Lifestyle Evangelism

A special thanks to Lois Thiessen, our guest for today during our Sunday school and morning worship service.  Lois is presently serving with her husband, Duane, as missionaries in Uruguay with the Christian and Missionary Alliance.  She and her husband have been in service as missionaries since 1979, with the first 23 years of service in Peru before being reassigned to Uruguay.  They are both instructors at the Bible Institute in Uruguay, which prepares persons to enter ministry full-time and plant churches.  Throughout their journey, they have played an important role in assisting many others to come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.  Duane and Lois have three children and a new grandchild that was just born this past September.

Here is the transcript of her message to our Sunday school class on November 21, 2010:

I love what I do.  We work in Uruguay, South America, and I can’t think of any place I would rather be than in the center of God’s will.  One of the things that we do with our students in the Bible Institute—and that is our primary responsibility—is to teach them Bible theology, practical ministry subjects, in an attempt to raise up a new generation of leaders and pastors for our Alliance churches in Uruguay.  One of the things they have just recently done in the last three—well, actually it started about five years ago—is a restructuring program of the Bible Institute, and in that, what they have tried to do is that every course includes practical application of what they are studying.  Prior to that, it was basically academic, and then they were to find the way to apply that when they went into their ministry situations in the church.  So, in each of our courses, whether they be Bible theology or practical ministry subjects, we look for ways to take them into a walk of experiencing what we are talking about.  And I had the fun of teaching evangelism.

Now, I have to admit to you that I have never felt that my strength or my gifting was in evangelism, but I believe that scripture teaches that every one of us is a witness to the power of God—and to the changing—the power of Jesus to transform lives.  And that is going to take us into evangelism whether we think about it or not.  But there are people—I would like to differentiate—who have a gift as an evangelist, and that is their primary involvement.  We use the book written by Bill Hybels on Becoming a Contagious Christian—I highly recommend it.  He wrote a second book called Just Walk Across the Room—talking about being willing to move out of our comfort zones, and be sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s leading to people that are around us that are isolated, and be willing to listen and hear their story.  I’ll back up a bit and come back to one of his main concepts, but he starts from authentic Christian lifestyle—that’s our starting point if we expect to ever win anybody to Christ.  Because if our life does not back what we speak, it will just wash out the testimony that we give.  And so we talk a lot about where we are at in our own personal lives.  And then, we walked for a month in a series of homework, and our purpose in the initial homework assignments in that evangelism class was to do the groundwork to earn the right to speak.  You see, so often when we go to an evangelism seminar, or we go to some kind of an evangelism motivational experience or class, the idea is how do we talk the gospel? And so we wanted to start with how do we walk the gospel.  One of the things in an article that I read in a—I think it was a Christianity Today years ago talking about the wonder of it all.  It talked of a 90-year old man who walked with his bible under one arm and his newspaper under the other arm.  And he said my purpose is this—“I read my bible to know what God is doing, and I read my newspaper to find out where He’s doing it.”  As you see the moving around the world and what is taking place in the nations, it speaks to what God said was coming—and he said “the wonder of it all when you observe the world around you, and you see the hand of God at work.”  And so we talk to our students about first observing—and work through not just their values are—what their priorities are and what their evaluation of the problems in our society are—but to begin to observe and see.  And as they would go out and observe their communities, they began to feel what was taking place.  They began to see the materialism that is our priority in the country of Uruguay.  They began to see how much importance we put in education, but how low a priority we put on God or His Word.  And as they began to look at people and see sad faces and troubled hearts, and conflict and division, they began to understand why God reached out to this desperate, desperate world.  And then, they were sent to people to talk and ask questions—ask them what they value, what they see as problems in society, and what they saw as the world that we were leaving to the next generation—and we’re going to end on that point in these twenty-five minutes—because the world that they felt they were leaving to the next generation was a world that was corrupted, contaminated, hopeless, desperate, violent.  And all of sudden you’re saying you’ve got these values of family and hope, and love and harmony—and this is the kind of world we’re leaving?  Then where is the discrepancy?  How come I’m not able to live the values that I hold so dear?  And you know the answers to that.  And as the people began to see how sin takes us down a road that inevitably leaves disaster and destruction around us—what a need there is to get the gospel message out!  But I am very aware, as I move down that road of teaching my students in the classroom that I have to live what I’m teaching.

And so I’ve asked God to give me people in every age group that I can be sharing the gospel with.  When I was about 13, I asked God to help me to remember every stage of my life so that I would never get to be one of the adults that forgot what it was like to be a kid.  And so you see I can’t live without getting down on the floor and playing with children, because I remember what it felt like to be four and five years old.  And I can’t live without frolicking in a swimming pool, or playing games with eight to twelve year olds, because I remember how much fun it was to have adult friends that would do that with me.  And I can’t stand looking at new mothers without getting involved in their lives, because I remember what it was like to have young children—and people who said, “enjoy it—they’ll grow up soon enough,” and you’re just tearing your hair out because you don’t know what to do next.

And so God has given me friends in all those different ages of life.  And I want to tell you a story about one of them because it overlaps with the story of our students in the Bible Institute.  One of our pastors and his wife had difficult times in their family situation.  Their son, who was not really living for the Lord, was in a very critical motorcycle accident at the age of eighteen.  He was in intensive care for a couple of days and then passed away.  His sister, who had been buddies like that with him just turned against God—against the church—and couldn’t understand why God would take her brother.  And she started to walk down a road that took her to hardness of heart.  She made a bad choice in her marriage decision, and (there was) a lot of conflict in their home—separated a couple of times but kept coming back together—and longing for a child.  But eight years passed, and she had no children.  Her parents prayed for her, the church was praying for her—and God gave her the gift of a child—the ability to conceive.  And she knew that it came from God.  I had tried to get to know that girl.  Her Mom had asked me to see her because the daughter and I lived in the same city—the mother lived farther away.  And the one time I met her, she was so culturally courteous to me that I knew a door was being slammed in my face.  But I thought God will bring the time when I can get to know her on a different ground.  Just a few months after that baby was born, the baby had bronchitis, and the mom also had bronchitis.  She took an antibiotic that she had an allergic reaction to, and the doctor thought they were going to lose her.  She got a strong wake-up call that she was not in control of her life—and that she needed to recommit her life to God.  She wanted her baby to live, and she wanted to live to enjoy her baby’s life.  And her Mom phoned me and said, “you know, Jackie’s not doing well—do you think you could just go and visit her?” I didn’t know what kind of a reception I would get that day, but as the door opened, she just threw herself into my arms and burst into tears, and I thought, ‘Well, this is different.’  And that was the beginning of a friendship.  And that day she was so sick, she took me right into her bedroom.  She hopped into bed and I took care of the baby—and we talked.  And tears rolled down her face as she talked about her battle with God and her battle with the church, and her desire now to bring up her child in the faith of God—to bring up her child to know the Word of God, but an inability to know how to come back.

And so we started a journey together, where I took her hand and we started walking back together.  She had met three women in prenatal classes, and they became friends and would get together maybe once a month.  And she started inviting me to that group.  Now, listen to the composition of this group—one of the girls is a graduate from our bible school—well, actually she was in our last year at our Bible Institute, but she had a baby together with these girls.  Another one—her Mom and her brothers and sisters had gone to an Alliance church in a small town outside of Rivera, but she had chosen to live with a fellow, have a baby, and was far from God.  The other one had been brought up Catholic (and) had no desire to have anything to do with God.  But these four girls came to love each other.  And that was four years ago, and we still meet together.  And two of those girls now are following God—the one of them, she and her husband are in one of our church plants helping in the teaching program.  The other one is still quite resistant to spirituality, but very open to love.  And so, in each of the times we get together, when it’s at my house, we do a little teaching activity.  The moms and the kids decorate cupcakes together.  The last time they came in(to) my home, they drew their hands and they drew pictures of what their hands do together.  And then they drew their feet, and they drew pictures of where their feet go together.  And then I talked to them about how as moms we’re models, and they (the children) will follow us whether we go bad or whether we go good.

And then I talked to my evangelism class, and I say ‘what are you doing to listen to people’s hearts? How are you loving on the next generation in order to reach them for Jesus Christ?’  And so as the evangelism students went out, they listened as they interviewed people.  And I said ‘you are interviewing—you’re not preaching.’ And as they listened to hearts of people who said, “I didn’t know you cared what I thought.”  Interesting—we go so quick to speaking and so slow to listen—they began to get a passion to see God work in the lives of their family and their friends and their neighbors and their workplace.

I mentioned the other day that one of the women went into a bank after we had talked about how to steer normal conversations into spiritual themes.  And as she put her money down to pay a debt in that bank, she said to the banker, “I’m so glad that somebody has paid a debt much larger for me.” And the guy said, “Really? Tell me about it.” All she did was talk the guy’s language.  She entered his world and began to share a little message—a little tiny bit of the gospel.  And she said, “I had a debt so big of sin and Jesus paid that debt for me—I don’t ever have to pay it.”  And then she came back to class and she says, “but then I didn’t know what to say!”  And I said ‘that’s why we’ve got a few more classes yet,’ and we kept on going.

I remember when one of the missionaries from Montevideo came up and he shared what they were doing to try and build bridges into a community that is very resistant to the gospel—the upper middle and the upper class people in the city of Montevideo—less than one percent Christian.  They have been brought up in an agnostic, atheistic environment—very humanitarian, philosophical, (and) materialistic—but God—He’s not even a blip on their computer screen.  He doesn’t enter their life.  They aren’t out seeking Him, and the only way to begin to let the gospel enter into that community is (that) they did what we saw Jesus did—was to move into those communities and live among them—become a part of their life.  Go to the places that they go—be involved in activities that they are involved in.  And begin to look for those bridges that will permit them to share their faith in Jesus Christ.  They’re living authentic Christian lives—they’re loving those people to Jesus, and earning the right to say why they are the way they are.  And so, Tom came up to talk to our evangelism class and talk about relational evangelism—lifestyle evangelism, not evangelism as an activity where we say, “well, from four o’clock to six o’clock tonight, we’re going out to evangelize.” No—he said where your whole life you live intentionally, and every opportunity—every door that opens that crosses your path, you walk through it in the power of Jesus and share your faith when He gives you the opportunity.  And one of the guys was just sitting there visibly agitated. And he’s quite a verbal guy, and I knew that any minute, something was going to blow—and I wasn’t disappointed.  Just a couple minutes later—poof—out it came!  “Just a minute,” he said, “what you’re saying takes too long!”  And Tom said, “Yeah, it takes time.”  But he said, “You know, when you go in with an aggressive form of evangelism into that area, they just turn it off.  A barrier goes up, and there’s resistance.”  And Luis, the student said, “I’ve just kind of always thought that my responsibility is to get the message out there,” and he said, “you tell them that Jesus came, He came to save them, that they’re sinners, they want to accept Him, they can—then I wash my hands of them.  If they don’t want it, I’ll go somewhere else and talk to somebody else.”  And he said, “But you’re talking about building a friendship and a relationship.”  And Tom said, “What did Jesus do?”  “Awww!” he said, and then I could see he was kind of moving (but) Tom kept talking. And finally, Luis—he’s looking for another out.  And he said, “Well, I don’t know.  Maybe that works in Montevideo, but I don’t think it works in Rivera.”  And I said to him, ‘I sure hope it works, Luis, because that’s what I’m using with my neighbors and with my friends like Jackie.’  Looking for those bridges—those little times that they invite you into their world, that they invite you into their realm of thinking.  And you move in like Jesus did and you begin to look for cues that relate to the gospel.  And so, Luis said, “Well,” a little bit agitated, “maybe.” Funny, when we took him into reading a couple of chapters in a book called The Church of the Irresistible Influence written by Robert Lewis about a church in Little Rock, Arkansas that began to look for ways to build bridges into the community.  Every chapter of that book is introduced by a real-life bridge story.  Some of them fell apart because the foundation wasn’t adequate.  Some they said could never be built, and (yet) they were built.  And they used that as a jumping off point to tell about their experience in growing in relational evangelism.  And as they read the last two chapters of that book, I might have known—my objections came from Luis, and he’s kind of agitated again in class after reading these two chapters, and he said, “Well, I think that works in the United States because you guys got money there, and you’ve got the money to do these programs there.” And I said, ‘Luis, I’m not talking about how big the program is—I’m not talking about how much money they put into it.’  I said, ‘One little church started with one idea, and then it mushroomed—it grew, and it went to other churches, and a community got involved.’ I said, ‘Take the principles and apply the principles.  Don’t look at the dollar signs and try and get that amount of money to work with.’ When Luis graduated, he went back to the church that he had been born and bred in as a Christian, and he became one of their strong leaders in that church.  That church has now started small groups in the community, and Luis is one of the leaders in a home, reaching out to neighbors.  And Luis’ understanding now—it’s all about relationship.

You see, God is in relationship.  He is a triune God.  He’s called us into relationship with Him.  And He calls us to live in fellowship—in relationship in the body of Jesus Christ.  And you know, when I’m on that road to heaven, I want to take as many people as I can with me through the door of heaven.  And God is giving opportunities to do that.

One of the classes, as they had the opportunity to finally get to the point of being able to share the gospel in an organized way, and just see what peoples’ response would be—out of nine students, six or seven of them shared their faith that week—three of them led someone to the Lord.  These are people that don’t have a high (level) academic training, but they have a heart for God and a passion for people.  And as I mentioned in the message the other night, that class—we didn’t even need chairs that day because they were just walking on air when they came into class.  And one of the students said, “I didn’t know that sharing my faith could be so easy.”  But she did it with somebody that she knew in an environment that she knew with an example that she had learned that she was secure in.

One of the examples we use is the example of marriage.  You see, when Duane (her husband) told me that he loved me, it was one of the most exciting days of my life.  And when he proposed marriage, I couldn’t believe it!  And when I walked out of that restaurant after he had proposed marriage, I could have gone the rest of my life saying, ‘Do you know what? Somebody loves me!’  I could have gone the rest of my life saying, ‘Somebody invited me into (a) relationship.’  And I could have basked in the warmth of that love without ever making a response.  But that would have been really stupid.  I mean, he was offering me to come into a relationship with him, but it required a response on my part.  It required a yes or a no.  And I think you figured out what I said.  I said yes, and then, not only did I have the offering of that love, I had all of the benefits—the privileges of that relationship.  And when we go out to share our faith in Jesus Christ, use the example of marriage and say, ‘Do you think someone would be stupid enough to say “no”? I’ll just enjoy the fact that someone said once, “they love me.”’  Well, God has said, “He loves me.”  And I could go all through life going, ‘God loves me.’ Isn’t that wonderful?  And there are many people in our culture here in the states that bask in the knowledge that God loves them without ever having committed themselves to a personal relationship with Him.  They need to respond, and we need to be the ones to give them that opportunity to respond.

And so our students walked into that experience, and began to see it wasn’t a hard thing—it was a fun thing, it was an adventure to go through an open door and give someone the opportunity to not just bask in the knowledge of God’s love, but to enjoy the privileges of that love because they said yes to Him.  One of things our students struggle with, and I think we struggle with back here in the United States, is not all of us are evangelists in terms of our way of thinking of evangelists.  But Bill Hybels in his books takes us into a very interesting chapter to evaluate ‘what am I like?’  ‘What has God made me like?’  And he talks about six different kinds of evangelists.  I want you to listen and think which one fits me.  You’ve got Peter, the proclaimer.  He was the perfect choice for the day of Pentecost.  He got up and preached to a multitude, and three thousand people accepted Christ.  That was my idea of a typical evangelist.  But scripture doesn’t stop there.  There’s Paul, the one who would sit down with intellectual groups, and he had an apologetic approach, where he would reason with them and he would start from where they were.  ‘I’ve walked through your cities; I’ve seen your altars to the gods that you worship, and I’ve seen one to the unknown God.  He’s the One I want to tell you about.’  And so he moved in an intellectual approach of apologetics—a defense of the faith, and an invitation to think about it.  There was the Samaritan woman who couldn’t express what just happened but she went to a whole village and she said, “Come and hear someone talk who told me everything about my life.”  Now that town didn’t need to be told about her life—they knew her lifestyle.  And they wanted to know what this guy was like.  And the town went out to hear Jesus because of the invitation of that woman, and they spent two to three days listening to his teaching and it says that many people believed in that town because of the change in that Samaritan woman’s life.  The blind man, I love that guy, they called him up before a council and they said, “Explain to us what took place.” And he goes, “I can’t explain it.  All I know is that I was blind, and now I see!  Doesn’t that make sense to you?”  He gave a personal testimony of a transforming change in his life.  He couldn’t give all of the theological arguments.  He didn’t know what the process was, but he knew the change and could express what the change was.  Uh—there’s one more in there I’m missing.  Dorcas was a woman who did acts of service—they had such a profound impact on her community that the people were lined up crying when she passed away.  And God gave that woman life to continue doing acts of kindness, which spoke of His love and transformed people in that neighborhood.  Oh, yeah, my favorite one—this is the guy I like—Matthew.  He had a party.  I love to have parties.  I love to have people come in and have fun together because I think life should be fun.  And it should be an adventure.  And I think that, in the midst of that, we should find Christ.  He’s the one that gives us joy—life and life abundantly.  And Matthew said “Hey you guys, come on over.  Listen to this guy I met.”  And they celebrated—they ate together.  And they got to know somebody who changed their lives and their ways of thinking.  So who do you identify with?

I want to end with what is my desire and my testimony in life, and I’d like to challenge you with this.  Psalm 71—I had always taken it as my mother’s psalm as she came to the end of her life.  My mom passed away last June, and this year it’s become very evident to me—I’m now there, and it’s my psalm.  Listen to these words and you’ll know why.  Verse 17 and 18 of Psalm 71:  “Since my youth, O God, you have taught me.  And to this day I declare Your marvelous deeds.  Even when I am old and gray, do not forsake me, O God.”  Listen to this, “Until I declare Your power to the next generation, your might to those who are to come.”

I like being with people of my age, too, but my heart’s passion is to be with people that are younger than me—to be with people that are coming up behind me.  My desire is to turn over a world to them, or at least a corner of the world, that looks different than what we hear on the news every night. I want to turn over to them the potential for peace, for joy, for love—for meekness, for self-control—in a world that is totally out of control.  And as I meet with my moms and their little kids, I love on those little kids.  The one whose mom is resistant to God—she sat with the other three little children when they were three years old and listened to the Christmas story as I used the little figures that my mother-in-law made for me out of plastic and wool.  And we told the Christmas story and how Jesus came to give us life.  And a year later, that little four-year-old saw a Christmas Nativity scene.  And she said to her mom, “Mommy, just like at Lois’ house.”  The bible says that a little child will lead them; and so I’ll love on those kids and I’ll love on those moms.  That mom lost a baby (a) short time ago, and when I went to see her, I took her a rose and I said to her, “This rose will only last for a couple of days, but it’s a thing of beauty.”  And I said, “God put life in you, and that life only lasted for a couple of months but it brought joy and beauty as you waited for that little one.  And now, the flower is wilted.  The bible says that little child is in the presence of the Lord.  And you live without that presence with you, but never lose the joy of the beauty of those few months of expectancy.”  Find ways to make bridges into your community.  Find ways to touch the generation that is following you.  Someone said to me in a church that we were in these two months, and I’m coming to an end, we were sitting with some of us older generations, more my type, my age group, and one of them said, “You know, the young people in the church—they never come to us.”  I said, “You know what—we’re the adults here.  We’re the ones that should be going to them.”  You know, I understand that sometimes we don’t feel comfortable with them, but we’re the ones that have been through life—we’re the ones that have something to say and to share.  We’re the ones that need to make bridges into their world and say, “Do you know what?  God is powerful.  He transforms our lives.  I see life in you.  I want to pray for you.  I want to know what happened this week.  Who did you talk to?  Who hurt you?  Can I pray for you?”  You know, it’s not their responsibility to come into our world, but as we move into theirs, they will come into our world.  They’ll open their lives and they’ll tell us what’s happened.  The other day, I went up to a couple of kids in a church.  We were at a potluck, and I said to them, “What is it that you love about your church?”  You know what they told me?  “We’re not a group of people here—we’re a family.”  I thought, ‘Nobody paid them to say that.’ Nobody told them they were going to be asked that question.  That came out of the bottoms of their heart.  And I thought, ‘what a tribute to that church.’  They feel love—they feel accepted—they feel like they have a part.  When the kids are running around and noisy, what is our reaction?  When the music isn’t our style, what is our reaction?  We need to move into their world—build bridges into their world, and love on them.  And let them see through our life how much God loves them.

One of the pictures we used in one of our seminars was of sandbags in a war.  Sometimes we forget in the church—we forget in our families, we’re on the same team.  We’re fighting on the same side.  We’re on God’s side, and we’re going to have victory as we fight together.  There’s an enemy out there who seeks to destroy and to kill and to rob, but as we work together, he (Satan) will not prevail.

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