[Audio at Bottom]
Happy Thanksgiving! We’ve had a great weekend of celebration already. On Friday, our youth fellowship put on a thanksgiving dinner for our university students. Yesterday we had a potluck. I know many people are planning to get together with family today and tomorrow.
I shared on Friday that Thanksgiving in my dad’s house was always a bit strange. Thanksgiving was my dad’s favorite holiday, but we didn’t celebrate it like anyone else. First, we never had turkey. He didn’t like it. So we’d have tacos, or spaghetti, or tuna salad. So really, thanksgiving dinner was just like any other meal. But not entirely like any other meal, because my dad would give his thanksgiving speech. This was no regular thanksgiving speech. Oh, it started like a speech that most people might say before Thanksgiving - he’d start out by saying how thankful that he was for us kids and for his health - but then the speech would go off in a different direction. See, my dad was really into “The Power of Positive Thinking” and self-actualization gurus. His motto for life was that, “If your brain can conceive it, and your heart, can believe it, than you can achieve it.” So the rest of my dad’s Thanksgiving speech was a pep talk of how we create our own reality and produce our own blessings. Then we’d get gifts. Now, my dad is not a gift-giver. Birthdays and Christmas hit and miss, but Thanksgiving, we’d get gifts. The gifts were always the same - a new self-help book. Then we’d eat.
As I became a Christian, the irony of Thanksgiving at my dad’s house struck me. While Thanksgiving was his favorite holiday, it seemed to me that he missed the point. There didn’t seem to be a lot of thankfulness in his speech. Think about it, what would you think if you gave me a present, like bought me a car or something, and then I responded with a speech in which I credited my own attitude and positive thinking that produced such blessing in my life. You’d be like - it wasn’t your positive thinking that got you that car, I gave you it! See, giving thanks implies that there has to be someone to give thanks to. This is not just nit-picking - giving thanks, and to whom we give thanks, is an essential part of the Christian faith, the heart of the gospel.
For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen. (Romans 1:16–25)
Paul writes that he is “not ashamed of the Gospel” - we’ll come back to this in the second part of the sermon. But he describes that gospel as good news and bad news. The good news is that the gospel reveals to us how we can be made right in God’s eyes. Yet that suggests that things are not right between us and God, and so the gospel also reveals some bad news. Here is the bad news: that although all of life and creation is a gift suggesting the existence of a giver, we did not honor him as God or give thanks to him. The fundamental problem of mankind is that we have denied our Creator the honor and thanks that he deserves. The Bible goes on to say that, in withholding our thanks from God, we thought ourselves wiser than God, suppressed the truth about God, targeted the gifts as things to honor and worship rather than God, and lived lives of sin dishonoring to God.
So one way we could describe being a Christian is that we are people who have seen the glory of God and the gifts of God and instead of taking credit for things ourselves, simply said thanks. Thanks be to God who has created us and given us knowledge of himself. But not just for that, because in turning away from God we dug a hole that we could never climb out of. Romans goes on to describe the slavery to sin that we all have become captive to. All our efforts to save ourselves, be they religion, or positive thinking, or legalistic morality, or good works fail to tame the heart and bring us peace with God. So that’s the good news of the gospel. Jesus Christ came to save us. He died to do what we could not, provide a means by which God’s just anger over our sin could be appeased while also providing a channel through which God’s love for us could be expressed. This is what leads us to a greater thanksgiving - Paul says it like this in Romans 7:24-25: Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? 25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! and in 6:17-18: But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness.
This is the gospel of Thanksgiving. The Gospel that Paul declares he is not ashamed of. This is the gospel that we hope to share with our friends, family, co-workers, classmates and neighbors. That there is a God who is the source of everything and is worthy to be praised and thanked.
I am not ashamed of the Gospel. So how do we communicate this gospel to them? We’ve been looking at this formula this fall and we’re now on the third part, clear communication. We’re highly potent Christians, we’ve actually made contact with our people and now we actually need to use words and share the gospel with them. We’re going to break this down into a couple of weeks, and today is, for me, the hardest, how do we start conversations? We have an amazing message - the power of God for the salvation of anyone, yet at that moment that I am faced with an opportunity to steer the conversation to the gospel, that is when I often do become “ashamed of the gospel” I freeze up. I dance around it. I feel super awkward. I start, then stop, then start, and stop again.
- Remember they are real people.
- If they are not interested, so what? Our job is not to produce the harvest, it is only to collect it. The Spirit is the sower, the word of God is the seed and the gospel is the power.
Yet how do we begin to tell people of this amazing, powerful gospel? Here is where Jesus was a genius. He was the greatest, most creative evangelist ever at starting conversations. Obviously, he had an advantage in that people lined up to talk to him about spiritual things, but we see his creativity even when people had no idea whom he was. Jesus was the master at starting spiritual conversations with people who did not know Him, and in redirecting spiritual conversations toward the gospel in a way that created a desire in them to learn more.
- “A woman from Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” (For his disciples had gone away into the city to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?” (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.) Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” The woman said to him, “Sir, you have nothing to draw water with, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob? He gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did his sons and his livestock.” Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again,but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”” (John 4:7–14 ESV)
- “Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, in Aramaic called Bethesda, which has five roofed colonnades. In these lay a multitude of invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed. One man was there who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had already been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be healed?” The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, and while I am going another steps down before me.” Jesus said to him, “Get up, take up your bed, and walk.”And at once the man was healed, and he took up his bed and walked. Now that day was the Sabbath.”(John 5:2–9 ESV)
Even when people knew who he was and were coming to him for spiritual guidance, Jesus often creatively framed his responses to them, causing them to think and want more.
- “Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?”” (John 3:1–4 ESV)
- “And as he was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.” (Mark 10:17–18 ESV)
Bridging: (the direct method) Redirects conversations. It doesn’t wait for opportunities, it creates them.
- “If you’re ever interested in the difference between religion and Jesus, let me know. I’d be happy to talk with you about it.”
- I’m curious, do you ever think about spiritual matters?
- What does Jesus mean to you? “How does Jesus fit in?
- Do you have a religious background? Did anything stick?
- “How’s it going. How’s it really going?” (personally, family, business, spiritually?)
Questioning: (The Indirect Method) Starting a conversation by simply questioning the assumptions and world view of the person you’re trying to reach.
“And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?”And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.” But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?””(Luke 10:25–29 ESV)
5 SMOOTH STONES
- “REALLY!?!?!?” “That’s what you believe?”: Used to wake people up from parroting ideas they’ve just heard.
- “Can you explain that to me?” “What does that even mean?” - get people to articulate their beliefs. Many people simply cannot, and after they get frustrated because they can’t they might challenge you to share your beliefs.
- “How do you know that?”
- “So” - people are surprised that you might be willing to concede a point, but you’re bringing them back to the main issue at hand. (ex. “I’ve known non-Christians who are better people than Christians” ... “So?”
- “Isn’t it possible that...”
The Invitational Method
- BBQ First!
- Be careful to select events that will be appropriate to them
- Get something in their hand, an invitation, printed or hand written
- Offer them a ride
- Plan for rejection: That’s ok, I know you’re busy. Maybe there will be another chance. I am curious about you’re spiritual background. We’re you raised in a religious home? Did anything stick?
Key Points on Spiritual Conversations
- Take initiative.
- Talk to people one-on-one.
- Engage in dialogue – not monologue
- Present truth in doses. Know when to stop speaking.
- Make the most of split-second opportunities: Boldness! I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ.
Don’t underestimate people’s willingness to talk about spiritual things. We’re told in Canada that we’re not supposed to talk about religion, that’s a lie. Remember some of the stats we heard at the beginning of this series. Nearly 90% of younger unchurched people said that if a friend wished to share with them their beliefs about Christianity, they would be willing to listen. There is a God who created them, loves them, sent Jesus to save them. They will be taking time this weekend to give thanks to a God that don’t know, you can share with them the God to whom all thanks are due.