Just Walk Across The Room 3) The Great Story

Just Walk Across the Room

3) The Great Story

 

My kids love stories. They have books that we read to them over and over again. There’s something about stories that engage with people. They captivate our imagination, they help us see the world through fresh eyes, they force us to examine what we really believe. And it’s not surprising that Jesus used stories. In fact, Jesus was the greatest story teller who ever walked the planet. Some of the most striking stories Jesus told were of people like you and me. “I business man needed some work done and went out and hired some workers… A woman was in her kitchen baking some loaves of bread… A man was going on a journey when he was attacked by robbers… Jesus’ stories became legendary: The Good Samaritan, the Camel and the Needle, the Lost son, the Shrewd manager, the Persistent Widow, the Wise and Foolish Builders, and the list goes on. But one thing about Jesus’ stories is they all pointed to the Great Story, to God’s story. The truth is we all have a story to tell, and maybe the best thing that could ever happen to someone is to realize how their story fits into the great story! When people grasp the magnificent truth that the gospel has direct implications for their lives it changes everything. Your life can become a part of God’s story.

 

1) How the Share your story

But how do you get to share God’s story with other people? Well it starts by just walking across the room, it starts by following the prompting of the Holy Spirit. It starts by building friendships with people far from God. But let’s say you’ve done that, you’ve walked across the room and over time developed a friendship. Your relationship is becoming more open, you’ve tested the spiritual waters a bit and they know you’re into God, and one day it happens! They ask ‘Why are you so fired up about God? Why is being a Christian so important to you?’ How would you answer them? How you respond in those next few seconds could well be a defining moment in their life. When someone asks sincere questions about your faith you don’t need to freeze up, or shoot off Scripture verses, you can tell your story – your simple personal story about how Jesus has changed tour life. This morning we’re going to look at how to share your story, and then we’re going to look at how to share God’s story. Now I’m starting with your story not because your story is what’s important, but because we connect with people on a relational level, and they want to know your story. Besides I want you to leave here remembering God’s story, so that’s what I want to finish on.

a) How not to do it

But before we look at how to share our story let’s look at how not to do it.

i) Don’t make it weird

Firstly, don’t make it weird. Don’t start with the weirdest spiritual thing that ever happened to you. Often we have situations in life where something happens that can’t be mere coincidence, and of course as Christians we believe that they aren’t. But those supernatural stories aren’t the best place to start your story, otherwise the first thing that crosses a non-Christian’s mind is what drugs you’re taking.

ii) Don’t be long-winded

Secondly, don’t be long-winded. It’s not really about your story, it’s about connecting with them, and the last thing you want to do is bore them to death. It’s helpful to pay attention to people’s body language. If they’re eyes are dating around, or they’re slowly crossing their arms, or inhaling deeply, it probably means they’re distracted, or they’ve lost interest.

iii) Don’t be fuzzy

Thirdly, don’t be fuzzy. The only thing worse than a long story is a long story that’s incoherent. A story with a dozen plot lines and 16 characters just confuses people. Don’t talk about books you’ve read, supernatural experiences you’ve had, conferences you’ve attended, and the five theological issues you wrestled with the most. Don’t go all over the place, you will just leave people bewildered.

iv) Don’t use religionese

Fourthly, don’t use religionese, and to the uninitiated, that word is exactly that ‘religionese,’ something only a religious person would use. In church we use words like ‘salvation’, ‘justification,’ ‘sanctification,’ and ‘righteousness,’ and phrases like ‘to be born again,’ and ‘accepting Jesus,’ and ‘making Jesus your Lord and Saviour.’ The truth is that a non-Christian doesn’t have a clue what you’re talking about, it’s like you’re talking in code. Don’t use ‘God-talk.’

v) Don’t sound superior

Finally, don’t sound superior. Firstly, you’re not better than non-Christians, you’re just not going to hell for your sins, even though that’s what you deserve. Secondly, nothing will shut down a spiritual conversation faster than making people feel inferior in some way. If you want to offend a person play the piety card, tell them that you have it all together and their lives are a mess.

Now if you are feeling convicted in any way of any of these things, or maybe all of them, there is a way to make amends. If you’ve pressured someone, or bored them, or confused them, or made them feel hopeless, what you need to do it apologize to them. Let them know you’re sorry, ask them to forgive you, and wait for an opportunity to not make these same mistakes.

b) How to do it

So how do you share your story? Well, pretty much the exact opposite of doing it wrong.

i) Be normal

Instead of being weird, be normal. The point of sharing your story is trying to engage people in some way, so look for an aspect of your life that is relevant, or applicable, to other people’s lives. Maybe if people were wandering around wondering how to deal with all the supernatural phenomenon going on in their lives starting with a weird story wouldn’t be so weird. But the truth is people are just dealing with the everyday struggles of life and they want to know how you face your everyday struggles. Your story needs to be about your normal everyday life.

ii) Be brief

Secondly, be brief, and let people ask a few follow-up questions. Leave them wanting more, and trust that God will open up a dialogue if you are meant to say anything further about your journey. Keep it short, a few minutes at most, no more than 100 words.

iii) Be simple

Thirdly, be simple. Stick to a single plot line that conveys the heart of your faith journey. Get to the crux of your story, and yes I deliberately used the word crux, because the cross pretty much is the centre of our faith journey.

iv) Be understandable

Fourthly, be understandable. Get rid of any religious jargon and tell your story in a way that non-Christians will understand. High praise from an unbeliever is, ‘I understood every word you just said.’

v) Be humble

Finally, be humble. Remember you aren’t better than non-Christians, you may not even have your life as together as they do, you may struggle with the same sins that they do. As someone once said, ‘Evangelism is one beggar telling another beggar where to find food.’ The point of telling your story is sharing how you have found hope and healing in your life. When sharing your story keep it short, simple and understandable.

c) Before and After

I helpful way of looking at your story is as a before and after story. The promise of the gospel is that when you believe in Jesus and put your trust in him your old self, your old you is evicted and a new self, a new you arrives. And it’s that contrast that is most helpful in telling your story. People want to know what difference has Jesus made in your life? They want to know what were you like before Jesus and what are you like now that Jesus is a part of your life. If someone came and told you about a diet they’re on, the first thing you’d want to know is whether it’s actually helped, whether it’s made any difference? Did it help them lose weight or not? Or if someone has been to a counsellor, your first question is usually, ‘Has it helped? What made you decide to see a counsellor and has it made a difference?’ Peter talks about ‘15 …being prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. (1 Pet 3:15a)’ When someone asks about your hope in life, or your passion for Jesus, they want to know if Jesus has made a difference, they want to know what your life was like before Jesus and what it’s like now. Your before and after doesn’t have to be dramatic, it just has to be brief, simple, understandable, and true.

i) 3 Biblical Examples

We see these before and after stories all throughout the Bible. So here are a few examples from the New Testament.

- The Blind Man (Jn 9:1-12)

In John 9 Jesus is walking along when he’s approached by a guy who’s been blind since birth. And Jesus displays God’s power in this guy’s life by healing him. Later people who knew this guy were wondering if it was the same person. They’re asking, ‘Hey weren’t you the blind guy?’ And others were saying, ‘It just looks like the same guy!’ And when they asked him, his reply is found in verse 11, ‘11 He replied, “The man they call Jesus made some mud and put it on my eyes. He told me to go to Siloam and wash. So I went and washed, and then I could see.” (Jn 9:11)’ I was blind, but then I met Jesus and now I can see.

- Zacchaeus (Lk 19:1-10)

Or what about Zacchaeus? Luke describes him as a wealthy tax-collector, someone who was so greedy for money they considered him a traitor. And yet when he met Jesus, everything changed. Before Jesus he was a thief, but after meeting Jesus he promised he would pay back every cent he had stolen and that he would give half of his wealth to the poor. How do you reckon he would have responded when someone asked him, ‘So, Zacchaeus, what’s with this God thing?’ I reckon he would have said, ‘I used to be absolutely consumed by greed, to the point that it had wrecked my life, but then I met Jesus and he set me free. Jesus taught me how to care about people again, particularly the poor. Jesus changed my life.’

- Paul (Acts 9:1-22; 26:4-23)

And what about Paul. He was a respected Pharisee, taught by one of the greatest Rabbi’s of his time. He was popular, he had power and prestige, and his greatest passion in life was to persecute Jesus’ followers. But then he met Jesus on the road to Damascus and everything changed. Instead of persecuting Jesus he started preaching Jesus. What do you think he would have said? Maybe he would have said something like, ‘I was so caught up in self-righteousness that all I could do was judge people, to the point that I was consumed by hatred. I even killed people, all because they didn’t follow God the way I thought they should. But then I met Jesus. In a moment I was confronted by my sin, but the most amazing thing was I also discovered God’s grace for the first time. God showed mercy to me, the worst of sinners. (1 Tim 1:16)’

ii) My before and after story

And like the man born blind, and Zacchaeus and Paul, I too can testify to how Jesus can change lives. I was born into a Christian family and went to church every Sunday, but for most of my younger years it was just something I did, not something that particularly mattered to me. As a teenager I got into heavy metal, smoked dope, and played Dungeons and Dragons, and most of my friends were people far from God. But one day as I was reflecting on life, I looked at the life of my friends, and they were defined by loneliness, broken relationships and depression, and I looked at my dad’s life and he was a committed Christian, and he loved life, his life was defined by peace and joy. And a light went on in my head, life without Jesus doesn’t work. It wasn’t working for my friends, and it wasn’t working for me. So I chose to follow Jesus. And life since then hasn’t always worked out how I expected, but I can confidently say that since I started following Jesus I have found the peace and joy that my father had.

iii) Your before and after story

What’s your before and after story? How has Jesus changed your life? Do you know the single key idea that defined your life before Jesus and how he redefined it after you met him? Maybe your life was marked by fear, but then you met Jesus and he has set you free from fear. Maybe your life was consumed by the desire to be popular, and your life was all about impressing people, but then you met Jesus, and now you live your life to please him instead of pleasing people. Maybe you just felt alone and abandoned, but then you met Jesus and you were adopted into his family and now you know what it means to be wanted, to be cared about, to be loved. Maybe you’d done something terrible and your life was defined by shame and guilt, but then you met Jesus and now you know what it’s like to be forgiven, to be cleansed and whole. Or maybe you had been abused or hurt and your life was defined by anger and unforgiveness, but then you met Jesus and now you’ve discovered a peace that surpasses understanding. Your story is as simple as who you were before and who you are now, as a result of Jesus’ intervention in your life. I was striving… but now I’m grateful. I was self-destructive… but now I’m healthy. I was guilty… but now I’m forgiven. I was despairing… but now I’m filled with hope. People want to hear your story, they want to know if Jesus can make a difference. So share your experience of Jesus as a normal everyday person, briefly, simply, understandably, and humbly, and let the Spirit use it to open doors in people’s hearts and lives.

 

2) How to share God’s story

So that’s how we share our story with others, but how do we then share God’s story with people? How to we communicate the Great story, the story that can change someone else’s life, like it changed ours? Firstly, you need to know the basics of God’s story.

a) The World’s Story

Let’s start by looking at it from the world’s perspective. In 1923, they began building the Sydney Harbour Bridge, which would finally link the north and south shore of Sydney. It required 52,800 tonnes of steel and 18,000 cubic metres of granite. Over 1300 workers hammered in 6 million handmade rivets, the largest was 40cm long and weighed 3.5kg. It ended up costing 6.25 million pounds and took 9 years of gruelling labour to complete, during which time 16 workers died. At the time it was the longest single arch bridge in the world with a span of 48.5m, and it’s still the tallest, at 134m form top to water level. It’s a lot of trouble to go to for a single bridge. But throughout history people have willingly gone to such lengths because the desire to span a chasm is just that great. People want to get to the other side.

And since the beginning of time, sensing the vast distances separating them, people have been consumed by the desire to somehow get over the chasm separating them from God. People knew that God was different from us, they used words like holy and perfect and awesome. There is a great distance between the Creator and his creation. And the implications were that if I can’t live up to my own standards God’s standards must be utterly impossible to reach. It will require Herculean effort to reach God. And over time religious systems developed that tried to address the question of how to reach a holy God? They all claimed to somehow bridge the gap between us and God, and they all had the same thing in common, the construction effort to bridge the gap always began on humanity’s side. They all believed that to reach God all you had to do was try harder and be better, to be more religious. Every major religion suggests that it’s up to you to bridge the gap between you and God.

b) The Bible’s Story

Every religion that is, except Christianity. The Bible says something completely different about how to bridge the gap between us and God. It says that God saw the chasm that between himself and people and he knew that no amount of human effort would ever be able to span a chasm that wide. So motivated by love, God took on the chasm-spanning responsibility himself. He laid the foundation. He built a bridge between himself and us sinful, broken human beings. He sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to die on a cross, to bridge the gap between us and God. After hours of gruelling labour on a cross, Jesus died, Jesus gave his perfect life, to become the bridge between us and God. When we take Jesus’ hand, Jesus becomes the link that reconciles us with God. That’s God’s story, that’s the story of the Bible, a remarkable tale of redemption and restoration.

c) Communicating the Gospel

And there’s no greater honour in life than communicating he gospel, than sharing that great news with others. Because of what Jesus has done you can confidently tell your friends and family that the bridge they’re looking for has already been built. All that remains is the question, what will they do about it? Will they keep on trying to build their own bridge by their own efforts, or will they walk across the bridge God built? So what’s the best way to communicate God’s story? Well there are dozens of different ways to do it, but this morning I want to use two simple pictures to help you communicate the gospel story.

i) The Bridge

Firstly, there’s the bridge illustration. It helps people understand the significance of Christ’s work on the cross. It’s very simple. First you draw a chasm. On one side is God and on the other side is us. The chasm represents our natural tendency to rebel against God and go our own way. The Bible calls this sin. And according to the Bible sin leads to death. Our dilemma is that we try and reach God by our own efforts but our efforts will never be enough to get us to the other side. But God loved us so much that he intervened and provided a way for us to reach him. His solution was to choose his Son, Jesus, to serve as a bridge between us and himself. Jesus died the death we deserved for our sin, so that we could be reconciled with God and receive eternal life. Jesus puts it like this, ‘24 I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life. (Jn 5:24)’ The point of the illustration is that no matter what you have done, or how far you have wandered away from God, you can be forgiven, you can be reconciled to God, by trusting that Jesus paid the penalty for your sins that you could never pay. All you have to do is walk across the bridge that God constructed and come home. All you have to do is believe that in Jesus you have been reconciled with God.

ii) DO vs DONE

The second illustration is even simpler. It helps people understand the difference between religion and Christianity. It’s called do versus done. Basically you tell people that religion is spelt DO. Religion is all about what you do, and at the end of the day it’s all about whether you do enough right things to earn God’s favour. To get to heaven all you have to do is do this and do that and hopefully God will let you in. But Christianity on the other hand is spelled DONE. The Bible says that what Jesus did on the cross was enough. He did what you could never do. Jesus satisfied God’s requirement for a perfect sacrifice to pay the penalty for all your sin. If you accept what Jesus has done for you then God accepts you, just as if you had never done anything wrong. Because of what Jesus has done on the cross, your sins can be forgiven and you can find favour in God’s eyes right here and now. Just writing those two words on a piece of paper helps people see how Christianity is different from every other religion.

 

This morning I want to close by asking you if you believe in the power of the gospel? Paul writes, ‘16 I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes… (Rom 1:16a)’ Do you believe that the gospel, the Good News that in Jesus our sins can be forgiven, that in his death the penalty has been paid, do you believe that can change someone’s life? Do you remember how it changed your life? I want to encourage you to share the Great Story, the story of how God seeks and saves lost people through the life and death of his Son, Jesus Christ. Tell people about how Jesus bridges the gap between us and God. Tell people about how Christianity is all about what Jesus has done for us, not about what we do for him. Tell people about how Jesus has made all the difference in your life and keep it short, simple and understandable. Use your story to point people to the Great Story, the Good News about Jesus. Amen.

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