Monday, February 13, 2017

Sunday's Sermon - Spiritual Growth for Short People: Sharing the Message

Below is a copy of the sermon I preached on Sunday, February 12, in Cove Presbyterian Church, Weirton, West Virginia. You can find a podcast of this sermon on the Cove Podbean page. You might also want to visit the congregational website (covepresbyterian.org) for more church information.

If you find this sermon meaningful, please consider supporting this ministry by sending an offering to Cove Presbyterian Church, 3404 Main Street, Weirton, West Virginia or through PayPal.


Well, here we are, in week five of this series dealing with spiritual growth. Which means that over the last four weeks, we’ve looked at four things that we can do in order to grow on the inside, you know, in our relationship with God. And during this time, these are the things we’ve talked about. During the first sermon, we considered how, when we recognize our limits, we're more realistic in what we expect and more focused in how we approach God and more patient in our faith. And then, during the second sermon, we looked at how trusting the Lord helps us grow, because that’s really what faith is, you know, trust, and it begins with a decision on our part, and when we decide to trust God, we’re now free to explore different ways we might grow. And in week three, we talked about loving one another, something that makes us to turn from the values of the world and that moves us behind Jesus Christ and that leads us to change our attitudes and our actions. And then last week, we looked at why a desire to make an impact is so important to spiritual growth, you know, how it forces us to listen to others and to look within ourselves and to come closer to God. Now this is what we covered during the last four weeks.

And this morning, we’re going to take what I think you could call the fifth step to genuine growth, and now I’m talking about how sharing the message of Jesus Christ not only helps others but is also something like spiritual Mircle-Gro. And to put this in a Biblical context, just listen to this passage from Paul’s letter to the Romans. He wrote, “But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him? And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” But not all have obeyed the good news; for Isaiah says, ‘Lord, who has believed our message?’ So faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the word of Christ.

Of course, I don’t think there’s anything in these verses that we don’t already know. I remember, years ago when I was a young Christian, attending a church that really emphasized evangelism, man, I had this drilled into my head all the time. And even though, looking back, there was a whole lot more guilt than grace in my faith back then, I was still pushed to share it with others. I guess I was suppose to make others as guilty and as miserable as I was. But be-that-as-it-may, we were constantly told to go and make disciples of all nations and that could only be done by approaching folks and telling them why they needed to accept Jesus as their personal Lord and savior. That’s what we were told God wanted. That’s what we heard given in testimonies. And that’s what I think, down deep, we all really wanted to do. There was just one problem, most of us didn’t do it. And I’ll tell you, if those who claimed that they witnessed all the time, you know, if they were kind of massaging the truth, well, I think we can broaden that number. Man, even though we knew it was important, we just didn’t do it.


And the reason, well, I don’t think it was all the different from why most Christians, and right now I’m talking about us, you know, why we don’t share the message of Jesus Christ to others. And like it was for me back then, it’s not because we’re bad people. And it’s not because we don’t care about others. And it’s not because we don’t believe it God. Those aren’t the reasons we’re not out there sharing the message. Instead I think it really comes down to fear. You see, I think most people are simply afraid. And if I’m honest as I look in the mirror, I include myself too. I mean, think about it, we’re afraid that we don’t know enough about the Bible, right? My goodness, if I’m out there, talking to folks about God and Jesus and stuff like that, what’s going to happen if they ask a question I can’t answer? Or what if I don’t know a Bible verse to throw at them at just the right time? And what if I find out that they may know more about this religious stuff than me? What happens then? Now that’s one valid fear we might have.

And so is a fear of approaching people, especially strangers, with a message that they might want to hear. Now, I know there are some really gifted salesmen and women who can sell air conditioners to Eskimoes or gutters to people who don’t own houses, there are people like that, but let’s face it, that’s not most of us. I mean, even though we can talk on and on about Big Ben, most of us feel a lot less comfortable talking about God, and why it’s important to have faith in him, and how he’s made a difference in our own lives. I’ll tell you, just thinking about doing something like that to a person standing in front of me in the check out line over at Walmart, I’ll tell you, that makes me a little uneasy inside, and I’m a minister. I mean, it’s pretty scary going up to someone and to start talking about Jesus.

Just like it’s scary to think about failing. Good night nurse, it’s one thing to disappoint a parent or a teacher or a boss; it’s something entirely different disappointing the Lord and Creator of the Universe, the one who holds our eternal destiny in his hands, the entity who will determine where we spent eternity. My gosh, a parent may ground me. A teacher may fail me. And a boss may fire me. But when I’m grounded and failed and fired by God, man, he uses real fire. How could a person who really appreciates the power of God not feel some fear at letting him down.

And so, with all this fear bubbling up within us, it actually seems more likely than not that we’re going to stay silent when we could speak up and hide behind thick walls and stained glass when we could reach out into our world and our community. And even though that decision will certainly hurt others, because sadly right now there are people in our families and in our neighborhoods and in our community who may never hear about the unconditional love and the irresistible grace and the unmerited mercy of God if we don’t share it with them, although we are going to hurt them when we’re silent, I’m telling you, we’re also going to hurt ourselves, and I’m talking spiritually. You see, all this fear and confusion and doubt is going to distract us from God’s word, a word that tells us to get up and share. And it’s going to separate us from the world around us, deluding us into believing that our faith can be private and our church can cater to members first and maybe only. But worst of all, as we allow fear to cause us to pull back and to quiet down and to hide within, I’m telling you, that’s going to prevent us from ever spiritually growing into the men and women God created us to be.

And for that reason, I think it’s absolutely crucial for us to deal with the fear that prevents us from being what God has given us the opportunity to become. And you know, I think we can do that, we can deal with that fear, and as a result, we can grow by making three pretty important decisions, and here they are. You see, first, because we’re so often afraid to share because we don’t know enough, we can make the decision to study the Bible. I mean, duh. Now that’s pretty obvious, at least to me; if I want to understand what the Bible says, it seems like a good idea to find a Bible and to start reading it. Of course, if I’m really serious about understanding it, I also might decide to start attending a study like the one we have every Tuesday evening, where a group gets together to discuss what the scriptures say and to do it under the leadership of someone who’s intentionally studied God’s word for years. I’m sorry, but believers aren’t magically filled with all biblical knowledge when they say that they believe. The Holy Spirit opens their minds so that they might learn, but to do that, the person still needs to open the book. But I’ll tell you, understanding is still more than memorizing verses or learning what the Bible says. It also involves being able to apply something that was written two thousand years ago to a world that either Paul nor the disciples could have envisioned. Studying the Bible means taking the old, old story and intentionally eliminating the restrains people impose so that it can speak with power and relevance in a constantly changing world. I’m telling you, we can study the word. And when we do, not only will our understanding improve, so will our confidence. We’ll no longer be limited, because we’re afraid that we don’t know. We’ll either be knowledgeable enough be offer real answers to real questions or confident enough to say, “I don’t know” when faced with something that’s beyond us. You see, when we decide to study the Bible, both our understanding of the message and our confidence grows. And that’s the first thing we can do when fear prevents us from sharing.

And second, when we’re afraid about approaching others with the message, we can decide that there are actually a whole bunch of different ways that it might be done. In other words, we can do a little strategizing. We can consider some techniques that might help us be as effective as we can be. Of course, part of developing a strategy and applying techniques involves knowing about the folks who are receiving the message. I mean, at the very least, I need to know a little about their background, their values, their perspectives. Put another way, sharing the gospel isn’t one size fits all. For example, I remember reading, years ago, about a minister who was trying to share the message with some troubled kids in the inner city, and he was getting no where talking about how God was like a good shepherd, because these kids had no idea what a shepherd was much less what a good one did. But when he made a little shift and taught that the Lord was like a really good probation officer, maybe the only person who really cared whether they lived or died and who was there to help them succeed, all of a sudden those young people started to understand the nature and love of God. To share, we better know our audience. Just like we better know ourselves. I mean, if I get flustered speaking in front of groups, maybe I shouldn’t be a preacher, but if I’m uneasy sharing one-on-one, maybe I need to work along side someone else. And I might have a real passion for writing letters or making phone calls or posting online. You see, along with knowing about others, and I haven’t even talked about sharing Christ through actions rather than words, I also need to know about myself, if I’m serious about sharing. And when I do, then I’ve got to believe my comfort level is going to increase. In other words, when we decide to do this, not only will our understand of others and of ourselves grow, so will our comfort in sharing God’s word. And that’s the second thing we can do when we’re afraid.

And finally, we can decide to trust God. Now I know we talking about that a lot in the second sermon and a little bit last week, but I also think it applies right here, and I’ll tell you why. For a lot of Christians, the fear of rejection, the fear of ridicule, the fear of failure prevents them from doing something as simple as inviting someone to come with them to church. My gosh, if I were to do that and they turned me down, it would be awful, right? Well, not if we’ve already decided to believe that God loved us before he formed the universe and will love us after time has lost it’s meaning. And not if we’ve already decided to have faith that Jesus died and was raised for us, for you and for me, two thousand years before we born, which means he did it without our permission or our help. And not if we trust that the Holy Spirit is with us right now and always, flowing around us and filling us, opening our minds so that we can understand and our hearts so that we can feel and our hands so that we can serve. You see, the more we decide to trust in God, the more peace we’re going to experience. You see, when we decide to trust so that we can share, both our understanding of God and our sense of peace will grow.

You know, I don’t think it matters how much it’s drilled into our heads. Down deep we all know that we’re called to share the message of Jesus with others. But we also know that fear, fear of not knowing enough, fear of approaching people, fear of failure, we also know that fear can keep us still and silent. And even though that certainly impacts those who may never have the chance to hear, we also hurt ourselves. But if we decide to study God’s word and to think about different ways we might approach others and to trust God, I think we can get past the fear. And when we do, not only will our understanding of the Bible and our understanding others and ourselves and our understand of God, not only will all that grow, so will our confidence and our comfort and our peace.

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