I don’t know about YOUR mother, but my mother gave frequent lectures about sharing when I was growing up. Maybe if my brother and I had been better about doing it, Mom wouldn’t have felt the need to remind us as much. As the oldest son, and my only sibling five years younger, Mom repeatedly reminded me that I had to set an example for my younger brother to follow. Every single time I stepped out of line and got caught, she would say, “What kind of example are you setting for your brother?” And one of the best ways I could provide a good example, according to Mom, was by sharing.
We already shared the same bedroom. After spending the first few years of my life with no one to play with, I was glad to have a brother to share a room with. Until I became a teenager, of course. Then I needed my space, needed room to assert myself, and discover my individuality.
I do have a lot of happy memories of those “sharing times” with my brother. What I remember most is that the sharing was best when I played with my brother as if I were his age, and not the other way around. When I tried to make him be like me, the sharing still happened, but something was missing. He would get frustrated and want to do his own thing.
Sometimes that’s what happens when we try to share our faith, isn’t it? We muster up the courage to share our story of what Christ has done in our life, but then for some reason nothing seems to come of it. At least nothing we can see right away, anyhow. It all seems to fall flat.
Let’s be honest – it’s tough to talk about faith issues outside the setting of the church or among those who have joined us on the same spiritual journey. We don’t want to come on too strong to other people. That is certainly understandable. We don’t want to overwhelm them and turn them off. And we don’t want to be regarded as some kind of religious obsessive, the office “Jesus Freak”.
Some years ago, William F. Buckley Jr. noted that you may be able to mention religion at a fancy dinner party once, but if you bring up the subject twice in one evening, your name won’t be on the guest list for the next big shindig! Sharing our faith is difficult sometimes. Communication can be a complicated process.
But the fact of the matter is that this faith of ours is a faith that has been historically articulated through words. Long before the Bible existed in written form, it was passed on through oral tradition, the telling of the stories of faith from generation to generation. And even after the Bible came to exist in written form, Christians had to encourage one another to study the sacred scriptures in order to be able to address issues from a Christian point of view. But how, in a world that is often negative toward and misinformed about religion, do we speak? What do we say in order to share our faith effectively?
Through the years I have had several bad experiences with evangelism. Evangelism is the proper word for the sharing of one’s faith story. As a young man, long, manipulative “altar calls” turned me off. Annoying preachers on street corners yelling at drivers passing by seemed a bit much. Taking advantage of those who are grieving the loss of a loved one by turning a funeral service in to a revival meeting was embarrassing. These things are anathema to me and represent what I consider a mischaracterization of what the Church of Jesus Christ is supposed to be about.
In time, however, I came to realize that evangelism is not a dirty word – encouraging people to follow Christ, sharing our faith – is at the heart of the Christian proclamation. The question is how do we do it with integrity and in the right way that truly represents the spirit of Christ and opens the person to consider the Christian gospel.
Leslie Weatherhead, the noted English pastor and psychologist, told about a young, brilliant doctor he met in London who was making a number of experiments in a laboratory that was attached to the university. The doctor was doing cancer research and his work was supported by some of the most distinguished scientists in London. Weatherhead said he watched the young man work in a small, ill-ventilated room in the basement of the university. The doctor told Weatherhead that if these experiments turned out as successfully as he had every right to hope they would, then he would have a new way of treating this particular cancer with some hope of recovery. Weatherhead asked him, “What will you then do?” With a glow on his face, with enthusiasm in his voice, and a shining gleam in his eye he exclaimed, “I shall tell the world!”
We come to worship with great expectations. With a glow on our faces, enthusiasm in our voices, and a shining gleam in our eyes, we too have made a discovery. Jesus Christ is Lord and he is among his people. Christ has come to set the captive free. We really do have a story to tell the nations! We are compelled to tell the world, to share our discovery, and to pass it on. But why is that such a difficult undertaking and daunting task? Why do we prefer to keep it to ourselves?
This coming Sunday, as I continue my current sermon series “The Reasons I Believe: A Sober Defense of the Christian Faith”, I will be preaching a message I have entitled “Sharing Your Faith, Without Losing Your Friends.” In this special message I will share with you some pitfalls and challenges to be aware of in the hope that it will empower all of us to talk about the work of God’s grace in our own lives with those we love and treasure more effectively. After much struggle with this issue, I have come to realize that there is a way we can all communicate the deep truths of the Christian message that represent Jesus as I think he would like to be represented. I continue to believe that Christian truth can change the world because it has changed you and me. And for that reason we must share it!
A little girl was riding along on her bike when she bumped her head on the low hanging branch of a tree. She ran into the house hollering, “Mom! Mom, Joey hurt me!” Mom looked up from what she was doing and said, “Sissy, Joey didn’t hurt you. Joey’s not even here. He went to the grocery store with your daddy.”
The little girl got this startled look on her face. Then in a bewildered sort of voice she said, “Whoa! You mean stuff like this can happen on its own? What a bummer!”
It’s hard to face up to the fact that life doesn’t always make sense. Bad things happen for no good reason. We might be able to blame somebody for some part of our suffering—a drunk driver, a careless worker, a crazed killer—but we’re still left without answers that make any sense: Why me? Why my loved one? Why now?
Suffering has always been one of the hardest tests for faith to withstand. Much of the Bible is about how faith is challenged by suffering, as well as how suffering is altered by faith.
I want to remind you that the Holy Season of Lent is almost upon us. March 6 is Ash Wednesday and marks the beginning of the Lenten journey toward Easter. Lent is the Season of the Liturgical Church Year that brings suffering to the forefront. Beginning on Ash Wednesday with the imposition of that little smudge of ashes in the shape of a cross on our forehead, ashes that come from this past year’s branches from Palm Sunday, we move, week by week, closer to the Crucifixion of Christ. Lent culminates on Good Friday – good for us, but an awful experience of suffering for Jesus.
This will be our first Lent in the new sanctuary and I trust that you will mark your calendar for Wednesday evening March 6 at 7:00 p.m. and join me for the commencement of the most holy season in the life of the church. The Chancel Choir has been working on some remarkable music to capture the spirit of the season, and I will be sharing a special Ash Wednesday message titled “The Ash Heap of History.” On a personal note, one of the most moving things for me to do as a pastor is to impose the ashes on the foreheads of those who come to worship. This prepares me for the glories of Easter so profoundly that my words cannot express it. I treasure the honor of having the opportunity to invite you to observe a holy Lent with me. I look forward to seeing you, your friends, and your family there.
As always, it is a privilege to serve as your Senior Pastor and I can’t wait to see you in church this coming Sunday!
P.S. I’ve asked Chef Bill Marcie to create a special Ash Wednesday meal to precede the service at 7:00 p.m. and Chicken Parmesan is on the menu. Dinner will be served from 5:00 to 6:30 p.m. in Asbury’s gym. If you have not been to Wednesday Night Fellowship Dinner or had Chef Bill’s scratch-made cuisine, I encourage you to attend and enjoy a meal with your Asbury church family. You can RSVP here: https://myasbury.ccbchurch.com/goto/forms/579/responses/new.