Tuesday, April 03, 2012

“Defining Evangelism and Witnessing”

First Quarter 2012 Adult Sabbath School Lessons
“Defining Evangelism and Witnessing”
For the week of  April 1-7, 2012
Many years ago during summer breaks from college, I worked at camp. My first summer  I taught canoeing. It went like this. During staff training week someone showed me the basic strokes and the next day I was out in the water teaching campers how to do the "J" stroke. Several years I taught swimming. We seated the kids on the dock and had them practice their strokes in the air, then we put them in the water. I also taught horseback riding, and as with everything else, we only did so much on the ground before it was time to get the campers into the saddle so they could feel how the horse moved underneath them and how it responded to signals from the rider. 
What I experienced working at camp is true for evangelism and witnessing, the theme for this quarter's Sabbath School lessons. Books and books have been written on the subject, but theory can only take you so far. In order to be an evangelist or a witness for Christ, you have to learn by actually doing.
So this weeks' Insights article will be a departure from the norm for me. You won't get much theory this week, for what I have to share is practical, hands-on stuff. It's not sitting at the edge of the pool or looking at a saddle. It's getting in the water and trying to swim. It's canoeing through rapids and feeling their effect on the boat. It's putting our feet in the stirrups, clicking our tongues and telling the horse to "Go!" Sometimes . . . we sink, sometimes our canoe capsizes, and sometimes we fall off the horse, but that's how we learn.
And that's how learning to be a witness for Christ has been for me, lots of falls and mistakes along the way, but I've seen a glimpse of the cross that drives me to try again . . . and again . . . to learn how to effectively reach souls for Christ. 
Paul put it this way: "For the love of Christ compels us, because we judge thus: that if One died for all, then all died; and He died for all, that those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again. Therefore, from now on, we regard no one according to the flesh. . . . Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ's behalf, be reconciled to God. For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him" 2 Cor. 5:14 - 21, excerpts.
In what way has the love of Christ compelled me? Well, it has compelled me to cook and to feed people. Of course, there are many other more noble ways the love of Christ motivates His followers to serve the Lord, but let me just tell you a bit about my journey with food and witnessing for Him.
For starters, before I was married, I told my soon-to-be mother-in-law, who happened to be a consummate cook and homemaker, that I didn't like to cook nor did I care to learn. It wasn't a great conversation starter, but I share this incident to help you understand that what I do now did not come naturally, but rather I was "compelled" into it by the love of Christ. It started with a desire to provide healthful meals for my growing family. It grew into a concern for the health of my community.
I learned from other good cooks and bought the best cookbooks I could find. Eventually I started coordinating and teaching cooking classes at church and in my home. Even though cooking wasn't my favorite hobby, it became one of my top priorities because I recognized that it was one of the best ways to reach others with Christ's love.  Many people can be reached for Christ through the desire to improve their health when they would be completely closed to any other avenue of approach.
We live in a predominantly New Age community with assorted variants of Eastern religions. This week we're hosting an Asian-themed Complete Vegetarian Supper with a short health lecture on the benefits of the traditional Asian diet. The lecture will be presented by one of our local SDA physicians. We announced this event via e-mail, and as of this writing, some 63 persons (with the majority being not of our faith) have reserved seats for this event. The twist on this story is that the lady who is helping me prepare the food is a Buddhist from Vietnam. I met her when she came to our church to shop at the Adventist Bookmobile while it was in town. She believes God has blessed her and she loves to share what He has given to her. I told her I believed the same, and together we will be preparing for the cooking class at the Adventist church. 
I have learned something else through the various community health efforts we have hosted at our church: focusing on the needs of others brings peace to the church. I cannot do the health outreach in my church alone. The work is too great. Therefore, team-building with all the members who are willing is essential. Together, we pray, plan, cook, and invite. My pastor is discovering the gift of cooking, too. With great pleasure and enthusiasm, he prepares dishes for our events and offers his services in set-up and clean-up. Other church members help in preparation, literature distribution, and registration at these events. Working together for others draws our church family together.
While baptisms are certainly exciting, they are not a primary goal of our outreach -- at least not initially. We explain to the people who come to our programs that we believe God intended His blessing of healthful living to be for everyone -- believer and unbeliever alike. One need not be a believer to experience benefits of a healthy lifestyle. Despite our "disinterested" approach to evangelism in these health outreach events, people often inquire, "When do you have services at your church? Can I come?" And many do.
We don't have it all figured out -- we're still learning how to communicate the connection between health and God's life-giving Word. 
Aside from cooking events at church, cooking means having a meal to invite people home to after church. On Sabbaths when there is no potluck, I prepare food at home, then at church on Sabbath I look for people who are visitors and invite them to join us. So far I'm quite sure we have not entertained angels (much as I would wish we could), but we have been greatly blessed in opening our home to people from all backgrounds and sharing a meal together with them.
Isaiah 58 is the blueprint for all who wish to follow Christ's method of evangelism. We're called to share our bread with the hungry and open our homes to the poor who are cast out. We're to clothe the poor, proclaim liberty to those who are bound in the clutches of sin, and live the gospel of Christ's love within our own family circle. He who was rich became poor for our sake. If we could live for a million years and pack every day full of good works, we could never come close to approaching the magnitude of the gift that all heaven poured out for us in Christ.
There is a cure for our self-absorption, depression, and many other illnesses including spiritual lethargy.  That cure is working to bless others--even our enemies--because the love of Christ compels us! Evangelism is work. Witnessing is work. Praise God for work! All of heaven is working around the clock for the salvation of our lost race. Let us be about our Father's business, for the love of Christ compels us! 
--Patti Guthrie