Lecture 08: Overcoming Barriers to Spirit-Assisted Evangelism - Part 2
Course: A Short Course on Evangelism
This is session eight. Last session I said that the next three would be talking about overcoming barriers to Spirit-assisted evangelism. We talked about we lack motivation and we don’t understand what is at stake. We don’t realize that for most of our neighbors, Jesus Christ is a curse word. They can’t name the four Gospels, for crying out loud.
The second barrier that I talk about in this short course on evangelism is, we fear rejection. I understand that. No one likes to be rejected. So we are hesitant to say anything because we tend to assume that people are not open and receptive to the Gospel. How have I described the Gospel? Not a bunch of dos and don’ts. It is repent and believe. It is accessing the power of the Holy Spirit that will enable us to overcome the world’s attempt to swallow us.
I once led a man to Jesus in prison. I had a prison ministry for 12 years. I will never forget this experience. He was a bad man. He had raped a young boy in prison in his cell the night before. I met him the next morning. I sat on the floor, I remember sitting there. He handed me a pillow through the bars and I put the pillow behind me and sat on a pillow and talked to him most of the afternoon. He says I led him to Jesus Christ. The next day, I’m going back to check on him and polish him up a bit. He meets me at the bars. Listen to this. If you are on sabbatical, come on back. My students, their brains take a sabbatical in about 90 seconds; so if you’re on sabbatical, come on back. This is really important. He met me at the bars, this man I had led to Jesus. He said, “Rev, I laid awake all last night thinking and suddenly it occurred to me, it takes an average of 25 different witnesses before any real encounter with God takes place; and just because you are #25, you think you did it all, and you stink.” I started to cry. Why? Because he had me. I thought I had done it all, when 24 just as important had gone before me.
What is the principle here? Folks, I’m sorry to say it, but inherent to ministry is 24 times more rejection than affirmation. Get over it! It’s inherent to ministry. Are you listening? The 24 “no’s” are just as important as the one “yes.” Each of us has a sphere of influence where only we can minister most effectively. The 24 “no’s”. I know we get rejection, but it is inherent to the beast. It is inherent to evangelism. It is inherent to ministry. It takes an average of 25 different witnesses before any real encounter with God takes place.
Think back on your own experience. Think about the people who were used preveniently in your own life. You might want to call one or two of them, just to thank them. If God brings them to mind, it probably means you need to make some kind of contact. Perhaps a Sunday School teacher, who knows? I had this experience just six weeks ago. I just shared this with Matt as a matter of fact. I woke up in the night asking God, “God, why do you bless me so much over the years?” I mean, for the whole of my life I have been treated with more respect than I deserve. “Why have you blessed me so much over the years?” And you know what I heard God say? I heard God say, “Bob, most of those blessings were simply in answer to your father’s prayers.” Now, my father, we didn’t necessarily agree theologically; but I used to catch my dad on his knees with my name on his lips. “Most of those blessings were simply answering the prayers of your father. “ Can you imagine what that has done to me? Over the last six weeks I have been praying for my children triple time, preveniently. Even though he was not an evangelical kind of Christian the way he eventually became, he prayed for me and many of the blessings of my life were a result of his prayers, the prevenient work of God, prevenient. One to 24. He did not lead me to Jesus. That was a woman asking me how long I had been a Christian, that kind of got the ball rolling. Then others like Bob Stamps and this young woman I was dating. Just realizing that God was saying to me, “Most of your blessings were simply answering the prayers of your father” reminded me how precious and important it is to be the one to 24.
I think perhaps I have a gift of being #25, but I want to be one to 24 and I want to appreciate even the rejections as much as I appreciate the acceptance. Do you understand that I’m saying? I’m sorry that inherent to Christian ministry is 24 times more rejection than affirmation. But each one of those “no’s” are just are important as the “yes.” Do you understand what I’m saying?
Let me close this brief session with a story. I mentioned that my first church was on the south side of Chicago when I was 21 or so. I had been there just a couple of weeks and I got a phone call in the middle of the night. “Rev, somebody here is going to shoot me.” I said, “No, they’re not. I’ll be right there.” I put my little Nash Rambler – some of you know what that is – on two wheels around the first corner, came to a screeching halt in front of the man’s house, two-story house. Every light in the house was on. I will never forget it. Bottom floor and top floor, every light was on. I go charging into the living room and there is a man standing there with a .45. The bore on that thing about that big around, and pointing it at the member of my church. I pointed my finger at him and said, “You’re not going to shoot my member” and he said, “Yes I am, and what’s more I’m going to start with you.” And he turned that gun on me and shoved it up under my nose and laid the hammer back, and I threw up all over him. He ran to the toilet to clean up and I called the police, which is what I should have done to begin with. Saved my life. God bless him. Again, just because you have the truth is no guarantee the world will listen.
You know what happened with that man? Prevenient grace at work. Eventually he came to Jesus. Just showing up. Sometimes you can be foolhardy. I suspect that some of us keep God up nights trying to keep us alive. I have had several experiences where I have had my life threatened on a number of occasions. It is amazing how gracious God is.
Let me share one more story before I conclude this session. My first church after I returned from Europe was in the rural South during the middle ‘60s, do you understand? I had wire rim glasses, hair over my ears and a Ph.D. My father was still the pastor of the lead church, thinking I’m the favorite son. When I had been there no more than a couple of weeks, the radio station announced that they would give 20 minutes free to anybody who wanted to get on the radio and speak their piece. I’ll take some of that. So I got my 20 minutes and in that 20 minutes I begged the people of Stanley County to integrate their churches. I said, the most segregated hour in the week is 11 o’clock on Sunday morning. When I walked out of the station, they were waitin’ on me. They didn’t have their hoods on, but I knew who they were. Half of them were members of my church. You know what they did? They drug me under an old oak tree and beat the livin’ daylights out of me. I still have lumps on the top of my head and scar tissue on the inside of my lip. Of course the tragedy is, the real tragedy is, I had about half of that coming. Would you like to know why? Because I went in with the answers before I knew what the questions were.
Let me give you the rest of that story. Some years later there was a man, a member of my church, that same church, who said if he ever caught me on his property, I was his meat. That means, he was just going to do whatever. His barn burned down. So, because he was a member of my church, I went through the community, taking up money to help pay for his barn. I got in my car, went up a long dirt road on a hot summer day to his house up on top of a hill. I stopped in the yard and went to the back door, which was their main door. There was a screen door there, the screen door was open. I knocked on the door and when he saw me, he backed up and kicked the door open with his foot and the door just swung open, almost took my head off. Before I could peep, he grabbed me by the tie. It was back in the days of the great big, wide ties, this is the early ‘60s, middle ‘60s, with a knot about that big around. I had my hand in my pocket around this wad of money. It was kind of like the monkey with his hand in the jar. I couldn’t get my hand out of my pocket and I couldn’t let go to the tie because I was going to die. I’m trying to get my hand out of my pocket, but it is around this wad of money and I can’t let go of the tie. Finally, I got loose from him and he said, “Why don’t you hit me back?” He was beating on me on top of my head, by the way, swinging me around by my tie, beating with his free arm on top of my head. Finally, I got loose from him. He said, “Why don’t you hit me back? Why don’t you hit me back?” I said, “Jesus won’t let me.” Then I turned around and walked to my car. He went up behind me and kicked me in the seat of the pants. I boxed for six years, Golden Gloves, college. I said, “Jesus, nobody ought to have to take that off of anybody. I’m going to give him a little, I won’t hurt him bad.” I heard Jesus say in my spirit, “Put your rear end in the car and go home. If you’re going to preach the Gospel, you’d better try to live it.” So I got in the car and went home, but I was consumed and he was consumed. You know what his wife said? He didn’t take his clothes off for three days, he didn’t go to bed to sleep for three days. I had him. You know why? Because I didn’t hit him back. He knew I wasn’t afraid of him. I turned on him just as he kicked me in the seat of the pants. I wanted him to see me. He knew I wasn’t afraid of him, he knew by the way I looked at him. I had him because I didn’t hit him back.
Three days later I’m walking out of the grocery store. There was just one store in the little town of six hundred people and six churches by the way, three white, three black. I walked out of the grocery store and he was sitting in his little white truck, back in the days before you could put your own gasoline in, so there was an attendant putting gasoline in his truck. He was sitting behind the wheel with the window rolled down. I had a bag of groceries. I walked over to him, put my hand through the window, put my finger on his nose and said, “Buford, you better pray to God I never wipe that on Jesus because if I do, I’m coming, you’re #1.” You know what Buford did? He went home and slept like a baby. I let him right off the hook. Why? Because I put my hands on him. If I could have kept my hands off him, I had him. You see, the Spirit of God was working preveniently, and I let him right off the hook. It taught me something. I have been worried about that ever since.
I want to be an instrument of God, effecting positive eternal change in hearts and lives. I know inherent to ministry there is 24 times more rejection than affirmation. Sometimes people will put a gun in front of your nose and sometimes people will hit you on the top of the head; but if you are faithful to God, keep your hands off people. If you’re faithful to God, you will be an instrument of grace.
Lord, we’re grateful for the way you work preveniently throughout our lives. We’re grateful for all of those who influence our lives, from conception. We have had people praying for us before we were born. I prayed for many a child before they were born. We’re grateful for all of those who had that marvelous, wonderful influence on our lives. We pause now, in the middle of a busy day, or at the end of a busy day, or at the beginning of a busy day, to thank you for all of those influences and to bless you and to praise you. In Jesus’ name. Amen.