So Hard To Come By

I’m a bit busy at the moment, but you’re welcome to look over my shoulder, if you’re interested. Better still, you can pull up a chair and work with me. No, you can’t be all that busy or you wouldn’t be reading this.

You’ll need your bible and a piece of paper, or your laptop, or similar. I’ve got a reporter’s notebook handy, because I’ve been jotting down notes during the week, and I’m on my laptop.

I’ve got a list written out already: six headings and twelve texts. It’s been in a folder in the kitchen cupboard for ages. The main heading is “The Gospel For The Unconcerned”, so I suspect that it’s been lifted from Torrey, originally. Well, nobody’s perfect. It will serve our purpose. Copy it down with me, if you will, leaving a space below each text – just a couple of lines will do.

1 Show him that he is a sinner.

“And He said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment.’” (Mt.22.37-38)

“So then each of us will give an account of himself to God.” (Ro.14.12)

2 Show him the consequences of sin.

“For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Ro.6.23)

“‘There is no peace,’ says my God, ‘for the wicked.’” (Is.57.21)

3 Show him that he is condemned without Christ.

“Whoever believes in Him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgement: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.” (Jn.3.18-19)

“And when He comes, He will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgement: concerning sin, because they do not believe in me”. (Jn.16.8-9)

4 Show him the consequences of condemnation.

“And without faith it is impossible to please Him”. (He.11.6)

“I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am He you will die in your sins.” (Jn.8.24)

5 Show him that if he does nothing, he will never see heaven.

“how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? It was declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard”. (He.2.3)

“Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.” (Jn.3.36)

6 Show him the wonderful love of God.

“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” (Jn.3.16)

“But He was wounded for our transgressions; He was crushed for our iniquities; upon Him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with His stripes we are healed.” (Is.53.5)

Not being much of a bible student, I’m going to look them up so that I’m sure of the context. You won’t need to, so you can go and get a cup of tea while I do it.

You’re back! Now, think of a friend of yours; I’ll just have to use my imagination. They’re not a believer, but they’re by no means hostile: in fact, they’re asking you to give them an idea of what Christianity is all about – in words that they can understand. We don’t want to wing it, so we need to do some preparation. Here’s how.

The heading points out the purpose, e.g., “Show him that he is a sinner.” Hmm. Matthew 22.37-38. What has that got to do with your friend, or indeed, with anybody? Think it through, and make a note in the space you left below it in that list. Hmm. That might not be clear and concise. Think KISS: Keep It Simple, Stupid. Rework it. Now read the second quotation. How can you use it to add to his understanding?

Do the same for the next section, and so on until you get fed up. Time to go off and do something different for an hour or so.

Back again, and now we’ve got to the end. Hmm. It’s still a bit bare bones, isn’t it? Where’s my reporter’s notebook? Robert G. Lee: “Sin will take you farther than you want to go; sin will keep you longer than you want to stay; and sin will cost you more than you want to pay.” Section 2, perhaps, or is it too wordy? Perhaps he was talking about the believer who falls into sin. Let’s keep looking.

Is our friend of the opinion that he’s ‘religious’ or ‘spiritual’? “Folks have religion, but they don’t have Christ. If they were allowed into heaven, they wouldn’t be able to pick out Jesus in a crowd.” (E. A. Johnston.) Section 1? No? Perhaps an anecdote or a personal experience would be better?

Whatever you choose to add, you need something for each section, be it anecdote, experience, quotation, quip, today’s news, or what your mother used to say to you when you were young. It doesn’t matter – as long as it serves the purpose pointed out by the heading. If it doesn’t, discard it, and find something more suitable. Time to take another break. 

Right, the washing is in the dryer, I’ve refilled the pill box with another week’s supply of vitamins, minerals and medication, and I’ve eaten a very small bowl of honey-roasted peanuts, even though I don’t usually like to mix sweet and savoury. Let’s print it out, as is.

The scene is changing. Your friend has brought a few of his friends along to an informal meeting at church. They seem like nice people, friendly and interested in what the Pastor has to say. But he’s just been on his mobile: he’s unavoidably detained. You’re it, and you’re on. Use your imagination.

I’ll go first. I’ll stand up with the printout in my hand, and I’ll address the lace curtains at the other end of the room. Here we go. Oh, no, it doesn’t flow at all. Pass me that pencil. Let’s try again. No, no. It’s still not right. Scrub out the wordy bits and the sentences that don’t make sense. Again. And then again.

You’ve probably had enough of this by now, so we’ll stop there.

Later, when it runs right and sounds like sense, I’ll rewrite it in note form. Eventually, I might be able to manage with only the texts themselves – but I doubt it.

As you may have surmised, I’m doing this with a particular purpose in mind. So: why waste time? Why not just jot down a few notes and then wing it? Why not just pray, and ask for the inspiration of the Holy Spirit? Well, yes, I will pray, and I will ask for His help. However, if we go back to our friend, the one who wants an explanation of the gospel, or to our audience, all wondering what we mean when we talk about being “born again” or “salvation from sin”… come on: what would you actually tell them, in so many words?

Here’s another one from my reporter’s notebook, and I really ought to remember who said it, but I can’t: “What counts, costs, and what costs, counts.” Can anyone help me out with that one? Hmm. I think I’ll work it into section 6, anyway!

Back to the laptop.


P.S. My title? Iris DeMent.