The apostle Paul said in Colossians 4:5, “Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity.”
Everyday we have opportunities to connect with outsiders. Everyday we have opportunities to engage in significant conversations with people. Everyday we have opportunities to get to know people, interact with people, enjoy people and love people.
This Sunday we will talk about how to recognize these opportunities, which could lead to significant spiritual progress in a person’s life.
Full Sermon Script:
This is week two of our series “One by One.”
Last week we talked about becoming difference makers in your little world.
Before Jesus left this earth, he said to his followers:
You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. Acts 1:8
He was saying, “I want you to take My power, My love, My message of hope — the forgiveness of sins, and the way of the Cross — into your little part of the world.
“I want you to be My witnesses. You don’t have to be My salesmen. You don’t have to put a lot of pressure on people. Witnesses just tell what they’ve seen, and I just want you to tell people about Me and about what I’ve done in your life.”
Jesus said, “I want you to be My witnesses in Jerusalem.”
The disciples were in Jerusalem when Jesus said this. For them, and for us, this means in your own little world — your home, your neighborhood, your school, your workplace — right where you live.
We looked at what Jesus said about his followers — you and me — that we are the salt of the earth. And how we need to get out of the packet and allow God to use us. We need to pray that little prayer, “God, use me.”
So step one is — go out into your little world and…
1. Develop significant relationships with unchurched people.
Putting yourself in a position to be used by God.
If Jesus is going to change this world, it will be one life at a time, and it will be through you.
If you don’t partner with Jesus in this, He’s not going to assign angels to do it or write it in the sky. You are plan A, and there is no plan B.
So I hope you’ve been praying the “God, use me” prayer this week.
And I hope you’ve been remembering what Jesus said about you — that you are the salt of the earth. You are God’s plan to bring out the God flavors in this world.
And I hope as you used salt this week, you also prayed the prayer, “God, I’m pouring out my life to be used by you.”
If you pray that prayer, watch out, because God will do it. He’s looking for people who are willing to be used by Him.
Today, I’ve titled this message, “One conversation can change everything.”
Last week we said, “One relationship can change everything.” As you get out into the world and develop significant relationships with unchurched people — one relationship can change everything.
This week — one conversation can change everything.
I would say 98% of all spiritual conversations with unchurched people will happen in one of three places —
where you work — or go to school if you’re a student
where you play — do recreation, work out at a gym, those kinds of things
and where you live
This is kind of like the golden triangle of opportunity.
That’s why the apostle Paul said in Colossians 4:5
Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Colossians 4:5
What he’s saying is:
Everyday we have opportunities to connect with outsiders.
Everyday we have opportunities to engage in significant conversations with people.
Everyday we have opportunities to get to know people, interact with people, enjoy people and love people.
But within these opportunities that come everyday in our lives, there are some special opportunities that tend to just pop up in our lives from time to time.
And these are the times when we’ve got to be ready.
I came across a great story. It’s an example of making the most of every opportunity.
This is a story about a pastor named Jeffery Kotter. He was on a plane one time after a job interview with a church.
This is what Kotter writes:
After a final interview with a large, suburban church, I barely had time to change my suit for a comfortable pair of old jeans before boarding the plane home.
When I settled into the last unoccupied seat on the plane I caught a glimpse of the person beside me. His appearance proclaimed him as a business man, conservative blue suit, tan attaché case, Wall Street Journal.
Of course I was there in faded jeans, tattered t-shirt, and tennis shoes. I wished I’d waited until later to change.
So I quietly made a resolution: Look straight ahead. Hide in a book. Above all, don’t get involved in a conversation about jobs. Obviously he had a good one and I had none yet. He had an income and I didn’t. Stay out of conversation.
But all that changed because he had already turned and greeted me.
I said I was fine, of course.
Realizing I had to beat him to the punch I asked him what he did and he was only too eager to respond.
“I’m in the body sculpting business” he said. “We can change a person’s self-concept by changing their body. It’s a very profound, powerful thing.” His pride spoke between the lines.
“We’re the fastest growing company of our kind in the nation. It’s really good to be a part of an organization like that, don’t you think?”
I nodded approvingly as this man talked and I thought, “Impressive. He’s proud of his work and accomplishments. Why can’t Christians be proud like that? Why are we so often apologetic about our faith and our church?”
Looking suspiciously at my clothing, this businessman asked me the inevitable question, “And what do you do?”
The Spirit began to brood over the face of the deep. Order and power emerged from chaos. A voice and a whisper reminded me of the Apostle Paul where he forgot about everything except Jesus Christ, and his reminder to “Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord.”
I said, “It’s interesting that we have similar business interests. You’re in the body changing business. I am in the personality changing business. We apply basic, theocratic principles to accomplish indigenous personality modification.”
He was hooked, but I knew he’d never admit it. Pride is a powerful thing.
“You know, I’ve heard about that,” he said hesitantly, “do you have an office here in the city?”
“Oh yes, we have many offices. We have offices up and down the state. In fact, we’re national. We have at least one office in every state, including Alaska and Hawaii.”
He had this puzzled look on his face. He was searching his mind to identify this huge company he must have read or heard about, maybe in the Wall Street Journal.
“As a matter of fact,” I said, “we’ve gone international. And management has a plan to put at least one office in every country of the world by the end of this business era.” I paused. “Do you have that in your business?”
“Well no, not yet,” he answered. “But you mentioned management. How do they make it work?”
“It’s a family concern. There’s a Father and his Son, and they run everything.”
“That must take a lot of capital,” he said, skeptically.
“You mean money?” I said, “Yeah, I suppose so. No one knows just how much it takes. But we never worry because there’s never a shortage. The boss always seems to have enough. He’s a very creative guy. And the money is, well, just there. In fact, those of us in the organization have a saying about our boss. He owns the cattle on a thousand hills.”
“Oh, he’s into ranching too?” asked my captive friend.
“No, it’s just a saying we use to indicate his wealth.”
My friend sat back in his seat musing over our conversation. “What about with you?” he asked.
“The employees? They are something to see,” I said. “They have a Spirit that pervades the organization.
“It works like this: The Father and Son love each other so much that their love filters down through the organization so that we find ourselves just loving one another, too.
“I know this sounds old-fashioned in a world like ours, but I know people in the organization who are willing to die for me. Do you have that in your business?”
I was almost shouting now. People were starting to shift noticeably in their seats.
“Not yet,” he said.
Quickly changing strategies, he asked, “But do you have good benefits?”
“They’re substantial,” I countered with a gleam. “I have complete life insurance, fire insurance, all the basics. You might not believe this, but it’s true. I have holdings in a mansion that’s being built for me right now for my retirement. Do you have that in your business?”
“Not yet,” he answered, wistfully.
The light was dawning, and then Kotter goes on to write about a very significant spiritual conversation that continued between a Christ-follower and an unbeliever.
I love that story.
And you know what, some of you have naturally strong gifts in this area of sharing your faith with people, and you’re very comfortable having spiritual conversations like that.
Those of you that do, you need to cultivate that gift; you need to develop it, and you need to use it on a regular basis. This church needs you to just run as far with that gift as God enables you to.
But many of you in this room are much more like me. This is not a strong area of natural giftedness for me. I don’t find brilliant, creative analogies just flowing off my lips in moments like that on an airplane.
Sharing my faith is much more like the experience I have when I argue. It’s often not until I wake up at 2:00 in the morning do I think of the perfect thing I wished I would have said.
Still, the instruction from Colossians 4:5 is:
Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Colossians 4:5
There’s also a different kind of opportunity that the apostle Paul described in 1 Corinthians 16, where he says in verse 9
A great door for effective work has opened to me. 1 Corinthians 16:9
In other words, in the midst of my everyday life where I’m open to whatever God wants to do in my life — there is a great door, a significant opportunity that has opened up to me.
There is a person who is for some reason just wide open right now, presenting a great opportunity.
Today, what I want to do is talk about how to recognize these kinds of moments — how to see these kinds of moments when they come, which could lead to significant spiritual progress in a person’s life.
So our second step in this 3 step strategy is
2. Help unchurched people take next steps spiritually.
The first step is — go out into your little world and develop significant relationships with unchurched people.
And then you look for those opportunities when God opens a door for you to help them take their next step spiritually.
This is a very important point — this step, helping unchurched people take next steps spiritually — is often the missing link in most churches.
And here’s why it’s crucial.
You may develop relationships with unchurched people. You may invite them to church. But if you don’t work at this step, if you don’t help them take their next steps spiritually, if you don’t give them a chance to question and probe spiritual life in a one-on-one setting, sooner or later they’re going to drop out. They just will. Most of them just will.
We need to be real clear on this. Blue Oaks will not achieve its mission — you and I as a church body — we will fail to do what God has called us to do if you one by one and life by life don’t own and master this.
I read one time about two elderly women who were driving in a great big old classic car. They could barely see over the steering wheel.
They were riding along and the person in the passenger seat thought to herself, “I think we just went through a red light. I ought to pay better attention.”
So as they drove more, a few blocks later, they went through another red light. She said to herself, “I think we just went through another red light. That can’t be.”
And so, she paid attention again and they went through a third red light. And she said, “Mildred, what are you doing? You’re going to get us killed. That’s the third red light we’ve gone through.”
And Mildred says, “Oh, am I driving?”
You know, so many times when it comes to awareness of opportunities, when it comes to saying something about God or our faith, when we need to be a little more available, we just miss those opportunities.
It’s like we are completely unaware.
I do this all the time.
It’s like bells and whistles are going off. I’m ruining through red lights. Open door! Open door! Open door! Opportunity! Opportunity!
And sometimes I know it’s just because I’m completely self-absorbed in my own agenda.
Or other times it’s just because I’m spiritually not in tune or insensitive or I’m not looking for those opportunities.
And so today’s message is as much for me as it is for anyone else in this room.
What are those moments when bells and whistles ought to be going off in our minds where we should be saying, “This conversation is an open door. I need to spend some time with this person. A door for effective work has opened up before me.”
What are those?
I want to give you 4 different categories for recognizing these kinds of moments. Kind of a framework for thinking about these opportunities as they come in your life.
4 opportunities to help unchurched people take next steps spiritually:
Now, my wife is naturally much better at recognizing this first one than I am.
We can be with a group of people for an evening or something — have a great time, laugh, connect, eat.
And I’ll come home and think, “Wasn’t that a great time?”
And she’ll come home and say, “Did you notice so-and-so wasn’t herself tonight?”
And you need to know, this has happened many, many times. I mean, many times in our marriage.
And I’ll say, “No, what do you mean?” And she’ll look at me like, what planet are you living on?
And she’ll say, “Didn’t you see the sadness in her eyes tonight? Or didn’t you notice that she and her husband didn’t even look at each other all night long? Or didn’t you notice how she pulled back from conversation? Didn’t you notice how quiet she was? Something is not right in her world right now.”
I miss stuff like that all the time.
And my guess is there are some others of you that are awareness challenged like me in this room… and you miss those kinds of things too.
So what’s going on? What is this open door that Kathy is tuning into when she says something like that?
You know what it is?
She is sensing some kind of pain in another person’s life.
Pain is one of the greatest catalysts.
Pain is one of the greatest open doors for spiritual progress in a person’s life.
If I asked for a show of hands about how many of you became a follower of Jesus Christ because of non-stop winning in your life —
you got a promotion at work
things were going great in your marriage
your kids were model students… and they held hands all the time at your house
you won the lottery twice
If I asked you how many of you decided to become a follower of Jesus because everything was go great. I bet no hands would go up.
But if I asked how many of you started your spiritual journey because you came to a point in your life where you were humbled — you became a follower of Jesus Christ because of some pain in your life
because your marriage blew up
because an illness hit
because a loved one died
because your finances collapsed
because of a wound in your life
because an addiction started to cripple your life and your relationship
I bet a lot of hands would go up.
Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 7:10. This is the New Living Translation.
For the kind of sorrow God wants us to experience leads us away from sin and results in salvation. There’s no regret for that kind of sorrow. 1 Corinthians 7:10 NLT
That’s a pretty radical thought, isn’t it?
Why will we not regret that kind of sorrow?
Because if that kind of sorrow turns us in the direction of grace — if it causes us to seek and find God — the value of that experience is worth whatever pain we had to go through in order to find that grace.
You know Jesus taught in the story of the good Samaritan that when a person is in pain, instead of just walking by that person, instead of just saying I’ve got a bunch of religious things to do that I need to get going on, we need to be tuned in and we need to stop.
Because someone is in pain.
Someone is battling depression.
Someone is battling alcoholism.
Someone is battling a relational breakdown.
Someone is battling grief or an eating disorder or a wound of some kind.
When we say the “God, use me” prayer… and we sense there is a person in pain, we just need to tune in to that.
And we need to say to ourselves like the apostle Paul said, “A great door for effective work has opened to me.”
Alright, there’s a second category of moments that we need to especially tune into.
It’s what a dishonest tax collector named Zacchaeus was carrying when Jesus told him one day to come down from a Sycamore tree.
Jesus went to his house and hung out for the day.
It’s what a woman who was caught in the act of adultery was carrying like a noose around her neck when she was brought to Jesus.
It’s what a local prostitute was carrying when she approached Jesus at a dinner party weeping — she fell to her knees, and poured expensive perfume all over his feet.
It’s what King David was carrying after the Bathsheba fiasco.
And here’s how David describes this thing in Psalm 38:4.
My guilt has overwhelmed me like a burden too heavy to bear. Psalm 38:4
It’s just plain old Guilt
My guilt overwhelms me. It’s too heavy to bear.
Anytime you see someone carrying an enormous amount of regret or guilt in their life that ought to be an indication to you — this is an open door.
Chuck Colson’s become one of the great Christian writers, statesmen, thinkers of our time, leading a fantastic work in the prisons of our nation.
What was the turning point in this life?
Guilt over the Watergate fiasco.
Kay Arthur tells her husband, “Go ahead and commit suicide. I could use the money.”
And he does. What’s the turning point in her life? It’s guilt.
We need to keep our antennas up for people carrying enormous regrets.
For moms and dads carrying parenting regrets.
For unfaithful spouses carrying moral regrets.
For unwise spenders and borrowers carrying financial regrets.
For anger filled ventilators carrying verbal regrets.
For weekend partiers carrying sexual regrets.
Guilt is one of the heaviest pieces of baggage that anyone can ever carry.
And when we sense someone carrying it, we ought to know — a great door for effective work has opened to me.
Now I can probably describe this next category by telling you about a meeting I had with a highly successful business guy. He’s a great guy. He’s worked hard. And he’s just had a string of non-stop successes in his life.
He has bought and sold 22 different companies. Bought businesses when they were under valued, restored value to them, sold them.
He’s got a great wife. He’s got fantastic kids. You look at his life, you’d say, what’s not to like about that?
And I’ll never forget what he said to me across the table. He said, ”Matt, buying my 23rd company is not going to do it for me. It’s not going to do it for me. I want my life to be about something more significant.”
What’s he describing?
Something that many people are dealing with these days.
It’s kind of an Aimlessness or boredom.
It’s this nagging thought — “I need direction for my life. I feel like what I’m investing most of my life in does not matter.”
Have you ever wondered why those first followers of Christ were willing to leave everything, walk away and follow Jesus?
Why would they leave their nets?
Why would they leave their boat?
Why would they leave their fishing business that they had worked so hard to build?
Because it wasn’t doing it for them anymore.
And so many people reach a point in their life where —
One more dollar doesn’t do it for them anymore.
One more trip doesn’t do it for them anymore.
One more boat
One more plane
One more vacation
One more whatever… doesn’t do it for them anymore.
And while pain and guilt, these are the things that cause people to bottom out and they kind of recognize, they’re spiritually open in their life, so many times this aimlessness comes about when people top out. When they’ve succeeded and it just doesn’t do it for them anymore.
And that’s when we need to be tuned in and ready for the opportunity that’s in front of us — A great door for effective work has opened to me.
Now while these first three categories that I’ve described tend to happen as a result of personal circumstances in a person’s life — pain, guilt, aimlessness, — the fourth category is an event that leads to a kind of Shared Experience.
A shared experience that kind of opens people up to the possibility of God’s work in their life.
Let me give you an example of that — The day of Pentecost.
Three thousand people come to faith in Jesus Christ in Acts 2 in one day.
They give their lives to him. They were baptized on that day. There was just an incredible thing happened on that day.
Because there was a whole convergence of things happening.
People have been waiting in the upper room praying, waiting for the Holy Spirit to come.
The Holy Spirit comes on the day of Pentecost.
It happens on a holiday where there are just thousands of people in Jerusalem who are there to celebrate.
There is the gift of tongues that happens. People start hearing the message of Jesus proclaimed in a language that they can understand. They can take it home to their countries with them, where they have traveled from to be there for the celebration of Pentecost.
All of these things add up.
Peter communicates a fantastic message.
There are people carrying an enormous amount of guilt about the crucifixion.
And all of it comes together in this shared experience. And God does an amazing thing.
Let me give you a more current example of an event where something like that happened?
Who remembers exactly where you were standing when you heard about the 9/11 attacks?
Out of heartbreak, out of grieving, out of the ashes of 9/11, many people started taking a second look at their lives. It was a wake up call.
Suddenly, people felt vulnerable and fragile. They realized loved ones could be lost. They started opening up to the possibility that maybe God is there.
And honestly, in my 25+ years of ministry, I’ve never experienced the kind of things like we experienced during that period after 9/11.
I watched — I was in San Diego at the time — but I watched God use that event, that horrible event, in the lives of thousands of people, including friends, including neighbors, for some spiritual progress.
I mean churches filled up the next weekend like it was Easter Sunday.
And it wasn’t because people were thinking, “I’ve got to do my annual nod to God now.” It wasn’t that type of thing. There was just a sense of — “I need God. And I’m open to his work in my life.”
Sometimes there are events – like the day of Pentecost, like a 9/11 – where there’s a kind of a convergence of circumstances that come together.
And God uses it to produce enormous spiritual fruit.
And if we have the right spirit around these types of shared experiences, we can say, “A great door for effective work has opened to me.”
Now here’s the issue we really need to wrestle with for a few minutes.
How do we seize these opened door moments?
How do we seize these moments where we’re tuned in to a great opened door —
when someone’s in pain
when they’re carrying a load of guilt
when they realize they’re kind of bored and going through life aimlessly
or when we go through a shared experience
How do we seize those moments?
Well, first, one thing we need to remember is this — it’s so important —
Acceptance opens the door to influence.
One time I was working out at the gym. I was by myself going through my routine. And a guy came up to me I had never meet before, and he introduced himself to me.
He was wearing a Chicago Cubs tee-shirt. My kind of guy. And he said to me, “Hey Matt. I’ve been coming to your church now for a while. I come from a Catholic background. I want you to know I’m learning a lot.” And he said, “You’re a hell of a guy.”
Now, that didn’t bother me at all. Because here’s a guy who’s finally making some spiritual progress in his life for the first time in many years, and in the best way he knows how, he’s trying to strike up a conversation. He’s trying to say thank you.
And you know what my job is at that moment? It’s not to embarrass him. It’s to accept him.
And that opening with him led to a number of conversations that led to incredible spiritual progress in his life.
What does a person going through an enormous amount of pain in their life need most from you when you tune into them?
It’s not a book. It’s not a Bible study. It’s acceptance.
What does a person carrying an enormous amount of guilt over failures in their past need from you?
They don’t need you to come in and beat them up a little more. They’re doing enough of that. They need acceptance.
This was Jesus — he was like this acceptance magnet. People just found him irresistible.
And you think about this, he was without sin. But rather than being repulsed by this goody two shoes Jesus, people weren’t repulsed by him. They were drawn to him. Why? Because he accepted people, whoever they were.
We’ve done small groups for people who are exploring faith. One of the skills that’s important for the leader of a small group like this is the importance of listening — really listening to people.
A lot of times when we think of being a witness, we think it means I have to share a message. And there eventually is a message that needs to get shared.
But we think this is about what I communicate with my words. But I think what’s more important is being accepting… and listening.
And we need to learn to ask great questions:
What do you believe?
Why do you believe it?
How did you feel when you went through that crisis?
Where do you think God was during that time?
Thanks for sharing that with me.
Thanks for opening up about that.
Just think of all the times in the Bible when Jesus just listens to people.
Think about that for a minute — Jesus is listening to people, and Jesus knew everything.
He knew what was going on inside of them.
He knew what their thoughts were.
He knew what was going to come out of their mouths before they said it.
So why did he listen? Why did he bother?
Because in communication — listening communicates acceptance. Listening communicates acceptance and acceptance opens the door to influence.
Alright, there’s a second thing that’s critical for seizing moments.
And what I’m about to share with you may be the three most important words that you will ever end up saying in a conversation with an unchurched person.
If I were you, I would write these three words down because these three words will get you out of more trouble than anything else you can say.
Because when you’re tuned in and there’s an open door, what prevents us from walking through that door?
It’s because we fear we’re going to get a question we can’t answer, right?
We fear we’re going to get into a discussion that we’re incapable of dealing with. We’re afraid we’re going to get that question.
So it’s important to know there are three words that can get us out of that jam.
What are the three words that can give us great confidence in any setting? Are you ready for what they are? Here are the three words:
Ah, these words are so hard to say?
I don’t know.
Don’t be afraid to say, “I don’t know.”
“I don’t know” is a great tool when you’re trying to talk with other people.
It’s so much better to say I don’t know than avoiding conversations altogether.
It’s so much better to say I don’t know than to just try to fake your way through an answer.
Now I’ve watched others with gifts in this area use these three words as leverage — as a good thing.
What’s good about saying I don’t know?
When you say I don’t know to another person, all of a sudden they think, “I’m the smart one here.” They feel good.
They don’t think, “You’re so stupid.” It just puffs them up a little bit.
Also, when you say I don’t know, it shows humility on your part.
I’ve seen people pull this off masterfully.
“You know I don’t know all the answers to your questions but can you give me a few minutes to tell you about my experience with God?”
It’s like the blind man in John 9 who was healed by Jesus.
The religious leaders began to question him, “How is it that you’re able to see? Who healed you? How did he do it?”
And the blind man responds, “Listen, I don’t know the answers to all of your questions. All I know is — I was blind but now I see.”
We don’t have to refute every argument people have about our faith.
When someone comes to you and says, “What is this thing that Jesus did for you?”
“I once I lived according to the way of the world. My life was headed to Hell and I was in trouble. Then I found Jesus Christ and now my life is different.
“I once I lived in a pile of guilt, but now that I am a Christian, I’m forgiven and my life’s different.
“I don’t know all the answers to all the questions people have, but I know this – I was blind but now I see.”
Simply tell your story. There’s power in your story — “I was blind and now I see.”
People can’t refute that.
Or if people have questions that you don’t know answers to, just say, “I don’t know, but I’ll do some research and find out if you want to talk about it again sometime.”
And so the other advantage of saying I don’t know is that it serves as a catalyst to help you do some self-discovery and to grow some muscles for conversation that you didn’t previously have.
So it’s just win win all the way around.
You humble yourself in front of the other person.
You have a chance to go do some discovery on your own. Learn some things that you wouldn’t otherwise.
And “I don’t know” also opens the door for future conversation.
“Hey, you remember when I told you, I said I didn’t know. Well, I’ve done some digging on that. And you’d be interested in knowing what I found out, I’d love to share that with you sometime.”
“I don’t know.” These are great words.
Don’t be afraid of going into conversations, whatever your intellectual capacity is right now. It’s ok to say I don’t know.
Alright, so in addition to going out into the world and developing significant relationships with unchurched people…
We need to look for those opportunities when God opens a door for us to help unchurched people take their next step spiritually.
I want to pray that God will open those doors for many of us this week.
Will you bow your heads and join me in praying?
God, thank you for the opportunities that you bring everyday in our lives to extend a hand and to have conversations.
I pray especially that we will be extra aware of those open doors when they come this week.
Whether it’s recognizing someone who’s in tremendous pain or carrying enormous guilt or feeling like life is aimless. Or maybe it’s just kind of a convergence of circumstances and events that makes them open.
God, I pray that we would be the most accepting people in the world. I pray that we would be humble enough to just simply say to people, “I don’t know.” And that we would use that as an opportunity to learn and grow and to initiate additional conversations.
May we be diligent enough to equip ourselves for those common questions that come up over and over and over again.
God, I just want to pray for the opportunities that are before us between now and Christmas. I pray for lots of significant spiritual conversations in the coming weeks.
I pray that you would do what only your Holy Spirit could do through us. We ask it in Christ’s name. And for his sake. And everyone said. Amen.