Beautiful Lives 2, ‘Who do you know? Our Testimony!’, September 6th 2020
Thirteenth Sunday after Trinity
Acts 26:1-29; John 1:35- 2:11
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.
God’s plan is for his church to grow. Acts shows us a Spirit filled, and Spirit guided church growing from 120 into thousands within a few years. It’s message – the good news of what God has done in Jesus Christ. Jesus was killed, God raised him to life, forgiveness is found in him. The method was witness by word and action. It was carried out by the world’s most unlikely set of ambassadors – 12 apostles and those around them. Few of them were learned or articulate by the world’s standards. But it is this company of men and women who are spurred on by Jesus, sustained by the Spirit, succeed in taking the gospel across the known world and establishing new Christian communities in far flung places. It was their witness and the witness of the Spirit that did it. We follow in their footsteps.
For some, that means ‘go evangelism’, to go to new places, to new people, like missionaries of old. But most people are called to ‘stay evangelism’ to remain where we are, and among our relationships, to tell what God has done. We share faith – with gentleness and respect – by our words. But also by our lives. Peter reminds the wives to non believers in 1 Peter 3, that their lives can be just as anointed by the Spirit in powerful witness, as the work of church planters in Peter and Paul’s day. We witness by words, by beautiful lives and by our actions.
Each week there are practical tools to help us. Last week the aim: to go through the day more slowly, consciously noticing people, showing sympathy. Praying for the ones you pass by. Perhaps an encouragement to one, maybe an act of help to another. So how did it go last week?
A couple of testimonies from two people who did this.
‘Sue did her shopping at the supermarket. That day she was trying hard not to be in a hurry and to take in each person as she met them. She was able to smile at the cashier, to pray for the lady and to say thank you. The next time she shopped, she noticed that the same cashier , was looking very tired. ‘Had a long day today?’ said Sue. ‘Yes, but I’ll soon be home – you are my last one today.’’ This brief act of caring was appreciated. Sue found on that day, that she was able to lift the lives of quite a number of people.
Arthur’s work day began with a meeting with Bill. Bill worked in the same large office building but Arthur had not met him before. The subject of the meeting was quite technical and their business lasted an hour and a half. But Arthur had been praying for Bill throughout this time and had tried to help Bill with his agenda and interests in the meeting. When finished, Arthur and Bill walked down the corridor. Arthur shared: ‘Its been good meeting you this morning – do you have time to meet up for lunch one day?’’ Bill was glad to accept.
The people our lives are reaching.
We will look at two main practical tools. These will take up most of our time.
In our Gospel, John records how it is a brother – Peter – whom Andrew reaches. It is a friend – Nathanael, whom Philip reaches. These were people they knew. Matthew when he follows Jesus, that evening throws a huge party to which he invites not only Jesus, but all his old work colleagues – fellow tax collectors – to his leaving do. (Matthew 9:9-13). The Samaritan Woman, goes back to her street, tells the villagers, ‘come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Christ?’ Later they say: ‘We not longer believe just because of what you said, now we have heard for ourselves and know that this man is really the Saviour of the World.’’ (John 4:42). It was people they already knew they reached.
Take a piece of paper.
Write on it, all the people you know who are not church goers.
Include people, you normally have contact with during an average week – whether online, or in person.
This can include family members who do not go to church but who live nearby.
People who work in the same street as you, even if you cannot remember their names.
People you meet through your children or grandchildren.
Cashiers, doctors, staff at the kibbeling van, in fact anyone who serves you in anyway
Anyone you have fun, do sports with, or relax with.
Once you start thinking about it, you’d find you can easily make a list of 20 or more people you know.
So we want some of our friends to become Christians, right? It is important to know, the people we reach will be people we already know. They will be some of those whose names we have just written down. See these people as a gift to us from God, our responsibility, not one we can pass off to others. Our role is to reach them with the love of God if we possibly can.
As we get to know people, the more interested they become in us. People who know us well, are much more likely to ask questions…
So, how well do we know the people on our list?
Look at the names: tick each one who has been in your home (a home reveals much about us).
One of the best ways to get to know people is to have fun – so tick each one that you have had fun with!
Good Samaritan: we get the opportunity to do something for someone. When we help someone it says something about us. So tick any person on that list, whom you have ever been able to help, in whatever way.
So already you will have some names with three ticks, some with none.
It is possible to know a lot about someone, yet you haven’t really shared your heart – shared personally – with them or they with you. Place a tick by each of the people whom you have shared a heart to heart conversation. Heart to heart can count as simply as a one off 10 minute conversation about something that bothered you at the time.
Matthew 5:16 says – ‘ Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.’ The way we live our lives can bring glory to God. The key to stay evangelism we said, was a beautiful life – one increasingly filled with the fruit of the Holy Spirit.
This is a tricky one. But tick any whom have seen your good deeds. You didn’t do it to be seen but they may have seen it or they benefited. Perhaps they saw you coping with difficulties caused by this Corona pandemic, or being patient with a difficult person, being kind to a stranger, or going the second mile for someone.
Peter reminded us: ‘Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope you have. Do this with gentleness and respect.(1 Peter 3:15). We don’t witness aggressively. We live as well as we can. We serve others as best as we can. As the prayer we use in this service says:
‘’Father, help me
live this coming week to the full, being true to You, in every way. Jesus, help me give myself away to others, being kind to everyone I meet. Spirit, help me to love the lost, proclaiming Christ in all I do and say. Amen.’’
We respond to questions they ask. When they do ask, we need to be ready. When I was in the scouts, the motto was ‘be prepared’.’
So place a tick by any person, where they asked us something and it led into a conversation – whether brief or longer – about faith, God or church.
So the maximum number any of the names has is 6 ticks. The final tick is to look at each name and tick where you have known that person for less than 3 years. The longer you know someone, the harder it becomes to raise the subject of God or faith.
Okay. We now make a shorter list. Write all the names of the people to whom we have given 5 or more ticks.
I ask you to add two more names from the names, who had less than 5 ticks. By adding these two extra names, you are committing yourself to get to know them better. Take time, this week, to pray about whom those two people are. It may be someone totally unexpected!
So by the end of this process, you have a list with probably 5 or so names.
This list we will use in a couple of ways. We will return to it later in the month. First, it becomes part of our regularly personal praying.
How can we pray for non believers. One suggestion: Think about all the things you have because you are a Christian, the good things Jesus brings into your life; which non Christians do not have. It could be: the Holy Spirit, inner peace, inner joy, salvation, answers to prayer, security, promises of God, comfort, the hope of heaven.
When you come to prayer, regularly intercede for them that these things will come into their lives.
Telling our Story.
In John 9, Jesus heals a man born blind. It is a wonderful healing. The man is challenged. And he says ‘Whether he was a sinner or not, I don’t know One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see’. His testimony, his story of how his life had been changed.
Acts 26. Paul tells his testimony to King Agrippa. This is the third time we hear of Paul’s conversion in Acts. In other places, Paul had reasoned – such as in the synagogue of Thessalonica. Yet it is clear his approach depended on the audience and the leading of the Holy Spirit. Agrippa is well aware of the Christian faith and also with Judaism. Paul shares his testimony. Luke shares a variety of means, through Acts, how people are witnesses.
There is a time to debate or to engage in apologetics. There is a time for testimony. You see for some people we meet, the main question within them is not ‘Is Christianity true?’ their first question is ‘Is Christianity relevant?’ Does it work?
When do we tell our story? Peter said: ‘Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope you have.’. I said the Scout motto is ‘be prepared’. The founder said this: Be Prepared… the meaning of the motto is that a scout must prepare himself by previous thinking out and practicing how to act on any accident or emergency so that he is never taken by surprise. Robert Baden-Powell. To be prepared is about Previously thinking out and practicing, so never taken by surprise.
Our second practical tip here is ‘writing down our Christian story, so if anyone asks us, we are ready’. We may feel we could already do it. But what can happen is that we waffle on. Or we aren’t clear. So we prepare.
A common question people will ask – have you always gone to church? When they learn what we do on a Sunday. ‘have you always been a Christian?’ the way to answer these questions is not simply to say yes or not, but to respond by telling the story of how you came to believe in Jesus and what difference this has made.
When we think about story telling, there are two types of Christian. The first kind is like Paul. Like Paul you were not brought up in a Christian home; or if you were, your parents’ faith failed to capture your heart until much later. That is my story. My parents were Christians. Yet only at University when I was 19, the good news of Jesus Christ captured my heart.
The second kind are like Timothy. In 2 Timothy 1:3-5, Paul talks of the faith in Timothy’s grandmother, in his mother, and now in him. Your faith was learned from your family. And was embraced from the beginning and you never abandoned it.
For those like Paul, you prepare your story in three parts. As shown in Acts 26 by Paul. V2-11 Paul describes his life before conversion. V12-18. He describes the story of his conversion: the decisive moment. V19-23 – he describes the new period in his life since conversion.
To help, use the acronym BEN
B = before; E = encounter ; N = now
What was my life like before I met Jesus? How did I encounter Jesus?
What is my life like now knowing Jesus?
Paul’s testimony is clearly dramatic. From a persecutor of the faith, to being an advocate. It is easy to become discouraged and say, that my story is boring! But each testimony is glorious, the angels rejoiced when you came to the Father and how you got to know the love of God. So consider, how was life before you met Jesus? What is life like now? Why the change?
If you are more like Timothy, again think out your story in three parts. 1. Childhood memories of faith; 2. The story of your calling to follow and serve the Lord; 3. The adult outworkings of this following.
How did you choose to follow? This can be tricky. To help you, think about what key principles drive your life now. List also the key purposes which fill your hearts and minds.
Okay. Think about: what happened in your relationship with God, which led to these principles and purposes you now live by? Did God speak? Was it a moment, or a slow turning around? What exactly happened – over weeks months? That is the story which makes up part two.
An acronym you could use is: ANN
A = always known N = need owned/personal relationship N = now
Always known God; Came to recognise a need to acknowledge and to develop a personal relationship with God; What is my life like now knowing Jesus?
So in the week ahead. Think about your story. Write it out. Reduce it down to no more 100 words per section. Ideally when you read it out, it should be around 3 minutes. Feels hard work but it focuses us on the key things you would want a non Christian to know if he or she asks. It feels short, but if they want to know more, they will ask and it becomes a conversation between the two of you.
The response to our story.
Acts 17 shows what can happen when we witness. After Paul had preached. It says, ‘Some believed’, ‘Some wanted to know more’ ‘some mocked’. Similarly as we share. The person may be deeply touched, moved towards Jesus. They may be interested – then or later. Or they may be dismissive. Agrippa we feel is certainly interested in what Paul has said. Paul’s response – he will be praying for Agrippa, as well as the others like Festus who seems to be more mocking. Paul’s words return us to our first practical tool – our prayer list – ‘ I pray God that not only you but all who are listening to me today may become what I am’ – the prayer each of us can pray for non believers. Amen.
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.