‘I once read a story about an older man, Bud, and his wife, Millie, who lived out in a rural area, and they didn’t make it into town very often. One day his wife obtained a copy of a ladies’ magazine that touted the benefits of taking a milk bath. She decided that this was just what she needed to make her feel beautiful, and she sent her husband to a neighboring dairy farm to purchase the milk. When he arrived, Bud told the dairy farmer that he wanted to purchase enough milk for his wife to take a milk bath.
‘The dairy farmer asked Bud, “Do you want the milk pasteurized?”
“No,” he replied, “just up to her neck will do just fine.”’
how well do we communicate?
You know, we probably ought to ask ourselves: “How well do we communicate with each other?” Really? How well do we communicate with each other? Do we have our own ways of talking or abbreviating or omitting things that lead to miscommunication?
If we take a moment to think in terms of the gospel, how well do we communicate the good news of Jesus Christ? Do we communicate with people the good news of Jesus Christ at all?
You see, communication happens not in a vacuum, but in a particular time and place with a certain people. That means that not only must we understand what we communicate, e.g. the nature of God or the good news of the gospel, but we must somehow understand the receiver’s language and the receiver’s world as a part of the gospel communication process. It’s not just about knowing our message; it’s about observing and knowing the receiver of the message.
Jesus communicated with all sorts of folks
Jesus recognized these things, and he managed to communicate with people in their particular worlds. Think of all the parables, how they met the needs of a rural people; think of all the people, folks like blind Bartimaeus (Mark 10.46-52) or Zacchaeus (Luke 19.1-10) or Mary Magdalene (Luke 8.1-3) or the woman at the well (John 4.1-26); think of all the people whom he healed and taught, how Jesus spoke to their individual needs.
so did Paul
Think of Paul in Acts: how many different ways he communicated the gospel to Jews and Gentiles in how many different cities. When he communicated to the Athenians in Acts 17, he used language and ideas that would catch the attention of those particular folks. Standing in the middle of the Areopagus, Paul declares to them the “Unknown God” who sent someone to save.
Now the message about raising from the dead was not so well received, but they heard the words about that “Unknown God” who is Lord of heaven and earth, whose needs cannot be served by human hands, who gives life and breath to everything, and who is the one whom all must seek.
What’s really interesting, you might notice, is that the name of Jesus is not mentioned. Nevertheless, people responded to Paul’s teaching; not everyone, mind you, but some folks wanted to hear more about this God.
grace pursues us
If we listen closely, we might recognize that Jesus and Paul were successful in communication because they knew their message, and they knew the receivers of the message. Frankly, we need to pay attention to the people and places around us because we need to be able to recognize the time to sow and the time to reap (Mark 4.3-8, 4.26-29).
Another way of saying that, a Wesleyan way of saying that, is that the sower and the reaper are sensitive to the prevenient grace of God preparing human hearts to receive the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. Prevenient grace is that grace that comes before to pursue, to call the person into a life-saving and life-giving relationship with God.
We need to know more about the people we desire to reach with the gospel, recognizing those needy and difficult moments in life and looking for ways to reach these people with a relevant gospel. Indeed, we need to be able to identify and recognize the prevenient grace of God working to prepare a soul for receiving the gospel.
how is God reaching someone?
Simply put, we need to know where people are. Where do folks start in this process of receiving the gospel? Not only do we need to know that Christ is the answer in these situations, but we must know the questions people ask in their life moments. Where is someone as they begin responding to Jesus?
We know that people have lots of needs. There are many ways to list those needs, but the bottom line is that we need to be able to recognize those human needs, know the good news of Jesus, and make contacts between the needs of the people and the news of Jesus. Unfortunately, it does not come neatly packaged and labeled in each person.
bringing the needs and the news together
We must figure out ways to speak the gospel into each person’s life. The way we can brings the needs of the people and the news of Jesus together is by entering into the other person’s world. You know what? That’s the essence of the incarnation; as John 1.1-5 instructs, Jesus put on this human skin that we might be saved.
We can bring the needs and the news together by being sensitive to passages in people’s lives. Folks tend to be more receptive to the good news at particular times in their lives, some good times, and some bad times. But, we must pay attention to those times. P.T. Forsyth put it this way, “You must live with people to know their problems, and live with God in order to solve them.”
In order to bring the needs and the news together, we must be willing to invest ourselves in the lives of other people, just as Jesus did for us. Relationships are costly in many ways, and they are beneficial in many ways, too. If we think about God’s relationship with us as individuals through Jesus Christ, we can realize that very quickly.
God moves toward us
As God invested in us through Jesus, we are called to invest in the folks around us. We will hear this in Romans 5.6-10 where Paul tells us, “God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.” Before we could respond, God moved on our behalf, giving and loving in Jesus.
So, in bringing the needs and the news together, we need to recognize and understand that the Holy Spirit prepares people to respond to the gospel coming into their lives. God takes the initiative in meeting the people.
You see, salvation does not begin with human need, but with divine initiative. Divine initiative leads to our initiative to meet the human need, and we participate in the coming of God into another’s life by paying attention to that life.
What I am saying is that God invites us to participate with his divine and saving work in the world as we look to meet the needs of the people with the news of Jesus.
A test for the table: Acts 17.19-34.
If you want to learn more about faith sharing, try H. Eddie Fox and George E. Morris, Faith Sharing.