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How to Think Lost and Help the Lost Think

INTRODUCTION

Many of us who became followers of Christ at a point beyond childhood, did so because we responded favorably to a Christian who reached out to us in friendship. Our “decision for Christ” seemed secondary to the fact that we were important enough to be befriended.

 

Jesus Christ loved the publican and sinner, but He never made them feel foolish, unlearned, manipulated or coerced. His nature is to love. His grace desires to continue to love the unlovely through those of us who are His church.

 

The word “evangelism” has become circumspect even to Christians who are genuinely burdened for the salvation of the souls of the lost. Too much emphasis has been put upon methodology which sounds very much like Success Motivated seminars.

 

Paul said, “All this is from God who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation.” II Corinthians 5:8. We who are members of the Body of Christ are living cells, existing to make the invisible Christ visible, allowing Him to reflect Himself as a friend. Scripture bears out that every redeemed one is to be in an active, reconciling relationship with non-believers. This paper is a study on the effectiveness of friendship in sharing the gospel. Hopefully some of these thoughts will be liberating to readers who suffer from guilt about their resistance to soul-winning methods. Perhaps others will be encouraged to keep right on doing what they are doing. …being a friend to those who do not know Him.

 

I. HOW TO “THINK LOST”

 

We have been enculturated by whatever has been programmed into our minds through the influence of parents, environment, education and society. I am an octogenarian who spent the first twenty years of my life in a non-Christian home and environment. My enculturation was different from those who have come up through the ranks of the Sunday School, youth groups, camps and other church activities. I have noted this: Many of my brothers and sisters in the Body of Christ may never be able to understand the feelings of the lost. Personally, I will never forget them.

 

Everyone needs a purpose. …a destiny; a place in the sun. Those of us who have our “place in the Son” must earn the right to tell the lost how to know that he too, has a “place in the Son”.

 

Immediately upon graduation from seminary I was invited to partner with Ray Stedman, pastor of Peninsula Bible Church in Palo Alto, California. Part of my job description was to see what I could do to pump some spiritual zest into the teenagers. The leaders of this fellowship were heads of corporations and professors at Stanford University. Some had come from well organized, denominational churches and were not about to rebuild THAT wheel. After coming to know Christ these wonderful leaders had not cut themselves off from their friends of the past, but instead, were continuing relationships with them while building new relationships in their work places and communities. Early in the morning Ray and I would board the commuter train with these business men, spread out our Bibles and notebooks and study and pray for the people the men were inviting to have lunch with them that day. I learned a valuable life-long lesson: Remain a friend to the lost. We have discovered over many years in ministry in both the “church with walls” and the “church without walls” that it takes most new Christians one year to lose all of their friendships with the world.

 

Ray and I started brown-bagging at the nearby high school, inviting the kids to come and eat with us and just talk. Entering into their world was exactly the right thing to do. Having had experience while in seminary with Young Life Ministries, this was not an unfamiliar idea. During the next three years in PBC we did whatever it took to gain the trust of hundreds of kids. Our home was open. The results were many and I daresay that those teens who were loved to Christ through friendship have not forgotten what it means to “Go into all the world….” We taught them how to keep on loving their lost friends and disciple them themselves as they came to Christ. We believe and practice II Timothy 2:2: “…and the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others.”

 

God’s “church” simply will not be boxed in. Satan, the arch deceiver, enjoys to the utmost doctrinal extremes which reduce potential power to putty. Churches, like individuals, take on personalities or temperaments. Some churches are known for their expositional teaching. Our first ministry following eight years of training for ministry was blessed to have Ray Stedman, the finest of Bible expositors, in the pulpit, while being freed to discover and exercise our own giftedness. We made a wrong assumption: Most evangelical churches would function that way.

 

Some churches are defined by salvation messages over and over again. After our Bay Area ministry, we pioneered a church in Bakersfield, California, starting with a few believers. The dear lady who started the church sincerely believed that the way to grow was to have a revival a couple of times a year and invite people to come. She wanted to know and teach the Word of God but there was no one to help her. At about that time, she invited me to come and be the pastor. It took some years to gently persuade the believers in the tiny little fellowship that Jesus wanted them to go out into the world and not invite the world in. That church today numbers in the thousands, with satellites all over the city, and ministries stretching to many places in the world.

 

After our California pastorates, I found myself in a Bible-belt pastorate that required that I spend most of my time in the office, preparing for the Sunday morning message. It was made very clear that I was not to spend my time with people. The leaders in that church wanted to be known only for their biblical accuracy. The Lord mercifully cut us loose from that church and said, “Go!” He quickly formed a team around us and we went to work reaching the unchurched of that city. We learned a great deal about the ways the Holy Spirit reaches His own in His “church without walls”.

 

Pastors and other leaders, by example, must be engaged in the full cycle of doctrine, else the learner draws the conclusion that the taking in of truth is the ultimate of spirituality. If the pastor/shepherd’s entire time is spent pre-chewing food in order to regurgitate it on Sunday mornings for the consumption of the flock, he might be engaging in bedazzling his listeners with his superior gift of teaching. The biblical minister is to “do the work of the ministry”. “…to prepare God’s people for works of service so that the body of Christ may be built up.” Ephesians 4:12.

 

Some churches are so organized with multiple paid staff that they stifle the organISM. Such a body of believers is not encouraged to “stir up the gifts that are within them”, subtly suggesting that the work of the ministry is for the “pros”.

 

Paul certainly set such an example, and even was so audacious as to suggest that his Timothys emulate him as they watched him in action. Knowledge without doing of the knowledge is not full knowledge at all. As a matter of fact, inactive knowledge can turn quite sour and give off a stench to the nostrils. The spiritual leader whose practice is to rub shoulders with the lost will teach a relevant message, thus launching the learners into Satan’s world with a relevant gospel.

 

I want to give you one more Ray Stedman impact-illustration by telling a story he loved to tell: A man went to an oil refinery and asked to take a tour of the plant since he had always been interested in every facet of the production of this critical product. The tour guide walked him through the crude and cracking sections, through several processing and refining sections, then the tour came to an abrupt halt, whereupon the man said: “This is all very impressive, but where is your shipping department?” The tour guide replied: “Oh, we don’t have a shipping department. It takes all the oil we produce here to keep this refinery running!”

 

Think now: Is the church you are in “thinking lost”? How do your church leaders engage with the lost and encourage the flock to do so as well? Do they assume that people will come if they make the programs enticing enough?

 

A. Remember WHO we are

G. Campbell Morgan once said, “To call oneself an evangelical and not be evangelistic is a contradiction of terms.” The Lord never intended to spend much time in churches that men build with our hands which are known as “church plants”. That can be what they actually become…buildings that are solidly planted in one stationary spot until they rot. He intended from the beginning of the Church Age, to spend all of His time in the lives of Christians who were never encouraged to sit down in a stationary spot and rot.

 

Os Guiness terms this enigma: “The privatization of the Gospel”, a disease that has sectioned Christianity into a “folklore religion”. I put it this way: Christianity is meant for the road. To say that we are “going to church” is inaccurate, for we are the church! In understanding that, we can suggest to the searching unbelievers that he simply find a Christian and follow him around , watch how he flavors his bland world, and is just enough salt in society. That kind of Christian is approachable, giving off “the fragrance of the knowledge of him. For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those are being saved and those who are perishing.” II Corinthians 2:14,15.

 

The Bible teaches that the true “catholic” church is comprised of living cells: people who have believed in and received Jesus Christ into our lives. Let’s look at a couple of scriptures that emphasize the importance of Christians meeting with other Christians for the sake of edification, fellowship, prayer and communion.

 

Immediately after Pentecost and the entry of the Holy Spirit into the very bodies of the new believers, we read this: “Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts.” Acts 2:46,47.

 

Fast forward to a later time in the early church and we read in Hebrews 10:25 these words: “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” These new believers met in homes. Until the fourth century when Constantine forced the believers into buildings, they continued to meet in homes, under trees, in public eating places…wherever the Spirit was making things alive!

 

Here’s the point: We are to come to gather, in order to scatter! The Holy Spirit desires to eject Christ out of the stationary buildings into society. With proper balance of muscle-building calesthenics, we are ready to be launched into the world, like a missile! God suits us up, promises never to leave or forsake us, and tells us to “Go! Go find the lost sheep for he cannot find his way home, alone.” Our gatherings together as believers are supposed to be “rep meetings”, “checking-in-for-encouragement” times together. Oh, that every Christian might understand that the dynamic of the church is proportionate to the salt that has opted to be shaken out of the shaker of the sanctuary and has flavored society.

 

Instead of encouraging the flock to go, other voices call us to stay. Stay to do what? …count the sheep again that are already in the fold? …count the growing membership which may consist of sheep who have wandered over from another fold? Many churches consider themselves successful because of such deceptive measuring sticks. The church I pastored in Houston was such a church. I propose that healthy membership growth can only be the product of conversion additions.

 

Let’s take a moment to talk about “Joe Christian” who never lets anyone forget that he is “different”. His conversation is one greased with “God words” that offend the honest seeker, a man who may never feel safe enough as was Nicodemus, to approach Jesus with the question, “What must I do to be saved?” Would this Jewish leader have done that if Jesus had not been known as the Friend of people like himself?

 

Then there is the blending Christian …the one whose salt has lost its savour. The word has leaked out that he is a steady Bible study attender, but scrutiny of his attitudes on the job fails to reveal any noticeable difference between his attitudes and the seeker’s own. …No help there.

 

None of these kinds of members of the brethren is remembering who he is: an ambassador who will win friends only by “being a slave to all, that we might win the more”, as Paul speaks of in I Corinthians 9:19. “Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible.”

 

The slave syndrome is borne out of constraint; i.e., the constraint of love received from Christ, which can do no other but spill out in a sensitive lifestyle, accommodating its expression to the seeker according to the individuality of that seeker. In Colossians 4:5,6, Paul admonishes the believers in a little home gathering in Colosse to: “Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders, making the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” Note that an accepting atmosphere has been created so that the “outsider” feels free to ask a question, much as Nicodemus asked Jesus: “What must I do to be saved?”

 

In the same passage in which Paul testified that he had made himself a slave to all that he might win the more, he suggests with Godly wisdom that it is necessary to “become all things to all men that I may by all means save some.” I Corinthians 9:22.

 

There is no hint in those exhortations that believers should be insulated, isolated, bland or pious. There is a strong implication that believers should, with great sensitivity to the Spirit of God, be involved in the most intimate of ways with the searchers of truth who surround us every day.

 

B. Remember WHY we are

Believers are here to be conformed to the image of Christ. Romans 8:29. “For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.”

 

In the process of being conformed to Christ, He produces in us His servant attitude. As we partake of the grace of God and are made increasingly aware of the tremendous debt we owe Him for that grace which cost Him everything, we find that a servant attitude actually makes us “a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible.”

 

How would it ever be possible to “win the more” if we insist upon the option to remain in the dubious safety of the “holy huddle”? Scripture underscores scripture as to what the huddle’s purpose is. Christians are to gather in the huddle only long enough learn the plays and then are to go play the game. If the church were penalized for staying in the huddle too long as are professional players, we would have already lost the game to the enemy, by default.

 

Necessary in the process of being conformed to His image, is firsthand awareness of what is meant by the “fellowship of His sufferings”. If believers remain in the huddle, there is no guarantee that we will not suffer. I wonder if there is any worse suffering that that which is inflicted upon Christians by another Christian? It has been said, “The only army in the world that consistently shoots its own wounded is the Christian army.” Suffering from the hands of the alien world is expected. Persecution by other believers takes us by surprise. …as well it should.

 

We are called to suffer, but why should we invite it by staying in the huddle too long? Through suffering, the superiority of the Son is made evident. The pain seems more palatable when it seems more legitimate. The Lord Jesus was attacked from within. His best friends called into question his activities with publicans and sinners. Perhaps our all-knowing Lord must oust us out of the huddle by allowing us to become uncomfortable around our fellow believers. Once sprung from the “huddle”, an amazing phenomenon occurs: We find that we have been victims of the enemy who has caused us to fear the unknown. We discover that our publican and sinner friends are not our enemies after all, but are victims of the arch enemy himself, whose only weapon is deceit. Our senses begin to be alerted to the needs of our lost friends and we enter into the world of the privileged who receive the greatest blessings possible.

 

One of the highest honors ever paid me was paid by a non-believer who declared to his unbelieving friend that I was the “only man in the world he could trust”. When we allow Christ to put us in a vulnerable position in the world, then allow Him to “lead us in triumph” (II Corinthians 2:14), we begin to “know Him and the power of His resurrection, being made conformable unto His death.” Philippians 3:10.

 

How does a believer become a friend to a seeker of truth? Well, not by setting out to convert him! The power of Christ in us does not require the phoniness of manipulation. If the love of Christ is truly constraining us, conversion will be the result of the Spirit’s being set free within us in order to build a genuine friendship between two people from two opposite systems of thought. God the Holy Spirit fuses casual acquaintances into friends who respect one another’s personal convictions.

 

Such friendships must be earned. We can conclude then that a friend is “one whose needs you have met”, be they needs to communicate on an intellectual, physical or emotional level—any needs at all that he feels safe about sharing with us. We can probably have as many friends as needs that we have time or willingness to meet. Our Lord had many friends among people caught in Satan’s world system. He did not deem it necessary to defend these friendships to the disciples. The whole point of the parable about the good Samaritan is that he took the initiative to show mercy by meeting the needs of the Jew who had been robbed and left for dead. We find this parable in Luke 10:37. Bottom line: “…love your neighbor as yourself.”

 

Another graphic example of true friendship is given us in the story of Jonathan and David. Jonathan, Saul’s eldest son, next in line to be king had been by-passed. The Lord had chosen David to be King instead. Rather than being resentful toward David, Jonathan committed himself to be loyal to his father, Saul, and his friend, David. As we read the account we cannot help but be impressed with the commitment of Jonathan whose pure intention was to make David a king. If we as Christians were to set ourselves about making others kings and queens, the world around us would be impressed with His kind of friendship. The earnest Christian must come to grips with the principle of Philippians 2:2,3 which admonishes us to “esteem others better than ourselves”.

 

If we desire to make kings of only fellow believers, we stifle the full intent of the Spirit of God. “Holy huddles” oftentimes turn into nests of aspiring royalty who sink into the slime of power struggles, calloused hearts and Pharisee-ism. Energies become diffused with such fleshly battles, and there is no strength or desire to enter the greater battle which awaits outside the church doors. Christian power struggles can even become a way of life that are actually a sick security blanket, carried to Satan’s final intent. We must be intent upon “setting our affections upon things above”.

 

If believers pursue Biblical friendships outside the walls of the church, we must be prepared for interesting analyses of our spiritual condition which engages in such “worldliness”. We may be said to have the “gift of evangelism” which subtly suggests that every believer is not responsible for carrying out the Great Commission given us in Matthew 28:19: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

 

Worse things could happen than to have our name submitted at the Wednesday night prayer meeting for pursuing a friendship that might be far more stimulating than attending a church meeting. Attendance at prayer meetings or any other meeting does not necessarily testify that our motives are pure. We must do what we do as unto the Lord because ultimately, we answer only to Him.

 

I just heard an excellent definition of “fear”: False Evidence Appearing Real. “Unholy fear” is never of God but is from Satan himself. “Holy fear” is acceptable but other fears can literally lock us into a prison within church walls. The “club reputation” which we will gain will successfully keep us separated from unbelievers for the rest of our lives. The freedom of answering only to God is delicious. We have been freed to become slaves. …slaves by constraint to love the publican and sinner as we have been loved by the Lord Jesus Christ.

 

In one of our pastorates my wife and I were free to build relationships with the officials of the city. In the next couple of pastorates, the leadership saw no need to become involved in the “world’s affairs”. It appears that the scriptures record a great deal of activity going on outside the church which produced a great deal of fruit that remained for the Kingdom of God. All of these important exercises of evaluating why we are doing what we are doing result in clear thinking about God. If we are here to be conformed to His image, we must pursue clarity of thought. Learning what His mind is telling our mind is only possible as we listen to Him through the Spirit Who speaks solely to us through His Word. When the complicating issues that other believers toss into our subconscious minds confuse us, we can be sure that we are not reading His mind, because He is not the author of confusion. Conversely, He produces a sound mind.

 

Conformity to the image of Christ is no small exercise. If our pursuit in life is to “…know God, His power, His resurrection, the fellowship of His sufferings, conformity to His death” which we can so glibly subscribe to, we find that such a pursuit necessitates clearing out all else but the Mind of Christ. If we are here to make the invisible Christ visible to a lost world, we must have all the wisdom of God which is promised to those who seek it. He would not, nor could He withhold anything He has promised. Let us get on with knowing Him, that we might be conformed to His image.

 

C. Remember WHERE you are

Being involved in the harvest affords us a ringside seat with binoculars for viewing the Sovereignty of God in action. His Spirit “lists where He will”, yet He desires that none should perish. Indulging in laying down our lives for the unrighteous teaches us many things about the Sovereignty of God. There is much “ado” among Christians who desire to know more about doctrine than they do about God Himself. When we are laying down our lives for the lost, there is no energy left for wrangling about different persuasions about doctrine, which is useless and leads to the ruin of the hearers.

 

One of those much discussed doctrines concerns the “Sovereignty of God Versus the Free Will of Man”. I believe it was Spurgeon who said, “I never need to reconcile friends.” Our theological pendulums which swing from one persuasion to the other come to rest in perfect balance and we are left with no words to say when we participate in the Holy Spirit of God making a cold heart soft. There is no human explanation. At other times a hard heart remains hard and no beating at that heart’s door will persuade the lost one to answer. It would seem that God actually mocks our programs which are designed for guaranteed success. True evangelism takes no particular orientation, intelligence or gifts. Anyone can play. Sometimes the less we know about programs the more the Spirit is free to work through us in a natural, unpretentious way. Getting next to God through His Word and intercessory prayer for a lost world for which He is praying, results in an overflow of our life-springs which spill into the lives of everyone around us. We simply cannot stop the overflow even if we were to try.

 

Even though we are playing the game away from home in a world that is not our own, and sometimes the cheerleaders are nowhere to be found, we will be winners. The Lord does not enlist us in His army without equipping us properly with the necessary tools to accomplish that for which we have been called. It is an exciting adventure to accompany God into a world which belongs to neither of us. We will never understand to any degree at all the superiority of the power of the Mighty God until we become “participators in the gospel” as were the Philippians. Some of them came to know, once for all, that “Greater is He that is in us than he that is in the world.” (I John 4:4) Ultimately we will lay all accumulated fruit at His feet for we will know that “It is God who is at work in us both to will and to work for His good pleasure”. There can be no other explanation for the dramatic results of the adventure that we so feebly embark upon, trusting that God really will turn out to be God, after all.

 

Keep reading. Next: Help the Lost to Think

 

II. HELPING THE LOST TO THINK

 

A. Removing the Barriers

We Christians love to be heard. Taking time to listen is not natural; it is supernatural. How do we learn to listen? If we pursue being conformed to His image we are in the process of learning again and again that others must be esteemed more important than ourselves. His love for us brought Him to the lowest earth, an unnatural place for God to dwell. He esteemed us more important than Himself. As we grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ it becomes more of a sacrifice to think on the world’s level. “Thinking Lost” is necessary, however, in order to identify with people, with no condescending attitudes showing.

 

Earning the right to speak is a result of taking the time to listen. When Christians go charging uninvited into the private lives of unbelievers, announcing to them that they are sinners who need to be saved, we get what we deserve when we are rebuffed. Sometimes, the rebuff is interpreted as “suffering for Jesus’ sake” and we go whimpering back to the holy huddle for sympathy.

 

Helping a friend think his way to Christ helps us, as well. We learn to listen to the Spirit of God, not forcing a conversation beyond what the Spirit has prepared our friend to indulge in. The Lord never intrudes in an unmannerly fashion. One of the warmest conversations He has recorded for us is His conversation with that unspeakably pitiful woman at the well. The disciples as was often the case missed the implications of the whole scene, so Jesus patiently explained what He had been doing while they were off in the village at MacDonald’s eating lunch.

 

They thought better of voicing to Jesus their private assessment of His encounter with such an undesirable woman when He was tired and needed to rest and eat in order to get on to more important people who had more sophisticated sins. Jesus knew well that the woman had no legal husband but had “slept around”. He did not pounce upon that opportunity to point out that she was a sinner who definitely was in need of being saved from her sin, but rather he commended her for her honest answer to his inquiry about her current bed partner.

 

There are several clues regarding how to make friends in this story. The issue that needed to be raised was not the sin of the woman, but rather to help her discover who it was she was talking to. He earned the right to tell her who He was, and she understood it! The disciples missed it.

 

The only sin for which mankind will be held responsible is the sin of unbelief: unbelief as to who Jesus really is. He was God in the flesh, Who came to save us from our sins. Sinners usually know already under the encrustations that they are sinners. If allowed to consider that there is hope for the hidden agonies of their hearts, they will be far more able to admit their need. Pointing out the sin first causes the non-believer to be defensive. He has no place to deposit his sin …yet.

 

I believe that Jesus was also teaching His followers that there is relative good among human beings that is commendable. When people’s spirits are broken because they believe themselves to be unable to do anything right, they are not usually drawn to the person who has made them feel that way but will be drawn to one who gives them hope.

 

God talks about the issue of “sin”; people talk about individual “sins”. The reason is obvious. We can always keep a wall built around our private “sins” if we zero in on one another’s more overt “sins”. The scriptures clearly teach that we are all unrighteous. Sinful. The only way we can become approachable is by being open and honest about our own depravity. This is all a part of “reasoning together” as Isaiah admonishes us to do. “Come now and let us reason together,” says the Lord. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.” Isaiah 1:18.

 

Reason together. Help the lost to think.

 

Peter advises us: “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.” I Peter 3:15.

 

Often that passage is used to defend our being Christians. We do not need to be defensive, nor do we need to put another on the defensive. If a potential friend becomes defensive it is possibly because of the way we have approached him with false issues. One of those “false issues” might be his need for going to church. Why should an unbeliever go to church? The church is for equipping the saved sheep to effectively graze among the unsaved sheep.

 

Another false issue is that of suggesting that non-believers must clean up their act before God can accept them. How can they? They have no power to change one single thing about their behavior.

 

What then is required of us in order that we might make the good news of the Gospel really “good news” rather than “bad news”? The answer is…friendship.

 

Not sacrificial, martyr-like friendship, but genuine friendship. Love in action. Earn the right to reason together (not debate!) and help the lost to think. We cannot love like this from our own reservoir of human love which can become disgusted and wear out. We must draw upon His constraining love that gives us patience to help our friends think their way to Christ and the benefits of being his friend!

 

An interesting discovery that some of us are making as we hobnob with the folk around us is that many of them consider themselves to be Christians. If queried about their relationships to Christ it is not unusual to receive one of these answers: “I am an American. Of course I am a Christian.” Or “My father was a deacon in the church.” Or “I was baptized … or confirmed … or went forward when I was a kid.” Or “I go to church every Sunday.” Or “I’m just as good as everybody else.” These natural responses are based upon wrong assumptions as to what the questions are.

 

In quite a disconcerting way, my wife and I have discovered in our travels and ministries in other countries that Americans are usually considered to be Christians. That realization hits us hard when we think of the reputation that America has gained for our preoccupation with sex and money and all it can buy. All of those accusations are leveled at Christ, therefore. Satan scores again! He deceives. He twists. He blinds the minds of the unsuspecting.

 

For half of our nearly sixty years in ministry, we have been engaged in out-of-wall ministries to the unregenerate. Our organization, Family Life Resources, is part of the organISM which constitutes the larger body of believers. Our non-profit umbrella gives us freedom to do whatever it takes to reach the lost. Sometimes we conduct discussions with a nucleus of Christians at the core, spending three weeks with them in order to encourage them toward bringing their searching friends to a discussion about Life and God. These discussions last for 59 minutes and 59 seconds, and we always keep our word.

 

Guests are treated with the utmost respect and courtesy. Christians sometimes have a hard time with the format, wanting desperately to give answers on the spot, but we promise guests that these events will be discussions and not lectures. The Christians themselves are given the responsibility of keeping the relationships open. This too is tough on some Christians for they are accustomed to depending upon the church “professionals” to take care of the whole shebang!

 

We have conducted these discussions in corporation conference rooms, living rooms, recreation parlors of condominium complexes, parks, even in pizza parlors, or wherever the Lord opens a door. Once I asked a gentleman if he had ever heard about biblical Christianity. His reply: “What kind of organization is that?” He was far more accurate than he probably realized.

 

Many people have no idea that Christianity is a relationship between God and His redeemed ones. No more and no less. Religion is man’s endeavor to be acceptable to God by his own efforts. Since he can never reach God’s perfect standard, man is frustrated in his attempts to be acceptable to a Holy God. How devastating to finally conclude that he cannot even trust his own efforts to be good enough for God! Most people hide from drawing such conclusions by pretending to be in control of everything and everyone in their lives but some are ready for outside help. Adults and more and more young people are disillusioned about the world in which we live. Their heroes continue to topple off their pedestals. Is that good or bad? Both. If people never know how to be delivered from the awful despair that is creeping like a pall across our land, the disillusionment is bad. If believers will forsake our less than effective ways for reaching the lost, get up from the part of our anatomies that are glued to church pews and walk into the lives of the despairing, the disillusionment is good. Very good!

 

Has God planned it thus? Of course He has. In our America, we are walking, if not running, through the stages of destruction outlined in Romans 1. People’s hearts are truly failing them for fear. The typical unbeliever is not nearly so interested in the hereafter as he is interested in the here and now. Can Christ really take care of him when his savings are totally confiscated by the government? If he loses his job, his home and investments, who is he, after all? We know that Christ heals the broken in spirit and broken in every other way. There is coming a time and very soon, when it will be far easier to befriend lost people. I truly believe that.

 

Many sincere Christians have conveyed that church attendance is far more important than the needs of the lost person who is without hope. We may even kid ourselves that we are “witnessing” by putting church activities first. Many we meet will have nothing to do with Christians because they see the lack of concern many Christians convey about their dilemmas.

 

Some tell us that Christians never say they are wrong about anything. Admitting an obvious wrong may be the very bridge across which a Christian may walk to enter the inner life of the unredeemed. “To whom much is forgiven, the same loveth much.” Luke 7:47. If we have no need for forgiveness, we will not love much and if we do not love much, we will have no friends. The person who has no friends is….neurotic. …a Christian neurotic. Christian neurotics “show up” even in a world which is brimming with neurotics. If the walls are ever to be taken down brick by brick between the world and the Christians the Christians are going to have to chip out the first brick, no matter how painful the operation.

 

B. Reach out

We are called to build a bridge from our heart to the hearts of the lost. What are some ways we can build those bridges? Start by thinking through the offensive language we may be using, deleting phrases which hurt and separate. Unbelievers really do not enjoy being called “unbelievers”. They do believe in something. “Saved” is a good word to forget. “Non-Christian” is another. Why not refer to everyone as “friends”?

 

Jesus did. He was known as the friend of publicans and sinners but I’ll bet He never called them that. He simply called them “friends”. I chuckle about the party Levi (Matthew) threw after he came to know Jesus personally. Luke 2:27-32. He invited all the other tax collectors …and Jesus who was the guest of honor. He felt assured that Jesus would not insult his fellow tax collectors. NObody like tax collectors then any more than they do today.

 

Endeavor to reach out conversationally. Be committed to understand, rather than to be understood. Our preoccupation with ourselves gets us in trouble. The secret that we are so disposed sneaks out in the things we talk about. If our egos need stroking we will be unable to carry on a conversation without subtly talking about ourselves, slyly tricking others into being interested in our world and what we are doing in it.

 

There are thousands of creative ways to be with people who are seeking Christ. God will out-stratetize you when it is His time, for He loves this person you are with. As you engage in a conversation with your friend and nothing comes up about Christ, you are just about to learn something about God’s sovereignty. You are also going to learn something about yourself. We all want results. We don’t want to waste God’s (our) time. Stick with your friend. More than likely, no one else will.

 

Meet your friend in neutral territory, away from your church. Pray about establishing some type of common ground with him. Perhaps the ground is already laid and you are just being made aware of the commonality of your involvement with your friend as the Spirit of God is speaking to you.

 

Be sure to keep your Christian commitments in balance. Your watching friend may be concluding that if they were to become a Christian, they would have to busy themselves with church activities to the exclusion of everything else he enjoys.

 

Be committed to love your friend unconditionally, and believe me, he is apt to lay some conditions on you just to see if you really are his friend. It is costly and risky to make ourselves vulnerable to the devises of unregenerate people (or regenerate, for that matter). If you were to learn that a couple is living together without the formality of a legal marriage, will that make a difference to you? Did it make any difference to Jesus with the woman at the well? Does it matter to you how your friends at church react to people like this? Maybe this is a way you can discern whether or not you are in the right church; i.e., a church that frees its folk to be servants where God wants them. Maybe the question is: “Whose servant am I, anyway?”

 

Be prepared to be rejected by some people who do not know Christ. It is inevitable. It hurts. It hurt the Lord dreadfully when He was rejected. Not because of the personal humiliation but because his friends walked away with no peace, no hope and no eternal values. Being rejected is a sure test for the progress we may or may not be making toward conformity to the image of Christ. If we take it personally, we are still very much alive to our own needs for success and are quite dead to the reality of being constrained by His love for people.

 

Christ loved His enemies. Initial rejection and even long-lasting rejection by our friends is no excuse to quit being a friend to the lost. A real friend will continue to overcome evil by continuing to be loving. I became a Christian because a friend would not give up on me. I do not want to forget that.

 

Sometimes our friend’s first reaction to biblical Christianity will be negative. That is adult human nature: to reject something we did not think up ourselves. The older we get the more proud we become of the wool we have gathered. Giving up one’s familiar philosophies is very difficult. If they are given up, what does the philosophizer do with his guilt? He may be afraid that the grace you tell him about just might not work. He needs an opportunity to watch that grace in operation. Admitting that one is sick is a terrible blow to the ego. A child has no problem admitting to a stomach ache, real or imagined. Adults, at least some adults, do not easily pick up the phone to call a doctor.

 

God will never fail, so there is no risk at times in being honest about whatever it is that you are enduring. We will and do fail and our friend needs to know that too. It is a safety valve, warding off his worship of us. Check your motives out to see if you are being irresponsible and simply need to tell somebody about it. Tell the Lord. Let God be God in your life and invite your friend to watch.

 

If you have been told that there is no cost in helping your friends find Christ, you know by now that that is not true. God may have you in a person’s life as “Exhibit A” through whom He can display His strength while you are undergoing enormous pain. I strongly suspect that when all else fails to bring people to Christ, God ops to wrap up everyone’s needs in one painful-for-the-Christian package. Problems build the character of God in us. Your friend will not be exempt from anguish either, but He will have a Solver, as do you.

 

C. Reason about Christ

The cardinal rule to remember in friendship-building is that we are not here to win arguments. If the person does not have a crack in his armor, all the arguments you can devise will not convince him. If resistance is sensed we need to back off. I have found it helpful to remind myself that the subjectivity of men is bereft of any type of spiritual objectivity. His reasoning, being finite, is bankrupt when it comes to divine absolutes. He has been created in the Image of God, as are we, and is innately a “spiritual being” who will not find liberation to be spiritual until the Holy Spirit enters his clay tabernacle.

 

We can reason, even though we cannot argue. Even there, we must earn the right to reason. Always consider the feelings of your friends. Try to be alone with him if at all possible, or apart from listeners.

 

Some of the questions that are most often asked by unbelievers are:

 

1) Why would God, if He is a loving God, allow suffering?

2) What about all the people who have never heard of Christianity?

3) How do we know for sure that the Bible is reliable?

4) How does one know for sure that God exists?

5) Is not Christianity a psychological crutch?

6) How good does one have to be to get to Heaven?

7) Is there a Heaven?

8) What is God like, provided there is a God?

 

That last question is a good one to drop on non-believers. People without God in their lives can “build God” like they want Him to be and sometimes do a good job of explaining His attributes. “He would have to be all-powerful, present everywhere, know everything, be absolutely good, just, loving, immutable, sovereign and truthful.” If those thoughts are expressed, the stage is set for further conversation.

 

Let’s consider three sample questions that might help you give aid to your friend in reasoning his way to God through Christ. Let’s take the question: How do we know that God exists?

 

Our friend may think that because we cannot see God, the atheist’s and agnostic’s positions are more tenable. How much proof would we need in order to believe that He exists? Different people require different amounts of proof. In law courts 100% proof of anything is not a requirement. In civil cases the verdict is reached on the basis of a preponderance of credible evidence. …in other words: 51%. In criminal cases a verdict is reached when the jury is convinced of guilt “beyond reasonable doubt.”

 

To say that God does not exist is to say that one knows everything. Obviously we do not know everything, so God could conceivably dwell outside of the realm of that which we do know. This line of reasoning opens up the opportunity for our friends to see their limited subjectivity and its accompanying blind spots. They might quietly decide that some day they just might embrace an objective and absolute entity such as God, even without all-encompassing evidence. Cause and effect is powerful evidence for the existence of God. Nothing comes from nothing. Wherever there is an effect there must be a cause. We call that cause “God”. (Romans 1:18-20)

 

Since no cause can be observed in the natural universe that is sufficient to produce man it is reasonable to assume that God, as the cause in accordance with His Word, created man in His own image. Note that that image would not be physical, because God is a Spirit. So, it must be that “image” refers to the invisible, inner man that lives in this physical body. The universe is an effect. With its intricate purpose and design, with change being antithetical to order, maybe Einstein was right in attributing the effect to the cause of a “Supreme Being”.

 

Who created God? There is no need to go beyond the moral responsibility between creature and Creator. If God is, however, eternal and an infinite Spirit, He could be sufficient for His own cause.

 

The possibilities of the ways discussion about the credibility of an existing, personal God are limitless. I have offered but a few ideas which come up in our discussions as well as in unexpected conversations with many people in many places.

 

Let’s take the question: “Isn’t religion a psychological crutch?” The inference is that only people who are insecure and emotional need religion. You might reason with your friend this way: Believing in something, or feeling emotion for something does not make that assumption true. It may provide some temporary comfort, but belief in something that does not exist will not bear up under the stress test. That belief does not solve the basic problems of life.

 

An illustration might suffice: A doctor can give an injection of morphine to remove pain, but that morphine cannot remove the problem of the infection. A patient could believe deeply that the morphine is the cure for the problem of infection. After all, it feels like is it the cure, but in reality, the disease continues to destroy the body of the patient. Maybe the emotional feeling is actually a need to know God, which God has placed there Himself. If He is a fair and loving God He could do that. The important issue is to examine the object of the belief or emotion and determine if in fact, it is real and true.

 

Feelings and emotions can be deceptive unless they are the result of thinking correctly and having our facts founded on truth and reality. If Christianity is true, then everyone has need for Jesus Christ even if they do not feel that need from an emotional or psychological point of view. A cancerous patient may be unaware or does not feel that he has a need for medication, but the presence of cancer is still there. Unless Christ is wrong, all men do have a need.

 

Christianity is not true because we experience it; it is true and our experience confirms it. We were designed to be “leaners”. We need therefore to make sure that we are leaning on the Truth!

 

Another question: “Can good deeds get us to Heaven?” Phrased another way, ”How good does one have to be to get to Heaven?” Yet another way to ask the same question is: “If I do the best I can, isn’t that enough? What does God expect anyway?” …or “If God made us imperfect, why would He expect anything different out of human beings?” “Aren’t both faith and works necessary to go to Heaven?”

 

It is very interesting to hear fragments of truth voiced by unbelievers. “The human standard is based on a degree system.” “No one is perfect”. “The subjectivity of men reasons that God must grade on a curve.” “God allows man to be his own god and arbitrarily set up his own standard of right and wrong.”

 

Such thinking makes God endorse all kinds of evil, doesn’t it?

 

How good would you have to be to get to Heaven? …as good as God! That statement never fails to raise eyebrows. God cannot lower His standards of perfection and man cannot raise his enough to reach it. God has a pass/fail system based upon a 100% requirement. He must remain just, holy, loving, good, true to Himself. He did this by providing a perfect sacrifice, perfect God and perfect Man, in the Person of Christ who died for us that we might be declared righteous …good enough for God to accept. II Corinthians 5:21. Heaven is for imperfect people, declared perfect because of what Christ has done and is doing for those people.

 

It is fun to be a part of a discussion with friends who have honest questions. I have found this question not to be threatening once a rapport has been established: “Are you a Christian or are you still on your way?” This is not a negative question to the honest searcher nor is it threatening or embarrassing. It simply opens the door for further dialogue and conversation. If we are in a discussion in a country where Christianity is not the known “religion”, that of course is not a fitting question.

 

Another question might be: “If something were to happen to you today, do you have peace about meeting God?” Yet another: “If the Gatekeeper to Heaven asks you why he should let you in, what would you say?”

 

Such questions must be asked in a very kind way. That last question, if answered by your friend, can help you determine if he believes in salvation without works or by grace alone.

 

If the Spirit of God appears to be keeping the conversational door open, walk right on through it by asking if you can share biblical Christianity with your friend. There are only four important principles to share with them.

 

1) God loves them. Romans 5:8 That is such wonderful news to one who has never heard or dared to believe that.

 

2) We have loved ourselves and been our own gods, either through ignorance or choice. Romans 3:23; 6:23.

 

3) In spite of this, Jesus Christ died for us to become our Saviour. John 3:16,36; Romans 5:8.

 

4) The only thing left to do is to receive Him into your life. Ephesians 2:8,9; I John 5:11,12; John 1:11

 

Emphasize the act of “receiving” the gift. Ask if you can lead your friend in prayer and have him pray audibly, if he does not mind, after you. “Dear Father, thank you for loving me and providing your Son to die on the cross for my sins. Please come into my life. Thank you for forgiving my past and for being faithful to keep Your Word. Amen”

 

I am sure that you realize there are many variations of “the sinner’s prayer” that are quite fine with God. Make sure you are tender if your friend chooses to pray himself. If he does not mention “sin” don’t make him call it that. He is separated from God and he knows that. The perfect words will catch up with him later as the Word of God opens up to him. Always ask your new brother or sister in Christ if they now know that they are a Christian. If there is doubt, turn to I John 5:11 and 12 and reason through the process again, helping him to see that he believed in the Word of God and trusted in Him to come into his life. At the very outset of his new life in Christ, help him to rest his conversion on faith in the facts of the Word of God, rather than upon his feelings.

 

Many people object to becoming Christians because of their doubts. Doubts do not prohibit faith. We can be doubtful about flying and still get on an airplane. Some would rather take a longer time of study. Encourage them to do that and ask if they would allow you to meet with them and study the scriptures.

 

D. Reinforce through Discipleship

A new Christian needs the encouragement and warmth of a small group of understanding, accepting Christians. He may still run scared of the church activities, so meet in a neutral place where he is comfortable and teach him how to be assured of his salvation, how to face temptation, confess sin, pray, study his Bible and share his faith with others. Encourage him to read some good books and when the time seems appropriate, invite him to a Christian activity that fits him. You can feed your friend spiritually through the weeks, months and years ahead. Invite your friend to do whatever will strengthen him, teaching him by example what to choose that is beneficial.

 

I am reminded about the pastor who was speaking to his congregation about the rich man and Lazurus in Luke 16. The title of his message: “Who in Hell cares?” He developed the thought that the people in Hell certainly cared. The scriptures declare that the angels rejoice when one sinner comes to repentance, so Heaven certainly cares. The provocative, convicting and only question left to ask then, is “Who on earth cares?”

 

—Dr. Ted E. Stone