GOSSIPING THE GOSPEL
We are all good at gossiping! But there are two sorts of gossip, good and bad. I’m going to focus on the good sort! That is: When you know some really good news you just can’t wait to share it! And the Gospel, literally ‘Good News’, is the best news ever – that anyone can know God in a personal way!
Have you ever heard the expression – ‘too good to be true’? It’s the cynical response to Good News. ‘It is so good that it is too good – fancy telling us that we can have a personal relationship with God. That’s not possible - surely!’
Well, I suppose that may be a reason why our good-news-telling is rebuffed, but on reflection isn’t that wonderful – that the message we have to tell is so marvelous that people struggle to believe it!
Anyway, we are not here to discuss responses to our message. Perhaps we can better use the time to figure out how we are going to share it and leave their responses to God’s work in the hearts of our hearers!
What is it then, that we are supposed to be sharing, and how do we go about it?
I once heard the expression ‘Gossiping the Gospel’, using everyday opportunities to explain easily and naturally how Jesus makes it possible for human beings to experience God for themselves. But…
WHAT EXACTLY IS IT, THAT WE ARE SUPPOSED TO BE GOSSIPING ABOUT?
Now we are good at making everything very complicated, and even things like ‘The Four Spiritual Laws’ or popular evangelistic tracts can get us bogged down in thinking we have to take someone through some very specific steps, with added Bible verses and interesting drawings to help explain it all. However, it’s just got to be simpler than that, or we’ll lose the persons attention! So here goes….
Let me tell you a story and see if you can understand it: One day, a schoolboy committed a misdemeanor at school and was told to report at 4 pm for detention. He was gutted! So his good friend said to him ‘Don’t worry. I’ll do your detention for you. I’ll take the punishment on your behalf. You are free to go home! Wow, that was good news! So he accepted the person’s kindness and went home!
Did you understand that story? Of course, you did! It was simple, and that it is the essence of the Gospel or Good News we are to proclaim…. We have all sinned and offended God in some way. We are all in the same boat and deserve to be punished. But God so loved us that He sent His Son Jesus in our place to be punished on our behalf. All we need to do is thank Him, accept his act of love by faith, and walk home to our Father in heaven!
Now that was easy, and if we keep this simple idea of substitution in our mind we can easily share the idea with others, using whatever suitable words that come naturally to us or our listener will appreciate. If you like, you can use the schoolboy story if it helps get the message across!
HOW DO WE GO ABOUT IT?
Research has shown that we don’t need to create special or manipulative church programmes to tell people the Good News of how they can be forgiven and come back to God. We are already in contact with plenty of people to gossip the Gospel! In fact, they say each of us is on average meaningfully in touch with over 8 people who need to hear it! Wow, that is a lot of easy opportunities to start off with!
I recall one lady who had a desire to be a missionary. She went to discuss this with a wise Christian friend. After a few minutes, the friend suggested that she did not need to travel abroad to find people. She had a very large family, including 11 children of her own, that needed to hear!
God has given us people every day to meet with. Among them we will find plenty of opportunities to share our Good News: all those who call at our door, sales assistants, fellow shoppers in the queues, telephone calls, letters, service providers calling at our home, family members, friends online via social media, work colleagues, carers… the list is endless.
BUT JUST HOW DO WE GO ABOUT IT?
Well, the interesting thing is that today attending a church is rather a novel idea, let alone having a faith! There was a time of course when folk rejected Christianity because it was something to do with their parents – something to kick against or feel embarrassed about. But the tide is turning. There is a great deal of interest in ‘spirituality’. If you don’t believe me, take a look in a good bookshop, and there you will find innumerable volumes on the stars, fortunes, crystals, mindfulness, crystals, yoga, meditation, self-help, witchcraft, angels, tarot, Ouija etc., etc. Something is telling me there is a great deal of curiosity, and you may discover that people are more open to believing almost anything, even in Jesus! And if you are an active Christian you will be an expert and in a good position to explain what we are about!!
So just a hint…. ‘Had a good weekend… met with my friends at church – you know we actually meet up now, socially distanced. But lots of us join in on the phone too! It’s amazing. I’ve never been on a phone conference with so many people at once! I reckon being connected is so important’… etc. You know the sort of thing. Be canny, and pray what way is best for you to engage, dropping it in somehow that indicates you are a Christian, without being too ’in your face’. But don’t push. Wait for the reaction. You may be surprised how many people out there are hungry to know God for themselves!
IS THE WORK OF THE CHURCH DRIVING YOU TO DRINK?
In Acts 1.8 Jesus said: You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.
The Church can't fulfil that Great Commission unless it is inspired and aided by the Holy Spirit. The task is just too big and too difficult, for not only is it a worldwide task, but it is the work of opening the hearts of men and women to acknowledge the truth of our sin and our need of the Saviour. And that is hard!
At present, our society will have little to do with the idea of sin, righteousness or judgement. These words are ‘no longer in the dictionary’. To convince someone of these realities seems well-nigh impossible. The thought of trying to do so makes even us cringe at times. The culture we are surrounded by simply laughs at us.
ENTER - THE HOLY SPIRIT!
So we need help. We need someone on our side who can convince and convict the world of these things. And who could that be? Enter the Holy Spirit!
Jesus said ‘When he comes, he will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment’ (John 16:8)
It wasn’t until this Holy Spirit came upon the Church that they could get going and ‘turn the world upside down’ (Acts 17:6)
So let’s look a little more closely at the Holy Spirit. In John 16.7 He is described variously according to which translation of the original Greek we favour… Comforter, Helper, Counsellor and Advocate are all used. It is ‘Paraclete’ in the original.
This wonderful word is illuminating. It’s split into two parts…
Paráklētos: pará, "from close-beside" and kaléō, "make a call") – properly, a legal advocate who makes the right judgment-call because he is close enough to the situation. Paráklētos ("advocate, advisor-helper") is the regular term in NT times of an attorney (lawyer) – i.e. someone giving evidence that stands up in court. HELPS Word-studies 3875
So literally it means someone who comes alongside us and speaks in our defence, so bringing conviction in the heart of the listener!
Wow - just what we need! Yes, the Holy Spirit is the One we need to come alongside us and convince our listeners of the truth of sin and therefore our need of a Saviour.
You see, people will never ask Jesus to save them until they are aware in their heart of hearts that sin, righteousness and judgment are realities – that they need saving!
In the Acts of the Apostles chapter 2, we see a working example of how this can happen.
After the Holy Spirit arriving and filling the believers, they suddenly started telling out the ‘wonders of God’ in several languages known in the ancient world. You see, there were people from all over the world in Jerusalem at the festival of Pentecost (or Passover), and the languages or ‘tongues’, were recognized by these foreign visitors. They were mystified. Here’s the story in the Acts of the Apostles…
When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages as the Spirit enabled them.
Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. Utterly amazed, they asked: ‘Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language? Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs – we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!’ Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, ‘What does this mean?’
Some, however, made fun of them and said, ‘They have had too much wine.’ Acts 2:2-13
Here is a map of where they all came from. Quite impressive!
So what happens next? Well, this is the important bit. Peter stands up in the crowd, tries to explain what is going on and then speaks boldly about the wonder of God’s love, the death and resurrection of Jesus, and about our guilt in the whole thing.
When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’
Peter replied, ‘Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off – for all whom the Lord our God will call.’
With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, ‘Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.’ Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day. Acts 2:37-41
Notice verse 37 in particular…When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’
THAT IS THE WORK OF THE HOLY SPIRIT. He convicted the hearers, carrying the words of Peter straight into their hearts! No messing!
For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. 2 Corinthians 10:3-5
Don’t we long for that kind of effectiveness in our own outreach?
If we are to be successful in our mission, it is vital to ask God the Holy Spirit to come alongside us and speak powerfully to our listeners, cutting through all the silly arguments and ideas that Paul called ‘strongholds’, and bringing them under the convicting words of our Advocate in God’s law court.
THE 6 MILLION DOLLAR QUESTION
So just how do we get the Holy Spirit to fill us and come alongside us in our mission to Chatteris in such a way that we will be really listened to and people around us respond in their hearts to the wonderful good news of God’s forgiveness in Christ?
First, we need to get our head around a couple of things so there is no misunderstanding.
An important verse in understanding the filling of the Holy Spirit is John 14:16, where Jesus promised the Spirit would indwell believers and that the indwelling would be permanent. It is important to distinguish this indwelling from the other fillings of the Spirit.
The permanent indwelling of the Spirit is not for a select few believers, but for all believers. That’s important. Otherwise, we will get Christians accusing us of saying that the indwelling of the Holy Spirit is a second experience sometime after receiving Christ – the ‘second blessing’. We are not saying that. Each Christian is indwelt by the Holy Spirit when they first become a Christian: If anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ. Romans 8.9.
There are several other references in Scripture that support this conclusion. First, the Holy Spirit is a gift given to all believers in Jesus without exception, and no conditions are placed upon this gift except faith in Christ (John 7:37-39). Second, the Holy Spirit is given at the moment of salvation (Ephesians 1:13). Galatians 3:2 emphasizes this same truth, saying that the sealing and indwelling of the Spirit took place at the time of believing. Third, the Holy Spirit indwells believers permanently. The Holy Spirit is given to believers as a down payment, or verification of their future glorification in Christ (2 Corinthians 1:22; Ephesians 4:30).
This is in contrast to the further fillings of the Spirit referred to in Ephesians 5:18. We should be so completely yielded to the Holy Spirit that He can possess us fully and, in that sense, fill us completely. To be filled with the Spirit implies freedom for Him to occupy every part of our lives, guiding and controlling us. Then His power can be exerted through us so that what we do is fruitful for God. But scripture also tells us that this is not always the case. Ephesians 1:13-14 states that He dwells within every believer, but that He can be grieved (Ephesians 4:30), and His activity within us can be quenched (1 Thessalonians 5:19). When we allow this to happen, we do not experience the fullness of the Spirit’s working and His power in and through us.
OK, so we’ve got this straight. Every Christian has the Holy Spirit living in them. But we can still experience future fillings. There is always room for more of His influences. In fact, "filling" is not the best word. The New Testament talks about being "baptized".
Now I’ve heard it said that to be baptized means being submerged, as in our water baptism. That’s good. But it doesn’t describe the full meaning of the experience. The Greek means more like being soaked through like a sponge. So we are not so much like a cup that gets dunked underwater, but a sponge that gets saturated right through. That’s the meaning!
Let’s move on…
HOW DO WE GET TO BE SOAKED WITH THE HOLY SPIRIT AND BECOME REALLY EFFECTIVE IN GOD’S WORK?
Ephesians 5:18 says, “Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit.” In the Greek text, the word for “be filled” is actually in the continuous present tense, giving the verse the meaning, “Be continually filled with the fullness of the Holy Spirit.”
How? Start with the closest parallel: Don’t be drunk with wine; be continually filled with the Spirit! How do you get drunk with wine? You drink it. Lots of it. And how do you stay like it? You drink it all the time!
The wine of Paul’s day was so weak you would have to drink for hours to get drunk. So how then shall we get drunk (filled) with the Spirit? Drink it! Lots of it. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 12:13, “We were all . . . made to drink of one Spirit.” Jesus said, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” Then John writes, “Now this he said about the Spirit.” (John 7:37–39).
How can you drink the Spirit? If you are thirsty (and this is an important prerequisite) ask Jesus or the Father. It doesn’t seem to matter. Jesus said to his disciples, “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” If we want to be filled with the Spirit, we must pray for it. How about right now?
If we need to drink plenty of water on a daily basis to be healthy, how much more should we drink of the Holy Spirit by asking Him to fill us so we can stay spiritually sharp and healthy? When we get up in the morning and later throughout my day, I must make it a regular habit to ask Jesus or the Father to fill me afresh with the Holy Spirit. But remember, our experience of the Holy Spirit is meant to be...
As we saw, Ephesians 5:18 says be filled with the Spirit. In the Greek text, the word for “be filled” is actually in the continuous present tense, giving the verse the meaning, “Be continually filled with the fullness of the Holy Spirit.” But how?
KEEP DRINKING, BUT EAT AS WELL!
"Those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit" (Romans 8:5). We drink the Spirit by setting our minds on the things of the Spirit. What does “setting the mind on” mean? Colossians 3:1–2 says, “Seek the things that are above. . . Set your minds on things that are above.” “Setting the mind on” means seeking, directing your attention toward, being very concerned about (Philippians 3:19), being devoted to and taken up with.
So continuing to drink the Spirit means setting our minds on the things of the Spirit. And setting our minds on the things of the Spirit means directing our eager attention to the teachings of the apostles about God and to the words of Jesus.
You see, we can only go so far on a water diet. We also need the nourishment of His truth. Just as Jesus Himself said, we shall not live by physical bread alone, but 'on every word that comes from the mouth of God' (Matthew 4:4).
LAST BUT NOT LEAST, KEEP THE TEMPLE CLEAN
The Holy Spirit is Holy! He is uncomfortable with anything that smacks of compromise. In fact, sin in our life will grieve Him terribly. So I must make sure that I am clean and ready to continue hosting His Presence.
Paul tells us "Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honour God with your bodies" (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).
And God likes to occupy every part of the temple. So when Isaiah had a vision of Him filling the temple there was no escape. Let's take up the story...
In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: with two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another:
‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.’
At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke.
‘Woe to me!’ I cried. ‘I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.’
Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, ‘See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.’ Isaiah 6:1-7
The Presence of a holy God can make us feel awkward and embarrassed when there is something in our lives we are ashamed of. But, as above, there is hope.
In 1 John 1:9 it says... "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness". The temple is ready again!
So next come the heartening words that tell us we are set to work with Him... "Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?’ And I said, ‘Here am I. Send me!" Isaiah 6:8
Music to my ears!
So, do you want the Holy Spirit of God to fill you and make your life fruitful for Him in new ways?
Then ask, drink, eat, and keep the temple clean. It will happen!
SOCIAL ISOLATION: A NEW WAY OF LIVING?
Social isolation is defined as having little or no contact with other people lasting for extended periods of time. It is something that Emmanuel Church has been conscious of for a while as a major challenge in our modern communities, and even more so at this particular time.
There are many causes of social isolation, such as advanced age, medical issues, immobility, fear, broken relationships, death of friends and family, geography and accessibility.
Essentially, social isolation is a loss of community and connection, a fundamental human need in itself. It is something that Martin Buber, a Jewish philosopher and theologian, recognized in his seminal work ‘I and Thou’ when he said ‘all living is meeting’.
The connectedness which we all crave was provided for us in the beginning. All the way back in Genesis we see God providing relationships, with Himself, with other humans and with the physical world. In fact, these domains of connectivity are summed up in that wonderful blessing of Aaron to be repeated over and over to God’s people… Shalom, or harmony, in all our relationships (Numbers 6.22-27). It is something that God wants us to have.
Social isolation and aloneness seriously impacts our quality of life and keeps individuals from becoming all that they can be. Yet the Hebrew/Christian Scriptures create a tension in our minds. In Genesis it is written, “it is not good for man to be alone” (2:18). But in Matthew 14.23, we read: “After Jesus had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone.”
If Jesus sets an example of being alone and being renewed, and Genesis tells us it’s not good to be alone, which of these are the way we should go?! The answer, frankly, is that there is value in both solitude and being in community.
We tend to forget that many groups of people have lived their lives in isolation, sometimes by personal choice. For example, the Rule of St. Benedict structures this in for the monk, who spends much time alone with God and in reading. But the monk also needs time in community and the Benedictine model of rhythm provides for that as well.
SO WHAT DO WE DO?
For those in social isolation, the balance of life is upset. Those in social isolation are too alone, too cut off from conversation, community and meaningful connection. So what do we do?
First, recognize that there is a value in being alone.
A wise person once said that being alone is not the same as loneliness. It can also be the blessing of ‘solitude’.
Now of course this is not for everyone, by nature.
In this world, generally speaking, we are either extroverts, getting our energy from being with others, socialising etc, or we are introverts, sustained by being quiet. Obviously, the latter can more comfortable than the former in isolation.
For extroverts, imposed social isolation is painful, and can even bring with it deadly temptations during the present pandemic.
Perhaps, during this time of imposed isolation, rather than raging at the inconvenience, we can stop and learn to connect with ourselves and to go deeper with God.
We are assured that is a whole universe within as well as without. So discover, read God’s word, reflect, take stock. Give your soul the chance to catch up with your body. You may be surprised how energizing it can be!
Second, realize anew the value of being together. In fact, God has called us to ‘meeting’ as our norm, the idea that lies behind our modern word for ‘church’, and that is why Emmanuel Church is making every effort to ‘connect’ in new ways.
Now I am a natural introvert, and love to get away for silence and reflection. It’s in my nature.
But I also know that I need other people, and for this I have to push myself out of my comfort zone a little to join with others. I’m always glad I do this, but I need to work at it.
Third, realise that life is essentially a balance of several necessities, including solitude and community.
Our Lord’s example stands out as our pattern: spending time alone, being often with His Father, having time with our friends, and keeping a balance between both, as best we can.
A NEW WAY OF LIVING
Like it or not, we are called at this time to a new way of living, but through it, maybe, we will learn a better way of living in the future, based on a balance of relationships with God, each other, and our world.
IF A CHURCH WANTS TO FLY, IT NEEDS TWO WINGS!
A local church should have two wings, if it really wants to go places.
One wing we could call the main worship time on Sunday, when everyone is together to celebrate what God is doing. The other wing is made up of all the small groups that meet during the week and provide a closer form of fellowship, where we can really get to know each other as friends and help build one another up.
We see this two-winged dynamic in Acts 2:42-47 when the early church met in the temple courts in large gatherings and from house to house in their smaller groups. We see this same structure in Acts 5:42, “Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Christ.” Again in Acts 20:20, Paul says, “You know that I have not hesitated to preach anything that would be helpful to you but have taught you publicly and from house to house.”
Some still say that the main celebration on Sunday is ‘proper church’, and we measure our progress by the size of the congregation. Others would point out that we only do real church when we meet with each other in smaller and more intimate groups.
But both these ‘wings’ of the church play a vital part, and during a recent special series of midweek prayer meetings it has become clear that what we call ‘home groups’ are in fact essential to our churches’ life, and that we should focus on developing these to bring balance and progress.
And what should these smaller home groups involve? Well it seems clear that the main ingredients of a meaningful home group experience should include a healthy mix of fellowship, learning, and prayer (Acts 2.42).
So, are we ready to fly in 2020?
May God bless us as we follow His leading.
Happy New Year!
Remain in my love. John 15:9