Well I remember the first time that I was ever asked about my faith in Jesus Christ. I was a newspaper editor in Chicago and I was a pretty new Christian and it was a very busy day, a lot of news breaking, a lot of excitement going on and I prayed ‘God get me through today without losing my cool.’ And sure enough, God answered that prayer and so at the end of the day, my boss came up to me and he said, “Lee I’ve been watching you today. You really kept it all together when everybody around you was kind of losing their mind today.” He said, “I’m just curious, I know you go to church; what’s this Christianity thing to you?” And I froze. I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t want to embarrass myself, I didn’t want to say the wrong thing, I didn’t want to, you know, become known as the holy roller of the newsroom or something and hurt my career. I mean I didn’t know what to do and finally I said to him, “Well do you really want to know?” And he said, “Yes, I do.” I said, “Well then let’s go into your office.” So we went into his office, we closed the door and for 45 minutes we had the most remarkable conversation about Jesus and I talked to him about having been an atheist and the evidence to convince me the truth of Jesus being the Son of God and we discussed some of his objections to the faith and we had a wonderful conversation. I wasn’t trained in this, I didn’t know what to do, I kind of fumbled my way through it and at the end, I walked out and I remember as I walked out after that 45 minutes, it was as if my entire life up until that conversation had been a motion picture filmed in 16 millimeter black and white and kind of grainy film with scratchy sound. But that 45 minutes was like Technicolor with Dolby stereo.
And I thought I need more of this in my life. I mean this is the missing ingredient in my Christian life, this having conversations with other people about Jesus. And what I’ve learned through the years is when we’re motivated to talk to people about Jesus, when we make ourselves available to do that, when you never know what’s going to happen, what starts out to be an average and routine day, how God might ambush you with an opportunity to get into a spiritual conversation that could change someone’s eternal destination.
I remember once this happened, I was again at the newspaper as an editor and at the end of the day I was packing my things up to go home but I felt the Holy Spirit prodding me. I felt him kind of kicking me in the pants. I felt kind of urged that I should go and I should invite my atheist friend at the newspaper from the business office to come to my church for Easter services. And so I thought well if God is really urging me to do this, something wonderful is going to happen. He’s probably going to receive Christ right now, it’s going to be great.
So I walked over to the business office where he worked and I went in with great confidence and I looked around and all I see is my friend behind this desk and I thought perfect. So I said hey “how you doing?” He said “I’m doing good.” I said “hey Easter’s coming up.” He said “well I don’t believe that stuff, I’m an atheist.” I said “well I know you are, but this is when we celebrate Jesus’ return from the dead.” He said “oh He didn’t return from the dead.” And I said “well actually there is good historical evidence that He did” and I tried to talk a little bit about the evidence for the resurrection but he wasn’t interested. And so I said “well listen, why don’t you come to church with me this Easter. I think you’d really enjoy it.” “well do you have any questions about God?” He said “no!” I said “you ever wonder about God?” He said “no!” And so I started to get embarrassed. It was like he was shutting me down whatever I said, so I said “okay well you know where my office is if you ever have any questions.” And I walked out and I thought what was that about. Did I get my wires crossed? Why did God prod me to go share my faith with this guy who just shut me down whenever I brought up anything. It bothered me for years. But let me tell you the rest of the story.
A few years after that, I’d become a pastor at Willow creek Church in Chicago, and I had just spoken on a weekend. And a guy came up to me afterwards and said “can I shake your hand and thank you for the spiritual influence you’ve had on my life.” I said “well that’s very kind, but who are you?” He said “let me tell you my story.” He said “a few years ago I lost my job and I didn’t have any savings in the bank. I thought I was going to lose my home, my car, everything, I didn’t know what to do, so I called a friend of mine who ran a newspaper and said do you have any odd jobs I could do to earn some money? And the guy said well do you know how to tile floors? And the guy told me, he said yeah, he said, you know I tile my bathroom, I think I can tile floors. Yeah, I can tile floors. He said great, if you can tile some floors, we need some tile repaired and installed then we’ll pay you a paycheck. So he said great.”
So he said “one day I was working at the newspaper, not long before Easter, and I was in the business office in the newspaper on my hands and knees behind a desk in a corner, working on some tile on the floor and you walked in the door and I don’t even think you saw me there. But you start talking to this other guy about God and you talked to him about Easter and you talked about the resurrection and you talked about Jesus and you talked about your church and you invited him to Easter services and this guy didn’t care but I’m on my hands and knees behind this desk on the floor and I’m thinking I need God. I need to go to church.” And he said “my heart was beating fast and as soon as you left the room I picked up the phone, I called my wife and said we’re going to church this Easter. She said no! I said yeah. He said we came to your church at Easter, I came to faith, my wife came to faith and our teenage some came to faith.” And he said “I just wanted to thank you.” And I thought here’s a new form of evangelism, ricochet evangelism. You know you share your faith, it bounces off a hard heart, you don’t know where it’s going to go!
Friends, this is the unexpected adventure of the Christian life. This is where the action is. This elevates every other aspect of your Christian life. When you’re living in anticipation that God is going to use you to have conversations with people who are confused about God, your prayer life takes on a whole new dimension cause you’re praying God help me, I don’t know what to say. It’s when our bible study takes on a whole new relevance because we’re not just looking for abstract theological truths; we’re looking for something that will help us reach our friend. It’s when our worship takes on a whole new fervency because we’re worshipping the God of the second chance who loves our lost friends even more than we do. It’s when our dependence on God is at its greatest because we know that apart from the work of the Holy Spirit, there’s nothing we can do in and of ourselves to lead anybody to Christ.
Friends, this is where the action is and Jesus told us this is what we need to do. Jesus said in Matthew 5, He looked out over a group and He said you know what? “You are the salt of the earth! You are the light of the world.” What was He talking about in that sermon? He was saying I want you to live a Christian life like salt that causes people to thirst for the truth about God. I want you to live the kind of life that’s like light that shines as hope and compassion and love and grace and redemption into dark places of despair.
I mean think about that, that is a great privilege and honor we have as followers of Jesus and its where the action is so how do we get more of this in our lives? I wondered about that and I thought well one way we can think about that is how would Jesus do this if Jesus physically lived in my house. How would He reach out to the neighbors who are confused about God? And so as I study the life of Jesus, I came up with many things, I’m just going to mention briefly three things I think we could learn from the master in terms of interacting with other people about Jesus.
First, before Jesus would talk to His neighbor about their heavenly Father, He would talk to His heavenly Father about His neighbor. Right? He would pray. Of course He would. It’s a pattern of Jesus’ life. Before He embarked on anything of importance, He would bring it to the Lord in prayer. In fact, if you ever thought about the fact that Jesus’ prayers for spiritually confused people continued right up until His final breaths on the cross. The British pastor John Stott has pointed out that if you read the New Testament in the original Greek in which it’s written, the imperfect tense indicates that Jesus didn’t just say it once, but He kept repeating it all through the torture of the crucifixion. While the nails are being driven through His hands, while the nails are driven through His feet, He kept repeating, He kept praying, “Father forgive them, Father forgive them, Father forgive them for they know not what they do.” If Jesus’ prayers for people so spiritually depraved that they were torturing the death of the Son of God continued right up until His final breaths on the cross, then how can we justify not praying consistently and fervently and specifically for people we know and love who are confused about God. And yet so often we give up.
I think about my father-in-law who was an atheist and after I became a Christian, I tried to tell him about Jesus and he looked at me and he said “look, never bring up the name of Jesus to me again. Are we straight on that?” Okay, great Al, you know, no problem. So what can we do? I prayed for that man for twenty years. And it was finally in his 87th year, in his last cogent conversation of his life, two hours before he had a stroke that destroyed his mind, Al Herdler, the most unlikely candidate you’ve ever seen for conversion, gave his life to Jesus Christ and became a born again child of God.
Who have you given up on? I wanted to give up on him a thousand times. Who is it you used to pray for but you’ve given up on. God would say, Jesus would say, bring that person to your mind, pray consistently, pray specifically, pray fervently. One of the things you can pray is God use me as salt and light in that person’s life. Help me to get into a spiritual conversation that might clarify their understanding of who Jesus is, that they might too receive His forgiveness and grace. So I think if Jesus physically lived in my house, He’d pray for His neighbors who were confused about God.
Second thing, I think if Jesus lived in my house physically, He wouldn’t just talk about His love for people but He would put His love for people into action. Why? Because words are cheap. Jesus didn’t just say He loved people. He demonstrated that. How? By becoming a servant. He served the blind by restoring their sight. He served the lepers by restoring their health. He even served the wedding guests at Canaan by turning water into wine, and then in the greatest act of servant hood in the history of the universe, He gave His life as a ransom that we might find forgiveness in eternal life through Him. And friends, when we serve others as Jesus did, when we sacrifice for others as Jesus modeled, when we put our love into action following the example of Jesus, friends, this penetrates the hardest of hearts. In fact when Jesus, in Matthew chapter 5, was talking about I want you to be salt and light, listen to what He said in verse 16. He said “let your light shine before others that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” And the word good there in the Greek, when it says good deeds, doesn’t just mean good deeds as opposed to bad deeds. The word also has a connotation of saying winsome and attractive. And so what Jesus is saying here, I want you to serve other people in a winsome and attractive way that causes their eyes to drift heavenward, toward your heavenly Father who motivates you against this grain of this narcissistic me first world, who motivates you to put other people first and to serve other people. That’s what Jesus was saying.
I think if Jesus physically lived in my house, He would be always scanning the neighborhood with His compassion radar, looking for opportunities to serve other people. And friends, we can do that too. We can scan our offices, our work places, our neighborhoods with our compassion radar and we can look for ways that we can bring the love of God in a tangible way to someone else. There might be an elderly widow in our neighborhood. If you would offer to take her to the grocery store once a week, what a blessing that would be. You might have a single mom in your neighborhood who’s working two jobs, trying to survive, just killing herself, she’s got two little kids and if you and your spouse said you know why don’t we baby-sit for your two children just on Friday night so you can have some time to yourself, I mean, that would be such a blessing. Might be a teenage kid down the block, he just wants someone to shoot baskets with him, play some basketball in the driveway. Friends, when we scan our world with compassion radar, and we begin to see ways we can put our love into action as Jesus did, it penetrates hearts that otherwise are impervious to the gospel.
Finally, one last thing I’ll mention is that if Jesus physically lived in my house, He would above all else be authentic in the way He related to His neighbors. He would be authentic. In other words, what you see is what you get. Your neighbors know that you are a follower of Jesus Christ, I can guarantee you that they have a different kind of radar that’s scanning your life and your house 24/7. It’s called the hypocrisy radar. Beep, beep, beep, beep. You know they’re looking at you. You know they’re watching your life. What are they looking for? False piety. What are they looking for? Holier than thou attitude. What are they looking for? Kind of a phony Christian happy face that you paste on and pretend like everything’s always great when you know it isn’t. What do people see when they scan your life with their hypocrisy radar?
You know Jesus said I want you to be salt and light. He obviously meant that in a positive sense. But the truth is, some Christians are like salt in a wound. Some Christians are like light, like on a two lane highway in the middle of the night where the guy coming toward you doesn’t turn off his high beams of his car, and it causes you to divert your eyes. Some people live the kind of inauthentic life that makes people divert their eyes from God. That’s the ugly truth. It happened to someone who I’ve become friends with. Her name is Maggie. Maggie’s a nurse but she grew up in a home where people claim to be followers of Jesus Christ and yet they abused her, and so she became very poisoned against God and against the church because they were like salt in a wound.
Let me read you what she wrote to me in a letter. She said, “Lee, the Christianity I grew up with was so confusing to me, even as a child. People said one thing but they did another. They appeared very spiritual in public but in private they were abusive. What they said and what they did never fit. There was such a discrepancy so listen: I came to hate Christianity and did not want to be associated with the church.” Friends, that is the power of inauthentic Christians to repel people from God.
But guess what happened. At our church in Chicago we had a debate between an atheist and a Christian on the existence of God and Maggie read about it in a newspaper and she came because she wanted to see the Christian humiliated in this debate, so she came to our debate, the Christian won the debate clearly and so now she had all kinds of questions about God and Christianity. And she started writing these long letters. Dear Lee, here are my first 50 questions about God, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom. And I’d do my best to answer them. Finally I said “Maggie we have little groups in our church made up of a Christian couple and half a dozen people like you who are on a journey. And if you join one of those groups, you can make some friends and get your questions answered over time.” She said great.
So she joined one of these little groups and I want to read you what she wrote me about the two Christians who led that group because it’s such a great example of what people who Jesus has called us to reach, what are they looking for from us. Listen to what she said.
She said when I came to church into my small group, I needed, here’s the first thing she needed. I needed gentleness. I needed to be able to ask any question. I needed to have my questions taken seriously. I needed to be treated with respect and validated but most of all, get this, most of all, I needed to see people whose actions match what they say. I’m not looking for perfect, but I am looking for real. Integrity is the word that comes to mind. I needed to hear real people talk about real life and I need to know if God is or can be a part of real life. Does He care about the wounds I have? Does He care that I need a place to live? Can I ever be a whole and a healthy person? Well I’ve asked questions like these of the two Christians who lead my group and I’ve not been laughed at or ignored or invalidated. I’ve not been pushed or pressured in any way. In fact, she said, I don’t understand the caring I’ve received from the two Christians who lead my group. I don’t understand that they don’t seem afraid of questions. They don’t say things like you just have to have faith, or you just need to pray more. They don’t seem to be afraid to tell who they really are, they just seem genuine.
The first time I read that, friends, I just felt so convicted about all the times I haven’t been like Jesus to people around me and so I called Maggie up, I said Maggie thank you for that poem. I said could I have permission to read it this weekend to the entire church and she said “oh Lee haven’t you heard?” I said “what, what happened?” She said “you haven’t heard?” And my heart sunk. I thought oh no. What inauthentic Christian did she run into now that’s repelled her again from God. I said “no Maggie, I haven’t heard. What happened?” She said “no it’s a good thing.” I said “what?” She said “Lee, on Tuesday night, I gave my life to Jesus Christ.” I said “Maggie that’s fantastic! That’s.. that’s tremendous! I’m blown away, that’s great but I’m curious, what brought you across the line of faith? What five facts have you learned to convince you that the resurrection is true? What ten facts did you learn to convince you that the bible is the word of God?” She said “it wasn’t like that with me.” I said “then what, what was it?” And she got kind of embarrassed, she kind of shrugged her shoulders over the phone, she said “well Lee, I just met a whole bunch of people at church who are like Jesus to me.” I thought what a lesson. What a lesson for someone like me who wants to pin somebody up against a wall. If you don’t like those ten reasons for the resurrection, I’ll give you ten more!
Friends, it was important she came to our debate and heard the evidence for the Christian faith, but what was it that God used to bring her into His kingdom, it was people who were like Jesus to her. Friends we can do this. We can do it. We can pray for people. We can serve people in a winsome and an attractive way and the easiest thing of all is we don’t have to pretend we’re something we aren’t, we don’t have to pretend we’re smarter than we are, we don’t have to pretend we’re more spiritual than we are, we can just be sinners saved by grace who reach out with His message of love and redemption to the Maggie’s of the world. I’m telling you what friends, when you do that, God will take you on a series of unexpected adventures that will be the joy of your life.
Let’s pray. Father, I pray for all the Maggie’s of the world, people who have been confused about You, turned off because of things they’ve seen or whatever. Father, I pray by Your spirit You would use us, Your children, as salt and light to bring Your message of hope and redemption to them in Jesus’ name, Amen.