Have you ever felt totally overwhelmed by something you were supposed to do? To the point that the thought of it made you sick or you would just tremble and shake. You really would rather just run away than do it? I know I have, and my kids have too.
Several years ago, before we moved to Iowa, our previous church decided to do a children’s musical for Christmas. They had not done one before and one of the ladies in the church stepped up and said she would like to lead it. So they gave her permission to do so. The musical was selected. It was called “The First Leon” and auditions were held. My kids wanted to be in it. Well, Hannah wanted to be in it and with a little pressure, Luke said he would too. So they auditioned. Imagine my delight and surprise when the casting was announced and Luke was chosen as the lead. He would be Leon.
For those of you who know Luke today, you know he is not one for center stage. He is a ham and cut up around his friends, but put him up here on the stage and he goes mute. And he was much shyer at age 7. Kerri and I were proud he had been selected but we had our concerns. We were hoping for a part, not necessarily the lead.Practices started and he began to learn his lines and the song he had to sing as a solo. As the date got closer and closer though, he became more and more afraid. And his lines became more and more faint. Un-hearable to those even on the first rows. We put a mic on him and even the mic couldn’t pic up most of what he was saying. And when you could hear him, his voice would shake and tremble. He wanted to be anywhere, doing anything else. And we felt horrible as parents.
We went to the director to see if there was an understudy, some young Brad Pitt wanna-be that was just chomping at the bit for his big stage debut. But no. They had no one and not enough time to replace him. So we reasoned with Luke as best we could, tried to encourage him as much as possible and the big day finally came. He did a great job. He was scared. Some of his lines weren’t very audible but he made it through. Just so you know, this was a moment we were both proud of Luke and full of guilt for having to force him to do it.
I share Luke’s story, but I have many stories from my past I could have shared, including the fear and overwhelming inadequacy I felt the day the deacons of Ashworth Road asked me to step in as interim pastor. December 2011. A date that I will always remember. And I would love to tell you I never deal with those feeling of weakness and inadequacy now, that I never have fear or feel overwhelmed. But I still do. Not all the time but some times. And I am sure that in your life you have those times as well. Times where your fear is almost overwhelming. Times where you feel so deficient that you just want to throw up your hands and walk away.
You Are Not Alone
Over the last month, we’ve been dealing with just such a topic that I think the majority of us would say brings our fears, our weaknesses to the surface and most of the time actually immobilizes us from action. And that topic is evangelism. Week after week we have said nothing strikes fear into the hearts of Christians like saying “Let’s talk about evangelism!” Now, there may be some of you out there, some with the gift of evangelism who think, I have no idea what Brent is talking about.” But let me assure you, that you are in the minority.
How do I know? A stat I read this week said that less than 2% of Christians will tell someone about Jesus. That’s how I know. Look around you. Yep, that person next to you feels just like you do when it comes to evangelism.
But we have got to find some way to overcome this fear, this feeling of insufficiency so that we can freely and without reservation share Christ.
You know that you are not alone in this room. But would it surprise you if I told you that even some of the people we read about in the Bible, even one who we would say is a spiritual superstar, had his struggles with this?
1 Corinthians, a letter written by the Paul to a church he had started years earlier. He had been corresponding with this church and in it, we find details of how he felt when he started the church. Look at 1 Corinthians 2:1-5:
“And so it was with me, brothers and sisters. When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power.”
Even Paul, the man we often hold up as this amazing missionary, a pillar of our faith, the guy who wrote 13 of the 27 books we have in our New Testament, someone who was willing to die for his faith, even he had fears and felt weak when talking to others about Christ. Paul describes himself and what he did as weak. And while he spoke, he was like Luke in the musical. He was scared and he shaking.
It’s Not About You
Paul tells us that he didn’t come to them with a flashy presentation. He didn’t sit around for hours and make sure he had proper word choice and grammatical precision. He didn’t try to be clever. He may have wanted to. He might have even tried to make his presentation better, but at the end of the day, Paul could not change who he was.
And his preaching, his opportunity to tell them the greatest news he had even known, well, it was just ordinary. Nothing spectacular. Even Paul physically was described in sources outside the Bible as, “a man of small stature, with a bald head and crooked legs, in a good state of body, with eyebrows meeting and nose somewhat hooked.” 2 Corinthians 10:10 even tells us, “ For some say, “His letters are weighty and forceful, but in person he is unimpressive and his speaking amounts to nothing.”
So we have a guy, who best we can tell is not much to look at, sharing something that most of us would grade with a “Needs Improvement” and yet something amazing happened. The message was spoken, the Spirit of God took that message and pierced the people’s hearts with it, and people responded. They believed in Jesus and began to follow and serve him.
The Power of God
How is that possible? This goes against everything we certainly believe today. We need the presentation to sharp. Good graphics. Clever. Logical. Neat. Concise. Convincing. And yet here we have this oddball with a shaky voice speaking to people and they respond. What are we missing? Paul tells us. Look at verse 4 again. “ My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power,” I really like the New Living Translation here: “Rather than using clever and persuasive speeches, I relied only on the power of the Holy Spirit.”
Our weakness and our fears are just the right ingredients God needs to change people’s hearts. And for many of us, that is difficult to grasp. We begin to think about all the things we need. All we must know before we can talk to someone. And once again, just like we see over and over in the Bible, God doesn’t use our reasoning to accomplish his will in the world. He says to you, are you afraid. I can use that. Do you feel ill-equipped. I can use that too.
Compelling arguments might be effective but only the work of the Spirit will ever use them to bring people to Christ. People might be enamored with eloquence but what does that get us? Powerful speeches don’t change lives. Jesus Christ changes lives. What was true for Paul is the same for us today. The real power doesn’t lie in the person or the presentation of the witness, but in the work of the Spirit. When we realize that it isn’t necessarily in what we say or even how we say it, what it does is put the power in the right place.
We’ve said it a few times in this series but it bears repeating one last time. You cannot save anyone. Yes, we might be able to scare people into a “decision” for Jesus. We might be able to even “trick” someone into believing. But what does that get us? A faith that isn’t real. It is a faith that Jesus described in the parable of the farmer that when the message is shared, the worries of the world, or the appeal of the world overwhelms any work we might have done and we find out that kind of faith isn’t real. It doesn’t stick.
But a faith that is brought about by the Spirit of God, that is a faith that lasts. And those who hear and believe know that their faith is a direct result of the work of God and not some clever, convincing arguments we came up with. You see, there is nothing more powerful than the gospel that is shared through our weakness that goes forth in the power of the Spirit of God. And what is the result? Lives that are forever changed.
So what is the message? What exactly did Paul say? We don’t have his exact word and that is probably a good thing. If we did we would probably type it up, put it in a tract and think we had done all we need to do.
Something to Talk About is Jesus
There was an incredible simplicity to what Paul shared. Our passage today calls is the testimony of God. Your Bible footnotes might call it the mystery of God. But it isn’t as mysterious as it might sound. All Paul is referring to here is a truth that was previously hidden but is now revealed in the good news of Christ.
Paul doesn’t say I spent hours on the internet looking up various arguments for the existence of God. He doesn’t say he attend 30 hours of evangelism training, although for you it may feel like 30 hours of sermons you’ve sat through on this topic! What he does say is “I resolved” I thought about this and came to an important conclusion. And the conclusion I have come to is this…all I need to know to be able to tell someone about Jesus is….are you ready for this? Jesus.
Paul knew nothing but Christ crucified, a singular focus. Christ was his passion, his friend, his savior, his lord, and that was enough. And the mystery, the testimony of God that he shared? It’s acceptance, forgiveness, life, love, hope, reconciliation, redemption. Connecting with God.
As we said, there was nothing amazing or spectacular about Paul’s presentation. In fact it was far from strong. His presentation was nervous and shaky. But it was HIS presentation. His story. His experience with Jesus.
Just this week, Amy, our Missions Pastor, was having coffee with one of the ladies from Ashworth Road. The woman had some questions about the sermon series. She said that she spent time trying to find the right things to say, reading books on apologetics, trying to figure out how to articulate her faith. You see, most of her friends are not Christians. Almost all of her coworkers are not Christians. And in that conversation, Amy looked at her and said, “Well, why do you love Jesus and follow him? Tell them that.”
It’s the Drake students, that have a friend that isn’t a Christian, but was curious about Jesus and why He was so important to them. After two months of weekly donuts and conversation about Jesus—giving their friend space to ask questions she had about Jesus and reading stories of Him in scripture—she is now following Jesus!
We think if we would create a better multimedia experience, go to the thesaurus and pick better words it would make all the difference. All we need is Jesus and what he means to you. And then we watch God make all the difference. It’s not the prepackaged, answer to everything presentation. It is an honest conversation. Sharing your own experience with Jesus. It is what does Christ crucified and resurrected mean to you?
And if we can’t answer that? Our biggest issue might not be evangelism. It could be our own relationship with him. Is your only experience with Jesus something you’ve heard about from someone else, or read about in a newsletter? We can’t live on someone else’s experiences. We need to experience Jesus first hand. And when we do, we really do have something worth talking about. That’s our something to talk about.
We need to un-complicate things. It is not in eloquent expressions, complicated conversations, or lavish language. During this series, not once have we asked you to go home and write some dynamic presentation that you can roll out to someone. In fact up to this point all we’ve really asked you to do is pray. But now, I am asking you, will you share the simple story of what God has done for you in Christ?
To many today, the message of Christ is a mystery. They think they know and understand what it means to be a Christian, to follow Christ, but they don’t. They see bondage when really there is freedom. They see rules when really there is relationship. They see loss of control when really there is purpose.
And to be honest, it is a message that makes no sense. Just by looking back a few versus in 1 Corinthians we see Paul even writes, “ For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” But for those of us who have experienced, we get it. And isn’t it worth others having the opportunity to experience it as well.
We must go and begin to share. We have to know that our weakness is no barrier to the power of God. In fact, in your weakness, his strength will be made perfect. In Paul’s second letter to the church at Corinth, he even says, “But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” (2 Corinthians 12:9 NIV)
The power is not in the presentation or persuasiveness but in the message itself, centered on Christ, his death for our sins. We need to stop focusing on the wrong things, the fears and inadequacies. We need to be focussing on the power of God and realize it is our fears and weaknesses that provides the perfect setting for God’s power to come forth WHEN we go and share. And all we need to know…is Jesus.
And what is possible when we go and begin to share? Who knows. What I do know is what is possible if we just sit here Sunday after Sunday, singing our songs, listening to amazing preaching, and going home. What will happen then? Absolutely nothing. And I for one am not interested in that.
We can’t see God’s transforming power released if we don’t go. What we miss if we stay put is lives transformed. People released from bondage. Strongholds in their lives destroyed. Individuals restored. Marriages and relationships healed. Families brought back together.
The question isn’t What good can I do for Christ? but rather What good can Christ do for the world through little ole me? I’m not asking you to muster up the power to go and do something. I am asking how much power do you think Christ can demonstrate through you and your weaknesses? Will we be like Paul, scared to death, possibly trembling, but willing to go and share Jesus? Will you share Jesus, your something worth talking about?