Being a part of God’s family should be a powerful force in our life. A loving and honest community is where real belonging and, therefore, real transformation happens. We must be quick to share the testimony of God’s grace in our lives, even when it’s not easy.
This message is based on Acts 1:3-8. To read now, click here.
Today, we’re starting a new series called Stories. This series really builds on the last series. Last month we learned about the importance of fellowship and being a community of like believing people, and that it’s in the context of this loving and honest community is where real belonging, and therefore, real transformation, happens. In the next four weeks, we’re going to see the importance of living authentically with each other by sharing our stories – the true testimony of who we are and who God is for us.
One of the goals of this series is to have you think about your testimony – your story, and to get a little more comfortable sharing your story. What is your story? What has Christ done for you? What difference has Christ made in your life? We’ll get into this a little bit later, how to actually put your story together, but it’s important to think about your story and be willing to share your story.
In our reading this morning, just before Jesus’ ascension into heaven – He’s been crucified, He died on the cross, was resurrected and spent about 40 days with His disciples, and then He was taken up into heaven. His parting words to His followers were, “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and in Samaria and to the ends of the earth.” That’s us folks, we are His witnesses! What’s a witness? Have you ever been in a courtroom? Or even seen one on TV? Then you know what a witness is.
A witness just testifies to what they saw. “This is what I saw... This is what happened to me…” And that’s what’s expected of us. When we share our faith, we don’t have to be experts in evangelism, you just have to share with others what God has done in your life. Nobody else can be a witness for you. Because God has worked in you and for you in ways that He hasn’t done for me – we’re all unique. I don’t have the same experiences as you. I’ve seen God do some pretty amazing things in my life, but they’re not the same things He’s done in your life. And our story, our testimony, is just a story about what we’ve seen, what God has done in our life. A witness just shares what they’ve seen. You don’t have to be a biblical expert, you aren’t sharing what God did 2000 years ago – you just share what God’s done for you. People will argue what the bible says, but they can’t argue what happened to you.
Okay, where are we supposed to do that? He says “In Jerusalem and in Judea and in Samaria and in the ends of the earth.” When Jesus said this to His followers, where were they? They were in Jerusalem. So He’s saying we should start where we are. For you and me, that means we start in the Valley, in Waverly, Sayre and Athens – that’s our Jerusalem…
Then He says I want you to go to Judea and Samaria. That’s like the neighboring region – maybe like Towanda, Elmira, or Binghamton. But beyond that, the Samaritans were different culturally and racially. So the Samaritan’s were people who lived nearby, but they were different than the early disciples, not the people they might normally talk to. Talk to people different than yourselves. Then, just in case He left anybody out, He said, “to the ends of the earth.” That’s everybody.
Here’s the amazing part. And it’s important that we all understand this. Jesus started this mission when He came to earth. But He chose us – you and me – to complete it. His followers are to tell the good news. That’s His plan. And there’s no plan B. He says, “I want you to complete the mission.” And here’s something else that’s true – the Church depends on it. The Church grows when we’re faithful to that mission, and it dies when we aren’t.
So it’s a mission God gave us, and it’s so vitally important the church depends on it. So how do we do it? How do we fulfill the mission? Three ways…
1. I must share with those in my world.
Share with those in your world. In Luke 8 we see the story of when Jesus comes across a demon possessed man, and Jesus heals him by driving out the demons into a heard of pigs. The man begged Jesus to be able to follow Him, to travel with him, but Jesus said, “No, I want you to go back home.” Luke 8:39 reads, “‘Return home and tell how much God has done for you.’ So the man went away and told all over town how much Jesus had done for him.”
That’s what it means to be a witness. Tell what Jesus did for you. Tell your friends, your relatives, your neighbors, tell everybody around you. This is where your mission starts. Start where you are. Start with the people closest to you. The people you see regularly.
We see one way to do this in 1 Peter 3:15, “Always be prepared with an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope you have.” The world needs hope. Our faith in Jesus assures us that even though it’s hard, that God is still in control, that God still has a plan. We have hope because we know it’s not hopeless. God give us hope.
But why don’t we do that? We’re around people all of the time, yet we don’t tell them the good news. Why not? I think it’s because we believe a lie. We don’t think people are interested in spiritual matters. But I think that’s a lie. Every major poll and survey taken in the last ten or twenty years, shows that American interest in spiritual issues is going up – not down. Not everybody is interested, that’s true, but more people are interested in Spiritual things now than just twenty years ago. All the things happening in the world today are making people think.
A recent poll by George Gallup found that 65 million Americans have no church home. But 34 million of those said, “I would go to church if somebody invited me.” That’s thirty-four million Americans that are just waiting for an invitation. My guess is that you might know some of these folks. They might be your friends, your neighbors, maybe even your relatives.
And here’s something else that might surprise you: Teenagers are interested in Spiritual matters, too. A Gallup survey discovered that teenagers would rather talk about God and spirituality than sex, drugs or even music. Many of them haven’t been taught about God, so their thoughts about spirituality may be way out there. But they’re thinking about it. They just don’t know God.
Opportunities for you to share the good news are all around you. People want to hear about what God’s done for you, what being a believer has meant to you, and how your faith has helped you get through some of the stuff their dealing with every day. You just have to be ready for them and take advantage when an opportunity presents itself.
In the book, Purpose Driven Life, Rick Warren talks about a manicurist that when she has a captive audience a foot and a half away from her she tells them about her story. He talks about an eye doctor who put the four spiritual laws on an eye chart in his office. “Read that first line: God loves you and has a plan for your life.” He mentioned a wallpaper hanger, quite a good one. When he finishes his job he says, Now that you’ve seen my side job. Let me take five minutes and tell you about my real job.” And he shares his story. And he shared about a deputy sheriff who’s a member of Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church today because he stopped a member of the church to give them a ticket and they shared their story.
There are opportunities all around you. You have to start by sharing your story with those in your world. But that’s not enough. I must not only share with those in my world.
2. I must dare to reach beyond my world.
We have to break out of our comfort zone and dare to reach people with different backgrounds. This is our Samaria and Judea. This mission is so important and it has eternal consequences – heaven or hell – so we have to do everything possible to get the message out. That means getting out of our comfort zone to share our story with other people and pass it on.
Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 9:22, “I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some.” That means that whatever a person is like he tried to find common ground so he could tell him about what Jesus had done for him. We can’t just tell our stories to people just like us. We need to reach out in love. How do we do this?
In Galatians 2:6, Paul says “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” What is Christ’s law? It’s to love your neighbor as yourself. How do you do that? He says, reach out to those who are oppressed, help others with their burdens.
If you read the Bible you’ll find Jesus was often hanging out with the outcasts of society, the people everybody else wanted to ignore.James wrote in 1:27, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress…” Jesus cared about the aged, the orphans, the mentally ill.He went to people who had leprosy, who were rejected by society.If Jesus were here on earth today He would be helping the people that most of us want to forget.He would be with those who are hurting the most in our world.Those that our culture wants to ignore.
Jesus is here today!Jesus is in you.Jesus works through you.You are the hands and feet of Jesus.So you need to reach out to those suffering.You need to be with those society rejects.Those that don’t measure up.Those who are down on their luck.You can help them up.To fulfill my mission – the one that God has given me – I have to start at home, then I must dare to reach beyond my world.But there’s one more step…
3. I must care about the whole world.
Because God cares about the whole world. That involves praying for it. Helping in any way. God cares about the whole world. He died for the whole world. You might say, “I can’t change the whole world!” But you might be able to change the whole world for one person.
Mark 16:15 says, “He said to them, ‘Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation.’” He said this to His followers. He didn’t say this to missionaries. He didn’t say this to pastors. He said it to His followers. Are you a follower of Jesus Christ? Then God has asked you to care about the whole world.
We can’t all be missionaries, but maybe we can all support missionaries. We can’t all travel around the world, but we can support those that do. We can find unique ways to show our support for a persecuted church around the world, we can find additional ways to reach out beyond our borders to support those who are there, we can pray like never before for the work that’s going on around the world.
Some of you know I have an internet blog, Thoughts From Pastor Steve – a couple of you have my articles emailed to you. In the time I’ve been posting to this blog, I’ve had about 31,000 pageviews to my blog. The neat thing about that is that only about a third of them are from people in the US, a little over 12,000. But I’ve had almost 2,300 from Russia, 1,000 each from India and Germany, 900 visits from France, 700 from the Netherlands, and around 500 each from the UK, the Philippines, the Ukraine, and Canada. I’ve been able to reach all over the world! The internet is a tool we can use to reach to the ends of the earth!
God has given you a mission to tell others your story, what Jesus has done for you. You have four possible responses to that mission. Moses said, “Who me?” Jonah said, “Not me!” Habakkuk said, “Why me?” Isaiah said, “Send me.” What will you say? Rick Warren has said in the book that the most dangerous prayer a Christian can pray is this, “God, use me.” Can you pray that today? Can you pray with me, God use me?