connection

Connecting Your Story with God's Story

Photo by  Phil Coffman  on  Unsplash

Photo by Phil Coffman on Unsplash

I heard many dramatic testimonies of God's work when I was a young believer. It was the early days of the Jesus People Movement, an exciting, dynamic time.

Story after story recounted how God set people free from dark deeds and lost lives. Each time I heard these stories, my own life story paled in comparison.

I wondered if my story had much value.

How about you? Have you ever wondered if you have much of a Christian testimony?

The tale of the Christian testimony

I wasn't raised in an evangelical Christian home, but I did have a belief in God. I went through confirmation classes in an Episcopal church but soon questioned the church and Christiin general.

As the 60's rolled in, I rolled with them. But still, I was never in a gang, nor strung out on heroin, and never went to jail. In short, my life before following Jesus wasn't dramatic or sensational.

Don't get me wrong, I was no saint, and my life was not exemplary of any virtues. But my pre-Jesus life wouldn't be featured in magazines or on any talk shows.

Your life story doesn't have to be dramatic or exciting to be worth sharing

The value of our life story

I've thought about this over the years. My four children grew up in church—from the nursery to youth group. They don't have exciting testimonies. Neither does my wife and I, but we all have valuable life stories.

It's time to put aside stereotypes and unnecessary expectations when it comes to sharing our life stories. It doesn't have to be dramatic, nor difficult.

Each person's life story has value because each person has value. You and I have value in other people's lives, and that's not just positive spin.

Ok, so you're not an evangelist nor a rock star. Neither am I. But how your life story connects with God's story is worth hearing. It's real and genuine because it's true.

Each person's life story has value. It's real and genuine, because it's true.

Connected stories

So, how can you share your life story so it connects with God's story, to connect others with Him?

Here's some simple guidance to do this—

God's story

Look for stories in the Bible you can relate to and that resonate with your own life. They could be in the Old or New Testament, a parable, or part of a larger story.

It's helpful when stories have an element of redemption in them.

Then, learn these stories by heart and in your own words (IYOW). These biblical stories should flow out of your heart in a natural way.

Your story

Keep it short and simple. You can always share more details when people ask for them. Going on and on with details turns people off, and shuts down discussion.

Keep your life story short and simple. You don't need to be the center of attention.

Write out a brief outline, reduce it down, and focus on how you started following Jesus.

Here's a guide to help you— Guidelines-LifeStory

Life story of other people

You need to ask people for their life story. Then, you need to listen, really listen.

We can be so focused on what we want to say that we ignore the person instead of connecting with them. Listening well is important!

People will share their story, and be open to hearing ours when they know we care about them.

People will be open to hear our life story when they know we care about them.

When we gain people's respect and trust we can share God's story with them.

How to connect

  • Pay attention to who you come in contact with in daily life
  • Consider people with whom you have some influence in everyday life
  • Be attentive to what's going on in other people's lives
  • Be considerate and compassionate with others
  • Look for an opportunity to connect God's story to another person's story
  • When you've made a connection it opens the door to share your story
  • Let God make the connection by His Spirit—don't force it!

What's your experience in sharing God's story and your story with others?


When you do make a connection with someone and want to share your story of faith and the gospel with them—remember to explain Christian terms and Bible verses in your own words (IYOW)! Here are a couple of posts related to how and why to do that—

IYOW—a Useful Acronym

The Illusion of Obscure Language

Back on Track Again—Restoration and Correction

unsplash_DmitriiVaccinium.jpg

unsplash_DmitriiVaccinium.jpg

Every life has its ups and downs, twists and turns, and unexpected changes. How we handle these situations has a lot to do with our character and personality, our upbringing and background, and even our temperament.

One of the wisest men in the world, King Solomon of ancient Israel, concluded—

“Meaningless! Meaningless!” says the Teacher. “Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.” (Eccl 1:2 NIV)

But he realized—

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens... (Eccl 3:1 NIV)

It's impossible to predict with accuracy what the outcome will be in the events of our life. No one can see that far down the line except God and He keeps us in suspense for our own good.

None of us know for certain how we'll react given a set of circumstances. This is one reason we need redemption. A reconciliation that brings restoration. But God's restoration often includes correction to get us back on track with Him.

An accurate prediction

A recurring problem among the apostles—the 12 specially chosen disciples—was an argument over who was the greatest. This is a universal human argument—who's king of the hill?

But Peter was the point man of the twelve, so Jesus expected more of him.

Jesus knew Judas, one of the twelve, would betray Him and warned all His followers about this. He told Peter that the devil would test him in a great way but he was to "strengthen your brothers" after this took place (Luke 22:31-32).

As typical, Peter protested any thought of weakness in himself and boasted he would never deny the Lord even if all the rest deserted Jesus.

“Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death.” (Luke 22:33 NIV)

That's you and me. We tend to think of ourselves as the exception to the rule that puts us in the best light.

Then Jesus told Peter something he couldn't imagine happening—

“I tell you, Peter, before the rooster crows today, you will deny three times that you know me.” Luke 22:34 (NIV)

False confidence

Peter's claim turned out to be an empty boast based on false confidence in himself.

As the story unfolds, Jesus is arrested by a mob carrying torches and the once bold disciples ran for their lives. They abandon the one whom they claimed they would follow anywhere no matter the cost.

Peter tries to stay close to where Jesus is held by the Jewish leaders' council but hangs back in an attempt at stealth. His identity is uncovered, first by a servant girl, then by two others who recognize him and his Galilean accent (Luke 22:54-59).

Each time, Peter denies he knows the Lord with increasingly strong words. After the third time, the rooster crows to signal the coming dawn. But for Peter, it's a dark night of the soul.

The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word the Lord had spoken to him: “Before the rooster crows today, you will disown me three times.”
And he went outside and wept bitterly. (Luke 22:61-62 NIV)

The Lord's prediction of Peter's three denials pierces his heart with a loving look from Jesus. How far Peter had fallen in his own estimation of himself!

Peter couldn't meet his own expectations, let alone fulfill the Lord's calling on His life.

But all was not lost. And yet, Peter needed to realize his inability to follow the Lord or fulfill His call on Peter's life by his own effort and strength.

Restoration

As mentioned last week, Jesus restored Peter after his three denials by one question repeated three times. The whole story is found in John 21:1-22 and is worth the read.

Here's a condensed version for the sake of a shorter post.

Reversion

Following the Lord's death and resurrection, Jesus appeared to His followers to reaffirm all He taught. He was teaching them to walk by faith, guided by the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:2-3).

But things were different now. Jesus was no longer with them in person or so they thought. So, Peter reverted to his livelihood before Jesus called him. He went fishing.

After fishing all night and catching nothing, Jesus appears on the lake shore but they don't realize it's Him. He calls out to them—

“Friends, haven’t you caught any fish?” They answered him, “No, we haven’t.” He told them, “Throw the net out on the right side of the boat, and you’ll catch some.”
So they threw the net out and were unable to pull it in because so many fish were in it. (John 21:5-6 GW)

Just as when Jesus called Peter to follow Him (Luke 5:1-11), a miraculous catch of fish revealed who stood on the shore. Peter responds in his usual impulsive way. He jumps in the water and swims to shore.

Breakfast on the beach

Jesus waits on the shore with fish grilling over burning coals and a loaf of bread. He invites them to eat breakfast and encourages them to add their fish to the grill.

None of the disciples ask Jesus if it's Him. They knew it it was He in their hearts.

Just as when Jesus fed 5000 people, Jesus gave them fish and bread to eat. This was the third time Jesus appeared to them following His resurrection.

All of this sets the table for Jesus to restore Peter but in an expected way.

Do you love Me?

Jesus asks Peter the same question three times, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than the other disciples do?” (John 21:15-17 GW)

Each time Peter affirms his love for the Lord but he's grieved that the Lord asks Him three times. Each time the Lord gives Peter a strong exhortation—

"Feed my lambs... Take care of my sheep... Feed my sheep!"

Jesus was restoring Peter after the three denials but He also reaffirmed His call on Peter's life.

This happens a lot. God restores and corrects us at the same time.

We want the restoration but the correction hurts our fragile ego. This is proven out in Peter's case as the story continues.

Follow Me!

Once the three-question restoration and correction process is finished, Jesus tells Peter that his life is not going to end as he chooses. But the Lord's admonition is the same as at the beginning—"Follow Me!"

Again, Peter reacts! He looks to his fellow disciple John and wants to know what will happen with his life. But again, Jesus corrects Him. Make that rebukes him—"...what is that to you? You must follow me.”

This last part of the story illustrates our selfish human nature. We want to know how God deals with everyone else when it's different than what the Lord expects of us.

Why does he or she get to do such and such or not have to do the same as me?

This is where following Jesus requires us to commit our lives to Him and Him alone. Following Jesus is a personal commitment to Him, not a set of beliefs to hold or rules for life.

God's restoration connected to correction

In his well-known Psalm 23, David says of the Lord, "He restores my soul" (Ps 23:3). King David, a man after God's own heart, understood the need for correction and restoration.

David experienced God's correction and restoration after his adulterous encounter with Bathsheba. After, he had Bathsheba's husband Uriah murdered. God's correction was connected to God's restoration of David.

God's restoration isn't just a removal of guilt. When Jesus restores us, He enables us to move forward in life by faith to follow Him. He sets things in order in our life as we follow Him by faith.

Jesus is the One who restores us but we need to trust Him to do this and submit to His leadership in our lives.

This includes His correction to get us back on track with His call on our life.

How are things between you and Jesus?

Are you on track with His call on your life to follow Him?


Here's a link to a message I preached related to this post— Back on Track

An Unknown God—part 2

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unsplash_RPelati

Formulaic ways of presenting the gospel—the message of God's redemption of humanity—have been developed and taught to many eager evangelists. But I wonder how many times someone, prepped with an evangelistic formula, shares the gospel only to meet with disappointment and rejection? I know I've experienced this on both sides of the gospel—hearing it and sharing it. 

As a young man lost in my own spiritual search, two clean-cut college guys approached me at the beach to share the gospel with the four spiritual laws, telling me I could be a Christian and still own a sports car. Their approach was far off the mark for me. I experienced several other off-target attempts as I've shared before.

As with so many things in life, we can set ourselves up for disappointment with unrealistic expectations. Formulas and approaches go along with our penchant for results. But more and more I want to equip people with the story and heart of the gospel. Reading through all four gospels and the book of Acts it's hard to find any set methodology.

A city full of idols

As mentioned last week, when the apostle Paul arrived in Athens he saw a city filled with idols (Acts 17:16). This disturbed him but he still went to the Jewish synagogue to share the gospel, as he had done in other cities and regions.

He also went into the public market area to preach among those who were not Jewish (Gentiles). While engaging in discussions with those in the marketplace, he was questioned about what he taught, since it seemed so foreign to them.

Some philosophers wanted to hear more about this Jesus he spoke of and about the resurrection, so he was invited to Mars Hill (the Areopagus), the city court where much debate took place (Acts 17:17-21).

Paul's message to the Athenians

Paul realized the gospel he preached in the synagogue was foreign or strange to the ears of these philosophers, which is much like what cross-cultural missionaries experience overseas. It's also similar to sharing the gospel with those who have a postmodern mindset.

Based on this context, Paul adjusted his presentation of the gospel for a people who were ignorant of the Scriptures and the theology revealed in them.

I see three general parts to Paul's message at Mars Hill focused on connecting with the Athenians at a level they would understand. The text for Paul's message is found in Acts 17:22-31.

Connection

Paul first acknowledges they are "very religious," what we might call superstitious, as he sees all their objects of worship (idols). He establishes a connection with the Athenians by noting an altar to "the unknown god" (vs 22).

Paul says to them, "What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you" (vs 23). By saying this he stirs their interest because those gathered at Mars Hill "would spend their time in nothing except telling or hearing something new" (vs 21).

He also establishes himself as an authority regarding this unknown God. He preaches to them, but in a way they can relate to as philosophers.

Creator and Sustainer

The first thing he tells them about this "unknown God" is that He is living and is the Creator of all (vs 24). Not only the Creator but the Lord over all He's created. He is transcendent above all and doesn't live in a temple or shrine created by humans. He wasn't imagined or designed by anyone.

He's not in need of anything people can offer. Instead, God is the Sustainer of all humanity to whom He gives life itself, breath, and everything else (vs 25). Paul goes on to speak of God's relationship with people from God's perspective.

All humanity began with one person (vs 26). It's God who established the seasons within a year and set the boundaries of earth, the oceans, and our atmosphere, as expressed in the ancient book of Job (chapters 38-40).

God makes Himself known and seeks people out so we may know Him and have a relationship with Him (vs 27). He is the Sustainer of all life and Paul relates this truth to what their own poets have said (vs 28), making another point of connection with the Athenians.

Challenging the status quo

Paul begins challenging them to think differently about God, "the divine being," since we are "God's offspring" (vs 29). God isn't like any of the idols or images their artisans have imagined because God is Spirit and not restricted to human or physical constraints.

Then Paul tells them that their ignorance of God, whom they call unknown, is no longer acceptable to God. A day of judgment is coming and people need to repent and turn to God for the timing of this judgment day is already determined by God (vs 30).

He then introduces them to Jesus but not by name. There is one person whom God has appointed as the one who will be the judge. This person is known by His resurrection from the dead (v 31), an unparalleled supernatural event.

The resurrection is the open door into a personal relationship with God and eternal life. This is a truth Paul made clear to a church he planted not long after this message (1 Cor 15:20-22).

Response

One of the criticisms I've heard about Paul's message to the Athenians is the poor response to it as if the response to Peter's message on Pentecost in Jerusalem (Acts 2:41) is some kind of norm. It wasn't the norm then nor is it now.

Most of the reaction of those who heard this message was to the concept of the resurrection from the dead. It's a great dividing line of faith. Although some mocked the resurrection others wanted to hear more, and some believed and joined Paul (vs 32-34).

As I've made clear in an earlier post, we American evangelicals tend to be very results oriented. It seems to be in our Christian-culture-DNA. But we don't see this with Jesus nor the early church leaders. They were committed to discipleship which is a long-term investment in people.

Evangelism or discipleship? Both!

Jesus invested more than three years in His chosen apostles. Paul spent a year (with Barnabas) teaching the church in Antioch, then a year and a half in Corinth, and two years in Ephesus (Acts 11:26; 18:11; 19:10).

Evangelism needs to be linked with discipleship to be effective in fulfilling the Great Commission (Matt 28:19; Mark 16:15), for church planting (the book of Acts), and to equip the church for ministry (Eph 4:11-13).

There should never be a choice between evangelism or discipleship, as to which is better. It's not either-or but both in concert with one another.

So, what are your thoughts on all of this and sharing the gospel in our times and within our culture?

Be sure to look at the notes and cross-references below and please share this with others if you find it helpful!


Here are some cross-references to go with each verse and the 12 elements I see in Paul's message to the Athenians—

  1. Paul observed the religious pursuit of the Athenians (vs 22)
  2. They focused on "objects of worship" [idols] (vs 23)
  3. Paul identified the altar "to the unknown god" as a point of connection (vs 25)
  4. He presented the Living God as Creator of all (vs 24)
  5. God is transcendent above human or earthly origins (vs 24)
  6. God is the origin of life for all people and all that exists (vs 25)
  7. All humanity is descended from one person and God is sovereign (vs 26)
  8. God makes Himself known and seeks relationship with people (vs 27)
  9. God is the Sustainer of life and connects God's nearness to all with their own poets (vs 28)
  10. God is Spirit and not restricted to human or physical constraints (vs 29)
  11. A day of judgment is coming, people need to repent and turn to God (vs 30)
  12. Jesus is the judge and proven to be so by resurrection from the dead (vs 31)
  •  Here are the Cross references—
    • vss 22-25– Psa 19:1-6; Rom 1:20; John 4:24
    • vs 25– John 1:4-5; Gen 2:7; Isa 42:5
    • vs 26– Gen 5:1-4; Dan 4:35-37
    • vs 27– Rom 1:20; Eccl 3:11; Psa 139:7-16
    • vs 28– Psa 82:6; Col 1:16-17
    • vs 29– Psa 115:3-8; Rom 1:22-23
    • vs 30– Matt 4:17; Luke 24:47; Rom 3:23-26
    • vs 31– John 5:21-27; Acts 2:22-24; Rom 2:11-16

Getting Personal

James-Sawvee-EJ_Thai
James-Sawvee-EJ_Thai

A drastic difference exists between western and asian culture when it comes to personal interaction. Actually, this difference exists with most of the rest of the world (MOTROW) and western culture. Westerners like plenty of space, whereas much of the world will get right in your face, enough so that you can smell their breath, and they yours.

Time and tasks are the priority of westerners, while most other cultures value people and events. Events are important because people are involved, and events mark important milestones in people's lives. As westerners, we're more about getting the job done, making the most of our time, and putting off vacations and sleep to do so.

In the Philippines, a very social culture, people will sit outside in the evening to greet one another and visit. When's the last time you saw a front porch filled with people sitting, watching, and available for a visit?

Keep it personal

An important element in sharing your faith is to keep it personal. This is contrary to our tendency to not get too personal. But keep in mind, sharing your faith is always about relationship—relationship with God. When it gets focused on theology, the discussion easily turns into a debate rather than knowing the Lord.

Our theology needs to be sound, but this is rarely a good place to start sharing your faith. People who have no background in the Bible won't be able to relate, and those with some background often want to talk about their perception of the truth.

Narratives compose much of the Bible's writings. These stories reveal God's interaction with people, and people's life stories as they intersect with God. It's at this point, this intersection, that we gain insight on sharing our faith with others.

Everyone's got a story

When we engage people by asking them about themselves, we open a door of opportunity. This needs to be done with a genuine interest in people, not just a means to an end. We're not a salesperson hawking our wares.

I like getting to know people. Asking questions is an effective way to find who a person is, but be careful to not make it like an investigation. It's not about rattling off a bunch of questions to get some facts about a person. The goal is to hear their story, and everyone has a story to tell.

People will tell their story to someone interested in hearing it. Think of all the reality-based programs that fill television, YouTube, magazines, and blogs. It's obvious that people want to know the stories of other people. And so, this creates an opportunity to share our faith and our own life story.

Make connection

What interests you? My interests are varied and broad, but there's only a few things I'm passionate about. You'll know what those are when you engage me in them—I'll get animated in my talking.

I'm a fairly public person, but my wife is not. She doesn't feel the need to comment on everything like I do. But when the subject of children or grandchildren comes up, it touches a vital part of her heart. Her life and work has focused on her love of children, not just her own, but children in general. She still works in a preschool with babies and toddlers, and loves it.

So, we want to find a common point of interest or connection when talking with people. But again, it needs to be a genuine interest in them as a person, not just a way for us to talk.

A fitting story

When I engage people in conversation, I try to listen for a common thread in their story. Often I'll get some insight into a person's life, even when it's a light conversation. I make a point to listen carefully. Sometimes this provides a reference point for future conversations. I also look for similarities to my own experience in life.

The more familiar I become with the narratives in the Bible, the more I see how these stories mirror the lives of people around me. These narratives run the gamut of emotions and events people experience in every day life.

As you engage a person in conversation, pay attention to details in their life. If you're open and receptive, God will help you see how that person's life connects with someone in the Bible. When you realize a particular story fits a person, then you can share it with them. After all, it's a story, and we all love stories.

Ayele-story_OmoVillage
Ayele-story_OmoVillage

Keep it simple

On one of my travels in ministry overseas, I was teaching a small church in a remote village in Ethiopia. The fellow believer who was my guide and interpreter would take what I said and put it into their own dialect, which was different than the written materials we used.

As I taught, I realized that some of it was too western and unknown for them to understand, or even be interpreted in a clear way. So, I began to use stories in the Bible as a means of instruction. They engaged well with these stories, and conceptual truth became real to them.

Christians often speak in a foreign language when we share our faith. This is referred to as Christianese. When we use Bible wording and theological terms, people don't understand it. I make a point of saying things in non-Christianese. In other words, I use plain and simple words, and avoid quoting Bible verses to people.

More and more people have little to no knowledge of what the Bible says, and don't see it as more authoritative than any other book. This is the reality of our times and if we ignore it, people will ignore us and what we want to share with them. So, ditch the Bible-talk and use other words for Christian terms. Connect with people and share your faith in words and ways they will hear.

Next week I plan to complete this series of posts on sharing our faith. Until then, share your thoughts with me...

How have you connected with other people and their life stories?

How to Be an Evangelist—Without Really Trying

Photo credit: www.deathtothestockphoto.com/
Photo credit: www.deathtothestockphoto.com/

What comes to mind when you hear the word evangelist? Do you think of a fiery preacher challenging you to "Repent!"? Nowadays that might be more of a caricature than common occurrence.

How about the words personal evangelism? Do you shudder at the thought of going out to witness with gospel tracts?

If the idea of personal evangelism or trying to be an evangelist doesn't appeal to you, keep reading! There is a way to share your faith in a personal, natural and easy way.

Calling, commitment, and a command

I know a young man who has a gift and boldness to engage people in conversation about Jesus and offer to pray for them. I have friends who go into neighborhoods every couple of weeks to knock on doors and share the gospel. A neighbor friend of mine often goes out on a roadside with a placard that reads, "Jesus loves you!"

I admire my friends for their commitment and calling. I've done similar things, but it is not my personal calling. My oldest son and I traveled to Scotland on an evangelistic outreach many years ago. It was a great time of ministry, and it helped confirm that I am not an evangelist.

I'm called to disciple people.

And yet, what is called the Great Commission (Matt 28:19; Mark 16:15; Luke 24:47-48; Acts 1:8) is not an optional suggestion, it is a command. The apostle Paul told Timothy to, "...do the work of an evangelist...." (2 Tim 4:5 NKJV).

So, there is a responsibility for every believer to share their faith with others. Even when it's not our calling, we can commit to do something, even when it doesn't come easily.

But, if evangelism is not your thing, here are some thoughts on how to be an evangelist without really trying.

Keep it simple

  • Start with what you know—your own life story
  • Don't worry about what you don't know
  • Stick to what you know and engage people at that point
  • Find a story in the Bible that relates to your own life story

Keep it personal

  • Engage people by asking them about themselves
  • Find a common point of interest or connection as you talk with people
  • Think of a story that connects with the person's life you have engaged to talk
  • Use plain and simple words and avoid using Christianese

Keep alert for opportunities

  • Look for opportunities in everyday life
  • Get more familiar with various stories in the Bible
  • Pray and trust God for opportunities to engage people in conversation
  • Follow up with the people with whom you share your faith

Give it a try

Over the next few weeks, I hope to dig into each of these thoughts in more depth. The broad view of it can be summed up in these three admonitions—keep it simple, keep it personal, and keep open and be ready.

I've posted on this general idea of sharing your faith before, but want to be more instructive with these new posts.

Here are a couple of posts I hope will be helpful to you—

Need Some Help on How to Share Your Faith?

Need Some Help on How to Share Your Faith? (Part 2)

How Does Your Story Connect with God's Story?

Tell me what you think—

What are your experiences with sharing your faith?

What are the challenges you've faced with sharing your faith?

Thanks for reading and please feel free to share this post with others!