Sunday, November 15, 2009

Being Wise Toward Outsiders

Music is such a meaningful part of the Christian life. From ancient times songs have risen in men's hearts in moments of celebration, for expressing gratitude and adoration, and for other purposes and occasions. This morning we opened with the chorus, "I will sing of the mercies of the Lord forever." After announcements, Darlene's piano introit expressively conveyed another great song, His Eye Is On The Sparrow. The song is so rich, it seemed appropriate to share a portion of it here.

Why should I feel discouraged,
Why should the shadows fall
Why should my heart be troubled,
When all but hope is gone?
When Jesus is my fortress.
My constant friend is He.
His eye is on the Sparrow,
and I know He watches me.
His eye is on the Sparrow,
and I know He watches me!

I sing because I'm happy,
I sing because I'm free,
For His eye is on the sparrow,
And I know He watches me.

A Very Special Sunday

Today the youth of the church carried the Operation Christmas Child gift boxes to the altar which had been assembled for needy children. Then the children's choir sang several songs for us.

The Scripture reading, and the passage upon which the sermon was based, is from Colossians 4:2-6

2Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. 3And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. 4Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should. 5Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. 6Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.

Pastor Brad ascended to the pulpit and after leading us in a time of prayer began his message.

Being Wise Toward Outsiders

Brad began by quizzing us about "famous last words" from Nathan Hale to Dwight Eisenhower and ended with this one. "Who said, 'Please leave the shower curtain on the inside of the tub.'?" As at least one member of the congregation knew, it was Conrad Hilton.

This amusing intro was a lead in to the importance of last words in general, and Paul's last words to the Colossians specifically. For most people their last words touch on issues of significance, and so it is with Paul's letter here, the last time he will be addressing the Colossian believers. There were two things burning on Paul's heart, prayer and spreading the Word.

Brad demonstrated his depth of understanding of ancient languages and by explaining to us what the meaning of the words "devote yourselves to prayer" mean. "It means, devote yourselves to prayer." In other words, pray a lot, whether alone or in groups, in all circumstances, in the morning and in the evening and when you're up and when you're down, when you're worried, sick, burdened, broken hearted or when you're soaring and setting records; pray when you're busy and pray when you're bored.

He noted this insight from Dallas Willard. "The more often we pray, the more we think to pray."

In another letter Paul admonished, "Pray without ceasing." It's an ongoing dialogue with God throughout the day.

Brad compared it to having a headset on in which one ear is tuned continually to God's voice and the other to what we are experiencing here and now. Whether driving in a car, or sitting in a meeting at work, we can have an ear open and a dialogue going. "Lord, help me to be effective in this situation."

There's a second component to the life of prayer that is equally important. It is a healthy discipline, to set aside time apart exclusively for prayer. In Matthew 6:6 Jesus said, "When you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father who is unseen..."

In short, both of these are important components of the life of prayer, the ongoing dialogue and the time set apart.

In the next portion of this passage Paul spells out what he wishes prayer for, which also has two components. First, he asks them to pray that God will open a door for the Gospel. This is a very important truth. You can't cram Christ through closed doors. God prepares hearts and He does this through our prayers. John 6:44 states "No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day." Prayer has to precede evangelism.

Second, he asks them to pray that they will make the message clear. It is clarity, not cleverness, that wins souls and changes lives. Paul did not ask to be impressive, only effective through a clear presentation of the words of life. When the door to peoples' hearts is open, you want to be clear.

Brad shared three values that were important to him when presenting the Good News of life in Christ.

1. "I want the person I am talking to to know our God is filled with love and compassion, that His arms are open to all."

2. "No amount of human effort will make people right with God. You can't save yourself."

3. "There is a decision that needs to be made. You don't drift into faith. You either opt in or you opt out."

The passage encourages hearers to be wise toward outsiders and sensitive. Simultaneously, our conversation is to full of grace, seasoned with salt, which is an interesting description. Paul asks the Colossians to be attractive representatives on behalf of Jesus: loving, winsome, fun, grace-filled. But this little phrase "seasoned with salt" is also an intriguing part of the request.

Brad noted that the salt helps give an edge to the food and that there may be moments when we can make our message clear, but out of fear of offending we may hold back from what we really mean. He cited the Rev. Billy Graham as being a master at this throughout his adult life. He teaches a clear message, prays that God will open doors, treats unbelievers respectfully, and when it comes time for the invitation says there' room at the cross for you, asking people to stand up, to make a decision and not wait for tomorrow because there are no guarantees for tomorrow. This is the salt.

The death rate is 100%. We ourselves and everyone we know is going to die one day. No one escapes that. Thus, it is worth a prayer every morning to ask God to open a door for you to share the Gospel, to be used to transform a life. Then, leave it in God's hands.
The message is our responsibility to share.

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