Posts Tagged ‘Steve Sjogren’

Sermon 02-23-14: “Hearers and Doers, Part 2”

February 28, 2014


Perhaps the most important way in which the church fails to be “doers of the word and not hearers only” is when it comes to the work of evangelism. If we Christians believe that eternity is at stake in the question of a person’s decision to accept or reject God’s gift of salvation, wouldn’t we approach this task with greater urgency? Instead, we are often reluctant to witness to our faith. Why? What can help us become more faithful in this mission?

Sermon Text: James 1:19-27

The following is my original sermon manuscript with footnotes.

So, Satan made news in Hollywood this week. I’m sure that was a mistake on Satan’s part. Usually, he goes about his work in Hollywood under the radar, without anyone noticing!

Be that as it may, Satan was in the news. You may recall that last year, Roma Downey, former star of Touched by an Angel, and her husband, Mark Burnett, creator and producer of the show Survivor, produced a hit miniseries called The Bible. They announced last week that they are recycling part of that miniseries to create a theatrically released movie about Jesus called Son of God.

If you saw the original miniseries, however, you may notice one small difference: Satan didn’t make the cut this time.

Literally, they’re cutting out the scene in which Satan tempts Jesus in the wilderness. When the original miniseries aired, that scene caused controversy after Glenn Beck tweeted that he saw a resemblance between Satan and President Obama. And that’s all anyone was talking about the next day. Roma Downey said she didn’t want a repeat of that experience. She said, “I wanted all of the focus to be on Jesus. I want His name to be on the lips of everyone who sees this movie, so we cast Satan out.” Read the rest of this entry »

Is it possible to enjoy evangelism?

February 20, 2014


Twice during our Disney trip this week, a skywriter wrote messages about Jesus. The first was “JESUS 4GIVES JUST ASK,” and the second was the one pictured above, “JESUS LOI.” I know that doesn’t make sense. I’m sure he was going to turn that I into a V and spell out “JESUS LOVES YOU.” We drove away before we saw the finished product.

When I was younger and more foolish than I am today, I would have dismissed this sort of evangelistic effort as shallow and ineffective. But why? We could do worse than to remind people that Jesus loves them and will forgive them when they ask. And at least this person is doing something to spread the good news of God’s love in Christ. I assume when the pilot is on the ground he does other things, too. People obviously need more than just this message. But it’s a start.

One problem, however—which you can begin to see even from this photo—is that smoke letters quickly disperse, like wet ink smudging on paper. Since skywriting is a slow and painstaking process, it’s likely that the words on left will be unreadable before he finishes writing his message.

As we the church go about our task of fulfilling Christ’s Great Commission to make disciples, we probably want to make a more lasting impact on people’s lives. In fact, we want to make an eternal impact. How do we do that?

Answer: We don’t. We can’t!  It isn’t within our power to make an eternal impact on people’s lives.

Fortunately, we have the Holy Spirit who does have that kind of power.

In his book Conspiracy of Kindness, pastor Steve Sjogren makes this point often: it isn’t about what we do so much as what the Holy Spirit does through us. We easily forget this fact. That’s why Sjogren says most of the evangelism we do either puts pressure on ourselves (“How many people have made faith decisions through our efforts?”), the person being evangelized (“Are you ready to pray right now to accept Christ as Savior and Lord?”), the evangelism program itself (“We’ll have guaranteed success if we follow these seven steps!”), or some combination of the three.

Where we should put the pressure, Sjogren argues, is on God.

In short, the Holy Spirit is the only true evangelist who has ever existed. His is the only power in the universe that can turn a convert into a disciple who looks like Jesus Christ. If the Holy Spirit truly is the only evangelist who has even been, then we are free to remove pressure from the wrong places. We can begin  seeing ourselves as coworkers with the Holy Spirit, letting Him do what only He can do anyway. Our role is to enjoy the flow of God’s life through us as we share our joy with others. When we abide in God, we don’t just speak or even demonstrate the message of His love; we embody that message in a way that makes people stand up and take notice.[†]

Enjoy the flow of God’s life through us?

I’m reminded of Br’er Rabbit: “Please don’t throw me into that briar patch!”

want to enjoy the flow of God’s life through me. Don’t you?

I’ll say more about this in my sermon on Sunday, as my sermon “Hearers and Doers” continues with Part 2.

Steve Sjogren, Conspiracy of Kindness, rev. (Ventura, CA: Regal, 2003), 55.

Evangelism for everyone!

February 7, 2014

conspiracyofkindness-CoverYears ago I had a boss, a district superintendent, who recommended that I read a book on evangelism called Conspiracy of Kindness, by Steve Sjogren. It’s “old” in Christian book circles—published in 1993, updated in 2003. Unfortunately, I didn’t read it back then. I wish I had!

Today, I’m sure there are many more fashionable books on the subject—I’ve read at least a few of them! But none of them has blown me away like this one.

Like most books on evangelism, Conspiracy of Kindness makes me feel guilty. If you’re a Christian who grew up in an evangelical church like me (Southern Baptist, in my case) you probably know that feeling of guilt. You know you’re supposed to share your faith, or share the love of Jesus Christ, or invite someone to church, or do something related to witnessing. And chances are you don’t feel like you do it often or well enough.

If you’re like me, witnessing usually feels embarrassing, awkward, risky. You fear rejection. (And I’m writing as someone who was even lousy at dating because I was afraid to ask girls out!) So you mostly don’t witness—at least intentionally. You hope some of that good old “lifestyle evangelism” seeps through your pores, but you’re not sure.

So, assuming you haven’t numbed your conscience yet through your unfaithfulness to the Great Commission, you probably feel guilty about it.

While I agree with the cliché often attributed to St. Francis (“Always remember to preach the gospel. And if necessary, use words.”), even preaching the gospel in this way—through actions more than words—should be a deliberate act, at least until doing it becomes second nature. We should pray to do it, plan to do it, prepare to do it, expect to do it.

Witnessing will still happen by accident, of course. But I’ve found that it doesn’t happen very often that way. Isn’t that your experience?

And herein lies the strength of Conspiracy of Kindness: It makes evangelism so easy I think even could do it!

Here is Sjogren’s approach: take a small group of church members, go outside the church and into the community, and perform small, free, no-strings-attached acts of kindness for people.

He gives dozens of examples of this type of service: giving out soft drinks to passersby on hot summer days; washing windshields in shopping mall parking lots; cleaning toilets at local retail establishments; washing cars; raking yards; handing out bottles of Gatorade to cyclists and joggers at the local park. It could be any number of other things—be creative! But it’s all free of charge. No donations accepted.

Yes, people will be suspicious. Yes, they might think you’re crazy at first. When they ask, as they inevitably will, “Why are you doing this?” His team’s response is, “We’re doing this free service project as a practical way to show God’s love.”

And that’s all the talking, and all the interaction, that’s required.

Of course, sometimes the act of kindness will lead to something more: According to Sjogren, some people begin weeping when offered an act of kindness. Some people ask for prayer. And, yes, sometimes people will even want to pray to receive Christ.

But Sjogren emphasizes that we don’t worry about the results. We leave that up to the Holy Spirit. He’s the one in charge.

I have an idea that this approach to evangelism will become a part of what we do at Hampton UMC. I imagine I’ll even be referring to Sjogren’s book in my upcoming sermons on the Letter of James.