Taking Every Opportunity

Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone. (Colossians 4:5-6)

Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. (Ephesians 5:15-16 NIV)

Every church and every Christian needs to be making the very best of every opportunity to talk about Jesus. Michael Green wrote, “Personal conversation is the best way of evangelism. It is natural, it can be done anywhere, it can be done by anyone.” We wish we could have more conversations about Jesus and share our faith with our friends and neighbours and colleagues. But often we are scared that we won’t know what to say. We are afraid we will say the wrong things, or that people will ask us questions we cannot answer. But there are things we can do to help ourselves.

1 Peter 3:15. But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.

Be prepared to give an answer. As a witness would prepare to give their testimony and to answer questions in a court of law. We talked about this important subject last autumn. This morning let me remind you of just a few of the things we said then as we look forward to our Family Fun Afternoon and particularly to our Mission Weekend with Marina and Nick and the Healing Bus at the end of November. We can make sure we are prepared to give an answer.

We can prepare to share our story. Things we might say to tell other people about the difference Jesus makes in our lives. Answers to prayer. Ways that God has guided us or healed us. Experiences we have had of God’s love and joy and peace. In particular we can think through what we might say if somebody asked us how we became a Christian. Talking about what life was like before we knew Jesus, how we came to know Jesus and then the difference becoming a Christian made to our lives then as well as now. Before. How. After. You may remember that last year we talked about Jesus over our refreshments and many of us also stayed on and shared two lunches together practising talking about Jesus to each other. It’s true what they say. “Practice makes perfect.” Prepared to tell our story.

Sometimes when we are talking about Jesus the very best thing we can do is share a verse from the Bible or tell our friend a story from the Gospels about Jesus. Spurgeon said, “Defend the Bible? I would as soon defend a lion! Unchain it and it will defend itself.” Sometimes we just need to unchain the lion and share the Bible with our friends. That is why last year we had those memory verses to learn. I wonder how many of them you remembered? John 3:16, Mark 10:45, Philippians 4:6-7, John 10:30, John 14:6, 2 Cor 5:21 As Psalm 119 says, I have hidden your word in my heart. Prepared to share the Bible.
Then before we talk to our friends about God, we need to talk to God about our friends. We need to pray about talking about Jesus, especially if we are scared about sharing our faith with other people.

And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints. Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should. (Ephesians 6:18-20)

The apostle Paul was asking the Ephesian Christians to pray for him that he might be a faithful ambassador for Jesus. He asked them to pray that he might talk about Jesus without being afraid. If the apostle Paul needed people to pray those things for him, then we do even more. We should be praying those kind of prayers for ourselves and for each other. Especially if we are scared or worried about talking about Jesus, we should pray about that. Paul also asked the Colossians to pray for his witness for Jesus.
Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should. (Colossians 4:2-4)

Here Paul asked other Christians to pray for him, that God will open doors for him to talk about Jesus and that he will be clear in what he says when he does. We can pray those things for ourselves and for each other; very specific prayers that God will give us opportunities for conversations about Jesus. Even the Early Church needed to pray for courage to speak out about Jesus, and God answered their prayers. And remember what happened when they prayed.
Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. Stretch out your hand to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.”
After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly. (Acts 4:29-31)

So we can prepare ourselves to share our story of the difference Jesus makes in our lives, and by learning Bible verses. We prepare by praying about talking about Jesus. And then we can prepare by thinking about the kinds of questions people who are not Christians have about Jesus and faith and spiritual things and thinking through some answers we might give them. We had a whole series of sermons on this topic last Autumn. Let me just refresh your memory of some of those.

1. What is salvation?
We used the picture of a lifeboat rescuing somebody from drowning to talk about salvation. We have been saved from sin. We are being saved as we enjoy life in all its fullness here and now. And we will be saved as our eternal life continues beyond death into our glorious inheritance of heaven. We also used the picture of a caterpillar turning into a butterfly to illustrate Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 5:17, When a person becomes a Christian he becomes a brand new person inside. He is not the same any more. A new life has begun! The starting point for anybody of course is to recognise that they need to be saved.
2. What is the point of life?
Human beings were created to enjoy a relationship with God. We have a God-shaped gap in our hearts and lives which only knowing God can fill. Life in all its fullness, joy and peace and freedom and victory are all wrapped up in this wonderful relationship with God. That is the point of life.
3. How can we have a relationship with God?
God has made a way for us to know Him – and that way is Jesus Christ.
But now God’s way of putting people right with himself has been revealed. It has nothing to do with law, even though the Law of Moses and the prophets gave their witness to it. God puts people right through their faith in Jesus Christ. (Romans 3 verses 21-22)
All human beings share a common problem. We are cut off from God by sin. For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. (verse 23 in the New Living Translation.) Sin is that little word with “I” in the middle which sums up everything which goes wrong when people live with “I” in the middle of their lives and shut God out. Sin leads to physical death and to spiritual death. But God has dealt with this problem of sin.
But by the free gift of God’s grace all are put right with him through Christ Jesus, who sets them free. (Good News Bible verse 24) God’s way of salvation is all wrapped up in Jesus. God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. (verse 25 NIV) Our forgiveness comes at the terrible price of the crucifixion of Jesus. But through Jesus human beings may enter into a relationship with God.

4. How should we respond to the Good News?
The heart of the gospel is that Jesus Christ is God, Jesus had died for our sins, Jesus is risen from the dead and Jesus is Lord. King of Kings and Lord of Lords. More important than any employer, or military figure, or political leader. More important even than the Emperor of the Roman Empire. Jesus is Lord. And Paul writes in Romans 10
If you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved. (Romans 10:9-10)

We respond to the gospel by faith which is both heartfelt and outwardly expressed. We put our trust in Jesus who is risen from the dead and Lord of all. As we put our trust in God and receive His promises for ourselves, we are born again to eternal life. (BLONDIN) Jesus called the fishermen Peter and Andrew, James and John with these words, “Repent and believe the good news.” As we turn away from sin and towards God, as we make a U-turn in our lives and put our trust in Jesus, our new life begins. (FREDERIC II)
5. Didn’t he used to be dead?
The resurrection is the heart of our Christian faith. The historical event of God raising Jesus from the dead is the turning point of human history. Christians will want to be able to defend our belief that Jesus rose on that first Easter Sunday. So we can talk about the evidence that the tomb of Jesus was empty. We can talk about the many occasions after his death when Jesus appeared to his disciples alive again. We can talk about the growth of the change in the disciples and the growth of the church. And we can point to the difference which the Risen Jesus makes in the lives of Christians today, and even in our lives.
6. What makes you believe that God exists?
It makes no sense for anyone to say that God could not possibly exist. They should only say that if God does exist, they have not seen evidence that he does. So Christians can point to the Bible and to the Church. We can point to signs of the glory of God in the wonderful design of Creation. We can point again to the difference Jesus makes in the lives of Christians today. And we can point to Jesus Himself. “He who has seen me has seen the Father,” said Jesus. “I and the Father are one.”
7. Just how did God make the world?
We can point to the many Christians who are also scientists and that doesn’t stop them from believing in Jesus.
8. Can we trust the New Testament?
We can talk about the Gospels being written by eyewitnesses and the fact that the whole church supported those claims. We can talk about the inspiration of the Bible, the impact which God’s Word has had on so many people through the ages and the inner witness of the Holy Spirit to the truth of the Bible
9. Is Jesus the only way to God?
Everything about Jesus was unique: his birth, his teaching, his ministry, his death and above all His resurrection. And this is what Jesus said about himself. “I am the way and the truth and the life. No-one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:6)

These are the most common questions people ask about Jesus and the Christian faith. And there are answers for each of them in the book, “Prepared to Give an Answer.” We can all prepare ourselves to give an answer when the opportunity arises.

Paul encouraged Timothy, Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season. (2 Timothy 4:2 NIV). Be prepared, whether the time is favorable or not. (New Living Transl)

God calls every Christian to share the Good News of Jesus with our friends. We are all Ambassadors for Jesus. As Michael Green says, “It is not until church members have the enthusiasm to speak to their friends and acquaintances about Jesus that anybody will really believe we have got good news to share.”

In his book, “Becoming a Contagious Christian,” Bill Hybels of Willow Creek holds out an exciting vision of what could happen as more Christians are empowered to talk about Jesus. “When ordinary Christians throughout the fabric of the church get trained and active in spreading their faith – you’d better watch out! A whole new era of lifechange is going to explode!”

I have shared before with you a dream I had just before we came to North Springfield. I was all set to preach a sermon on taking risks for the sake of the gospel, in preparation for a town-wide mission I was leading. On the night before I had a dream which I believe was prophetic. In the dream I was looking at the wall of our church and there I saw a painting. The painting showed fields next to a river on a bright sunny day. On the riverbank a large group of people were having a lovely time enjoying a picnic together as rowing boats went past along the river.

Then in my dream, next to that painting on the wall I saw another painting. It showed a scene further along the same river. Just around a bend, just out of view of the people having their picnic, there was a Niagara Falls sized waterfall. All the people in all the boats passing by were plunging to their deaths over the waterfall.

And all the time the people on the riverbank just went on enjoying their picnic. Nobody was throwing out lifelines to the boats passing by. Nobody was shouting out warnings to the boats. Nobody had even put up a sign saying, “Danger, waterfall ahead.” They just went on with their picnic. Those were the two paintings I saw in my dream. The picnic and the waterfall.

The gospel of Jesus Christ is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes. (Romans 1:16) It is the message of Good News which is the difference between death and life for this lost world. Christians dare not be silent. Christians need to make the most of every opportunity to talk about Jesus. We all need to be prepared to give an answer.

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