Living With a Contagious Story

Living With a Contagious Story

Acts 26:12-19

August 4, 2019

From the moment we were conceived, we have had a story.

The earliest parts of our story were dictated to us by our birth parents.  Things like our physical characteristics, whether we were loved, or were taught to love of God.

So there are parts of our story that we had nothing to do with.

Then there are those parts of every story where we begin to take control of our own lives, and our own decisions begin to affect who we are and who we are going to become.  That happens at different ages for different people.

We can’t change whether God was spoken about in our homes as a reality to be trusted and loved or as a God to be ignored and rejected.

At some point, we decide whether the God of the scriptures is our God.

We must begin to decide whether the God who scooped up a handful of clay and shaped us into human beings and breathed into us the breath of life is our God.

We must decide if the God who led the children of Israel out of Egypt under the leadership of Moses, through the Red Sea and into the Promised Land, is our God.

Is the God who came to the Virgin Mary and told her that she was with child, the promised Savior of the World, is our God.

We must decide if Jesus, miracle worker, crucified Jew from Nazareth, a man raised from the dead on the third day, and ascended into heaven forty days later, is our God.

We must decide whether this God who promised to live in us through the presence of the Holy Spirit, will be a part of our story?

If you profess a relationship with this God through Jesus, you have a story to tell of how God has changed you and set you on a path to heaven.

How that happens is different for every person and that’s why you have a story to tell if you have a relationship with Jesus.

Acts 26 tells us how it happened to Paul from his perspective as he tells his story to King Agrippa.

Before meeting Jesus, Paul was known as Saul.  He was convinced that he was doing what God wanted him to do, rounding up followers of Jesus and putting them in prison or seeing that some were put to death.

Saul believed in God.  Saul just believed the wrong things about God.  Saul was very religious.

As Paul tells his story, we learn that religion will not save you and that there are many things taught and done in the name of religion that is wrong and contrary to the nature and character of Jesus.

When our ancestors used the Bible to defend slavery, they were wrong about what the Bible taught and many sickening things were done in the name of God.

Any time a person uses their religion, whether they claim to be Christian, Muslim, Jewish, or any other religion, to promote hate, our Lord is grieved.  It’s very likely that if you study the heart of that person’s religion, you will discover that they have profaned the teachings of their faith because hate is not at the heart of most religions.

Nevertheless, I don’t want to introduce people to a religion.

Religions are a dime a dozen. There’s good in most of them, but all of them eventually lose sight of Jesus in what they teach.  When that happens, we are moving away from God and not closer to God.

Too many people are looking for religion when they ought to be looking for Jesus.

Too many people are looking for a psychological pick-me-up when they ought to be looking for Jesus.

Too many people are looking for a certain kind of program, style of music,  or coffee club when they ought to be looking for Jesus.

Saul was sure he was on the right road.  He had religion, but he didn’t have Jesus.

That changed when a bright light blinded him on his way to Damascus from Jerusalem.  He heard a voice that he immediately understood to be the voice of God.

“Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?”

That day Saul’s life changed.

He was telling this story to King Agrippa. It didn’t seem to matter to him that he was in trouble with Roman authorities.  He wasn’t pleading with King Agrippa for his release.  But that really wasn’t his primary agenda.  He was using his time before the king to tell his story because he wanted King Agrippa to come to know Jesus.

Once Paul was finished with his story, King Agrippa said to Paul, “Do you think in such a short period of time you can persuade me to be a Christian?”

Paul replied, “Short time or long—I pray to God that not only you but all who are listening to me today may become what I am, except for these chains.” (Acts 26:28-29)

Paul was a sinner saved by grace. That’s all any of us ever are.

After Paul became a Christian, his passion shifted from persecuting the church to sharing his story.

When Paul said, “I want you to become as I am, except for these chains.”  Paul knew that if God could forgive him for what he had done, God could forgive anyone.  A good witness knows that there is power in a compelling story.  Our job is to share our story.   We are to leave the results in the hands of those who hear it and to the Holy Spirit.

Every person has the potential to change.   You never who is receptive to the love of God. You never know how God has been working in another person’s life.   Your story might make a difference in helping someone cross the line of faith.

People change because there is power in the convicting Spirit of God.  The sharing of our personal story with other people is one of the ways God uses us to help set that in motion.

The Bible says in 1 Peter 3:15: “But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, 16 keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.” I Peter 3:15-16 (NIV)

When we talk about what Jesus has done for us, we must tell our story without judging other people.  Our story doesn’t have to dramatic to be effective.  Our story is what it is.  No one can tell your story with as much passion and with as much conviction as you.

Just say what the Lord means to you.  How did God become real to you?  How does God continue to lead and guide you?

Take the story of a young woman named Maggie.

She turned against God and the church after she was abused as a child at the hands of people who claimed to be Christians.  Listen to her story.

“The Christianity I grew up with was so confusing to me even as a child. People said one thing but did another. They appeared very spiritual in public but were abusive in private. What they said and what they did never fit. There was such a discrepancy. I came to hate Christianity and did not want to be associated with a church.”

http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:mg0-TwTuLa4J:www.thecrazyaustralian.com/“you-represent-jesus-to-me”/+When+I+came+to+the+church+and+to+my+small+group,+I+needed+gentleness.+I+needed+to+be+able+to+ask+any+question.+I+needed+to+have+my+questions+taken+seriously.+I+needed+to+be+treated+with+respect+and+validated.+Most+of+all+I+needed+to+see+people+whose+actions+match+what+they+say.+I+am+not+looking+for&cd=1&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=us

Surprisingly, Maggie did not give up, and she found a church and a small group that helped her deal with the issues she was facing.

She writes, “When I came to the church and my small group, I needed gentleness. I needed to be able to ask any question. I needed to have my questions taken seriously. I needed to be treated with respect and validated. Most of all, I needed to see people whose actions match what they say.   I am not looking for perfection, but I am looking for real. ‘Integrity’ is the word that comes to mind. I need to hear real people talk about real life, and I need to know if God is—or can be—a part of real life. Does he care about the wounds I have? Does he care I need a place to live? Can I ever be a whole, healthy person? I have asked questions like these. And I have not been laughed at or ignored or invalidated. I have not been pushed or pressured in any way.” (Ibid)

She added: “I don’t understand the caring I’ve received. I don’t understand that the leaders don’t seem afraid of questions. They don’t say things like, ‘You just have to have faith,’ or “You need to pray more.’ They don’t seem to be afraid to tell who they are. They just seem genuine.” (Ibid

Then Maggie shared this poem.

Do you know/ do you understand/

that you represent Jesus to me?

Do you know/ do you understand/

that when you treat me with gentleness/

it raises the question in my mind/

that maybe he is gentle, too?

Maybe he isn’t someone/

who laughs when I am hurt.

Do you know/

do you understand/

that when you listen to my questions/

and you  don’t laugh/

that I think, “What if Jesus is interested in me too?”

Do you know/

do you understand/

that when I hear you talk honestly/

about arguments and conflict and scars from your past/

that I think, “Maybe I am just a regular person/

instead of a bad, no-good little girl who deserves abuse?”

If you care, then I think maybe he cares/

and then there’s this flame of hope that burns inside of me/

and for a while I am afraid to breathe/

because it might go out.

Do you know/

do you understand/

that your words are his words/

that your face is his face/

to someone like me?

Please—be who you say you are!

Please, God, don’t let this be another trick.

Please let this be real this time.

Please.

Do you know/

do you understand/

that you represent Jesus to me? (Ibid)

About a week after writing this, this young woman crossed the line of faith and gave her heart to Christ.

Her pastor asked her what made the difference.

She said, “Well, I just met a whole bunch of people who were like Jesus to me.” (Ibid)

The beautiful thing about Maggie’s story is that she crossed the line of faith because she of the influences of other people whose faith was genuine and authentic.

Her story could have been tragically different if she had met another group of Christians who said one thing but lived their lives differently.

What is your story?  God isn’t finished with any of us yet.  But as a part of your story, you might not yet have surrendered your life to Jesus.   You might not be able to say, “I’m a sinner saved by grace.”

If you would like to receive Christ and know that you are saved by grace, I’d be honored to help you pray that prayer.

If you can say that you are saved by God’s grace, and have never shared that publicly, perhaps you’d like to do that today, and follow it up with believer’s baptism.   I will gladly receive you this morning on behalf of First Baptist Church. Just come forward and share this with me, and I will share it with the church.

Perhaps you become a professing believer as one point but are just not living a life of integrity or commitment, so the story your life is not one that you are pleased with right now.   So starting today, why not write a new chapter?

Begin this day, forgiven, and resolved to live a different way.  With the grace of God as your cover, allow God’s story to interweave with your own. In time,  your story will be compelling as others see what God is doing in you and through you.

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