Last week as we began our sermon series we talked about how you can make a difference in a person’s life simply by walking across the room and we challenged you to be open to the Spirit to take that walk, to take that risk of extending a hand in hospitality. And as you thought about the words we shared last week, you might have been tempted to ask the next logical question, “NOW what?” What do I do AFTER I walk across the room? Do I need a Bible in hand? Should I memorize some pithy quotes from the Gospel of John? What if they ask me questions I don’t know the answers to?” Pretty soon that specter of fear and doubt begins to creep back in and we retreat into our turtle shells and decide that maybe it’s better to play it safe. But again, that’s how most people react when they are about to step into the Zone of the Unknown. They’re afraid of what they MIGHT find and that fear paralyzes them from taking the next step…and every step thereafter. Turns out that Christians are especially good at one thing – making friends with other Christians. In his book, Bill Hybels charts the number of interactions Christians have with those far from God and he charts it by years walking with Christ. After one year, we still have most of our friends. About 20 interactions with unchurched people in our lives, but that rapidly falls off. Year two, about 10. Year three, about 5. Until in year 8 in our walk, we have no noticeable interaction with anyone far from Christ. It’s hard to be evangelistic when we surround ourselves only with people who think like we do. But it’s so EASY for us to retreat to that place isn’t it? You have common viewpoints, you see the world in similar ways, and you don’t ever have to worry about that uncomfortable conversation about faith. But the truth is those conversations are not as scary as the images we conjure up about them or the feelings of fear that well up inside us when we think about having to answer questions of faith. We psych ourselves up to the point where we fear things that haven’t even happened yet and we become frozen from that fear. And we retreat deeper and deeper into that turtle shell. But like falling off a bike or getting hit by a ball when you’re playing a sport, we must not let our fear rule us. We need to get back on the bike again. We need to step back into the batter’s box and not let one bad experience sour us from doing what’s necessary and ultimately rewarding. And honestly, it’s much simpler than we often think it will be. Walking across the room is really just being willing to do three things. Just three simple things. And we’ll talk about those three things after we explore what the apostle Paul has to say to us.
This time we’re going to read from Paul’s first letter to the church at Corinth.
So if you have a Bible or a Bible app, please go to 1 Corinthians 9 beginning with verse 19. 1 Corinthians 9:19. As many of you know, Paul was not always a Christian. In fact, Paul wasn’t even originally a disciple. He was about as far from being a disciple as you could imagine. He was a Pharisee. And not just any Pharisee, but a Pharisee among Pharisees and he had no tolerance for these upstart Followers of the Way – what those who followed Jesus called themselves back when Christianity just began, Followers of the Way. Paul was one of the meanest, baddest guys around. If the Bible were a Western movie, Paul would be the guy wearing the black hat. He routinely threw these followers of Jesus in jail and even approved when they stoned one of Christ’s followers, Stephen. Which made his conversion to Christianity even more remarkable because he had come so far. If you’re curious, I want to encourage you to read about it in Luke’s account in the book of Acts. But what we’re going to focus on today is Paul’s approach to those far from Christ. After he became convinced that Jesus really was God in human form, he gave up his old life and devoted himself to helping others believe what he believed, that Christ was the savior. And in his letter to the church at Corinth he shared with them how he did it – how he approached those far from God.
19 Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. 20 To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. 21 To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. 23 I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.
We talked about this before, that there’s this preconception of what it means to “serve others.”
That somehow it means giving away your freedom, but Paul dispels that myth right at the beginning in this passage from his letter. He says right up front, “Though I am free…I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible.” Though I am free…I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. And what Paul is telling the church is not that they have to go out and become literal slaves, but that their life should be dedicated to serving others “to win as many as possible.” He tells them that in order to do this work, we need to meet people where they are, not where we want them to be. We need to meet people where they are, not where WE want them to be. It’s just so easy to be judgmental about other people’s lives. We criticize the way they dress or the way they act or the language that they use and we tell ourselves that we don’t want to be around them. They’re a bad influence. But how would they ever know there’s another way unless there are people willing to show them? Paul says that he becomes like those around him in order to win them for Christ. Not that he acts exactly like them, but just that he’s willing to do anything short of bringing sin upon himself in order to share Jesus. And Paul is honest about his expectations of success. He says in verse 22, “I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save SOME.” I might. Save. Some. We’re not going to save everyone. At least not by ourselves and not even with the Holy Spirit, because people still have the freedom to choose. But they won’t ever choose Christ unless they even know he’s an option, and it’s up to us to do reveal that hope.
So we go back to the question, “Now what?”
Now, we begin living in 3D. We Develop, Discover, Discern. Develop, Discover, Discern. We develop friendships with unchurched people. We discover their stories. And we discern next steps. We develop friendships, discover stories, and discern next steps. And you don’t have to do anything more than be yourself to do it. You simply have to step into the Zone of the Unknown and make yourself open to whatever happens next. It also means leaving space in your life to talk to people who are far from God. Now, if you’re not Christian, you’re totally off the hook. If you are struggling with your faith, of course you’re not expected to go and bring people to Christ. But if you say you’re Christian and you believe that Jesus came to bring salvation to us and died for us, then we have to be moved by his command to make disciples in his name. So ask yourself, “What am I doing to bring people into a loving relationship with Christ?” What am I doing to bring people into a loving relationship with Christ? Hopefully, you’re developing, discovering, and discerning.
Developing friendships isn’t hard.
Sometimes maintaining them is tough, but developing them is second nature to most of us. Look at the people in your life and notice how many connections you’ve made. I think it was easier when we were young because we were bolder and weren’t tied down by bad experiences. I remember my first day of kindergarten, I went up to the first boy I saw and asked him his name. He said, “Josh.” I said, “My name’s Craig. Want to be friends?” He said, “Sure.” And that was that. We were friends all through high school. Now it’s not quite that easy anymore, and we’re not quite so bold, but you have family and friends and odds are some of them are far from God. Are you actively working on those relationships? Are you listening to their stories and are you praying for God to use you to be able to share Christ’s love with them? And if you feel like you honestly have no friends or family who are far from God, are you going out and meeting new people? There are so many avenues to explore with this. Take a hobby or an interest you have, like fishing. Go fishing with a couple of buddies and introduce yourself to the deckhands and get to know them. Or if you like Starbucks, go to your local Starbucks and develop a relationship with the person making your coffee. If you’re shy, go with a friend who’s willing to take that walk across the room with you. Moses did. He told God that there’s no way he could do it. There was no way he could go up to Pharaoh and tell him what God wanted him to say. He was embarrassed because he stuttered and stammered and God told him to bring his brother Aaron with him. The key is getting out there and talking to people who need to know God.
When you do, take time to listen to them, really listen and discover their stories.
We often think that the best way to share Christ with someone is to tell them about him, but sometimes, it’s just to listen and be a friend. Sometimes we don’t have to talk. Sometimes it’s enough to just listen and be a friend. The best way for us to listen is to pay attention, use our body language as much as our ears, don’t interrupt, let the other person know you’re listening by repeating back snippets of what they’ve said, and if appropriate offer some constructive and positive feedback. When we do these things, believe it or not, we are expressing love for others. So much of the time, we just want to be heard and when you are the one doing the listening instead of the talking, you show with your patience, your reflection, and your attentiveness that you are indeed hearing them. And though this you will be in a better position to discern what to do next. Because in the listening, you’ll hear about their hurts and pains, about their struggles with faith, and about their needs and desires. That will make you better understand how Jesus can fit into their life. Sometimes those next steps will be words of support. Sometimes it will be an act of kindness. Sometimes the next step is just to continue being a friend.
I guess I’m pretty passionate about this stuff.
And it’s because I know that if the people in my life hadn’t taken the time to walk across the room for me, I wouldn’t be standing here today. I would probably have gone on, looking to make a name for myself or to amass more wealth, and I would still be far from God. If it wasn’t for people like my friends Mark and Steven who invited me to church and never made me feel uncomfortable about it, or Cassie who would gently nudge me toward coming to church regularly but never pressured me. Or if it wasn’t for that first Sunday School class of mine that set up a meal schedule and brought meals to our house every day for a week after Emma was born. If it wasn’t for all of these people and more, I don’t know where I would be but probably far from God. There are plenty of reasons why any of them could have chosen not to reach out. They were busy. They were worried about alienating me. They didn’t feel equipped to share the love of Christ. But instead they walked across the room and invested in me in a way that I’d never experienced before. And that made all the difference. So when I encourage you to take a walk across the room, it’s because I know how powerful it can be and how easy it is to do. None of those people ever “evangelized” me. They just followed the three “D”s. They developed a relationship with me, they discovered my story, and they discerned next steps. When we are faithful to living a life in 3D it is amazing the work God can do in us. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
 Bill Hybels, Just Walk Across the Room, location 1059 Kindle Version.
 http://www.mindtools.com/CommSkll/ActiveListening.htm Most people engaged in active listening will list a variation of these five tools.