|IIIM Magazine Online, Volume 3, Number 29, July 16 to July 22, 2001|
My friend Scott had always wanted an exotic bird. So, when he got his last tax-refund check, he decided to splurge. He went down to the local pet store and bought a parrot. When he got the bird home, he found that the parrot had a foul vocabulary. The bird swore like a sailor. Scott told the bird, "You can't talk in my house like that!" But this rebuke only egged the bird on more. "Cut it out, you can't say those things in my house," it squawked. And the bird cursed even worse. Finally, Scott got so frustrated that he grabbed the bird by the neck, carried him to the freezer, opened the freezer door, threw the bird in, and slammed the door behind him. The parrot squawked for a few minutes. And then it got very quiet. Scott thought, "Oh no, I've killed the bird," and he opened the freezer. The parrot stepped forward saying, "I apologize for my previous unruly behavior. In the future, I'll endeavor to be much more respectful." "Well that's more like it," Scott said, and he perched the bird on his finger taking him back to his cage. "By the way," the parrot said, "may I ask what offense the chicken committed?"
I'm joking, of course. But sometimes we do have to use extreme means like throwing parrots in freezers to get our message across. As Christians we have a powerful and important message, and sometimes this motivates our brothers and sisters to use extreme methods. We've all seen the corner preachers, shouting at the top of their lungs. And I'm sure that many of you have had people come up and hand you tracts or pamphlets presenting the gospel message. Every summer, hundreds of college students volunteer to do beachside evangelism. One time in Orlando the Southern Baptists were in town for a convention, and they sent delegates door to door evangelizing. I had one young girl come to our apartment and ask me, "If you were to die tonight, can you be sure that you'd go to heaven?" I smiled inside because I had studied this particular evangelistic technique. I thought that I'd make her day, "I sure am." "How can you be sure?" she asked "Only by the grace of my savior Jesus Christ who shed his blood on my behalf, and I receive it by faith alone." She did a double take, and then broke into a huge grin and said, "Great! Well, I guess I'll see you in heaven," and skipped off to the next apartment.
We've all seen the extreme examples of people who are bold and unabashed about the message of Christ as Savior and King. But I think that most Christians are uncomfortable with sharing the message. Most of us fear that we have to be as extreme as some of these more vocal examples. However, our passage today offers hope and encouragement to those of us who have encountered the risen Savior and who have been transformed in life, but who are a little timid in their sharing. Remember last week we talked about the personal encounter between the woman at the well and Jesus? You will recall that underlying that encounter was the intense hatred between Samaritans and Jews. Jesus, the Jewish preacher, offered this Samaritan woman an abundant, satisfying life, and he made this life available to her by first confronting her with her sin, and then revealing himself as the Messiah who makes true worship possible.
This week, we'll see that the woman brings others to encounter Christ, and we can use her as an example of how to introduce people to Christ. It's not the only example, but it's an example that we can use. Today, I'm going to draw five principles from the woman's story that we can use to spell the acrostic "TRUTH."
The first point is to tell your story ("T"). Look at verses 28-30. The woman, having encountered Jesus, left immediately for the city to tell her story. To whom? To the people she saw everyday, the people in her town. And what did she tell them? Did she say, "Let me explain the four spiritual laws"? No. Did she say, "Look with me here in the Scriptures and tell me what you see"? No. Did she say, "If you were to die tonight, how do you know you'd be in heaven?" No. Those are fine methods of evangelism, but the woman here did something much different. She simply said, "I met a man who told me everything I'd ever done. Could he be the messiah? Come see this guy — he knew what I'd done and he still talked kindly with me. He told me my sins to my face, and he offered me inner cleansing for them. He went straight to the heart of my inner longings, and he offered living water, inner satisfaction. Don't you want to come talk with him?"
What is your story? It doesn't have to be a blinding light. You don't have to be a celebrity or a reformed criminal to tell your story. Part of the wonder of God is that he meets each of us individually in the midst of our own lives. Some have stories of miracles and instant transformation; others have stories of decades of gradual enlightenment; others have stories about the Spirit coming at them from totally unexpected directions. Every story is different, but every story of Christ at work is significant, no matter how small it seems to us. And every story is ongoing — it doesn't end with your conversion, it begins with it.
So when your co-worker sits down across from you and says, "I'm really struggling in my marriage," tell your story. Say, "This is how I've struggled too... And this is how my relationship with Christ has affected my marriage." When your cousin starts sharing her feelings of loneliness and isolation, say how Christ has been a spiritual presence that helps you persevere through the loneliness. Look for those opportunities where the people around you are asking you to share your story. "But Russell, what if I've never been in their situation? What if their struggle is too awful for me to address?" Sometimes, people aren't ready to hear your story. Sometimes, people are in such pain that they need tender care — they need you to love on them and be present with them. They need you to bind up their emotional wounds for them. The time for sharing stories will come later.
In sharing the truth of our message, we not only tell our story ("T"), but we also rely on God's preparation ("R"). Look at verses 35-38. Jesus is telling his disciples, "You don't have to convert people." The hard job of working on hearts is taken care of by God. We don't have to be slick and conniving. We don't have to have a pat answer to everything. We don't have to convince anybody. God does that. Last year, a book came out called The Laws of Power. This text went to great lengths to show how to manipulate people into doing what you want. The authors engaged in case studies of con men, famous generals, and political figures. The book pictures life as a game of power that is played with cunning and intricate planning and deception. Not only was I both fascinated and saddened by the worldview, but I was amazed at the amount of energy it took to play the game. You think negotiating a price for a car is bad? These guys saw all of life that way.
We have it so much easier. The truth is that we don't have to resort to tricks to bring people to Christ. Deception and psychological games are not necessary. All God asks is that we grow in our relationship with him and tell others about him. He does all the rest. When the Corinthian church started to have factions of people who claimed different leaders as their inspiration, Paul came back with these words: "Who then is Paul and who is Apollos, but ministers through whom you believed, as the Lord gave to each one. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase" (1 Cor. 3:5-6). The perspective is not one of battle, but one of joy because in evangelism. We're not beginning a work, but rather we're bringing it along to completion. God is the one at work in the hearts of the people.
So, when talking about sharing the truth through everyday evangelism, we tell our story ("T") and we rely on God's preparation ("R"). We also have to understand enough ("U"). I hear so many people say, "I don't know the Bible well enough," or, "They ask so many good questions, and I don't know how to answer them." That's okay. You don't need comprehensive Bible knowledge to share your story. When people confront you with tough questions, you can legitimately say, "I don't know." The woman at the well went back and asked, "Could this man be the Messiah?" She didn't know the fullness of Christ's work. Remember, the Samaritans only acknowledged the first five books of the Old Testament. Their understanding of the Messiah comes only from Deuteronomy 18 — they were simply expecting a prophet like Moses who would powerfully intercede between God and his people. She didn't understand everything about Jesus yet. All she knew was that she had met Jesus, that he had been confronted with her sin, and that he had offered to take it away. She understood enough to tell her story.
An important caveat is that we need to keep growing in our understanding. Look at verses 39-42. The people believed because of the woman's word, and then, after staying with Jesus for two days, they came to understand that the Messiah was not just a prophet, but the savior of the world. It is important that we keep growing in our understanding. However, we don't need to restrain our sharing of our story. When we've met Christ and have been transformed, we understand enough to share our story.
Not only do you tell your story ("T"), rely on God's preparation ("R"), and understand enough ("U"), but you also talk like yourself ("T"). We can't escape the structure of the passage. The woman is there talking with Jesus, the disciples return from city, the woman goes back to the city, the disciples get a lecture on the fields being white for the harvest, and then the woman comes back from the city with a legion of people who want to see if this is the Messiah. Do you see the contrast? The professionals, the disciples, came back with a couple of backpacks full of food. The woman came back with an army of seekers. Why? The woman talked plainly. The woman didn't talk like a religious professional. This is a huge difficulty for me. When I'm talking about faith one on one, I tend to slip into "scholar mode." If asked how I know the Bible is true, I tend to say something like this, "You need to understand that the early church fathers had an intense concern with establishing the apostolic origin of all the early writings. A study of patristics shows early consensus, going back to the Muratorian canon..." All I really need to say is, "From the very beginning, the church has held the Scriptures to be reliable." Talk like yourself. We don't need to sound like we've studied this stuff for years. Our own stories in our own words are enough.
Not only do we tell our story ("T"), rely on God's provision ("R"), understand enough ("U"), and talk like ourselves ("T"), but we also hope for the unexpected ("H"). Look at verses 39-42. Many believed. They asked him to stay. Many more believed. And get this, they believed because of his words. He didn't have to do any miracles there. Don't forget that Samaritans and Jews hated each other, and here's this whole Samaritan town coming out and putting their faith in this raggedy Jewish preacher. Talk about totally unexpected. But as we've said so many times, God works in unexpected ways. If God could use the story of the woman at the well to draw the city to meet Christ, surely God can use your story to draw your friends and neighbors to worship where they can hear the truth proclaimed. If God could use a band of twelve yokels from the backwater of the Roman Empire to transform the world, then God can use a small, unregarded church in downtown Cincinnati to transform lives in this city and around the world. When we are dealing with God, when we taste his transforming power, all bets are off. Jump on and enjoy the ride.
So we've seen the truth (T-R-U-T-H) that helps us in everyday evangelism: tell your story; rely on God's preparation; understand enough; talk like yourself; and hope for the unexpected. If the opportunity arises, try it out this week. God might use you to bring someone to Christ in a powerful and exciting way. Amen.