At Gateway Church in Austin, we continued our new series called More Than Words.
We can’t change a person’s heart, but we can challenge them in love. And God tells us that as followers of Him, we are called to challenge others to seek God. Although there are great rewards that come from such a challenge, guiding others in this way can be difficult. Are we willing to love people enough to overcome all self-focused fear?
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.
MESSAGE AUDIO FROM GATEWAY IN SOUTH AUSTIN:
MESSAGE NOTES FROM JOHN BURKE:
We’ve been talking about how powerful our Words can be.
• That God’s Spirit uses our ordinary words and turns them into so much more than just words—He uses it to change the trajectory of a human life.
• Really it’s an adventure we get to go on with the God of the Universe—who is at work Loving Humanity back to himself.
Have you ever realized that God’s at work behind the scenes, drawing people to Himself?
When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself. John 12:32
God is all over the world – drawing people to Himself!
Do you know where the church has grown fastest?
In China, Africa, South America, Afghanistan, and even Iran.
God is everywhere—loving people back to himself.
God’s in India, drawing people to himself. Ramya, an Indian woman here at Gateway was living in India when she started wondering about knowing God, and about then a friend was telling her about her story of coming to faith in Jesus, the One who revealed God in history—this woman started having dreams of a brilliant man of Light (Like Paul saw on the Damascus road) becoming her to come to him. She realized Jesus was drawing her.
Merry was a Buddhist, didn’t know much of anything about Jesus, yet one day in a Buddhist meditation while trying to picture a Buddha, Jesus popped into her mind along with the thought—If I’m going to truly be open-minded I need to be open-minded about Jesus. She started exploring here at Gateway not long after and found faith in Jesus. God’s at work, and as we discussed last week, if you’ll make yourself available to those little silent promptings in your thoughts—and if you’ll step out in faith and do them—you’ll see where God is working and get to join him in it.
The Apostle Paul
The Apostle Paul was once a zealous Pharisee, who thought Jesus was a sorcerer at best, leading Jewish people astray–definitely NOT the long-awaited Jewish Messiah. So Paul was traveling around arresting and jailing Christians, in some cases, having them killed. Yet Paul has an encounter much like people having Near Death Experiences around the world.
“A very bright light from heaven suddenly shone down around me. 7 I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?’8 “‘Who are you, lord?’ I asked.“ And the voice replied, ‘I am Jesus the Nazarene, the one you are persecuting.’ 9 The people with me saw the light but didn’t understand the voice speaking to me.10 “I asked, ‘What should I do, Lord?’“And the Lord told me, ‘Get up and go into Damascus, and there you will be told everything you are to do.’ – Acts 22:6-9
Notice something—this God of Light, who Paul does not recognize at first, but knows He is God—turns out to be Jesus. Paul is surprised.
But notice something else—Jesus doesn’t tell him what he needs to understand or do. Strange, isn’t it. He could have, but he doesn’t.
And you see the same M.O. in these Near Death Encounters John Burke has written about in What’s After Life (the book we’re making available to you to give away to people).
God doesn’t tell them what to do, doesn’t explain the Gospel, or Good News–why? Because his M.O. has always been to work through willing people to love each other enough to share and challenge others to seek God.
That’s how I came to faith—probably you as well.
So in this case, God prompts Ananias to go share the Good News about Jesus with Paul. Ananias does, and tells Paul:
Get up and be baptized. Have your sins washed away by calling on the name of the Lord.’
– Acts 22:16
Paul does—but he still had a choice after the encounter with God, he could have rejected what Ananias said. But don’t miss the main point—God uses people to love people back to God—More than Words.
When Ananias is faithful to tell Paul what he knows about Jesus, challenging Paul to pray to Jesus for his sins to be forgiven, and then be baptized—Paul does respond.
Then God uses Paul to tell others.
Paul was a Jewish Pharisee, but born a Roman citizen in a town in modern Turkey—so that gives Paul a unique ability to speak to both Jews and Greeks and Romans.
God loves to take your past experiences, good and bad,
and use them to connect to others who might relate. All you have to be is willing.
Paul realized that God’s already at work, behind the scenes, with all people of all cultures. Maybe you’ve never thought about this. Paul goes into Lystra, a pagan, idol-worshipping city, and look what he says:
“We have come to bring you the Good News that you should turn from these worthless things and turn to the living God, who made heaven and earth, the sea, and everything in them. 16 In the past he permitted all the nations to go their own ways, 17 but he never left them without evidence of himself and his goodness. For instance, he sends you rain and good crops and gives you food and joyful hearts.” – Acts 14:15-17
Paul sees that God doesn’t love one culture more than another.
Even though God gives people free wills and lets us go our own way if we want, He is always doing things, sending signs, good gifts—provision, putting joy in our hearts, wooing people in those thoughts that fly through their minds.
Maybe you’ve never considered this – God got there first. He’s already at work in your neighbors and coworker’s lives—wooing them to himself. But he uses you, and me, and all who are willing to be Led by God’s Spirit—to tell them about His love demonstrated through Christ.
Did you know John Burke was trending on instagram a week or so ago? Sadie from Duck Dynasty posted a picture of herself in front of a toilet and said: “This is gonna be deep, so here is a mirror selfie by a toilet to help lighten the mood.Tbh, I’ve been really happy lately and have felt so much joy about life. But to be really honest, at the same time, I’ve been feeling anxious about death…” She goes on to share about a book that changed her life and helped her so much overcome some real doubts and fears. A famous singer named Kari Jobe asked her what the book was in the comments, and she responded “Imagine Heaven by John Burke” and then all these other people started commenting on what a great book it is! So the next thing you know John Burke was trending! It’s funny though because he isn’t really on social media and they just had their first grandbaby so I still don’t even know if he knows!
This book is making a difference in others’ lives, and that’s why we are giving away free copies of the short version of What’s After Life?!
Awhile back he told us this story about how when Imagine Heaven hit the New York Times bestseller list, he was on a lot of news shows. After one of them, he got an email from Heidi, a nurse in Los Angeles. She said, “I saw you on Megyn Kelly, I don’t know who you are and have not read your book, but that happened to me. I grew up with atheist Jewish parents but I always believed in God. When I died, Jesus was with me. I was surprised, but never told anyone. Thanks.”
What a cliffhanger, right?! What happened? How did you die? If you died, how are you sending this email? I assume you are now alive again? How did that happen? How old were you? What do you mean you saw Jesus?!
John reached out to her and they started talking about what Jesus did and why. Heidi got baptized that year for faith in Jesus.
All these years later, she is now telling her story.
We’re hoping you’ll pray for the people you think God wants you to give a copy of this book. Write their names down in our Gateway Austin App so we can pray for them.
So far, 11,000 books have gone out from all our campuses!
Imagine 10,000 conversations that God uses as More Than Words—to change the trajectory of a life!
As you pray, God will lead you, and as you follow, you’ll see where God’s working.
Tara Browder who has led our prayer team for the last few years and is now on staff as our Prayer Director for all campuses shared a great story with us. She has a neighbor she sees daily walking her dog around the apartment complex over hear near Slaughter and South 1st. As Tara prayed and read the book, the dog-lady kept coming to mind.
So Tara started walking, praying she’d see the dog lady, but she hadn’t seen her in awhile so she started wondering if she moved.
Several weeks later she prayed, “Look God, if you want me to give a book to the dog lady, you have to help me run into her somehow.”
The next day, Tara is pulling into her parking space, and the dog lady walks right in front of her car! She didn’t mean literally run into her!
So she parks, and speed walks to catch her, and it was a little awkward, because she didn’t even know her name.
But she said, “Hey I read a book recently and while reading it, you were on my mind. You strike me as a spiritual person.”
She interrupted, “I better be a spiritual person, all my family is dead except for one of my daughters.”
Tara said: “Well, that’s probably why you came to mind–it’s about people who died, but modern medicine resuscitated them, and they come back telling of this amazing Life to come. Let me know what you think.”
The neighbor said, “Honey, come in now and let’s talk.”
Tara couldn’t, but put her number in the book for a followup conversation after reading it.
Now, do you think that’s just a coincidence?
Tara is praying “God who do you want me to give this book to?”
She keeps thinking of this woman, who it turns out has a lot of questions about What’s After Life and wants to talk about it? It’s NOT a co-incidence—it’s a God-incidence. It’s God, doing what God has always been doing, working quietly in the thoughts of people, while also guiding people who Love God enough to tell others—so He can draw all willing people to himself in Love.
As we have discovered, Jesus reached out to the love-thirsty Samaritan woman—divorced 5 times and shacked up with a 6th man—and offered her God’s Living Water to quench her love-thirsty soul. Last week we saw how Jesus followed God’s promptings to help someone who was hurting and overlooked by everyone else – a man unable to walk who was at the pool of Bethesda. Jesus came to bring Good News to all people. Paul brought Good News to all people.
So we need to ask ourselves: Do we bring Good News to those around us?
Bad News First?
Honestly, many Christians have gotten it wrong—they think their job is to bring Bad News first. But that’s not what Jesus’ message was about—it was truly Good News for ALL people because God wants to give people their deepest desires—for love, security, peace—Life!
The Pharisees were judgmental of all who did not believe or live as they did. In fact, the Pharisees of Jesus day thought God would have nothing to do with anyone who did not believe the same or make the same choices they did. That’s why the Pharisee stood up in the Temple and Prayed “Thank you God that I’m not like that sinful tax collector.”
Yet Jesus said it was the Tax Collector, not the Pharisee who went home right with God that day. The Pharisees didn’t understand what their own scriptures said,
The eyes of the Lord search the whole earth in order to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him. – 2 Chronicles 16:9
The Pharisees thought their job was to convict the world of its sin—a bad news first message.
I’ve heard Christians say this “People won’t know they need good news until they hear the bad news.”
Only two problems with this—one, it’s not what Jesus did.
Two, it’s exactly what the Pharisees believed—they also killed Jesus.
They appointed themselves the moral police of the world—their job was make sure people knew how wrong they were.
This is not what Jesus did—Jesus brought Good News first. God is for you, not against you.
Jesus did speak hard words—I studied it, and the timing of the Hard Words–30 times Jesus spoke hard words, to be exact, but you know WHO he spoke hard words to, and WHEN?
During the first 2.5 years of his 3.5 year ministry he spoke hard words 8 times—6 of them to the Religious Pharisees.
• “You burden people but won’t lift a finger to help.”
• “Your hearts are hard.”
• “God wants mercy—not sacrifice.”
• “you have no compassion.”
The other 22 times he spoke hard words after 2.5 years of loving, serving, healing, bringing Good News to all people—he saved hard words for the persistently hard hearted. But this is after helping them see how God is for them, not against them. Good News.
Some of us have been victims of people whose view of God is angry and threatening judgment.
We can be the antidote to that!
Some people think their job is to convict the world of sin—Whose job is it to convict the world of sin?
Jesus said: [The Holy Spirit] will convict the world of its sin. – John 16:8
That’s not our job—what’s our job? To follow Jesus—what did He do?
Jesus traveled throughout the region of Galilee, teaching in the synagogues and announcing the Good News about [God’s] Kingdom. And he healed every kind of disease – John 4:23
Jesus brought hope, healing, and God’s help to a struggling world—he demonstrated and told people about Good News. God is for you, He’s not against you. The word Gospel, means Good News or Good Message of God’s story. So the message of God is Good, we’ll talk more about that next week. But sometimes, it’s important to challenge people to seek God. Jesus said:
You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” – Acts 1:8
See, He’s at work everywhere, He has Good things in store for all people, but he guides and empowers by His spirit so you can tell others.
A witness in a court of law is just someone who tells what they’ve seen and heard.
Can you do that?
Sometimes people need to be challenged to seek God.
- Challenged to be Open.
- Challenged to move toward learning.
- Challenged to step out in faith toward God.
When they do with a sincere heart, God meets them in it.
There’s a story of a time Jesus was headed to Jerusalem…
11 As Jesus continued on toward Jerusalem, he reached the border between Galilee and Samaria. 12 As he entered a village there, ten men with leprosy stood at a distance, 13 crying out, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!”14 He looked at them and said, “Go show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were cleansed of their leprosy. – Luke 17:11-14
So in that day, Lepers had to live in isolation—in a special village removed from everyone, and they were forced to stand at a distance.
So these 10 lepers are staying their distance, but crying out to Jesus “Have mercy on us.”
Apparently they’ve heard that Jesus can heal, so they’re crying out for healing.
Jesus does a funny thing. He says, “Go to the priest and show yourselves.”
This is what a leper had to do to be declared healed and clean.
If by some miracle a leper was healed, he had to go to the priest to be examined—and if declared clean—he could then go back to his family who hadn’t seen him, he could be touched and hugged.
But notice—Jesus challenged them to start down the road to the priest, before they were healed.
Which took faith—right—why go show myself to the priest, I’m not healed?
But AS THEY WENT, they were healed. As they moved forward in faith, God met them.
Sometimes God heals instantaneously.
Sometimes God heals over the course of the journey.
I’ve seen people healed physically instantly.
I have seen many more healed as they went to the doctor and did the hard work of physical therapy.
I have seen people healed emotionally and relationally instantly.
I have seen many more healed by working through the steps, going regularly to a counselor, and for many by becoming intentional about growing spiritually by serving others with others in a network and growing with others in a group.
Do you trust God to show up for you if you seek Him?
Do you trust God to show up for others if they seek Him?
11 For I know the plans I have for you,” says the LORD. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope… If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me. 14 I will be found by you,” says the LORD. – Jeremiah 29:11-14
I’ve done this many times, challenged people to take steps toward God and I have been amazed at how God comes through!
But it’s important that it’s from the right posture.
Not demanding God prove himself as you want—because see, that’s the whole problem with Humanity—we demand that God obey our will and ways while not being willing to seek God or God’s will or ways.
The key is you have to pray from a humble, willing posture, not a demanding one.
Remember the person must be willing. Sometimes people’s emotional baggage keeps them blinded to what God’s doing in their lives. Even after the lepers get down the road, and realize they’re healed, Luke 17 says:
15 One of them, when he saw that he was healed, came back to Jesus, shouting, “Praise God!” 16 He fell to the ground at Jesus’ feet, thanking him for what he had done. This man was a Samaritan.17 Jesus asked, “Didn’t I heal ten men? Where are the other nine? 18 Has no one returned to give glory to God except this foreigner?” 19 And Jesus said to the man, “Stand up and go. Your faith has healed you.” – Luke 17:15-19
Literally, “your faith has saved you” not only was he clean of Leprosy, but of all wrongs—he was made right with God forever. God was doing things for all 10, but only 1 recognized who Jesus was and what he was doing.
John shared about challenging a guy will call Jeff like this.
Both John and Jeff were engineers by degree, both had wrestled with intellectual struggles about Jesus, only Jeff still struggled after a year and a half after coming to Gateway.
At lunch one day, John asked him what held him back from trusting in Jesus.
He didn’t see why Jesus wasn’t just a good teacher and why Jesus needed to die to forgive him. Why did he need forgiveness?
He wanted some sign from God before he would believe.
John challenged him to read Mere Christianity (to see his need), but at the same time to start praying every night for God to reveal himself, but on God’s terms, not Jeff’s!
John encouraged him to stay open to how God might reveal himself.
Three months later, Jeff came up one Sunday after a message on forgiveness.
Jeff said: “This is really weird, but I had a dream about my ex-wife and in the dream we were friends again.
His ex-wife had divorced him and hurt him badly.
Jeff went on to explain: “But the weird thing is, the next day I was downtown pulling out of my parking space on Congress, and as I looked up—there she was! I hadn’t seen her in two years, yet there she was walking across the street directly in front of my car. And I’ll admit, my first instinct was to step on the gas. I wanted to kill her, but I didn’t. And then this weekend, here you are talking about forgiveness. Isn’t that a weird coincidence?”
John was amazed and dumbfounded and said to him: “Jeff, don’t you see it? God’s trying to show you something about your need for forgiveness and your need to forgive!”
He said, “No, I just think it’s a weird coincidence.”
John tried to point out to him that God was showing him the hurt and unforgiveness keeping him from God’s love. He needed God’s forgiveness, so God could help him forgive and be set free. He didn’t see it at all!
Not long after that, he stopped seeking all together.
See, love challenges people to seek God.
But you can’t change a person’s heart.
And it’s the heart that God’s looking for.
Sometimes they will see and respond, sometimes they won’t.
But that’s between them and God.
The question for us is, will you love people enough to overcome all self-focused fear?
To initiate conversations (use the books as an easy opener), dialogue and ask good questions, and challenge people to move toward God—trusting God that if they seek him with all their heart, they will find him.
Who is God putting on your mind?
Think and write down to pray as you listen to this song.