The Word-Centered Life
7/29/20 Glenda Simpkins Hoffman
On July 17, J. I. Packer died. He was one of my favorite authors and one of the most influential evangelical leaders of our time. His most famous book Knowing God was my first theological primer. It was very accessible even to a young believer like me and set me on a life-long journey of studying the Bible and theology. I’m grateful for the impact his writings have had on me and so many others for so long.
The other happening has been our Communication 101 series with Jim Singleton. It was wonderful to see so many participating in this opportunity to learn more about our story, the story, and their story. We talked about how to get more comfortable but also to be more courageous in stepping out to listen to those around us and talk to them about the good news of Jesus. If you missed it, you can still watch this series by clicking here.
These happenings brought to mind again Richard Foster’s book Streams of Living Water: Celebrating the Great Traditions of the Faith. In it he describes the Evangelical Stream, or The Word-Centered Life. The word “evangelism”may have many meanings and even emotions associated with it, but it actually comes from the Greek word euangelion meaning “gospel” or “good news.” Foster explains that the Evangelical Tradition is “a life founded upon the living Word of God (Jesus himself who is the good news), the written Word of God (Scripture as a faithful source of the gospel), and the proclaimed Word of God (the confessional witness of the early Christian community as a faithful interpretation of the gospel).”
Jesus models the evangelical tradition in his teaching and preaching. He lifted up the vision for life in the kingdom of God and invited people into this way of life. “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news” (Mark 1:14-15; Matthew 4:12-17).
Foster makes clear what is meant by this good news: “It is very simply that people—all people—can enter into a living and abundant life with God in his kingdom of love now, and that this reality will continue on, and indeed intensify, after death…. The good news is that in Jesus himself the way has been opened for you and for me to come freely into God’s great kingdom of love.”
Did you catch that? The kingdom of God had come near in Jesus Christ, and he was inviting people to live into this reality. In this context, the disciples had been introduced to Jesus (John 1:32-45) and invited by him to “follow me” (Mark 1:16-20, 2:13- 17; Matthew 4:18-22). And they did, leaving their families and vocations to do so. They were not only hearing the good news being proclaimed but also experiencing the reality of it as they witnessed the power of God at work in the life and ministry of Jesus. The disciples’ constant exposure to Jesus, his proclamation of the good news, and his teaching ministry prepared them for their leadership role once he was ascended.
The book of Acts reveals clearly how the first disciples were transformed by the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus. They took to heart his Great Commission to “go and make disciples of all nations” (Matt. 28:18-20) and to be his “witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” in the power of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:11). The world has never been the same.
The three prongs of the Evangelical tradition are reflected in our VPC values: “Jesus is Lord. Scripture is our authority. Everyone is called to follow Jesus.” We are invited to explore and live this great tradition. We begin by responding to the good news by placing our faith in and relying on the grace of Jesus, the Living Word. Then we intentionally commit to cultivating a loving relationship with him through our study of Scripture, the written word. We have to know the will of God for our lives as revealed in scripture to be able to live it in our everyday lives.
But we can’t really live this tradition fully unless we are willing to share the gospel, the proclaimed word, with others and “give a reason for the hope that is in us” (1 Peter 3:15). Again, this is why we brought Jim Singleton in to help us overcome our discomfort and help us be better equipped to engage in Christ’s work in the world. I want to give some very practical suggestions as next steps for us.
First, take time to reflect on your story. How did you come to faith? Who were the significant people in your faith journey? I think there is benefit to writing it out in one page or less or even a 100-word witness that you can be ready to share when a door of opportunity opens. This helps each of us to get comfortable with our unique story.
Second become better acquainted with simply ways to share the story, the good news of Jesus. If someone asked you what it means to be a Christian, would you know how to answer? Jim Singleton did a wonderful job explaining it in some detail. It would be worth watching if you haven’t done so or watching it again to become even better equipped. But there are other tools as well available on-line including the simple bridge illustration, do vs. done illustration, and sharing the gospel in three minutes or less.
Third, we must be willing and available to hear their story. Each of us could identity people we already acquainted with who don’t know the Lord. We can begin praying for them, which is the most important thing we can do. Then we step out to build authentic relationships with a desire to show real care and interest in their lives by spending time with them, listening to their story, and asking great questions. When we engage in a real dialogue, usually the other person will also ask us questions, which opens a door of opportunity to share our own story and the difference Jesus has made in our lives. Finally, I want to remind you of what pastor Connie said in Sunday’s sermon. Each of us can think of people we know whom we could invite to join us in worship and/or our learning communities. Jesus wants everyone to know the good news that the kingdom of God is here and now. He wants us to be a part of inviting others to become. He initiated a community that was to be ever widening, one into which we can invite others.