Inviting a Decision
Acts 9:36-42; John 4:1-42
September 29, 2018 | Brian Bill
Karen Tumulty, a columnist with the Washington Post recently came across a letter written by President Ronald Reagan to his atheist father-in-law, Loyal Davis. This letter, written on White House stationery, was found in a cardboard box of Nancy Reagan’s personal effects and was dated just days before her dad’s death.
Listen to part of Tumulty’s column from two weeks ago:
Reagan…believed everyone would face a day of judgment, and that Davis’s was near. So the most powerful man in the world put everything else aside, took pen in hand and set out on an urgent mission — to rescue one soul.
“Dear Loyal,” Reagan began. “I hope you’ll forgive me for this, but I’ve been wanting to write you ever since we talked on the phone. I’m aware of the strain you are under and believe with all my heart there is help for that…”
I could sense Reagan’s earnest intensity, how carefully he had collected his thoughts. Not a word of his small, round script was crossed out…Near the end were three watery smudges. Spilled coffee? Someone’s later tears?
In his appeal, Reagan wrote about Jesus, “A young man of 30 years without credentials as a scholar or priest had more impact on the world than all the teachers, scientists, emperors, generals and admirals who ever lived, all put together. Either He was who He said He was or He was the greatest faker and charlatan who ever lived.”
I tracked down this 4-page letter and was struck by how President Reagan engaged the mind and appealed to the heart – “Loyal, I know of your feeling – your doubt – but could I just impose on you a little longer? Some seventy years before the birth of Christ the ancient Jewish prophets predicted the coming of the Messiah.”
President Reagan then invited a decision by pleading for his father-in-law to come to Christ by quoting John 3:16: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”
This letter reveals the faith of Ronald Reagan along with his fervency. His intentionality is obvious as his words contain a mixture of the testimonial and intellectual approaches.
We’re wrapping up our Intentional series this weekend. We’ve been learning that it takes all kinds of Christians to reach all kinds of non-Christians: Christians don’t have to witness the same way, but all Christians can witness in some way. Here are the six styles we’ve been unpacking.
Direct Peter Acts 2
Intellectual Paul Acts 17
Testimonial Blind Man John 9
Interpersonal Matthew Luke 5
Serving Dorcas Acts 9
Invitational Samaritan Woman John 4
Here are a couple examples of intentionality that happened this week.
One EBC woman sent me a text: “Yesterday when [a woman] was sharing her problems I asked her if I could give her a hug and she did not answer but walked around the counter and I gave her a huge hug and she burst out crying and told me she needed that so much. Broke my heart. She told me she has no self-esteem and sees herself as…ugly. I am so thankful I asked her.”
An Edgewood couple utilized the interpersonal approach this week: “Last night we invited 6 neighbor families to come over for brats and burgers! Please pray for us as my kids will hear words they aren’t used to and see things we aren’t used to. Pray for us to do this right, and if seeds can be planted, then great! #intentionalneighboring.” The next morning I sent a message asking how it went. This was their reply: “Things went well. I’m not sure we did things ‘right’ but everyone seemed to enjoy themselves.” I responded quickly: “You did it! That’s what was right. Way to go!”
The Serving Style
We come today to the serving approach to evangelism. This is best demonstrated by a woman named Dorcas. Please turn to Acts 9:36: “Now there was in Joppa a disciple named Tabitha, which, translated, means Dorcas. She was full of good works and acts of charity.” Joppa was a major seaport town on the Mediterranean coast. BTW, Jonah fled to Tarshish from Joppa.
We’re introduced to a “disciple named Tabitha.” The word “disciple” refers to a “learner” and was used of someone who followed Christ. What’s very interesting is this is the only feminine form of the word used in the entire Bible. She is the only woman called a disciple! Tabitha is her Aramaic name and Dorcas is her Greek name and comes from gazelle, which is an animal known for its graceful movements and brilliant eyes. It was customary to have two names, espeically in Joppa because it was both a Gentile and Jewish town.
We see that Dorcas was “full of good works,” meaning she was “abounding in excellent works.” She was also full of “acts of charity.” The word “acts” tells us it was her habit to help people with compassion and mercy.
From this one verse we can conclude that Dorcas was a devoted disciple who distinguished herself by doing what she could with what she had in the spirit of 2 Corinthians 8:12: “For if the readiness is there, it is acceptable according to what a person has, not according to what he does not have.”
She was completely committed to Christ and filled with compassion for those who were in need of mercy. Incidentally, there’s no mention of her husband so it’s possible she was single. She lived out Titus 3:8: “…those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. These things are excellent and profitable for people.”
She knew she was saved to serve and people knew she served out of love for her Savior. She was not lazy by any means but was quick to respond when someone needed help. Miss Gazelle was a devoted disciple who used her gifts and abilities to further the kingdom, giving her life for the good of others.
Let’s pick up what happened in verses 37-38: “In those days she became ill and died, and when they had washed her, they laid her in an upper room. Since Lydda was near Joppa, the disciples, hearing that Peter was there, sent two men to him, urging him, ‘Please come to us without delay.’”
Verse 39 tells us what took place when Peter arrived: “So Peter rose and went with them. And when he arrived, they took him to the upper room. All the widows stood beside him weeping and showing tunics and other garments that Dorcas made while she was with them.”
There were a lot of widows in Joppa because many husbands were lost at sea. Widows back then were the poorest of the poor and became vulnerable, forgotten and desolate. The death of Dorcas was devastating to them. The word for “weeping” has the idea of lamenting and wailing. The word “showing” means they were pointing with pride to the clothes Dorcas had designed and made for them. Tunics were worn underneath and garmnets referred to their outer robes that were likely decorated with elaborate needlework.
Dorcas was living out Matthew 25:36 where Jesus said, “I was naked and you clothed me…” Since there were no OLD NAVY stores in Joppa, Dorcas served others and pointed them to the Savior. Her life reflected Matthew 5:16: “In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”
Apparently her unique contribution was so important to the church, when she died, God raised her back to life according to verse 40: “But Peter put them all outside, and knelt down and prayed; and turning to the body he said, ‘Tabitha, arise.’ And she opened her eyes, and when she saw Peter she sat up.”
Verses 41-42 help us see Dorcas had a ministry to both believers and unbelievers. “And he gave her his hand and raised her up. Then, calling the saints and widows, he presented her alive. And it became known throughout all Joppa, and many believed in the Lord.” The phrase “saints and widows” implies her intentional serving ministered to believers and was also a witness to unbelieving widows. The devotion of Dorcas and her coming back to life led others to new life in the Lord.
We don’t hear what happens next but I’m convinced she went back to her quiet and unassuming service. It’s interesting Dorcas is not remembered because she was raised from the dead but because she was a devoted disciple who served according to how God designed her.
In his book called, “The Conspiracy of Kindness,” Steve Sjogren states, “while less than 10% of Christians have the spiritual gift of evangelism, 90% have the gift of serving.” Good works and charity are not only done with money – it can be with our words, our time and practical help to those who are hurting and hopeless. Ephesians 2:10 tells us we are saved to serve: “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
1 Peter 4:10-11 sums up the importance of serving: “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.”
Here are some traits that servant evangelists generally exhibit:
- They see needs others don’t see.
- Compassionate and caring.
- Show love through actions.
- OK with not being noticed or applauded.
There are also some things to be careful of:
- Make sure you’re looking for ways to use words to talk about Christ.
- Don’t minimize the value of your service.
- Communicate the spiritual motivation behind your acts of service.
Christians don’t have to witness the same way, but all Christians can witness in some way.
The Invitational Approach
Don’t you love how God picks unlikely people to fulfill His mission? Let’s turn to John 4 to see how Jesus redeems and then releases a woman who utilizes the invitational approach of evangelism.
She has at least three things going against her.
- She was a Samaritan. Normally Jews and Samaritans avoided each other like the plague. Instead of going through the land of Samaria when they were traveling, the Jews would walk all the way around the border, which made their trip three days longer. And yet, verse 4 tells us Jesus “…had to go through Samaria.” Jesus had an intentional appointment with her and he intended to keep it.
- She was a woman. During the time of Jesus, men were not supposed to talk with women. That didn’t stop Jesus from asking her for a drink of water in verse 7.
- She was immoral. As she came to the well to get some water, the deep emptiness and thirst in her soul was almost more than she could bear. She was an outcast because of the choices she had made. Jesus knows all about her when he says in verse 18: “…you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband.”
When she first started talking with Jesus, she tried to conceal the truth about herself. We’re the same way, aren’t we? Our natural tendency is to cover up and hide behind masks. When Jesus confronted her with the truth about her life, she was convicted. But, instead of feeling condemned, she sensed Jesus loved her in spite of how she had been living.
Verse 25 reveals the steps she took in her own understanding of who the Messiah is. Jesus makes it very clear in verse 26: “I who speak to you am he.” As she begins to put everything together, she’s struck by the fact Jesus knows everything about her and is still willing to talk to her. She can’t get over it. She is so startled by this that she left her water jar by the well, ran back to her town and said to the people in verse 29: “Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?” She no longer cared about her water jar because now she has living water and gives witness of that to those in her town.
When you realize He alone satisfies your thirst, you’ll invite others to find the same thing you’ve found.
Are you aware Jesus knows everything about you and loves you anyway? When you realize He alone satisfies your thirst, you’ll invite others to find the same thing you’ve found.
The word, “come” has the force of a command and can be translated, “Come hither!” The word, “see” literally means, “to know.” Her conscience has been awakened by the Omnsicient One who knows everything about her and loves her anyway. She compellingly invites everyone to go and know Jesus. This reminds me of the earnest invitation found in Psalm 66:5: “Come and see what God has done; He is awesome in His deeds toward the children of men.”
Actually, she’s both excited and a bit reserved when she says, “Can this be the Christ?” She knows these people think of her as trash so she asks them to check it out for themselves. Her use of a question raises their curiosity.
Rebecca Pippert, in her book Out of the Salt Shaker, says, “good evangelism is 60% asking questions, 30% building intrigue, and 10% sharing.”
She doesn’t want them to just hear about Jesus, she longs for them to actually know Him as Savior and Sovereign. It’s an invitation few turn down as we see in verse 30: “They went out of the town and were coming to him.” The idea is they came immediately in a long procession.
She has been so impacted by Jesus she can’t help but invite others to come and meet Him personally. Her desire is for them to experience the same grace and forgiveness that has been given to her. Because of her reputation in town, she would not have had much credibility. Normally, no one would listen to her. She witnesses the same way Pip [Philip] did in John 1:46 when he said, “Come and see.” Since it’s obvious she’s met someone amazing, of lot of people accept her invitation.
Verse 39 reveals many Samaritans believed in Christ because of the woman’s testimony. Then, as they listened to Jesus even more came to know Him personally. Look at verses 41-42: “And many more believed because of His word. It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world.” They believed because of the woman’s witness and because of the words of Jesus. We must tell our story and His Story. Jesus changes lives; we can’t change anyone.
A poll by George Barna discovered approximately 25% would go to church if a friend would just invite them. That means one in four of your friends would come if you would asked.
People who gravitate toward the invitational style exhibit some common qualities:
- They’re always looking for something to invite someone to.
- Persuasive and persistent.
- Enjoy meeting new people.
Here are a few blind spots to be aware of:
- Be willing to talk about Christ.
- Consider which events are appropriate to invite people to.
- Don’t get discouraged if someone refuses your invitation.
I like how the Living Bible paraphrases 1 Corinthians 9:22: “…whatever a person is like, I try to find common ground with him so that he will let me tell him about Christ and let Christ save him.” Here are some pointers to help cultivate common ground with people.
- Pray for opportunities.
- Take the initiative.
- Intentionally engage in normal conversation with people.
- Prepare for things to get awkward and messy.
- Be open and willing to admit your own struggles and failures.
- Be gentle and respectful.
- Don’t forget what it was like to be a non-Christian.
As we wrap up this series, it’s my prayer you’ve identified which style best fits your spiritual gifts, your personality, temperament, and background. God knew what He was doing when He made you. While nobody fits perfectly into just one of these approaches, you are probably stronger in some than you are in others. Which of these styles reflects who God has custom-designed you to be? Which one most matches who you are?
Chuck Swindoll tells a story about some animals who decided they should do something about the problems in the world. So they organized a school and adopted a strenuous curriculum of running, climbing, swimming and flying. To make it easier to administrate, each of the animals had to take all the subjects.
The duck was excellent in swimming; in fact, he was better than his instructor. But he made only passing grades in flying, and was very poor in running. Since he was so slow he had to drop swimming and stay after school to run around the track. This caused his webbed feet to be badly worn, so that he became only average in swimming. But average was quite acceptable, so nobody worried about that — except the duck.
The rabbit started at the top of his class in running, but developed a nervous twitch in his leg muscles because he had to stay after school to work on his swimming. The squirrel was excellent in climbing, but he encountered constant frustration in flying class because his teacher made him start from the ground up instead of from the treetop down. The eagle was a problem child and was severely disciplined for being a non-conformist. In climbing classes he beat all the others to the top of the tree, but insisted on using his own way to get there…
The obvious moral of the story is a simple one — each creature has its own set of capabilities in which it will naturally excel — unless it is expected or forced to fit a mold that doesn’t match who they are. When that happens, discouragement, and guilt can lead to mediocrity and defeat. What is true of creatures in the forest is true of believers in the church. God has not made us all the same. He never intended to. He planned and designed our differences, our unique capabilities, and our evangelistic styles.
Each of these six Bible characters – Peter, Paul, the Blind Man, Matthew, Dorcas, the Samaritan Woman – all met Jesus and had their lives radically transformed by Him. Then God used their personalities to impact others. Friends, the fields are ready, and there’s a lot to do. Let’s figure out what we’ve been designed to do and then be as quick as a gazelle to intentionally tell others about Christ.
God may want to use you to cultivate the soil, to plant the seed or water it, and He may allow you to be there when the harvest happens.
Brothers and sisters, instead of seeing evangelism as something scary, or as a one-time event done in only one way, try to see people somewhere in the process of making mini-decisions toward Jesus. God may want to use you to cultivate the soil, to plant the seed or water it, and He may allow you to be there when the harvest happens. Paul lays out this spiritual principle in 1 Corinthians 3:6: “I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow.”
Some time ago I came across the Engel Scale which really helped me understand how Jesus moves people along a path toward salvation. This is very encouraging because if God can use me to help someone take the next step on the road to salvation, he can use anyone. It also means I haven’t failed if the person doesn’t get saved. I also like this visual because it reminds me my efforts should not stop at conversion because we’re called to make disciples, not just converts. There’s a 3-minute video posted on Sermon Extras that explains this in more detail.
While conversion is a one-time event, evangelism is a process we’re invited to participate in. Studies show that the average person needs anywhere between nine and eighteen different exposures to the gospel before they get saved. I heard a song this week on Moody Radio that captures this idea. It’s called “Fifteen.”
I was sitting at the table
As the waitress took our order
In her eyes I knew that something wasn’t right
And before I saw it coming
I was caught up in her story
Of the storms that she had weathered in her life
My friend said can we pray for you
She said I think I’d like you to
She walked away, we bowed our heads
But then he turned to me and said
If it takes fifteen times
To hear about Jesus
For someone to believe
Wherever I stand in line
I’ve got to make a difference
In case it comes down to me
‘Cause, I may be the third, may be the seventh
There may be years in between
But what if I’m fifteen?
What if I’m fifteen?
Let’s go back to the article in the Washington Post about Ronald Reagan. Here’s how the columnist concludes…
“Did the letter have any impact? Nancy Reagan, who was with Loyal Davis when he died, and who saved the letter he received from his son-in-law, would later claim that her father did turn to God at the end of his life. Two days before his death on Aug. 19, 1982, Davis sought out a hospital chaplain, and prayed with him, Nancy said. ‘I noticed he was calmer and not as frightened.’”
Christians don’t have to witness the same way, but all Christians can witness in some way. The fact of the matter is if we’re serious about being intentional, we’ll have opportunities to use a variety of these approaches, depending on the individuals we are trying to reach.