I led him to Christ. He let me stay in his house. Twenty years separate the previous two statements. I am in Melbourne to attend son Stephen’s graduation. (Was it only yesterday that I carried him newly born in the Penang maternity hospital?) When Ken heard I was coming, he offered his house for us to stay. It is a beautiful home, an ideal place to stay as we share in Stephen’s academic joys, and a quiet retreat to catch my breath at the end of a very demanding year.
I led Ken to the Lord twenty years ago. I was a young pastor in Penang then. As was my usual practice in those days, I would take the person I hope to win to Christ to a cafe or a restaurant. We would first feast on food and conversation. During dessert I would whip out a copy of the Four Spiritual Laws (4SL) and run through the material.
I didn’t use the 4SL to confront strangers with the gospel. I would first seek to build a relationship with the people I hope to influence for Christ. Lacking the discipline to do the memory work necessary for Evangelism Explosion (EE) and finding the EE approach a bit canned, I found the 4SL useful when it came time to try to “clinch the deal.”
I am not a natural evangelist. Such “witnessing meals” were tense affairs. I hardly remembered what I ate. (I do remember that when I shared the gospel with Ken’s brother, we had fish head curry.) I am surprised I didn’t get indigestion more often. And when someone said that they were ready to follow Christ, I would be surprised and would try to establish if the person knew what he or she was doing. God of course takes great delight in using all sorts of imperfect vehicles for His purposes. So there were the times that folks like Ken were ready to follow Christ and did so.
I met Ken in Singapore recently and we both agreed that the seeds of the gospel had been sown in his life long before that mealtime evangelistic challenge. God had been wooing him long before the day that he prayed the prayer at the end of the 4SL. I only had the privilege to be there at the moment of “reaping” but many others had done the hard work of “sowing” and “watering.”
What is particularly joyful is to see what God has done in Ken’s life since. Ken and his family are seriously committed to Jesus and all of them are impacting others for Christ. Clearly, Jesus and His agenda are very real for them. And what for me is proof of vital faith for a businessman, Ken actively seeks to apply kingdom values in how he does business. And the hospitality he extends to my family for our trip to Melbourne is just another demonstration of the heart of Christ in him.
I still do evangelism though not as often as I like since a lot of my ministry is helping young Christian leaders grow in the faith. I am still nervous when I share the gospel but I welcome every opportunity to do so, whether through personal evangelism or through evangelistic preaching. And once in a while God continues to surprise this middle aged nervous “evangelist” and people actually respond positively to the challenge to follow Christ.
This is not an easy time to be doing evangelism. I was at a public lecture given by Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams, in Singapore recently. He reminded us that since September 11, there are those who argue that religious communities should surrender any notion of absolute truth. (And if we no longer hold to absolute truth then why bother with the hard work of evangelism.) These voices argue that it is because the different religions believe in absolute truth, and believe different things to be true, that are a key cause of violence and conflict in the world.
Archbishop Williams did not deny that the different religious communities need to work harder at learning how to live together. But he said that to surrender a commitment to absolute truth would not remove intercommunal conflict. If we surrender a commitment to absolute truth, all we will be left with is raw power and the groups with more power will try to subjugate those with less. There will no longer be the ethical leavening of a commitment to any truth higher than us. Intercommunal conflict will continue and may indeed worsen.
Christians should be at the forefront of any attempt to build bridges of understanding between different communities. Among other things, we believe in the dignities of all peoples because we believe that all bear the image of God. But we will not surrender our commitment to absolute truth because the God of the universe has revealed Himself, first in His dealings with Israel, then through Christ, and then through the Bible that bears testimony to His revelation (Hebrews 1:1-4).
Our first call is to love neighbour (Luke 10:27). We are to love people whether they accept Christ or not. But it is precisely because we love our neighbours that we will at some point point them to the saving truth of the gospel and the saving invite of Jesus.
This Sunday I will have the privilege of preaching a Christmas sermon in a church here in Melbourne. I am told that there will non-Christians present. Again I will call folks to respond to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Will I be nervous? Of course. But my trust is not in my own efforts. I will trust in the power of the Holy Spirit. And in the saving truth of the gospel itself.