by Andy Smith
Starting with a meaningful truth about Jesus will help people take that first step of faith.
Parable #1: A group of blind men worked their way slowly across a rice paddy. Suddenly, one bumped into a water buffalo. “What’s this?” he shouted. The other men joined him in investigating the mystery. Feeling its tail, one exclaimed, “It’s a snake!” Another, grasping a leg, countered, “It’s a bamboo tree!” Running his hand over its muddy side, the third claimed, “It’s a filthy mat!” The last, feeling its horn, suggested, “It’s a stone!”
Does this parable sound familiar? It is based upon the story of blind Indians investigating an elephant. But it is different. It is a contextualized version. It is the same story retold in terms Filipinos can better understand. I tell it for a very different reason than the Indians tell theirs.
Parable #2: A group of blind people were sitting in a room. Suddenly, one found the first chapter of the Gospel of John written in Braille. “What’s this?” he shouted. The others joined him in investigating the mystery. Checking out the first few verses, one exclaimed, “It’s about the Word!” Another, continuing with verses four through nine, countered, “It’s about the Light!” Dragging his finger across another set of verses, the third claimed, “It’s about the Christ!” The last offered, “It’s about the Lamb!”
Those people investigated only a small part of scripture. Still, they reached a variety of conclusions. Was one of them right and the others wrong? No. Each made an accurate statement as true as the others. However, each drew a conclusion based upon only one portion of the Gospel of John. Had they kept reading, they would have found even more information about Jesus. They would have learned that he is: the bread of life, the door, the good shepherd, the life, the resurrection, the way, the truth, the vine, and so much more. Indeed, people usually first discover one significant truth about Jesus that resonates with them. If it causes them to put their faith in him, then they are positioned to grow. If they grow, they come to know him better and better and start to realize all that he is.
I used to prefer a certain way of telling others about Jesus. By God’s grace, it resonated with a number of people. Over the years, however, I have gotten to know Jesus better. Plus, I have served a larger variety of people. These factors have led me to use different starting points for telling others about him. There is only one Jesus, but to introduce him to others we can start with a variety of truths about who he is. In this article, I will recount the significant truth about Jesus that brought me to faith. I will then describe my growth in realizing what else he is. Last, I will give examples of the starting points I have used to lead Filipino friends to faith. May these stories stir you to consider using a wider variety of starting points.
Truths about Jesus
1. Jesus is Lord. I was a high school senior when a friend mentioned, “Hey, we have a Fellowship of Christian Athletes meeting tomorrow night. Why don’t you come?” Being an athlete and thinking myself a Christian, I accepted his invitation. The meeting surprised me, however. We sang cool spiritual songs. The Bible passage we studied seemed written for me. However, since I didn’t understand all that happened, I consulted my friend, who explained, “You know a lot about Jesus, but you don’t know Jesus.” I drove home quietly. Some time later, I plopped in bed, but could not sleep. My friend’s comment echoed in my mind. What did he mean? At some late hour, it hit me. I knew many things about Jesus’ life and teachings: I knew he had done miracles, taught great truths, and died on the cross. But I didn’t know him as the living, reigning Lord. Tears began to flow as I confessed my sin and put my faith in him that night.
2. Jesus is the guide and provider. Deciding where to go to college tested my young faith. Most of my friends had decided to attend a nearby state university. Three of my older siblings were studying there and I assumed I would, too. Then I started praying about it. Slowly, I sensed God leading me to check out other options. When college representatives came to my high school, I talked to them and soon became interested in a school nearly six hundred miles from home. The representatives invited me to visit the campus. My dad and I went, and we both agreed that it looked like a great place for me. On the last day of the visit we visited the dean. He told me I could work on campus and would receive a scholarship. Those were the final pieces of the puzzle. God had not only led me to this school, he also made a way for me to attend.
3. Jesus is the healer. During my first year in college, I sustained a significant injury. Someone kneed me in the back during a football game, which knocked me unconscious. I endured several tests over the next few weeks, and the doctors finally concluded that my kidney had been injured. But the findings were still unclear, so they recommended exploratory surgery. I began praying persistently; the few Christians I knew on campus did the same. I had a peace about asking God to heal me. The exploratory surgery took place. Afterwards, the surgeon asked me, “Are you a Christian?” When I replied affirmatively, he asked if people had prayed that I would be healed. I nodded. He continued, “Then it is clear to me that God healed you. We could not even find scar tissue that showed you had been injured. It has healed.”
4. Jesus is the sustainer. I faced another significant trial in my first year of college. Since I did not know any other students who were enrolling at that school, I was assigned a roommate. He was a nice guy; however, I soon realized that he was involved in an illegal activity. I reported this to an authority figure. A week later, I walked in on that person and my roommate, both of whom were engaged in the illegal activity. I had no idea what to do and felt very alone. My mind began calculating what it would entail to transfer schools. Then, Jesus ministered to me in my innermost being and a deep peace came over me. I chose to stay, eventually changed roommates, and grew in faith and service during the rest of my years at that school.
5. Jesus is the name above all names. Ten years later, I visited some friends who lived in a rented house. At night, I rolled out my sleeping bag and slept on the living room floor. One night around midnight, something disturbed me. I assumed one of my friends was about to pull a prank on me. Instead, a ghost walked by! I wondered if I was dreaming; fear paralyzed me. I had never experienced anything like that. “What should I do?” I wondered. A split-second later, I spoke authoritatively to the spirit and commanded it to leave in the name of Jesus. It instantly vanished. I jumped up, pinched myself, and realized that what had just happened was real.
Finding Meaningful Starting Points
I arrived in the Philippines about a year later and quickly discovered that many Filipinos think of Jesus as a baby in Mary’s arms or as a dead savior hanging on the cross. Such a perspective does not inspire one to put his or her faith in Jesus, nor does it lay a foundation for ongoing growth in him. Instead, it causes many to look to Mary or others to mediate for them. I began to introduce Jesus as the living, reigning Lord whom I had met. However, over the years God has led me to evangelize more wisely. I now use a variety of starting points. I share a truth about Jesus that I sense could connect with my listeners. If God moves in their hearts, that truth resonates with them and causes them to put their faith in him. They are then positioned to grow. If they indeed grow, they will come to know him better and better and start to realize all that he is.
1. Jesus is the friend of sinners. I am single, and for some time, a maid would come to clean my apartment while I was at language school. This system worked okay, except that things disappeared now and then. I began praying about the situation. Still, the evidence against her piled up and I pondered whether or not to have her replaced. I discussed the options with one of the Filipino teachers. This woman agreed to talk to my maid. The two met, and the Spirit convicted the maid of her sin. Rather than defending herself, she confessed everything. The teacher then led her to faith in the friend of sinners. Over the years, this maid has grown a great deal. She now knows Jesus as a holy babe, crucified savior, friend of sinners, and much more.
2. Jesus is the reconciler. Several pastors and I once went for a scheduled Bible study on the slopes of Mayon Volcano in the Albay Province. When we arrived, however, we discovered that no one was home where we were to have the Bible study. We prayed and asked God what to do. In faith, we started looking for a divine appointment in the area. We eventually found Felix, a lame, elderly man who had been left behind when several of the locals went to town. We began conversing with him. One of the pastors shared the gospel with him using a logical, linear presentation. It seemed to me an excellent presentation of God’s way of righteousness. After thirty minutes, he asked Felix if what he shared made sense to him. Felix nodded. After a few more questions, the pastor realized that Felix understood almost none of it. The pastor then tried a different approach: picking up a stick, he drew two mountains separated by an enormous crevasse. He explained that the holy God dwelled on one mountain and sinful people dwelled on the other mountain and that there was nothing humanity could do to bridge the gap to God. Therefore, God sent Jesus so that we might be reconciled to him. Felix’s expression suddenly changed. He understood completely and put his faith in Christ.
3. Jesus is the comforter. Later that year, the same pastor told me about a woman named Fe who had sounded spiritually interested. He suggested we visit her and asked me to lead a Bible study. We eventually made our way to the tiny bamboo hut. There, Fe told us about her pain. Six months before, her 8-year-old son had become sick and died. She was still grieving bitterly. My pastor friend nodded to me. I led a simple Bible study about Jesus’ appearance to Thomas. Then, I told Fe about the Jesus I met many years ago and the ways he had helped me survive tough times. Next, I asked her a few questions. The Spirit moved. Longing for a touch from God, she put her faith in Jesus. A few years later, her husband came to faith. Their Bible is now well-worn, and they possess great wisdom for their age. Because they know well the Christ who comforts his own, they can minister to others.
4. Jesus is the life changer. Later that same year I met Carlos. He had hated his childhood. His big, strong older brother teased him often, and his parents spoiled his sister. Worst of all, a relative sexually abused Carlos. This had left him uncertain about his gender. By high school, he walked, talked, and gestured like a young woman. Then, he started attending one of our Bible studies. He was drawn to passages in which Jesus changed people dramatically. Within a few months, he put his faith in Jesus. God quickly set him free from the past, turning him into a godly young man. Over the next few years, his entire family also came to faith, largely because of the changes they saw in him.
5. Jesus is God. Carlos’s sister was the first to come to faith. Elvie never sensed God’s presence during religious activities. In her teen years, she discovered the hypocrisy of the leaders of her religion and became an atheist. In college, a professor reinforced her beliefs and stirred her to oppose Christians. Then, Carlos came to faith. God began to change him radically. Two years later, she told me she considered Jesus a zero out of ten. I urged her to read the Gospel of Mark. Two days later, she visited me again, and we talked about what she read. She told me she was beginning to realize who Jesus really was. At that point, she considered him a four. I had her read the Gospel of John. Doing so amazed her. She had never heard about that Jesus before—he jumped to a seven. She read the other two Gospels and then launched into the Acts of the Apostles. Suddenly, it dawned on her: Jesus was the supreme being. He was a ten! She put her faith in him. Now she knows the presence of the one who will never leave her nor forsake her.
Start with a Specific Truth about Jesus
Jesus is the Word, the light, the Christ, the Lamb of God, the bread of life, the door, the good shepherd, the life, the resurrection, the way, the truth, the vine, and so much more. It takes years to begin to grasp all that he is. Therefore, we should evangelize wisely. A favorite method will be appropriate in some cases; in others, it will not. In each opportunity, we should share a truth about Jesus to connect with those we want to lead to faith. With some, that truth might be that Jesus is the savior. With others, Jesus is the healer. With still others, Jesus is the Lord, mediator, or redeemer. The list of possibilities is quite long! If God moves in the heart of the person with whom you talk, the truth about Jesus will resonate with him or her. It will cause him or her to put his or her faith in Jesus. If so, he or she will be positioned to grow. If the person indeed grows, he or she will come to know Jesus better and better and start to realize all that he is.
Certain truths about Jesus could be meaningless to our not-yet-believing friends; others could give them a false understanding of him. Some could cause them to stop considering his identity and works. It takes God-given wisdom to know where to start. Ask God to show you a truth about Jesus that could connect with people you serve, and then start with that truth. Remember that even if we start with the “right” approach, not everyone will come to faith. Who Jesus is and what he did will be a stumbling block or foolishness to some. At the same time, starting with a meaningful truth about Jesus will help some people take that first step of faith. If it does, then we can disciple them from there. They will begin to realize all that he is. Unlike those in the parable of the water buffalo, their understanding of the one they have “bumped into” will become multifaceted and it will give them a sure foundation.
Andy Smith has served with OMF in the Philippines since 1989. He has helped plant several churches and now trains and coaches church-planting teams, especially those serving Bikolanos and Tagalogs.
Copyright © 2009 Evangelism and Missions Information Service (EMIS). All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMIS.