by Pastor Cherie Johnson
We are in the middle of our sermon series, Come and See. This is based on John 1:35 – 51, when Jesus gathered his first followers. Both he and the other disciples invited others with the simple phrase, “Come and see.” They appear again in the story of Jesus with the woman by the well when after her encounter with Jesus, she is compelled to tell and invite everyone in town to “Come, see.”
As we approach Advent and Christmas, we are surrounded by a marketing system to get people to think about Christmas. While we may not like the commercial aspect of this, it also means that people are receiving constant reminders and thinking about connecting or reconnecting with God. In a way that makes it easier for us to invite them. It’s a time when people are seeking, a time when they’re thinking about church.
Two weeks ago, we talked about what the Gospel, what the Good News is, that the God who made the world has rescued it from corruption and decay and has invited all people to look at Jesus and find in him and through him the way in which that new world has come to pass and that we can be a part of it.
Next week, we will be focusing on making that invitation to come and see. This week, we’ll be talking about the why. How do we tell people our part of how we fit into the Gospel story? Why we are a part of it. How do we tell our story?
Hebrews 10:11-25 NIV
11 Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. 12 But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God. 13 Since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool, 14 because by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy. 15 The Holy Spirit also testifies to us about this. First he says:
16 “This is the covenant I will make with them after that time, says the Lord. I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds.” (Jer 31:33)
17 Then he adds: “Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more.” (Jer 31:34) 18 And where these have been forgiven, there is no longer any sacrifice.
19 Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. 25 Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another–and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
In the Gospel, we have this great thing to tell people about. Do we actively think about this great thing, or do we just go about our day living in it, or not even living in it? Maybe, we even do things like invite people to church, knowing that it’s something we’re supposed to do, but do we think about why it’s important for us to do it? What is this great thing? What did God do for all of us through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ?
God did what he always promised. He defeated sin, defeated death. Through Jesus Christ, the whole world is a different place. We are invited to discover it for ourselves and live in this new world that has been created.
The enemy continues the attack in the old world with things like what happened in Paris this week. And while our focus is fixed on it, the truth is that things like that happen every single day and other parts of the world. It is because they are so commonplace, they don’t make the news anymore, or it is buried as a footnote.
We serve that world. We are used by God to help heal the wounds of that world, but the Gospel of Jesus Christ is that we no longer belong to that world, that realm, that kingdom. We belong to the kingdom of God.
But that’s a big story. It’s a wonderful story, but it can be overwhelming for someone who is not so familiar with it. They can get lost in it. Our personal story is something that is much easier to relate to. In church jargon we might call it our testimony or our witness, but really this our story with God. How do we tell it?
But perhaps, first we need to ask ourselves do we have anyone to tell it to? Do we know enough people, have enough friends that are outside of the church. I don’t mean people who go to other churches. I mean people who don’t go to church, either because they left or they never went in the first place?
I’m not talking about making contacts with people to convert them. I’m talking about having friends with whom you can have honest conversations and share each other’s lives. In the midst of conversation the topic of faith might naturally come up. We listen to them, and they may even ask us questions about our faith if they feel safe.
But what should we do when they do ask? The Good News, the Gospel is great, but it only makes a difference anyone to the extent that they can see the difference it has made for, and in, you.
We can be afraid to talk about our faith. We have either heard stories or experienced ourselves incidents that drove people away from the church from God. We certainly don’t want to do that, and it can feel safer to be silent. We may think, “Surely, God will provide another path for that person, right?”
In Romans 10:13-15 Paul talks about this. In the second part of verse 14 he says, “How can they hear without someone preaching to them.” We don’t have to preach per se, but we need to be able to tell our story. These days we cannot presume others already know about the Gospel. We cannot presume that they grew up in the faith, something that they’ve always had and never questioned. Jesus announced his message in public, a brand new way of thinking about things. Peter, Paul, and the other disciples had to introduce this brand new idea within the Jewish culture and also the Greek world. They had to know what they believed and why, so that they could talk about it with other people, which they clearly did. We have to be prepared for that too. The bonus is that in the process we develop a deeper relationship with God. In Philemon 1: 6 Paul says, “I pray that you may be active in sharing your faith, so that you will have a full understanding of every good thing we have in Christ.”
However, before we even get to our story, we need to be willing to listen, really hear people and about their needs. We may never get the chance to tell our story, but we need to be ready when we have the opportunity.
First we look at how to tell a bad story. [Video shown of examples.] There is the superior story, like we saw in the video. If you were here a couple of weeks ago you heard me reference of story where a Pharisee was praying to God and thanking God that he was better than everybody else. Who wants to hear from someone like that?
Then there’s the long winded story, the one that goes on and on. It’s your whole life history. A good story is brief. Sometimes it’s referred to as an elevator story, a story that you can tell someone as you ride on the elevator to your floor. It’s three minutes or less. It could also be considered 100 words or less.
There’s the fuzzy story. It’s too vague. It’s not specific about what Christ has really done in your life. It may talk a lot about spirituality but it doesn’t tell people about the concrete difference that Jesus has made in your life.
Then there is the religion-eese, also in the video. That might be (hopefully is) an exaggeration, but we need to be careful about using inside or language that people outside of the church don’t understand. They won’t know what you’re talking about, and in the worst cases it can sound pretentious.
And finally, there are the weird God stories. These are stories that might be very personally important to us in our walk with God but to people outside the church that just might sound a little strange and therefore kind of scary. These are great stories to share in our small groups or with our friends within the church. They can be very inspiring to encourage other people already in the faith, but they’re not encouraging for people who are outside of the church.
What a listener wants to know is what you were like before your experience with Christ. They want to know what that experience was, what made you decide. And then, they want to know how did it change you. How are you different now? It is the classic before and after. They want to see a before picture and an after picture. That is what is compelling to people. What difference does it make in your life?
People ask me why I became a Christian. What made me make the decision? Ultimately, I don’t think that is the most relevant thing. It is why I remain a Christian. How has my life changed for the better as I have followed the ways of Jesus Christ? My life is more fulfilling. I am happier. I enjoy people more. I enjoy the peace that passes all understanding that Paul talks about in Philippians 4: 7.
It’s a good idea to write our story down. This is not to memorize it, but to keep it short. See that is not full of religious jargon, and that it doesn’t go off on tangents or rabbit trails. It helps us see whether it gives a before and after look for people. A good guideline is between 100 and 200 words. Here is one that I wrote almost 10 years ago.
As long as I can remember, I was searching. At first, I was searching with my dad as we visited church after church. I went to school, and I begin to believe in science. It was not enough. In college I study different religions, but I still came up blank. But finally, I found a place where I was accepted as I was. I found people who weren’t insulted by are afraid of my questions. I found a God who was big enough. Not to make me check my intellect at the door, a place where I could be me. I was lost, but now I’m found. Was blind, but now I see.
A well told story is genuine, a story told from the heart. Who can argue with that? Preparing it involves some soul searching. It’s brief. It allows people to ask follow-up questions. It’s humble. You have to relive what brought you to Christ, and how you are different on the other side.
One person story might be from materialism and greed –> Christ –> generosity. Another might start with being obsessed with image and beauty being self-centered –> Christ –> outward focused, looking at other people and what they need. A story might start with hatred, anxiety, self-loathing –> Christ –> love, feelings of acceptance, and willingness to share love with others.
I am reminded of the hymn “Amazing Grace,” and I invite you to turn in your hymnal to number 378, not to sing but to look at the lyrics. The first two verses of “Amazing Grace” are an example of a well told story, they are brief, but to the point.
Amazing grace! How sweet the sound
that saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found;
was blind, but now I see.
‘Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
and grace my fears relieved;
how precious did that grace appear
the hour I first believed.
Verses 3-6 talk about life as the author John Newton continued to walk with Christ, to follow the ways and teachings of Jesus Christ and the acceptance of the grace, the unmerited forgiveness he received.
For those of you who may not know John Newton, served as a captain of slave ships before going into the ministry and working for the abolition of slavery in Britain. He is quite a dramatic before and after story. And really, when we think about it, all of our stories are to one extent or another.
And what is the effect of a good story. When you work on your own story in advance, write it out, choose the words, you are prepared when the time comes to tell it. You will be able to communicate it easily with joy. People are going to remember something very real about you. They may or may not remember the exact details, but what they will remember something very real happened to you.
You may not see anything immediately, or ever, but they will reflect on it later. When thinking on your story, it will allow them to wonder what the effect the love of Christ might be on their own lives.
Now, it’s your turn. My challenge to you this week is to think about and write your own story, just 100 to 200 words. What has a life with Jesus meant to you? How were you before? What brought you to Christ? How you are different; how is your life different now?
Maybe you already have written your story. Have you looked at it lately? The story I read you about myself is almost 10 years old. It may need some updating. I’m thinking now it might be a little vague. If you have your story, I invite you to do a little sprucing up.
Then there’s the more challenging part. Tell your story to each other. You can even read it if you like. Practice saying the words to each other out loud. Once we do that and get used to it, it is so much easier to say it to other people, and who knows, you might learn something new about people that you’ve known for years.
Will you pray with me?