A couple of weeks ago I caught a rather nasty virus. Of the highly infectious kind. When I began to feel things were not quite right inside I sought professional help and found out I had actually picked up four different viruses without even knowing it. But I discovered something more embarrassing still . I had probably infected most of the people I had ever encountered as well. It took me several days to fully recover. I also had to destroy over 3000 infected files on my computer. Thankfully I had backed them up.
But the damage had already been done. I still feel bad about the people I may have infected. My sincere apologies if you are one of them. The worst virus, having contaminated my computer, had automatically sent itself to everyone in my email address list. The virus was called 'joke' - some joke.
This Summer I also spent quite a bit of time travelling by plane to the United States and around Europe. Sitting there at 35,000 feet, breathing the same air as 300 other people from all over the world, made me realise how infectious we can be. Infectious in so many other ways for good or for evil. Not just when we send emails, but whenever we come into contact - in our conversations, our letters, phone calls, and in non-verbal ways as well - facial expressions, the eyes, eyebrows, body language. Two encounters stand out in particular. In America I met the most powerful man in the world, Bill Clinton, and was humbled to hear him confess his failure as a President and husband, his need to be in Church and his desire to rebuild his family after his humiliating fall. I then spent a week in the company of a handful of Serb, Croat and Bosnian Christians learning to work together, rebuilding their countries and overcoming the evil that has infected the Balkans. Through these encounters the Lord has given me a new appreciation of his love for me and others. Jesus said, "Love one another as I have loved you."
So I made a decision this Summer. I want to be a better Christian. I want to be a more Christ like servant, a more diligent pastor and a more faithful leader. Above all I want to become a more contagious Christian. I want my love and your love for Jesus to become contagious, so contagious that we start a spiritual epidemic here in Virginia Water that sends ripples round the world. I am really excited about the contagious Christian course. Some of you will be delighted - you have been waiting for this course for years and you are eager to learn more about how to be contagious as a Christian. Others of you will be neutral not sure what to expect. You are open to God and have a teachable spirit. There will be some of you though who may have a sense of dread. The words 'personal evangelism' strikes terror in your heart.
You may have experienced the kind of teaching that suggested your spiritual state was determined by how often and how effectively you shared your faith. You may have feelings of fear, pressure, failure and guilt. If so, I identify with you. I have been there and I got the badge.
I want to say at the beginning that I have no desire to increase your burden or pressure level when it comes to sharing your faith. I am really excited about this series because we are going to learn together a different way of sharing our faith. You can grow and learn how to be an effective evangelist no matter what your background, personality or temperament. It doesn't matter if you are extroverted or introverted. God uses us just the way we are. So, we are going to be learning how to communicate our faith in Jesus Christ, more effectively but naturally. We are going to discover there are different approaches to evangelism in the New Testament and that there is at least one that suits you. At least one that God has gifted you for. Our aim is that by Christmas every member of Christ Church will:
1. Be sure that they themselves are a Christian.
2. Know how to share their faith naturally using one of
several simple tools.
3. Have discovered which personal evangelism style they identify with most.
4. Be able to tell their own story of how they came to know God in Jesus.
5. Become infectious among their friends and family for Jesus.
But first lets ask the obvious question. Why become a Contagious
Christian? Today we want to explore the motivation
for being a contagious Christian. Before we look in
the Bible for an answer lets ask the Lord for his help.
Dear Father, we want to begin by telling you we are thankful to be on the receiving end of your love and grace. What an amazing thing it is that you have not only forgiven our sins, but you have given us the incredible privilege of being tools in your hands to reach others. Please help us to become more confident and effective in communicating our faith. May the result be an eternal impact on the lives of many friends and family members who will come to know you. Help us become contagious Christians, infectiously influencing those around us. In Christ we pray. Amen.
Lets look at our two Bible readings briefly to see what they have to teach us about our motivation. We will start with Mark 4 and the Parable of the Sower. I want us to discover how to become contagious Christians through a simple mathematical formula. HP + CP + CC = MI Lets start with the answer and work back to the beginning of the equation.
MI = Maximum Impact (Matthew 5:13-14)
Jesus intended his disciples to have the maximum impact possible. He told them to go into the whole world and make disciples, teaching them to obey everything He had commanded them. Jesus uses these dramatic analogies to describe the maximum impact he intended the church to have. As salt & light. Where else are people going to find light? truth? meaning? hope? direction? fulfilment? Science can try and satisfy our minds answering the question how? Materialism can try and satisfy our bodies answering the question - what? Only Jesus can satisfy our souls and ultimately answer the deeper longing and question why? Why am I here? Why do I crave meaning and significance, immortality and a purpose that will outlast me? Because we are created in the image of the eternal God and we are trapped in a mortal body in space and time. God wants his Church to have the maximum impact.
Nothing less than raising the spiritually dead. Turning
enemies into family, rebels into servants, pagans into missionaries.
That is why our mission statement is 'To assist irreligious
people become fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ.' That is why our mission
field is the world, not just Virginia Water. Maximum Impact. If that's the answer,
the goal, lets look at the front half of the formula. What might HP plus CP
plus CC mean in relation to our being contagious Christians?
HP = High Potency (Matthew 5:13)
To have maximum impact salt must be pure. Much of the salt of the time of Jesus was impure - mixed with grit. Have you ever been on holiday, on the beach, feeling hungry, you sunk your teeth into a sandwich, only to hear the sound of tiny grains of sand between your teeth. It only takes a few grains of sand to ruin your lunch. It only takes a few grains of impurity to ruin a witness. That is why we are committed to excellence in all we do as a church. On the back of our Mission Statement and Five Year Plan you will see our ten distinctive values. Notice the words 'excellence' 'purity' 'authenticity' 'full devotion' This is what we aspire to be as individuals and as a church.
This is the way to achieving high potency. There is no agency
on earth to match these values but a group of fully devoted followers of Jesus
Christ. Why? Because the Church is the only hope
for the world. MI = HP +
CP = Close Proximity (Matthew 5:14-15)
Its no good being the purest of pure salt - in the salt shaker. Or the brightest of light - under a bucket. To have an impact on people, to become contagious we have got to get close to people, real close. Jesus says - in the same house (5:15). Most first century homes were one room, shared with the animals at night. People lived in close proximity. Feedback shows that 4 out of every 5 people become Christians as a result of a relative or friend. Why? Why are you here today? Because someone got into close proximity with you and was contagious. MI = HP + CP +
CC = Clear Communication (Matthew 5:16)
Its not enough to be of high potency and close proximity. Unless we tell people what God is done in our lives through Jesus Christ, people may feel they could never be as good as we are. Our goal must be clear communication so they glorify God for the light we have brought into their lives. Jesus is saying, "I have a deep passion for people outside my Father's family. Lost people matter to me, and I am deeply concerned about how you relate to them. " Why? Because the most compelling argument for salvation He can present to the outsider is a close-up view of a transformed life of one of his family. That's you and me. Nothing packs the punch of a genuinely transformed life. Jesus is saying to us, "See yourself as salt and light to the people who at the moment are outside the family." Now lets look at 2 Corinthians 5:11-23 to discover more about the motivation for being a CC.
1. Contemplate the Love of Christ for you (2 Corinthians 5:14)
Does Christ's love compel you? Are you convinced that he died for you? For all? Are there some people you feel are beyond redemption? That you cannot forgive? Then contemplate the love of Christ. He died for you. Think about it. Even if you were the only sinner in the world Jesus would have come to die for you. Does that love compel you? We have a stockpile of God's blessings that have been poured into our lives. When we live in the awareness of all God has given us, it spills over to others. Never forget the magnitude of the transformation God has begun in you to take you from a stranger and an enemy into his family as an adopted child. Live with profound thankfulness for the stockpile of God's blessings.
When we do it takes very little effort or motivation to
reach out to lost people and say, "You need to come and see how wonderful
my God is." This kind of evangelism is exceedingly effective. When a true
believer looks an unbeliever in the eye and says,
"Taste and see that the Lord is good". When a follower of Christ says
to a seeker, "As for me and my house, because of how wonderful God is,
we are going to serve the Lord," - these words have a way of striking a
responsive chord in the lives of unbelievers. So contemplate the Love of Christ
for you and let your love for Jesus overflow and become a contagious love for
2. Commit Yourself to Live for Christ (2 Corinthians 5:15)
The word 'compel' in verse 14 means to 'constrain' us, to 'hem us in' and 'push us out', Jesus leave us no choice. Story of QE 1. That is grace. If Jesus died for us we no longer live for ourselves making our own choices living independently of him. How does the love of Christ compel us? The plain truth is that Jesus Christ is the only way to God. Hell is a reality and real people go there for eternity. It is, as C.S. Lewis has said, "God's very best for those that reject his Son." There are people who will indeed face a Christless eternity if they don't find forgiveness in Jesus Christ. The love of Christ compels us to make him known. If people see that we live for Christ, they will see Christ in us. So contemplate the love of Christ and commit yourself to live for Christ. And then you will indeed be,
3. Become an Ambassador of Reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:16-20)
When you look at other people what do you see? Someone who is a pain to live with? Or someone for whom Christ died? Someone who is just a prayer away from an eternity as your brother or sister? Contemplate the love of Christ for you and it will change the way you view other people. Realise that if lost people matter to God so much that he sent Jesus to die for them, then perhaps they should matter to us also. What is our highest calling? Our greatest honour and privilege? Our highest calling as Christians is to serve as his messengers, his ambassadors. Joanna and I needed an Ambassador a couple of weeks ago...... There is no greater thrill of having a person look you in the eye and say to you, "You know, I was on the road headed for hell, and God used you to bring me to Himself." To hear someone say, "I needed an ambassador. I needed a credible witness, I needed someone whose life matched his message, and you were that person for me. Thank you for reaching out to me. Thanks for answering my questions. Thanks for putting up with my rebellion. Thanks for loving me when I wasn't particularly loveable. Jesus saved me but you led me to the cross where I found grace." Once you hear those words and gaze into those tear-filled eyes, you will never be the same. The passion to reach out grows when you experience the joy of seeing a seeker become a fully devoted follower of Christ. The Church is the hope of the world. You are plan 'A' in God's strategy to save the world. God has no plan 'B'. He uses individuals like you and me as his spokespeople. He has placed the message of salvation in our hands and you have the high honour of delivering that Good News to the world. So contemplate the love of Christ and commit yourself to live for Christ. Become an Ambassador of Reconciliation. Then you will become highly infectious, you will become incredibly contagious. As we close lets earth this. Think of the people that mean the most to you. Reflect upon them. Make an Impact List of people with whom you are in close proximity who are seekers and pray for them.
Tragically the more we know of Christ the fewer non-Christians
we know as friends to share with. Lets reverse that. It is vital to build relationships
and friendships with no strings attached, to be willing to love them no matter
how they respond to Jesus. The fact that they matter to God should be enough.
Let me close by asking some questions written by Richard Baxter back in 1656
which Jesus may well ask us when we meet him soon.
"Oh then, let us hear these arguments of Christ, whenever we feel ourselves grow dull and careless; "Did I die for them, and will you not look after them? Where they worth my blood and are they not worth your labour? Did I come down to earth to seek and save the lost, and will you not go to the next door or street or village to seek them? I debased myself to this, but it is your labour to be so employed. Have I done so much for their salvation; and was I willing to make you a co-worker with me, and will you refuse that little which lies upon your hands?"
Yes Lord I will follow you, help me to feel as you feel, to see as you see and the love as you love, help me to become contagious in my love for you that others may come to know and love you also through me. In Jesus name.
Material used in this sermon has been taken with grateful thanks from Becoming a Contagious Christian by Bill Hybels and Mark Mittelberg, and the Evangelism, Interactions Small Group Studies by Bill Hybels, both published by Zondervan and the Willow Creek Association.