I saw an old Peanuts cartoon recently. Lucy says to Charlie Brown, "I would have made a great evangelist." Charlie Brown answers, "Is that so?" Lucy says, "Yes, I convinced that boy in front of me in school that my religion is better than his religion." Charlie Brown asked, "Well, how did you do that?" And Lucy answers, "I hit him over the head with my lunch box."
Not quite the best way to tell people about Jesus! Violence is never the answer. But we laugh about Lucy, because honestly, we wish that telling people about Jesus was that easy.
Well, I’m here to tell you that it IS that easy. No, I don’t mean everyone should go buy their own lunch boxes and start beaning people on the head! I mean that we usually think that evangelism, or outreach, or sharing your faith, or telling people about Jesus is really difficult. How many of us think that…?
So because we think that telling people about Jesus is hard, we don’t do it. We are scared to. We think that in order to tell someone else about Jesus, we need an advanced degree in Biblical studies (you don’t), or we need to have a speech all prepared (you don’t), or we need to go knock on peoples’ doors or stand on a street corner with a bullhorn and pamphlets (you REALLY don’t).
Sharing your faith isn’t about any of these things. And yet, we let these thoughts keep us from sharing our faith with people in our lives who need to hear about God’s love. Even when we run into family members and friends and co-workers who aren’t Christians and could really use the love of Jesus in their lives, we let our fear paralyze us.
OK, so how do we share our faith with others? How do we tell people about Jesus? How do we do the thing Jesus calls us to do in Matthew 28 in the Great Commission: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” How do we do that??
Well, our Gospel reading from John actually gives us the answer about how to share our faith with others. I’m feeling pretty generous today-- I’ll give you the answer now, and then we will look at the reading and see what John says about the answer. Sound good?
The answer is actually three steps. Here’s a hint—it’s my sermon title for today! The three things you need to remember are: Experience God, Tell Your Story, Invite. Everyone say it together: Experience God, Tell Your Story, Invite. That’s all there is to it.
Now let’s look at what happens in the Gospel story for today, and how the story helps us to know how to do it ourselves. Ready?
First, experience God. John the Baptist starts our reading off. He’s talking about Jesus, but in order to talk about Jesus, he first had to experience God. Before our reading, earlier in the story, John was baptizing Jesus, and the Holy Spirit came down when Jesus came up from the water and hung out on Jesus, looking like a dove. And that’s how he knew Jesus was the Son of God. He had experienced God in a powerful way.
This first part of outreach—experiencing God-- this is really important. If you’ve never experienced God’s love through Jesus, how on God’s green earth are you going to share it with someone else??? Now, the fact that you are sitting here right now bodes well—it means that while you’re here worshipping God, hopefully you’re open to feeling God’s presence. That’s awesome—that’s why we meet to worship. So we can hear about God’s love for us and experience God’s presence.
But it’s also not just about experiencing God in church. I mean, that’s definitely a great place to start, and yay that you’re here. Worshiping with your Christian faith community is very important! But God doesn’t just live in this building. God is everywhere. That means that you can experience God outside of these walls too!
Ever look outside in nature, maybe at the mountains or a snowy landscape or a sunset, and feel God’s presence? How about when someone you haven’t thought of in a while pops into your head randomly? A lot of times, that’s the Holy Spirit urging you to either contact that person or pray for them. Have you ever just felt like God was with you, even when you may have been in a tough situation? Have you ever prayed to God, and felt like God was with you? Maybe you were in a situation that was rough and you needed the words to say, and God gave them to you? How about looking back on your life and seeing how God led and guided you through points in your life? These are all ways you can experience God in your normal, everyday life. God is acting in our lives all the time—we just have to notice it.
Being tuned in to your spiritual life by praying, and looking for how God is speaking and acting in our lives is not only something that Christians are expected to do, it’s something that we WANT to do. We WANT to have that relationship with God, so that we can better listen for God’s voice and see God’s guidance for us in our lives. The more you look for God’s actions and listen for God’s voice, the better at it you’ll get.
OK, so we’ve got the first thing, Experience God. The next thing is Tell Your Story.
Let’s look at how John the Baptist does this in our Gospel reading. He tells his story. It says: “And John testified, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. 33 I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ 34 And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.”
John’s story isn’t complicated, right? It’s only 3 sentences. But the story tells about how God acted in his life, and how Jesus made a difference in his life. That’s it.
In some Christian traditions, you may have heard of something called “Giving a Testimony.” It usually happens in church, and it usually includes someone talking about how they went through a rough time and how Jesus helped them through it.
That in itself is a great way to share your faith, but sometimes people have such dramatic stories that it makes everyone else feel like their story isn’t good enough. Tim Hawkins, a Christian comedian, talks about how he would be sitting in church, listening to people give their testimonies. And these people would talk about how they were homeless, or addicted to drugs, and how God helped them through. And all he could think about while listening to one guy’s personal story was “Man, he has an AWESOME testimony! I have a HORRIBLE one. I wish I was addicted to crack! Thanks, God!”
Luckily, you don’t have to be homeless or addicted to crack to tell your story to someone. Telling your story is just talking about how God has acted in your life, and how Jesus has made a difference for you. Sometimes God acts dramatically, and sometimes God acts more subtly in our lives. You know all the ways we just talked about that we can experience God on a regular basis? Those are your stories for how you’ve experienced God. Those are the stories you can tell others who may be searching for God, or not even know that they need God.
OK, so we’ve got the first two steps for telling people about Jesus: Experience God, Tell Your Story. Our third step is Invite.
Let’s go back to our story from John’s Gospel and see what happens. John the Baptist has just finished telling everyone his story of how he experienced God. He then tells two of his students, when Jesus walks by, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” He’s telling them what he learned during his experience of God, about Jesus.
What do the disciples do after hearing that…? They follow Jesus. Jesus is walking, and they walk behind him. Finally, Jesus turns and asks them “What are you looking for?” They ask him where he is staying, and he says “Come and see.”
“Come and see.” This is how we invite other people to experience God just as we have. We say “come and see.” We invite them. It could be that we invite them to a Sunday worship service here at Zion. It could be that we invite them to a special event here, like a youth group event or a dinner or another type of program. It could be that we invite them to a special worship service, like Holy Week or Easter or Christmas Eve. It could be that we invite them to pray with us. It could be that we simply invite them to talk with another Christian, so that they can know for sure that Christians aren’t scary!
It’s about inviting people, because very rarely do people show up to a church event or worship service without any background in church or a personal invitation. Someone in your life either wants to experience God or could really use God’s love in their life, and inviting them is the first step.
Pastor Andy Stanley actually gives us a good way to notice if there is a good opening for an invitation to church. This isn’t the only time we can invite, but it gives us a good way of hearing something from someone that can make us go, aha! I could invite this person!
He calls them “The Three Nots.” And if you hear someone say one of these “nots,” it could be a good time to invite them. The three “nots” are:
-“We’re not in/going to church”, or “We’re not church people”
-“Things are not going well”
-“I was not prepared for that”
Those “nots” are a good indicator that someone is at a crossroads in their life, and could be open to experiencing Jesus’ love—because they especially need Jesus’ love. Listen for those nots, and it could help you figure out when to invite someone.
Now, it’s important to remember that inviting someone doesn’t necessarily mean that the person will say yes right away. They may not feel ready. And that’s OK. But that also means that you don’t give up. I don’t mean stalking them until they come—that’s creepy. What I mean is every few weeks or months invite them again. Invite them to different types of Christian things. And maybe, just maybe, there will be an event or something you say that piques their interest, and they will give it a try.
So we’ve got how to tell people about Jesus—the three steps: Experience God, Tell Your Story, Invite. Does it work? Will following those three steps help you telling people about Jesus?
Let’s see what happens to those two guys who followed Jesus and Jesus said to them “Come and see.” It says: “They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon. 40 One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. 41 He first found his brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated Anointed). 42 He brought Simon to Jesus, who looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas” (which is translated Peter).”
OK, so the two guys go and spend some time with Jesus—they experience God, because Jesus is God. And then what happens..? Andrew goes and finds his brother. He tells his story in one sentence, and he says…? “We have found the Messiah.” So he’s experienced God, and he’s told his story. And then what does he do…? He brings Simon to Jesus, so that Simon can experience God too.
So you see what’s happening here? It’s a cycle. Once one person Experiences God, Tells Their Story, and Invites, the person to whom they told their story and invited now does the same thing!! Do you see how by sharing our faith with others, then they are able to experience God and share their faith with others too???
This is how faith sharing can change lives. God has changed your life— so you—yes, I’m talking to you— experience God, tell your story, and invite, so that others can have their lives changed by God just as you have. So—experience God, tell your story, and invite. Share the good news!! Amen?