How do I share my faith with those who don’t know God?
I share my faith with others to fulfill God’s purposes.
Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should. (Ephesians 6:19-20)
This weekend we conclude section two of our believe series. This week 20 and ever since week 15 we have been looking at places in our lives that need to come under the Lordship of Jesus Christ – that we need to surrender to God. There are things that our culture says to move in one direction and God says move in a different direction. Those are the most difficult places to live as a follower of Jesus. Whether it is giving time or money or simply living together as a community that honours God with our actions toward one another — all of it brings joy and all of it requires some sacrifice. It is not easy to move against the flow. Yet as one author has written:
“It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.” (Jiddu Krishnamurti)
I think Jesus would agree with that view. We all want to fit in but Jesus wants us to stand out — and to stand out for the right reasons.
I just finished teaching an early church history course at Crandall University and one prominent aspect of the early church is that Christians were known throughout history as being open to sharing their faith. There were seasons of persecution when saying you were a follower of Jesus meant suspicion and possible death. Of course, that is still the case in some places today — but for most of us our path is much less prone to danger. It is ironic that even without the threat of death openly sharing one’s faith is still considered one of the more difficult tasks by those who follow Christ in our Canadian context.
I understand the cultural pressure and difficulty to share about our faith. Our culture resists such things but we can be sure of one thing — everyone who has been saved by Jesus Christ– everyone who has put their faith in him and made a decision to follow him has been called to share their faith. We are all…
Called to Share our Faith
We have stories in the gospels of Jesus sending people out to proclaim the good news of the Kingdom. If you wanted to be a disciple of Jesus — you got sent out. After Jesus rose from the dead, he gave his disciples instructions to go and make disciples. Just before Jesus returned to his heavenly father his words to all his followers were simple:
…you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)
We could paraphrase Jesus words as:
“you will talk about me and live according to my teachings at home, with your neighbours — neighbours who are like you and neighbours who are not like you, and all over the world.”
This is something that is inescapable for those who follow Jesus. We are called to share our faith. We must be open about it, not hiding it or shy about it. If someone says why do you forgive that person — you can say “it’s what Jesus teaches me to do”. Sometimes people will say “you’re nuts” and other times it will lead to more conversation. Sometimes the people who call you nuts are just emoting and will come back to you later –sometimes much later — and you can have a conversation.
The key to our call to share is actually loving people enough to tell them. If sharing our faith becomes a duty to dispatch — we do not have the heart of God. When Paul wrote the Corinthians he said “Christ’s love compels us” (2Cor 5:14) and the end of that passage he writes:
We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. (2 Cor 5:20, NIV)
When the prodigal son came home, in Jesus story, the Father disgraced himself by running to greet him and then in joy embraced his son and immediately threw a great party to celebrate his homecoming. That is the father’s heart for every lost child that comes home. But so often we are the elder brother. We never had enough love in us to searching for the lost son. The shepherd searched for the lost sheep. The woman searched for the lost coin — but in this third story about lostness — no one searched. That was the elder brother’s role, but he did not take it. He did all kinds of things his father appreciated but he never got his heart. He never appreciated why his father would watch the road every day for the lost son.
Often we are that elder brother – we follow Jesus as a duty instead of a profound sense of the Father’s heart. Please hear me, sometimes life is hard and we put ourselves on auto-pilot, I get that I really do. All I’m saying is let’s not accept it as the best scenario for our lives. The best scenario is loving like God loves. Everything becomes more natural when it is just we are overflowing God’s love. Eugene Peterson has a warning for us all:
“There is nothing more common than for people who want to talk about God to lose interest in the people they are talking to.”
(Eugene H. Peterson, Tell It Slant: A Conversation on the Language of Jesus in His Stories and Prayers)
The call to share our faith is clear. The danger will always be doing it for the wrong reasons. Internalizing this call to share our faith must be rooted in prayer because in order to share our faith with love requires that our hearts be changed or as John Wesley said of his own heart that it was “strangely warmed”.
That doesn’t happen from a sermon. That doesn’t happen by reading a book. That happens when God touches our lives and puts his love in us. The passage from Acts, that I read earlier was actually only half of the verse. The first part goes like this:
But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you…(Acts 1:8a, NRSV)
Our call to share our faith is rooted in our experience of faith and God at work in us helping us to love as he loves. As we travel down that path
We see our calling to share our faith starts …
With our lives
Most of us want to be authentic people. We want to be real. Not only do we want authenticity in ourselves, we appreciate it when we see it …anywhere.
Howard Schultz of Starbucks fame wrote a book telling the story Starbucks. He make an insightful comment about authenticity:
“In this ever-changing society, the most powerful and enduring brands are built from the heart. They are real and sustainable. Their foundations are stronger because they are built with the strength of the human spirit, not an ad campaign. The companies that are lasting are those that are authentic.”
Sharing our faith starts practically by being authentic. It means doing acts of kindness for our neighbours — it means being a good neighbour in a time when people rarely know their neighbours. It means going out 30 minutes earlier with your snow blower to help that crazy guy two doors down or stopping in to the elderly person on your street to see how they are doing. It means being a little weird in your kindness. But because it is rooted in your love for your neighbours it will pass the sniff test — they will be suspicious, but they will sense your sincerity as well. Because you are not looking for anything in return — you’re just doing what Jesus did. You’re following the way of the Apostles — the better way – as Paul called it– the way of love. First we love, then we do loving thinags. Paul writes:
“The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.” (Galatians 5:6, NIV)
Then there comes that time when people wonder about us and want to hear something. As much as doing and not talking may be difficult for some extroverts, this next piece is the hard news for introverts. . .eventually you need to say something about the Gospel.
We are called to Share our faith with our lives and also
With our words
I came across a book just recently and its title made me chuckle a bit when I read it :
Spiritual Conversations: Creating and Sustaining Them Without Being a Jerk
With a title like that, I had to read a few reviews and then a sample of the book on amazon. It looks like it is actually a great book. I think I’ll put it on my every lengthening list of books to read. But what a great title. How to have a spiritual conversation without being a jerk. I think I love the title so much because I have heard so many evangelistic conversations where I felt the person was a jerk — and I already believe in Jesus!
I actually believe that if we get that love part right we have a built-in resistance to the jerk-factor. The people who most often come across as pushy, unkind, confrontational and even angry are people who are talking about Jesus for some other reason than authentic love for neighbour. It’s not Christ’s love that compels them. . .it’s something else.
When I have conversations about faith, I like to remember two things.
- The amount of relational capital I have with this person. This is a very important first question. People who you have deep relationship with can have conversations that allow you to risk saying something hard. They know your heart and so you can get down to difficult things and they still know you care about them. When you have no invested in a person and have little relationship capital, you communicate in different ways. I often use questions or personal stories that include faith. The second thing I remember is…
- Not to over estimate my place in God’s Kingdom. When I studied at Crandall University — it was Atlantic Baptist College then, there was a professor there named Jim Beverley. Some of you may know Jim. I had several classes with him and in one of them we called some big names in theology at that time. One of them was Normal Geisler. I credit this idea to Dr. Geisler. Dr. Beverley said what if I have to convert this person because I’m the only one who can — he said: “I would say you have overestimated your value in the Kingdom of God”. I will never forget that class or that phrase. God has many people working for him. He has many conversations going on. I have had year-long conversations with people only to find out with surprise that they had been conversing with other Christians that I knew along the way — but I was not aware they even knew that person. God is doing things in people’s lives that we are not aware of. It reminds us once again to pray for the people we do life with – that they would have ears that hear and eyes that see what God is doing all around them and for them.
It is a freeing thing to know that a person’s salvation does not rest solely on your shoulders. I’m not letting myself or anyone else “off the hook” about sharing Christ — we are called to share Christ with our lives and our words. And we must pray for boldness like Paul did. All I am saying is that we serve a great and merciful God. He is worth talking about. What he has done in Christ is worth talking about. Even when we feel awkward about it. Even when we would rather run away like Jonah or try to ignore the problem like Esther — in the end we all have a responsibility for a piece of what God is doing the in lives of those around us. Not the whole thing — just a piece. Our piece is important and only we can make that contribution. God’s mighty hand will not be stopped because of someone’s lack of love for him or neighbour — but his reputation will not be enhanced — that’s for sure.
We are called to share our faith with our lives and with our words…
As I mentioned already from Acts 1, the words Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria and to all the world really mean at home, to our neighbours who are like us and who are different from us and out to the whole wide world.
What is interesting for me these days is how we are okay with sharing Christ at home — here in Moncton. We are okay sharing our faith in Riverview — neighbours who are like us. But our neighbours who are different — who maybe speak a different language and adhere to a different form of Christianity or religion — we have work to do. Our Samaria, our neighbour who is different than us could easily be Dieppe. A different culture. A different language, different faith expressions — close to us but also different. We must work to share faith with our neighbour — both like us and unlike us. Likewise we must consider the larger world — to do projects which show the love of God in life and support our workers like Bruno and Kathleen who can put voice and passion to this gospel that we are called to share.
As we look ahead, we are about to begin Alpha. This will be a season where we can invite people we know and have shared life with to begin a conversation about faith. The faith they have seen in you. The love they have seen in you.
Your church is working hard to create opportunities to take what you are doing in your own families and with friends and to help you start new conversations about faith — to continue ongoing faith conversations. We want to love like Jesus and it is the love of Christ that compels us to explore together this faith that was once and for all delivered to God’s people (Jude 3) because we understand that we are
Called to share our faith
with our lives,
with our words,