Sunday, May 17, 2015

"The Evangelist"

            Years ago when I was not in full-time ministry, I tried my hand at door-to-door sales to make ends meet.  I didn’t do well, partly because I was honest (a rare thing among door-to-door salesmen), and partly because I didn’t believe in my products.  Among other things, I tried to sell cemetery spaces and frozen meat off the back of a pickup truck.  I remember my manager telling me one problem that I was having.  “You’re trying to sell meat.  Don’t sell the meat—sell the sizzle.”  Instead of talking about boring cuts of meat, Jeff meant that I needed to make them hungry by painting a word picture of sizzling meat on the grill on a lazy Sunday afternoon.  I needed them to think more of the juiciness of the steak than the number of ounces in the package.  More people will buy when you sell the sizzle instead of the meat.
            Unfortunately, too often when people try to share their faith it’s like I tried to sell cuts of meat.  They tell people all about the fine points of their theology, rather than making them hungry for Jesus.  In Acts 8, we read about Deacon Philip, who knew how to make people hungry for the Savior.  As persecution in Jerusalem scattered the young church, Philip went to Samaria and began proclaiming the message of salvation. 

The crowds with one accord were giving attention to what was said by Philip, as they heard and saw the signs which he was performing. For in the case of many who had unclean spirits, they were coming out of them shouting with a loud voice; and many who had been paralyzed and lame were healed. So there was much rejoicing in that city (Acts 8:6-8).[i]
The citizens of Samaria were already hungry for salvation, even though they didn’t yet know the source of their help.  The Samaritan religion was sort of a mixture of Judaism and ancient Canaanite paganism.  As such, the people were vulnerable to the deception of traveling magicians and charlatans.  One such man, called Simon the Sorcerer, seemed to employ real occultic power rather than simple sleight of hand.  He held all the people of the city under his spell.  But the power of Philip’s testimony was greater than the sorcerer’s showmanship, and the crowd abandoned their idols and turned to Jesus instead.  “Even Simon himself believed; and after being baptized, he continued on with Philip, and as he observed signs and great miracles taking place, he was constantly amazed (Acts 8:13).”
Philip’s audience received the Lord because they were hungry for spiritual things, and He knew how to direct their hunger toward Jesus.  He knew how to feed them on the Bread of Life.  He didn’t need to be a theologian in order to tell them about Jesus—He simply needed to show them the power of God in his life, and to help them see God’s power in theirs.  Philip didn’t need to be an apostle or some spiritual master.  He simply needed to make himself a servant (which is what the word “deacon” means).  He didn’t need to be a great evangelist like Peter—he simply needed to be faithful.
Christian speaker Leighton Ford writes:

I was speaking at an open-air crusade in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Billy Graham was to speak the next night and had arrived a day early. He came incognito and sat on the grass at the rear of the crowd. Because he was wearing a hat and dark glasses, no one recognized him.
Directly in front of him sat an elderly gentleman who seemed to be listening intently to my presentation. When I invited people to come forward as an open sign of commitment, Billy decided to do a little personal evangelism. He tapped the man on the shoulder and asked, "Would you like to accept Christ? I'll be glad to walk down with you if you want to." The old man looked him up and down, thought it over for a moment, and then said, "Naw, I think I'll just wait till the big gun comes tomorrow night." Billy and I have had several good chuckles over that incident. Unfortunately, it underlines how, in the minds of many people, evangelism is the task of the "Big Guns," not the "little shots."[ii] 

            Unfortunately, in the minds of too many people who would like to share their faith but yet are afraid, evangelism seems to be the task of the “Big Guns”.  Because they’re not Billy Grahams or Peters, they keep silent, thinking that their audience can’t possibly learn anything from them.  Peter’s preaching led thousands to Christ.  According to his staff, more than 3.2 million people have responded to Billy Graham’s invitations.[iii]  But you don’t have to be a Peter or a Billy Graham in order to make a difference for Jesus.  All you need is to be like Philip—to make yourself a servant and a vessel for the Holy Spirit to use. 
Because of people like Philip, the Gospel message spread beyond the original apostles, and beyond the limits of Jerusalem.  Because of people like Philip, the Gospel spread like wildfire.  Bruce L. Shelley writes, “It is easy to determine when something is aflame. It ignites other material. Any fire that does not spread will eventually go out. A church without evangelism is a contradiction in terms, just as a fire that does not burn is a contradiction.”[iv]  Does the Gospel burn within you?  If it’s alive, then it does.  I pray that it will spread.  I pray that you’ll be like Philip, that you’ll make yourself a servant, and that through you the Holy Spirit will not only do wonders, but lead many people to the grace of God.

[i] All scriptures taken from the NASB.
[ii] Lieghton Ford, Good News is for Sharing, 1977, David C. Cook Publishing Co., p. 67.  May 14, 2015.
[iii] Patten, David.  “Rev. Billy Graham Prepared ‘Perhaps…My Last Message.” Newsmax.  Saturday, 05 Oct 2013. 
[iv] Shelley, Bruce L.  Christian Theology in Plain Language.  Thomas Nelson, Inc.  1985.  Pg. 162.

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