Many years ago I had a, one of those experiences that, they stuck in your mind and you get, sort of, an “ah-ha” about maybe why you do certain things that you do.
I met a guy named Steve, he was an All-American swimmer. I was coaching by day and we were starting a little discipleship ministry on a campus by night. So I would go up and play basketball with guys like Steve and we’d do gospel of John studies and if I described Steve to you he was popular, he was a party animal, he was a number one athlete, he swore profusely, he was very in, he was very cool, he was very unreligious, and he was dating a beautiful girl who happened to be living right next door to me. I lived in a garage apartment and she lived next door.
And I knew she lived there and I knew they were girlfriend/boyfriend because that’s where he spent the weekends.
And so, you know, here’s a guy that’s just, like, far from God, really arrogant, I’m really insecure. I’m thinking, “I don’t know who I’m going to share Christ with but that’s the last guy on this campus that would ever be open to hear about Christ.”
Is there anybody like that in your life? I mean, who is that person you think, you know what? They sort of “got it,” they would never need God.
Well, he comes out of, it was like a Saturday morning one weekend, and he comes out of her little house like this and goes, “Man, my back is killing me.” Because, you know, we played ball together and, you know, we were friends. I never said anything to him.
Friends. I use, that’s sort of a very general usage of that word. We were acquaintances. And I said, “Well, what’s wrong?” He said, “Man, my back is killing me.” I said, “Why?” He said, “You know, sleeping on that couch.” I said, “Sleeping on the couch? Why?”
He said, “Oh, this amazing thing happened last weekend.” I said, “What’s that?” “My girlfriend, you know, her folks are kind of religious and, you know, when you go to visit you gotta do whatever they do so, you know, she lives out in the country in West Virginia and we end up in this tiny, little church and thirty-five or fifty people and some old gizzard gets up and opens the Bible and I’m rolling my eyes. And, you know, he starts talking about stuff. And I can’t explain it but he’s talking about sin, and lack of peace, and God’s forgiveness, and Jesus being God, and dying in our place, and it was like, whoa, this dude is reading my mail! And all of a sudden I realized I want and need.”
He goes, “When it got done I just walked right up to the front and I prayed to receive Christ and, man, my life’s different.” “Oh really?”
So the next three or four months I began to disciple Steve and we became friends and the very last blank, you know, I listed him and the part I didn’t list was the part I didn’t know. He was totally open to Christ.
I mean, this is the most un-seeker sensitive, un-cool presentation of the gospel that God could probably ever put him in front of but since the power is in the gospel and not in the presentation and Steve was open, he trusted Christ - changed his life.
And we got to be friends then. Real friends. And Steve, I remember, one day said, “Can I ask you something?” I said, “Well, sure.” “Um, let me get this right. You knew all about this Jesus and forgiveness and we played basketball and we did this stuff together. Chip, why didn’t you tell me?”
I mean, I don’t know if there’s ever a time where you felt like the spotlight was on you and you just, there is, like, no place to hide. There is no excuse. All I could say was, “Well, basically because I thought you were closed, I’m desperately insecure, and I was really intimidated.” How’s that for an answer?
And what I’ve learned is the reason I didn’t share the love of God with Steve is because I believed a lie. And I’m going to share with you seven specific lies that keep us, who love Jesus, who have been saved by Jesus, whose lives have been changed by Jesus; there are seven strongholds or lies that we believe.
And I’ve called them a stronghold because it’s a biblical phrase. But the father of lies is Satan. And what he wants to do is get very subtle lies ingrained into your thinking, into your mind where they’re just the glasses that you look at other people with.
And so over here, if you could imagine, there’s this unlimited lake of grace and over here you have this unlimited need of people and their struggles and you know what? There’s a conduit and the link of God’s grace, and love, and forgiveness is the conduit of regular people like us.
And so the enemy has developed different ways to get you and me to believe lies that keep us from taking that love and that grace and introducing these people to what God wants for them.
Seven strongholds we must demolish daily. And I put daily in there because they’re so ingrained you’ll have to, kind of, write these down and pound away and read them over and pray them through. You might say, well, where did I get that?
II Corinthians 10:4 and 5, the apostle Paul is speaking to the Corinthian church. And he says, “The weapons of our warfare, or the weapons that we fight with, are not of this world.” We’re in a spiritual battle for the souls of these people. “On the contrary, the weapons we have, have divine power to do,” what? “Demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretention that’s set up against the knowledge of God and we take captive every thought and make it obedient to Christ.”
These lies, these strongholds are raised up against the knowledge of God. These presuppositions and we’re sincere but we look through a lens that keep us from loving people.
Stronghold number one we’ve already hit. It’s that people aren’t open. It’s a lie. It might not be a swimmer. It may not be an athlete. It might be someone with a Ph.D., it might be someone who drives a very nice car, it might be someone who seems very beautiful, it might be someone that you think has it all together, it might be someone who intimidates you, it might be someone who swears profusely, who makes fun of Christians.
It might be something but there’s, you think they’re not open. And because of that, since they’re not open, why talk to them, right? That was my theory.
Jesus said this, “Do you not say, ‘Four months more then comes the harvest? I tell you, ‘Open your eyes and look at the fields. They’re ripe or white for harvest. Even now the reaper draws his wages and now he harvests the crop for eternal life so that the sower and the reaper may be glad together.”
That’s in John chapter 4. Jesus has just shared Christ with a woman who’s had five husbands. She’s a Samaritan. So, I mean, they’re off theologically, they’re half-breeds, the Jews think they’re not open. Her moral past, she couldn’t be open.
Jesus shares Christ, she goes back into the village and says, “I met the Messiah.” The whole village is walking out, hundreds of people. The disciples come back, they did take-out, they got lunch and brought it into Jesus. And they’re looking and he goes, “Look. You guys don’t think these people would ever be open. They’re open.”
We need to share the love of God with the people that God’s already put in our life.
But we just need to start some of those spiritual conversations. Are you ready for this? The research, and Jesus, would say people are way more open and want to hear about His love than we are willing to tell them.
Is that crazy? It’s a stronghold.
Stronghold number two: Sharing Jesus’ love is reserved for spiritual superstars and people with outgoing personalities. You believe that one?
You know, I have a few friends and I’ve had a few experiences like this but, you know, you hear someone and maybe it’s in a message or a CD and the story goes something like this:
“I was on a plane coming back from so and so and I talked briefly with the woman next to me and after thirty-five minutes, tears rolling down her face, she prayed to receive Christ. Afterwards, she stepped up from the first-class, went to the back, and said, ‘I have to share my testimony!’ She shared her testimony with the rest of the plane. People were coming out of the aisles on the plane, they were kneeling, everyone on the plane trusted Christ. The pilot, then, stopped the plane in midair to…” no.
I mean, right? Now honestly, haven’t you heard those stories? I mean I exaggerated a little, alright? But when we hear stories of, sort of, like, oh wow, these over the top amazing, true stories what it does is we start, the enemy takes even good things that happen and it’s like, “Oh see? You gotta be a superstar. You gotta have great people skills, outgoing personality, have to be able to read people. You need to understand this, be able to answer all these questions.”
It’s not what the Bible says. The apostle Paul would say in Romans 1:16, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ for it, the gospel, is the power of God for salvation to the Jew first and also to the Gentile.”
We believe, down deep in terms of our behavior, that the power is in the messenger. And since you’re not a very big, strong messenger well, you know, you’re not going to share, there won’t be any results. The Bible says just the opposite. The Bible says the power is in the message, not the messenger.
I learned this from my friend John Saville. Remember the story about John who gave me the checkbook and taught me about generosity? John was an introvert. I mean he called himself a bean counter. I’m not sure what that is but he owned a CPA firm, he liked numbers, he wasn’t overly relational. He didn’t have a lot of people skills.
But he came to Christ late and he had this sense of urgency. He really loved people outside of Christ. And he said, “Chip, if you can read, you can love people.” And I said, “Well what do you mean, John?” And he goes, “Look.” And he would pull out something similar to this like the four spiritual laws or a little booklet and he goes, “I’m not great talking with people but I just bring up the conversation, I ask, and then I pray, and then I just read this.”
And I’m thinking, “John, you know? I’ve been to seminary and that’s not really how it works. You gotta…” You know what John knew? The power is in the gospel. He loves them. It’s a stronghold.
Stronghold number three is that witnessing is something I do versus something that I am. You know, some of our backgrounds and we’ve come from a background where you need to witness. You know? It’s like you need to pray, you need read the Bible, you need to witness. That’s something you do. So, get with the program.
And most of us feel either mildly guilty or really guilty that we don’t do it enough. So, I need to do that. It’s not what the Bible teaches. Jesus, before He ascended in Acts chapter 1 verse 8, he said, “But you, My followers, will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be My witnesses.”
Will you underline “be” in your notes? He didn’t say “do.” “And you will be My witnesses,” where? First of all, right where you’re at. Jerusalem. For some of us that’s our home or our neighborhood. “And all Judea.” That’s a broader circle. “And Samaria and to the uttermost parts of the world.” He says you’re going to be a witness.
So, it’s not do you do it or not do it. It boils down to are we good witnesses or bad witnesses? Because we are. We represent Him. I mean, the fact of the matter is this ocean of God’s love and forgiveness that’s available for everyone, it’s just, it’s pushing up against the conduit inside of you and me and He wants it to come through us to them and so we’re either doing that well or poorly.
The false premise here is that if I just live a good life, if I’m kind, if I’m fair, if I’m a person of integrity, if I help people out, well, that’s the witness. No, no. That’s half of the witness. Part of it is there certainly has to be a lifestyle that demonstrates Christlikeness but people are not going to look at you and go, “Wow, you’re really kind at work. You tell the truth. You come on time. You seem to care about people. Oh my lands! A light bulb went off in my head!”
People don’t know unless they hear. They need to see the message of your life. They need to hear the message of the gospel through your words. It’s those things together.
But as long as I, in my mind, say, “Well, you know, I’m not an outgoing person. People aren’t really open. The power is in the messenger and I’m not a very good messenger and witnessing is I’ll try to do good and live the life,” you know what it ends up in? About eight point five to nine people who are sincere, genuine, followers of Christ never share the love of Christ verbally or the gospel with anyone.
It’s like we got a big stopper in the PVC conduit pipe from the grace and love of God to people. And the stopper is us. And the stopper is we believe some lies. We are witnesses.
Stronghold number four: Sharing the good news is an event versus a process. It’s an event. And, by the way, there are wonderful, good events. What we want to do is somehow figure out how to get people to an event, instead of realizing it’s a process all the time.
Or for some of us it’s not just that we think the only thing we need to do is get them to an event but we think when that event comes, when there’s this moment, and people kind of open up spiritually, there’s some of us that have come from backgrounds, I’m one of these people, and they didn’t, I’m sure they didn’t mean to teach it this way, I just took it this way.
I got this overwhelming pressure that whenever anyone was even mildly open to talk about Christ, I thought, “Okay. Here we go. I gotta share all the four laws or the entire bridge illustration, ask them to pray, ‘Do you want to pray?’ if not, why not? Answer their top three questions and we pray right now, they become a Christian. If that happens we get an A, anything less than that I get an F.
And so I don’t know if you’ve ever met one of those, sort of, young, zealous Christians that thinks it’s an event. I was one of those. I actually remember in college coming out of my dorm room and seeing someone walk toward me and turn around and go down the other stairs.
I couldn’t figure out why they didn’t want to be around me.
Now, that’s the exception. But my mindset was, “I’m a total failure unless I dump the whole spiritual truck on everybody every moment, every opportunity.” That’s not what the Bible teaches. That’s not how God works. That’s not how things grow. Look what it says.
I Corinthians 3:6 and 7, the apostle Paul, speaking to the Church says, “I planted the seed of the gospel, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything but only God who makes it grow.”
We’re all in this together. We don’t need to be pushy, we don’t need to be preachy. We need to love with our life and love with our lips and so, you know, you ask someone, “Have you ever considered this?”
You know if John, if that lady in the elevator, “Has anyone ever told you about Jesus?” If that lady would have said, “No, and I’m not very interested,” you know, I think John would just say, “Well, you know what? I can certainly understand that.”
And I’ve watched him. “Could I just pray for you today? Is there anything that I could pray for you today?” He wouldn’t push.
Sometimes, you know, they’re going through a divorce and you just listen. Or sometimes, you know, they’re having a struggle with one of their kids and you’re just available. You say, “I’ll babysit while you go to counseling.”
You know, sometimes it begins with just an invitation to church, or it’s a book that you’ve read or, you know, what you do, you plant the seed wildly. But some people plant the seed and then we water the relationships. But God is orchestrating all of this. I have been that person. I do have an outgoing personality. I don’t have the gift of evangelism. But I have an evangelistic heart.
I want to love lost people and I like to talk with them because I didn’t grow up in the church and I had such a bad church experience. I have great compassion for people that are turned off by religion.
And I’ve sat next to people and shared the gospel and thirty-five or forty minutes later, with tears running down their eyes, have them pray in the seat to receive Christ. And early on I thought, “You know what? I am pretty amazing.”
And then, you know, like the next thirty minutes before we land, here’s what I learned: Well, her husband has been praying for the last fourteen years, the pastor has been at the house seven times, her boss is, you know, like, the greatest Christian she’s ever known, she’s read three Christian books.
I just happened, you know, the fruit was so ripe it was ready to fall off the tree. I just caught it. And what I want you to know is there’s people that you’re sharing with, there’s people that you’re praying for, there’s people that you can water, you sow, you water, you sow, you reap.
But take away the pressure. We need to recklessly, with abandon, just love people with our deeds, and our words, because sharing the good news is a process. It’s not just an event.