September 13th 2020, ‘Living Distinctly’
Galatians 5:13-end; John 4:1-26.
God of rescue and restoration. Thank you for your great and beautiful mission in the world and your involvement of us in it. Here I am Lord. Fill me with your Spirit, equip and teach me now and send me. Amen.
Roger Morgan, a retired minister reflects on his work before ordination.
Years ago, when I was working in Cambridge, I had a colleague called Mike. Mike and I had a good working relationship, but I had not made any effort to make friends with him. I did invite him to things at my church, but he never accepted the invitations. It wasn’t surprising really – people accept invitations from friends, people they feel they trust because they know them.
Mike and I had the same boss. I didn’t like my boss, and, as it turned out, neither did Mike. One day we were told that Mike was leaving to take a post in another university. I assumed Mike had got a promotion. Mike left, and I guess I thought I would never see him again.
Some years later, my wife and I spent a week in a hotel in Majorca. As it happened, staying in the same hotel were Mike and his wife. We asked them to join us for coffee and tried to make friends with them. In Majorca we learned the truth about Mike’s relationship with our former boss. I’d had a hard time, but for Mike it had been much worse and much more unfair. Mike had been forced out of the department and had been glad to find a job anywhere. But it had been bad for his family and they had never recovered properly from it. We listened carefully to their story and were able to sympathise. After an hour of listening and talking about Cambridge and their family, they turned the subject to us and what we were doing. The last hour of the evening consisted of a serious and open conversation about the Christian faith. How I wish I had had this conversation, years before in Cambridge. (Morgan, Beautiful Lives, pg 29).
Time, interest, seeking to make connections, we see these all in Roger’s story.
Jesus comes to the well. He is tired. It is noon – sixth hour – it’s also warm. The disciples had gone into town to buy food, they may return soon. Someone unknown comes along. I think we would have understood if Jesus had just sat there, nodded his head in greeting and kept his headphones on – he had plenty going on, energy levels low, people would return, not worthwhile. I say head phones. Flying back to N. Ireland, the habit I have got into is, my head phones on, (I do listen to the safety announcements), and then in my own world for the flight. Maybe nod, smile when the person next to me sits down. But my headphones, book, whatever says, I just want to be left alone. I don’t want to share my time. Yet I have regrets. By doing so, when most of the time I wasn’t working or preparing etc, I was saying – this time, is mine God. Did God seek to do more on those travels? It is totally human to do this. We all do it. But discipleship is about – a distinct life, about being shaped into Jesus likeness and being involved in the Father’s plan, which means surrendering things to him and change. When Jesus allows this interruption, in fact he engages with the woman – He gives time, he takes genuine interest, he seeks to make connections. Are there people, God brings across our path? The question: will we offer time, interest, seek to make connection?
In our talking about evangelism – our time, how do we use it? As we have said, the people who know us well, are more likely to ask questions in conversations. What is a conversation? At the start, much of the talk is factual. We seek to make connections with the person. At some point you may move the conversation or it may naturally move, into opinions. Facts are safe. You have been chatting about Coronavirus. Then you ask what your friend thinks of the current restrictions. You are listening. Sharing where you agree; where you don’t. It deepens the relationship doesn’t it? Takes more time as well. With our pressures. Our activity. Our energy levels. Finally again it may naturally happen or you may make a decision to deepen the relationship further, into feelings. ‘How were the last months during corona.’ As someone shares more personally, you want to be a listener, they know they are being heard. They may chat a lot, but your listening could be a real gift as they are heard perhaps about this for the first time.
In fact, the time you give, can be an act of ‘loving your neighbor’. It can lead into a conversation which may change world views. The Woman says = Jews don’t associate with Samaritans. At the end – she tells all the Samaritans, ‘come associate with this Jewish man’!
This leads us back to our list we formed last week. Let us hold our friends regularly in prayer.
However it is important to say. We want all our friends to become Christians. But we don’t make friends for that reason. We make friends for genuine reasons because we want to be friends. If in the end the person never becomes a Christian, make up your mind to stay friends. DL Moody – the American evangelist from c19th had a list of 100 friends he longed to become Christians. By the time he died, 96 had become Christians. The others became Christians at his funeral. ’’Over a lifetime Moody remained consistent and faithful. So whether someone comes to faith or not , it’s important to be a faithful friend.’’ (Mike Pilavachi, Youthwork Magazine, August 2013, p15).
Moody prayed for each of the 100 daily. We believe in the power of prayer. We are desperate for our friends to come to Christ. Yet why, to be honest, do we find it so hard to have the dedication and build in a regular pattern of prayer for say 5 or 10 of our friends? For some of us, discipline may not be easy. You go on a diet, after a few days you’ve eaten a large bar of chocolate or helped yourself to a glass of wine and the diet is long forgotten. Or you start running 3 times a week, week 1 amazing but by week 3 you are down to once a week and by week 4 you’ve stopped! Or to ask, if we can have the dedication and discipline to do tasks such as a diet or fitness, why don’t we have it for regular prayer for those close to us who do not believe? The purpose of this question is to have us think – for we all struggle to do this – is it a problem of habit, is it we don’t love as much the people– for we know when something really matters, we are at God’s door hammering every day – is it we have lost hope in prayer, do we think everyone is saved anyway, so everyone ends up at the same place at the end…
I need to ask why I don’t pray as I could. What stops me?
DISTINCTIVE LIFE. The practical tool today, is how you live…
14 ‘You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.
Jesus speaks to his followers. He tells them they are significant. They are light – of the world no less. Wow. And he says – the way they live will lead people – other people – new people – to give glory to God.
Galatians 5:22-23, Paul describes a beautiful life, a distinct life. He shares some of the qualities that follow from the presence and working of the Holy Spirit within us. We ask the Spirit to fill us – to fill us as wind fills a sail – we invite him to increasingly transform us so our lives are distinct, increasingly Christ like. One practical way, in which the Holy Spirit works, is to take the truths of scripture, as we think on them, and they sink more within our minds.
Now. When a friend or a relative recommends your business, that is one of the best sales marketing presentations you have, isn’t it? When I am on holiday, I use Trip Advisor a lot. I can see the opportunities, but I look for the recommendations, the reviews, the testimony of people.
We recommend Jesus by our testimony. A friend tells you a place is really good, you want to check it out.
We book a place on holiday, you look at reviews, brochures. Who do you trust? You know someone who has been there, you are likely to app them and ask what they thought?
People will look at a review page for a place. People look at our lives as a review page about Jesus. We let people know we are following Jesus, or that we go to church. People then are going to be looking at our lives, watching us, to see what faith / devotion looks like.
People assess – does following Jesus work, is it a good thing for life? Think again about 1 Peter 3 v15. ‘’Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. ‘’ Will they see you as a person of hope? What does your life say? Will they come into your office or meet up for a drink and say ‘I want what you’ve got.’ We want to reflect the character and personality of Jesus, as we do so, we shine, as light in the world, as ‘the light of the world.’
There is a term in marketing called brand ambassador – a person to represent the brand, to be the face of the brand. We are brand ambassadors for Christ. The best recommendation for Jesus is not someone out there – though it can be of course – but usually it is your friend, your brother, it is you.
A distinct beautiful life.
Two ways to live beautifully, distinctly, to let your light shine. Wholeheartedness and integrity.
On my noticeboard is a card, from a friend at University – ‘’Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord…’’ Colossians 3:23. Paul writes these words to people who are slaves. When he writes, what advice can he give to these Christian slaves, who have little free time, no choice where they lived or what they did each day. What advice can he give them about the best way to serve Jesus. Paul says: they could serve Jesus best by the attitude they had to their work. He is asking them to be wholehearted about everything they do.
A question: What activity or activities occupy most of your time?
Who or which other people see how you go about these activities?
The next key question. If these people, see the way that we do things – what they think about us? Do they see a beautiful life, in which everything is done as well as possible? Or do they see a sloppy, careless half-hearted life?
Paul says, in Colossians 3, they should be seeing someone who is consumed with a desire to please God by the way they do everything. We are not to work half heartedly but with a determination to be the best that we can be.
Roger Morgan: ‘’In Cambridge, it was part of my job to teach probability theory. Students came to see me in pairs. One pair came each week from Jesus College. They were bright and industrious and I enjoyed the sessions. I worked hard trying to teach them to the best of my ability. I lived near Jesus College, and after one of the sessions, one of them helped me carry some equipment to my home. As we walked along, he opened the conversation. ‘They tell me that you are a Christian., he said. ‘Yes’, I said, ‘how about you?’. ‘’No’’, he said. ‘’I am not, but I have been thinking about it a lot.’’. ‘’Would you know how to become a Christian if you wanted to?’’
‘’No’’ he said, ‘’but could you explain?’’ So I gave him an outline of the gospel:
A – for Admit – that you need something more
B- for believe and trust in Jesus
C for Consider what being a Christian will mean in practice
D – for D – offer up your life and receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Our walk across Cambridge lasted for about 10 minutes. Later that evening he prayed a prayer which I have given him, in the company of his friends back at the college.
Roger says: ‘’Why had he chosen to speak to me? Not just because I am a Christian; there are many Christians in Cambridge. I think he spoke to me because of the way I taught him probability theory.’’ (Roger Morgan, Beautiful Lives, p.24).
One thing, people may sometimes have said to you – Christians are hypocrites! In some cases, they may be true sadly. Someone involved in stay evangelism, cannot afford to be a hypocrite. Hypocrites destroy the power of our witness.
So I wanted to read a list of questions to you – like a brief personal examen, as the ancient Christians would do, reviewing their life…
- Are you able to forgive others no matter how they have hurt you?
- Are you able to promote others and not yourself?
- Is your speech honoring of others or are you critical of them when they are absent?
- Are you being faithful in your marriage in both your actions and your thoughts?
- Do you always keep your word?
- Do you meet disappointment or misfortune with faith?
Most would say, all or nearly all of these are the right way to live. Many will not live this way, but often they expect Christians to.
To go further in our reflection. Take, eg the first one I mentioned – and consider – if we fail to forgive when someone has done wrong against us, how will this weaken our witness for Christ? Look at some of the other questions and ask the same thing..
Finally. Choose one of these areas in which you’d most like to grow. Bring before God the area you have chosen and ask for God’s help to change; also tell a Christian friend / relative about your struggle in that area and your desire to grow, and ask them to pray for you this coming week.
Jesus models, giving time, energy, desire to connect, interest, in his conversation.
The desire of God is that our lives become distinct, beautiful. Wholehearted. Lives of integrity.
As our lives shine, they are a witness.
It is not just what we say, it is how we live our lives.
Shall we pray.
Lord Jesus, thank you for the gift of life you have given me.
From today I commit myself to making a new start. I am sometimes tempted to trust in myself or in other things, but I promise that from today I will try to trust you for all the big issues in my life. I know I have not always lived as I should and sometimes I get my priorities all wrong. I want to become the person you made me to be. I want to turn away from anything that is wrong, and today I promise to try to make you the most important thing in my life.
Lord, I commit myself today to love and serve you by giving time to developing my relationship with you, and by the way I live among other people. Please Lord, fill me with your Holy Spirit, so that I may display your presence by the way I live. May your love flow from me to every person I meet. May my heart shine because it is filled with your joy and your peace. May I be gentle, patient, kind and good. May I learn faithfulness , reliability and self control, so that my choices are Christ like, in Jesus name. Amen.