The Children of Yahweh are given signs for which to watch, so that we will not be surprised by the events that take place around us. (Amos 3:7)
Reaching the Heart
This article is an adaptation of a sermon that I recently delivered over the CSDA Internet Radio
The sermon itself is an introduction to a series on evangelism, however as an article I wish to present it as a stand-alone message, and for several reasons. This introductory talk introduced what I consider to be the most basic principles that must underlie our efforts to reach out to others, for what is the purpose of the Church, except to teach the Gospel, and to facilitate the salvation of souls by Yahshua the Messiah? (Mark 16:15, Rom 16:25) It also re-emphasizes the defining characteristics of the mission of Elijah, a topic first introduced in the book The Highway of Holiness, Volume 1, by which the true church of the last days can be distinguished from the multitudes of spurious movements, self-sent messengers, and erroneous interpreters of the Word. Finally, a number of individuals who heard the original sermon testified that they were blessed by the simple yet meaningful explanation of what it is that makes an effective evangelist, and I wish to have these ideas communicated beyond the number of those who were able to hear the Sabbath presentation, and who are aware of the archive of transcripts.
We are told in the very last passage of the Old Testament: "Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of Yahweh, and he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse." (Mal 4:5, 6) While it is true that John the Baptist was a fulfillment of this prophecy, (Mat 17:12, 13) it is also the case that one must come in the spirit of Elijah before "the great and dreadful day of Yahweh," as the Scriptures declare. This can refer only to the Day of Judgment, the closing scenes of earth's history, which is referred to as both "the great day," (Rev 6:17) and the "terrible day," (Joel 2:31) where "terrible" and "dreadful" are merelysynonyms, and the same word in Hebrew
Seventh-day Adventists are certainly expecting a latter-day fulfillment of Malachi 4, for "Somebody is to come in the spirit and power of Elijah, and when he appears, men may say, 'You are too earnest, you do not interpret the Scriptures in the proper way. Let me tell you how to teach your message.'" [The Ellen G. White 1888 Materials, page 534] And again, "The work of John the Baptist, and the work of those who in the last days go forth in the spirit and power of Elijah to arouse the people from their apathy, are in many respects the same. His work is a type of the work that must be done in this age." [Maranatha, page 22]
Elijah's ministry is to have several attributes, such as those described above. It will be a harder message than many can bear. It will rebuke the hypocrites and nominal Christians of the age, and it will arouse the people from their Laodicean attitude - some to salvation and others (unfortunately) to oppose the straight testimony of the True Witness. Elijah's mission, as described in the book of 1Kings, consists of a number of other characteristics in addition to those mentioned above, by which the true and false prophets may be distinguished. We find, with Bible references, that the Elijah ministry:
1) Restores the true worship of Yahweh from an earlier apostasy. (1 Kings 18:38, 39)
2) Unites God's people according to the twelve Tribes of Israel. (1 Kings 18:30, 31)
3) Pronounces judgment against wicked organizational leaders. (1 Kings 18:17, 18)
4) Denounces false prophets and corrupt spiritual leaders. (1 Kings 18:40)
5) Announces the appearance of much-needed rain.(1 Kings 18:41)
6) Ascends into Heaven at the end of the ministry.(2 Kings 2:11)
This is the pattern of Elijah's ministry, and all are vital; but one of the elements we need to focus on as evangelists is found here: "And it came to pass at the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice, that Elijah the prophet came near, and said, 'Yahweh, Elohim of Abraham, Isaac, and of Israel, let it be known this day that thou art God in Israel, and that I am thy servant, and that I have done all these things at thy word. Hear me, Yahweh, hear me, that this people may know that thou art Yahweh Elohim, and that thou hast turned their heart back again." (1Kings 18:36, 37)
As the people of Yahweh, the Elijah-people whose ministry matches the above criteria in every respect, we must have it ever before us that the idea behind true evangelism, whether we are reaching out to individuals of different faiths or the completely irreligious, is to demonstrate to others that love that we ourselves have received. Our work is to "turn their heart back again" to He who originally created them, and then redeemed them at infinite cost. In this article we will look at some basic.
THE CORE PRINCIPLES
1) Demonstrate genuine affection
If we don't genuinely care about people, we shouldn't try to win them. I recall in my early experiences with Seventh-day Adventists in my home country of Belize that I did not always feel that I was genuinely cared-for by those who were bringing these "strange, new ideas" to my ears. The inexperienced youths, though their hearts were more-or-less in the right place, gave an impression that they were doing their duty by spreading the word, rather than seeking to win me as a person.
They spoke more about obedience and judgment for failure to obey, than about God's love and desire for my safety. Of course, talk of judgment has its place; the First Angel's message, which forms the foundation of the Gospel, encourages worship by pointing to the coming judgment. We may read Acts 24:24, 25 and Jude 1:22, 23 to see that it is sometimes necessary to "save by fear."
Judgment must come to the hard-hearted, and the slow to hear, but as Jude points out, the first approach should always be the compassionate one. Judgment gets attention in many cases, but by itself it does not retain true, spiritual interest, or necessarily stimulate the growth of love.
We read: "But we are sure that the judgment of God is according to truth against them which commit such things. And thinkest thou this, O man, that judgest them which do such things, and doest the same, that thou shalt escape the judgment of God? Or despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance?" (Rom 2:2-4) Yes, judgment has its place, but it is the goodness of Yahweh, as demonstrated in our lives, that leads to true conversion.
Christ showed true affection for humanity, the word for which in the Scriptures is often translated "compassion." We find an example here: "In those days the multitude being very great, and having nothing to eat, Yahshua called His disciples unto Him and saith unto them, 'I have compassion on the multitude, because they have now been with me three days, and have nothing to eat.'" (Mark 8:1, 2) Other, similar verses include Luke 7:13 and Mark 1:41
We must, if we wish to work effectively in His name, do likewise. "By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another," says the Savior, and we may recall the parable of the Good Samaritan if we are ever tempted to think that "one to another" refers only to the baptized brethren. Peter writes, "Honor all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king." (1Pet 2:17) and the word "honor" there means "esteem," or "value."
2) Never show contempt
That last verse from Peter leads smoothly to the second point: the only thing a Christian must hold in contempt is sin. We may read of Peter's experience when Cornelius received an angels' instruction to send for him: "On the morrow, as [Cornelius' messengers] went on their journey, and drew nigh unto the city, Peter went up upon the housetop to pray about the sixth hour. And he became very hungry, and would have eaten, but while they made ready, he fell into a trance, and saw heaven opened, and a certain vessel descending unto him, as it had been a great sheet knit at the four corners, and let down to the earth wherein were all manner of fourfooted beasts of the earth, and wild beasts, and creeping things, and fowls of the air.
"And there came a voice to him, 'Rise, Peter; kill, and eat.' But Peter said, 'Not so, Lord; for I have never eaten any thing that is common or unclean.' And the voice spake unto him again the second time, 'What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common.' This was done thrice; and the vessel was received up again into heaven.
"And as Peter was coming in, Cornelius met him, and fell down at his feet, and worshipped him. But Peter took him up, saying, 'Stand up; I myself also am a man.' And as he talked with him, he went in, and found many that were come together. And he said unto them, 'Ye know how that it is an unlawful thing for a man that is a Jew to keep company, or come unto one of another nation; but God hath shewed me that I should not call any man common or unclean.'" (Acts 10:9-16, 25-28)
That text above really gets to the heart of this second principle. From the Hebrews' ritual perspective, Gentiles are unclean. From a Christian's perspective, the unrepentant sinners are unclean; at the same time, we are to be Christ-like in character. If uncleanness were a barrier to interaction, or a reason to avoid people how could Yahshua have come to earth for our sakes? Consider carefully His actions toward us when tempted to think any man beyond hope, or unworthy of hearing our message.
I recently sent a part of my personal testimony in an email to an individual with whom I was speaking. A part of that email read as follows:
"I do not consider myself, with all my good feelings and emotional experiences before, to have been converted until that point [when I accepted the Victory message]. God's Spirit, I am certain, leads people who are in the world into greater and greater light. The Father draws people by His love, and gives them tokens in their spirits that they are on the right path... I therefore do not at all doubt the religious convictions of those who are of a faith different than my own. At the same time, there is a conversion experience, something that results in what Ellen White calls being 'fully converted,' and this can ONLY be done when one intelligently and in faith (both together) decides to absolutely renounce sin, and to thereafter live a life of learning what righteousness is, and putting away defects when they are discovered. Through the sacrifice and heavenly ministry of Christ, we are more than able to do this; this is what it means that we are 'more then conquerors,' as the Bible says."
This experience is everyone's for the taking. Those who have accepted it are only one choice different from those who have not, for there is nothing in us of ourselves that sets us apart from the "vilest offender" as the song we sing describes them. We are to see all men as being just that one choice away from salvation, and deserving of every dignity and honor as a being created in the image of Yahweh, marred though that image may be in some.
The word "contempt," and extensions of it, occurs several times in the Bible, but you never hear of it used to describe the feelings of the righteous toward anyone else. Only one verse appears to suggest this notion, and that is found in Psalm 15:4, describing a righteous person as one "in whose eyes a vile person is contemned; but he honoureth them that fear Yahweh."
Looking at the context, we see that this is held in opposition to "honoring" those who fear Yahweh, and this is proper. A vile person, one who is known for evil acts, should never be "praised" or held in honor by the righteous, or onlookers will get the impression that his/her actions are acceptable. We are absolutely to rebuke evil wherever it is found, and we cannot sanction wrong acts. At the same time, our attitude must be as the author of that Psalm's was for the sinner. It was David who wrote, these words, "Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and uphold me with thy free spirit. Then will I teach transgressors thy ways, and sinners shall be converted unto thee." (Psa 51:12, 13) This idea represents exactly our focus in this study, the desire to turn the sinners' hearts back to Yahweh.
3) Display patience
The Victory message, if it is not accepted, generally produces one of two results in our hearers. They tend to either:
a) say, "That's an interesting idea," and ignore what it means to their lives, or
b) get very upset, because our words (and, if we are sincere believers, our actions) bring judgment to the sinner.
It is not, of course, that we are going around judging others, but our words judge them, and or actions judge them - in a passive sense. We need never say, "You will not be saved, because you have such-and-such a bad habit." Instead, we set an example, and we testify that we are walking in what we know is the truth... this is enough. It is enough, anyway, to cause a violent reaction in some people, and this really reveals the character that results from the world's watered-down version of Christianity.
In every situation, patience is required. This is one of the elements of the fruit of the Spirit, and evidence of genuine conversion, as Paul indicates in Galatians 5:22.
In the situation wherein we are opposed, it is particularly important. Opposition means that people care about what we say - view it in this, more positive light. Remember that we are not the true objects of their derision, but it is Christ who sent us that is truly the target of these attacks by those who claim to know, love and serve Him. We're just the messengers.
The following verses about Yahweh's longsuffering and patience should inspire us to treat others the way He treats us: "Yahweh is not slack concerning His promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. Wherefore, beloved, seeing that ye look for such things, be diligent that ye may be found of Him in peace, without spot, and blameless. And account that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation; even as our beloved brother Paul also according to the wisdom given unto him hath written unto you." (2Pet 3:9, 14, 15)
1Tim 1:15, 16 is a key text for evangelism. We read, "This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Yahshua the Messiah came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief. Howbeit for this cause I obtained mercy, that in me first Yahshua the Messiah might shew forth all longsuffering, for a pattern to them which should hereafter believe on him to life everlasting." If we treat others in this way, with this attitude about ourselves, we do not lose any ground, and may actually gain it, when we are attacked and rejected by those who do not accept our testimony as valid.
4) Express familiarity with the doctrines
We are easily dismissed by some if we seem to be ignorant of doctrinal matters, including those pertaining to the ones with whom we are speaking, and while we are never to show contempt for others, the Scriptures make it clear that those who are not of our faith have no reservations about viewing us in this light.
We read that the Church exists, among other things, "for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry." (Eph 4:12) A part of the work of the ministry involves having a measure of knowledge of the doctrines of those whom we are evangelizing. This is not, of course, the most important thing; but it is sometimes useful to demonstrate that we have knowledge of the doctrines of others so that we may speak to them intelligently about such things. We must always bear in mind, however, that our purpose is not primarily to expose error, but to promote truth.
We certainly do care enough to know and discuss what those with whom we speak believe, but we do have to be careful in this area. Some groups forbid their members from reading the religious information of other Churches altogether; this is not at all proper, for it is based on fear, the fear of losing members, and the fear placed within members for being "polluted" by the errors.
Mature Christians do not need to worry about that, for we read that those who are firmly in Christ, actively receiving the benefit of the united Body, develop to the point that they are "no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive." (Eph 4:14)
They are indeed as Christ, of whom it was written in prophecy, "Butter and honey shall He eat, that He may know to refuse the evil, and choose the good." (Isa 7:15)
There is a balance to be found. Not worrying about being corrupted by falsehood does not mean being presumptuous either, and this can be a fine line. The CSDA Church does not forbid its members (or those who study with us) from reading anything at all, but as Paul wrote, "All things are lawful for me, but all things edify not." (1Cor 10:23b) This is an example of the true freedom that exists in Biblical Christianity. We advise only that those of our number who wish to read about other faiths at least clearly understand what we believe first! It may be useful, as mentioned, to know the doctrines of those we are reaching out toward with the Gospel, but it is absolutely vital in every circumstance that we know the truth as it is in Yahshua.
Everyone comes in with baggage, religious instruction of one kind or another that was less than perfect. Those who study other faiths run the risk of recollecting some old bags, or adding to an existing load. We have had experiences with individuals who have tried to come in from the outside and "fix" the CSDA Church with foreign doctrine, little understanding our own beliefs at that point, how they developed, and that we have in fact taken EVERY verse of the Bible into account when receiving and teaching the Gospel.
Other groups may have their interpretations, even other sacred texts, but we have received the Word of Yahweh from the Creator Himself, confirmed by the continuing spirit of prophecy and the individual, victorious testimonies of those who walk alongside us on the path of sanctification. This is, ultimately, what we have to share with others.
5) Give a testimony
This last point is the most important one of the set. One of the most effective methods of reaching the heart is to talk about what the truth has done in our lives, and how it has changed us. This cannot be done, of course, unless one IS converted, and living a sanctified, victorious life.
In sharing our testimonies, we must also express the desire for others to share in this experience, and this is agape made manifest. This is what that mysterious, but commonly used, word means in practice. This is the heart of Christianity, reaching out to others with a genuine desire that they enter into this experience with us for no other reason than that this joy, the "joy of full salvation," awakens in us both a sense of profound peace and at the same time a sense of profound agitation that there are those in the world who do not have the same marvelous experience that we do. This seems to be something of a paradox, but these two aspects of the Christian's character are strangely yet perfectly compatible.
A few verses may be cited here to demonstrate the importance of this idea: "And they overcame [Satan] by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death." (Rev 12:11) This is a very common verse in our teachings, for it is sometimes the case that even those who say they agree with us about the Victory and the Gospel "on paper," as it were, do not see the necessity of saying, "I have the Victory over all known sin," declaring it as their personal testimony of abiding in Christ. This demonstrates that error in their claims of agreement, for those who truly understand the Victory know that we cannot be silent about its impact on our lives.
We read, "And [Yahshua] said unto them, 'Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.'" (Mark 16:15) The apostles responded by saying to others, "That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Yahshua the Messiah." (1John 1:3) "But none of these [bonds or afflictions] move me, neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry, which I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the grace of God." (Acts 20:24) This work of testifying is not, of course, limited to those who saw the Messiah with their physical eyes, for it is written of Christ's prayer to His Father, "Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; that they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me." (John 17:20, 21)
As our goals are one with Christ's so let our methods, and our desire for unity, and our zeal to minister unto others, be in harmony with His.
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