Exploring the Word | Spreaker

Sunday, June 16, 2013

sharing our faith

Acts 8:1-13
And Saul approved of their killing him. That day a severe persecution began against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout the countryside of Judea and Samaria. 2Devout men buried Stephen and made loud lamentation over him. 3But Saul was ravaging the church by entering house after house; dragging off both men and women, he committed them to prison.

4Now those who were scattered went from place to place, proclaiming the word. 5Philip went down to the city of Samaria and proclaimed the Messiah to them. 6The crowds with one accord listened eagerly to what was said by Philip, hearing and seeing the signs that he did, 7for unclean spirits, crying with loud shrieks, came out of many who were possessed; and many others who were paralyzed or lame were cured. 8So there was great joy in that city.

9Now a certain man named Simon had previously practiced magic in the city and amazed the people of Samaria, saying that he was someone great. 10All of them, from the least to the greatest, listened to him eagerly, saying, “This man is the power of God that is called Great.” 11And they listened eagerly to him because for a long time he had amazed them with his magic. 12But when they believed Philip, who was proclaiming the good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women. 13Even Simon himself believed. After being baptized, he stayed constantly with Philip and was amazed when he saw the signs and great miracles that took place.

Acts 8:26-40
26Then an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Get up and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” (This is a wilderness road.) 27So he got up and went. Now there was an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of the Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, in charge of her entire treasury. He had come to Jerusalem to worship 28and was returning home; seated in his chariot, he was reading the prophet Isaiah. 29Then the Spirit said to Philip, “Go over to this chariot and join it.”

30So Philip ran up to it and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah. He asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” 31He replied, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to get in and sit beside him.

32Now the passage of the scripture that he was reading was this: “Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter, and like a lamb silent before its shearer, so he does not open his mouth. 33In his humiliation justice was denied him. Who can describe his generation? For his life is taken away from the earth.” 34The eunuch asked Philip, “About whom, may I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?”

35Then Philip began to speak, and starting with this scripture, he proclaimed to him the good news about Jesus. 36As they were going along the road, they came to some water; and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water! What is to prevent me from being baptized?” 38He commanded the chariot to stop, and both of them, Philip and the eunuch, went down into the water, and Philip baptized him.

39When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away; the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing. 40But Philip found himself at Azotus, and as he was passing through the region, he proclaimed the good news to all the towns until he came to Caesarea.
            When Jesus gave his last instructions to the disciples, he told them that they would be his witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. Faithful to Jesus’ direction, the disciples waited in Jerusalem for the power of the Holy Spirit and then began to tell the story of God’s amazing grace in Christ. Last week Susan shared the story of Stephen, the first Christian to die for his faith. Stephen’s murder began a wider persecution that scattered the church, but God used that scattering to spread the gospel throughout Judea and Samaria and, eventually to the ends of the earth.

            What I love about these two stories, especially the story about Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch, is that the Spirit leads and Philip follows. The Spirit tells him to go to the chariot. He doesn’t know who is in it or what he’s going to do with this chariot, but he trusts that he will know what to do when he gets there.

Notice how Philip approaches the man in the chariot. He hears him reading scripture, so he opens the conversation by asking about it. He doesn’t force his way in. He doesn’t attack the man’s beliefs or push Christ on him in some aggressive way. He doesn’t start the conversation in a confrontational way. “Do you know where you’re going to spend eternity,” is almost never the best way to open a conversation. Instead Philip listens to what the man is reading and then asks a simple, respectful question.

            Miracle stories are sometimes hard to related to, since I don’t have any experience with miracles. But I can ask a question and tell a story, and so can you, so this story is easy to relate to. Philip is an especially good example of evangelism for our time. People are skeptical about authority telling them what to do or believe. But people are also hungry for meaning. In the aftermath of a Christian culture, most people know that the church has something to do with a man named Jesus. They know there’s something about eternal life, sin and salvation. But they don’t necessarily know the story, and more importantly, they don’t know the story is for them because no one has invited them recently.

            People need Christ, and you can reach people no one else can reach. As a disciple of Jesus you have what you need to evangelize like Philip, so let’s break it down. The first step is having a strong faith. You can’t share what you don’t have. Many of us mildly believe or mildly don’t believe in God, but we don’t do anything to change that. Going to church each week isn’t going to make you believe in God, it takes something more than that.

            Here’s a simple experiment I want you to try this week if you’re feeling unsure in your faith. Act like you believe in God this week. Pray frequently like you’re talking to someone who really cares about you. Don’t worry about saying the right words, just talk. Read scripture ready to hear a word to you. Spend some time in silence reflecting on who God made you and how you can use your gifts. Don’t spend time wondering if God is real; for the moment, just assume that he is and live like it.

What I think you’ll find is that as you actively reach out for God, you’ll find him. It might not be obvious or dramatic, but the more you practice relying on God and listening to God, the clearer God’s presence will become in your life. But you need to reach out.

The next step in evangelizing like Philip is to open your ears and your eyes and your heart so you can see where God is leading you. Keep doing the things you do: go to work, spend time with friends and family, play golf. As you do all your normal things, pay attention. Who is hurting? Who seems to need some hope? What do your friends worry about? Is one of your coworkers going through a hard time?

As you pay attention, make yourself available to the people God puts in your path. Be open to them. Allow yourself to feel with them. Listen to what they say and listen to how God prompts you to respond. Trust God to lead you and say what you feel your heart leading you to say. Usually you’ll listen more than you will talk. People in pain first need to know someone is listening to them and cares about them.

Sometimes it will feel right to share a word of faith; a simple phrase of God’s truth can be a beam of hope for them that will guide them to the next step. Often people need to hear something like: You are not alone. God hasn’t given up on you. God cares about you. God loves you.

Give a word of hope. Give it honestly and then listen. Sometimes a simple phrase about God’s love unleashes a flood of doubt, or grief, or hurt, or longing. Be ready to hear uncomfortable things. Listen to them, patiently, lovingly. Don’t listen like you’re waiting to respond; listen to really hear what the person is saying. Listen for the words and the meaning behind the words. Let them know you are listening.

Don’t feel like you have to defend God. God needs you to bear witness to his love, but he doesn’t need you to defend him. If people are angry at God, that is OK. God can take it; you don’t need to talk them out of it. Often people have been hurt by church or by religious people. What they need from you is an example of someone who is reasonable, who is kind and loving and gentle, and who believes in God.

Your job as an evangelist is to open the door, to plant a seed, to welcome a conversation. Maybe the conversation you have with this person will present an opportunity to tell the story of Jesus. Listen to your heart on that one, but expect to be afraid too. It’s scary to share your faith, but if you’re gentle, you’re not going to hurt anyone, so push through the fear if you feel like sharing is right.

As you tell the story of Jesus take a hint from Philip: start where you already are. Philip and the eunuch had been reading a passage in Isaiah about the suffering servant being led to the slaughter, so the logical place to start for him was with prophets and Christ’s suffering. Maybe your conversation has been about suffering: then the cross makes sense as a place to start. Maybe your conversation starts with their problems with “organized religion.” In that case it might make more sense to start with Jesus having trouble with organized religion as well.

Wherever you start, keep it simple and short. Don’t launch into a long monologue. Tell the story of Jesus simply, in a way that will make sense to the person you’re talking with. Then finish talking so you can listen again. Maybe they’ll have questions. Maybe they’ll want to talk about something else instead. That’s OK too. Follow your heart, follow the conversation and keep an open mind.

We’re going to take a few minutes and practice this. First, take 2 minutes to think about how you want to tell the story of Jesus. I’ll let you know when your time is up, then you’ll have one minute to tell the story of Jesus to your neighbor, and then you’ll switch. You don’t have to “get it right.” We’re just practicing. The most important thing you can do is tell the story in your words. The person you’re talking to doesn’t need a text book answer, they need to know why you find Jesus compelling. Relax; be yourself. Ready to start preparing? Go.
OK, now the person closer to the sanctuary, you’ll go first, go.
Switch. Time’s up.

What did that feel like? What was it like to try to tell the story of Jesus?

When we think about evangelism sometimes we think about conversion as the goal. Really, the job of an evangelist is to plant seeds. You are a witness; you’re not a prosecutor or a defense attorney. You’re definitely not judge or jury. You are a witness to God’s love in your life. All you have to do is offer you’re story. You also want to pay close attention to the person you’re talking about. This is an invitation, not an attack; if they don’t want to hear this from you now, it’s probably not the right time to share.

You don’t have to lead them to Christ. Most of all be loving; be open to what the person is saying and listen to what your heart guides you to say. The Spirit speaks in our heart and leads us if we’re open to it.

The last step in evangelizing like Philip echoes the other steps: relax, and don’t feel like you need to control things. Philip has been faithful in this conversation. He asked a question, listened to the eunuch, and when there was an opportunity to share, he told the story of Jesus starting with the passage the eunuch had just read to make it easy to understand. They had this beautiful conversation that led to the eunuch believing in Jesus and being baptized. Philip might have wanted to stay with the eunuch all day, to teach him all about the Bible and the new faith they now shared, but God had other plans. The Spirit took Philip away. Instead of being upset, the eunuch rejoices in getting to know God, and Philip is ready for whatever God has next for him.

Every day you have an opportunity to minister to people I will probably never meet. If you live like a Christian, they will see that. If you pay attention, you will find opportunities to share your faith. And as you share your faith you will grow. Open your ears; open your heart, and share.

Thanks be to God.

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