What type of friend are you?

Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” Luke 15:1-2

 

In this series of blogs, we are building on the principle that your life follows your values. We are exploring the lifestyle priorities that will cause us to live as witnesses for Jesus. Well, Jesus had an unmistakable lifestyle priority of spending relational time with non-religious people. That priority showed up in his actions. He was always hanging out with ‘sinners’.

 

Why do you think the Pharisees were not impressed with Jesus living this way (besides the fact that they were not impressed with Jesus most of the time)?

 

I’ll give it a go and say this:

 

The Pharisees were probably thinking, Jesus, you will get yourself ceremonially unclean by hanging out with the sinners—something you shouldn’t do as a Rabbi. Also, us religious people need to hang out with religious people ‘cause that’s how we roll.

 

Some of these thoughts can often run in our minds even in 2017 when we think about having friendships with non-Christians. We think that if we develop real friendships with worldly people we will get influenced negatively. Or we think we need to get our lives together and figure out every detail of theology and doctrine before we can go and be friends with people whose beliefs are different than ours.

 

But Jesus gave it a good go. He was called a ‘friend of sinners’. His time spent with these people was what led to most of his followers! It will be the same for you. You won’t find yourself helping people turn to Christ in faith if you aren’t spending relational time with them.

 

How did Jesus build these relationships?

 

  1. He loved them


Jesus crossed paths with people who had sinful lifestyles. If there was one person entitled to judging and accusing those people it was Jesus—the one without sin. And yet he didn’t do that – John 8:10-11

He instead loved them and spent time with them – Mark 10:21 

If there’s one thing that we need to learn about how to be good friends of sinners it’s how to love. And that includes loving without any hidden motives, loving our friends even when they don’t want to come to church, loving them even after years have passed and they are still rejecting Jesus.

 

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  1. He was okay with not being popular

Often times as Christians we can be focused on networking and getting to know that pastor and this pastor and that famous Christian worship leader—so much so that our friendships can:

 

Number 1: become about what we can get out of them

Number 2: become 100% made up of people who are Christians

 

Hanging out with sinners made Jesus very marginalized from the religious community. Yet Jesus wasn’t bothered by that. He kept going to parties and he kept reaching out to the poor, the sick, the abused, the sinners Luke 7:22

Why? Because Jesus wasn’t focused on becoming popular. He wasn’t interested in acquiring a name for himself in the religious community. He wasn’t concerned about how many new Instagram followers he was getting each day.

He was about loving people and being their friend even when it looked like he was surrounded by the wrong crew.

 

  1. Jesus was interested in giving

Have you ever noticed that Jesus was not ever interested in what he could get out of his interactions/friendships with people? Rather, he was focused on loving people and saving them from whatever they needed to be saved from? (accusers, corrupt lifestyle, illness etc.)

 

A good friend loves without judging, is there when needed, is more concerned with what he can give rather than what he receives. A good friend passes the test of time. A good friend has no hidden motives.

 

What kind of friend are you?

 

Final thoughts

 

Jesus’ pattern was to open-heartedly meet people where they were and then help them move towards God. One of the great characteristics of his life was spending time with non-religious people, even though he caught major criticism for it. If we want to follow Jesus, then we must build this lifestyle priority into our lives too!

Witnessing Lifestyle Priority #2: Building real friendships with non-churched people

What is your purpose in life?

Is your purpose to live, get as much money or other things as possible and then die, leaving them all behind?  That’s fairly depressing, isn’t it?  But that is what many in the world believe.

 

What is your purpose in life?

As Christians, we believe that our purpose in life is so much more. We believe that we are here to bring glory to God and to spread the gospel to the ends of the earth. We think of the great commission in Matthew 28:19-20 where Jesus tells his disciples, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

I have a question for you though. Do the “all nations” include our neighbor across the road?  Does it include the attendant at the petrol station?

We can be so focused on the “all nations” that we forget about the people we see and interact with every day. If our purpose in life is to glorify God and spread the good news of the Gospel, then should we not be doing it with these very people?

Jesus said to his disciples, “As the Father sent me, so I am sending you” John 20:21.  Think about this statement and the way Jesus approached the people in his life.  In every situation, he was looking for a way to talk to them about God and to share the Gospel. It didn’t matter if he had just finished a long walk and was thirsty and tired (the woman at the well in John 4).  

It didn’t matter if he was among the crowds being jostled (Bartimaeus in Mark 10). No matter what, Jesus always had awareness of the people around him and how he could speak into their lives.

 

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Well, in the same way, that God the Father sent Jesus into these situations, Jesus is sending you into the lives of people around you. Your neighbor? God placed her next to you for a reason. It didn’t happen by chance. That person who backed into your car? That didn’t happen by chance.

God is orchestrating everything around you. You never know, God may have been working on someone’s heart just so that you could share something with them next time you are at the shops.

Isn’t this exciting? We have a purpose to live for! Jesus has sent us into every single encounter and every single relationship that we have. Imagine if you lived your life with this purpose always at the forefront of your mind. Imagine the changes you could bring in everyone’s lives around you.

 

Last thoughts 

And you know what’s even more amazing? It’s sometimes glossed over because of the emphasis on the first part of the Great Commission. But read again the last sentence: “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” As God is sending you into these situations and relationships and chance meetings, he has promised that he will be there. You don’t have to worry about saying the right things, you just have to say, “God how will you use me to fulfill your purpose in this situation?” And then be ready and hear his voice. 

You don’t always have to share the gospel

Why do most people feel anxious about sharing their faith with others?

Have you ever thought “What do I say?” or “Where do I start?” Deciding where to start depends on your view of evangelism. We typically only think of evangelism as helping someone take the final step of putting their faith in Christ. But when you recognise that everyone journeys to faith in Christ, and that journey takes time, you realise that in fact, evangelism includes journeying with a person towards Christ. Your current conversation with them is about helping them take the next step in their journey (and may not include crossing the line today)!

In our day we are seeing an ever-increasing distance to cover in a non-churched person’s journey to faith in Christ.

 

There was once a time in Australia that it was unusual for people not to attend church. Then came a generation that didn’t attend church but still sent their children to Sunday School because they valued the good moral teaching. After that generation came a generation that had minimal exposure to church or Sunday School but still had some exposure to Christianity through Scripture in school or civil public events. But we now have a generation of people having children that have never seen a Bible, never heard the gospel and don’t know who Jesus is, other than a swear word.

 

There was a time when you could logically refer to the authority of the Bible and people would listen. Now people look to their own experience, rather than the Bible, for spiritual convictions.

That means that the journey people take towards God is getting longer as each generation passes. While salvation is an event that takes place in a moment in time, conversion is a journey towards faith in Jesus, and this takes place over time.

 

The time varies

For some people, this journey is very quick. From the time they sense God reaching out to them to when they place their trust in Jesus may only be days, weeks or even months. For others this journey may take years, even decades. People take this journey at different speeds depending on what is happening in their lives and the world around them as well as the type of Christians they encounter along the way and their exposure to the gospel.

 

But here is the exciting thing. A person’s journey towards Jesus can be greatly accelerated by two factors.

 

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Personal Crisis

A person’s journey to faith is often accelerated by a personal crisis. This may be a positive crisis like having a child or moving to a new country, or it may be a negative crisis like being diagnosed with a terminal illness or losing someone close to them.

 

A Redemptive Relationship

The second significant factor that can accelerate someone’s journey toward Jesus is when there is a Christian in the person’s life who is intentionally building a redemptive relationship with them. As the Christian prays for them and works to help them journey towards Christ, their journey to faith picks up speed.

Now, when you think about these two factors at work in the life of someone you know, who do you think God has sent into that person’s life to help them journey towards Jesus? That’s right—God has sent you into their lives!

You see, you don’t always have to share the gospel in every encounter, but it is your responsibility as a Christian to help people take their next step on their journey towards Jesus. That is why it’s so important for you to ask questions and listen to them.

Learn where they are in their journey to faith and ask God, “What would the next step be for this person, and how can I help them take that step?” Then take action!

Understanding the journey helps you pray specifically for their next step and rely on the Holy Spirit to work in your relationship. When he does you see answers to prayer long before the person puts their trust in Christ for salvation.

Understanding the journey helps you know the part you play and what still needs to happen in your relationship to help your friend move one step closer to Christ.

Understanding the journey helps you relax in conversation. You stop assuming your friend understands Christian terminology. You begin to have a conversation at the level they engage with. You don’t feel pressured to get them across the line in one conversation, so your conversations around Christ are much more natural.

Understanding the journey helps you take action and become more intentional in helping that person take the next step rather than feeling disabled by the thought of having to take a person from zero to faith in one quantum leap.  

 

Last thoughts

Remember, your aim is always to help people arrive at the place where they trust Christ for their salvation, but today God wants you to experience the freedom of simply helping people take the next step on that journey to faith in Christ.

Who can you take on a relational journey towards Jesus today? What step can you help them take?

Witnessing Lifestyle Priority #3: Helping people take the next step on their journey towards Christ

Why do you do the things you do?

YOUR LIFE FOLLOWS YOUR VALUES 

Imagine you are cooking dinner tonight. What will you cook? You will choose something you like, right? You wouldn’t choose foods that you don’t like. Your choice of dinner would follow the “value” that you place on different foods.

In the same way, every choice you make in your life expresses your values. The Bible talks about this a lot. In Matthew 15:19 Jesus says, “For out of the heart come evil thoughts…”  Solomon wrote in Proverbs 4:23 “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.”

That means that you can’t change your life in any meaningful way without changing the values that drive it. Do you want to start living as a witness for Jesus in your everyday relationships? Then ask what values would drive that kind of lifestyle!

If we try to live for God or change a bad habit, that choice won’t turn into reality unless the values we have are right. We may stop the habit for a little while, or start something good for a couple of weeks, but after a little while, our life again begins to follow our values.

Most of us have seen this reality in our lives. You have probably made a New Year’s Resolution that you kept for the first month or two and then you reverted to your old ways. Why? Because you were trying to change an action but all the while your were not changing. 

 

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Here’s another example. Daily time with God is so important; we know that we should be taking this time. But so many of us struggle to actually do it. Why? Well, what are our values?  Do we really value getting closer to God? Or do we place a higher value on a little more sleep, or that TV episode we have been dying to watch since the cliffhanger last week?

There is that saying “You are what you eat.” That’s true of your body but think about this principle on the spiritual level. You are what you think, aren’t you? That’s because what you think about ends up setting your values. What values are reflected in your thoughts and how are those values driving your life?

You want to learn to talk about Jesus with people you run into as you go about your life. If that is to become the way you live, then you need to change the way you think. It’s your turn to cook dinner, right? What’s in your mind as you go to the grocery store?

 

A SHIFT IN MENTALITY 

Of course, you are thinking, “What do I need to pick up for dinner?” But what if you were also thinking, “I wonder who God will bring across my path at the grocery store? How can I speak into their lives? What will God do with me there?” Can you see the shift?  All of a sudden your trip to the grocery store is not about you—it’s about the people around you! It’s about how God can use you in their lives to help them journey towards him.

That changes everything. 

If that is what you want for your life, it’s time to work on the values that will drive that way of living. Remember, your life will not change unless your values change!

 

Last thoughts 

This blog starts a series of twelve blogs, focusing in on the lifestyle priorities that will grow you into a witness for Jesus. Your life is just the expression of your values, so if these values become yours, you will not have to force yourself to live as a witness. Rather, being a witness is what will just flow from your values.

Keep this principle in mind and look for our next blog post!

 

Do worldly people want to talk about God?

One the big fears that keeps us from starting ‘God-conversations’ with people is the belief that secular people aren’t interested in God at all. But nothing could be further from the truth.

 

Non-Christians are curious about Christianity

 

One of the most surprising discoveries I have made as I have learned to live as a witness for Jesus is that people want to talk about God, that non-Christians are curious about Christianity, and that secular people have lots of spiritual thoughts.

It’s true that nobody wants the gospel shoved down their throat. The solution? Don’t do that. Never force someone into a gospel conversation. A person should never feel that the gospel is bad tasting food they are forced to eat. Rather, it should be the delicious dessert they have been waiting for!

 

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Don’t start with the gospel. Start with a question that will lead into a God-conversation. People love to interact with questions because they love to tell you what they think. And you can be sure of this: everyone has an opinion about God and spiritual truth. As they share their often misguided opinions about what Christians believe or about God, don’t shift into argument mode and try to win an argument about who is right. Remember, your goal is to open this person’s heart to God and that rarely happens through an argument (even if you win).

When you have a good God-conversation going, simply ask, “Has anyone ever clearly explained to you the Christian message about how we can have a good relationship with God?” or something similar. This leads the conversation straight to the beautiful gospel, the delicious dessert they have been waiting for all their lives.

 

Last thoughts

As I think back over the countless conversations I have had with totally secular people, almost never have I encountered someone who didn’t want to talk about spiritual things. If you are pushy, it’s true that they will resent it. But if you approach the topic with a question, people will be eager to take the conversation further. Ask a question of someone today and trust God to take it further!