Community Outreach, Faith Conversations

Is Outreach Necessary?

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Yes, and here is why

This may sound like an absurd question. Many church people I meet with are disenchanted with the church, with America, and with the shifting society around us.  Those same individuals are encountering denominations that are dwindling in numbers and revenue.  There is a sense of desperation all around.  My response to this is you are right these are trying times for the church, but I have never been more energized.  It means the church is more important, more relevant, demands a bolder witness than ever before.

Outreach is not just needed; it is indispensable to the survival of our communities.  But not in the manner you may imagine.  I am not saying this will grow your church, but it will expand your capacity, your compassion, your heart, and you as a follower of Jesus Christ.  I believe outreach is more about using our God-given spiritual gifts than it is about church growth.  Churches may grow due to our outreach efforts, but that is a Holy Spirit thing, not a program thing, or an energy thing, or even a planned thing.

Our calling is to invite people to meet this Jesus Christ who has transformed our lives through His death and resurrection.  It is our opportunity to create an environment for people to take part in a foretaste of the feast to come.  Come and see the man who knows everything about you, yet still, loves you.  That’s why outreach is crucial, even more so, urgent.

Outreach is Necessary Because the Message is Powerful

Maybe this example will connect with you.

She was lying on the ground. In her arms, she held a tiny baby girl. As I put a cooked sweet potato into her outstretched hand, I wondered if she would live until morning. Her strength was almost gone, but her tired eyes acknowledged my gift. The sweet potato could help so little — but it was all I had.

Taking a bite, she chewed it carefully. Then, placing her mouth over her baby’s mouth, she forced the soft, warm food into the tiny throat. Although the mother was starving, she used the entire potato to keep her baby alive.

Exhausted from her effort, she dropped her head on the ground and closed her eyes. In a few minutes, the baby was asleep. I later learned that during the night the mother’s heart stopped, but her little girl lived. Love is a costly thing. – Love is a Costly Thing, by Dick Hillis

God in His love for us and for a broken world “spared not His own Son.” God gave the mission to the church to tell the world of the everlasting, all-encompassing love of God. But God’s love came at a significant cost.  Believers, we must tell the world regardless of any personal cost to us. Outreach is an expression of that love’s cost. Our faith costs parents and sons and daughters, relationships. Faith costs the missionary life itself. In his love for Christ, the missionary must give up all to make the Savior known. You are a missionary. The world needs to hear your message of the salvation.  Look around you, there is brokenness, there is hatred, there is racial division, and there is anger.  The only thing that breaks the hold Satan has on the world is the power of forgiveness offered to the world through faith in the Savior, Jesus Christ.  Jesus’ love breaks through hatred, division, and brokenness.  So, saints of God let your love for Christ, cost you something, and we will together live out the mission of inviting people to experience a foretaste of the feast to come.   Outreach is telling a lost and dying world of God’s costly love for us in Christ Jesus. Go, and be an outreach fanatic!

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Faith Conversations

God’s Word Never Returns Void, Don’t Give Up!

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I remember this particular couple even fifteen years later. In ministry, I viewed weddings as an evangelism opportunity. There was one couple that caused me to question that this approach.

It was evident the bride was a believer, but the husband was not all that interested in connection with Jesus. We went through the mandatory five pre-marriage counseling sessions. I connected with them through the counseling sessions. I could not get him to discuss having faith as an important component in their marriage life. Nothing seemed to be working. So I stopped pressing. They had a Christ-centered ceremony. But I could tell he was tuning out during those parts of the service. He was waiting to get to the”I do’s” and to get out the building as soon as possible. I know it isn’t about me, but I felt as though I had failed. I had a strong feeling he would never set foot in a church again. He was adamant about his denial of the Savior. I made my standard offer to all my newlyweds, “Just remember I am your pastor. If you need anything, call. If you hit a snag that first year, I am here.” I heard nothing for nearly a year until the wife calls. Her husband requested a visit. I inquired what was wrong only to discover he was dying of cancer. God provided a second chance to proclaim the gospel to him. I visited him often before God called him home. I am confident he died a believer. What appeared to be a failed attempt to be an instrument of God’s grace was a reminder that God has a plan. God has his timing.

I love the quote from Doug Pollock in a book entitled “God Space: Where Spiritual Conversations Happen Naturally.”

He quotes from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians; The good news is that most of our failures can be reclaimed. There’s no statute of limitations. He also suggests we commit this verse to memory, “So be careful how you live. Don’t live like fools, but like those who are wise. Make the most of every opportunity in these evil days” (Ephesians 5: 15-16, NLT).

“So if you have someone in your life that you feel you blew it with them, don’t give up. We serve a God who is great at giving second heck third, fourth and fifth chances. If you feel you have blown it here are a couple of questions to ponder if you get that second chance to share the gospel.”

What do you do when the person you are talking to is so resistant, hurt, or turned off to talk about of God? When there is nothing you say, that appears to make a difference?

Practice patience. Respect their real pain. Acknowledge the hurts they have experienced in life. Realize your conversations may be triggering some deep-seated emotions that they have long buried. If that is the case, your only path at this point maybe to pray with them and pray for their circumstances. Pray intentionally for that the emotional turmoil they are facing. That could be the method God uses to open the door to that deeper spiritual conversation.

What do you do if you have someone who is not open to these kinds of spiritual conversations? Does their lack of openness mean you should just leave them alone?

Maybe. If your conversations are causing damage to the relationship be willing to take a step back and give the person some space. What you don’t want to do is push the person away from you. Give them some time and keep the relationship intact. Maybe this is not the time for this conversation. Perhaps, down the road, the right opportunity may present itself. In the meantime keep the lines of communication open. Be willing to apologize if your conversation has caused offense. Say “I sense that I might have said something in our last conversation that caused you to shut down. If so, could you help me understand what I said or how you interpreted my message? I value our friendship. I enjoy our conversations, so if I’ve offended you, I’d like to make things right.”

You never know where and when the opportunity to share the gospel will present itself. Be always ready to share the hope that you have in Christ Jesus. You may be the vehicle God uses to share the gospel with someone outside of God’s grace. Realize that God when that happens God will give you the words to say. God is the one who waters the seed and makes the seed grow. We are just called to spread the seed.

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Faith Conversations

Faith Conversations are So Much More Than a Pamphlet​

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I am passionate about Christians sharing their faith with those outside of the family of God.  What I am not a big fan of is doing that without forming a relationship with people.  I am not a fan of individuals pushing Jesus on those outside of God’s grace because I think that just turns people off to Jesus and paints Jesus and Christians in a negative light.  And believe you me we do not need any more negative impressions.

Let me share a real life story with you.  I am standing in line with a friend in Glendale, AZ when a person who I have never met, nor a person who ever even took the time to strike up a conversation with me, reaches over and hands me this pamphlet.  The question on the form in size 24 font reads: Are you 100% sure you will go to heaven?  No soft shoe approach here.  Let’s just get right to the heart of the issue.  Skip the niceties and attack most people at their most vulnerable core.  How sure are you that you are going to heaven?

Honestly, it depends on the day.  Some days God and I are rocking and rolling.  We are gelling at times.  It is like I know exactly what God is thinking and I feel God’s presence clearly.  Other days not so much.  There are times when God feels distant.  It is usually those days when sin gets in the way, and I am wrestling with something I have done to offend Him.  Maybe I was rude to my kids because I was stressed by a major decision coming up and there are not clear answers.  Or it was just one of those days where everything that could go wrong did and that was all before noon.  Things just went downhill from that point on.  So, the heaven question just bugged me.  Why would you start there?  Why plan on my vulnerability?  Why not ease into a profound spiritual conversation?  Are you trying to scare the Hell out me, literally?  That is what the question is all about, how afraid of Hell are you?  Enough to follow the seven easy steps to welcome Jesus into your heart on the following pages?  Faith is not that easy.  If it were, I would encourage every Christian to go to Office Depot and print out thousands of these magical pamphlets, and we can change the world.

Sharing your faith starts with a relationship which this man never wanted to engage in with me.  He sat next to me for lunch and never stopped to come over and ask ”do you have any questions about what I gave you?”  Just suppose this was a divine appointment set up by the Almighty Himself and I was ready to take that leap of faith.  There was no one there to help my jump and provide a soft landing.  All I could think in this was, what about me looked lost?  What about me look like I needed Jesus?  Am I giving off an aura that says, please help me I am lost?  As I stepped back from this experience, I realized how angry the entire encounter made me.  Upon further review, as I drilled down deeper on that emotion, what hit me was that you know nothing about me and you are making assumptions all of which are erroneous. Why didn’t you start a conversation with me?  We could have shared a meaningful moment. Instead, you just made sure by passing out a flyer with your church name and address on it that I will never darken the doors of your building.

Witnessing is all about relationships which take the time to nurture and develop.  I love the story of Philip in Acts.  As an angel of the God moved him, he went out from Jerusalem to Gaza and ran into an Ethiopian, eunuch.  Here is the story.

 “And there was an Ethiopian, a eunuch, a court official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who was in charge of all her treasure. He had come to Jerusalem to worship 28 and was returning, seated in his chariot, and he was reading the prophet, Isaiah. 29 And the Spirit said to Philip, “Go over and join this chariot.” 30 So Philip ran to him and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet and asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” 31 And he said, “How can I unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him…  35 Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this Scripture; he told him the good news about Jesus. 36 And as they were going along the road they came to some water, and the eunuch said, “See, here is water! What prevents me from being baptized?” Acts 8:27-31, 35-36

 Philip shows us that sharing your faith, is about relationships.  It is about being willing to walk alongside, to answer tough questions and being open to the Holy Spirit’s leading.  My encounter was an opportunity missed.  How in your life is God asking you to be a Philip?  Pray for the chance to build a relationship and get the chance to be a faith sharing blessing to someone.