Let me just say that I know nothing about sheep. Although I did grow up in sheep-farming country, I didn't grow up on a sheep farm, so sheep have generally been on the other side of the hedgerow from me. Today, however, I went for a walk surrounded by sheep. And, while I was walking I noticed two things that made me think about the sheep of God's pasture.
1. Sheep are scared of people!
I was a bit surprised at this; after all, sheep are domestic animals and the particular sheep I met today were grazing on a field through which ran a public footpath. Yet, every time I got within a few metres of a sheep, it ran away. I didn't even have to get very close. Some ran, others walked away calmly; but every one of them got out of my way before I could get too close.
Now, the sheep didn't mind at all that I was in their field. I was quite welcome and they were quite content, provided that I didn't get too close. This made me think about us as Christians. Sometimes we can be quite content, even very comfortable among ourselves. We're quite happy and can even be quite welcoming to a stranger who visits a church service. We're happy if a non-Christian comes along to church. Yet, like the sheep, it seems that we can sometimes be scared of people. Rather than 'go[ing] into all the world' with the gospel, sometimes we're quite content to stay within the comforts of our own field. Rather than taking the opportunities God gives to share the Gospel, sometimes we exhibit more of the fear of man than the fear of the LORD.
The sheep today had nothing to fear from me. I simply wanted to walk along the footpath through their field. Likewise, God's sheep have nothing to fear from man. So, we shouldn't shy away from evangelism, but take every opportunity God sends our way.
2. Sheep will (try to) eat anything!
Apparently sheep do not have very discerning palates. One of the sheep I encountered today was rather unimpressed with the lush green grass surrounding him and much more interested in trying to eat the plastic label from a lemonade bottle that someone had thrown into his field. Fortunately he was frustrated in his attempts by his inability to get the label off the bottle. Unfortunately we can be a bit like that too. Although we have a plentiful supply of healthy and nutritious food in God's Word, sometimes we prefer the rubbish with which men strew our way. Like plastic labels in the sunlight, it might be shiny and interesting, but it's not good for us. We live in a day when people are trying to feed God's sheep with all sorts of rubbish. But we need to stick to the good food of the Word. We need preachers who will expound the Scriptures to us and not turn us 'aside to fables' (2 Tim 4:4).
So from my brief observation of some sheep today, those are two ways we shouldn't be like them.
Unless Jesus is the central message of the Scriptures, many errors abound. The most common is moralizing. Moralizing is reading the Bible not to learn about Jesus but only to learn principles for how to live life as a good person by following the good examples of some people and avoiding the bad examples of others. That kind of approach to the Scriptures is not Christian, because it treats the Bible like any other book with moral lessons that are utterly disconnected from faith in and salvation from Jesus.
Mark Driscoll & Gerry Breshears, Doctrine: What Christians Should Believe (Crossway, 2010), p.47
On Sunday morning someone in our assembly read from 1 Peter 3. It was one of those great moments where you see God's hand directing open worship. Little did that person know, but another group in the assembly had been looking at the same passage during the week. Specifically we had been looking at the instruction to be always 'prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect' (1 Peter 3:15).
According to 1 Peter 3:15 we Christians need to be ready to answer people's questions about our faith. We need to be able to explain why we believe what we believe. In other words we need to be prepared for every evangelistic opportunity.
In our housegroup in East Leeds we've been endeavouring to do just that. In order to be prepared to share our faith we've spent the last 2 months doing a Two Ways to Live course. Two Ways to Live is probably best known as a gospel tract (and a very good one at that), but it's actually a simple gospel outline used in a variety of resources such as tracts, CD-Rom multimedia presentations and evangelistic Bible studies (all available in the UK from The Good Book Company). The Two Ways to Live: Know and Share the Gospel course is designed to help Christians to know what exactly it is that they're supposed to be telling non-Christians in evangelism, and to learn how to communicate it effectively. The course uses the Two Ways to Live outline to help Christians present the gospel in an ordered way so as to be understood, as well as to convey the necessary background information that those without any knowledge of Christianity or the Bible will need to make sense of the gospel.
In East Leeds we greatly profited from the course. We had quite a mixed age group (from 11 years old up to adults) and all ages seemed to cope quite well with the material. But even more importantly, all ages got a renewed motivation and confidence for evangelism. The course may be over, but we're still praying that it would bear much fruit in the weeks and months (and years) ahead.
So if you're looking for some material to help your group prepare to know and tell the gospel, I highly recommend Two Ways to Live: Know and Share the Gospel.
We are already at the stage where many evangelical leaders simply assume the message of the cross, but no longer lay much emphasis on it. Their focus is elsewhere. And a few, it seems to me, are in danger of distancing themselves from major components of the message of the cross, while still operating within the context of evangelicalism. It is at least possible that we are the generation of believers who will destroy much of historic Christianity from within - not, in the first instance, by rancid unbelief, but by raising relatively peripheral questions to the place where, functionally, they displace what is central. And what shall the end of this drift be?We must come back to the cross, and to God's plan of redemption that centres on the cross, and make that the point of our self-identification. We must consciously resist all blandishments from movements and philosophies and value-systems that tolerate the cross, or even nominally promote it, but in reality displace it. We must recognize that what it means to be wise, what it means to be spiritual, is to embrace, by the help of God's Spirit, the message of the crucified Messiah.
D.A. Carson, The Cross and Christian Ministry, 63-64
The Cross of Calvary was planted in past eternity to make Creation, Redemption, Forgiveness and the Eternal Plan possible.
W.R. Thomas, On Ephesians, 132