When Will We Share Our Story?
Sunday, January 20, 2013
Have you ever heard of “buzz agents”? Me either until very recently! Buzz agents are normal folks like you and me who work for the online website by the same name. What buzz agents agree to do is simply this. They promise to try products from well-known companies like Dodge, Coca Cola or Kelloggs for eight weeks. During that period, they are asked to share with their friends about the same products through their daily interaction – be it through casual conversation, emails, facebook, texts or any other means. That’s it.
As of November of last year, 850,000 people had registered to be buzz agents for the site which also continues to add more companies to its list of adherents. What buzz agents have proven in our modern context is the age old truth that people naturally share with others about those things that they are passionate about—whether it is their favorite team, a good book, a favorite restaurant or even their new preferred brand of toothpaste.
There is a similar strand of thinking that is prevalent within the gospels as well. What I mean by this statement is the simple fact that if you look at the way that the early disciples learned about Jesus, you can quickly classify each of their initial introductions to the Son of God into one of two categories. Either they learned about Jesus first from a direct encounter with him or they learned about Jesus from the stories and positive feelings about him conveyed to them by trusted friends or family members. That’s it. Again, it happened one of two ways and one of two ways only—either through meeting Jesus directly or first being encouraged to come and meet Jesus through someone they respected.
Our text for today from John 1 falls squarely into this second category. In fact, if you study these eight verses closely, what you find is two occasions where individuals had a role in bringing their friends to Jesus. In verse 36, John the Baptist clarifies for two of his own followers and friends that Jesus was indeed the promised Messiah. And, then, only a few sentences later in verse 41, Andrew, having encountered Jesus himself, seeks out his brother Simon and also invites him to come and meet the one that is without question the figure for which all Israelites have long waited and watched.
When you read these verses, it is certainly easy to over spiritualize them and to miss the basic way that Jesus was shared. Yet, grasping the essence of what happens here is both crucial and also very practical for you and I as believers today who also have stories of our own encounters with Jesus that are worth our sharing with others.
At the base level, what we see here are individuals who are drawn to Jesus simply because good, respected, trusted friends and family shared with them about the difference Jesus had made in their own lives. In short, they share their story, they tell of the profound difference Christ has made for them and they challenge those they love to experience Jesus for themselves.
What is so beautiful about this is that this sort of behavior is exactly in keeping with so much of the rest of our lives. From the restaurants we eat in, to the teams we cheer for, to the movies we watch—so much of what is now important to us became so because these brands, products or institutions were first important to others that we also love, trust and respect. In turn, they wanted us to have the chance to experience what they have experienced and to love what they have loved. They encourage us to do so by sharing their stories with us. This is the natural way that sharing the story of our relationship with Jesus should also work.
You see, when I say the words or phrases “witness”, “share your faith” or “be an evangelist”, it gives most of us the hebegebees. The reason is that what quickly comes to our minds is a vision of knocking on doors or talking to strangers or preaching on the street corner. Yet, what we find in the gospels are examples of people simply sharing their story of encountering Jesus with people they already know and with those for whom a mutual level of respect has already been developed.
Now, don’t hear me wrong. I am certainly not suggesting that there are not times or occasions when it is appropriate or when God might calls us to share our faith with those who are more like strangers to us than old friends. Certainly there is a place for these types of experiences. And sometimes, through these events God affects others in a profound way and calls them into his kingdom.
At the same time, I am saying, that for most of us, our most comfortable and most likely way of sharing faith is going to be with those that we are already know. And, I am also saying that much of the time these preexisting relationships are often a much more productive ground for cultivating new followers of Christ primarily because a level of trust and mutual respect has already been established.
I remember very vividly a friendship that I developed several years ago with a guy about my age when we were living in Western Kentucky. We had similar interests, similar personalities and enjoyed spending time together. Ultimately, I was very privileged to play a role in his coming to faith. But, it didn’t happen overnight. Rather, we ate lunch together often during the week, spent time with another and cultivated a friendship over a six month to a year long period before he began to trust, embrace and be open to the things I wanted to share with him about faith. But, when that moment did come, it didn’t feel in any way unnatural or uncomfortable. Rather, it was a very normal part of what happens when friends with mutual respect want the best for one another.
As you all know, we are in the process this January of setting some goals for this new year that is before us. Our focus has been to set some goals that while stretching us are also very doable. Two weeks ago, we set before ourselves the goal of simply being here and seeing this time together on Sunday morning as imperative to our ability to open ourselves up weekly to God if we are going to be all that God desires for us to be. Last week, we focused on the resolution of realizing that we all need to live out our faith through ministering to each other and our community. We reaffirmed that all of us need to put our faith into action and that while we cannot do everything we should find one or two ministries in the life of our church through which we can grow and share in our common mission.
Today, I want to encourage us to commit ourselves this new year to sharing our story. Said another way, I want to invite all of us in this new year to embrace our own word of mouth campaigns as we authentically and naturally share with others about what God through Christ has done for us. To be as practical as possible, I want to invite us to do so by committing to two things. First, I want to invite all of us to identify someone who is already a part of our lives —a friend, a colleague, a neighbor, a family member —who does not have a relationship with Christ.
Second, once we have that person in our mind, I want to invite us to take this year to share our faith with them not in a forced, stiff or uncomfortable way but in a very natural way in keeping with the way that we treat one another as family and as friends.
Now, some of you might say that this is not a very adventurous goal. But, I would beg to differ. I think far too often we get overwhelmed with the enormity of tasks before us and don’t do anything. Instead, through choosing a bite sized goal that is not daunting and is also very doable we can make a profound difference. In fact, think about it for a moment, what would happen if everyone in this room would spend this year inviting one person into a relationship with Jesus. Think about the profound difference that such a decision could have on our community and on our church.
It reminds me of the old story about the guy walking the beach one morning after a storm. Thousands of star fish had washed ashore and were all on the verge of dying as they lay there out of the water. They were literally everywhere and the man very slowly was throwing one little star fish after another back into the ocean. A passerby saw him and called out, “that’s kind of silly isn’t? You are not going to make much of a difference throwing them back one at a time when there are thousands to rescue.” Without saying a word, the man reached down, picked one more star fish up and tossed it as far as a he could back into the water. “Made a difference to that one,” he said while simple continuing on with his work.
Which all leads me to say this, who is the person that God wants you to focus on? Who in this year is going to be the person already a part of your life whom you are going to concentrate your efforts on? Who are you going to share your story with? Forget for a moment about the millions who don’t know Christ. Who is the one you already know who does not know Christ? Right now, consider writing their name on your order of worship. Today, begin praying for that relationship. This morning, resolve to spend this year sharing your story of Christ with the hope that your story might become their story. Amen.