Lee Strobel: Friends, I think evangelism in the 21st century is spelled apologetics. So many people have these sticking points, but we can help them. We can help them get past those so they can make progress in their journey toward Christ.
End of Excerpt
John Fuller: That’s Lee Strobel and he’ll encourage us today to share the good news of Jesus Christ with our friends and our family members in easy, natural ways. Thanks for listening today to the broadcast. I’m John Fuller, and your host is Focus president and author Jim Daly.
Jim Daly: John, Lee Strobel is well-known as the former atheist who wrote the book, The Case for Christ. I’ve read that. I’ve given so many of them away.
John: It’s a classic.
Jim: Um, it was also the title of a film about his life that came out just last year. And in today’s message, Lee’s going to share some ideas on how to open up a conversation about faith with people in our sphere of influence. And this is so helpful. Let me tell you, it’s easier than you think. You can do it.
John: And with more, here’s Lee Strobel speaking to the Focus on the Family staff, and we’re gonna pick up right after his opening remarks.
Lee: We moved to Texas to be near our two oldest grandchildren. They live right around the corner. We’re helping to homeschool them. And they have become total Texans. I’m telling ya, my – oh, yeah. Oh, I’m telling you. My 12-year-old granddaughter, Abigail, she’s got the cowboy hat, she’s got the cowboy boots, she’s taking horseback riding lessons. But the reason we know she’s a total Texan? The other night at dinner she said, “Can I pray for dinner?” We said, “Sure.” So this is what she prayed: “God is good. God is great. Thank you for the Lone Star State.”
That’s a true Texan. That is a true Texan. Well, you know, when I moved to Texas, being from Chicago, um, I thought, “How am I gonna connect with this Texas culture?” They have a book on how to talk Texan. So I bought it, and I read it. And I learned how to talk Texan. But here’s the thing I learned that I like the most: if you’re in Texas and you want to say thank you to someone, you can say “thank you,” or you can say “I ‘preciate ya.” Isn’t that nice? Not “I appreciate it.” “I appreciate you.” And that’s what I want to say to you. “I ‘preciate ya. I ‘preciate all y’all.”
Thank you for your service. Thank you for the mission that you’re fulfilling with great zeal and enthusiasm and strategic planning and so. We’re in a crisis, as you know, in this nation and our families. And you’re on the frontlines. So I thought, “Well, what can I talk about today?” And a passage came to mind. Because I thought, you can’t go wrong quoting Jesus, right? I mean, so I was thinking of the Sermon on the Mount. And I was thinking when Jesus got up 2,000 years ago, and He’s speaking to a crowd on a hillside, but really, I believe, by extension, He was looking down through history and He was looking at you today. And this is what He said: “You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden, neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead, they put it on its stand and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine among others, that they may see your good deeds and praise your father in heaven.” What did Jesus mean by those metaphors of salt and light? I think He meant, you know, “If you’re going to be a follower of Mine, I want you to live lives like salt that make people thirst for God. I want you to live like light that shine My message of hope and grace and love and redemption and eternal life, that shine that message into dark areas of despair.” And the question I want to address in these next few minutes is: what does that look like in the 21st century?
So as I’m thinking this through, I thought, “Well, what if Jesus physically lived in my house? What would I learn from the Master in terms of how He would relate to people He would encounter along the way of life, the neighbors and so?” And so as I studied His life, there’s so many things I learned, and, you know, we could talk about serving other people, we could talking about authenticity. There’s a lot of things. I’m just gonna hit on two of them today. The first one is this: I believe that if Jesus physically lived in my house, that before He talked to His neighbor about their Heavenly Father, He would talk to His Heavenly Father about His neighbor. He would pray, right? Of course He would.
Before Jesus embarked on anything of significance, He brought it to the Father in prayer. In fact, have you ever thought about the fact that Jesus’ prayers for spiritually lost people continued right up until His final gasps on the cross? Then when you read The New Testament in the original Greek in which it’s written, one of the things you notice is that the imperfect tense of the Greek suggests that Jesus did not just say it once, but He kept repeating it all through the torture of the crucifixion. While the nails are being driven through His wrists, while the nails are being driven through His feet, He kept praying, He kept repeating, “Father, forgive them. Father, forgive them. Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Jesus’ prayers for people so spiritually depraved they were torturing to death the Son of God, they continued until His final gasps on the cross. And as British Pastor John Stott said, “In light of that, how can we justify not praying consistently and fervently and expectantly for spiritually lost people in our lives?”
Now I know theologically that, you know, we can’t, by our prayers, force someone against their will to bend the knee to Jesus. I get that. But I also believe James when he says, “The prayers of righteous people make a difference.” Because I believe they do. I’ve seen it. I’ve seen it. I remember when I was a pastor at a church outside Chicago, we were doing a baptism service. And by God’s grace, we were baptizing 700 new believers that day. And we told people as they came up to be baptized: “If you want to bring a friend or someone who led you to the Lord or a spouse, feel free to do that.” We explained the Gospel and what baptism is all about, and then people started to come up to be baptized.
So this woman comes up to me to be baptized. And she was about 65 years old. Um, and there was a man with her. And he was a tough looking bird. You know what I mean? Just a tough, wiry kind of guy. So anyway, she’s here, and I say, “You’re here to be baptized?” She said, “Yes, I am.” I said, “That’s great. Have you received Jesus as your Lord and Savior?” She said, “With all my heart.” I said, “That’s great.” And then I was gonna baptize her, and I usually didn’t do this, but I felt a prompting from the Holy Spirit. I turned to the man, and I said, “Um, excuse me, are you her husband?” He said, “Well yes, I am.” I said, “Have you given your life to Jesus?” And he glared at me. And his face kind of screwed up. I thought he was going to hit me or something. And then he burst into tears. In front of thousands of people he’s weeping, he’s sobbing. All he could say was, “No, I haven’t, but I want to right now.” So anyway, “Timeout, can we do this? Okay, great.” So this guy, in front of thousands of people, repents of his sin, receives Christ’s forgiveness, and I baptize him and his wife together.
So after the service, I’m walking down off the platform. This other woman I didn’t know comes running up to me. She throws her arms around me. She’s weeping and sobbing. All she could say is, “Eight years, eight years.” I said, “Who are you? What do you mean eight years?” She said, “That’s my brother who you just led to the Lord and baptized. I have been praying for that man for nine – or eight long years. And that whole time I’ve not seen one glimmer of interest in God. But look what God did today.” And you know what my first thought was? There was a woman who was glad she didn’t stop praying in year 7.
Who have we stopped praying for? Who have you stopped praying for? Who is it, who you love you, maybe you went to school with, or an old neighbor, or a family member, whoever, and you used to lift them up to God? But over time, it’s almost as if we make the decision for them. It’s almost like we decide, “Eh, this is never gonna happen.” And we kind of stop. And I think that woman would say, “Don’t give up. Keep praying. Keep lifting them up.”
You know, I was an atheist for much of my life. And I was a hardheaded, hardhearted legal editor of The Chicago Tribune. And when my wife became a Christian, she met some women at church. She said, “I don’t have any hope for my husband. He’s a hardheaded, hardhearted legal editor of the Trib. He’s never gonna bend his knee to Jesus.” And this one elderly saint put her arm around her shoulder, kind of pulled her to the side and said, “Oh, Leslie. No one is beyond hope.” And she gave her a verse from the Old Testament, Ezekiel 36:26 that says, “Moreover, I will give you a new heart and I will put a new spirit within you. I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” And so this whole two years that I spent of my life investigating the historical evidence for Jesus and the resurrection and so, that whole two years I devoted to that journey, what I never knew was behind the scenes, every day, my wife was on her knees praying that verse for me. No one, friends, is beyond hope.
Now, it’s easy to say we ought to pray more. But I’m on a campaign. I’m on a campaign. And it’s to do something that we’ve experimented with at churches I’ve been at in Chicago and in Los Angeles. And God has blessed it. And I’m trying to get the word out to the country. I’d love to see the whole country do this, love to see Focus kind of lead this charge. Here’s the thing: it’s easy to say let’s pray, but what if all of our churches – what if we all got together about two months or ten weeks before Christmas, this coming Christmas, and we got everybody together and said, “Let’s all agree to pray for one spiritually lost friend for one minute at one o’clock every day between now and Christmas?” And one of the things to pray is for an opportunity to invite that person to come to Christmas services at the church because we know that’s – if a nonbeliever’s gonna go to church, it’s going to be on Christmas.
I mean, we had one guy raise his hand, “Could I pray for two people at two o’clock?” No. No. It’s always one overachiever in any group. No. One person, one o’clock, for one minute. And you can’t believe what happens when you rally a whole community of believers to do that. Everybody stops at one o’clock every day and prays for that one minute for that lost person.
Second thing, I think if Jesus physically lived in my house, He would let all the neighbors know: “My door is always open if you got a question. Got a doubt, got an objection, got an issue? Come on in, bring some coffee. We’ll sit on the floor, we’ll talk about it.” You know, I can’t think of any example in The New Testament where Jesus slam-dunked anybody that came to Him with a sincere question, can you?
I mean, my favorite story about that is John the Baptist. If anybody should have known with a hundred percent certainty the identity of Jesus being the Son of God, it was John the Baptist. He once pointed to Jesus and said, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” He baptized Jesus. He saw the heavens open up. He heard the voice of the Father saying, “This is My Son in whom I’m well pleased.” John the Baptist once pointed to Jesus and said, “I have seen and I testify this is the Son of God.” But then what happens? He gets arrested. He gets thrown in prison.
Question: what happens to a lot of us when tough times come? Doubts begin to flood in, don’t they? And now he’s in prison. The doubts are starting to creep in, even to John the Baptist. Now he’s not a hundred percent sure. Now he’s got some hesitation. So what does he do? He gets a couple friends together, he says, “Look, track Jesus down. Just ask Him point-blank, ‘Are You the One we’ve been waiting for or are we to wait for somebody else?’“ So his friends track Jesus down. “Hey, Jesus, You know John? Well, he got busted. And now he’s freaking out. So would you just tell us point-blank, are You the One we’ve been waiting for or are we to wait for somebody else?”
Now here’s the thing. How does Jesus react? Does Jesus get angry? Does He say, “How dare John, of all people, have the temerity to dare express a hesitation about my identity”? No. Jesus said to those followers of John quote: “Go back to John and tell him what you have seen and heard. The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised and the good news is preached to the poor.” In other words, “Go back to John and tell him about the evidence you’ve seen with your own eyes that convinces you that I am the One I claim to be.” So they go back, and they tell John. But here’s the deal, does this now disqualify John from any role in the kingdom of God because he dared to ask a question? No. In fact, it’s after this incident that Jesus gets up before a group and he says, “Among those born of women, there’s no one greater than John.” John, the doubter.
John: Lee Strobel on Focus on the Family, and you can get a CD of this message and his devotional book on the subject. That book is The Unexpected Adventure, and we’re making it available today for a gift of any amount when you call 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY – 800-232-6459 – or donate and request the book at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast.
Let’s go ahead and hear more from Lee Strobel on Focus on the Family.
End of Program Note
Lee: Friends, it’s okay for us as followers of Jesus to ask questions. And we’re all told as followers of Jesus – in 1 Peter 3:15 – that we’re to be prepared to give an answer to anyone who asks us to give the reason for the hope that we have. Because so many of our friends have a spiritual sticking point – a question, a doubt, an issue, an objection – that’s holding them up, a sticking point in their spiritual journey, and if we can help them get resolution of that, they can make great progress toward the cross.
Because here’s the best news – we have a defensible faith. We have a faith that’s not built on wishful thinking, make believe, legend, mythology. It’s based on a solid foundation of historical truth. And I’ve seen that demonstrated a thousand times. In fact, my favorite story about that happened when I was one of the pastors in Chicago. And one of the guys from my atheist days, who was a friend of mine, was the national spokesman for American Atheists, Incorporated. So we were friends back when we were atheists. But then after I became a Christian, of course, I tried to talk to him about Jesus, and we’d get into these little debates between us. And finally, one day he said, “Ah, Strobel, you Christians are all alike.” “What do you mean?” “Oh, you’ll give the case for Christ. You’ll give the evidence for God. But you won’t then give the evidence against God and then let people make up their own mind.” I said, “Oh, yeah? I tell you what. You go get the smartest atheist on planet Earth, and I will fly him here to our church. I will allow him to stand on our platform and proclaim the case for atheism. But I’m going to get a Christian. That Christian’s going to present the case for Christ, and then he’ll debate your atheist. And we’ll just let people make up their own minds.” He said, “You wouldn’t do that.” I said, “Oh, yeah?” We shook hands on it. My very next thought was “I probably should’ve asked the senior pastor if this was okay.”
Too late. This ball was rolling. So the debate begins, and we chose as our representative of Christianity a man I consider to be the finest defender of the faith in the world – two earned Ph.D.’s – Dr. William Lane Craig. Many of you know that name, I’m sure. He gets up. He gives the most powerful 25 minute summation of the evidence for the existence of God and the truth of Christianity you have ever heard. And I wanted to cheer, but I was the moderator. I had to be neutral. “Thank you, Dr. Craig.” And now the atheist, Professor Zindler. Good luck, buddy.
So this guy – they chose their best guy. We didn’t want to get accused of choosing a bad atheist. They chose their best guy. He gets up. He’s about to open his mouth. But we didn’t tell him one thing – not that he would’ve cared. But we didn’t let him know that right where he was standing, underneath the platform, was a room. And that room was filled for the entire two and a half hours of the debate with Christians who were praying that the case for Christ would go out with all of this convicting power and the case for atheism would be recognized for the bankrupt philosophy that it is. And if you’ve seen the video of this debate – it’s on YouTube, you can watch it – you know God answered that prayer. Because we had people vote: “What’s your spiritual condition when you come in? Who won the debate? What’s your spiritual condition as you walk out?” Initially, we just took the ballots of people who walked in as skeptics, agnostics, atheists, just among those non-believers having heard the case for Christ and the case for atheism, over 82 percent said the case for Christ was by far the most compelling. And 47 people walked in as confirmed atheist, heard both sides, and walked out as followers of Jesus Christ. And you know what else?
Not one person became an atheist. I’m just saying. Friends, we have an unfair advantage in the marketplace of ideas. We have truth on our side. That is a huge advantage. So what am I saying? We ought to all go out debating people? No, no. I think God has gifted very few people who have the right academic credentials and experience to do debates. That’s great, but I’m not a debater. You’re probably not a debater. I think for us, the key word is not debate. It’s dialogue. It’s conversations. It’s friendships. It’s sitting down with someone who – who is skeptical about the faith and giving them the space to ask questions, to express doubts, where we validate them as someone made in the image of God, who’s valuable to God, where we respect the fact they’re on a journey, not as far along as we are. That’s okay. We do more listening than talking, and we help them get resolution of whatever sticking point is holding them up. Friends, I think evangelism in the 21st century is spelled apologetics. So many people have these sticking points, but we can help them. We can help them get past those so they can make progress in their journey toward Christ.
So uh, I think if Jesus lived in my house, He’d be inviting friends over, letting them talk, ask questions, express hesitations. And friends, we got to create in our homes, in our Christian schools, in our churches, safe places, especially for young people, where it’s okay to ask any question, it’s okay to express any doubt. Because if we don’t give them that freedom, the doubts begin to well up inside and they will erode their soul. But if we get into a discussion, we can help them get past whatever sticking point is holding them up.
So friends, I think, you know, if we pray for people, if we help them get past these sticking points, you never know what’s going to happen. This is the unexpected adventure of the Christian life. You never know how God might use you to be a link in the chain, the spiritual chain, leading someone to faith in Christ.
And I’ll just end with my favorite story about an unexpected adventure to happen to me. And I was a pretty new Christian. I was still at the newspaper in Chicago. And it was the end of a long day, was packing my stuff up, and, um, I felt moved by the Holy Spirit in a very specific way. I just felt compelled that I needed to go into the business office of the newspaper and invite my atheist friend to Easter services at our church because Easter was coming up. I just felt very specifically that God was leading me to do this. And I’m thinking, “This is great because if God is really leading me to do this, something wonderful is going to happen. He’s probably going to repent right there, right now. This is gonna be” – so I was full confidence, right? So I walk over to the business office. I look in. All I see is my friend behind his desk. I said, “Thank you, Lord.” So I went up to him. I said, “Hey, how you doing?” He said, “I’m doing good.” I said, “Hey, you know, Easter’s coming up.” He said, “Strobel, you know I’m an atheist.” I said, “Yeah, yeah, yeah. I know. But Easter is when we remember the resurrection of Jesus.” He said, “Oh, He wasn’t resurrected.” I said, “Actually, you know, there is good historical evidence that He was.” Began to give him some of this evidence that I think is compelling that shows that Jesus not only claimed to be the Son of God, He backed it up by returning from the dead. I start – and I talked for a few minutes on that, but didn’t look like it was helping. So now I’m scrambling. I’m trying to think of another approach. So I – “Wait a minute.” I said, “We got great music at our church. Why don’t you and your wife join Leslie and me, come to our church at Easter. You’ll love the music.” He looked at me, he said, “I don’t want to go to your stupid church.” “Hey, okay. Hey, listen, no problem. Appreciate it. I’ll talk to you later. You know, if you have a question, you know where my office is. I’ll see you.” I walked out. I said, “What was that all about?” Why did I feel so specifically compelled to go into the business office, to get into a spiritual conversation, to invite him to services at the church, I give the evidence for the resurrection and he just shut me down? And I’m telling you, this bothered me for years because to this day, he’s still an atheist. Let me tell you the rest of the story.
Several years after that, by then, I was a pastor at a church outside Chicago. And a guy comes up to me after service. And he says, “Can I shake your hand and thank you for the spiritual influence you’ve had on my life?” I said, “Well, that’s really nice, but who are you?” He said, “Let me tell you my story.” He said, “A few years ago, I lost my job. And I didn’t have any money in the bank. I thought I was gonna lose my car. I thought I was gonna lose my house. I was in a panic. I needed a paycheck for a while to get by.” So he said, “I called a friend of mine that ran a newspaper. I said, “Do you have any odd jobs I can do to earn a buck for a while?” And the guy said, “Well, can you tile floors?” I said, “Yeah, I can tile floors. I tiled our bathroom. I think I can do that.” The guy said “We need some tile installed and replaced at the newspaper. If you can do that, we can pay you for a while.” So I said, “Great.” He said, “So I went to work at the newspaper.” He said, “One day, not long before Easter, I was in the business office of the newspaper. And I was on my hands and knees working on some tile on the floor behind a big desk. And you walked in. I don’t even think you knew I was there. And you start talking to this guy about God. And you start inviting him to your church. You start giving the evidence for the resurrection. And this guy was shutting you down. But I’m on my hands and knees. I’m listening to all this stuff. And my heart’s beating fast. And I’m thinking ‘I need God. I need to go to church.’“ So he says, “Soon as you left, I called my wife. I said ‘We’re going to church this Easter.’ She said, ‘What?’ I said, ‘Yeah.’“ He said, “We came to your church that Easter. I came to faith, my wife came to faith, and our teenage son came to faith. And I just wanted to thank you.” And I’m thinking…
Yup, this is a new form of evangelism – ricochet evangelism.
You share your faith, it bounces off a hard heart, you don’t know where it’s gonna go. Friends, this is the unexpected adventure of the Christian life. We don’t want to miss this. This is our one opportunity to do this. We can’t do it in heaven. It’s our one chance to do it.
So let me pray for you. Father, thank you for this great group of folks. Thank you for the mission that You’ve given them to serve You through Focus on the Family, through the print medium, through radio, through all of these channels that You have created here, podcasts and so, magazines, all these opportunities to share Your message of hope and grace. We thank you for those. And we pray that You would use each person here to make a difference for youth through this great organization. But we also pray that in our families and in our communities and in our neighborhoods, You would use us to be stronger salt and brighter light, that we might be taken by You on unexpected adventures that will be the joy of our life. We pray this in Jesus name, when all God’s people said, “Amen.” God bless you all. Great to be with you today.
John: That’s Lee Strobel speaking to the Focus on the Family staff on today’s episode of the broadcast.
Jim: John, I gotta tell ya, I’m very excited about the idea Lee mentioned in the first half of his message there – to pray for one spiritually lost friend for one minute at 1 o’clock every day between now and Christmas. That’s exactly 10 weeks from today. And as you’re praying for that friend or family member, pray for an opportunity to invite them to Christmas services at your church. And if they live far away, pray that someone else will invite them to their church. John, have you thought of someone you might pray for?
John: Yeah, this is something that’s been on my mind and heart, so yes. I have several someones, but one specific someone that I’ll be praying for.
Jim: That’s great. Here is a wonderful way to remember: set a reminder on your phone or set an alarm clock for 1 PM every day, then spend a minute in prayer. Pray that the Holy Spirit would bind the enemy and begin pursuing your friend and draw them toward Jesus. Pray that God would soften your friend’s heart and overwhelm them with His love. And pray that their eyes would be opened and that they would turn from darkness to light, that they would repent of their sins and accept Jesus Christ as their Savior.
John: Those are great prayer points, Jim. And we’ll post some articles on our webpage with more ideas on how you can pray. That’s focusonthefamily.com/broadcast.
Jim: That’d be great, John. And you know, Focus on the Family’s primary mission is to help spread the Gospel. And in the past year, over 200,000 people said they made decisions for Christ because of Focus. And let me say thank you to everyone who donates to the work here at Focus on the Family. That number represents the results of your investment. You are doing ministry through Focus on the Family. And when you make a donation of any amount today, I’d like to send you a devotional book written by Lee Strobel and Mark Mittelberg called, The Unexpected Adventure. And it will inspire you to find more ways to share the Gospel with others.
John: Just call and donate – 800-A-FAMILY – 800-232-6459 – or donate online and request that great book at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast.
Be sure to be with us tomorrow. We’ll hear from Ed Stetzer who encourages us to be respectful and loving toward those with whom we disagree.
Ed Stetzer: I have people in my life who will say to me, “Ed, that wasn’t the best thing for you to say on social media.” But they’re people I’m praying with. I have – I meet with people on a regular basis to pray and hold one another accountable, so I think we need that.
End of Teaser