Can I Get a Witness?

This message was shared at Centerville UMC on Sunday, May 17, 2015. Acts 1:1-11 served as the launching pad for this message. 

I love stories. I love reading biographies and watching documentaries. I love listening to Garrison Keillor tell stories on “A Prairie Home Companion.” I love hearing stories from the people I happen happen to meet. I love stories! The good news is, I don’t think we’ll ever run out of stories because everyone has one.

If I asked each person the question, “what’s your story” we would most likely get a different answer for each person. Some might tell us what you’ve been up to lately. Some might tell us what you’ve done in the past. Some might tell us what they do for a living. Some might tell us about their family. Some might tell us where they are from. Some might tell us their entire life story. The point is that we all have some kind of story.

As Christians, we have a common story that brings us hope, life, and unites us. The short story:

  • God created the world & everything in it and it was good
  • God set up an ideal relationship with humans, basically giving them one rule
  • Man and woman settle for something less than ideal. They fall short of the standard God had set. Things are not so good
  • By the 6th chapter of the 1st book of the Bible, God wants a re-do
  • Throughout the Old Testament, we witness a continual pattern of people being in good standing with God, messing up by settling for something less that what God intends, and then God doing something to intervene and restore the relationship into good standing.
  • God sets up a system of law, a list of do’s and don’ts, accompanied with sacrifices to be made to make atonement for ones errors
  • This pattern of people messing up, God intervening goes on and on
  • God sees the need for a new way…He realizes we can’t do it on our own.
  • So, He sends His Son to live – to teach us how to live – to set the target goal – to show us what life with God truly looks like
  • He sent His Son to die – to be the final and ultimate sacrifice for our sins
  • He sets up a system that by believing in Jesus we can have eternal life…the law is no longer the focus…we no longer have to offer up sacrifices
  • The new system is all about believing in Jesus as Lord and repenting of our sins.
  • The idea is that our relationship with Jesus will motivate us, encourage us, strengthen us, and give us the ability to live in a right relationship with God…but we no longer abide by a legalistic system…we now operate on faith.

So, we have this story, this amazing story – we claim and embrace this story – we quote verses like John 3:16 and sing songs like “Blessed Assurance” that remind us of the story – and this story is what this faith is all about! But, it’s not supposed to end with our comprehension and acceptance of the story.

Jesus, in some of His last words to His followers, tried to help get the focus off of self and onto others.

  1. Matthew 28:18-20 – Go and Make Disciples
  2. Acts 1:1-11- Be My Witnesses

These passages imply that we will actively participate in sharing this wonderful, awesome story with the world around us. Jesus said that the greatest commandments are to love God and love one another. If we truly love God and one another, we will be compelled to share His story.

Look at our world: there are people in desperate need of hope – our story is the greatest hope in the world – and we can’t reduce those in need of hope to only those without food, shelter, and clothing or those who are sick and so on. There are people living in mansions, driving Ferrari’s, eating in the finest restaurants, and seemingly living the high life who are in great need of hope.

We can all probably agree that our world needs our story. Yet, in an alarmingly increasing manner, fewer and fewer people are interested in our story.

Bill Maher, host of Real Tim with Bill Maher and maker of the documentary Religulous (which demonstrates the hypocritical nature of some Christians), said, “I’m a big fan of Jesus. I’m not a big fan of those who work for him.”

Movie director Woody Allen once said, “If Jesus came back and saw what was being done in his name, he wouldn’t be able to stop throwing up.”

Mahatma Gandhi has been credited with saying, “I like your Christ; I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”

The second largest “faith group” in the US, according to the latest Pew Research report released last week, is the “nones”. They have grown to over 56 million Americans who want nothing to do with religion. While the nones are growing, Christians are shrinking. From 2007-2014, the number of Americans professing to be Christians dropped from 78% to 71%. During the same time, Islam, Hinduism, and Judaism grew.

Who do you know that needs the story? Every person we come into contact with needs the story. If all of your friends are Christians, you need to make some new friends! With the shifting numbers, certainly we all know someone who needs our story. At the very least, the potential of getting to know someone who needs the story exists for all of us.

Our story, the message of the Gospel is crucial because it offers the greatest hope, joy, love, peace, and life in this world and beyond!

Acts 17:16-34 – This is a great example on how to share our faith. What lengths will we go to in order to share the story?

Paul spoke the language of the people. He didn’t ask about their walk with the Lord. He didn’t ask if they were saved. He didn’t ask if they knew where they would go if they were to die today. He didn’t ask if they had been redeemed. Honestly, these are bad conversation starters because many people immediately get defensive & confused. And, let’s not refer to those outside our faith as lost. I’m one of the biggest offenders of that. It’s easy to do, but that’s one of the most insulting things we could ever say to someone. Most people we would classify as “lost” would probably respond, “Lost from what?” It’s one thing for me to say, “I once was lost, but now am found.” It’s another thing for me to say, “You are lost and need to be found.” Maybe we should refer to folks as unchurched or dechurched instead of lost?

Paul thought before he spoke. We need to do the same. Paul met people where they were. We need to meet people where they are at and speak in ways they will understand.

Paul quoted their poets. In this, we see that Paul did not ignore the culture outside of the “church”. Who are our poets today? Taylor Swift, Bruno Mars, Wiz Khalifa, Zack Brown, Sam Smith, Bono…

He complimented their “religion” and their devotion. Would we compliment those who don’t believe and live like we do? Let’s be honest, we rarely compliment those who do believe like us!

Paul met them where they were at and revealed the truth to them. He showed up on their turf. He didn’t sit around and wait for them to come. Where are the unchurched and dechurched folks in our community? Are we meeting them on their turf or waiting for them to come to us?

People aren’t necessarily looking for a Biblical fact sheet with a bunch of statements concerning absolute truth that will convince them to believe in Christ. People are looking for an honest and authentic telling of the story. Speak the way you normally do…don’t use Christianese if that’s not how you normally talk…be yourself…be honest. Let people see who you really are…let them see that it’s okay for Christians to have fun, to laugh, even to mess up.

People want to hear your story. So, how do we tell the story:

  • Share what your life was like before Jesus (example)
  • Tell people about how you met Jesus & why you came to believe in Jesus (example)
  • Tell people about your life with Jesus- what your life is like with Jesus. Don’t candy-coat it…be honest…it’s not always rainbows and butterflies. (example)

A simple way to share is to extend an invitation to church or a church function (Summer Camp Saturdays- invite families/kids- requires everyone to step up to the plate. I’m not worried about getting enough kids to come…I’m worried about getting enough of us to get our back-sides out of the pews to help… or the next pitch-in “free food”)

Some people will say, “Well, I don’t need to vocally share my faith because I live it out.” We definitely need to live out our faith (St. Francis, “preach the Gospel at all times, if necessary use words). But, there comes a time when we need to speak up (1 Peter 3:15- always be prepared to give an answer when asked about the hope you have)

We have this great story, this great faith If we aren’t sharing it, if we’re just holding onto it for ourselves, we run the risk of being selfish and irresponsible stewards of our faith

Coming to church and being generally good people are nice things…But, church attendance and moral righteousness fall short if we fail to share this story, our story with those around us.

Invite someone to church…share your story…say,”this is important to me, I’d love for you to discover that it’s important for you. I’ll pick you up and treat you to a cup of coffee!”

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