GO! How to engage the Gospel message into our culture

Week 2 – Acts 17 [Pastor Matt Anstey]

I’m really excited to get into this second week of our GO! Series, even though we’re in very different circumstances, I think there’s no greater time to do a series on sharing our faith than right now, because some people will be scared and considering life and death, others will be concerned about the fabric of our society, then there are those concerned about the financial implications that these lock downs will bring. Each of these will be a positive opportunity for us to engage our community with the Gospel of Jesus. While so many people are looking at the problems, surely we as Christians, who know our eternity, who have Jesus with us now, who understand the brokenness of this world and the obvious issues that we’ll face as a society… surely we’re in an amazing position to do good, to show love and to take opportunities to share our faith.

Think about it, it’s like we have the antidote to the Coronavirus! So wouldn’t it be the right, the ethical, the loving thing to do, to share that antidote with the world?! Of course it would be! We have the antidote to being separated from God and his name is Jesus! We know the path way, we know the solution to the world’s problems, it should be a no
brainer! But… unfortunately, it’s not quite that simple. Why not? Because we live in a culture where everyone already has a set, preconceived idea about faith and especially
Christianity. No one is sitting around as a total blank canvas, without a world view, without a faith system, just itching to hear about Jesus! Instead, especially as people grow older, we form our beliefs through our community and the culture we live in. We form it through things we read and experiences that we have, we test out how well our system works every day in life and we gather around us other people who think like we think. The last thing people want, is for their worlds to be turned upside down by these crazy Jesus people! It takes a tragedy to shock us to even think about the end of life, let alone changing our lives to have a different faith. As Christians then, we might love God and love people, but being able to go and share the truth about Jesus is hard, especially when the people we talk to are happy with how their life is at the moment.

So what’s the answer? How do we share our faith with people who are hostile at worst and ambivalent at best to hearing about Jesus?

Well, last week we talked about the importance of bringing people into our circles. Doing life with people so that we can earn the right to go deeper in conversations than just talking about the football and the weather… oh, and Coronavirus, because that’s all people are talking about these days! I know, this is going to be a little more challenging when we’re all self-distancing, but we still have neighbours around us, families that we’ll be in contact with and a million people online that we’re somehow mildly connected with. So the process is to: pray for someone, that their hearts would be open to hearing, that your heart might be loving enough to share and that you’ll have the words to say in the moment of sharing. So prayer is our foundation. The second thing is to listen to who they are and what they believe and then finally, we share with people what we believe. I want to dig a little bit deeper into the listening and sharing today, then look at how the Apostle Paul handled this 2000 years ago as a great example of how to share.

New York pastor and theologian Tim Keller has this theory that there are what he calls ‘Defeater Beliefs’ that people have in our culture, that give them a reason why not to listen to a Christian about their faith. He says that there are six main defeater beliefs that people in the Western world hold onto, which are:

  1. Problem of Evil and Suffering in the world
  2. Problem of Other religions – there can’t only be one true religion, all paths to God
  3. The Sacredness of Choice – you can’t tell me what is right and wrong
  4. The Record of Christian wrongs
  5. The Angry God – why can’t God just forgive, why did Jesus need to die
  6. The Unreliable Bible – Old Testament rules and restrictions seem contradictory

Keller says that to engage someone in a conversation about faith, means that we have to be able to have a good answer for these defeater beliefs, because it’s likely that they will come up in your conversation somehow. We also need to be mindful that it’s taken people a long time, like, their whole lives to build their faith structures and core beliefs, so it might take more than one conversation to completely change them, however through love and consistency and like we talked about last week, truly listening to the person, there will be opportunities to little by little, help them to understand the Gospel. So don’t see sharing your faith as a once off moment, but a continual journey of maybe hundreds of conversations that you’ll just keep having through your life! One of the best of these, will actually be your life! There is a limit to how much people will want to challenge their own beliefs, but seeing your family interacting and loving each other and supporting your wife and honouring your husband. Our actions speak far louder than our words, but people need to be invited into our lives to actually see that.

We have families over for lunch or dinner and our normal practice is to hold hands and pray and say grace before we eat our meals. Ok, this is a dated example, because no one holds hands now, it’s illegal or something! But this illustration is 1 week old, so forgive me 😀. Now when we go to their place, we don’t expect them to do that for us, it’s what we do at our home. So we just grab our guests hands and start praying and so they hold our hands too, close their eyes and listen in. No one has objected to that, even though they’re not Christians! Why? Because people don’t mind being invited into our practices. Sure, if I asked them to pray, they might mind or if we all started singing or repeating a prayer and they didn’t know it, that would be super weird! But being involved in saying grace, coming to your baptism or maybe a church event, that’s not a no, no. We had friends who came to Haven’s Hope last week and why did they come? Who knows, but maybe it was because we went to their son’s soccer grand final last year? We’re friends, that’s what we do! So you might need to go to a footy match or watch a ballet recital or go to the AFL. I know, it might be painful having to watch a full game of AFL! Thankfully we won’t get a chance to do that for a little while! But you get what I mean, your life will speak volumes about practically living as a Christian.

But it’s not all about people watching our lives, we have to use words to share our faith too and I want to get back to these defeater beliefs, because it’s important that we address them, but if we do get to an opportunity to share what we believe, we need to first listen and truly hear what they have to say, before jumping in to sharing what you believe.

One of these is ‘how can a good God allow evil and suffering?’ We talked a bit about this a few weeks back and it’s common for this to come up in a conversation, but before answering this as a question, we really need to dig deeper and resonate with why they’re asking this question? Why is this their issue? Is it because they’re a rational thinker and they think that God in all his goodness should just do away with evil? Or are they asking it, because one of their family members has been struck with something they thought was evil? Because the way we answer needs to be very different depending on what lies beneath this question. If it was a rational thinker, then I might talk about God being powerful enough to defeat sin and evil, but if He, as God has that power, yet chooses not to wield it to defeat sin, perhaps in his infinite wisdom, there is a reason for that he allows evil and suffering that we don’t know about, because we’re not God. And if He is a loving God who loves us, then we need to recognise that his reasons must ultimately be for our good.

However if I talked to the person who had been affected by evil and suffering and blamed God for their predicament, I would approach it in a totally different way, wanting to hear their pain and understand what they’re going through. Then introduce them to an all-powerful God, who isn’t distant and aloof from our pain, but actually came to earth and
suffered in our place. Yes there is human suffering and pain, which God knows of all too well, however he came to take our eternal suffering away. So he understands our pain,
because he’s lived it and he walks with us in our pain. See how the same problem needs to be dealt with differently? We need to resonate with their concerns, seek to understand them, then bring a loving answer of the gospel that might slowly, like a dripping tap, fill their bucket of faith and until ultimately, the evidence will be so overwhelming that they’ll have to change what they have previously believed.

With the other religions issue, surely all religions bring us to god. The problem is that most religions say that they are the only way to God or have fairly exclusive beliefs that clash. Different religions might have similar moral distinctives, but their gods have conflicting character traits and it’s a very western mindset that says that I know all the gods and they’re all the same, that’s quite exclusive in itself! So we can rationally dismiss this claim and of course explain that Jesus coming to earth as God surely wouldn’t have to give his life if there were other ways to get to heaven! He could have saved himself a lot of pain and suffering, which isn’t very all knowing of him! Again though, what about that person who believes this, because their parents are Muslim’s and they don’t want to be cut off from their parents, right, now we have a different way to answer, because the issue isn’t about Jesus, it’s about family.

I’m going to put a link in the notes below if you want to know more about these defeated beliefs, but the key is to listen for the question under the question. What are people really concerned about, what hurt and emotion is attached to their question and how can we answer that through the lens of the Gospel message of God’s incredible love and grace? The apostle Paul was quite amazing at sharing his faith and I just love Acts chapter 17, where he goes to Athens and speaks to a bunch of people who loved theorising about different faiths and religions, so Paul uses that to engage with them about Jesus:

22 Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: “People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. 23 For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship—and this is what I am going to proclaim to you.

These people had no idea about Jesus, they had just heard that there was a new religious person in town who had interesting ideas and they asked Paul to come and speak to them. So instead of Paul just jumping in and telling them they had to follow Jesus! That wouldn’t have worked, they weren’t ready yet, he had to engage them first, so he found something in their culture that they valued and spoke through that. He tells them how religious they are, he builds them up, wouldn’t you like to hear that? Wow, you have a faith, tell me about it, help me to understand, wow, that’s so interesting! Paul engages his audience with relating to their culture. He’s been walking around Athens, thinking, looking carefully at the objects of their worship. Actually, he even found one statue that was a bit of a cover all god statue, that they didn’t want to offend the gods, so they put up a statue to an unknown God! Paul uses that to springboard into his message:

24 “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. 25 And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else… 28 ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’

I jumped over a little bit here and actually this whole passage is likely just a segment of what Paul would have said, but there are a bunch of interesting points in what we have. For those who lived in this Greek culture that had been impacted by the Roman world, Paul spoke of things that they related to. They had many gods, so Paul could jump straight in talking about God, then quickly points out how ridiculous it is to think that these great and mighty gods would need us to serve them! Yet Paul only speaks of one God, not of many, kind of like the super God, the one God over all the other gods and this God created the world! Then he uses their own poets to make his point. He’s going to the popular music of his day. He’s using a well-known Meme or a line from a movie or a song lyric to make his point! Thoughtful, right? Why would he do this? Because he is seeking to connect his audience with the message of Jesus and that’s far easier to do than we often think.

Just think about the movies that we watch, there are so many movies about sacrifice, so that’s an easy Gospel jump. But then there are movies about wanting love and significance, well, we know that those things can ultimately only be found in Jesus! Or the science fiction movies that speak of other worlds, well, what will heaven be? It will be other worldly, it’s a different place, a reality of perfection that so many movies can only dream of. Yet in these places of perfection, there comes a destroyer, an evil, a presence that wants to disrupt. How can we use that metaphor to explain the evil in our world and the God who wants to make things right? Even the Coronavirus is giving us a story of brokenness, sickness and disease in our world that highlights to people that deep longing for a better world. Or we could ask why are families coming together? Because it’s your family that is most important in a crisis and why do we care so much about family, where most animals leave the nest or the cave or whatever and disconnect from their parents? Because we have something different inside of us. We were created for love and community and we need to hold onto
that in these times.

So listen and allow their story to resonate. Try and work through how your friend or family member came to the conclusions they have about their faith system. Once someone has opened up, they generally don’t mind talking about themselves and questions like ‘do you have a faith’ or ‘do you pray’ are great starting points in this. So listen, resonate with their story before you start bringing in your story and the story of the Gospel and remember that all through this, the Holy Spirit is at work. We are not alone, God’s spirit is working through you and through the person you’re talking with. Will it go amazingly well every time? No, it probably won’t! There will be distractions and they’ll go in directions that you just can’t think of how to answer their questions in the moment and I just want to encourage you to let them know that you’ll think about that and get back to them. Cause when you do, you’ll be better at knowing what to say and more thoughtful and they’ll appreciate that their question was valuable enough for you to spend time thinking through it!

The question is, do we love people enough to share with them the antidote to separation from God? Do we care enough and truly believe that without Jesus, they will be spending an eternity in a horrible place called hell!? Because if we do, we’ll be motivated to speak to them about what they believe and work hard to know what we believe. We’ll put the time into prayer and the work into listening before speaking and slowly, slowly, we’ll start to see their lives being filled by God’s love, until it becomes overwhelming and they shift their hearts to following Jesus. Isn’t that going to be an amazing time!

For Paul, he ends his talk by saying that God’s going to judge people for all they’ve done! Not really a message that our culture likes to hear! But then he says that proof of this
future judgement has come from Jesus being raised from the dead. After this, some laughed, others asked him to come back and share again. Isn’t that interesting. Then the
epilogue to this passage says that some people actually believed, among them was
Dionysius and a woman named Damaris. Why do these two get singled out? I have no
idea! But they were obviously stand outs for some reason to Paul and it’s cool that we get to hear of these two, who were impacted by the words of Paul who used the wisdom of their culture to impact them with the message of the Gospel and their lives were changed forever! Wouldn’t you love to be a part of that for your family? For your friends? For that neighbour from your street? Yeah, me too.

Lets pray

Hey, thanks so much for joining us, did you like this? If you’re on Facebook, then please comment below, we’re going to do this each week and look out too for a mid-week boost that we’re hoping to put together. Stay connected family, we need each other though this and I want to encourage you in the midst of all that is going on, God is in control, he loves you and he wants to see you grow, even in the midst of trials!

See you next week.

Sermon Notes PDF  Deconstructing Defeater Beliefs – Tim Keller PDF  

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