Awkward Witnesses – Sermon – 17 May 2020

Pastor’s Welcome

Welcome once again to worship. While talking to some of you over the last couple weeks, I have sensed a growing weariness with this isolation. It may be true that the worst has passed us by with relatively few casualties in our corner of the world, but this battle isn’t yet over. There is no indication of when we will be able to gather together again or even what those meetings will be like when we do. I echo what seems to be a rising theme coming from so many of us, “I am so ready for this to be over!”

And if we are looking, we have been able to see God even in the midst of these trying circumstances: when we have been able to sense His presence and protection; when we have connected with each other in new and meaningful ways; when we have encouraged each other with our concern and generosity.

No matter what the circumstances – God is with us!

Welcome – Tony & Laura Gaffan

Call to Worship

“I will praise you, O LORD, with all my heart;
I will tell of all your wonders.
I will be glad and rejoice in You;
I will sing praise to Your Name, O Most High.”

Psalm 9:1-2

Song

Your Love Defends Me (by Matt Maher)

Message: Awkward Witnesses

Sharing our faith with others can be one of the most awkward moments of our lives. We know we are supposed to do it, but it often just doesn’t go well. Sometimes our timing is wrong; sometimes the words we use are confusing (even to us); and sometimes the response is just a nervous silence where no one knows what to say.

And yet, we know that sharing our faith is one of the fundamental callings of every follower of Jesus. If we have received this incredible truth that we can live in relationship with the Creator of the universe who loves us and wants to make our lives the best they can be, then why wouldn’t we tell the people we love about it? Jesus’ last words recorded in both Matthew 28 and Acts 1 encourage us to tell the world about this good news and make disciples; to be His witnesses at homes, in our neighbourhoods and towns, in our nations and to the ends of the earth!

I don’t know about you, but I sometimes feel the pressure of this missionary mandate placed upon us. We hear stories of people who easily lead others to faith in Jesus every time they get on an airplane or go out for a walk, but our own experiences are too often fruitless at best, and soul crushing at worse. It can feel like an out of body experience where you hear the words coming out of your mouth, but they sound as if someone else is saying them.

This can cause us, if we are not careful, to just shut down our response to this call to evangelism. We convince ourselves that we just don’t have the gift, and we end up keeping this good news to ourselves because we don’t want to deal with our embarrassment and fear of failure.

This is a deep-seated issue for many of us, and I know I am not going to be able to solve this problem in one message and three easy steps, but the fact remains that it IS our calling to share the source of our hope with others.

But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. 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 with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.

1 Peter 3:15-16 (New International Version)

These verses provide us with some guidance that can help to get us pointed in the right direction. In this short letter to the Christians living in modern day Turkey, Peter has been instructing and encouraging them to live faithfully with God in the midst of an often hostile culture. I don’t think it is a stretch to say that some of those new Christians hearing or reading the words of this letter would have felt much the same about sharing their faith as we do.

Reflect

How have you felt in the past when you shared your faith with a friend or family member? Did it encourage you to do it more, or did it trigger a shame reflex that has caused you to avoid this altogether?

Give thanks to God for the times when sharing your faith turned out to be an encouragement and a gift; and ask Him for a measure of His grace for the times it didn’t go so well.

Setting Apart Christ as Lord in Your Heart

There is a universal truth that applies to us here: you can’t share what you don’t have – whether it is your lawnmower or your faith! We are not called to simply have a knowledge about Jesus, but a relationship with Jesus. There are entire departments of religious studies in universities around the world filled with people who know far more about the bible and the life of Jesus than you or I will ever know. That doesn’t mean they are Christians. A Christian isn’t someone who knows all the right things about Jesus; a Christian is someone who knows Jesus. There is a very big difference. It is all about the relationship.

I am not saying we shouldn’t share facts about Jesus. The truth is that He is the most impressive person who has ever lived! His insights and teaching remain revolutionary to anyone willing to listen to them – no matter who you believe Jesus is. The sermon on the mount alone (Matthew 5-7) contains paragraph after paragraph of undeniable truth and wisdom that is celebrated by people who hold a wide variety of beliefs. Introducing people to the real Jesus of history can be a very effective way to begin to share your faith with someone else – He is objectively very impressive!

But Jesus is far more than just an impressive historical figure. To those who are His followers, He is our God given bridge to the Divine. He is the one who has united us with His Heavenly Father through the power of the Holy Spirit who lives in all who call Him Lord (boss). The good news isn’t just that Jesus is real; it is that we are connected to Him forever!

And so, it is

Important that we are people who are nurturing our connection with God;

Important that we are people of prayer – not that we pray perfectly, but we are in the process of learning how to more meaningfully connect and spend time with God;

Important that we are committed to searching our hearts and placing at God’s feet those attitudes and barriers that stand in the way;

Important that we are deliberately seeking to humbly receive God’s forgiveness and renewal as we become men and women who forgive others.

“We are committed to becoming fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ, and inviting others to do the same.” (FBK Mission Statement)

When we live in this way, we don’t just communicate words when we share the gospel;  our lives confirm those words as people see Christ living in us and actually beginning to change us!

“We draw people to Christ not by loudly discrediting what they believe, by telling them how wrong they are and how right we are, but by showing them a light that is so lovely that they want with all their hearts to know the source of it.”

Madeline L’Engle on Sharing Faith

Reflect

Are you growing in your relationship with God? Perhaps it is time to have a conversation with Him about it; and after that, talk to me or someone else about taking the next step in God’s direction.

Be Prepared to Give an Answer

Becoming an authentic Christian is critically important, but you still need to have something to say. When we don’t put deliberate time, prayer and thought into how we will present our faith, we can find ourselves using words that church people might understand, but sound like another language to the people with whom we are trying to communicate.

One of the critical mistakes we make is basing our presentation on the wrong question; questions like, “Do you know where you would go if you died tonight.” Heaven and eternity are important questions, but the aren’t the questions most people are usually asking. Most people are asking questions like, “Is God even real?”; “Why do people suffer?”; “What should I do with my life?”. Answering questions people are not asking is a good way to get their eyes to glaze over as they tune us out. This means that sharing the gospel can be just as much about listening as it is about speaking – maybe even more so. Making sure we are engaged in a conversation and not a monologue can be critical.

In a group study we did as a church a few years ago, (Just Walk Across the Room) we were encouraged to develop a one minute or less presentation that answered the question, “Why am I a follower of Jesus?” We were to do that not so we could repeat the presentation from memory, but so that we could sift through all the words and theology we have been taught and communicate the core of the answer in the most simple and succinct manner possible. People don’t want to hear an answer filled with strange words, or one they could get from Google – they want to hear YOUR answer.

Reflect

If someone today asked you, “Why are you a Christian?”, how would you answer them? Spend some time formulating an answer either in your head, your journal, or a scrap piece of paper. If you can’t come up with a response, then bring this question into your personal prayer time with God this week.

Learning to Listen

I don’t want to just leave you frustrated , rather I want to leave you with a couple of things you can do to help you to become more comfortable with talking to people about what you believe.

God Sightings

Develop the practice of paying attention the these. In our summer Vacation Bible School over the years, we have encouraged this spiritual practice with children in order to help them to become more aware that God is all around. When we have a relationship with God, He is involved in every aspect of our lives. God sightings help us to pay better attention to that truth and train our eyes to see Him everywhere. This practice can go a long way towards reminding you of God’s unfailing love and help you to share those simple blessings with others.

Consider writing down these God sightings and sending them in to me. If you do that, I will compile and include them in this weekly worship service so we can all be encouraged by God’s active presence here at FBK.

Develop Media Discernment

One way for us to begin to know and understand what it means to be a Christian in our culture is to learn to experience media in a different way. While it may be good and much safer to only consume Christian media, those who do this run the risk of becoming isolated from the world around them. On the other hand, most of us do consume secular media, and have a desperate need to develop a filter through which we process it, so it doesn’t process us! Ask questions like, “What does the main character believe about God?”, or “What is the most important thing in life to them?”, “Is the character growing toward maturity or destruction?”, or “Do we see the Christian themes of forgiveness, redemption and grace in this story?” By watching with your Christian filter fully engaged, you can begin to see how God is present in even the most ungodly stories and learn about the spiritual struggles of your non-believing friends and neighbours.

It has been a long-time dream of mine to lead a small group who watched secular movies and discussed them together in light of our Christian faith. If that sounds interesting to you, please let me know!

Conclusion

I am afraid there is a whole lot more to being ready to make a clear defense of our faith, but these can be the first steps toward growing in our own faith as we learn to listen to others and seek to understand them and the culture we are all living in. Ultimately, what we want is the opportunity and ability to communicate how much Jesus has made a difference in our lives, and how He also wants to make a difference in theirs.

Pastoral Prayer

As we come before the Lord together in prayer, lets begin with the prayer of St. Francis:

   Lord, make me an instrument of Your Peace.
   Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
   Where there is injury, pardon;
   Where there is doubt, faith;
   Where there is despair, hope;
   Where there is darkness, light;
   Where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
 To be understood as to understand;
 To be loved as to love;
 For it is in giving that we receive;
 It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
 It is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

(Pause for silent prayer of 1-3 minutes)

We thank you Lord for your unfailing presence,
   No matter what we endure, You are always there to lift us up.
   You bless us in the midst of good times and bad; in the midst of celebration and mourning.

We seek your forgiveness Lord, for we have sinned
We have not always put our trust in You, but have too often relied on our own efforts and understanding.
We have chosen selfishness over love, and comfort over obedience.

Be close to those who govern us at all levels in these difficult times.
We give thanks that the leaders in our country at all levels of government have stepped up and chosen the good of the people they have been entrusted to serve, over their own self-interests.
We also are thankful for those who have put their lives at risk to provide the services that we all need to survive.

Now as things move toward more normality in the coming weeks, I pray that we will remember the lessons we are learning today:
  The value of family, and simplicity, and time.
  The generosity of our families and neighbours as they watch over us.

And Lord, we pray for those who are suffering today – from this virus or from other afflictions.
  In particular we pray for Becky, and Faith, and all those who are struggling.
    May they know your healing and grace, and may they know our love.

I pray for a renewed commitment to follow You more closely in the days ahead and ask You to give us the boldness to tell others about your love for us, and your love for them.

We pray in the name of Jesus, the One who has given us life!  Amen

Song

Yet Not I But Through Christ In Me (By City Alight)

Benediction

The Lord bless you and keep you;
The Lord make His face shine upon you and be gracious to you;
The Lord turn His face toward you and give you peace. Amen

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Avatar
    Denise

    You hit a home run for me on that sermon thankyou again Pastor Jim

  2. Avatar
    Bev Murray

    Thanks so much for Sunday’s message, Jim. Sharing one’s faith can often be awkward and you have given us good suggestions in how to approach it. – Bev

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