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Pray, Walk, & Talk with Those Who Don't Know Jesus

11.19.23


Friends, we are currently living in the largest and fastest religious shift in U.S. history. It’s a shift larger than the number of conversions during the First Great Awakening, Second Great Awakening, and the totality of the Billy Graham Crusades combined.


And the shift is this: Over the last 25 years some 40 million adult Americans who used to go to church at least once per month now attend less than once per year. It’s what’s been coined as “The Great De-Churching.” Over the last 25 years some 40 million adult Americans who used to go to church at least once per month now attend less than once per year.


That’s the bad news, and the only bad news that you will hear in this message.


Thankfully here’s the profoundly good news, maybe even surprisingly good news: By their own admission, many of these 40 million are willing to come back. 


And so of course the question becomes, what will it take to do so? What’s our hope? How might we best engage with both the unchurched and dechurched, those indifferent to or hostile to faith, those outside our walls here in 2023? This, my friends, is what our passage today, from Colossians 4, is in many ways all about. 


And so, if you’ve got your bibles out, great, if not, I invite you to open your pew bible up to page 1679. 


Throughout this fall we’ve been doing a sermon series on this little New Testament book known as Colossians, a letter from the Apostle Paul to a young and growing church. And in the second half of this book, Paul has been encouraging them to live a life worthy of the Lord and to please him in every way. 


And he does so by honing in on three areas of their lives, first by having us consider our relationships within the church, as a community of believers, then last week, we considered what this looks like within our own families, within our own homes, and then finally, today, Paul shifts his attention, to those on the outside, the unbelieving community.


What does it look like to live a life worthy of the Lord as followers of Jesus with those who don’t know Him or those who have walked away? 


In preparing for this message, what I’m struck by is just how timely it is. For though this was the evangelistic witness and missionary mindset of the 1st century, I’m convinced it’s the best one for this 21st century too. 


So without further ado, here’s our big idea for today.


With those on the outside, with those that don’t know Jesus, we must 1 ) Pray 2) Walk 3) Talk


With those on the outside, with those that don’t know Jesus, we must 1 ) Pray 2) Walk 3) Talk 


And as we prepare to dive into our text, I want to first give you a few seconds to think of someone in your life who does not know the Lord or who has left the faith or someone who you couldn’t imagine setting foot in a church. Maybe it’s a family member you love, a co-worker you struggle with, or a neighbor you just met. Keep them in mind throughout this message. Take a few seconds …


Everybody got their person? Choir, you got your person? Alright, let’s go … 


First, we must pray. 


Before we go out into the world as followers of Jesus to live our lives alongside them and share our faith with them, we must first, first pray. 


Beginning in verse 2, Paul says, “Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.”


This is more than dabbling in prayer here and there, dipping our toe every once and a while, instead this is full on immersion. It’s us giving our time and energy to this crucial task. Devoting ourselves to prayer. 


In this, Paul says, be watchful. In football (Go Beavers!) they would tell us, “keep your head on a swivel.” In other words, you need to keep your eyes on the entire field, to be aware of your surroundings.


The same is true as we go about our everyday lives and devote ourselves to prayer. We need to have Jesus' eyes, to be aware and attentive to the opportunities, to the needs, to the sacred moments around us. 

 

If you see someone who’s hurting, head down, eyes dull, pray for them. If you hear a siren or ambulance racing through town, pray for that vehicle. If you read about violence and war around the world, pray for all involved. If you see someone who’s here for worship for the first time, pray for them. And as for that person that just came to your mind a few seconds ago, pray for them too. 


Or in the words of musician Brandon Heath, “Give me your eyes for just one second, give me your eyes so I can see, everything that I’ve been missing, give me your love for humanity.” 


Even more, Paul gives us specific things to pray for and by that I partly mean himself. 


He says, “Pray for us, too, that God would open a door for our message.”


I love that … “that God would open a door for our message.” It’s a reminder that God’s got to make the first move. He’s got to prepare people’s hearts and open people’s minds. He’s got to create an opening for those sacred moments. He has to open doors. 


And so pray for your own message and witness as well as for the message of all those in ministry and all those who are on the front lines proclaiming Christ, for pastors here in Dillon or in our presbytery or for missionaries in Uganda such as Doug and Debbie Banks. And pray that we may proclaim it clearly, as we should.  


Devote yourselves to prayer praying that God would once again open a door, that he who has ears, she who has ears, let them hear.   


Second, we must walk. 


Paul says, Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. 


Notice the progression here. Having prayed, and yet before we share our faith with outsiders, we must share our lives with them. They need to see lives up close, our witness, our character, our integrity, our relationships, our example. 


In fact that word for act here, “Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders” can also be understood, maybe better translated as “walk.” As in, “walk in wisdom toward outsiders.”


In other words, as the cheesy, yet accurate saying goes: We’ve got to walk the walk, before we talk the talk. People need to see our lives in action, they need to see our Christian faith lived out in the stuff of everyday life so that when the time comes to share that they might actually find our words believable, credible, possible. 


And so, what does it look like to be wise in the way we act towards outsiders? What does it look like to make the most of every opportunity? 


The simplest answer here would be that we must strive to live, act, walk, and breathe a Colossians 3 life and everything we’ve been talking about these past three weeks. That we would take off our earthly, sinful nature, that we would put on the character and mind of Christ. That outsiders would see and experience a compelling community here within the church where the message of Christ dwells in us richly. That they would see firsthand that our families, our marriages and our homes, and every relationship within them are covered with the love of Christ in the same way hot fudge covers an ice cream sundae. 


And in addition, that they would see how our faith in Christ transforms our work itself. 


Last week, in the midst of all the beautiful chaos of a Family Worship Sunday, we never got to the part where Paul addresses slaves and masters in the previous verses, and so I’ll sneak it in here. It’s the two for one sermon special nobody asked for. 


The presence of slavery in the bible can be a little troubling, as we might wonder, how can I trust a book that talks about slavery and yet doesn’t vehemently condemn it? 


Well, watch what Paul does here. He says to masters, this is chapter 4 verse 1, Masters, provide your slaves with what is right and fair, because you know that you also have a Master in heaven.


He’s saying masters, you are not the boss, Jesus is. Never forget it. And in effect, what Paul is doing is if you were to imagine the institution of slavery as a deadly snake, Paul effectively removes its poisonous venom, he’s holding slavery by the throat and extracting the exploitation out of it. Therefore, what he’s doing is making this institution look much more like the mostly equitable employer-employee relationships we know today.  


And once you see it this way, Paul’s words here radically transform our understanding of work and most importantly who we truly work for. For if you are an employer, if you are a boss, one of the most important leadership principles you need to remember is that you are not the boss. Jesus is. Lead like it. 


And if you are an employee, if you work for someone that is hard to work for, one of the most important workplace principles you need to remember is that your boss is not your boss. Jesus is. Work like it. 


23 Whatever you do, Paul says, (formerly to slaves and now to employees) work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, 

Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity, and yes, that includes your work.  


Friends, this is how we walk our walk.


Pray. Walk. 

Third, we must talk.


Paul says, Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.


Notice the way Paul describes the kind and quality of speech that he calls us to here. 


That our conversations would always be full of grace. As to whether Paul is encouraging us to take the very grace extended towards us in Christ or to simply speak in gracious ways, the answer here is probably both. We as Christians are good news people, able to offer a word of hope and healing, rest and comfort to weary and wounded souls. Rather than condemn, we can offer comfort. Instead of guilt, we can offer grace.  


Similarly, Paul encourages us that our conversations are seasoned with salt, which seems strange, doesn’t it? Because if someone were to say, so and so has been a bit salty with me lately, that’s no compliment. But here Paul uses salt in a positive way. And the idea is simply this. Salt makes us thirsty. Salt leaves us wanting for something that can quench our thirst. And so talk in such a way, talk about life and faith and everything in such a way that you leave them longing for more. 


Paul says, Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.


In all of this, you might be thinking to yourself, how does this actually play out in everyday life? Here’s a story that I think will help drive home everything we’ve been talking about so far. 


Pastor Tim Keller shares a story in his book Every Good Endeavor that not long after they began their new church in New York City, he noticed a young woman darting out after each service. Finally one Sunday, he was able to introduce himself before she left. She told him she was exploring Christianity, that she didn’t believe it at that point, but found a lot of it interesting. Keller asked her how she had found Redeemer and she told him this story. 


She shared that she worked for a company in Manhattan, and not long after starting there she made a big mistake that she thought would cost her the job, but her boss went in to his superior and took complete responsibility for what she had done. As a result, her boss lost some of his reputation and ability to maneuver within the organization. She was amazed at what he had done and went in to thank him.


She told him that she had often seen supervisors take credit for what she had accomplished, but she had never seen a supervisor take the blame for something she had done wrong. And she wanted to know what made him different. He was very modest and initially deflected her questions, but she was insistent. Finally he told her, “I am a Christian. That means among other things that God accepts me because Jesus Christ took the blame for things that I have done wrong. He did that on the cross. This is why I have the desire and sometimes the ability to take the blame for others.” She stared at him for a long moment and asked, “Where do you go to church?” He suggested she go to Redeemer, and so she did. 


I love this story for so many reasons. First, this man walked the walk. He lived out his faith in a practical, courageous, costly way. He modeled and exemplified the grace of Jesus, taking the blame for something that wasn’t his, just as Christ had once done for him. After all, his boss was not his boss.


And he did so not in a manipulative way, as a means to an end, simply doing it so he could evangelize and win this woman over. No, he was prepared to say nothing. 


But when the time came, when this woman pressed him for an answer, boy was he ready. Ready with a beautiful, simple, non-threatening, gospel-centered answer. An answer that was salty in the very best sense of the word, an answer that left this woman asking him, “Where do you go to church?” 


Friends, this, this, this is it. This is real evangelism, this is the missionary mindset of the 1st century and of the 21st century too.    


Evangelism isn’t so much about going door to door, it’s praying that God would first open a door. 


It’s about walking the walk and talking the talk. 


It’s doing those things, living in such a way that demands a Jesus explanation. 


Or as my former Pastor Scott Dudley would often say, “Do those things that provoke the question the answer to which can only be Jesus.” 


Living in such a way, that people look at you and ask, “What church do you go to? My goodness, whatever that is, more of that please.” 


We do it all for the same reason Paul once did, who proclaimed the mystery of Christ. This mystery language is a call back to chapter 1, where Paul described this mystery as Christ in you, the hope of glory. 


This is what we strive for. To be a family of faith becoming transformed by the love of Jesus Christ. Contending for you to see Christ in you.


For there are no ordinary Christians and there are no boring testimonies. All are miraculous, all are a gift of God’s grace. 


So pray, walk, and talk. Devote yourselves to prayer. Share your life with outsiders, those who don’t know Jesus. Make the most of every opportunity. Invite non-Christians into your homes, into this church, into your very lives. And may your conversations be full of grace and salt so that you may know how to answer everyone. 


Though the numbers are discouraging and the landscape increasingly bleak, nothing is impossible with God.  


And so, what do you say friends, what do you say? I say, by the grace of God, let’s go.









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