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Sunday, January 01, 2012

[Matt's Messages] "Tell Your Story in 2012"

“Tell Your Story in 2012”
January 1, 2012
Ephesians 2:8-10


I’d like to make this a theme for our whole church for the whole year.

As we’ve already learned this morning, our church is embarking together on a year of missions, a year of outreach, a year of witnessing.

“Witness” is a Book-of-Acts word, isn’t it?

“You will be my ...  witnesses,” Jesus said to the apostles.

And that’s what we’ve been learning about since school started in the Fall. Four chapters worth.

A witness is someone who has experienced something and tells others the story.

A witness is someone who has experienced something (saw something, heard something, learned something) and tells others the story of that experience.

We call that telling of the story: “giving testimony.”

A witness is someone who gives testimony.

They’ve experienced something, and they tell the story.

So, today’s application is right up front in the title of the message: “Tell Your Story in 2012.”

I want to encourage each of us to be witnesses in the year 2012.

Witnesses for Jesus.

Jesus said, “You will be MY witnesses.”

Witnessing to what we’ve experienced of Him.

Tell your story in 2012.

There are three key words there.

Tell.  That takes words.  You have to open your mouth. Be bold.

Your. That means your own personal story.  Not someone else’s. You have to have your own experience of Jesus to give your own testimony.

Tell your Story. That’s more than just some facts about the Lord. It’s telling the narrative, the details, the plot, the characters, the story of your experience of Jesus.

Tell your story in 2012.

Why?

Well, for one thing it’s really biblical to tell your story.

How many times is Paul’s story of his conversion told in the Book of Acts?

Anybody know?

How many so far?  Once.  When it happened.

That story was told in Acts 9 by Luke from an outsider’s perspective.

It’s going to be told two more times in the book of Acts.

Who do you think tells it the next two times?  Paul does it Himself.

Giving your testimony is not the only way to share the gospel. But it’s a really good one, and biblical.

And secondly, you can’t really argue with it. If that’s your story, then that’s your story.

Now, we could argue over the interpretation of the story, but it’s your story to tell. Hard to argue with.

Another reason is that people love stories. All you have to do is say, “Once upon a time,” and you’ve got someone’s attention.

Tell your story, and you’ll get a hearing.

Another reason is that people want to know if something works, so they listen to testimonials.  Your story confirms that the experience is true.

Like with commercials for products, you and I are “satisfied customers.”

Of course, we’re not customers, but you get the idea.

I would love for 2012 to be year for us to tell our stories of faith in Jesus Christ.

A year of testimonies.

Right now, I’m inviting each of you to consider telling your story here at church this year.

I’d love to have 50 or 75 testimonies shared this year.  I’ll settle for half that.

I’m looking for volunteers to tell your story.

And, to be fair, I’m going to go first.

Today.

I recently realized that many of you have never heard me give my testimony.

I was telling my story at the last membership seminar, I realized from talking with the other participants that they didn’t know my testimony.

I’ve shared it from time to time, but it’s been awhile and we have so many new people here at church.

So, today, I’ll tell my story.

And I encourage you to tell yours.

Here.  And more importantly, out there!

As I was preparing this, I said to Heather, “It’s hard to write out your testimony. Where do you start? What do you include and what do you leave out?”

I’m mean it’s your whole life story. I can’t tell you everything that’s ever happened to me. I can’t even give all of the highlights, and I’ve led a fairly boring life.

So, you have to be selective and start somewhere.

I told Heather that I would begin with a joke.

I was born at an early age, in a hospital, so that I could be near my mother.

Ba-dump, bump.

I was born and raised in and around Shelby, Ohio. A town of about 10,000 people north of Mansfield, Ohio, which is about two hours from everywhere.

My parents were Christians, former Baptists who had settled in at the Methodist church when they moved into Shelby because that church had a thriving young adults Sunday School class.  They called it, ready for this?  “The Greatful Alive Class.”

This was the 70's. Get it?  “Grateful Alive?”

Well, it was pretty cool at the time.

And I grew up going to church. Every Sunday.

Every Sunday. You had to be sick if you didn’t go to church. And if you were too sick for church, you were too sick for television. If you understand what I mean.

Sunday School and Church. Every Sunday. Even when we were on vacation. We always were in church somewhere on Sunday.

And we sang the hymns, and we listened to the sermons, and during church I would thumb through my Mom’s Bible and read the crazy stories in there.

And, truly, I don’t think I “got it” at all very much.

Now, I made several decisions for God during those formative years, and I memorized a few verses in the King James Version for Vacation Bible School, and I had some godly Sunday School teachers who I know loved me and tried to teach me something, but I’m not sure that it all clicked for me during those years.

But I am thankful for those years.

A foundation was laid during those years that was going to be something solid to build upon.

If you are a Sunday School teacher, a Children’s Church teacher, a Kids for Christ worker, take heart. You don’t know what they are getting and what will be used later.

You might have a Pastor Matt on your hands back there.

Now, I was a good kid. Very obedient. But that doesn’t mean that I loved Jesus.

Or that I understood the gospel.

In school, I was one of those kids who was a goody-two-shoes.

Oh yeah, you would have hated me.  (Except that I could have fun and be funny, too.)

But I hated it when the other kids disobeyed, because it reflected on me.

When the other kids were talking when they should have.

I’d try to get everyone to obey. SHHHHHH. I’d say.

Yeah, you know what we call those kind of people in the Bible?

Legalists. Pharisees.

“I’m better than you because I’m good.”

I’m a good boy.

Well, in Junior High School, we had an evangelist come to our church named Earl Bailey.

And Earl Bailey told us that we were not good boys and girls.

He told us what Ephesians 2 said about us. (I don’t remember if he preached from Ephesians 2, but it was this message.)

You a dead in your transgressions and sins.
You crave your sinful nature and follow its desires and thoughts.
You are an object of wrath.

I don’t think I had ever felt the sinfulness of my sin until that night when Earl Bailey preached the gospel.

The gospel begins with bad news.

You are a sinner.

That night, sitting in that pew in Trinity United Methodist Church in Shelby, Ohio, I got it, maybe for the first time, that I was a sinner and I needed saving.

The great thing about Earl Bailey was that he didn’t stop with the bad news.

He also told us the good stuff. 

Verse 4.  “Because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead–it is by grace you have been saved.”

Early Bailey told us about the Cross of Christ.

And that night, I prayed at the end of the service, and it involved my emotions, my intellect, and my will.

And the next day, I told someone.

Now, I have one of those confusing testimonies where I’m not exactly sure when I truly became saved, but I often point to this occasion because I not only made a decision, but I told someone about it the next day at school.

And the Lord saved me from a life of drunkenness, drugs, promiscuity, thievery, and gangs.

Now, I want you to understand that I was never into drinking, drugs, promiscuity, thievery, and gangs.

The Lord saved me from them not out of them.

If it were not for the Lord, I could have ended up in all of them.

You know, sometimes people feel bad that they don’t have a lot of wicked dissipated sins in their testimonies.

My wife, for example, was saved probably before she was 3. She hadn’t even stolen cookies from the cookie jar before she was saved.

But that doesn’t mean that she doesn’t have a good testimony.  She’s got an awesome testimony of the Lord’s hand in her life from an early age.

My sins, at the time, were not drunkenness, drugs, promiscuity, thievery, and gangs.

They were mostly various stripes of the sin of pride.

I was full of myself.

And I was a good boy.

And I was full of myself.

And I was dead in my transgressions and sins.

But because of his great love for me, God who is rich in mercy, made me alive with Christ. Verse 6.

“And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.”

What a glorious day!

A few years later, I had another powerful experience with Jesus. Several, actually, that really cemented my faith in Christ and helped me to understand that faith.

I, as a freshman, was involved in a debate about Christianity with a high school senior.

I was woefully unprepared for that debate. I did not know much about Christianity, and I was a poor spokesman for it.

But I held my ground and didn’t give up. And respectfully tried to be an advocate for Christ.

And during that season of my life, the choir at our church did an Easter Cantata.

For those of you who don’t know, Cantata is the Hebrew word for really long boring choir concert.

I’m just kidding.

But it’s a like a choir concert at church.  And this time, instead of falling asleep or bugging my kid brother, I listened to the singing, and a man named Jim Artz sang a solo, “Jesus Paid It All.”

And I got it. My heart was full of it. The penny dropped!

Now, again, I was probably already a believer, but I got it in a new way that really made sense.

Jesus Paid It All
All to Him I Owe
Sin Had Left a Crimson Stain
And He Washed It White As Snow

Choir members, be encouraged, you don’t know who might be listening to you sing that song.

And that Summer, I went to Summer camp for youth and a conference for Christian performers and I heard a message on this word that I must have heard before but I never understood it.

Grace.

The speaker was a man named Joe Shultz. Joe had worked with my Dad when he was a teen, and now he was working with me while I was a teen.

And Joe talked about this thing called grace.

Grace was God’s unmerited favor.

It was blessing given to people who don’t deserve it.

It wasn’t given to good boys and girls.

It wasn’t given to the righteous, to the moral.

It was given to sinners.

Grace was a gift, unearned, undeserved.

And grace, Joe said, was the way that God saved us.

Just like Paul says here in verse 8.

“For it is by grace you have been saved through faith–and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God–not by works, so that no one can boast.”

Grace.

A free gift.

That rocked my world.

It helped me to understand what Christianity was all about.

I think I had thought it was mostly about being good.

But it’s actually mostly about believing and trusting that God is rich and mercy and has given us His Son.

Salvation is not by works.  If it was by my works, then I could boast.

What a good boy I am.

I continued to wrestle with that throughout high school and still do today.

There is a Pharisee lurking in my heart; I have to kill him!

But it’s not by works, it’s not from myself.

It is the gift of God.

It’s grace.

From that Summer on, I began to share the gospel of grace through Christian juggling shows and other opportunities that came my way.

And those opportunities led to other opportunities and eventually led to going to Moody Bible Institute and Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and ending up here as your pastor.

Those are stories for another day.

Those are stories about the good works that God prepared in advance for me to do.

Verse 10.

“For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do."

Our salvation is not by good works, but is for good works.

We can’t get that turned around in my minds and hearts.

There is a lot more to my story that I could tell, but I think that’s enough for one day.

My story is not about a rough person who gets cleaned up.

My story is about a proud “good boy” who gets graced.

What’s your story?

Have you come to know Jesus by faith and received His gift of grace?

If not, today could be the day!

God isn’t looking for good little boys and girls.

He is seeking after sinners who need saving.

“For it is by grace you have been saved through faith–and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God–not by works, so that no one can boast.”

Our part is faith. We trust. We put ourselves in His hands.

We receive that gift of grace.

He has done all of work.

And He has prepared good works in advance for us to do.

Like tell others your story.

2 comments:

I appreciate your story.

Thanks, Lita. It was your comments at the membership seminar that gave me the idea of sharing my testimony this morning.