One of the key points to being a Christian is sharing our story and how our story intersects with God’s story. This is the text of a sermon I gave recently on that very subject.
When I started secondary school I had an RE Teacher called Miss Rosemary. She was tall and middle aged and gentle and prepared to talk through the cliched and repetitive arguments against God that many teenagers come up with as they hit those difficult years. She met every “God can’t be real because… “, “how can you believe in a cruel God who….” argument with love and understanding and what I realise now was a clear understanding of apologetics. She never convinced me to become a Christian but with hindsight I can see she planted the seed.
When I hit college I took sociology as an extra. No exam,
just some great conversations. It opened my eyes to philosophy and world
religions. It lead me to read Sartre and Neitszhe and the core texts of most of
the major world religions and a lot of the ancient ones. I remember to this day
a heated debate about the value of story for a way to show truth that ended
when another student turned over his table and stormed out. Looking back I can
see I was searching for something to make sense of it all.
That was the nearest I came to a road to Damascus, a burning
I was not the most sociable of people in my youth. When I
say youth I mean ever, I loved things you could do on your own, art, reading,
walks in the woods, visits to galleries and the cinema. I became obsessed with
storytelling in all its forms. I had a job, a home, a cat and almost a handful
of friends, who I saw occasionally. I thought I was content but God had plans
to fill a void with something real.
What I want to talk about tonight is story. Or more
precisely, how our story is part of the greatest love story of all time.
I could go on listing the various points where God spoke
into my life and seeds planted were watered but most of them are irrelevant to
all but me.
If you read the Bible from Genesis to Revelation, in order
you will see two things. One is that you have incredible stamina, but two, and
most important is that it is a love story. Living in Paradise with a personal
relationship, a friendship with God then one wrong moment destroys it all. The
rest of the Bible is essentially about God rebuilding that relationship with
the people who let him down. But because they have fallen so far the journey
back is a long one, setting boundaries, facing setbacks and finally, sending
his son to show us the reality of the relationship we are meant to have with
him and tasking us to introduce the world to that possibility of a personal
relationship, a friendship with God, through his son Jesus Christ. A love story
stretching over thousands of years.
The great commission is
Jesus going “you get it, now share it.” Or as it says in
Matthew 28:16-20 New International Version (NIV) 16 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus
had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All
authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all
nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the
Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I
am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
God has set us the job of sharing his Good News.
Now traditionally the response to that is “Say What? Are you sure you’ve picked
the right person lord?”
But as the reading from Moses shows, we all question God’s
sanity when he lets us in on His plan, the reading could easily have been about
Gideon and his questioning God’s choice. God has space for us to doubt him,
which is interesting. Because He knows, he can allow for us to doubt Him.
How do we share his word though? There are many ways
depending on the gifts God has blessed you with but the one thing available to
all of us is our testimony. Our story of how God’s story has changed our life.
God (although I didn’t know it was him at the time) lead me
to marry a Christian woman, which in turn lead me to know Christians as people,
which lead me to Christ which, over a long and winding road, lead me to be
standing hear before you.
Our testimony, our story of how we came to Christ is one of
our most powerful weapons in making Christians and disciples. Our testimony is
that link between the material world and the spiritual world. Applied with
discernment it can be a link for others as well.
Now all that background at the start of this was partly to make
the point that most people’s testimony is
a lifelong story filled with seeds being planted and watered up to the point
where the decision is made. No one was born a Christian. You may have been born
into a Christian family, You may have been born to be a Christian but for
everyone of us, if we look hard enough, there is a turning point.
When I share my testimony with people
I decide what bits to use and what not to use. I try to use discernment to
figure out what the person I’m talking to will be able to relate to. When you
look at the reading from Acts, Paul puts a lot of emphasis on his Jewish,
Pharasaical start in life. He’s emphasising the parts of his starting place
that will be most familiar to King Agrippa, who is “well acquainted with all
the Jewish Customs and controversies.”
Having established his Jewish
credentials he then moves on to the road to Damascus. The nature of the world
is such that people need to connect to you first. They need some point of
commonality. If they don’t know where you came from then your defining
experience of accepting Christ as your saviour means nothing to them.
the 1990s a man named Rodney Stark, who
specialized in the sociology of modern religion, examined Christianity’s
remarkable growth during its first three centuries. He found that Christianity
spread at the unremarkable rate of 40 percent per decade. Like compound
interest, that rate grows a lot more impressive when it holds steady for 30 decades.
With that rate of increase 1000 becomes nearly 29,000 in 10 years. Stark also
found that people entered the church through relationships, through the daily
practices by which Christians cared for one another, looked out for the sick
and the vulnerable, valued women, and so forth. I mention this because it is
important to have context. People came to Christ because they KNEW people and
KNEW their story. This is what the birth of Christianity looked like and this
is revival is going to need to look like.
important that, when looking to share your testimony, you lay out your
credentials as part of the human race. I have a friend who is amazing at
sharing his faith with people. He’s 77 and most of his conversations start
“When I was a rent collector for the Council…” there is nothing he hasn’t seen
and nothing he can’t relate to in some way. Put him in the House of Lords and
he’d struggle but he listens to his audience and has a story that connects to
them before he introduces God into the conversation
another friend who feels he is called to share the Gospel by stopping people in
the streets and talking about God immediately. I admire his persistence and his
willingness but he has hardly any fruitful conversations. . The difference
between the two is in expectation. My rent collector friend does not expect to
see immediate fruit, he sees himself as a sower and expects that someone else
will reap the benefit of his work.
In John 4
36-38 it says
36Already the reaper draws his wages and gathers
a crop for eternal life, so that the sower and the reaper may rejoice together.
this case the saying ‘One sows and another reaps’ is true. 38I sent
you to reap what you have not worked for; others have done the hard work, and
now you have taken up their labor.”
share our faith, most times we are just sowing or watering a seed. This is
important because we expect and desperately desire to see results from our work
and it is very easy to give up. I have not been with someone at that point when
they have given their life to Christ but I have sown into hundreds and know
that some have made that decision months and years later after further
meet people for the first time on of the things you do is you ask questions.
Meet them through a mutual friend and you ask how they know that friend. You
ask where they are from, what they do for work, if they have kids. It’s a
natural thing, searching for common ground, a connection. When I want to talk
to people about God I listen to them talk about themselves, looking for God to
give me an in-road to turning the conversation to Him. We are all human beings
and we all have shared life experiences so it’s possible with most people.to
find a common point.
Most of us have a fairly long story, particularly those who
were born into the church and have remained a part of it all their lives. But
even if you haven’t you’ll still have a long story. I came to Christ later in
life but my story doesn’t start from the moment that I made that decision to
accept Christ as my saviour. It starts from the moment I had my first encounter
with Christianity. My Children’s bible when I was 7, Singing onward Christian
soldiers and all things bright and beautiful at school, my excellent RE teacher
who took me all the way through to an O Level, a brief obsession with Cain and
Able when I was in my early teens, Boris Karloff in Frankenstein and the sad
ending of a man who tried to be God, my parents decision to start a charity to
preserve a local historic church building, working with a very conservative
evangelical Christian, getting married to a Christian woman and meeting her
church, discovering that not all Christians were fire and brimstone, the list
goes on but to tell it properly would take nearly as long as I’ve been alive
and you’d be hard pressed to find someone to listen to me for that long. The
question I have ask myself is what’s relevant is this to the person I’m talking
to? If I’m talking to someone my age or older then assemblies at school could
be a great connection point but more likely we’ll find something along the way.
One of the best faith conversations I ever had grew out of talking about blues
music with a stranger on a coach to London. He insisted on repeating many of
the old legends around it about Robert Johnson selling his soul to the devil to
be able to play and a whole variety of similar stories. I insisted it was the
music of poor Christians calling out to God in lamentation. It had more in
common with Gospel music than anything satanic and was just labelled like that
by people who were scared of it. It was a great conversation and covered the
fact I worked for the church, was heading to London on a chaplaincy course and
whole variety of other gospel connections. All from a shared appreciation of
Blues music. Connections.
You’re going to hear a lot more about testimony over the
next connexional year as 2019/20 has been designated “The year of Testimony”. I
don’t know what is planned for it but hopefully there’ll be not only things
about how to share your testimony but hopefully move to record testimonies as
part of an oral history.
So at this point I’m supposed to summarise my three points
and send you away with something to consider by way of a challenge.
So your testimony is important. It’s one of your best tools
in connecting with others and building a relationship where you can share your
faith. Your testimony extends in both directions from that point where you make
a conscious decision. There are seeds that were planted and watered before you
got to that point.
You don’t have to share your whole story. Listen to people
first and you’ll be able to work out which bits will connect with them.
And remember, this is about planting and watering seeds. You may never get that “Halleluhah I have seen the light” moment and lead someone to the Lord, or you may be one of those who reap and get that constantly.
I hope this has given you all as much to think about as it gave me and that you will gain something useful from it.