More Than Words: Initiate by John Burke

At Gateway Church in Austin, we began our new series called More Than Words.

When we want the best for people, it may seem wise to admonish them. But it’s important to remember that we can’t force people to change their behavior. Jesus modeled a way to lovingly talk to others in hopes of being truly heard. How can we use Jesus’ example to love others well with our words and point them toward the true source of love?


Work through the following questions and Scriptures on your own, and get together with your running partner, life group, or friends and family to talk through what you are learning.

More Than Words: Initiate – Next Steps



Words can change the trajectory of a life.

Your Words can have a ripple effect through humanity.

My life is radically different, radically better, so much more fulfilling and exciting than I could ever have planned for myself—all because of a few words, spoken by a friend, John Rambeau (not the Sylvester Stalone John Rambeau of the First Blood movie—though he was just as crazy. I’ll never forget the night we drove up to the movie theater, Rambo runs in, runs back with a lifesize Cutout of John Rambo that decorated his room ever after. I did protest, I was a forced accomplice. So years later when Rambeau says these words: “Want to come to a small group Bible study at my house?”  NO!  I rejected his words initially. John and I had partied hard together, I knew he had come to faith in Christ—I wasn’t interested. I judged all religion as disconnected from life, stained-glassed into obscurity, mythological truth at best—NO.  But something about those words wouldn’t leave me alone. Those words…and other words I had recently read—haunted my soul.

See just before John said those words, someone gave my father, who had cancer, the first research on Near Death Experiences—done by a University of Virginia professor who stumbled across students in a philosophy class, on death and dying—student after student came forward telling how they had clinically died, modern medicine had resuscitated them, and they came back talking about God, and Jesus and Heaven, saying it’s more real than the world we live in.  I saw the book on my dad’s nightstand, read it in one night, and those Words…they wouldn’t leave me.  So even though I rejected John’s invitation at first, his words were like little grains of sand inside the oyster shell of my soul—irritating…for a purpose—God turned those words into the greatest Pearl I could ever hope for.  When I think about it—that simple Gift of a book, I don’t even know who gave my father that little book, combined with John’s Words: Wanna come?

That became the pivot point of my life.

  • It was that book and John’s Words that led me to faith—that’s how I found answers to my skeptical/engineer questions.
  • It’s why I married Kathy (because she wouldn’t have touched me with a 200 foot pole the way I was).
  • It’s why we experienced such deep love, joy, adventure together for 30 years.
  • It’s why our adult kids love God and we have such close friendships.
  • It’s why we started this church, why I wrote books, taught leaders around the world.
  • It’s why I’ve seen such a giant ripple effect through you, His church, 1000s of lives changed.

But more than all that, I’ve come to know and love Jesus, my best friend, the unseen God revealed.

I know him in such a personal way you wouldn’t believe half the stories if I had time to tell you—I’m so grateful. What if that person had felt too awkward to my father a book about What’s After Life?  What would my life have been? I’m so grateful to that person I don’t even know.  What if John had been too afraid to speak the words “Want to come?” He loved me beyond himself—I’m so grateful. For Words! But really…so much more than Words!

That’s what we’re talking about today. What are words? Words are intangible symbols, concepts, thoughts, ideas, threaded together into sentences—they can be transferred from a mind into sound waves through a voice, vibrations that convert to electrical impulses in the receiver’s ear canal to enter the mind.  But is that all words are?—some words can literally change a life. That’s what I want you to consider today.

Your Words have spiritual power to change the trajectory of a life—to ripple across humanity to change lives.  When God’s involved—what you say can be so much more than just words! Your Words have spiritual power when they’re Spirit led. 

Maybe you hear that and you think—not me—God couldn’t use my words, I barely believe in God—I don’t know much.  But John Rambeau barely believed and didn’t know much when God used His words with me, So don’t ever discount what God can do through your Words if you’re willing to respond to His Spirit.

From now through May, 150 churches and organizations are beginning a city-wide conversation about What’s After Life. I’m praying what changed my life for the better will be used by God to change many lives for the better. Read your free copy of the book and then say to your coworker, or like I did my soccer buddies “Hey check this out—scientific evidence of Life after death—it’s amazing, it’s a 90 minute read, tell me what you think.”

Sometimes I say, “just start reading it, you won’t be able to put it down.”

And that’s not just me saying that. A woman who just got baptized at Gateway South got a book January 5, read it and gave it to her coworker—look at what he texted back to her:

“The book you gave me has become THE scientific evidence for my belief. My daughter, son and wife love it. Thanks a lot Christina. None stop reading.”

So it’s really that simple—give a gift, pray for that person, initiate a followup conversation and see what God does. While that’s happening, 1.2 million people across Austin will be seeing and hearing stories we’ve video-taped from some of the people in the What’s After Life book.

We have created about 25 of these videos to spark curiosity and get conversations going. The website will have more stories.  That will be happening up until Easter. At Easter we will start a 7-week Series diving deep into this topic—I’ll have live interviews with new people and we’ll see how all this ties to the Bible in amazing ways.

When I visited Gateway Buda last week, a guy asked me an important theological question that What’s After Life didn’t answer—Imagine Heaven is the longer version that goes into much more Biblical understanding of these experiences. What’s After Life is the short version for skeptics.  So first step is just read What’s After Life and give it away if you haven’t yet.  Invest 90 minutes to read, pray for God to use it—and give 1 away. If you’ve done this, You can get more books to give away today if you have other people you’re praying for to give a book to.

Now, what might hold you back?

Probably you don’t want to come across as pushy or like a fanatic. Right!?  Guess what—God doesn’t want you to either.

Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect…. – 1 Peter 3:15

Jesus modeled this gentle/respectful way—if you pay attention to Jesus’ encounters with people, he didn’t go around trying to force people or change behavior (the only time he did was with religious abuse of the temple)—instead he went around trying to reconnect people to the Source of Life.

People mistakenly believe that God’s goal is to get us to do the right things and stop doing wrong things. But if God’s main goal is to get people to obey him, God’s pretty impotent. Because people disobey regularly, and God seems to do nothing about it. Why? I think it’s because God wants our hearts—hearts that freely realize this life is broken, and we need God’s help. And for those who realize this—He gives them not what they deserve, but mercy, grace, and relational help to become the Masterpiece He intended. That’s what Jesus modeled—spiritual conversation that respects the free will God’s given us, and works with people’s willingness.

Let’s look at an encounter in John chapter 4, when Jesus and his disciples were going through Samaria and stopped at a well at noon.

7 When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?” 8 (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.) 9 The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.) – John 4:7-9

 Samaritans were despised by the Jewish Pharisees–their past sins, their Immoral behaviors, their messed up religious views made them utterly shunned. Pharisees were not to eat talk or be seen with Samaritans.  And women had low value to Pharisees.

Yet here is Jesus initiating a conversation with her. This is going to be one of those life-altering conversations. So Jesus disciples go into the city to buy food, and Jesus meets this Samaritan Woman, and here’s the first thing we must learn about initiating with people:

Jesus crosses divides to dignify people.

She feels valued—“he’s talking to me, a Samaritan woman? He’s treating me with dignity?’ And we should ask ourselves, “Do we cross societies divides to dignify people? To value and encourage people?”  Do we cross racial, socio-economic, gender divides to value and dignify people? How about crossing lifestyle or behavioral boundaries to value and dignify?  The way we can do this is seeing what Jesus sees and encouraging that in others.

Jesus saw something in Simon. Simon was an overzealous, loud, obnoxious fisherman, yet Jesus said, “Simon, I see in you a Rock—you’re gonna become a rock on which I build my church.” Peter, petros, means Rock—Jesus renamed him “Peter” based on His potential.  He wasn’t yet a rock, he was going make a bunch of stupid mistakes, even deny Jesus three times—but Jesus called out the Masterpiece under the mud. To a Roman Centurion, raised in Idol-worshipping Rome, who trusted Jesus’ authority–Jesus saw great faith. He encouraged this Roman Soldier saying, “I’ve not found such great faith among anyone in Israel.” He’s doing the same with this Samaritan Woman—despised by the religious. He sees great things in her—dignifies and values her. Can we do that with others?  If that’s what’s in your heart when you initiate conversations, God will use your words and make them more than just words.  Ask God to put in your heart His Good Will toward people you initiate conversation with, and watch what God does through your words.

“How can you ask me for a drink,” the woman asks.

Jesus replied:

“If you only knew the gift God has for you and who you are speaking to, you would ask me, and I would give you living water.” John 4:11

This is the heart of God—to give all people good gifts—a gift that brings life springing up from within the human soul—a life of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness…self control. And that’s still what God wants to give every person you encounter.  But people get hurt by evil and then evil tells them it’s God’s fault and drives them from the one who loves them and wants to heal and help them. This is why I’m asking you first to pray for people around you, then give them a What’s After Life book. Pray that the lies evil tells about God will be lifted, so they can hear and see how Loved they are.  Prayer really does something. God responds when we care enough to pray for each other.

Jesus says “If you would ask, I’d give you Living Water.”

She says:

“But sir, you don’t have a rope or a bucket,” she said, “and this well is very deep. Where would you get this living water? 12 And besides, do you think you’re greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us this well? How can you offer better water than he and his sons and his animals enjoyed?”13 Jesus replied, “Anyone who drinks this water will soon become thirsty again. 14 But those who drink the water I give will never be thirsty again. It becomes a fresh, bubbling spring within them, giving them eternal life.” 15 “Please, sir,” the woman said, “give me this water! Then I’ll never be thirsty again, and I won’t have to come here to get water.” – John 4:11-15 

 Jesus is engaging her in dialogue about what’s most important to her—he meets her at her point of need. She needs physical water—that’s why she’s at the well—but Jesus knows she needs spiritual water that can quench her deep thirst to be loved and accepted and cherished.  So Jesus talks about what’s on her mind—getting water, and getting love!

Jesus engages in dialogue at her point of need.

If we’re going to treat people like Jesus did, rather than the way the Pharisees did, we not only cross divides to initiate conversation and dignify people—we enter into their world and try to understand their needs, their points of pain, their concerns—we dialogue with them. Pharisees just talk AT people.

Jesus didn’t just preach at her, or tell her what needed to change.  He listens and cares about her needs, and prompts her spiritual curiosity.

We can step into moments like this too! If someone at work starts talking about anything spiritual, or anti-God even, you could say: “If I could show you proof of God and life after death, would you want to see it?”

This is intriguing! It’s mysterious! We’d sound like Morpheus in the Matrix :

“Do you want to see how far the rabbit hole goes?”

“How open-minded are you?” and could then give them What’s After Life and say, let’s talk about it. This is what many people are searching for.

What changed everything for me, is when God used John’s simple Words “Wanna come to this Bible Study?” And I said “I have a lot of doubts and questions.” He said, bring it. That’s what I needed, an honest place to ask questions and wrestle. And All people have spiritual needs, spiritual questions. But often they feel like it’s not okay to ask questions, there’s no place to dialogue.

That’s why we say at Gateway, “Doubters welcome.” it’s why we have Chat on Internet, Community groups, Alpha Classes where it’s okay to question, wrestle, and dialogue.

A research group surveyed Austin. When asked if someone they know wanted to talk about spiritual beliefs, 60% said they would be interested in talking.  People are more open than you think—if it’s dialogue, not monologue. And do you now 30% of people who don’t go to church, said they would, if someone they knew invited them.  If you do the math – that’s about 700,000 people in Austin who are just One Ask away from exploring faith. Many people are spiritually open and thirsty just like this Samaritan Woman.

Jesus engages her at her point of need—physical thirst, but also spiritual thirst—she’s thirsty to be loved.  But she’s trying to get that thirst met in broken ways. We all do. Jesus knows this, so when she says, “Give me this Life-giving water.”

He replies:  

16 “Go and get your husband,” Jesus told her.17 “I don’t have a husband,” the woman replied.  Jesus said, “You’re right! You don’t have a husband—18 for you have had five husbands, and you aren’t even married to the man you’re living with now. You certainly spoke the truth!” 9 “Sir,” the woman said, “you must be a prophet. 20 So tell me, why is it that you Jews insist that Jerusalem is the only place of worship, while we Samaritans claim it is here at Mount Gerizim,[c] where our ancestors worshiped?” 21 Jesus replied, “Believe me, dear woman, the time is coming when it will no longer matter whether you worship the Father on this mountain or in Jerusalem…the time is coming—indeed it’s here now—when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth. The Father is looking for those who will worship him that way. 24 For God is Spirit, so those who worship him must worship in spirit and in truth.” 25 The woman said, “I know the Messiah is coming—the one who is called Christ. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.” 26 Then Jesus told her, “I Am the Messiah! – John 4:16-26

Jesus wasn’t shocked or dismayed that she’d been married and divorced 5 times, and having given up on committed love, she was living with a guy. Jesus knew all of this—yet he doesn’t force her to change, conform, or even obey.  He works with her willingness to help her connect to the Source of Love—the One who can change her from the Inside Out—the Source of Living Water.  See, when we try to change people by making them conform outwardly, it doesn’t solve the real problem. We all have a deep spiritual thirst that, apart from God, drives us all to drink muddy water. Jesus knows that unless we have Spiritually Satisfying Water that comes from God’s Spirit, trying harder on our own just spiritually dehydrates people.

So Jesus’ disciples come back with lunch, she runs into town so excited. She didn’t feel condemned though he looked right through her, she felt hope, life, living water.

29 “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Messiah

And it says Many Samaritans from the village believed in Jesus because the woman had said, “He told me everything I ever did!” John 4:29, 39

More than Words—she knew very little—but she knew enough initiate a conversation with the people she knew—and God used it in many lives.

Don’t ever think you don’t know enough—it’s not about you—it’s not even about Your Words. It’s about a God who loves people enough to take our fumbling words when we’re willing to respond to God’s prompt, “give him a book”, or “ask this question,” “listen to their story with empathy”, “invite John to the bible study”, “share what you do know.”  God takes that willingness—called faith—and makes it More than Words.  Are you willing?  God takes a little faith, simple willingness, and does Life-changing things for humanity.

If you consider yourself mature in faith. Listen to what Jesus says when his disciples offer him food.

Then Jesus explained: “My nourishment comes from doing the will of God, who sent me, and from finishing his work. 35 You know the saying, ‘Four months between planting and harvest.’ But I say, wake up and look around. The fields are already ripe for harvest. 36 The harvesters are paid good wages, and the fruit they harvest is people brought to eternal life. What joy awaits both the planter and the harvester alike! – John 4:34-36

Mature spiritual food is not hearing a sermon—it’s joining God in his business—drawing people back to himself.  There are people all around you—just like all the Samaritans. God loves them and wants them to know His love. And mature spiritual food comes from planting seeds of words, and sometimes your words are that pivot point in a life (harvest), sometimes it takes years for those Words to produce fruit–but you are partnership with God who will one day show you how He used it all—you will experience great joy.

Barb has been praying for her cousin for years, but her cousin Debbie, didn’t think God existed. Barb gave her What’s After Life Jan 5th, look what Debbie wrote:

“Tell your Pastor the book is amazing!! I’m half way thru it – it’s short BUT more importantly it really did grab me! The Case for Christ opened my mind and this may cinch it!”

Many of us wonder “What’s the purpose of my life?”—at least in part, Jesus already told us—Love God by Loving People. Love Everyone Life by Life—and what better way to love them than to introduce them to the Source of all Love.

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