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POSTED: May 6, 2013 7:30 p.m.

Few people may realize that the Apostle Matthew may have been the original party animal.
You might be thinking, “Are you speaking of ‘the’ Apostle Matthew — the author of the first book of the New Testament?” It appears so. Matthew, a tax collector with great people skills, also appears to have been a gala guru with a plan for Jesus.
Tax collectors of the day were Jews working for the Romans mainly to collect taxes from merchants and travelers for road use. One day, Jesus saw Matthew sitting at a collection point, looked him in the eyes and said, “Follow me.” Matthew rose and followed (Matthew 9:9). He then took Jesus to his home to rest and held a great dinner with a guest list that looked like a who’s who of his friends, other tax collectors and sinners galore.
The spiritual leaders of the time questioned how Jesus could sit and party among a house full of sinners like that. Jesus heard them and replied, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, only those who are sick. Go and learn what this means. I desire mercy and not sacrifice, for I do not come to call on the righteous but sinners to repentance” (Matthew 9:10-13).
As a tax collector, Matthew was detested by his peers who perceived him as a fraud, mercenary, traitor and general lowlife whose only friends were prostitutes, beggars, criminals and other outcasts.  Sounds like a tough handle to overcome, doesn’t it?  The other Jews and self-satisfied religionists like the Pharisees criticized Jesus for attending a dinner party thrown by the likes of Matthew.
But our Lord and Savior knew whom he had come to help and where to find them. In Matthew, Jesus had a direct line into the underworld of Jewish society, a class of people untouched by the religious legalists but deeply in need of a savior. Jesus was neither condoning nor glorifying lifestyles of sin but merely reaching out to people who knew they were sick and lost. Matthew showed that Jesus can save anyone who admits they need saving.
Jesus’ life was not always an open book. It is certain that He lived a perfect, model life. But even that could not stand alone as an undeniable witness. His actions needed interpretation, so He supplemented His good deeds with good news. In the same way, we as believers must not only back up our words with a Christ-like lifestyle but also tell others and give meaning to our quiet walk and good deeds.
Perhaps the answer for all believers in all congregations is “relationship evangelism.” We need to invite others — believers and non-believers, friends and strangers — to hear us explain how our lives were saved by Christ.
Building friendships is something we all have the opportunity to do every day.  We must do whatever it takes to reach every non-believer. It’s a matter of eternal proportions and lifesaving importance. Many people think of a clean yard, a garage with two cars inside, a closet full of clothes, going to church for an hour on Sunday and good food in the fridge as “the good life.” The real America is not always so pretty and comfortable.  It underscores the urgency of our work as Christians.
According to myhope.org, if you live in a typical community with average neighbors, you’re likely to find:
• 60 people who admit to not being born-again
• 14 people feeling crippled or trapped by fear and anxiety
• nine people struggling with job loss
• seven people addicted to drugs or alcohol
• seven people struggling with depression
• three people grieving the loss of a loved one
So many people are living under the burden of no hope. MyHope.org says 60 percent of Americans don’t attend church regularly. Also, among youth in our churches, half think that many religions can lead to eternal life. In the past 23 years, the number of people who identify themselves as atheists or agnostics has tripled.
Here’s a way to turn you into Matthew. Look around and identify your friends and family members who do not know Jesus Christ, look up and pray daily for these people, look out for opportunities to build relationships, look forward to events in which you can give a brief testimony, and look after those who give their lives to Christ and continue to build relationships.
Stephen Ministers believe we all should make Matthew lists and start building friendships. Please call 912-320-7840 or go to myhopewithbillygraham.org to learn more about the nationwide program that will roll out in November to reach millions for Christ.  Get started on building friendships today!

Scherer is a crisis intervention minister and the leader of the local Stephen Ministry.

 

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