given on Sunday, March 4, 2012: the second in a series about evangelizing in the 21st century
Okay, last week we tackled what the word evangelism is and why it makes us so uncomfortable. Evangelism is the good news that God so loved the world that he gave his only son, Jesus Christ, so that we could have eternal life, John 3:16.
That one verse serves as the foundation for almost all conversations concerning ‘the good news.’ Yet how in the world can the birth and death of one individual—man and God—be good news? If we are to spread the good news, we need to know the good news in words that make sense to us and to others who are skeptical or non-believing.
Face it. We have all heard the same platitudes repeated throughout our life. Parents scold their kids that if they continue doing wrong they will not get to heaven. Schoolteachers ominously tell us that we are being bad and that will lead us down the wrong path. The older generation shakes their heads and says what is this world coming to. Everybody seems to know what happens if evil wins, but nobody is able to give a concrete account of what happens next—next being after our bodies die here on earth.
Is that the good news? We have to live a good life here on earth to reach heaven after death? The skeptics ask how do we know. We have no concrete proof. We have the promises of the Bible. We have the teachings of the disciples and theologians who have used all the methods that Jesus demonstrated while he was living. Yet, we do not seem to have the words that are needed to convince or to assure others just what the good news is.
Surprisingly, though, I think we do have the answers. We just have never been able to confidently state exactly what the good news is. The Apologetics’ Bible article, “If There is Such Good Evidence for God, then Why Don’t More People Believe?” convinces me that I should be able to define the good news in ways that people can understand.
The article uses the contemporary arguments against smoking as a metaphor for understanding the good news. Scientists have researched the relationship between smoking and lung cancer, heart disease, emphysema and even complications of pregnancy and are overwhelmingly convinced that smoking is directly related to these life-threatening conditions.
Researchers have tried to confirm the existence of Jesus throughout the last 2,000 plus years. The evidence continues to prove that this man did exist. The analysis of the scripture—Old and New Testaments—connects and reconnects with the secular evidence of historians, anthropologists, sociologists, and theologians. The more in-depth I search for answers, the more solid my understanding of God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit.
The article poses the question, “Why don’t more people believe?” The next statement is “The basic cause of all unbelief is a sinful heart.” The article continues:
One reason may be ignorance of the evidence. This is why it is important for Christians to study the evidence and be prepared to present it in a logical, gracious way. The Bible commands us to “always be ready to give a defense” (I Peter 3:15) as you “go . . . and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19)
Therefore, we must study the Bible in order to be comfortable in discussing it confidently with others why may not know it so well. This is a lifelong process.
Yet the article continues:
. . . When told about the gospel, some people realize that a life given to Christ will result in sacrifice and serving others. The idea that they have to give up their sin compels them to reject God no matter how good the evidence is. Still others say they reject God because they’ve seen Christians act sinfully. This amounts to using the sins of others to justify your own sins and unbelief.
These descriptors sound familiar to me. Others have talked abou them before. I have felt inadequate to address their disbelief. And, I have also used the sins of others to justify my poor decisions. Now I must focus on God and not fall from grace.
Here is the clencher in the article:
Belief is like a two-sided coin: on one side the evidence; the other side is the will. Just as some people continue to smoke despite the evidence, some refuse to believe in God even when they know the evidence. Others remain skeptical, because they are steeped in a worldview that does not allow them to evaluate the evidence properly.
A two-sided coin: you can believe or not. As one who does believe, I think telling the good news, or evangelizing, is primarily living a God-centered life. We live a life that models the behaviors that Jesus taught us. We see this world through God’s eyes. What better way to learn the concrete proof needed so unbelievers can see God in our lives!
The Beatitudes describe the behaviors that God asks from us. The first scripture reference for today is Matthews 5:3-5:
3“You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.
4“You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.
5“You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are—no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought. (the MSG)
These are the first verses of the beatitudes Jesus first shared in the Sermon on the Mount. He outlines in the beatitudes the behaviors needed to reach the kingdom of heaven (which sound more familiar in the NIV translation):
3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
5 Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
7 Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
8 Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
9 Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
These behaviors are concrete. These are ideas that are real to us in the 21st century. Still there is that phrase again: kingdom of heaven. What makes that term so impossible for us to explain in a comfortable manner that others can understand?
One issue is we do not understand the concept of kingdom. Since the colonies separated from England, kingdom has become an archaic word, an outdated word. We do not use the term kingdom to mean a specific, geographical location on this earth. Kingdom is not a word we use in casual conversation and to connect it to heaven creates a whirlwind of images in our minds.
During ancient times, kingdom was a common reference to a region that was ruled by a specific family. The size widely varied, but the ruling family gave the people the law of that kingdom. Today our society is not subject to one ruling family; rather we are all involved through the democratic principles of this republic.
With all the confusion over the term “kingdom of heaven” one can certainly understand how skeptics and non-believers are not convinced that the “kingdom of heaven” or the “good news” exists. After reading a few articles, reading the scriptures referenced, and stopping to reflect and talk to God, I think I have some concrete evidence of the kingdom of heaven:
- a baby’s hand automatically wraps around your finger,
- the robins sing when snow is still in the air (not the ground this year),
- the bite of the summer’s first tomato off your very own vine,
- the peepers first song on a spring evening,
- the smell of honeysuckle wafting through the breeze,
- the sight of a small calf trying to stand for the first time,
- the excitement of completing a crossword puzzle,
- receiving that first paycheck,
- the sound of a child calling for mom or dad,
- the toe-tapping sensation when the music comes on,
- the thrill of wind racing past your face on a bike or in a convertible,
- the tug on the line as a fish takes the bait,
- the thrill when pushing off for a downhill run on the skis
- the sunset or the sunrise across the ocean,
- the smell of supper when you open the door after a long day,
- the joy of blowing bubbles and watching them float upwards,
- and …………………………. fill in the blank.
We have the proof of the kingdom of heaven. It is right here with us and provides us with that inner joy that defeats the evil that exists around us. It places good as the priority in our lives. We see the world through God’s eyes.
The Big E, evangelism, is the gospel, the good news, and we are to spread the good news. How many times do we react to some tiny little thing that gives us joy—these are the times we experience the kingdom of heaven. How often do others say that it certainly does not take much to make us happy—we are modeling Christian life in the kingdom of heaven? How many times do our thoughts turn to prayer when we hear a siren—we are part of the kingdom of heaven?
Evangelism is easy. All we have to do is to see God in our lives today. All we have to do is model God’s teachings. All we have to do is accept God’s grace and find the joy it brings into our hearts. Is not that easy to do and to share with others? The good news is good living even when surrounded with evil.
Share the good news and you will be evangelizing. In the last verses of our scripture, Jesus again tells the disciples how to reach the kingdom of heaven:
. . . 19-20“Trivialize even the smallest item in God’s Law and you will only have trivialized yourself. But take it seriously, show the way for others, and you will find honor in the kingdom. Unless you do far better than the Pharisees in the matters of right living, you won’t know the first thing about entering the kingdom. (the MSG)
Keep it simple, and you will know the kingdom of heaven. Live it and others will soon know the kingdom of heaven, too. The disciples did it, so can you.
Dear Loving Father,
Thank you for such a sparkling day filled with hope and promises.
Thank you for making our lives much easier than it was in ancient times.
Thank you for loving us so much that you sent your own Son to guide us.
As we begin a new week, help us to keep centered on You.
Remind us to look at the world and all that we do through your eyes.
Help us to use the Lenten season to re-evaluate our lives.
Help us to make the corrections in our lives
So others may see the kingdom of heaven in their lives, too.