Today we finish up our BLESS series. We began in January talking about how greatly God has blessed us. We have an abundance of physical blessings, financial blessings, relational blessings, and of course, spiritual blessings. And the question that started this whole conversation is Why? Why has God blessed us so much?
The answer we found was that God has blessed us so that we can be a blessing to the people around us. It’s like we are simply the delivery people – delivering God’s blessings so that He can meet the needs of our community.
So to help us learn how to be an effective delivery person for those blessings, we’ve been using the acronym BLESS.
The B stands for… “Begin with pray.” And it’s a simple prayer – it goes like this… “Here I am send me. Please set up a divine appointment where my blessings can help meet someone else’s needs.”
The L reminds us to listen. We need to actually make the effort to listen to people to find out their needs – and we need to listen to the Holy Spirit as He prompts and nudges us along.
The E stands for Eat. We discovered that Jesus showed people that he loved and accepted them by eating with them. And we can do the same thing. Everybody eats – so what easier way is there to build relationships with the people around us than to eat with them?
Then last Sunday we talked about the first S – which stands for Serve. And this kind of serving isn’t the “You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours.” kind of serving. This kind of serving is where you serve the people around you no matter who they are – no matter how inconvenient it is – no matter how unpleasant it is – no matter what the cost to you is – but you serve them out of love because that’s exactly what Christ did for you. That’s the kind of serving that truly blesses people.
And hopefully, when we begin to bless people in all these ways that we’ve talked about so far…
When we listen to them, when we eat with them, when we serve them… That will lead to opportunities for our final letter S – and that is we can tell them our story!
And I’m excited to talk to you today about telling our story. This is such a key part in being a blessing to the people around us. If we do all those other things, (the listening, the eating, the serving) but miss this one, our community will see us as ‘some very nice people’. But if we do all those other things AND get this one, I know that God will begin to radically change people’s lives through you and me. That’s very exciting.
You may have heard the famous quote attributed to St. Francis of Assisi that says – “Preach the gospel at all times; when necessary, use words”. And I think his original intent was that our actions should speak just as loudly as our words. But in our churches today I think we’ve almost gone too far in that direction where our actions replace our words. As Christians, it’s fairly easy to ‘do good things’ for people and just to live our lives as an example for them.
We like to preach the Gospel by our actions. In fact, just last week we talked about serving our community and I think that’s extremely important. But a lot of times, I think we just use that as an excuse not to talk about God.
In our society, it seems awkward to talk about God. No one wants to be seen as a fanatic. We’ve seen too many bad examples of how to share Christ with people, so we take the safer route of just ‘living good examples’.
But we can’t do that. In our acronym, BLESS, Serve & Story go together. If you serve without the story – then you’re just nice people. And if story comes without serving, they have no reason to listen anything you say.
You have to put the serve and the story together. When you start by serving people, you’ve already shown them that you’re not a fanatic or some religious kook – you’ve shown them that you care about them. And that most often, will earn you the privilege and the opportunity to tell your story.
But don’t take my word for it – let’s see what the Bible has to say about all this. If you have your Bibles, turn to Acts chapter 1, verse 8. These are some of Jesus final words to his disciples.
“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Acts 1:8
The Bible tells us that we are Christ’s witnesses. The word ‘witnesses’ here is a court term. In a court, witnesses give testimony – they testify – they tell the court what they have seen and heard and experienced. For example, a teller at the bank might be a witness to a bank robbery. So they would tell the court what they experienced on the day of the robbery – what they saw, what they heard. That is what Jesus expects from us – to tell the people around us what we have seen and heard and experienced of Jesus Christ.
Have you seen Jesus at work in your life? Have you heard about His tremendous love for you? How He died and rose again so that you could have everlasting life? Have you experienced the love, forgiveness, joy, and peace that comes from God?
If so, then you are his witness. You have a testimony to give. And you can’t fully share that testimony by simply living as a good example. Look at Peter or Paul or any of the apostles – they didn’t just ‘live good lives’ as an example for everyone – they boldly proclaimed the story of Jesus Christ everywhere they went. They were very vocal witnesses.
And I think in our quest to be polite Canadians Christians who never wish to offend anyone, we’ve ignored the mandate of Jesus – to be his witnesses – to tell people about Him everywhere – even in Canada! Certainly there is a time for living as a good example – letting people see the difference that Jesus makes in our lives. It’s important that they see that. But it’s also important that they hear our story. Flip over to 1 Peter chapter 3 – verse 15. Peter tells us…
“Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this in a gentle and respectful way.”
1 Peter 3:15-16 NIV
One of the benefits of being a blessing to our community, is that it’ll make them suspicious. When we start listening to them, eating with them, serving them – they’re going to wonder “What’s up with those Christians?” Why do they do that? Why are they so joyful when they come over to unplug my toilet? Why is it, when they invite me to their house for meal – and I can see that they’re just a normal family – they’ve got problems and issues just like me – but why do they seem to have such peace about it all?
Are you prepared to give them an answer? Are you ready to explain why you have hope? Are you ready to share your story – your testimony?
As Peter says, we need to be ready and willing to give them an answer. And that last phrase in that verse is so important – where it says “do this in a gentle and respectful way”. I think this is what many of the people that we would see as ‘religious kooks’ have missed. They haven’t been gentle or respectful. We don’t need to shove it down their throats, or bash them for their beliefs – but we do need to be prepared to give a clear, verbal reason for the hope that we have.
But do you know why most people don’t do that? Do you know what keeps most Christians from talking about Christ and telling people what He’s done in their lives? It’s not because they don’t have anything to say. Everyone has a story. But the main reason we’re not prepared to give an answer for the hope that we have is Fear.
We’re afraid of what they might say. We’re afraid of what they might think. We’re afraid that they might ask us questions that we can’t answer. We’re afraid that they’ll think of us as one of those ‘religious kooks’.
We need to stop being fearful of all the ‘what ifs”… What if they say this or what if they ask me that… Or if they think this….
Chances are, most of us have missed opportunities to share about Christ because of the ‘what ifs” that run through out minds. If so, let me show you two cool verses. The first one is what Paul writes to his young friend, Timothy. In 2 Timothy chapter 1 – verse 7 & 8
“For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.8 So never be ashamed to tell others about our Lord.”
2 Timothy 1:7-8
That’s a good one, and here’s a second. This one is in 1 John 4:18.
“There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear.” 1 John 4:18
That’s cool. You see, fear does not come from God. But love does. And perfect love drives out fear. Let me show you how that works.
If you are afraid of talking to someone about God – where is your focus? If you’re going through all those ‘what ifs’ in your mind, “What if they say this… Or what if they think that…” – you’re focus is on yourself. You don’t want to be embarrassed. You don’t want to be in an awkward situation. You don’t want people to think you’re weird. Right? Your main concern is you. That’s fear – the focus is on you.
But love is different. It focuses on the other person. If you love that person, you’re willing to be embarrassed so that they can hear the truth about Jesus Christ. If you love that person, you’re willing to be awkward so that they can know that there is God who loves them. If you love that person, you’re willing to risk being called ‘weird’ so that they can have a chance to join you in eternal life with Christ. You see, perfect love drives out fear.
If we have God’s love in us, and we truly love the people around us, then that love will over-ride any fear that we have. We might still have a bit of that fearfulness in us, but love will over-ride that. Those things we fear (like embarrassment, awkwardness, being called weird) will all become an acceptable risk so that we can share Christ with the people around us.
And don’t forget, we’re not talking about walking up to a strangers house to knock on their door and share the Gospel with them. There may be a time and place to do that – but that’s not what we’re talking about here. We’re talking about sharing Christ with people that you have been intentionally blessing over the course of perhaps days, weeks, months or even years.
This is what the whole BLESS acronym is all about. It’s one big relational process. It began when you prayed “Here I am, God. Send me.” And you asked God to set you up for a divine appointment.
God answered your prayer and put that person in your path somehow. You started talking with them – listening to them, finding out some of their immediate needs – maybe you even had a chance to meet some of those needs right then and there. But over time, you started blessing them. Maybe you had opportunity to eat with them – you had them over for a meal or two – or you took them out for coffee. Perhaps some opportunities came up where you could serve them. It wasn’t all fun and games, but because God loved you, you made the choice to love them in the same way!
And now that you’ve built this relationship with them and they can see that you actually care about them, but their not really sure why. Now it’s time to tell them your story. It’s time to tell them why you’ve been doing all this. It’s time to point them to Jesus.
So tell them your story. Be a little bit bold. Let love over-ride your fear and tell them what Jesus did for you. Tell them what He’s doing in your life right now. Do exactly what Jesus commanded his disciples to do and be a faithful witness to what you have seen and heard and experienced. Because if we want to be a blessing to our community, there is nothing greater we can do for them than to point them to Jesus Christ.
So how do we do that? This morning I want to get very practical. I don’t want anyone to leave here today not knowing how to tell their story. So here’s what we’re going to do. First, we’re going to look in Acts 26 and read how Paul told his story. Secondly, I’m going to illustrate what we learn from Paul by telling you my story. And then thirdly, in a way that’s not nearly as scary as it seems, you’re going to practice telling your story. Now I know that some of you just about had a heart attack when I said that – but it will be ok. You’re going to be just fine. I’m not going to make you come up front and share a ten minute testimony or anything like that. This is actually going to be pretty easy – a little bit fun. But more on that in a minute.
First of all, let’ s take a look at Paul’s story in Acts 26. Now in this case, Paul was literally sharing his testimony. Paul was on trial before King Agrippa because of the accusations of the Jewish leaders, and so he quite literally was being a witness for Jesus Christ. And so he tells King Agrippa his story. Starting at verse 9:
“I used to believe that I ought to do everything I could to oppose the very name of Jesus the Nazarene. 10 Indeed, I did just that in Jerusalem. Authorized by the leading priests, I caused many believers there to be sent to prison. And I cast my vote against them when they were condemned to death. 11 Many times I had them punished in the synagogues to get them to curse Jesus. I was so violently opposed to them that I even chased them down in foreign cities.”
Do you see what Paul is doing? He was telling them what his life was like before he met Jesus. Now why is that important? Well, for one, it helps people relate. As you’re telling them about your life before you met Jesus, they can see similarities in their own lives. In Paul’s case, his life before Jesus was very similar to the leading priest and other Jewish leaders that were accusing Him. He was one of them.
If you’ve ever been here at church when we’ve had people share their stories, you know how encouraging it is. Quite often as they share, you realize, “Hey, they went through the same kind of stuff I’m going. Maybe we’re not that different. Maybe there’s hope for me.”
That’s the first part of Paul’s story – His life before He met Jesus. The second part is how he met Jesus.
12 “One day I was on such a mission to Damascus, armed with the authority and commission of the leading priests. 13 About noon, Your Majesty, as I was on the road, a light from heaven brighter than the sun shone down on me and my companions. 14 We all fell down, and I heard a voice saying to me in Aramaic, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It is useless for you to fight against my will.’
15 “‘Who are you, lord?’ I asked.
“And the Lord replied, ‘I am Jesus, the one you are persecuting. 16 Now get to your feet! For I have appeared to you to appoint you as my servant and witness. You are to tell the world what you have seen and what I will show you in the future. 17 And I will rescue you from both your own people and the Gentiles. Yes, I am sending you to the Gentiles 18 to open their eyes, so they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God. Then they will receive forgiveness for their sins and be given a place among God’s people, who are set apart by faith in me.’
Now that’s a pretty dramatic story! Bright lights from heaven – Jesus Himself talking to you – laying out His plan for your life! Chances are, most of us won’t have such an extraordinary set of events like that. Most of us didn’t accept Christ because Jesus Himself appeared to us in a bright light. Some of us accepted Christ as our Saviour when were young kids as our moms & dads taught us about sin and salvation. Some of us accepted Christ after hearing the Gospel presented at camp or at a conference or from our pastor. And some of us can’t really even say the exact time when we accepted Christ – it just sorta happened over time as we learned more and more about God. But whatever the case, it’s important to tell people your process. How you came to know Christ.
Because everyone is different. Our relationships with God are different. We can’t just tell people “This is the formula for coming to know Christ.” It’s not a formula – its a relationship that is built over time. So its important that you tell people about your personal process.
Paul does just that, and then he concludes his testimony with what life is like for Him now.
19 “And so, King Agrippa, I obeyed that vision from heaven. 20 I preached first to those in Damascus, then in Jerusalem and throughout all Judea, and also to the Gentiles, that all must repent of their sins and turn to God—and prove they have changed by the good things they do.21 Some Jews arrested me in the Temple for preaching this, and they tried to kill me. 22 But God has protected me right up to this present time so I can testify to everyone, from the least to the greatest.”
Again, Paul has a very dramatic story – he went from being a Christian killer to being one of those Christian that people tried to kill. But most of our stories won’t be so dramatic. Quite often when we hear those ‘amazing stories’ from some people – like how they used to be a drug dealer in a gang, but now they’re a pastor at a mega-church – sometime we think “Well, I’ve sure got a boring story. I don’t really have much of a testimony.”
But that is so not true! Your story is amazing. Everyone of us, at one time, was a hopeless sinner. But when we accepted Christ as our Saviour, He forgave us. He wiped our slate clean. He gave us a peace and joy like we’ve never had before. He gives us a purpose for living. And He give us an unshakable hope for eternity! That is an incredible story! There are so many people around us that need to hear your story!
So now that you’ve heard Paul’s story, I told you that the second thing we would do, is that I would share with you my story. So here’s my before, during, and after.
I grew up in a Christian family. We always attended church and my parents taught me about sin and salvation and all that other stuff from the day I was born. I was taught as a toddler that to become a Christian and have your sins forgiven, you needed to pray and ask God to come into your heart. So when I was 5 or 6 years old I did just that.
But the other thing I learned when I was young, was that if I was a Christian, that meant I had to be good. In my mind being a Christian meant being good. It meant reading your Bible and going to church. It meant not drinking or smoking or doing drugs. So I did my best to be good. I got good grades. I went to church every Sunday. I worked at Bible camp. I was the youth group president. If anyone was good – it was me.
The only problem was even though I looked good to everyone else – deep inside, I always knew that I wasn’t. I knew my heart and I knew my thoughts and I knew that I was not good. So I grew up with this inner war going on inside of me – I was always making sure I looked good on the outside – doing the right things, but inside I knew that I was rotten to the core.
So that’s my life before I met Christ. How I met Christ is kinda difficult to say. I didn’t have a one moment conversion like Paul – where in one day everything changed. It’s really been a continuous process. But if I had to put my finger on when it all started, I would say I probably first started understanding God as my Saviour when I was about 12. I can remember going to Bible camp, hearing the camp speaker present the Gospel, and I remember going forward to pray and to commit my life to God. From that time on, I knew I was forgiven – I knew I had Jesus in me – and I knew I had the hope of eternal life.
So that was kinda my process on how I first came to know Christ. But it really was just the beginning of the process.
Over the years, God has been slowly transforming me. I still struggle with the concept of ‘being a Christian means being good’. I always find myself trying to prove to God how good I can be. But that usually back-fires on me – and I end up proving how sinful I really am. However, more and more, God has been showing me that He doesn’t love me because I’m good. He loves me because He is good. My goodness won’t ever make Him love me more – and my sinfulness won’t ever make Him love me less.
He just loves me. And knowing that has changed my life. My life might not look a lot different on the outside, but on the inside, I am totally different. In the past, I used to feel discouraged all the time, like a failure, like a fake – fearful that one day people would see what a phony I was. But more and more all the time, as God has been transforming my insides to match up with my outsides – God has been replaced those feelings with peace, and contentment, joy, and satisfaction in Him. It is amazing!
Being a pastor has been very challenging for me, because the pressure to ‘look good on the outside’ and ‘do the right things’ is pretty huge, so it’s easy for me to slip back into the thinking that my worth is based on how good I am or how well I pastor this church. But thankfully, God has been continually working in me and I keep learning more and more how God loves me just because he decided to. No strings attached. It doesn’t matter if I fail or succeed – He still loves me anyway.
So that’s my story. That’s what God has done and is doing in my life. And if you’ve never experienced God transforming your life – you’ve got to try it! It is so worth it!
So now I want to give you a chance to share your story. You’ve got a little card on your seat that says Before, How, After. And what I want you to do, is to simply choose one word or phrase that would describe your life before you met Christ, how you met Christ, and then after you met Christ.
So for mine, I might write – trying to be good, camp, inner transformation.
Then, in a few moments, I’ll ask you to hand your card to someone else (anyone here that you choose) and then then they’re just going to ask you to explain a little bit about each phrase – why you wrote what you did – and through that you’re going to be sharing your story.
Pretty easy, huh? Now I realize that some you might not know when you accepted Christ – and some of you have never yet accepted Christ. And that’s fine. Just put a little question mark on your card and you don’t have to share your story – you can just listen to the other person. Or maybe today’s the day you want to make that decision and you’re ready to being your life with Christ. If so, that’s awesome. Please come talk to me – I would love to sit down and have a conversation with you about that.