Part 1 Having Gospel Conversations
Learning a New Language
Learning English was relatively easy for me. I’m not sure why, since I don’t have a knack for languages. So maybe it was the age I came to Canada that allowed my brain still to be molded with relative ease.
Maybe it was the amazing ESL teacher I had at the time. Mrs. Krause was Indian and yet amazingly Canadian, and spoke the language well enough to teach it to others.
Maybe it was the fact that I was thrown into the deep end of the pool and told to swim, meaning, from the very beginning I was thrown in among all the other English-speaking people and thus immersed in the language all day long.
Regardless, the bottom line was that in less than two years I had a good grasp on the language and could hold a conversation with the best of them.
There’s nothing like being in a different culture and being able to speak the language, right?
I think of Sean Fast. Six months in, I wonder how he is doing with French. There he is, supposed to be a missionary among the Muslims of Paris, which means he needs to speak French, and in a hurry.
In fact, we heard from him just this past week on this very topic and this is what he had to say:
“There are days when I can’t believe how much I understand of this new language or can't believe that I've made some amazing friends already, and other days when I can’t believe how little I can speak this new language or how I have only managed to make 4 really good friends. I have days full of joy, and days full of discouragement; days of success and days of failure. When I go to the grocery store and am completely misunderstood, or can’t make the joke that I want to make with the worker, I am frustrated.” Sean Fast
Speaking the Gospel!
In some ways we are also like Sean. We’re struggling with finding language, finding the right approach, the right words to convey the answers to some of life’s biggest questions.
We may master everyday English well enough and we may sound and look like everyone else, but one of the greatest struggles we have is to become fluent enough with the Gospel to articulate and share it naturally and with ease.
Ours is the frustration that Sean feels, on how to articulate the Gospel in everyday language so that those around us understand it.
He says, “When I go to the market and have a short conversation with someone and can’t articulate myself, and can’t explain why I am standing on the street telling people that “God loves you!” it’s really frustrating.” Sean Fast
So this idea of gospel fluency resonates with us. It’s one thing to be fluent in English, French or Spanish, but are we also fluent in the Gospel?
How well do you speak the Gospel? What do you mean: ‘How well do I speak the Gospel? I know enough to tell others they need Jesus too.’
That’s not what I mean. That’s not effective communication. While it’s true that people the world over need Jesus, it needs to be said in such a way that it makes sense to where people are at and in such a way that people can respond.
You find an excellent definition of effective communication on Wikipedia:
“Effective communication occurs when a desired effect is the result of information sharing. This effect ensures that messages are not distorted during the communication process. Effective communication should generate the desired effect and maintain the effect, with the potential to increase the effect of the message. Possible purposes might be to elicit change, generate action, create understanding, inform or communicate a certain idea or point of view.”
So, effective communication is not just to convey information but to do so as to “elicit change, generate action or create understanding.”
The first communicators of the Gospel were masters of this art.
They elicited change. They generated action. They created understanding.
Jesus and his contemporaries were masters at taking a timeless message that had no culture nor language attached to it, and shaping it into their time and space in such a way that people understood and responded.
Events at the Day of Pentecost
A great example of that was what Peter was able to accomplish in Acts 2. In this case he speaks to an entire crowd of people but it doesn’t really matter if it’s a crowd, or one on one.
“Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd.” Acts 2:14
By the time he is done it shows you how effective his communication was:
“When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’ Peter replied, ‘Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.’ With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, ‘Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.’ Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.” Acts 2:37-41
This is what I would call elicited change, generated action, created understanding! That’s effective communication.
I won’t bore you with Peter’s discourse, except to say that he managed to tap into the cultural and religious vein of his day in such a way that there was a huge response, much of it favorable.
With it, Peter becomes one of the earliest people who showed incredible gospel fluency. He knew how to have the timeless Gospel message speak into the cultural nuances of his day.
Peter does this again and again and again, be it in front of huge crowds, one on one, or in small groups.
He takes a timeless message and makes it fit into a particular culture or need that was obvious. He was incredibly Gospel fluent!
While he knew how to shape the gospel into a particular culture, which is something we need to figure out as well, and which is at the heart of this series and also in the training component of our upcoming Awake Niagara outreach in April, I also want you to see the role of the Holy Spirit in all this.
The Role of the Holy Spirit
Peter would have not have had the kind of success he did, had it not been because of the support and work of the Holy Spirit.
This is not just Peter being smart any more than it is about you and I needing to be smart. Sure we need to learn the Gospel in order to speak it, but this is not only about human language skills.
The ministry of the Holy Spirit in all of this cannot be underestimated.
This was after all on the Day of Pentecost, the day when the Holy Spirit was first outpoured into the hearts of these believers, making them incredibly effective witnesses.
True to Jesus’ promise that they would “receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you and you will be my witnesses” (Acts 1:8), they became incredibly effective Gospel advocates in their day.
In fact, it’s been suggested that the speaking in tongues that occurred at the Day of Pentecost was as much about a supernatural prayer language, as it was a supernatural endowment to speak the timeless Gospel in the languages of those gathered that day.
When those in the Upper Room “began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them” it becomes quickly obvious that they were speaking not only in the languages of those present that day, but declaring the wonders of God in such a way that people became interested saying, “What does this mean?”
This was the very thing Peter capitalized on in his remarks.
None of these guys were smart enough to boldly proclaim the timeless Gospel in multiple languages. No doubt, this was the work of the Holy Spirit.
This was an amazing convergence between a group of people with deep interest in spiritual and religious things, with a group of people who had the tools and ability to relate spiritual insights in a way that resonated deeply.
Behind it all, and invisible to most was the work of the Holy Spirit.
What gives us a leg up when it comes to gospel fluency and looking for those God connectors with people, is the work of the Holy Spirit.
Not only will he empower you to be his witnesses and prompt you what to say, the Spirit will also have prepared the very people that he is bringing across your path.
The Spirit is God’s force and power on earth. Without his work we wouldn’t have the wherewithal to come to Christ and to live effectively for him including being his witnesses.
He leads us into the truth we need to know. He opens our eyes to understand the Gospel. He creates the opportunities to share the Gospel. He gives us the confidence to approach people. He gives us the ability to speak timeless Gospel truths into specific needs and situations.
Then he works in the lives and hearts of those who received the truth leading them to a point of conviction, conversion and assurance of spiritual life.
It is what Jesus referenced in John 16 as the work of the advocate, who will stir the hearts and minds of unbelievers regarding sin, righteousness and judgment.
“Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. When he comes, he will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment.” John 16:7-8
His work has to do with creating a deep dissatisfaction with life, a hunger for a better way of living, and an urgency that this needs to happen sooner rather than later. That’s what it means to reprove the world of sin, righteousness and judgment.
He is the great advocate and master planner behind this idea that God wants none to perish but all to come to repentance.
I want you to see how the Holy Spirit is all over this! He is the great advocate. He is the master planner. He wants everyone to taste a new way of living.
Toward that end, He will empower you, equip you, open the doors for you and will have prepared the hearts of those long before you get there.
The Ethiopian Eunuch
Another great example of this is found in Acts 8. This time it’s Philip in a one-on-one situation with an Ethiopian government official who “happened” to be travelling through the same area where Philip was.
Let’s listen in on the story:
“26 Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, ‘Go south to the road—the desert road—that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza’ 27 So he started out, and on his way he met an Ethiopian eunuch.”
You can be guaranteed that this angel either was the Holy Spirit or was sent by the Holy Spirit to maneuver Philip to be at the precise place where this man would be.
“This man had gone to Jerusalem to worship, 28 and on his way home was sitting in his chariot reading the Book of Isaiah the prophet.”
There is a whole back-story behind why this man went to Jerusalem to worship, and ends up reading the Book of Isaiah.
I bet that in his mind are questions about his dismal life, a better way to live, and a sense that this needs to happen soon. In other words, the work of the Spirit is in the hearts and minds of seekers around sin, righteousness and judgment.
Look at what happens next:
“29 The Spirit told Philip, ‘Go to that chariot and stay near it.’
30 Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet. ‘Do you understand what you are reading?’ Philip asked. 31 ‘How can I,’ he said, ‘unless someone explains it to me?’ So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.”
This is the place where Gospel conversations happen. He invited Philip to engage him. Nothing pushed; no one was cornered or pigeonholed. The man came up to Philip!
This is easy; as it always is when the Holy Spirit opens doors.
Philip steps through the door, speaking his language and starting with where this man’s mind and heart were at, he built a bridge toward Jesus.
“35 Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus.”
The result was that this man gave his life to the Lord and did what all first time followers of Jesus want to do, and that is be baptized.
“36 As they traveled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, ‘Look, here is water. What can stand in the way of my being baptized?’ ”
That sort of scenario plays itself out again and again in the pages of the Book of Acts, with the disciples and followers of Jesus.
The Family of Cornelius
Another great example of this is with the family of Cornelius in Acts 10, this time again with Peter.
Not only is Peter prompted by the Holy Spirit to go to Cornelius’ house, but Cornelius himself was being prompted by the Holy Spirit with his own issues of sin, righteousness and judgment.
So the Great Advocate sets up this God-moment where Peter visits Cornelius and speaks into Cornelius’ concerns and struggles. He built a bridge toward Jesus, with the end-result being that this entire family came to faith in Jesus.
“44 While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. 45 The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on Gentiles. 46 For they heard them speaking in tongues[b] and praising God.
Then Peter said, 47 ‘Surely no one can stand in the way of their being baptized with water. They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.’ 48 So he ordered that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked Peter to stay with them for a few days.” Acts 10:44-48
Bringing it Home
I could go on with stories after stories, all of them very similar in nature, but I need to bring this home.
So now, fast-forward 2000 years into 2015, where after months of polite silence from your elderly (and clearly non-Christian) next door neighbors, one day you and they meet at the fence, taking out the garbage, and they make a comment that they may die soon. What do you say? Where do you take it next?
Or you’re shopping in the local mall and a clerk can't help but strike up a chat and she ends up sharing that she came to work today feeling lost - her life is not working out - and there you are! What do you do?
Or your colleague at work obviously seems distressed and confides in you that her teenage son has been caught again with drugs, and that she feels she is losing control and lost and has no idea what to do next. What do you say?
These real moments come a dime a dozen and require a response. What you don’t do is:
Ø make an appointment for a more convenient time to tell them about Jesus
Ø pull the 'fire alarm' and call your pastor or give them the pastor’s business card.
Ø miss the opportunity to 'love your neighbor’
So how capable do you feel in taking advantage of these opportunities? What limits you from being effective?
Over the course of the next couple of weeks, that is exactly what we will explore with the hope that we will have the basic confidence that we can share the story of our faith in Jesus in a clear, concise and compassionate way.
Ø To do it clearly – no awkward silence, fumbling for the right words, or churchy jargon.
Ø To do it concisely - 3 minutes. The time it takes to make a soft-boiled egg.
Ø To do it compassionately - not an arrogant download or an "I'm better than you" lecture; but that you actually care, and engage the person with real concern for their personal and spiritual condition.
But for this morning, regardless whether you think you have the tools and skills or not, what I want you to walk away with is that sense of confidence that comes in knowing that heaven has marshalled all its resources to work in and through you.
In fact, it will be as Jesus said, “The Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what you should say.” John 12:12 and “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses.” Acts 1:8
Effective witnessing starts and ends there. You walk in the confidence of the Spirit and the rest will fall into place.
Here you can find several messages. Feel free to write your thoughts or questions in the comment section.