The Conversation of God’s Witness and Acts 8:26-40

We share Jesus out of love. It was C.S. Lewis who said: “Christianity, if false, is of no importance, and if true, of infinite importance. The only thing it cannot be is moderately important.” Christianity is of course of infinite importance to the Christian, and so too, then, is sharing the faith with others. In fact to not do so will seem callous and cold.  So while Canadian society may have a ‘hushing’ effect on all who would proselytise, we will want to pick up our cross and follow Jesus. To do so is the loving thing to do.

Some of us have been enjoying the “Becoming a Contagious Christian” course where we are encouraged to enter into spiritual conversations with others. Phillip’s personal testimony to the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8 is one of a few Bible passages that gives a clear depiction of one person involved in such a spiritual conversation, leading another person to faith in Christ. As such there is much here for us to learn here, so let’s take a look:

Tune into the Lord’s leading and be obedient to it. Notice straight off that the Ethiopian may never have trusted and followed Christ had Phillip not been attentive and obedient to God’s leading in his life (see verses 26-30). Are we listening to God? Are we hearing His heart cry for those who are living, or more accurately dying, far from His presence and love?

Watch for opportunities to start conversations on spiritual matters. While the Lord led Phillip to the chariot, it would seem that Phillip took the initiative in speaking on spiritual matters (see verse 30). An air purifier salesman once came to our house and after a lengthy spiel asked the big question: “if you had the opportunity to live longer, would you take it?” Seizing an opportunity I asked “if you had the opportunity to live for eternity would you take it?” He spoke on air purity for what seemed like an hour while my wife and I listened attentively. I spoke about Jesus for what seemed like a minute or two and the salesman disappeared quickly. While my witnessing may seem to have ended in failure who knows but that the salesman may have thought about my big question every time he asked his. Watch for opportunities to speak about spiritual things, you just never know . . .

Begin with a question and engage in a conversation. Notice how Phillip asks a question of the Ethiopian not out of the blue, but tying in with what is already happening (see verse 30). Can we be watching for opportunities to ask appropriate questions, ones which engage a conversation? It is important that we do not ask a question so that we can open the door for a pre-canned ‘evangelistic sermon’ rather that we ask a question to open the door for a two way conversation. Phillip not only spoke to the Ethiopian eunuch, he also listened and heard him (see verses 30-35).

Watch for an interest. The Ethiopian’s curiosity is already sparked and he wants to hear more (see verse 30-31). Being respectful of others means being aware of when spiritual conversations are beginning, and when they are ending!

Don’t put up barriers. The Ethiopian was from a different land with a different culture, had a different skin colour, and being a Gentile and a ‘eunuch’ would have faced different religious opportunities in the Judaism he had attached himself to. However, Phillip sat beside him and engaged fully in conversation. In a short while the eunuch would be fully immersed in the waters of baptism, symbolizing his full acceptance into the Christ’s Church. Let’s not put up barriers to our engaging another person in Christ.

Don’t be a stranger to strangers. While the emphasis on ‘friendship evangelism,’ can be good, we should not write off the possibility of engaging in meaningful conversations with complete strangers. Phillip was a complete stranger to the Ethiopian, but Phillip was willing to get close, and we get the sense of friendliness between the two. One New Year’s Eve I had an opportunity to speak to a complete stranger about Jesus. This was a union party in a town I had recently left and while filling in for a musician was there for very selfish reasons – to get paid for playing bass. The band was treated to dinner and I sat across from a man who had not set foot in a church since being yelled at by a priest. I seized the opportunity to get a spiritual conversation going and by the end of the night he expressed his regret that I had left town as he would have liked to have come to my church. That speaks of two things: a desire to grow spiritually and and a sense of friendship between us. Can you be a friend to a complete stranger?

Head to the empty tomb, and on the way stop at the cross. The Eunuch was reading about the suffering servant in Isaiah and Phillip “beginning with the scripture proclaimed the good news about Jesus to him” (verse 35 NET). The message of the cross is central to our faith as it speaks of forgiveness, grace, and mercy and so we will want to lead others to be thinking about the cross. However, if we stop there with the message that Jesus is Saviour we have only shared half of the good news. We really need to go further and make our way to the empty tomb where we discover that Jesus is Lord. When in the Bible we hear of people speaking of the “good news about Jesus” it is really a reference to his resurrection as well as His death. It is good news that Jesus is Saviour and Lord. Are we prepared to speak about what happened at the cross? Are we ready to speak about the reality of the resurrection and why it matters?

Know your stuff. When the Ethiopian asked a question about the interpretation of the Bible, Phillip knew what to say. This does not mean that we should have the answer to every possible question (or that we should pretend to), but we should know our stuff to a reasonable degree. This means knowing our Bible well! But it also means being aware of much more.

Don’t be surprised by professions of faith. Imagine our surprise if a complete stranger we are witnessing to would respond as the eunuch did: “Look, here is water! What is to prevent me from being baptized?” (verse 36 NRSV) Given our current Canadian climate of scepticism and pluralism, we are unfortunately not surprised when our youth go off to college or university and drop out of church. But we should be surprised that anyone would walk away from such a reasonable and deep thing as trusting Christ. Given the fact that God is God, we should not be surprised when people put their trust in Him.

Expect rejoicing. The last we hear of the Ethiopian he “went on his way rejoicing” (verse 39 NRSV). Many of us expect others to experience discomfort when we tell them about Jesus. Expect joy!

Know that God can do something big tomorrow with the seemingly little you have done today. Phillip was taken from preaching to crowds in verse six to speaking to just one person, the eunuch, in our passage. We don’t really know what happened to the Ethiopian eunuch but there is evidence of a vibrant church in Ethiopia in the early centuries. Perhaps this eunuch was used of God to begin a great work in Ethiopia. You may not be Billy Graham, but you just never know, the person you are witnessing to may be the next Billy Graham. What seems like a little in our minds can be of huge significance in the mind and plan of God. Besides, there is rejoicing in heaven over each and every soul that comes to Christ in repentance, as each and every soul is significant to Him (see Luke 15:7 again!).

We witness because God is real, and his love for us and others is real. We witness for the sake of the people we share Christ with, we share Jesus out of His love for them. To be a typically reserved and demurring “Canadian” on matters of evangelism is to be cold of heart, leaving people out in the cold. Remember, even Canadians like a little heat now and then! Winter is on the way, ready to light some fires?

Is Religion a Private Matter? (The Audacity and Gratitude of a Witness and 1 Chronicles 16:8)

“O give thanks to the LORD, call on his name, make known his deeds among the peoples.” 1 Chronicles 16:8 (NRSV)

“Faith and religion are private matters.” So goes a mantra in our nation today, and while most Canadians, Christian and non-Christian alike, will find little difficulty in giving thanks this Thanksgiving weekend, both may stumble on the “make known His deeds” part of the above verse. There is an aversion to “chatting up God” on the part of Christian, and there often seems to be an evasion of such chats on the part of the unbeliever. And so we go on and on about the weather and hockey, both of which are very public matters and both of which are of great concern to the typical Canadian while matters of faith are kept private. Furthermore we can not go around telling people we are right and they are wrong can we? Would that not be arrogance? Nor can we ram our religion down peoples throats can we? So shall we tone down the Christian rhetoric and let our actions speak for themselves? Or should we heed this Psalm of Thanksgiving and “Declare his glory among the nations, his marvellous works among the peoples” (verse 24)? Here are three observations:

First, religion cannot be a private matter because truth is not a private matter. And if our religion is not true, then we should want nothing more to do with it. In any field of learning privacy would be considered a curse. In educational matters you do not want your teachers keeping knowledge to themselves and in medical matters you do not want the doctors keeping knowledge of possible treatments private. In important matters it is of utmost importance that all facts and opinions are clear and accessible. So why would we want to make the most significant questions one could pose private? Questions such as “Who is God?” “Has God revealed Himself?” and “why should it matter?” There needs to be discussion and a sharing of ideas, retreat into privacy will not do. Religion can not be a private affair because truth is never a private affair, unless of course one has reason to value lies.

Second, the declaration of truth will always be accompanied with exclusive claims. We need not waffle when someone points out that by sharing Jesus with them we are insinuating that we are right and they are wrong. Surely it would not be the first time you are right and someone else is wrong? It is okay for that to happen! Remember that the person who raises that objection is usually thinking that they are right and you are wrong, so that cuts both ways. In fact there has never been a statement of truth that has not been exclusive. To say that my eyes are blue is also to say that my eyes are not brown, grey, or green. That is just the way truth works.

Third, thanksgiving for what is true naturally fits with the declaration of what is true. If on this Thanksgiving weekend it seems fitting that you give thanks to God, then it is also fitting for you to tell others about Him. If God does not strike us as real enough to declare, then God should not strike us as real enough to thank. I don’t know about you, but I cannot help but be grateful to God, He is very real to me, and I find my gratitude growing each year. Is my witness also growing? If it seems inappropriate to tone down our gratitude to God, then it is inappropriate to tone down our declaration. We do not want to ram religion down people’s throats, but we do want to get truth into people’s ears.

As Canadians we love to talk about the weather and hockey, and as Canadians we have an aversion to talking about religion. In a matter of days our weather and hockey talk will be lost, turning out to have been of supreme insignificance. But our conversations on matters of faith can impact a life for a lifetime, and can echo through all eternity.

Thanksgiving: A Celebration of Constancy (A Letter)

Dear Church Family,

I sit down to write the annual Thanksgiving letter and wonder how it can be any different than any of the other thanksgiving letters I have written over the past fifteen years? We live in a world awash with change and all things new. There are celebrations for new movies, new music, even new gadgets. With all this fascination with change and the new, how can I change up the Thanksgiving letter so it seems fresh, new, exciting, and worth reading?

But then by its very nature, Thanksgiving is in fact a celebration of what does not change. Farming techniques may have changed and the family farm may have sadly given way to the corporation, but potatoes, carrots, peas, and all kinds of wot not are still growing, thank the Lord, and being farmed as they always have been. We could adapt to life without electricity if we had to. We could adapt to a world without cars if we had to. We could even adapt to a world without motorcycles if we really, really had to. But we could never adapt to a world where there was no provision of food through the growth of animal and plant life. We could never adapt to a world without water. Although we may at times eat things that seem to come from a factory in some big city (and they may even taste that way), scan the ingredients and you will find there is always something, however manipulated, that has been provided by our Creator. Despite all that is new and changing around us we are the same old flesh and blood requiring the same old food and water. Thanksgiving is a celebration of constancy. Thank the Lord for what does not change!

“O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever.” 1st Chronicles 16:34 (NRSV)

And despite all that is new and changing around us, we are still the same flesh, blood, and spirit in need of a Saviour. There have been great changes, great advances in education in our day yet our world still recoils in horror at a multitude of foolish decisions. There have been great advances in science and superb innovation in technologies in our day yet in our world we still find ways to harness such for destructive ends. There have been wonderful new discoveries and great advances in medicine yet people still die like they always do. Despite all that is new and changing around us we still need a Saviour. Thankfully, God still provides a Saviour in Jesus Christ. While we pray and work for change, change that reflects the prayer “Thy Kingdom come,” we thank the Lord for what does not change: His love and provision for life with Him! Thanksgiving is a celebration of His constancy.

“O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever.” 1st Chronicles 16:34 (NRSV)

So here I sit as the same old pastor who wrote last year’s Thanksgiving letter, writing the same old Thanksgiving letter to the same, . . . well the same people. And with it comes the same old appeal for the Thanksgiving offering. And with that comes the same gratitude for your generosity as a church family. Thank the Lord for what does not change!

Sandra, the boys and I wish you a Happy Thanksgiving!