Sharing Faith

Paul’s life had been on the line.  He had preached the gospel of Jesus Christ in Damascus, Cypress, Turkey, and Greece.  What enraged the Temple authorities in Jerusalem so much was that before Paul’s conversion experience on the Road to Damascus, he worked for the High Priests persecuting Christians.  People have a special animosity for people they perceive as having gone over to the other side.

Paul spent years away from Jerusalem traveling throughout Turkey and Greece, preaching, evangelizing, founding churches.  He returned to Jerusalem carrying an offering from the churches of Greece and Asia Minor, to relieve the hunger of the Jewish Christians, because Judea was suffering a famine.  He was able to convince the Jerusalem Church to accept his gentile converts as Christians without requiring them to undergo circumcision or keep the Jewish dietary laws.  But to prove himself as a good Jew, James and the circumcision party within the Jerusalem Church asked Paul to perform a ritual of purification in the Temple.

When Paul visited the Temple he was recognized by some Jews from Turkey, who denounced him for allegedly bringing a Gentile into the Temple, and whipped up a mob to try to kill him.  The mob dragged Paul out of the Temple into the street and began beating him to death, when a squad of Roman soldiers came along to investigate.  When Paul told the officer in charge that he was a Roman Citizen he was carried off in Roman custody.  Later when the Temple authorities were plotting to break Paul out of custody and stone him to death, the Roman Tribune sent him to Caesarea and the relative safety of the Roman Governor’s jail.

The Roman Governor Festus held Paul for two years, hoping that Paul or his friends would offer a bribe to win his freedom.  When Festus was replace by a new Governor Felix, the Jerusalem authorities tried to convince Felix to turn Paul over to them.  At a critical point in the hearing, Paul said, “I appeal to Caesar.”  As a Roman citizen he had the right to be tried in Rome, and not before some provincial kangaroo court.  So Felix began making preparations to send Paul to Rome, and in the meantime the Jewish King Agrippa II came to Caesarea to visit with the governor.  And that sets up the scene in our scripture today.

In 53 A.D. there was no radio, no television, no DVD’s or internet.  So Paul, who was considered a strange religious fanatic was summoned before the Governor and the King to explain himself in order to provide his captors with some entertainment.

Undaunted Paul shared his faith.  He didn’t deliver a theological lecture.  He didn’t preach at Felix and Agrippa.  Instead, he shared his own story about how God had been present in his life.  The early church spread like a virus, because the followers of Jesus shared their faith.

The story of Paul’s conversion is dramatic.  He was literally knocked off of his horse and blinded by the light, when he had his come to Jesus moment.  And overnight he went from persecuting, even executing Christians to preaching the way of Jesus to anyone who would listen.  And unfortunately many people even whole traditions within the Christian faith have come to believe that Paul’s conversion should be the model for everyone.  And so many people mistakenly struggle to try to make themselves feel converted.

In one sense we all need to experience a conversion from a self-centered ego dominated life to God-centered life.  But how that process occurs is unique to each individual.  For some people conversion happens in a traumatic single moment like at 5:20 p.m. on April 27th 2011.  For most of the rest of us, the breaking of our egos and our journey toward a more God centered life happens more gently over years or even decades.  But we all have a story, a journey, a faith story, and if we can learn how to share our stories, we can touch the lives of others.  And we live in a, increasingly secular world that desperately needs our faith stories.

Back in April our Keeshond, Banner, desperately needed to be groomed.  Beth called Pet Smart to see about an appointment with the dog groomer, who told her that she could work Banner in on Thursday otherwise her next available appointment was Sunday morning at 9 a.m.  Many businesses now are open on Sundays, but what really surprised me was that this was going to be Easter Sunday morning at 9 a.m.  Many of us can remember when nothing was open on Sunday except maybe a gas station or a drug store.  Also when many of us were growing up, almost everyone we knew had some religious affiliation.  We had no perceived need to share our faith.  But we now live in a very different world with many, many people whose lives have not been touched by faith.

I am not asking anyone to go preach on street corners, or put a honk if you love Jesus bumper sticker on your car.  And that reminds me of a joke I saw:

I got a letter from Grandma the other day. She writes…

The other day I went up to a local Christian bookstore and saw a “Honk if you love Jesus” bumper sticker.

I was feeling really good that day because I had just come from a thrilling choir performance, followed by a thunderous prayer meeting, so I bought the sticker and put it on my bumper.

Boy, I’m glad I did! What an uplifting experience that followed!

I was stopped at a red light at a busy intersection, just lost in thought about the Lord and how good He is… and I didn’t notice that the light had changed.

It is a good thing someone else loves Jesus too, because if he hadn’t honked, I’d never have noticed!

I found that LOTS of people love Jesus! Why, while I was sitting there, the guy behind started honking like crazy, and then he leaned out of his window and screamed, “For the love of GOD! GO! GO! Jesus Christ, GO!”

What an exuberant cheerleader he was for Jesus! Everyone started honking!

I just leaned out of my window and started waving and smiling at all these loving people. I even honked my horn a few times to share in the love!

There must have been a man from Florida back there because I heard him yelling something about a “sunny beach”…

I saw another guy waving in a funny way with only his middle finger stuck up in the air.

Then I asked my teenage grandson in the back seat what that meant, he said that it was probably a Hawaiian good luck sign or something.  Well, I’ve never met anyone from Hawaii, so I leaned out the window and gave him the good luck sign back.

My grandson burst out laughing…why, even he was enjoying this religious experience!

A couple of the people were so caught up in the joy of the moment that they got out of their cars and started walking towards me. I bet they wanted to pray or ask what church I attended, but this is when I noticed the light had changed.

So, I waved to all my sisters and brothers, and drove on through the intersection. I noticed I was the only car that got through the intersection before the light changed again and I felt kind of sad that I had to leave them after all the love we had shared, so I slowed the car down, leaned out of the window and gave them all the Hawaiian good luck sign one last time as I drove away.

Praise the Lord for such wonderful folks!  Grandma.

So I am not talking about preaching on street corners, or bumper stickers, or love Jesus T shirts, if anything that turns people off to faith.  But I do want to encourage all of us to consider many different ways we can winsomely share our faith with others.  It might be simply sharing with someone, “when my husband died, I didn’t know how I would make it through, but when I needed it God was there.”  Sharing our faith might be showing up with chain saw to help someone get a tree off of their roof, or showing up with a can of gasoline, when someone is out of gas. Sharing our faith might be offering to pray with a friend in the hospital, or sending a card to a recent graduate letting them know they are in your prayers as they look for a job, or wait to hear from the school of their choice.  Sharing our faith can be showing up to prayer circle, and sending a card to a shut-in.  Sharing our faith can be simply recounting a story of when God touched your life to someone whose life is clouded in doubt.  Sharing our faith can be praying with someone in crisis, “I believe but help my unbelief.”  Sharing our faith can be praying for someone, who has no one else to pray with them or for them.  When we share our faith we touch the lives of others.  We touch their lives in ways we cannot predict and at levels more profound than we can understand.

There is another reason for sharing our faith.  This is a mystery.  When we share our faith with others, our own faith grows stronger.  Faith is like love.  The more we give faith or love away, the more we have.  I’m not talking about the kind of belief system that beats people over the head to try to make them embrace a set of belief statements whether they like it or not.  I am not talking about signing the commitment page of the evangelism pamphlet.  No I am suggesting that there is a quiet, peaceful faith that respects the individual conscience of others.  That reaches out in love to embrace others no matter what other barriers may seem to stand in the way.  A faith that practices hospitality and welcomes all people as precious children of God.  Think about sitting down with a trusted spiritual friend, and recounting the God moments in your personal story, when the divine has touched your life.  As we learn to verbalize our faith stories, our connection with God deepens.  God will uncover further mysteries and lure us ever deeper into the life of faith.  Our “Unbinding Your Heart” study closed with this thought:  “The path to loving community, to forgiveness, to peace, to rest, to healing, to resolution, to justice lies in a growing relationship with God.  Jesus is the answer.  This is the Good News.  Are you going to tell someone?”

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