Sermon Notes:

I love hearing stories about how God has changed someone’s life.  Stories about extreme life change are very captivating, and we get fire up about those stories.  But, we should be in awe when we hear a testimony like Rashell’s.  She shared about a faithfulness to God that she has been pursuing since she was a small child.

Rashell was worried that her story would be boring, but I assured her that it is beautiful.  Those of us that have had to learn the hard way, or hit rock bottom before coming to Christ know what I’m talking about.  God is so gracious and good that he can change the worst of sinners and use them for his glory.  But he also says, let the little children come to me.  

Let those who haven’t had to experience some of the harsh realities of the consequences of sin come to me.  God then uses them to show the world that obedience from a young age is something desirable and worthy of honor.  I know that we all as parents want that for our children, right?  

So, I appreciate Rashell’s willingness to share her story.  It is beautiful.  She shared how the gospel has changed her life, and she did it in a way that will reflect the Biblical method of sharing our faith that we find in our main passage of scripture today.  

Guidelines for Advancing the Gospel

1. Pray for an Open Door
    A. Pray Fervently
    B. God is the Key 

But, before we get there, I want to recap last Sunday’s message in which we began learning about Biblical guidelines for advancing the gospel.  We first learned learned that we should be fervent in praying for an open doors to share his truth.  Hence the title of our series.  God gives us the opportunities and he is the key that opens those doors.  

Guidelines for Advancing the Gospel

2. Proclaim the Message
    A. With Clarity
    B. As Necessity

So the first of our guidelines is to be persistent in our prayers for those opportunities.  Secondly, we are to walk through those open doors by proclaiming the message, the message of the mystery of Christ.  The mystery of Christ is God’s purpose to reconcile the world through Christ and to welcome all who would call upon his name into his kingdom.

And, there are two components of the proclaiming the gospel.  The first is that we proclaim the gospel message with clarity and secondly as necessity.  So, we are to clearly present the gospel in the relationships that we are building with people who are far from God because that is our responsibility as Christians. 

So, last week, I showed you how to share the message of Christ clearly.  I used a diagram that the North American Mission Board recently published to help churches share their faith.

We learned that it is as simple as knowing three circles.  We first learned that God originally designed a world that worked perfectly—where everything and everyone fit together in harmony.  And God made each of us with a purpose, which is worship Him and walk with Him.

But, sadly from the first humans until now, we have SINNED and gone against God’s purpose and design for our lives, and selfishly insist on doing life our own way.  And, the consequences of this sin is separation from God—not only in this life, but for all of eternity.

As a result, sin has led us to a place of BROKENNESS.  Brokenness in relationships, marriages, issues with our children, troubled finances, addictions, depression—you name it.  People all around us are broken.  And, if we are honest with ourselves, we are broken.

At this point, we need a remedy—some good news, and our gracious God has provided us with the best news we will ever hear or receive.  The Bible calls it THE GOSPEL.   The Gospel is this: because of his love, God did not leave us in our brokenness.  Jesus, God in human flesh, came to this earth and lived perfectly according to God’s design.

He then did for us what we couldn’t do for ourselves. He took our sin and shame to the cross and payed the penalty for our sin by His death.  Jesus was then raised from the dead to provide the only way for us to be rescued and restored to a relationship with God.  

But, simply hearing this Gospel, this Good News, is not enough.  We must admit our sinful brokenness and stop trusting in ourselves.  We don’t have the power to escape this brokenness on our own.  We need to be rescued.

We must ask God to forgive us and turn from our sin to trust in Jesus.  This is what it means to REPENT.  Turn away from sin, and turn to Jesus.  Then, BELIEVE.  Believe in Jesus, and by believing, we receive new life through him and God turns our lives in a new direction.

This is the only way to be saved from sin and eternal death, and experience new and abundant life now.  You see, when God restores our relationship to Him, we begin to discover our meaning and purpose in this broken world.  And now, we can RECOVER God’s Design in all areas of our lives.

We can know his purpose for our lives: for our marriages, our children, our friendships, the way we treat those who don’t show us love, they way we love those who are far from God.  And, God’s Holy Spirit empowers us to PURSUE God in all areas of our lives and reclaim his design for us.  This is Good News!  This is the Gospel!  

Once we have received this message in our hearts, God wants us to live out our faith in our lives.  We don’t selfishly hold on to the greatest news humanity can hear.  We have to share it.  But, how

This diagram showed us the foundations of the Gospel—“the What?”  Today we want to answer the question “How?”.   How do we share the Gospel in our everyday lives, in our everyday conversations. 

Today, we learn how as we read our scripture, Colossians 4:5-6.  You can turn there now.  If you don’t have your Bible today, it will be on the screen.  If you don’t own a Bible, visit our Harbor Shop in the cafe and there are some good ones to choose from.  So in Colossians 4:5-6 But we are going to learn our third guideline for advancing the Gospel.  Let’s see what it says,

5 Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. 6 Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.

3. Practice Compelling Methods

The third guideline in to practice compelling methods.  Now, I chose the word practice because I believe it best describes how we should employ our methods to proclaim the message.  So here is what I mean when I say practice:

Practice:

1. to carry out in action
2. to work at something
3. repetitive action that acquires or polishes a skill

First, practice means to carry out in action.  We should carry out these methods in our every day actions.  It is not something that we should turn on and off.  Secondly, the word practice means to work at something.  We should view proclaiming the Gospel as something we were created, or aspire to do, much like a profession.  A lawyer practices law.  A doctor practices medicine.  

And a Christian should practice evangelism, or sharing the gospel.  It is our purpose.  It is what we do.  Third, practice means repetitive action that acquires or polishes a skill.  We should continually be working at practicing appropriate methods in gospel conversations to either acquire the skill, or to become better at it.  

So, Paul instructs the believer that they are to practice sharing their faith.  But, we know that there are some lawyers and doctors who do not practice their craft well.  They may have the correct knowledge, but the practice of their knowledge is flawed.  

As Christians, we have struggle with that battle as well.  We may know the foundations of our faith, but our practice of using compelling methods may be flawed or need some work.  So how to we practice compelling methods?  Let’s look again at the first part of verse 5.  It says,

5 Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders;

3.  Practice Compelling Methods
     A. Wise Interaction

So, the first part of practicing compelling methods is wise interaction.  Let’s recall where Paul is when he writes this letter.  He is in a prison because he preached the Gospel.  You might think that doesn’t seem too wise.  If he knew he was going to go to prison for preaching then he would have been wise not to do so.

Other first century Christians were in a similar situation.  They were the minority in a hostile environment.  Their devotion to Christ made them a target for persecution and they were marginalized in their society.  So, they would be wise to keep their mouths shut, right?

I believe that is what our culture is trying to tell us today.  Today, liberal culture is shouting to Christians, “You would be wise to keep your mouth shut about your beliefs, or else, you will be targeted as bigots and haters.”  Just as the first century Christians were mocked for their faith, 21st century Christians are being mocked in similar ways.  Let me give you an example:

In April, the hashtag #ThingsJesusNeverSaid began trending on Twitter.  Angry Twitter users began to share Things Jesus Never Said to try and prove a point Christians.  For instance, in reference to the resurrection of Jesus, one twitter user said, “This one time I got so hammered I woke up three days later in a cave #ThingsJesusNeverSaid

Another one said, “#ThingsJesusNeverSaid, tell people how to live their lives and look down upon them if they don’t listen to you.”  “Love your neighbor, except if they are homosexual/gay/lesbian/tattooed/pierced/mixedrace/atheist/different #ThingsJesusNeverSaid”

In response to the trend, some leaders in our faith also joined in the conversation.  A pastor friend of mine tweeted, “After I depart, feel free to edit everything I said so you can live however you’d like. #ThingsJesusNeverSaid.”  

Another responded, “Loving your brother means you must celebrate his sin #ThingsJesusNeverSaid.”  Franklin Graham tweeted, “#ThingsJesusNeverSaid is trending today on Twitter.  Instead, why don’t we open the Bible, God’s Holy word, and see #ThingsJesusDidSay!”

I’m not saying that these responses to the mockery are wrong.  What they said was very true.  The Apostle Paul was definitely not saying to the early Christians that wisdom was silence either.  Once again, the second guideline to advance the gospel is to proclaim it.  However, I just want to say that we need to be so careful these days on how we interact with people, especially on social media.

Cautions for Social Media Interaction

1. Words are Permanent
2. You can be misunderstood
3. Emoticons are not sufficient
4. Character attacks are cowardly
5. Emotions get you in trouble
6. Christians attack each other

Thom Rainer, the director of Lifeway Resources wrote six warnings that Christians must consider before engaging in conversations on social media.   1. Consider anything you say to be permanent. Once you press “send” or “post,” you cannot take it back.  2.  You can be misunderstood often.  Your body language cannot be seen, and your humor or sarcasm usually will not translate well.

3. Emoticons are not sufficient to soften what you posted.  If you sarcastically bash someone, the wink face you add at the end will often be overlooked.  4. Attacks on other people’s character or positions are considered cowardly by many.  You definitely shouldn’t say something to someone that you wouldn’t be willing to share to their face in a loving way.  

5. Too many posts are done in the heat of emotional moments.  If you are angry or agitated, then you might want to take a break and settle down before you say something you regret.  6. The non-Christian world is watching Christians attack each other on social media.  In doing so, we compromise our witness and non-believers see us as hypocritical and inconsistent.  We must be careful.

The Colossian church was concerned about the impressions they made on their neighbors.  They weren’t resentful when mocked, because they believed that they were better off because Christ lived in them.  Paul reminded them of this earlier in the letter in 2:9-10.

9 For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, 10 and in Christ you have been brought to fullness. He is the head over every power and authority.

We can talk all day about being cautious about how we interact with people, but the reason I believe Paul told them to be wise is because they could get puffed up and think that they were better than the pagans.  Pastor Larry says, we are not better than others, but we are better off because of Jesus in our lives.

The real heartbeat behind being wise in interaction is remaining humble and not being prideful to think we are better because we have Jesus. That mentality is dangerous because it will lead us to shut the door on non-Christians.  Instead, we must remember that God’s salvation is for all who will call on him.  

If we remember that the only thing that separates us from being an outsider is the grace of God, then the character and motivations behind our interactions will be pure and right.  We are going to talk more about that next week.  But this is so important because if we become conceited in our salvation then it effects the next component of practicing compelling methods.  Look at the next part of verse 5:

5 Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity.

3. Practice Compelling Methods
    A. Wise Interaction
    B. Urgent Encounters

The second part of Practicing Compelling methods is urgent encounters.  We must have a sense of urgency with those we encounter in this life.  We must make the most of every opportunity.  

The verb we see translated here as make the most, comes from the Greek verb ἐξαγοράζω (ex-ag-or-ad-zo).  This word means “to buy out” or “buy up.”  Buy up every opportunity.  How many of you love a good bargain?  I love a good deal.  And quite frankly, when I get one, I can’t help but brag about it.  I have told the story about the deal I got on my car and one of my guitars more than a handful of times.

A couple of months, Amy and I had a garage sale.  It was a true garage sale too.  We set up tables inside our garage and put upon them all of the items we pulled out of our attic and cleaned out of our rooms.  We had a lot of stuff: Baby clothes, toys, electronics, furniture, artwork.  And all I did was post those words on Craigslist two days before the sale. 

That was the first time we ever held a garage sale.  And we were so ignorant.  We stayed at my parents house the night before the sale.  The next morning, we thought we would get to our house early enough to beat the crowd.  The sale was scheduled for 8:00, so we arrived at our house at 7:30.  

Pandemonium.  That is what we encountered when we drove up.  People were lined up down the street.  Probably twenty cars were there.  We pulled into the driveway and pushed the garage door button.  I barely had time to get out of the car and people were already in my garage. Within an hour, I would guess 100 people came through my garage.  People were urgently trying to beat out the competition to get into my garage to find the best bargain. 

Paul says, “Make the most of every opportunity.”  In the same way, one commentator said, “Believers are to buy up the time like determined bargain hunters, lest their opportunity slip away.” (R.M. Pope, Studies of Pauline Vocabulary).  Paul wrote to his protege Timothy, and gave him a similar charge:

1 In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: 2 Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season  2 Timothy 4:1-2

In another letter to the church at Corinth, Paul writes

6 As God’s co-workers we urge you not to receive God’s grace in vain. 2 For he says, “In the time of my favor I heard you, and in the day of salvation I helped you.” I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation.  2 Corinthians 6:1-2

Do you see the urgency.  Now is the time, now is they day.  So, I want you to think about this, “Do you have a sense of urgency to share your faith?”  Has your urgency to share the gospel faded?  We are not only supposed to be wise in our interactions with non-believers, but we should urgently buy up every opportunity to share the Gospel with those you encounter in your life.

But, how do we do this?  How do we make a plan to accomplish this in our lives.  I want to share a plan with you that I saw when I read out of a book by Dustin Willis and Aaron Coe entitled Life on Mission:Joining the Everyday Mission of God.

You see, understanding the gospel can be as simple as remember three circles.  Practicing compelling methods can be as easy as remember three words.  They all begin with the letter “I” to help us remember.  

The first word is IDENTIFY.  We must Identify people who need the gospel.  Unfortunately, people who need the gospel will not just show up at your doorstep.  That would be nice if it were that easy.  And sadly, that is what many church today expect.  

Let’s just open the door and expect that everyone will come.  That may be true for a small group of people that may come, but to reach the masses, we need a different approach.  To begin this approach, I want us to look at the Great Commandment in Matthew 22:37-39 

Jesus replied: Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.  This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself.

Love your neighbor as yourself.  In a sermon I preached a few months ago, I asked if you could name all of your neighbors around you.  It was important because, if we are to take this verse literally, then it is difficult to follow through if we don’t even know the names of our neighbors that live in close proximity to us.  

But as we identify our neighbors, let’s expand it a little more because we are in close proximity to more people than just our neighbors on a daily basis.  So, let’s think of neighbors in two categories.  There are first those neighbors who are BESIDE you.  

These are the people in close proximity in every day life.  They are your actual neighbors that live next door.  They are your coworkers.  They are your classmates.  They are the people at the gym that you see every time you work out.  They are beside you on a regular basis.  

Then there are those who are BEYOND that close proximity.  They are the strangers that you meet.  The guy pumping gas next to you.  The lady standing behind you in the check out line.  The person sitting next to you in Starbucks.  They are BEYOND everyday relationships, but you still encounter them.

So, think about the people who are BESIDE you everyday.  Who are they?  What are their names?  If someone just popped up in your thoughts, then you might even want to write their name down.  Think about how much time you spend with these people and how many times you have conversations with them over the course of the day or week.  

Then the next question is how are you investing in their lives?  How do we make the most of the opportunity? Write down the word INVEST.   This is where things get practical.  This is where you need to start looking at your relationships with new eyes.  You may realize that majority of your relationships are surface level and you can start making a better investment.  

Maybe your coworker is having trouble in his marriage and instead of just saying, “sorry to hear that man,” you offer to buy him coffee and listen to him more.  One of the couples in my community group have a widow that live across the street from them and they are starting to build a relationship with her to see how they can help her.  There are things that her husband used to do that they can help her do.  

Then there are those who are beyond.  How can we invest in their lives?  Here is an example.  A couple of weeks ago, I was at Texas Roadhouse and one our church members had seen a homeless man sitting outside and offered to buy him lunch.  And then another church member offered to pay for a room for him for the night.  Then another church member came up and offered to buy his next meal.   

I was so thankful to witness that.  Our staff has witnessed our pastor invest in people are beyond those who are beside us.  Some of us have witnessed a cashier shut off her light and share her troubles with him just because he asked her how she was doing in a way that showed he really cared.  

I have been in Sears with him for 3 hours and he had multiple conversations with people he had never met. Just making an investment to those beyond the norm. So, consider how you can make an investment in those both beside you and beyond.  

The last part of making the most of opportunities is to INVITE.  We identify those who are need of the Gospel.  We then start to invest in their lives to show them the love of Christ.  And, then we invite them to two things and these are not necessarily in order of how you should do it.  

And these two invitations are what distinguishes the church from just being a social justice organization.  There is nothing wrong with social justice.  There are so many needs out there that need to be met.  But, we can’t lose sight of the fact that the greatest need in someone’s life is spiritual.  They need to be reconciled to God through Christ.  So, we have to move from investment to invitation.

The first invitation is to GOSPEL COMMUNITY.  Invite someone to come to a worship service where they can see the power of God at work in his people.  Invite someone to your community group so that they can be a part of a group that loves and cares for each other growing in their maturity as believers.  In John 13:35, Jesus said: 

35 “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” 

People will see Jesus in the church because the love that we show to each other shows them that we belong to Christ and he belongs to us.  The second invitation is to a GOSPEL CONVERSATION.  This may happen before or after you have invited them to experience Biblical community in a church or small group.  This is the point where you invite someone to a conversation about the Gospel.  

You're having coffee with your friend and he is telling you how broken his life is, and you ask him, “Can I share something with you that changed my life?”   And then you can share the three circles or like we saw from Rashell earlier, share your testimony about how your life changed through Jesus.  And, I hope this helps you to see how you can engage others in conversations about Jesus.  

It is our responsibility to proclaim the message of Christ, but we are to practice compelling methods as well.  We are to be wise in our interaction with people who are far from God.  Our ability to wise will be greater if we remember that it is only by God’s grace that we are saved from our sins and better off than those who don’t have Christ.  

Secondly we are to have a sense of urgency with those we encounter.  We make the most of every opportunity whether the time is favorable or not, in season or out.  We should buy up every moment lest the opportunity slip away.  Let’s Pray!