Witnessing Is Back In Style!
Do you remember the nursery rhyme that goes like this?
Little Bo Peep, has lost her sheep
And doesn’t know where to find them.
Leave them alone and they’ll come home
Wagging their tails behind them.
Well, there has been a tendency for Christians to take what I would call “The Little Bo-Peep Approach” in relating to people in the world around us. That is to say, we don’t need to share our faith with others. All we have to do is leave them alone and sooner or later they will come to their senses and find their own way home. Of course, that is not the approach that Jesus took. Jesus said: “I have come to seek and to save the lost.” He didn’t wait for them to come home. He went after them to bring them home. He was willing to go to incredible lengths, even to death on the cross, in order to seek and to save His lost sheep in the world.
What I find encouraging is that suddenly these days we are seeing more and more people move away from “the Little Bo-Peep Approach” and begin to adopt “the Jesus Approach”. We are seeing a rise in truly effective witnessing in which people are no longer afraid of being typecast as religious nuts or fanatics if they invite others to church or speak openly and freely about how much their faith means to them. Nowadays more people seem eager to share with others the story of their own experience with God and the church in order to help others find the joy and the peace they themselves have discovered. Listen to the way John Killinger expresses it: “There is the phenomenon we shall probably see more and more frequently in the century ahead- doctors, lawyers, accountants, insurance brokers, salespeople, scientists, teachers, homemakers- all eager to share with people they casually meet the Good News that they have encountered Christ and are finding faith to be relevant to their daily lives. More and more Christians are realizing that in the kind of world we face, it is incumbent upon us to make a witness to the presence of God in our lives. So amazingly enough, suddenly, witnessing is back in style.”
Now if it is true that witnessing is back in style- and I believe it is- then these few verses from Colossians can help us to develop our own style of sharing the faith with others. “Be wise in the way you act toward those who are not believers, making good use of every opportunity you have. Your words should always be pleasant and interesting and you should know how to give the right answer to everyone.” Building on those words from Paul, let me share some thoughts about what I think our style of witnessing ought to be.
First of all, our style of witnessing ought to be personal.
Have you ever been watching a football game in person or on TV and seen that guy with the garish multi-colored wig holding up a huge sign with a Bible verse on it- not the words-just the verse, like “John 3:16”? I suppose that the idea is that someone will see that sign, lunge for a Bible and read the verse and instantly be saved. But I doubt very much that that works. My friend Leonard Sweet, tells of sitting behind two well-dressed couples at a ballgame who were commenting about the guy with the sign and wondering what in the world it meant. Reduced to guessing, one thought that it must be an ad for a new restaurant in town. The others dissed that idea, saying: “Who would send someone out with orange hair and a hand-painted sign to advertise anything?” Another suggested that the “John 3:16” sign might be a signal to someone to meet at the john on the third level of the stadium, stall 16. Talk about clueless! They were totally in the dark about why anyone would be holding a sign with those words on it.
Paul says. “Be wise in the way you act toward those who are not believers.” Well, I don’t know that holding signs behind goalposts or thrusting tracts in people’s hands as they pass through airports is a wise style of witnessing. It’s too impersonal. It’s too easy to ignore or reject. Instead, I think we ought to be open to any opportunities God gives us to share our faith personally with others. Paul says: “Make the most of any opportunity you have.”
I wear a ring on my right hand designed by my friend, Carl Scarlata, and it is in the shape of a cross. It’s amazing how many opportunities that ring has brought me to share my faith. Several weeks ago, I was flying back home from Chicago. There was a woman sitting next to me who was constantly fidgeting throughout the flight. Finally, she pointed at the ring on my finger and she blurted out the words: “You must be some kind of religious person. That cross there must mean that you are a Christian or something.” I told her that indeed I was. She said: “I haven’t gone to church since I was a little girl. Guess I just got out of the habit. Life’s been pretty tough for me. I got pregnant when I was sixteen and since then I’ve been married and divorced four times. I do pretty well in my work, but my personal life is a mess.” I just listened as she continued to talk in that vein. Then she said something that gave me an opportunity to make a witness for Christ. She asked: “Do you think maybe going to church could help me?” I said, “Sure, but even more than that, Christ can help you. He knows who you are and what you need. He’s always ready to help. He’s the best friend you could ever have. Let me read you a little story that explains what I mean.” So I reached into my pocket and pulled out this little Bible and turned to John 4. I read her the story of how Jesus dealt with the woman at the well- you know, the woman who had had five husbands and now was living with a man to whom she was not married. As I read the story, the woman began to cry and she said: “That woman sounds like me. I wish I could find what she found.” Well, believe it or not, I asked her to pray with me right there on the plane, and then I asked the Lord to come into her heart and to make a difference in her life, to help her find a new beginning for herself. After the plane landed and we were gathering up our stuff to get off she said: “Thanks for talking to me. There’s a church just down the road from where I live in Melbourne. I think I’ll try it out next Sunday.”
The point I want to make is this: we don’t have to force ourselves on anybody to bear witness to Christ. God is always opening the doors of opportunity for us. Maybe it will be for you tomorrow morning when you’re having a cup of coffee with a friend. Maybe it will happen while you’re talking on the phone or meeting with a customer. Or maybe it will happen when you’re visiting with a perfect stranger, as I was on the plane, or even with a member of your own family. But make no mistake. God will open doors for you to be His witness every day. The only two questions that remain are: will you realize when He is opening the door of opportunity for you and will you speak for Him and point to Him when He does? Yes, our style of witnessing ought to be personal.
And our style of witnessing ought to be positive.
Listen again to the words of the Apostle Paul: “You words should always be pleasant and interesting, and you should know how to give the right answer to everyone.” In other words, we don’t need to apologize for our faith, nor do we need to be hesitant in telling others about it. Do I need to have special training to talk about our two grandsons? Am I hesitant to speak about them? Of course not! What you love, you share. And if we love Jesus, then we’ve got to share Jesus with others. We are in possession of the most positive and powerful message ever. Jesus is the only unfailing solution to the problems of this earth and we have no reason to apologize for saying that.
I keep thinking today of some words written by the great Bishop Stephen Neil of England. Bishop Neil writes: “I have never been able to understand why Christians are never permitted to be right. Other faith systems and beliefs are permitted to be intolerant of other faiths and beliefs, but not Christians. Muslims and Hindus are active propagandists. They make no secret of their desire to convert others to their views. For this no objection is raised. But let Christians try to win others to their point of view and people rise up in indignation and protest.” The good bishop has a point.
I must tell you I am deeply troubled when I hear church people say: “I don’t have to speak about my witness for Christ. I don’t have to say the things that I believe to others. I don’t have to verbally share my faith. All I have to do is just live the faith.” Do you have any idea how absolutely arrogant that is? To think that you and I could ever live so splendidly, so sinlessly that the people of the world would be able to look at us and the way we live and immediately be drawn to Jesus Christ? How absolutely foolish. The only way people are won to Jesus Christ is through the power of the word. “Your words”, Paul says, “your words must always be pleasant and interesting.” They must be appealing. That’s the way people are won. Oh yes, it helps if you can back it up with a reasonable attempt at living the Christian life in your own experience. But don’t ever be so arrogant as to think that you could live in such a way that other people would be won to Christ. I am also deeply troubled when I hear Christians people say: “Well, you know it really doesn’t matter. All faiths are just the same. They are all just different ways of achieving the same goal.” That’s an absurd statement. Nothing could be further from the truth. Let me be very, very specific:
Islam. One of the cardinal tenants of the faith of Islam is the devaluation of women. You will find that to be true anywhere the Muslim system of belief is the dominant force in a country or a society. The most egregious example recently is that of the Taliban Muslims in Afghanistan. The way they treat women there is despicable and even demonic. But think about this. Why do no Muslim leaders here in America and no Muslim leaders anywhere else in the world rise up to denounce and condemn the Taliban practices toward women in Afghanistan? It is because that practice flows as a direct and natural result of the way women are regarded in the faith of Islam. All religions are not the same. We as Christians, thankfully, have a much more positive message to share.
Buddhism. Wherever the Buddhist faith is practiced and is predominant, in those societies, inevitably, human rights are discarded and birth control is practiced by persecution and even, God help us, by execution—especially when the babies are girl babies. The Dalai Lama is the Buddhist spiritual hero and leader to so many here in America. Many prominent Americans regard him as a great spiritual leader. Yet I have never heard the Dalai Lama deliver words of condemnation directed at the inhuman practices which exist in Buddhist society. All religions are not the same. We as Christians, thankfully, have the right answer for everyone.
Hinduism. Hinduism, in recent times here in America, has been regarded as a benign, fascinating, maybe even exotic faith system. There are a number of people in America attracted to it. I have been to India. I have seen its impact. It is anything but benign. Hinduism promotes a radical disregard for the value of human life. The belief in reincarnation, for example, that is to say that life just cycles over and over and over again through this world, renders no human life of ultimate value. You see that played out in a variety of ways. You see it in the caste system in India, which I can tell you is the most brutal, the most oppressive discrimination I have ever witnessed anywhere in all of the world. You see it played out in a variety of other ways. One example- I was walking through the train station in Madras, India, and was besieged, mobbed by destitute people, clutching at me to give them anything- anything at all. And then suddenly, I practically stumbled over a young boy on the floor lying there on a ratty blanket, his legs useless and unmoving- reaching out to me for something. When I asked about him I was told that his parents broke his back so that he would be a more effective beggar. When I screamed in protest I was told: “But don’t you see, it’s all right, the Hindu belief decrees that that will guarantee that he will have a better experience in the next life around.” Why is it, I ask, that Hindu leaders in America are not rising up and railing against the hideous nature of the caste system in India? Doesn’t that make you wonder? But you see, the heart and soul of the Christian faith is the absolute worth and value of every single man, woman and child on the face of this earth. They are of inestimable value to God- so valuable to God that He would give His only Son to die for every single one of them. All religions are not the same. Do not fall for that lie.
Oh I am not saying or suggesting for a moment that Christians are perfect- we aren’t- far from it. But what I am saying is that the Christian faith is the most powerful instrument for good the world has ever seen and what I am saying is that Jesus is the right answer and the only unfailing solution to all of the problems that exist in this world. And we don’t need to be hesitant about saying that and we don’t need to apologize for saying it either. Our witness must be positive. “Your words”, Paul says, “must be pleasant and interesting and you must know how to give the right answer to everyone.” We must be ready to speak a positive word to the people around us about the positive power of Jesus Christ. So our style of witnessing ought to be both personal and positive.
Let me try to wrap it up like this. The great preacher of an earlier time in this century, Dr. Wallace Hamilton, tells of seeing a blind army veteran struggling through a train station trying to carry a heavy suitcase. Hamilton walked up to him and offered to carry the suitcase. The blind vet replied: “No, thank you, I can carry the suitcase. What would help though, is if you could show me to the information desk.” Hamilton immediately grasped the man by the arm and started off through the train station. The blind vet cried: “Wait! Wait! Don’t push me. Don’t pressure me. All I want is just the touch of your hand on my shoulder.” There it is. We don’t have to be pushing people. We don’t have to be manipulating or coercing people. We don’t have to force ourselves on other people. All we need to do is to offer the gentle touch on the shoulder. All we need to do is to make the most of every opportunity we have to speak a personal and positive word about Jesus Christ. You see, Jesus doesn’t need to be argued and propagandized and Jesus doesn’t call us to be “high pressure salesmen” for him. All we have to do; all we have to do is just mention His name and never stop mentioning His name because in His name there is the power of God for salvation.