done for you. Tell them about US, about our new relationship.”

Here’s the significance of that: you can’t witness until you have something to witness about.

Morris Venden shares a couple of interesting hypothetical scenarios. Let’s say we’re seated at the O. J. Simpson trial—the first one, that is. And the prosecution calls a witness who takes the stand.

Attorney Marcia Clark asks him: “Where were you on the night in question?”

The witness says: “I was home in bed.”

“Did you see anything? A white Bronco? Bloodstains? Did you run into Kato Kaelin?”

“No, I didn’t see a thing. I was asleep the whole time.”

“Okay. Well, did you hear anything?”

“Nope. ‘Fraid not. Didn’t see anything, didn’t hear anything. Don’t know anything.”

Well, Judge Ito would have sent you out of there in a hurry. “Witness excused!” You can’t be a witness unless you’ve experienced something. Put another way, you can’t come back from a place you’ve never been to.

And you know, a lot of us have walked the terminal buildings of O’Hare Airport, wanting to witness, looking for a victim . . . and we really didn’t have anything to say. Until you have a relationship with Jesus, what is there to tell?

Here’s scenario Number Two which Pastor Venden offers up for us, and we’re back again at the O. J. trial. Marcia Clark steps forward again and asks a witness—let’s say it’s you: “Remember, you’re still under oath. So, where were you on the night in question?”

Silence. So she tries again. “Did you see anything? Hear anything?”

Silence. So Ms. Clark has to ask the presiding judge to instruct the witness to please answer all questions. But just before Judge Lance Ito bangs down his gavel and cites you for contempt of court, you speak up and say, “Your Honor, actually I’d like to be a silent witness. I want to be a testimony just by my lifestyle and my honesty. If you don’t mind, I’d really rather not say anything. I’m hoping just my presence here will be a good silent witness.”

Would that work? I don’t think so. In fact, you might end up in contempt of court and maybe even be Simpson’s cellmate before it’s over.

But huge numbers of Christians take this very approach. “Let’s let Pastor Brown do the preaching at church; let’s let the media stars at It Is Written and Faith For Today share Jesus on the radio and TV and with their webcasts. I’ll just be a silent witness: pay my taxes, keep my lawn mowed, be friendly with the neighbors, vote every November. But I’m too shy to ever speak up.”

And I confess that we get some good ammunition for that kind of attitude from the famous poem. Do you remember it? “I’d rather see a sermon than hear one any day. I’d rather one should walk with me, than merely tell the way . . . And, the best of all preachers are the men who live their creed. For to see good put in action is what everybody needs.”

Have you heard that before? It’s by Edgar A. Guest, and there’s some decent truth in what he says. It’s nice to see a good sermon framed in a godly life by a person who keeps the yard nice and who is kind to the neighborhood kids. But the stark facts are these: there comes a time when you and I need to leave our nicely mowed lawn and go over to the neighbor’s house and tell them what Jesus means to us! There comes a time when we finally speak up and tell those we care about, “I’ve got to share with you what a difference it’s made to me ever since I decided to put my life in God’s hands.”

Someone once asked: “Where would we be today if the Apostle Paul had been content to be just a silent witness and sew neat, straight stitches on all those tents he made?” Well-made tents are nice, but thank God Paul opened his mouth and told the world how much Jesus Christ meant to him! What would have become of the Protestant Reformation if Martin Luther had stayed holed up in his convent and only blessed the world by the way he swept out the kitchen and dried the dishes after all the monks had breakfast?

Maybe you’ve discovered that if you read your Bible and pray and read your Bible and pray . . . and never once tell anyone the great things you’re finding out—sooner or later your Christian experience will go stagnant and die. It works that way with lakes, you know. If the water flows in, but it never flows out, the water goes sour. All the fish die; pretty soon everything dies. But the converse is just as true. Even as a brand new baby Christian taking baby steps, if you’ll speak up and tell a friend what Jesus is doing for you—even the first shreds of the good news—you’ll find a renewed hunger to study and pray even more. C. S. Lewis once called this a kind of Christian “compound interest.” The friendship feeds the witnessing and the witnessing feeds the friendship. It’s a beautiful circle of growth.

I read a humorous story once called The Gospel Blimp. A group of Christians got together, pooled their money, and bought a blimp—the kind you see with a picture of Snoopy the beagle on it hovering over a football stadium. They hung all kinds of Christian signs and slogans on this huge balloon; they blasted out gospel songs and sermons from the blimp’s loudspeakers at ten-thirty at night. They flew over people’s homes and carpet-bombed unsuspecting citizens with “gospel bombs” and tracts and Bible lessons on their lawns. They were especially targeting one man they were hoping to convert.

After about a year, sure enough, the man did indeed become a Christian. How come, everybody wanted to know. Well, not because of the stupid blimp with its midnight shout-a-thons and the leaflets which kept gumming up his gutter spout, he told them. No, he joined the family of God because of his next-door neighbor who came over and made friends with him. This neighbor went bowling with him. He helped out when the man’s wife was sick and brought over a tureen with hot homemade soup. He showed an interest in him and acted like he cared about his neighbor’s kids’ birthdays. And he finally opened his mouth and told his new friend in person how much Jesus Christ meant to him. That’s what finally did the trick.

I invite you today to think about the successes God could give each of us if we went out with intentionality and did two things: nurtured our current friendships and made some new ones. How many more people in our neighborhoods could we get to know if we devoted some time and spiritual energy and prayer in doing so? How much more could we do to create strands of friendship where we work and where we exercise and where we shop?

Jesus said to that man released from his prison of demon harassment: “Go and tell your friends.” I hope he had a lot of friends—and I pray for heaven’s blessings on each person here as we water the garden of our own personal community of friends.

Shall we pray? Father, we often shrink away from this task of witnessing. It sounds scary and foreign to us; it often feels artificial and contrived. Please help us to fall so much in love with you that sharing our faith will be instinctive and not intimidating. And please give us an overflowing love for the people in our lives, so that our expressions of love for You will be the generous sharing of good news with people who have come to mean so much to us. Thank You for blessing us as we seek to share You with those we love. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

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