Discover Stories

Dr. Jon Morrissette - 8/25/2019

The current world population is 7.7 billion people and growing. This number is so astronomical, it defies imagination. But if each person on earth were a grain of sand, 7.7 billion people could be represented by these boxes. One box holds 1 billion grains of sand. These stacks represents the population of Asia—Africa—Europe—and the Americas. The really incredible number however, is 3.4. Right now you/I are 3.4 relationships (degrees of separation) from influencing anyone on planet Earth.

Last week we talked about the simple priority of developing relationships. Many of you own a smartphone or wristband that tracks your steps. My watch gets so mad at me, it buzzes, and flashes messages like: “Let’s get moving pal… You haven’t moved in hours, are you sleeping… Time to get active… Let’s do a Torso twist, anything, give me something, are you still alive?” Then when I actually make an effort it mocks me, “Congratulations your moving… Great job, you got up off your behind…”

One day I got over a thousand steps, I was so proud of myself. But no, that’s not good enough. My watch wants 6000 steps a day! At the fair I set a personal best… 20k steps! But did my watch acknowledge my effort? No, it did not! Crickets! I called Samsung technical support, I thought my watch was broke. Come to find out any steps taken with fried grease and corn dog juice dripping from your fingers, doesn’t count!

I’m curious. How many of you track your steps? What’s the most you ever taken? Let’s see our 1000 step people…. 6000…. 10,000. What’s your record? 20k? more?

One of the more practical books I’ve read on evangelism is called, “Just Walk Across the Room.” Some of the most significant steps we can take is just walking across the room… walking across the cul-de-sac… walking across the street… walking across the break room, or classroom, or work space… maybe walking across the hall to your kids room… We take steps for the well being of our health… do we take steps for the well being of someone’s soul? Do we initiate relationships with people far from God?

In the gospels, how many steps did Jesus clock in a given day? Just take the gospel of John—Jesus walked everywhere. It was such a priority to “be with people.” Isn’t it true… we’re mesmerized with our phones but bored with people; Jesus was mesmerized with people, and had no need for a phone. If we’re not willing to takes steps for God toward people far from God, we might as well have a billion degrees of separation from one another, not 3.4.

Let me reconfigure our boxes. It’s projected that by 2060, Christianity will be the largest global belief system (31-32%). Islam will have grown the most (24 to 31%). Hinduism will decline (15 to 14%), Buddhism from (7 to 5%), Judaism will remain (.2%). Atheists, Agnostics, Nones will decline (from 16 to 13%). The number of Christians in China will surpass USA within 10yrs. Within 30 yrs, China will be largest Christian nation. The next generation won’t ask whether to be religious, but “Christianity or Islam?”

I hope you can see the important of developing relationships! The reason we’re doing this series is because a lot of you have been asking, “How can I matter?” This morning I want to share some practices that help us tilt hearts and minds toward Christ.

A First Practice is Proximity.

Christ came near, so we could come near to God. Last week, it was so amazing how of you came forward and attached a name to this board. The longer we are the Christians, the more apt we are to withdrawal from these kind of relationships. What an encouragement to see so many of you resolving to develop friendship! What if our daily prayer could be: “Lord, my life is your life. Lead me toward someone today. If you want me to show hospitality, help me do it without grumbling. If you want me to speak, help me speak as one speaking the very words of God. If you want me to lay low, and just serve someone, give me strength so that in everything you may be glorified.”

But there is so much more to talk about. For example, how should we approach people? How do we build trust and rapport, so that people are receptive? For over fifty years, Josh McDowell ministered with Campus Crusade. He was the guy who’d get invited into some of the strongholds of academia and present a powerful and compelling case for Christ. You might know him by his best-selling book, “More than a Carpenter” that we give out all the time.

I know him as the guy who wrote the definitive two-volume work called, “Evidence that Demands a Verdict.” It’s since been compiled into a single volume called, “New Evidence that Demands a Verdict.” It’s extremely unlikely you’ve thought of any objection to Christian faith that he doesn’t thoroughly cover in his volume. I heard him speak in Peoria a few years ago. When it comes to defending the Christian faith, he is kind of Old School. Here is the case, here are the arguments, boom bang bing, get in line! He’s gotta be like 70-80 years old—but he runs up on the stage, he has a booming voice and is a powerful presenting. It’s crazy.

More recently, Josh’s son, Sean McDowell released a book called “A New Kind of Apologist.” When I saw the title I thought, “Wow. If this is anything like his father’s work, I’m in for a real treat.” In the son’s book, he doesn’t advance any new arguments/proofs/evidence for Christian faith. First, he commends those, who like his father, utilize logic, try to win battles, and fight to be understood. But then he suggests a whole new approach is needed to evangelism/apologetics.
We can’t keep on doing business as we have in the past. Times have changed. we barely have to bring up matters of faith and people instantly become defensive, or worse, go on the attack. We live in a kind of argument-based culture where everything becomes a verbal fight. For too long, we Christians have fostered an “us vs. them” mentality, appearing combative. It’s not enough just to have the good/right answers.

Sean advocates that we take a whole new approach. Instead of being combative, we need to take a posture of humility, generosity, and openness. We need to have “a firm center” while maintain “soft edges.” So the first part of this approach is practicing proximity. That we traffic where non-Christians traffic. That we walk across the room. That we get the salt out of the salt-shaker into the world. All these things. But what else might we do?

A Second Practice is Patience.

We’re never going to be able to storm into people’s lives, like a bull in a china shop, confrontational, without causing a lot of damage. We need to be thinking more along the lines of conversations not confrontations. In a confrontation there is sometimes a hidden agenda, an arbitrary timeline, forced conclusions, and tone-deaf viewpoints offered.

The practice of patience invites us to release any outcomes to God. Early in the ministry, the Elders would call a monthly meeting, and they asked me to give a report. How many evangelistic calls did you do? How many decisions for Christ? How many saved? How many baptisms? How many new members? First of all, the leaders never held themselves accountable in this way. But second, I felt so much pressure, like I had to go out and force matters of faith with everyone everywhere. It’s so important that we release any outcomes to God.

I like Paul’s attitude in Acts 26, after he tells gives testimony to the life, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus to King Agrippa. At the end the King asks him, “Do you think you are going to persuade me to become a Christian so easily (NIV says ‘so quickly’)?” And what does Paul say, “Short time or long… easily or not so easily… I pray that you will become what I am a Christian…” I just love that. “Short time or long… Easily or not so easily… I’m praying for God to be at work. I’m his faithful instrument. The outcomes, the results, the conversions, the decisions… that’s in God’s hands.

A Third Practice is Listening.

Proverbs 18:13 says, “He who gives an answer before he hears, it is folly and shame to him.” So many Bible verses about listening. James 1:19, “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.” Proverbs 18:2, “A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion.” Proverbs 2:2, “… incline your heart to understanding.” James 1:26, “If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person's religion is worthless.” Proverbs 17:27, “Whoever restrains his words has knowledge, and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding.” Ecclesiastes 3:7, there is… “A time to keep silence, and a time to speak;” Stephen Covey made all that money on his book Seven Habits of Highly Effective People… One of the first habits… “seek first to understand before being understood.” How about this verse on listening… Exodus 14:14, “The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.”

Why is that we feel so threatened, we get so emotional and defensive, that someone disagrees with us? It’s true in many things. It’s true in politics, it’s true in matters of faith. What does it hurt to explore or clarify, “What does this person believe? Why does this person believe this? How did they come to think that, or feel that, or assume that? Where do we agree/disagree? How can I best be a help to this person?”

Sean McDowell. A “New Approach” is needed. Humility. Gentleness. Except, its not really new is it? Matthew 12:19-20 quoting Isaiah the prophet, gives this description of Jesus, “He will not quarrel or cry out; no one will hear his voice in the streets. A bruised reed He will not break and a dimly burning wick He will not extinguish;” Listening conveys respect. Listening builds trust. Listening deepens understanding, it shows empathy. Listening engenders receptivity/cooperation. Listening shatters stereotypes of Christians. Confrontation bruises, it extinguishes, it belittles, it stirs division, in conveys arrogance, it feels judgemental. Colossians 4:6, “Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” If you haven’t listened well, if there hasn’t been a conversation, how will you ever be in a position to really give an answer?

A Fourth Practice is Discover Stories.

Learn to ask great questions. Be curious. One of the most powerful tools Jesus uses in the gospels are questions. Remember the boy Jesus in the temple, asking questions? Luke 2:46, Mary/Joseph “found Jesus in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to the, asking them questions.”

Asking questions is different than listening. It’s also different than answering. Next week we will talk about giving answers. But before we give answers, we need to ask. Asking questions forces a person to think, and process, and evaluate. Jesus powerfully used questions through his whole life to move people toward faith/obedience: “Why did you doubt? Why are you do afraid? Why do you worry about…? Why were you searching for me? Do you want to get well? Who do you say I am? What do you think? What is that you want? What were you arguing about along the road? Which is greater? What does the Scripture say? Do you love me?”

In like 3 seconds you could go to google and see the hundreds of questions Jesus asked. But what are you doing? You are discovering a persons’ life story! I keep lists of questions in a One Note File. A whole conversation can turn on a great question: Who is the God you know? Why do you think there are so many religions in the world? Do you think it’s possible for anyone to really know if there is a God? What do you think are the most common misconceptions people have about God? Do you think there’s really such a thing as “unconditional love”? How has your belief or disbelief in God affected your life? Do you believe God is actively involved in our world? Is there such a thing as “destiny”? What do you hope is true about God?

When you ask people questions, people will ask you questions. Some current questions people will ask you are:

  • Aren’t we better off without religion?
  • Doesn’t Christianity destroy diversity?
  • How can you say there’s only one true faith?
  • Doesn’t religion actually hinder morality?
  • Doesn’t religion cause more violence?
  • How can you take the Bible literally?
  • Hasn’t science disproved Christianity?
  • Doesn’t Christianity denigrate women?
  • Isn’t Christianity homophobic?
  • Doesn’t the Bible condone slavery?
  • How could a loving God allow so much suffering?
  • How could a loving God send people to hell?0
  • Source: Confronting Christianity by Rebecca McLaughlin

(Rebecca is responding to sarcastic questions posed by Sam Harris in his book, “Letter to a Christian Nation.”)

Here’s my advice. Don’t freak out if people ask you questions! If you are uncomfortable, its probably because you haven’t thought through their question. If you haven’t thought about it, just say that, “I haven’t thought about a lot, can we talk about that later after I think on it, study?”

If people ask you questions, follow up with a question. Say, “Why is that question important to you? Why does it matter? How does that issue affect you? Why are you asking? What are your thoughts? What secular viewpoints are you aware of? What have other Christians said to you? What do you assume the Bible says? What do you imagine is God’s perspective on that? Are you investigating Christian faith? Are you sincerely interested in the answer?”

One of Peter’s greatest acts of faith was getting out of the boat and walking on water. Do you know what I think many of our greatest acts of faith might be this year? It’s getting out of those places of comfort, “just walking across the room,” gaining proximity to people far from God, patiently trusting God to be at work, listening carefully, asking good questions. . . These practices alone would go a long way to spanning the 3.4 gap between you, me, and 7.7 billion people.

Next week we talk about discerning next steps… what do we say/do…

Scripture Verses

Proverbs 18:2, James 1:19, Colossians 4:2-6, Exodus 14:14, Luke 2:46

Worship Set

Study Questions

Apply It!

Resources

  • Book: The New Apologist, by Sean McDowell
  • Book: Evidence that Demands a Verdict, by Josh McDowell
  • Book: Confronting Christianity, by Rebecca McLaughlin
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