My time with the guy who works across from me was limited. We had worked together for a short time and I assumed that everyone that works on my line knows that I’m a pastor. This guy didn’t but it opened the door.
He told me he was Catholic and wanted to know the difference between what I believed and what the Catholic church taught. And I had to answer the question in a noisy factory with earplugs in! I had to answer him soon and quickly or the question would go away. He saw that I was thinking…and because of the work environment, we had about forty-five seconds or so together that I could respond to his question. So I quickly prayed and thought. And over the next fifteen minutes I had about two minutes and change in three, forty-five minute segments to get to the gospel.
Round #1 – I tried to set the groundwork by explaining that the Catholic Bible has some extra books in it. Our Bibles both contained the sixty-six books from Genesis to Revelation but his Bible would include what is called the Apocrypha, which mine does not. The Apocrypha does not support and run parallel with they other sixty-six books…they contradicted the other sixty- six books in some ways so they are not considered to be part of God’s Word.
Round #2 – He asked about the Dead Sea Scrolls. And that is out of my field of expertise but I told him what I thought they were. In 1947 a shepherd stumbled across some stone jars in some caves surrounding the Dead Sea. Over the next ten years archaeologists, historians, and scholars would uncover thousands of these fragments from those caves. They provided historians with great insight into an ancient Middle Eastern community. They were also a major find that strengthened the testimony and the reliability of the Bible.
Round #3 – I knew I had to get to the gospel. I said that from what I understand and know about Catholicism is that you have to do good stuff to earn God’s favour. I also said that every belief system, other than Christianity, has a system where you had to do good things to somehow be accepted by God. The emphasis was on doing good things. Christianity, on the other hand, is about being accepted by God when we come to Him in repentance and faith and out of that will flow good works as we move forward, baby step by baby step, in our faith. Doing good stuff does not make us more acceptable to God. God accepts us as we are in our sin-drenched wretchedness when we come in repentance and faith and after that He brings about the slow progressive change in us where we start to resemble His Son, more and more.
I say all that to say that we live in a world of sound bytes. Short blips and clips that may contain some truth but can be very misleading. At a former church we had a sign that I put some good and some not so good messages on. Things said in a short period of time can be so misleading. And your audience is key. What a short slogan may say to a believer says something completely different to an unbeliever. And even believers can take things differently. You can only do so much in four lines or less.
As Sunday School classes and small groups and large groups cover meaty topics like the cross and sin and forgiveness and repentance and on and on, the more time you need, the more words you need. The longer I live the more I am convinced that we need books, not bumper stickers.
I am all for listening to and preaching the Scriptures verse by verse and book by book. But there is also a time to hunker down on particular topics where you can really get beyond the superficial to the gold. I remember preaching a particular sermon on a particular topic that was a new concept to many people on a particular Sunday. I took a lot of heat for that particular sermon! In hindsight that sermon should have been part of a larger sermon series that lasted for two or three months.
I love to quote J.I. Packer who says that ‘a half truth parading as a full truth is a complete untruth.’ Again, many times sound bytes and bumper stickers and blogs will not do it…but I continue to blog on! You need more pages or more sermon time to be able to better handle a topic. I am all in favour of longer sermons that bring clarity to the content. I am all for longer books that bring clarity to controversial topics. I finished one a few month ago that covered a particular doctrine from Genesis to Revelation. It was five hundred pages and change. I have two more that sit on my book shelf waiting to be read, one that deals with end times and one that deals with definite atonement. They both clock in at over five hundred pages each.
I think this also pertains to sharing our faith. Many of us have co-workers and family members and neighbours where we only have time for sound byte gospel conversations but by getting a book in their hand or a blogger on their favourites list or more conversations that follow up where the first one left off, that may prove to be fruitful over the long haul. I hope and pray that I have a follow-up conversation with my co-worker that explains the gospel better.
To quote a blog I read, ‘God is deeper still.’ We are in the process of conforming our beliefs, to God’s Word. And that doesn’t happen overnight…it’s a lifetime work, folks! We need many words to clarify and tighten up our beliefs.
 Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! (Romans 11:33 ESV)