December 20, 2013

Starting Gospel Conversations: Christmas Edition

by Mike Riccardi

Christmastime is upon us. In a few short days, many of us will find ourselves in a home filled with family members and friends, some of whom we see often, and some of whom we see rather seldom. It will be a time of reunion, reconciliation, catching up, and sharing stories. In many cases, it will provide multiple opportunities to bear witness to the Gospel before the people we care most about.

But precisely because we care most about them, it can often be difficult to have those conversations. We still may fear our family members’ evaluation of us, especially if they’re our parents. We don’t enjoy being thought of as strange, naïve, or narrow-minded by those whom we care most about. Maybe the last time we tried evangelizing them it didn’t go so well, and we don’t want to strike any raw nerves. It could even be that our pride and self-focus has dampened our affections for Christ’s glory and our love for our lost family members.

But sometimes the problem is just that it’s hard to start the conversation. Now, in some cases, the theme of the Christmas will provide some natural opportunities to speak about “the Reason for the season.” Praise God for those times. Pray for more of them. And take them when they come! Oftentimes, though, our unbelieving friends and family members who know that we’re Christians are looking for every opportunity not to take the conversation in that direction. And so if it’s going to get there, we have to steer it that way. And I can testify from experience that Christians can wind up squandering opportunities to move a conversation toward Christ and His Gospel simply because they don’t know how to make that move without being too abrupt, tactless, or cheesy.

In my attempts to gracefully steer a conversation toward the Gospel, I’ve found that it is helpful to listen for key themes. Some have conceptualized the history of redemption as forming around the four key themes of Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Consummation. As I’ve done some reflecting on these categories, I discovered that many of our life experiences can be viewed through the lens of these themes as well. Therefore, listening for these themes in a conversation with an unbelieving friend or relative can provide a way to naturally transition the conversation to the Gospel. Think through them with me.

Creation

In creating the heavens and the earth, God has been very kind to all mankind—He sends the rain and the sun on both the just and the unjust. Noticing a point in the conversation in which an unbeliever makes any sort of mention of enjoying a part of the creation can lead to a smooth transition to the Gospel. A remark about the nice weather, the appreciation of a fresh blanket of snow, being intrigued by the shape of a cloud—all of these provide an opportunity for us to praise the Creator who spoke such beauty into existence.

  • “Wow, it’s such a nice day out today, isn’t it?”
  • “It sure is. How kind of the Lord to give us such a beautiful day to enjoy together!”
  • “Oh Mike, there you go again.”
  • “Yeah, I guess I’m at it again. :-) Have you given any more thought about our last conversation about who Jesus claims to be?”

Another way the theme of creation connects to our daily lives is in our own creativity. Any time someone creates something, they mimic the Creator, even if it’s in a small, broken way. Part of being made in the image of God is to create. This can range from the artistic—like painting, photography, poetry, or sculpting—to the more mundane—construction projects, interior decorating, gardening, or scrapbooking. Each one of these activities provides opportunity to praise God for His common grace—His mercifully giving these good gifts to both His friends and His enemies to enjoy.

This can especially work toward a Gospel conversation for those who give gifts that they’ve personally made. As you express appreciation for a hand-made or home-made gift, it would be great to say something like:

  • “Oh, Karen, I love your creativity! How long did that take you?”
  • “It took a bit of time, but I’ve had some practice at it. It’s a pleasure to do for you, anyway.”
  • “Thanks so much! When did you start to learn to do that?”
  • “Ever since I was young I loved doing arts-and-craftsy-type things. It’s a helpful way for me to express myself.”
  • “Yeah, I can totally see that. You know, this might sound surprising, but I believe that our creativity reflects the creativity of God, who’s created the whole world. The Bible says that God created humans in His image, and so we reflect Him in many ways. …”

Fall

On the other hand, evidence of mankind’s fall into sin is everywhere. Unfair circumstances, strained personal relationships, unrealized expectations and hopes, and even various tragedies give evidence that our world is broken by sin. These topics provide an opportunity to speak of the God who created this world “very good,” and of humanity’s rebellion against God that brought His curse.

Opportunities to connect the theme of the Fall to our lives are literally ever-present. One of the favorite activities of our generation is complaining. In fact, Paul notes that grumbling and disputing are so common in the world that not engaging in those activities would cause us to stick out line shining stars in the night sky (Phil 2:15). From the car breaking down again, to arthritis, from repeated fights with a spouse, to just recognizing that things didn’t go according to plan, we all have a sense that things in our world have gone horribly wrong. And unfortunately, when things go wrong around this time of year, the holidays only seem to magnify that trouble.

If an unbelieving friend or family member complains to you about something, you can sensitively acknowledge that their experience verifies the Bible’s teaching that the world is broken. It’s a short walk from there to the reason for that brokenness: sin—the rebellion against God that we all partake in every day. And of course, it’s a short walk from there to the solution that brokenness: the redemptive work of Jesus Christ. That’s next.

Redemption

Even though our world is broken, God still graciously grants that we experience the righting of some wrongs, the reconciliation of some relationships, the resolution of some conflicts. When our friends and family experience these expressions of common grace, we can celebrate with them. Here is the opportunity to speak of God’s common grace, and of the theme of redemption that is fulfilled in Christ the Redeemer.

Let’s say a cousin you keep in touch with but haven’t seen in a while, who has spoken to you about having relationship problems, suddenly reports that she and her husband (or boyfriend) have been working out their issues and are doing much better. You have an opportunity to celebrate the “redemption” of that relationship. Or if an older family member was incapacitated by an illness or injury, but has now recovered, you can celebrate the “redemption” of their health. And in doing so, while praising God for being merciful in general, you can also point out how these instances of redemption are pictures, woven into the fabric of human experience, that are designed to point us to the ultimate story of redemption that God accomplished in Christ.

  • “Jen, I’m so happy that you and Ron are working things out. I’ve been praying for you since you first told me that things were getting a little rocky.”
  • “Aw, thank you so much! I’m happy too. It really is terrible to feel so alienated from someone who’s supposed to be your closest partner and friend, you know?”
  • “I do. And it’s interesting you put it that way, because that’s exactly how I felt when God reconciled me to Himself through a relationship with Jesus Christ. I’d really love to tell you about that. Would you mind?”

Consummation

Finally, the theme of consummation runs through any experience of accomplishment, any sense of anticipation that has finally come to completion.

We certainly don’t have to stretch our minds to remember how anxiously a child anticipates Christmas morning, barely able to sleep the night before because of his desire for finally getting those presents he’s been asking for all year. Or think about the excitement and sense of accomplishment that a recent graduate feels as he walks across that stage and finally receiving the degree he’s worked so long and so hard for. A friend of yours might know what it’s like to have worked for years on a manuscript (or some other creative project), only to receive the first copy of the published book one morning and hold it in his hands for the first time. And I pray that Christmastime brings many opportunities for your family to experience the delight of finally being reunited after spending a long time apart. The wide-eyed expressions, the ear-to-ear smiles, and the open-armed embraces all bespeak the consummation of the anticipation of seeing one another again.

Each of these experiences are echoes of the final consummation of all things, when the Lord Jesus at last returns to destroy His enemies, to redeem His people and receive them to Himself, and to rule over His creation in righteousness and justice. As believers in Christ, we anticipate that moment like a child excited for Christmas. When we hear, “Well done, good and faithful slave,” we’ll feel like we’re holding that diploma or that first edition, to an infinitely greater degree. And when we finally see Jesus, well, words just can’t adequately capture the fullness of joy, the thrilling delight, the consummate pleasure that will be ours forever.

Conclusion

It moves me to worship when I consider how God has seemingly woven the major themes of the Gospel throughout the experiences of human life. I pray the same is true for you. But that worship shouldn’t remain at the level of passive admiration. It should move us to take advantage of that reality as a strategy to witness to our friends and family members who need to know Jesus.

Meditate on these themes and think about how to strategically apply them to your own conversations this Christmas. Pray that God would graciously deepen your compassion for your loved ones. Your love for them will guide you to speak to them in a caring way that demonstrates your genuine concern for their souls. And if we keep an ear open for the themes of Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Consummation, we just might find more opportunities to steer our conversations toward the Gospel.

Mike originally published a version of this post in June 2012.

Mike Riccardi

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Mike is the Pastor of Local Outreach Ministries at Grace Community Church in Los Angeles. He also teaches Evangelism at The Master's Seminary.
  • Faith

    Thanks, Mike! A great book that I recommend on this subject is “Bring the Gospel Home” by Randy Newman…not the singer ;) I attend Jesse’s church, Immanuel Bible Church, and Randy has spoken there several times over the years. I found his book very helpful because he emphasizes the importance of us being in the Word if we are to share the good news with others. And he also gives really practical approaches (as you have done) to talking to your family members and close friends.

  • http://www.melissacollins.biz/ Melissa Collins

    Thanks for a good blog today. I know we are to spread the gospel but finding ways to do it gently aren’t always easy. These suggestions are good and thought provoking.

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  • http://veritasdomain.wordpress.com/ SLIMJIM

    Thank you for this Mike, Merry Christmas to you and all the contributors on The Cripplegate.