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Fulfilling The Scripture

It’s not how you tell the story, it’s the story you tell.

How does knowing God effect your life? How does being in relationship with the Lord of Life change the way you think or act today? How have you experienced God that makes his existence as crystal clear as you know you exist?

That’s the story you have to tell. It’s also the story you have to tell. But you’ve got to earn the right to tell it first. 

Paul writes…For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him. 13 For, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” ...14 But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him? ...15 And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” 16 But not all have obeyed the good news; for Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed our message?” 17 So faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the word of Christ (Romans 10:12-17)

The point is, unless the faithful share the faith, the faithless never know God’s generous grace. How can someone call on God when they need him if they don’t believe in him? …if they’ve never even heard of him? …if no one is there to proclaim Him?

It all comes down to being sent.
In Nazareth on the Sabbath Day Jesus rises to read from Isaiah: 18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, 
because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18-19)

All of that is said to identify his purpose in coming – he is anointed to bring good news, to proclaim release, to recover sight and bring freedom. And notice that it’s all the result of one thing  “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to…” (verse 18).

The Spirit of the Lord is upon Jesus for a purpose – that of spreading the Kingdom, bringing good news to the poor, release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, freedom for the oppressed.

I can’t help but note that “the Spirit of the Lord” that is upon Jesus is the very same “Spirit of the Lord” that is upon his church.
 Acts 1:8 says that when the Holy Spirit comes upon us we will be witnesses, with power, for the kingdom of God. That same anointing Jesus bears is yours and mine. We need to discover how we can fulfill that anointing, individually and collectively.

The fact is, Evangelism is more about conversation than conversion. Oh sure, the hope is that the end result will be a confession of faith on
the part of family, friends, co-workers, classmates, but starting with conversion as our focus is getting the cart before the horse. We’ve got to begin with simple conversations, because conversation is how we connect with each other. And if we never connect, we never get the chance to tell the story of God in our lives.
Jim Henderson notes that “people change at a certain speed. The speed of ‘making sense.’ Small talk is our delivery system for making sense of things. We chat our way to change. We ‘consider’ whether a new idea makes sense for us. When it comes to motivating people toward deep change, long, prepared speeches are overrated. Conversations, ‘small talk,’ give us the time to make sense out of our lives.

In his book The De-Voicing of Society, John Locke discusses the important role small talk fulfills in our lives. Some ideas that he explores:

1. When we talk just for the heck of it, it’s not just information. The primary reward of conversation is that it builds relationship. One of the problems with dating relationships is that they are often focused around watching something happen – sports, movies, events – rather than the young couple facing each other and getting to know one another through simple conversations. It’s about building relationships, and no conversation is too small to help that grow.

2. Speaking and feeling are closely related. When one person speaks to another, the speaker hears his own voice and feels more deeply that thing that is being described or explained. Paul writes, “Faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the word of Christ.” When we speak our faith it actually bolsters our faith. And that leads to a third point…

3.  It’s not the words… it’s the heart. The nonverbal aspects of a conversation, such as eye contact and body language, are not random, disconnected behaviors. Your heart attitude  shows nonverbally even when it might not come through in your words.

4.  The impact of small talk is enormous. Locke writes, “If you don’t think much of small talk, try living without it for a while. One of the chief complaints of those so-called commuter marriages is the [couple’s] inability to discuss the inane.” Like “What did you have for lunch today? Or “Who did you talk to today?” Relationships thrive on small talk.  

Follow this paradigm for  a moment – conversation > leads to community > leads to conversion.
How do we change our minds? What is the process humans typically follow when they are moving toward significant change? One of the greatest political problems of our day is the inability of the varying sides to listen to one another.

Sociologist Peter Berger has studied the connection between conversation and change on the deepest level. After analyzing Berger’s findings, Asbury Seminary professor George Hunter made the following connection between conversation and spiritual conversion: In a pluralistic society, the possibility of conversion, that is, changing the way one perceives essential reality, is opened up through conversations with people who live with a contrasting view of reality. One adopts and internalizes the new world-view through socialization into a community sharing the new world-view. conversation > leads to community > leads to conversion.

In other words, we change our minds about life not simply because of correct information but because we trust our conversation partners. To the degree that we are included in their community or social context and treated as insiders, we open up to their ideas. The gospels refer frequently to “the disciples.” But have you ever tried to delineate just who exactly was included in those references? It looks as if the lines blurred fairly often when Jesus was speaking to a group of disciples. One moment it was those closest to him, the next it was simply anyone who had followed along for the day, and yet another it was disciples who were leaving him because his teachings got too difficult for them, but still identified as his disciples. Missing people appeared frequently on the fringes, eavesdropping, as it were, on many of the talks Jesus gave to his primary followers. Jesus treated those who were not yet followers as if they had every right to be there, to hear the inside story, the conversation of the inner circle.

St. Patrick picked up on that pattern. In 432 AD he led a small band of Christians into Ireland. At that time the Emerald Isle was a land of barbarians. Patrick’s team had to be creative and fast on their feet. According to professor George Hunter, from his book The Celtic Way of Evangelism: How Christianity Can Reach the West… Again, the approach Patrick used was to “meet the people, engage them in conversation and ministry, and look for people who appeared receptive.” Hunter identifies several of the Celtic Christians’ methods for connecting with their missing friends. (Imagine, learning something from the Irish!?) 

1. The Celtic Christians Treated Outsiders Like Insiders. The monastic way of life in those days was to withdraw from the world, build your monastery far distant from the people, and take a vow of silence. Celtic Christians believed that people should “belong before they believe,” so Patrick and his partners included the outsiders in the life of their fellowship. Rather than plant their monastery away from the village (the traditional approach), Patrick established the community within walking distance of the village. Then he and his team simply invited people in so they could see what the Christian life was all about.  

2. The Celtic Christians Talked About Everyday Issues. Hunter points out that Christians today usually avoid talking about the very things people are most concerned about.  The Celtic Christians didn’t make that mistake. 

Hunter writes:
a. The problem is that Western Christianity usually ignores the middle level that drives most people’s lives most of the time…. Western Christian leaders usually focus on “ultimate issues.” The Celtic Christians addressed life as a whole and may have addressed the middle level more specifically, comprehensively, and powerfully than any other Christian movement ever has. It wasn’t simply a matter of speaking the dialect of the local population. Patrick and his partners talked about things Celts liked to talk about, and they used Celtic icons and symbols as spiritual bridges into God-talks. The three leaf clover is associated with Ireland because Patrick used it to talk about the Trinity. The “middle issues” are things people talk about every day: the weather, the kids, the job, the bills. When you take time to talk about the middle issues of life, you signal to the other person that you care about his or her life and concerns. You give the person something (your attention) rather than asking for something (a decision). As someone a whole lot smarter than me once said, “People won’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”

3. The Celtic Christians Looked for the Good. Celtic Christianity viewed human nature not as being radically tainted by sin and evil, intrinsically corrupt and degenerate,” Hunter writes, “but as imprinted with the image of God, full of potential and opportunity, longing for completion and perfection. Patrick started with the assumption that people would be receptive and he treated them that way.
Patrick was very high on God’s love for missing people. He assumed that God liked human beings, and he began conversations around anything good he could find in people. Their kindness, loyalty, sacrifice, earnestness, interest in others, anything! For Patrick the goal wasn’t to wrestle people theologically to the ground. The goal was to nudge them across the starting line toward Jesus.

Conversations are fragile things because people are constantly “sniffing” to see who is safe and who isn’t.
We use small talk to decide which relational trails we should take. Conversations are emotional on-ramps we provide one another to signal our potential interest in moving closer.  So this week let’s practice a shift in our evangelism approach from speeches to conversations, from information to relationship. But to get there takes focus and intentionality. Here are a few practical ways to get started. 

1. Ask questions. Jesus got into people’s heads before he got into their hearts, and he did it through questions. The Gospels don’t show Jesus blowing people away with his speeches and knowledge, though people marveled at his authority. Jesus is instead shown as someone who asks a lot questions, opening up further opportunity for conversations.

2. Make small talk. The ability to engage in small talk is huge. Don’t worry that it doesn’t convey important and useful information. Of course it doesn’t. That’s not its purpose. Engaging in small talk is how people gauge each other – “Does that person care enough about me to ask what I did over the weekend – and then bother to listen?” Be willing to be bored for Jesus. That’s where the paying in paying attention comes in. Talk about stuff that matters to the other person – the middle stuff.

3. Watch your language. Well, of course, don’t swear, but that’s not what I mean. Too often we use insider language that may not be clear when we’re sharing about God or Church. If we’re going to connect with the people Jesus misses most, we need to practice talking normally, which means using regular English.

4. Say “Wow!” When someone tells you something, perhaps even something you disagree with, and you don’t know what to say, try “Wow!” It works every time and gives you a chance to regroup. We all love hearing “Wow!” It’s like saying, “Tell me more.” Try it next time a missing person messes with your world-view. And by the way, if you say “Wow! to someone over at coffee this morning, they heard me say this, and they’ll know right away you don’t agree with them.

Let’s see if we can start some relationships this week by simply inviting conversation. Who knows where it may lead! “Wow!” It works every time and gives you a chance to regroup. We all love hearing “Wow!” It’s like saying, “Tell me more.” Try it next time a missing person messes with your world-view. And by the way, if you say “Wow! to someone over at coffee this morning, they heard me say this, and they’ll know right away you don’t agree with them.

Let’s see if we can start some relationships this week by simply inviting conversation. Who knows where it may lead!

Pastor Pat Fitzgerald, Sunday, February 12, 2017