I was reminded of many things as I witnessed to Amanda. The first is that God is always sovereign in providing opportunities for us to proclaim His name. The second is that those opportunities can come in unexpected places. The third is that sometimes sharing the gospel is especially easy- and sometimes the people that God chooses to sovereignly place in our paths are the ones that we are the easiest for us to evangelize.
I was sitting by the wave pool at the local water park watching my family’s pile of towels. The only available chairs were sandwiched between a few chair occupied by other people’s things. I sat down to get started on my sunburn (another story for another time) when 15-year-old Amanda plopped down next to me. She was a tomboy to say the least. We started chatting, and it turned out that she races dirt bikes. I could tell she was a tough country girl.
We chatted about racing (well- I asked questions- I didn’t know the first thing about racing). We also chatted about the brown recluse bite that was bandaged over on her leg. Of course, her somewhat daring lifestyle was the slightly cracked window that I worked open to turn the conversation towards matters of eternity.
Amanda was very open. She believed in heaven and hell and seemed interested in the questions I was asking her about eternity. Her thought was that though she has broken God’s law (by her own admission), God would forgive her. We talked about how a Just Judge (Psalms 7) cannot forgive people for free. When I gave her the courtroom analogy, she was quick to say she wouldn’t let someone pay her fine. I told her that was ok in a human court, but that the debt we owe because of sin is not a debt we can pay. It took a perfect sacrifice- Jesus.
I gave her a tract to take home and pray that she takes the time to read it. I want her to understand God’s forgiveness, but I first hope she begins to understand repentance and faith in Jesus alone.
This situation was a reminder that God will use us anywhere. If we live our lives viewing each person as either saved or lost, we will never be at a loss for someone to evangelize. I am so thankful that God let me talk to Amanda. I did not have to go looking. In His sovereignty, He took a country girl three hours from her house and placed her in the chair next to me.
We were having a spontaneous yard sale a few weeks ago. A few people stopped to take a look at our wares. I noticed an older gentleman pull up in a battered truck. As he stepped out of the vehicle, he stuffed some papers into his pocket. I did not think much about it until he handed one to me and one to my sister. It was a tract he had written.
I was so excited. Here was a man living out his faith. He said it took nine months of prayer to put the tract together. It was not beautiful. It was not particularly eye-catching. But he wanted me to know where I spend eternity.
I want people to evangelize me. I want to hear the gospel. I want to pass street preachers resounding forth the truth on the corner of my city. I want to not be able to walk through the grocery store without someone handing a tract to me. And if that is the kind of Christianity I want to see, that is the kind of Christianity I must live.
True Christianity does not look like the world. There is no in between type of life where one is a Christian but is living like the world. Our faith requires action.
I am in the process of creating a gospel tract. My goal is something that is streamlined, attractive, easy to read, and most importantly communicates the essential elements of the gospel. (In case you are wondering, the tract will be available here once it is printed.)
As I have searched through various sources, I have to laugh at some of the tracts that are being produced these days. If I was a non-Christian and was handed a tract the length of a novel, I would not read it. If I was handed a tract that was chocolate-scented, I would throw it away. (Yes, I really did find a chocolate scented tract in my browsing through various tracts.) I would want something that seemed to match the media quality of other mainstream material I receive if I was to take it seriously.
Now I am thankful that there are all kinds of tracts and more importantly that there are people handing out tracts. I know that if God can speak through a donkey, He can certainly speak through a tract that does not meet my personal preferences.
The most important thing is that we are to put forth our best effort when doing something for the Lord. If I am going to hand a tract to someone, I want it to reflect my desire to to do things for the glory of God.
I have a friend that tosses tracts when they get crumpled. He does not want to hand someone something that is of poor quality or condition. I respect that. Jesus did not give us His second best on the cross. He gave His all, and when we share the gospel, we need to give our best. Now this is not to make us look good but rather to make Him look great. He is worthy!
As I sit down to write this story, I am reminded of my own shortcomings. One important aspect of evangelism is that it will keep the evangelist humble. Every time there is a conversation, it is an opportunity to be reminded that the Holy Spirit is the one that leads people to faith in Jesus. We are so incapable on our own of any good that even trying to make a clear presentation of the gospel without the Holy Spirit working both in us and in the hearer is futile.
I was walking out of the grocery store when a friendly officer took a look in my cart and made some jesting comment about the lack of steaks. We walked on, and I began to ask him some questions about his gun. (Note: I have several friends that are interested in target shooting, and they have helped awaken in me a general interst in firearms.) I asked him how long he had been on the police force, and it turns out he is relatively new to the job. However, he spent years as a fireman and prison guard. Anytime someone works in a more high risk position, I think it is pretty easy to transition into an eternal conversation. This officer has seen death more than one time. He may have even been in situations where his own life was in danger. So I simply asked him, “What do you think happens after we die?”
I do think this officer was a Christian, but he was surprised by my question. It is funny how the toughest guys are a little startled by questions about eternity. The bottom line is that maybe he needed to think about his beliefs again. Maybe he knows someone who also sees death as part of their job but does not know what will happen when they die. Sometimes, maybe most times, we do not get to find out the reason why God gave us someone who needed a conversation about eternity. Our responsibility is not knowing the reason but rather being faithful to the task.
The deeper one gets to the heart of evangelism, the less intimidating it is to talk to people about the Gospel. My mechanic has quite a presence. Ok, he is huge. At six and a half feet tall, he just does not quite come across as a teddy bear. But he does like to talk.
So as he ranted about politics and the economy, I could tell he is a thinker. I used this as the lead in, “It is obvious that you think through things. So what do you think happens after we die?” It turns out he is a non-practicing Catholic with a lot of new age philosophy in the mix. He talked about his concept of old souls and his personal experience with memories from a time past. Everything was very general because if he were to get too specific, he knows it would not make sense.
So I asked him the question I now like to ask Catholics. I draw on whatever language they have used and form it into a question. “So Catholics believe in the Scriptures plus the Apocrypha. If you believe that those who do well in this life get a straight pass to heaven and those that do not do well get a second chance in purgatory, then why did Jesus come to die?”
He responded with a casual “to pay for our sins” said with a degree of hesitancy that tells me he does not really believe that. “That’s a good question though,” he said in a pondering tone. He followed up with questioning Scripture saying that He does not believe it is all true. Ultimately, he demonstrated to me just how confused he is. He is a big talker and did not let me get too many words in, but I do think he was encouraged to examine his own beliefs. I made sure to mention the reality of hell and the importance of being sure we have found the truth.
Talking to my mechanic was a reminder to me how there is no one-size-fits-all approach to sharing the Gospel. There are methods that work a lot of the time in a street evangelism setting. But ultimately, sharing the Gospel is an art. And as with any art, we will only get better with practice.
May I just start by saying God is SO good! It has been several weeks since I have hit the streets in my city. Not from lack of desire, but a variety of things came up. A last minute phone call from a friend this weekend led to four of us hitting the streets at a huge festival in uptown. We huddled in prayer, looked around at the crowd, and were a little overwhelmed not knowing quite where to begin.
I started talking to a guy who had been sitting for a while smoking a cigarette. I gave him a tract and asked him the eternal question. It was not a great conversation from my perspective. He was quick to agree to disagree with me about how he thought he would get to heaven. The thing that I have to keep in mind is that the Holy Spirit is not daunted by what seems like a dead-end conversation. I pray that God uses the tract and the message of truth to lead the man to repentence and faith in Jesus.
Another conversation with a cell phone sales guy named Mbye was drawn out by his circular reasoning. He went round, and round, and round… He feels that all paths lead to heaven. He said his Muslim grandfather and Christian grandmother are in the same place now that they have passed away. His arguement is that mathmatics is the only absolute.
We talked about the possibility that he could be wrong. And he said he was fine if he goes before God and is told he chose the wrong path. Mbye has no fear of hell but more importantly no fear of God. Pray for his soul as he is searching for truth.
Handing out tracts is a bit like sprinkling seeds. Some will be thrown away. Some will be forgotten until a much later time. Some will be read. Tracts open doors for future encounters, for conversion, for salvation. Do not underestimate what God can do through a piece of paper with the message of truth.
Dealing with distractions is a big part of witnessing. People in general love to take any rabbit trail that comes up in a conversation. If one does not come up naturally, they will create one!
Jehovah’s Witnesses are similar in that they find it their job to teach the one witnessing to them. The words sound good. “We just want to teach everyone more about Jehovah and help them have a stronger relationship with him. See, let’s look at the Lord’s prayer. From Jesus’ example, we can see how to pray!” (Taken from an actual conversation I had with a Jehovah’s Witness.) So how do we, as Christians, redirect in love?
There is an art to redirecting any evangelistic conversation that I’m not sure can be taught. And I know that I am not qualified to teach such an art. But there are a few helpful principles I like to keep in mind.
You have the truth. Any other belief that is contradictory to what is taught in Scripture is not truth. In an evangelistic situation, your goal is to present the truth in love.
Without the truth, this person (or group of people) is going to hell. There is no middle ground.
If this person is going to hell without the truth, and you have the truth, you need to communicate the truth with a sense of urgency!
Do not allow a person to talk over you. When you are speaking in the name of Jesus, you have power over the lies of satan. Speak firmly and in love and communicate the sense of urgency.
Do not feel the need to respond to every comment or question. Most comments or questions are distractions. Sometimes simply continuing on in presenting the truth is the best thing.
Always pray as you speak to a Jehovah’s Witness for wisdom in dealing with them as an individual. There is no one right way to handle every person or one right argument to encourage them to examine their own beliefs.
Most importantly, know what you believe. Presenting the truth is far more about your own knowledge of God than it is about understanding all the ins and outs of a cult.
There is much going around the online Christian circle right now about Twitter. The biggest news is that John Piper has started tweeting. This news is probably the highlight of my week. That either speaks volumes for John Piper or very little for my life.
Now here are a few worthwhile Twitter posts to read:
I started tweeting about a month ago. I had a multi-faceted purpose including expanding my online presense from just the blog to using it as a creative outlet to share truth. Most importantly, and as has been stated by the above named authors, Twitter, as with all things, should be used to God’s glory. While I do not think it is necessarily sinful to Tweet about your favorite salad dressing, sometimes online forums provide us with more opportunities to think about ourselves. We make the best use of media when we use it to point to our Savior.