Category Archives: Evangelization

Needed: Workers for the Harvest

Are you a worker for the harvest?

After describing how Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness, Matthew quotes Jesus as saying, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few.  Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”

What happens to a crop that is not harvested?  It lies in the field to rot or be eaten by birds and animals.  Its intended purpose is not fulfilled.  If a grain of wheat, for example, is not gathered and ground into flour to make bread, its purpose and destiny are never realized.

The same thing can happen with people if their hearts and souls do not embrace their creator and his purpose and destiny for their lives.  God said to Jeremiah, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.” (Jer. 1:5)

Like Jeremiah, God has created each of us as a unique human being, distinct from one another, with unique gifts and talents designed for us to carry out his specific will.  His destiny for each of us is that we would come to know him as our creator and choose to embrace him and follow his will.  If our heart and soul are not harvested for him, we will likely stray from our purpose and destiny.

Fortunately, there have been many harvesters in my life including my parents, a priest who guided me in my Catholic faith when I was a teenager, my wife whose example and words prompted me to go deeper in my relationship with God, and various Christian friends who have called me on to be more faithful and fervent in my walk.

The more important question is whether I have served as a harvester for others.  Hopefully, I have had an impact on my wife as she has on me and on my children as well.  Hopefully, I have acted on opportunities to talk or pray with friends or work colleagues as they have occurred over the years.

I am reminded of one incident many years ago when my secretary suggested that a women in our legal department talk to me about her intention to have an abortion.   I listened at length to all of the difficult circumstances she was facing.  I didn’t tell her what she should do, but commented that the baby she was carrying was a real person with little arms and legs to whom God had already assigned a soul.  I offered to pray with her, and we prayed that God would give her wisdom and courage in making her decision.  A couple of weeks later she came by to say that she was going to have the baby, and later she decided to raise the baby as a single mother.

While I don’t know if she was or became Christian, I do know she chose life for her son, and perhaps two souls were harvested for God.

Gentle Evangelism

What is your stereotype of evangelization?  

For many of us when we hear the word evangelization, we conjure up images of someone handing out Christian tracks on a street corner, the broadcast of a televangelist in a mega church, or a famous preacher in a large stadium.

The prophet, Isaiah, in speaking about the coming of Jesus gives us a different perspective.  “He will not shout or cry out or raise his voice in the street.  A bruised reed he will not break and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.”  Isaiah 42:2-3

Jesus did not need to shout or raise his voice in the street to proclaim the kingdom of God.  His concern was for the broken hearted (the bruised reed).  He would not snuff out the smoldering faith of the weak and downtrodden.  He wouldn’t do the usual things we think of to get attention, to promote a cause or persuade others with an argument.  “My ways are not your ways,” God says.  Jesus simply responded with compassion, mercy, wisdom and God’s power.

Although the above words may have been intended by Isaiah for God’s incarnation in Jesus, they are also applicable to us, his followers and successors.  We are God’s current day incarnation, for he has given us the same Spirit that he gave Jesus.  The following story illustrates how this can work.

Jerry works in a medical office and wasn’t feeling well.  So, he asked his boss, Karen, who oversees the administrative staff, if he could have the rest of the day off.  When Karen asked what was wrong, Jerry offered a rather vague response.  Karen continued to probe, asking if he would be returning tomorrow.  Jerry said he didn’t know.  Karen asked if there was something wrong and Jerry said no.  She invited him to sit down and he started to share that nothing was going right in his life.  He wanted to get married to the woman he was living with, but she didn’t want to and was in fact talking about moving out.  He was having difficulty finding enough time for his two small children and relating to them in the right way.  He seemed quite despondent to Karen.

As he was leaving, Karen asked if she could make a suggestion.  He said yes.  “When you go home, go into your bedroom, close the door, kneel down and ask Jesus to come into your life and help you.”  Jerry said, “I’ve tried church.”  Karen said, “I am not talking about church, I’m just saying that if you offer that prayer, Jesus will not refuse you, and things will start to change.”

Sometime later, Karen noticed that Jerry appeared to be happier and had a more positive attitude.  She asked how he was doing.  He smiled, and said, “I did what you suggested and something did happen.  I started to feel warm all over when I prayed.  Later, I bought a Bible and started reading it.  I bought a Children’s Bible and started reading the stories to my kids.  We have started to go to church and my partner and I are moving toward marriage.” 

You will notice that Karen did not judge Jerry or preach to him. She gave him an opportunity to talk, she listened, she empathized, and she asked if she could make a suggestion. She related to him as Jesus would. A “bruised reed” she did not break.

How do we reflect the presence of Christ to the people and circumstances in our lives — with shouts of judgment and argument, or with mercy, wisdom and the power of the Holy Spirit?  The latter is evangelism.

Unlikely Heralds

Are we following the example of the shepherds in telling people about Jesus? 

The Gospel of Luke reports that at the time of Jesus’ birth, shepherds nearby were told by an angel that a Savior, the long awaited Messiah, was born. They were told where they could find him and how they would recognize him — in Bethlehem, tightly wrapped in strips of cloth and lying in an animal’s feeding trough.

God chose shepherds, one of the humblest of occupations at the time, to be the news media of the day to spread the word about God becoming one of us. 

“When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.” (Luke 2: 17-18)

We can only imagine the reaction of Mary and Joseph to having some complete strangers visit them and share a story that confirmed what they, too, had been told by an angel – that the son born to Mary was the son of God, Savior and Messiah.

The news of a savior of the world being born is of course pretty amazing.  The good news the Shepherds first proclaimed 2000 years ago is just as important to the world today as it was then.   A savior has been born!  The creator has become one of his created!  An anointed one has come to reconcile God and mankind, and be an example in reconciling each of us to one another.  Through the power of the Holy Spirit, this savior offers to dwell in us and enable us to be and bring his presence to the people and circumstances in our lives.   

Like the shepherds, we may consider ourselves unlikely heralds that Jesus is still present in the world today, but he is present to all who accept his offer to dwell in them.  We have the same opportunity as the shepherds to spread the word about Jesus in what we have seen, heard, and experienced.

Over the past year, I have been participating in a Christian ministry to the local jail.  The venue of the jail has certainly taken me outside my comfort zone.  But last month I found myself sharing about how in between the first and second coming of Jesus, there is a third coming – when we invite Jesus to come and reside in our hearts. Sharing how Jesus changed my life prompted three of the inmates to share how Jesus had changed their lives.  This was remarkable because inmates are very cautious about sharing anything personal in front of one another.  

As with the shepherds, I was an unlikely herald in the venue of a jail, but telling others about Jesus is part of God’s plan for us.  All who hear will be “amazed!”    

 

God’s Power Announcer

How do we measure the power of a message?  Surely the efforts of John the Baptist in announcing the advent of Jesus’ public ministry would qualify as powerful, given the overwhelming response he received.  Mark reports, “The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him.” (Mark 1:5)  Matthew says, “People went out to him from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan.” (Matthew 3:5)

Given that communication was mostly dependent on word of mouth and that transportation was accomplished primarily by walking, it is remarkable that John was receiving huge crowds of people from all over Judea.  Jerusalem would have been at least a day’s walk and more remote areas of Judea would have taken even longer.

What made this even more extraordinary was that John’s message was not one of sweetness and light.  It was a tough message, calling people to change their ways and repent of their sins.  Imagine, people from all over Judea going to John to confess their sins.

Only by the power of the Holy Spirit, would John have been able to attract so many people, from such distant areas, with such a challenging message.

This was previously confirmed by the angel Gabriel when he appeared to Zechariah and told him that his wife, Elizabeth was going have a son whose name was to be John.  “He will be great in the sight of the Lord” and “will be filled with the Holy Spirit.”  Gabriel added, “He will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous – to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” (Luke 1:15, 17)

In fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophesy, John was preparing the people of Judea to receive the coming of Jesus, the Messiah.  “A voice of one calling in the desert; prepare the way of the Lord.” (Isaiah 40:3) He was preparing them through the confession and cleansing of their sins in the waters of baptism.

Like John, we too, are called to lead family, friends, colleagues and even strangers to open the door of their hearts to Jesus. It starts with how we live our lives.  Righteous conduct gives credibility to our words. Sometimes, our role is just to plant seeds for God’s future cultivation.  Sometimes we have a more direct role such as with our families (spouse and children) for whom God gives us a direct responsibility.   Sometimes God places people in our lives for the purpose of introducing himself to them through us.

Like John, we too, have the power of the Holy Spirit who gives us the wisdom, courage, knowledge and opportunity to speak and build relationships with others for the purpose of leading them to Jesus.

As we move into this season of celebrating Jesus’ birth, are we acting with the same passion as John the Baptist in introducing people to Jesus?

Serve, Then Proclaim

How do you share about Jesus?

When Jesus sent out the seventy-two, he gave them explicit instructions how they were to stay with one host instead of many in order to build relationships and to serve their needs like healing the sick.

Only after they had established relationships and met the needs of the people, were they to proclaim that the kingdom of God was at hand. “The seventy-two returned with joy and said, ‘Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.’” (Luke 10:17)

Apparently the actions of the disciples in going out gave the people a greater hunger for God because Mark reports that it led to “so many people coming and going…from all the towns” seeking them further, that the whole process culminated in the gathering of the five thousand where Jesus preached and multiplied the fish and loaves. (Mark 6:31, 33, 35-44)

As Christians, we are encouraged to witness and share about Jesus, and this we should surely do as God gives us the opportunity. But Jesus offers a guideline through his instructions to the seventy-two that emphasizes building relationships, loving people by serving their needs and then proclaiming the good news.

In Hope for the Workplace-Christ in You, there is the story of Diane who provides financial and insurance counseling to clients. One day when a client named Don came to seek advice about his 401K, he confided about injuring his back and struggling to find work that did not require heavy lifting. Diane mentioned that God wants to be with us in our struggles and asked if she could pray with him that God would give him guidance and find the right job.  Diane then remembered that there was a security guard company next door that might have some openings, and asked Don if he would like her to introduce him to them. She made the introductions and they did have some openings, but to apply for the job, Don needed her assistance in downloading and completing some forms.

It was now 6:30 p.m. and Don said, “You know, I have really found that Christians are nice people.” Diane asked, “Are you Christian? He said he was but that he didn’t go to church. Diane then shared about her faith and a ministry to which she belonged. She asked him to consider attending a weekend retreat the ministry was sponsoring.

In reflecting on the experience, Diane observed, “When you hear someone say, ‘I’m having a hard time,’ that is a signal from the Holy Spirit that we have an opening to bring the presence of Christ to that person. We build God’s kingdom when we listen to someone’s need and act on it.”

It is interesting that Diane was initially not trying to evangelize Don. Her first response was simply to listen to his concerns, act on them in introducing him to the security guard company and helping download and complete the application forms. Only when those needs were met and after Don made an observation about Christians did she share about her faith.

This is a formula that missionaries have been following for centuries. Build relationships, love and serve needs, share the reason for your love – Jesus.

No Retirement from the Great Commission

When was the last time you talked about your faith or Jesus with someone who is not Christian or a practicing Christian?

In these days of political correctness, it is always easier to forgo the opportunities that come our way. Yet, we are familiar with the Great Commission of Jesus, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations…” (Mt. 28:19)

A few years ago, our family traveled to Lee’s Summit, Missouri to celebrate the 100th birthday of my wife’s mother, Mary Louise. We had a wonderful celebration, with all of her children, some grand children and great grandchildren being present to honor her life. From teaching eight grades in a one room country school in the 1930’s to taking care of elderly parents and other relatives until she herself was 82, her life was a witness to a deep faith in God filled with love and service to others.

Although her life in recent years was confined to an assisted living home where she and about 40 other residents lived, she had not forgotten the words of Jesus in the Great Commission in terms of reaching out to people and inviting them to church. In the course of our many conversations she mentioned that she had invited her friends Millie and Dodie to start attending church services that were held every Sunday at the home. “Dodie had not been to church in 50 years,” she said. “And Millie had not been for a long time either, but I got them going with me each week now.” “I try to help them understand what the Bible says and means when I get the chance,” she added.

In Isaiah 49:6, the prophet says, “I will make you a light to the gentiles that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth.”  At age 100, Mary Louise was still being a light to the people God put in her life. She was still being faithful to God’s plan of working through us to be his presence and to bring his presence to the people and circumstances of our lives. At 103, Mary Louise was welcomed into the arms of Jesus. She never stopped sharing her faith.

Are you talking about Jesus with the people in your life, or inviting them to church, a Christian event or other opportunity where they can meet Jesus and his Word?