Sunday, January 26, 2014

A Manifesto For Evangelism

Once upon a time, there was a village of fishermen who loved to fish. They gathered to form a fishing society with the vision to promote fishing all over the country. They published books on the benefits of fishing as a hobby and as a career. They organized seminars on the latest technology for boats, baits and fishing equipment. At these forums, they sang songs about the joys of fishing. They also hired experts to research on the migration patterns and breeding habits of various fishes. They were so busy with all these activities that there was no time left… to fish.

Until one fine day, a young girl actually decided to sail out to the ocean and cast a net into the waters. Lo and behold, she caught a huge load of fish. Instantly she became famous. She was invited to write a book about her adventures. She was asked to share her amazing experience at fishing conferences and travel the world to lobby for cross-cultural fishing. Of course, she too became so busy that she forgot… to fish…

This is a parable... Spend 2 minutes to discuss what this parable is about. When Jesus called his disciples, He said: Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.  This is a call for them be with Him, to give their lives to Him and bring people into His kingdom. It’s a call to evangelism… to make disciples of all peoples. And you can’t make disciples unless you are first a disciple. We find those fishermen funny but more often than not, we Christians can be a lot like them. We can attend trainings, read books and sing songs about evangelism so much so that the only thing we forgot to do is to evangelize. Really… how much of our personal life or even our church activities can really be intentionally evangelistic?  

Ouch… this is going to be a tough sermon this morning. Whenever the topic of evangelism crops up, I think a lot of us squirm with a sense of guilt… a sense of inadequacy… believe me, I know that feeling all too well. But there is hope because Jesus says come to me, follow me, learn from me, trust in me and I will make you fishers of men. There’s a promise. He will do it. He will make us fishers of men. But will we follow?

Romans 10:13-15
For, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”

CDPC Puchong: We are a SIMPLE church. We are committed to preaching through chunks of Scripture week in, week out to see how all of them point to our Savior the Lord Jesus. Our desire is for all of our lives (in the workplace, family and in the city) to be shaped by His truth, His grace and His justice. One of our key values is to make disciples of all people groups… ergo, City “Discipleship”. This year, we really want to focus on Making Disciples (through evangelism, pastoral care and growing leaders). That’s our top priority. Why? Because we want to be a gospel-centered church. Because if we don’t do that, then we are not living up to our name. And because “gospel”, “community” and “mission” are at the heart of the book of Romans.

As you may know, this month, we are continuing our exposition on Romans 9-11. We have journeyed through 8 chapters last year and it’s good to just back up a little bit and see where we are. What is the purpose of this letter? Well, Paul is writing because he plans to go and bring the gospel to Spain. And he plans to stop over at the church in Rome first for evangelism, for ministry and for mutual encouragement. So it’s like a mission newsletter – Paul needs some assistance to preach the gospel somewhere which no one has gone before. He needs the church’s support in prayer, help and perhaps finance. Mission is always a community project, a church project. Even an apostle doesn’t want to go it alone. But the church in Rome doesn’t know him personally so he wrote this epistle to introduce himself as an apostle to the Gentiles and what his gospel message is all about. He ended up writing up one of the most important and influential books of all time but it’s good to remember that he didn’t set out to write a theological textbook. Its core concern is missional. It’s a manifesto, a public declaration for evangelism.

And the other main purpose of writing the epistle relates to a problem faced by the church itself. It was culturally mixed with a Gentile majority and a Jewish minority. The controversy of whether obeying the law and circumcision as boundary markers that segregate you as a member of God’s people was unsettling the church. There were those who wanted to obey food laws and ceremonial regulations, and others who didn’t. Paul wanted to step in and say: The people of God are defined by faith in Christ alone. Your cultural, ethnic differences are transcended by Christ so you now stand united in the gospel of grace.

Guess what? That means gospel, mission and community are at the forefront of the epistle. David Chong didn’t come up with these brilliant ideas by himself, in case you are wondering. It’s not just a CDPC idea. It is a biblical priority. They are all central concerns in the book of Romans, and if you miss those things, you haven’t grasped it yet.
From the passage we read just now and the rest of Romans 9-11, we can see at least 3 things about

1)      The urgency of evangelism
2)      The hope of evangelism
3)      The purpose of evangelism

If you recall, the broad outline of Roman goes something like this imaginary chat. Paul says: “I am eager to preach the gospel. I am not ashamed of the gospel because it is the power of salvation for everyone who believes (first to the Jews, then to the Gentiles).”  Why, Paul, who do they need to be saved? “Because God’s holy anger is revealed against all who suppress the truth in wickedness.” 

Well, how have they done that? “The Gentiles have suppressed the knowledge of God available to them in creation and the moral law written in their hearts. They are without excuse. The Jews have the revelation of God’s written law but they break the law. They cannot keep the law. So all of humanity have sinned and come short of God’s standards.”

What then is the solution? That’s why the gospel is so urgent. Why it’s so necessary.   
We need the righteousness of God that is given though faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. All who believe are declared righteous (not guilty) on the basis of what Christ has done on the cross. He redeemed us from sin. He turned away God’s holy anger through His sacrifice for us, on our behalf. Not by obeying the law, but by what Christ has done for us – His life, death and resurrection.

That’s why there is no difference between Jews and Gentiles, rich and poor, bumiputra or non-bumiputra: Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.

Saved from what? Our universal need is to be freed from the guilt of sin. From the controlling power of sin. From the condemnation of sin. Saved from God’s holy judgment. There is no distinction between Jews and Gentiles, Indonesians, Malaysians, Egyptians and Americans. We are all sinners and we all need Christ for salvation. All nations (the entire human race) must hear the gospel. That’s the scope of evangelism: It’s world-embracing. Among us are young people who have traveled hundreds of miles, away from home and family, to be here in Malaysia precisely because of this urgency, this longing to see Christ lifted up, adored and treasured in hearts of peoples from every nation. A sister here told me of a Bible study she’s part of with a Mongolian, Mainland Chinese, Omani, American and Egyptian. Like United Nations. Wow, wouldn’t you like to be part of a Bible study like that? Isn’t that beautiful?

My heart’s desire for CDPC is that we become partners in the gospel with these young people and support them in any way we can. My heart’s desire is that we all catch a glimpse of Paul’s heart, his longing, his agony, his yearning for the salvation of people… “I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my people, those of my own race, the people of Israel.”  (Romans 9) Of course, it is not possible for him to trade places with anyone… but he so loved his people so much, that if it were at all possible, he could wish that he was condemned in hell for the sake of his people, that they may know and enjoy Christ. Can we say the same thing for anyone who is spiritually lost? Paul can’t die for anyone’s sins, but Christ was cursed so we could be blessed. Christ was cut off from the Father so we may enter into His fellowship. There is only one Savior.

But Paul is reflecting His Master’s heart… he yearns for their salvation so much that he was ready to cursed for their sake. That’s the heart of carrying the cross. The only people for whom I have that kind of anguish and sorrow are for my own father and mother who are not yet believers. For them, yes, I could gladly and willingly wish if it were at all possible to trade places with them. But that’s nowhere near the kind of sorrow and love that Jesus and Paul had for the salvation of even their enemies. Those who rejected and opposed them… So our prayer this morning is that the Holy Spirit would melt our hearts and give us the same intensity, the same love and longing. That’s the heart of mission, the urgency of evangelism.

The hope of evangelism:

To call on Jesus’ name is to ask Him to save us according to who He is and what he has done. See, you are the one who must call on the name of the Lord. Nobody can do it for you. And everyone who calls on His name will be saved. There is no such thing as a person trusts and obeys the gospel but gets turned down by God. “Sorry, I know you decided to put your trust in Christ alone but so sorry, you are not one of the chosen ones.” It doesn’t work that way. Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.  

But the problem is: there are a million and one reasons why people would not want to call on His name. They are too busy. They are too obsessed with what the world has to offer. They are too self-satisfied with their own achievements. They thought it would cost them too much freedom. You know, if you have ever tried to share the gospel, there are just so many, many obstacles/excuses that people give for not coming to faith. What hope is there for us to bring our friends into our homes, into this church to listen to the gospel? It seems like a distant fantasy… Maybe in our hearts we have given up hope long ago so we have stopped even trying. What’s the use? What’s the point? I know that feeling…

But then again, that’s exactly how we once were, right? We too were once hardened in rebellion against God, we too were once too proud to acknowledge Him, we too were once substituting other gods instead of worshiping Him. We were too worldly. We were just like that. What hope did we have?

That’s why Paul says in Romans 9: “It does not, therefore, depend on your human desire or effort, but on God’s mercy. He has mercy on whom he has mercy and he hardens whom he wants to harden.” There is no hope unless and until God overcomes our rebellion by His love. There is no hope unless and until He opens up our blind eyes by the light of His word, and until the Holy Spirit melts our heart of stone and replace it with a heart beating with new life.

The only thing that prevents evangelism from being pointless is the sovereign grace of God… The only thing that gives you and I hope in pressing on with the gospel is the effectual call of the Holy Spirit. The only thing that keeps us going when all hope is lost is the assurance that God so sovereign that he can bring the most hardened sinner to faith… That’s the hope of evangelism that drove missionaries and evangelists to the ends of the world. That’s the hope that drives us (CDPC) to be salt and light in Puchong.

Back in those days, people do not have the Internet or television so important news from the king travel by means of a herald. The herald would run for many miles to the marketplace and announce the good news: Our king has returned to Jerusalem. He will restore the nation. You will all return from exile. So Paul quoted Isaiah: How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace and salvation. The logic is simple there can be no salvation without calling on Christ, and no calling on him without faith, there is no believing in Him without hearing him, no hearing without the preaching of the gospel and no preaching without preachers sent. And so Christ sends you and I to be heralds of the gospel.

Now, what is the purpose or goal of evangelism? Evangelism is not an end in itself. Mission exists because worship does not. Evangelism gathers and unites us with the people of God, an inclusive community that transcends racial barriers… a family united in Christ of both Jews and Gentiles. In Romans 11 the picture is that of an olive tree where believing Gentiles like wild olives are grafted in and believing Jews are grafted back. We share the same history of faith that extends back to the promise to Abraham. We stand in solidarity with the persecuted people of God all over the world. The way we worship together, the way we serve each other and treat one another especially when we disagree and have theological differences should model the gospel of grace.

But the ultimate goal of evangelism is the glory of God! That’s why Paul ends chapter 11 with worship – “For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen”. All that exists came from Him… He is the creator… all that we are and all that we have are sustained through Him… and why everything came into being and what is the reason for their being? The answer is: For Him and to him are all things. He is the source, the means and the goal of all things.

So we have seen the urgency of evangelism, the hope of evangelism and the goal of evangelism… You may wonder: How can we evangelize? What should we practically do?

Let me share this true story from Michael Ramsden, whom I met at a youth conference in Bali. He is an evangelist in Europe

Conversations over the course of normal, ordinary life that points the way to Christ … Sometimes we just plan a seed, other times we soften the soil. Sometimes we water the plant, other times we reap the harvest. It is God who makes it grow and bear fruit.

And I really have nothing more profound to say today than that.

Talk to the people you meet in church this morning… especially those whom you have never met before. Our guests who are here for the first time… The last thing you want to see when you bring a friend or student from Oman to church is to see her checking her Facebook alone at one corner while the rest of us were chatting among ourselves… Be welcoming, get to know people and where appropriate, pray for them… invite them over for lunch… Show them the hospitality of Christ… Serve them… Fetch them home, if necessary… Befriend the families who come to the library… Play and read story books to their children… It is holiday season with the Lunar New Year coming this Friday. A lot of us will balik kampong, visit relatives, friends, colleagues and open houses… Those are the contexts in which conversational evangelism can happen. 

Let’s not become fishermen who were so busy singing and talking about fishing that they have no time left to fish.


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