Speaking the Gospel to Strangers

By Erin Bird

I am typing this from the Exponential Conference in Florida where our associate pastor Jeff and our wives are taking in great teaching from this huge conference focused on the topic of church planting.

On my flight down here to Orlando, I sat in the middle seat next to a guy on the aisle. I knew if I didn’t introduce myself right away, we probably wouldn’t talk the entire 3-hour flight. I had work to do, but with my own sermon from Sunday  still rattling in my head about “speaking the gospel,” I knew I should create an opportunity to practice what I had preached. So I extended my hand and said, “My name’s Erin.”

Speaking the Gospel to Others blank 350x196 - Speaking the Gospel to Strangers

And that handshake turned into a three-hour conversation.

Ryan became a follower of Jesus just 18-months ago, so he was THRILLED to learn I was a pastor at a church plant in Iowa. He is a part of a Converge church in the Twin Cities (Converge is the conference Riverwood is part of), so he peppered me with questions about church, small groups, volunteering, how to become a pastor, baptism, how to share his faith, and much more. For the entire flight, I was able to “speak the gospel” to Ryan, helping him see how the gospel answered a lot of his questions and could help him take the next steps in his faith.

What I Learned

My interaction with Ryan got me thinking:

  • Had I not introduced myself within the first 30 seconds of sitting down next to him, I probably would have never had the opportunity to disciple him for those three hours.
  • Also, I didn’t launch into a gospel presentation with Ryan telling him of his need for Jesus. Rather, I began with questions to get to know him. I learned he is divorced, and his divorce is what led him to look for a church. By God’s grace, he ended up at a church that clearly explained the gospel, and that gospel has completely changed Ryan’s life, to the point he is beginning to think and live the gospel.

You never know what God will do when you take a risk to introduce yourself to a stranger and then ask questions to get to know them. You might find yourself encouraging a fellow brother or sister in the faith like I did. Or you might ended up sharing the gospel with someone who is ready to hear it. You might end up making a new friend. Or you might see nothing happen. But if you don’t take the risk and introduce yourself, then you DEFINITELY won’t see anything happen!

So let me encourage to take a risk and reach out to someone. It doesn’t have to be a complete stranger, but your selflessness of getting to know another person just might be exactly what they need.

Jesus to the Rescue

By Erin Bird

Most of the people in my family like superhero movies, especially the Dark Knight series directed by Christopher Nolan or most of the movies in the MCU. Needless to say, a few of us Birds are quite excited about The Black Panther movie releasing tomorrow night. It is getting rave reviews, and seems to hit most of the things I appreciate about good movies (character development, solid storyline, great photography, solid special effects, etc.).

But if you think about it, most superhero movies boil down to the same plot: a seemingly ordinary human uses his or her superpowers to do something truly extraordinary that saves others from the story’s bad guy.

If you are a follower of Jesus, you know from where they get this plot – the Gospel, the greatest story of all time.

More than a Superhero

jesus rescue2 350x196 - Jesus to the RescueWe are continuing our series here on the blog on “The Gospel on the Ground,” which is God, Man, Christ, Response. So far, we’ve looked at parts 1 & 2 (God & Man), so that means this week we come to Part 3: Christ.

In Isaiah 53:2-3, God clued His followers in that the Messiah wouldn’t look like anyone special. Just like comic book superheroes have secret identities, Jesus looked like a carpenter from the small town of Nazareth. But unlike a Peter Parker who was a flawed teenager, or a Bruce Wayne who was trying to overcome the guilt and fear that washed over him with the murder of his parents, Jesus wasn’t a flawed human trying to atone for His shortcomings. He was the sinless Son of God.

And He did more than just rescue earth from invading aliens like the Avengers, He died for the sin of the bad guy in the story, who was separated from the loving Creator of the Universe because of this sin.

Jesus is the hero of the Gospel story. That is why we sing to Him each Sunday, why we remember His incredible sacrifice through communion, and why we seek to become more like Him in our emotions, thoughts, and actions.

And so may you find joy today in knowing that Jesus rescued you through the cross. Let the high point of the Gospel story invigorate your spirit and impact your “everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life.” (Romans 12:1-2 MSG)

The Gospel Story Bad Guy

Tomorrow night, the opening ceremonies for the 23rd edition of the Winter Olympics will be held in Olympic Stadium in Pyeongchang (South Korea). (Which will mean productivity around the globe will drop dramatically for the next three weeks as the world will be glued to their television sets watching amazing athletes accomplish feats normal humans can’t even do in their dreams.)

However, just showing the Games won’t be enough for NBC, the primary broadcaster for the Winter Olympics in America. NBC producers know interest in the Games will be high, but to help interest go even higher, they will tell stories. Over the next three weeks as you watch these winter sports, you will see brief documentaries and interviews with athletes and those who know them. In doing these story segments, NBC hopes you will gain an affection for these athletes, making you want to pay even more attention to your TV (so their advertisers will have a bigger audience!).

But oftentimes, for a story to be interesting, there has to be a “bad guy.” Sometimes, in an athlete’s story, the “bad guy” is an accident that had to be overcome, or some tragedy from the past, or even just battling self-doubt. But a handful of times, the athlete’s “enemy” will actually be a human, whether a coach who was against them or their nemesis out on the athletic field who bested them.

The Gospel Story is no different. The Gospel has a bad guy. But it might not be who you think it is.

The Gospel on the Ground – Part Deux

We are walking through a series on what Matt Chandler, in his book The Explicit Gospel, calls the “Gospel on the Ground” – God, Man, Christ, ResponseLast week, as we kicked this series off, we saw that the Gospel starts with God. Which means this week, we get to move the second part – Man.

If you are familiar with Genesis chapter 3, and I asked you to tell me who the bad guy in the story is, you would probably say, “Satan.” And to a degree, you would be right. Satan took on the form of a serpent, began a conversation with Eve, mislead her into doubting the goodness of God, and tempted her to eat of the forbidden fruit. Everything Satan did was to thwart the perfectness of God and His plan. Without a doubt, Satan positioned himself as the enemy of God.

gospel bad guy2 350x196 - The Gospel Story Bad GuyBut I want you to realize that the Gospel on the Ground is not “God -> Satan -> Christ -> Response.” The real bad guy in this story isn’t Satan – its humans.

Think about it. God didn’t give the one command to Satan. He gave it to Adam (see Genesis 2:15-16). Had Satan tempted Adam and Eve to eat, but they not given in, the story becomes vastly different. The perfection of Creation crashes down not with the words of Satan, but the sin of Adam.

Sometimes, I make the mistake of seeing Adam and Eve as victims. I momentarily think they were tricked into eating the fruit. But that’s not true. The Apostle Paul tells us in 1 Timothy 2:14 that while Eve was deceived, Adam was not. Adam knew what he was doing was wrong – and he did it anyway.

In other words, Man is the bad guy in the story.

The Apostle Paul says it another way in Romans 5:10, calling us “enemies” of God. We were completely set against God. That’s why King David says in Psalm 14:1-3 that no one is righteous, that all have turned aside from God.

So yes, Satan is God’s enemy (and therefore also our enemy because we bear the image of God). But when Adam sunk his teeth into the forbidden fruit, he switched his allegiance, believing Satan more than his Creator, and thus with one bite, he became the bad guy in the story.

But the Gospel story is a bit different than most stories. Normally, the bad guy needs to be conquered to provide the happy ending we long for. And while Satan will be vanquished, the bad guy of humanity isn’t defeated. Rather, Mankind is forgiven, freed, and restored.

And that’s what we will get into next week.

The Gospel Starts with God

By Erin Bird

The Gospel Title Slide2 350x197 - The Gospel Starts with GodThis coming Sunday at Riverwood, we will begin a new teaching series simply called “The Gospel.” To serve as a companion to this series, we gave out a book entitled Gospel Fluency by Jeff Vanderstelt. (If you missed this past Sunday’s Worship Gathering, we will have more books available this Sunday.) As we kick off this new series, I will be teaching through the four basic “elements” of the gospel: Creation, Fall, Redemption, Restoration. (You will read more about these four elements in chapter 4 of Gospel Fluency.) For a deeper insight into these four elements, check out The Explicit Gospel by Matt Chandler. In his book, Chandler calls these four elements “The Gospel in the Air,” expounding on these elements for half his book.

But Chandler says the Gospel in the Air is only one vantage point, he also talks about the gospel from a different vantage point he calls “The Gospel on the Ground.” Same gospel, different view. The Gospel in the Air is like a macro view of the gospel, but the Gospel on the Ground lets us peer at it closer on the micro level.

Like the Gospel in the Air, Chandler (and his co author, Jared Wilson) says the Gospel on the Ground also has four parts: God, Man, Christ, Response. For the month of February, we are going to look at each of these parts of the Gospel on the Ground here on the blog. I hope that by doing so, I will give you yet a greater understanding of what the gospel is and how it truly changes everything.

So let’s get started…

The Gospel Starts with God

I will probably say this on Sunday, so forgive me if I repeat myself: Oftentimes when a well-meaning Christian tries to share the gospel with someone else, he or she will start by talking about how humanity is sinful. In other words, in the “Gospel on the Ground,” they skip God and start with Man.

It’s as if they start their theological framework with Genesis 3 which records the sinful rebellion of Adam & Eve. But the Bible doesn’t start with Genesis 3, it starts with Genesis 1. And how does Genesis 1 start?

“In the beginning, God…” (Genesis 1:1a)

If the Bible is the story of the gospel, then we must start the gospel where the Bible starts – with the Perfect Holy Unchanging Almighty God.

Which makes sense, if you think about it. Without a Perfect Holy God, there cannot be any such thing as the imperfectness of sin. Sin can only be recognized as being imperfect if there is something (or someone) that is perfect.

So we can’t start the gospel with ourselves or our sinfulness. We have to start with God.

Comfort in the Start

Years ago, I signed up with a friend and his son to participate as a team in a long-course triathlon. I was going to do the 1.2 mile swim, my friend was going to bike 56 miles, and his 13-year-old son was going to run the 13.1 mile course. I had never done an open water competitive swim like this, so I was nervous during the whole car ride to the site of the event, nervous during my warm-up swim, and nervous while we waited an extra half-hour for the fog to clear so the race could begin. I was nervous through the entire start!

In some aspects, when it comes to the gospel, we should be nervous at the start. If the gospel starts with a Perfect Holy Unchanging Almighty God, then we should be nervous to come into His presence, far more nervous than I was to dive into open water to swim for the next 30 minutes.

And yet, when we realize the whole gospel story doesn’t just start with God, but that God responded to our sinfulness through Christ, then starting with God doesn’t only make us nervous, it should also give us comfort. Let me explain…

Gospel starts God2 350x196 - The Gospel Starts with GodThe Wrong Start leads to Emotional Errors

Right now, think of a sin you regularly struggle with. It could be anger, lust, giving in to temptation, lying, pride, gossiping, just about anything.

Now, imagine you just gave in to your sin – and immediately after, you realize you just sinned against your Perfect Holy Unchanging Almighty Heavenly Father. As this awareness washes over you, you might respond in one of two ways:

1. The first way is to try to hide your sin, or to minimize it. To avoid the nervousness of standing before a Perfect God, you might say to yourself:

  • “It’s not that big of a deal. It’s not like I murdered someone or committed grievous fraud.”
  • “Well, no big deal. God will just forgive me.”
  • “Bummer, shouldn’t have done that. Sorry about that God.”

We minimize our sin because if we honestly acknowledge our wrongdoing before our Perfect Holy Unchanging Creator, we might get nervous or even petrified with fear that His wrath will come against you. So to eliminate the possibility of crushing nervousness, we callously minimize the sin.

But when we minimize our sin, we aren’t starting the gospel with God. We aren’t recognizing Him for who He truly is – a Perfect Holy Unchanging Almighty God.

2. The second way to respond to your sin is to beat yourself up. You’ll tell yourself things like:

  • “You are such an idiot (or loser or ______)!”
  • “I can’t believe I just did that!”
  • “I’ll never get better.”
  • “I’ve just got to try harder…”

But those words reveal that you think the gospel starts with Man. Your self-talk reveals you think the gospel is about you cleaning up your act to get to God’s standard.

But that’s NOT where the gospel starts! The gospel does not start with Man, making us work harder to be better. The gospel starts with a Perfect Holy Unchanging Almighty God who created you in His image – which means He deeply loves you. Yes, your sin is offensive to Him, but His love for you is FAR deeper than your sin.

So when you sin, rather than beating yourself up, run to God. Rather than minimize your wrongdoing, confess it fully to God.

To preach the true gospel to yourself, start with your Perfect Holy Unchanging Almighty God who not only saw the sin you just committed, but has already paid for it. And because you know He has revealed His love to you by paying for your sin, you can run to Him, confessing in His outstretched arms, and accept His forgiveness. By starting the gospel with God, you are admitting that you aren’t perfect, but you are asking Him to continue to change you and restore within you His image.