Go Fish Week 3 - "Go Fishing!"
I felt so strongly that this sermon series needed to be preached at my church, and I have been praying that God would use it to spark the desire for evangelism in the hearts of our people.
The first week of our series we talked about how we need to connect with our story and learn to tell it. The second week we discovered that God doesn't need us to spread the Good News that Jesus is risen and Creation is getting redeemed, but God loves it when we join him in doing just that.
This week we are seeking to answer this "Big Question:" Jesus commanded his disciples to be evangelists and disciple-makers. What does that look like for us?
I think that a lot of Christian-types would agree that Christians should know and tell their story. There are probably a few more who would agree that God wants us to join him in the work of spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ. But when the rubber meets the road, most Christian-types don't really know how to do it, and probably have zero desire to try.
I have to be honest, I haven't always been the best at answering the call to the Great Commission. I remember going to a youth ministry conference once a few years ago, and this guy Greg Stiers spoke about evangelism. He was fairly hard core. Stiers is the founder of Dare2Share a group that holds big events designed to teach teenagers how to witness to people about their faith. Part of their training is held in public areas surrounding the arena or hall where their events take place. The teens are sent out to practice witnessing to the hapless residents of the city of the event--in shopping malls, parks, downtown locations, etc.
Stiers talked a lot about how he never missed an opportunity to share his faith with anyone he happened to be in contact with at any given moment. He spoke of witnessing to people on the airplane, in restaurants, in line at the DMV... I started feeling like I pretty much sucked at being a Christian because I preferred not to talk to people on airplanes, in restaurants and especially not at the DMV.
I have been reading Matthew 28:16-20 this week in preparation for this sermon. Here's the passage:
16Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."One of the phrases that just gets me from this passage comes from verse 17: "...but some doubted." As someone who struggles with his share of doubt, I feel like asking, "Is this a bad thing?" I mean I was told when I went to fundamentalist Christian churches that doubt was evil, but when you actually read the Bible you see that some of the most faithful God-followers were chock full of it. And here's a deeper question, "Does doubt keep you from witnessing?"
Here's the thing, the word "doubt" here in this context doesn't mean what it usually means (skepticism), it means "the risky wavering of the one who must decide when more than one possibility seems reasonable and right." When those disciples of long ago were confronted with the reality of the risen Jesus, they very nearly couldn't handle it--not to mention the implications that a risen Jesus brought with it (You mean we actually have to do all those things he said to do?). The risen Jesus defies logic--at least our logic. So, the answer to my question is simply this: No, doubt doesn't keep you from witnessing."
Several years ago when I was working as a hospital chaplain, I was called to talk to a woman, who was about to have surgery. She had already lost one leg to diabetes and the other one was to be taken the next day. I will never forget sitting in her room as the nurses and technicians cared for her. The entire time I was in her presence she never stopped praising God and sharing her faith with the hospital employees. I finally asked her why she was able to be so full of faith and hope when she was about to lose her second limb and be forever confined to a wheelchair.
"I don't know why these things have happened to me," she said. "I wonder what God is doing sometimes, and I don't understand. Sometimes it really gets me down, and I wonder if God is even listening to me. But in the middle of feeling sorry for myself, I think about this... there are lots of people in this hospital who would trade places with me in a heartbeat. So, even though I don't always understand what God is doing, I know I've been blessed, and I'll share that all day every day."
Jesus gave the Great Commission to all of his disciples... even the ones who doubted.
Here's something else.
Jesus spoke with authority when he issued the Great Commission--the kind of authority that shrugs off the notion of suggestion when it comes to his followers going out and "making disciples." And on top of everything else, Jesus told his followers that his presence would be with them always. So, it's not like Jesus merely commands that we go out and make disciples and baptize and then sits back and watches us scurry around like ants doing his bidding. Jesus accompanies us on our journey in addition to being the destination of our journey. And this is only possible because of the logic-defying resurrection.
The resurrection is something that has to be experienced. Did you know that it's possible to believe in an empty tomb without any resurrection faith? Lots of Christan-types do just that. They can spout off all kinds of scientific and historical evidence that proves the empty tomb of Jesus, but their lives are absolutely devoid of the joy and hope of resurrection. The entire Great Commission is founded on Jesus' present Lordship.
Us Christian-types are compelled by the risen Christ, who is present all around us, in us and through us to "make disciples." A disciple is not someone who is forced or coerced to believe and follow. A disciples willingly gives up his/her own dreams, goals, aspirations in order to live out the dreams, goals and aspirations of his/her teacher, leader, master.
And discipleship is not an academic endeavor. It's about salvation and eternal life. It's about responding to unbelievable grace and wanting to be as close to the source of that grace as you can get. True disciples of Christ follow Jesus closely. True disciples of Christ have a real relationship with Jesus and want to stay as close to him as possible. True disciples of Christ know that the main "ingredient" in any aspect of evangelism is relationship, relationship, relationship.
If us Christan-types are going to fulfill the Great Commission we need to understand some things:
1) We need to maintain a real relationship with God--not one that is based on mountaintop moments, but one that has been slogged out through the valleys and the dark nights of the soul--a relationship that is honest, and open.
2) We need to accept the Great Commission as our own--this isn't someone else's call. It's ours. If we want the privilege of calling ourselves a Christian we need to act like one and do what Christians are called to do.
3) Finally, we need to trust that Jesus is going to be present with us when we share our faith and fulfill the Great Commission. It should make a huge difference for us to know that when we feel led to speak to that person on the train, or our companion on a flight or the person making our coffee at Starbucks that Jesus is present both nudging us on our journey and standing nearby as the destination we are pointing toward with our words and our deeds.