Jul 17 2022 What is the Gospel?


I saw a story on IG recently that stuck with me and has made me think about how we see–or don’t see–people.

It’s from Carlos Whittaker who is a speaker, writer, podcaster–but really someone who has trained himself to see people. He travels a lot, and one day he and his wife, Heather, were in the airport headed home. Here is the picture, the conversation they had, and the rest of his post:

“Babe…empty your suitcase.” Heather

“Wait, what? Why? What’s happening?” Carlos

“That woman at the counter has all of her belongings in a plastic bag. I’m gonna give her your suitcase…Hurry up!”

We drop our bags in the middle of 100 people and start pulling out everything…

I feel all the eyeballs staring at our sudden and random moment of chaos…

30 seconds later my favorite suitcase gets a new owner…

All my underwear is now in my backpack…

And once again, my wife sees someone nobody else saw…

This human thing isn’t as complicated as we make it.

See someone…

Then free someone.

That really made me think how often we walk by people and don’t really SEE them. We might notice them. We notice they are different from us, we notice their circumstances, we notice something that might make us uncomfortable. But we don’t really SEE them.

In Matthew 9: 36 it says:

Seeing the crowds, He felt compassion for them, because they were distressed and downcast, like sheep without a shepherd.

In the midst of a crowd, Jesus still saw people–as a whole, but also as individuals.

In this same chapter of Matthew:

And they brought to Him a paralyzed man lying on a stretcher. And seeing their faith, Jesus said to the man who was paralyzed, “Take courage, son; your sins are forgiven.”

As Jesus went on from there, He saw a man called Matthew sitting in the tax collector’s office; and He *said to him, “Follow Me!” And he got up and followed Him.

And behold, a woman who had been suffering from a hemorrhage for twelve years came up behind Him, and touched the border of His cloak; 21 for she was saying to herself, “If I only touch His cloak, I will get well.” 22 But Jesus, turning and seeing her, said, “Daughter, take courage; your faith has made you well.” And at once the woman was made well.

It’s easy for me to have a narrow view of what sharing the gospel looks like–to explain the whole story of Jesus’ death and resurrection start to finish–otherwise it doesn’t “count.” But Jesus had so many interactions with people where He SAW them, loved them, healed them, met a need, and kept going. Some followed Him, and some didn’t.

Mike often talks about “performing the gospel,” and I think that is a great picture of how Jesus interacted with people–and how we might follow His example when we learn to be better at seeing people–as made in the image of God and each one worth our attention and time.

I’ve also been reading a book by Bob Goff called Everybody Always which I highly recommend if you haven’t read it–it’s full of great stories and crazy examples of his commitment to love everybody always.

Here’s a little bit from the chapter called “Creepy People” :

It's easy to love kind, lovely, humble people. I mean, who wouldn't? These are the ones I have spent much of my life loving. Loving the people who are easy to love made me feel like I was really good at it. Because the people I loved were kind and wonderful, they made sure they told me what a great job I was doing loving them. What I have come to realize, though, is that I was avoiding the people I did not understand and the ones who live differently than me. Here’s why: some of them creeped me out. Sure, I was polite to them, but sadly, I spent my whole life avoiding the people Jesus spent His whole life engaging. God’s idea isn’t that we would just give and receive love, but that we could actually become love. People who are becoming love see the beauty in others, even when their off-putting behavior makes for a pretty weird mask. What Jesus told His friends can be summed up in this way: He wants us to love everybody, always – and start with the people who creep us out. The truth is, we probably creep them out as much as they do us.

Are there people you should give a wide berth to? You bet. There are people in my life and yours who are unsafe and toxic and delight in sowing discord wherever they go. God gave us discernment, and we should use it as we live our lives. He has also given us love and understanding, kindness and the ability to forgive, which have power we often leave untapped. There is a difference between good judgment and living in judgment. The trick is to use lots of the first and to go a little lighter on the second.

Yes, we should absolutely use good judgment, but I often overthink things when just acting out of love would meet a need in someone’s life and would be an opportunity to love my neighbor and perform the gospel in their life.

Here’s a little more about what Bob Goff says about loving our neighbors:

Pg. 20–

We’re not supposed to love only our neighbors, but Jesus thought we should start with them. I bet He knew if our love isn’t going to work for the people who live close to us, then it is probably not going to work for the rest of the world. Jesus didn’t say who our neighbors are, either. Probably so we wouldn’t start making lists of those we don’t need to love.

Each of us is surrounded everyday by our neighbors. They are ahead of us, behind us, on each side of us. They’re everyplace we go. They’re sacking groceries and attending city council meetings, holding cardboard signs on street-corners and raking leaves next door. They play high school football and deliver the mail. They are heroes and hookers and pastors and pilots. They live on the streets and design our bridges. They go to seminaries and live in prisons. They govern us and they bother us. They are everywhere we look. It is one thing we all have in common: We’re all somebody’s neighbor and they are ours. This has been God’s simple yet brilliant masterplan from the beginning. He made a whole world of neighbors. We call it earth, but God just calls it a really big neighborhood.

What often keeps us from loving our neighbors is fear of what will happen if we do. Frankly, what scares me more is what will happen if we don’t. Being fearless isn’t something we can decide to be in a moment, but fear can be overcome with time and the right help. We can bring all the game we’ve got, but only Jesus has the power to call out of us the courage it takes to live the life He talked about.

It does take courage to love people–there is risk involved and we may be misunderstood and we may do something wrong. But like he says, maybe what should scare us more is thinking about what happens if we, as Christians, don’t try to love our neighbors.

One last passage from Everybody Always:

Pg. 43 :

"God wants me to love the ones I don’t understand, to get to know their names, to invite them to do things with me, to go and find the ones everyone has shunned and turned away, to see them as my neighbors, even if we are in totally different places. You’ll be able to spot people who are becoming love because they want to build kingdoms, not castles. They fill their lives with people who don’t look like them, or act like them, or even believe the same things as them. They treat them with love and respect and are more eager to learn from them than presume they have something to teach."

In this time of so much conflict and division and unwillingness to listen to and understand those who think differently–we have such an opportunity to be ones who are willing to lay aside our rights and to see people as Jesus sees them.

I’m so far from doing this well, but it’s something God has been showing me. To look for those who feel left out, who are not included, who don’t have the big circle of support, who need someone to SEE them as valuable. Everyone has a story if we will listen and seek to understand–and by taking that time to treat them like Jesus would, we may have the opportunity to share words about Jesus with them, but we’ll definitely have the opportunity to show them His love.

The great thing about this is that we don’t have to wait for the perfect opportunity to “share the gospel.” We can just look at every person–SEE them–feel compassion as Jesus did, and then look for how God is already at work in their lives and how we can join Him in His work.

The theme for today and the next couple weeks – the Gospel in the Book of Acts – there are 7 gospel messages in the Book of Acts – they are long, and we won’t go through all of them. First – what is the gospel? You might think, that’s easy – but we’ll see.

What did they say as part of the gospel presentations? Read the context and pay close attention to what is being said.

How does what they said compare/contrast with how we share the gospel? You will find things where you ask, Why in the world did they say that and how does that relate to me? How does that relate to my way of sharing the gospel?

Understanding the answers to these questions is critical to cultivating a lifestyle of the gospel. If you ask ten people what that means, you might get eleven different answers!

We will look at – what I am saying about this – I will start with my story.

From 1976-1991 I was involved in different ways in college ministry. I shared the gospel with literally thousands of people. Things started changing in the 80s – but the majority of the people I shared the gospel with were ‘Christianized’ -they were familiar with Jesus, His death and resurrection. Most, however, lacked a personal faith experience – they had never prayed to receive Christ – had never asked Christ into their heart – so my gospel presentation focused on getting people to ask Jesus into their heart. We had tools that led people down this path – and many came to Christ in this way. Some went on and continue to this day as Christians and some did not. This is all I want to say about that: Those days are gone. They do not exist anymore. We no longer live in a Christianized world in any way, shape, or form.

In light of that, we need to rethink how we communicate the gospel. The gospel is the gospel, that does not change. The approach we take MUST change though – based on the people we are communicating with. That is step 1 in all mission work.

Here is the good news in all of this. We are probably more like what was going on when Acts was written – more than ever – totally unChristianized. So, as we study Acts and how they presented – there is a lot to glean.

Acts 1: But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses…

The disciples were literal witnesses of his life, death, and resurrection. We are experiential witnesses of the same.

There is a difference between being a witness and in ‘witnessing’

We are called to make disciples. We are called to go forth. But going witnessing usually became going to give a presentation that would elicit a response. There was a specific response we had in mind – and it had a powerful impact at time.

We ARE witnesses. That is who we are – we cannot help it. In every situation we find ourselves in – if you are a Christian – if you have allowed it to be known – in every situation and circumstance – you are His witnesses. We are imperfect and flawed – and sometimes BAD witnesses – but you are a witness.

You can’t ‘go witnessing’ in every circumstance you find yourself. My wife worked at a public school. She was not allowed to ‘go witnessing’ – but she was a witness all the years she was there.

Once or twice, she would say, she was a bad witness – but she told me that she was most effective – because she would apologize.

A few years before she retired, there was a younger teacher – who was not a Christian – and Cindy exhibited a wrong attitude – and apologized. “You’re a Christian, right?” Yes. “I’ve never had a Christian apologize to me”

I’m going to jump out of the Bible for a minute and have a St. Patrick’s Day celebration. I’ve read and re-read The Celtic Way of Evangelism. It is all about St. Patrick. He led one of the most amazing mission and church planting in the history of Christianity.

It was about 100 years after Constantine saw the cross and baptized his army and became the Roman Emperor and the Roman Empire became officially Christian and they got rid of all other religions. And at that time, the church stopped taking the gospel to places that did not have Christ – and the Church became corrupted because of the Church being linked to the government. So, Patrick went to the Barbarians – the Goths, the visi-goths – and the vandals, who took the handle (A couple people listen to Bob Dylan) – He took the gospel into their context and figured out how to do church

We live in a time where there are the new barbarians – the new ‘creepy people’ as Bob Goff referred to…

Peter – Acts 10: Peter… saw the sky opened up, and an object like a great sheet coming down, lowered by four corners to the ground, 12 and there were in it all kinds of four-footed animals and crawling creatures of the earth and birds of the air.

This is a metaphor for Gentiles. God is leading Peter to the Gentiles – his barbarians and ‘creepy people’

13 A voice came to him, "Get up, Peter, kill and eat!" 14 But Peter said, "By no means, Lord, for I have never eaten anything unholy and unclean." 15 Again a voice came to him a second time, "What God has cleansed, no longer consider unholy."

Peter had to rethink what God was doing in the world and in doing so, he had to get over his attitudes of prejudice and moral superiority – and he had to learn to adapt his approach to a totally different world – the Gentiles.

St. Patrick was raised in a Christianized world. He had not had a personal relationship with Jesus. And a band of Celtic Pirates stole Patrick from England – and took him to Ireland. Christianity was pretty much non-existent there. Patrick reflected on all he knew about Jesus -and began to look at his captors and the Irish differently – he began to understand and love them.

Can God do that for us with the ‘barbarians’ in our world?

I can’t tell you who your barbarian is. God took Peter, and then Patrick – to barbarians – and it will look different for all of us. This is the one I want you to love – this is the one for you.

The fact that Patrick understood the people, their language and their ways served as the most … greatest single learning from this movement – there is no shortcut to understanding people. SO we must first understand and not judge.

When the people know that the Christians understand them – they infer that maybe the High God understands them too.

I would say this – when the people know that Christians hate them, they infer that Jesus hates them too.

Back to the Bible…

Acts 2:46-47

Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved.

They did evangelism through the way they lived in community. They demonstrated their witness by their love for one another. Hmmm – did someone not say that somewhere? Jesus? They will know you are my disciples by your love for one another.

Patrick created communities. He spent numerous years in monasteries – they rose up because of the corruption. The church/empire was so corrupt that they could not be faithful disciples within the church.

He built a team of 12-15 who set off for Ireland and created a monastic community ‘without walls’ – they went to Ireland – went to the first village, talked to the leaders – wanted to become part of the community. If the leaders were people of peace, they would set up a community adjacent to the village – they were incarnational. Then they would trade, engage, befriend, share with, invite to dinner, invite to worship -and as people would come over, they would see how they loved one another – and then they would come to faith – and bring ones back into the village to get to know friends and family.

They gospel began to spread – some of these communities grew up to 3000 people. In 15 years – and eventually – the leadership were all Irish. Then the goths, and Visigoths – became Christians and they would be sent back into Europe. The Irish saved Western Civilization when the plagues hit.

We can’t become monastic communities. Or sell all we have and buy land adjacent to the city – but we need to figure out ways to do what they did.

With the barbarians in our world – parallel, alternative society – we cannot follow the urge to pull out, to isolate, to protect ourselves, or to fight back. Those are not our callings. Our calling is to pull together, to engage and to connect with the barbarians – we are to become the leaven in the barbarian lump of dough.

Sue – we were taught to share the gospel with things like the 4 spiritual laws – and I experienced it recently – she shared the gospel the exact way we did forty-five years ago – and I was on the other side of it – and it was offensive! I felt judged! Like, prove you’re a Christian to me!

Is there a new way of sharing now?

Mike: Good question – one thing I would say – back in those days when going witnessing was a thing – and there might be great benefits to doing something like that today – but it was easy to go witnessing and not be a witness.

Our goal is not to get through the presentation and get a response – we are presenting Jesus Christ to a person – not a presentation. And people need to see that what they need is a heart open to Jesus, not a response – and we will talk more about that in the coming weeks.

Patty – I was thinking about what Melissa said about looking for needs instead of looking for unnatural situations – a forced situation – but people’s needs can lead to a conversation about what Jesus has done for you – nonthreatening – praying we have eyes to see needs in people.

Melissa: What I have noticed – and this is social media – I’m in a mom’s group and connect with people I don’t know – people are starved for community – and layers of need before they are even ready to hear about Jesus. That is not even on their radar. Until we take the time and make the effort t to understand – but eventually they think that God could understand them too.

It is much more of a process – getting to know someone and sharing something that is appropriate – then I can speak more accurately to their need.

Mike: As I look back – every now and then you are in a situation to share the gospel – but living in the same place for years – you build relationships – and those become the biggest opportunity. Like family – I was able to lead my parents to Christ – then THEY - especially my dad – led many in my family to Christ. I took these verses out due to time –

Cornelius – He and his entire household were baptized – family, employees, slaves, all in the compound – the places where the gospel has exploded – Korea – churches of 3 or 4 hundred thousand people! Because one member of a household became saved.

I think – even though the one might be valuable at times, the natural way of reaching people will have more impact.

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