July 22, 2018
Pastor Jeff Struecker
I want you to think back for a minute (for some of you, you’re going to have to think way back), but I want you to think back to the first day that you learned to ride a bicycle. Or maybe for you it was roller skates or a skateboard. You know the deal. You were riding around with training wheels on for a while, but this was the day that you were going to take the training wheels off. This is the day that you were going to try to learn to ride the bicycle all by yourself, and I want you to think for just a second about how scary that moment was. Maybe you were super awkward and uncoordinated like me, and it was on a skateboard or it was roller skates at the roller rink, and you’re thinking to yourself, “I know I’m going to fall. I know I’m going to skin my knee up.” And just the fear of riding for the first time (roller skating or skateboarding for the first time) can intimidate you.
My guess is, you don’t even remember the moment that this happened, but you got back on the bike 2 or 3 or 12 or 20 times, and at some point, you knew that you could still fall, but the fear of riding that bicycle or the fear of getting on a set of roller skates on a slick floor (Who’s the genius who created this? -getting on roller states and going around in a circle as fast as you can), the fear started to slip away.
You see, the truth is, just doing something over and over again, it’ll make you get a little bit better; you’ll get a little bit more practice, and you get a little bit better at what you’re doing, but something else happens at the same time. When you practice doing something over and over again, the fear of the unknown, the fear of falling, the fear of making a mistake starts to disappear.
If you’re new, we want you to understand where this whole sermon is going today. Here it is in one statement for all of us to remember: The fear of doing something for the first time, it’s going to be intimidating. It doesn’t matter if it’s riding a bicycle or if it’s something really complex. It’s natural for it to be scary. Once you do it a little bit more and a little bit more often, pretty soon the fear starts to become a lot less intense, and this is also true of sharing your faith.
Here’s a true story of the moment that somebody shared the Gospel with me for the first time. I was 13 years old. I was living in an apartment complex in a suburb outside of Nashville, Tennessee. Before this moment, no one had really ever explained to me who Jesus was and what Jesus did for me. This is the first time anybody ever shared their faith with me. My next-door neighbors were a young couple. They were newlyweds, and they were just really kind of me. They took me into their apartment. They lived right across the hall from me in this apartment complex. They took me in and just treated me like a little brother. They always wanted to hang out, always wanted to do stuff with me. They were just cool people to hang around.
One night, I’ll never forget this. They came across the hall, knocked on my door and asked if they could sit down and talk to me. We had this little 3 or 4 seat dining room table right next to the kitchen. They sat down on one side of the table. I sat down on the other side of the table, and here’s what I remember vividly. That couple was scared to death when they started to talk to me. In fact, I remember thinking to myself, What’s wrong with these two? They’re acting really weird right now. Why are they so weird? What’s going on?
And this couple basically did everything wrong. They stumbled all over themselves. They really just couldn’t figure out what they were trying to say, but it was clear to me that they were really intimidated about this conversation, and also it was clear that they loved me, and they cared deeply about what they were saying. When the conversation ended, they didn’t even ask me to pray to receive Christ. I think they just wanted to run away as fast as they could. So, they basically said, “Jeff, if you understand what we were saying tonight, here’s how you can surrender your soul to Jesus Christ. And then they left. Later on that night, I was lying in bed. I started thinking about what they said to me. I got up out of my bed, and I knelt right by the side of my bed that night. I surrendered my soul to Jesus Christ, and it radically, totally changed me.
That couple was scared to death. I probably was the first person they have ever tried to share their faith with, and they were freaking out about it. If you’ve been in the habit of sharing your faith a time or two, you have experienced the same kind of fear. I know you have, because I have. So today, what we’re going to do for just a few moments is we’re going to look at the Scriptures, and we’re going to try to figure out, how do you handle the fear of learning to share your faith for the first time? We’re in a sermon series called Reach Deeper. It’s designed to tell us, how do you take 20 or 30 casual relationships that everybody has (You see them at the grocery store. You hang out with them in the break room at work), how do you take 2 or 3 of those 20 or 30 casual relationships, and how do you start to turn them into gospel friendships? How do you start to go deep with your faith with these 2 or 3 people? If you’re going to do this, you’re going to experience what I experience, all of us experience. It’s the fear of sharing your faith.
I. Frequently practice sharing your faith
Well, here are a few ways to handle that fear. One of the first ways to do this is to frequently practice sharing your faith. You’ve heard the statement. In fact, I know you know it. You just go ahead and finish it for me. Practice makes… Yeah, that’s not right. Practice doesn’t really make perfect, because what happens if you practice doing it wrong every time? You’re just virtually guaranteeing that you’re going to do it wrong again. That’s another sermon for another day. Practice does, however, help you start to get more comfortable with whatever it is that you’re doing. This is true of sports. This is true of riding a bicycle. This is true of sharing your faith, and the more that you practice it, the less intimidating it becomes.
We’re supposed to be regularly, faithfully telling people about our glorious God and what he’s done for us. -singing songs of praise to him on Sunday morning and then daily sharing our faith. Psalm 96 (if you have time today, go back and read verse 1 and 2 in Psalm 96. Verses 3 and 4 say this:
Declare his glory among the nations, his wondrous works among all peoples. 4 For the Lord is great and is highly praised; he is feared above all gods.
If you go back and read verses 1 and 2. Here’s what you’re going to read: In verse 1, Psalm chapter 96 is saying that we’re supposed to sing songs. We’re supposed to praise God, that we owe God our praise. In fact, Psalm 96 verse 1 says every nation on earth owes that to God, and then Psalm 96 verse 2 says this: We’re supposed to be willing and frequently able to speak about God’s salvation. Then it uses an interesting phrase. Day by day, or daily, be in the frequent habit of sharing your faith.
So, by the time that you get to verse 3, it only makes sense that the Bible is telling us today to declare his glory all over the world. There’s some leadership that God is expecting of his people. Hey, you who know me, you who call yourself my followers, take what you know about me and give it away. Share it with other people. Declare it with people who don’t know me, and then in verse 4, the Bible makes it very clear that fears start to fall into place when they’re placed in their proper perspective. If you’ve got a proper fear of God, then you don’t fear other people or how the circumstances will turn out when you’re sharing your faith for the first time.
This is intimidating. Let’s face it; all of us can get a little bit nervous when we start to develop a conversation with somebody, especially if it’s somebody you’re really close to, because now there’s a lot on the line. -your relationship with them. And when you start to share your faith with them, it can get scary, but don’t forget that you are being a faithful witness to the Lord, and the more frequently that you do this, the less scary, the less intimidating it becomes.
Al Reid wrote a book a great book called, Sharing Jesus Without Freaking Out. Basically, in this book he says all of us freak out when we share Jesus, but then he said (This is Al Reid’s opinion off why Christianity in America is not growing today like it once grew. Here’s a direct quote from Al Reed’s book, Sharing Jesus Without Freaking Out), he said, “A reason why we Christians haven’t done such a great job of reaching America in recent years, why haven’t we handed off our faith to the next generation like generations before us is because we have lost personal ownership for the mission. We’ve lost the personal ownership for the Great Commission, and if you’re going to get comfortable being able to share Jesus without freaking out, it’s something that you just have to start practicing. You have to start doing it regularly, and if you’ll do that, expect [this shouldn’t come as a shock to you] that people would be willing to talk to you about spiritually things.”
II. Expect people to be willing to talk about faith
If you weren’t here over the last couple of weeks, in a sermon a few weeks ago, we said that people in our society are very spiritual. They’re more than willing to talk to you about spiritually things. They’re just going to come from a different belief system, a different background than you do. Here’s what we mean: Very, very rarely will you ever meet somebody who doesn’t want to have a conversation, won’t even entertain the discussion about spiritual things. One of our challenges is to listen to people from the heart, to listen in such a way that they know we love them, that we care about them. And when we’ve listened to them like that, often they will listen to us as we share from our heart.
It shouldn’t surprise you that people are ready to have a spiritual conversation, but it did surprise some of Jesus’s disciples. In fact, I don’t think they were aware of just how willing people were to talk about faith. Back in Luke chapter 10, here’s what the Bible says. Jesus sends out his disciples. Earlier in the book of Luke, he sends the 12 out first, and he asked them to go share their faith. Later on in Luke chapter 10, he sends all of the disciples out, 72 of them the Bible tells us today, and they all go out and they all share their faith.
This is what the Bible is inferring: There is so much ministry that needs to happen around you that no one man can do it, not even Jesus, so he sends all of his disciples out, and they go share their faith, and they come back amazed at the results. In fact, they want to tell Jesus just how awesome this was, like Jesus didn’t know, like they’re telling him something that he wasn’t aware of. But this is their response when they come back to Jesus:
The seventy-two returned with joy, saying, “Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.” 18 He said to them, “I watched Satan fall from heaven like lightning. 19 Look, I have given you the authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and over all the power of the enemy; nothing at all will harm you. 20 However, don’t rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”
Don’t be surprised if the person that you’re about to go talk to is more than ready to have a spiritual conversation because God’s already been working in this guy or this girl’s heart for a long time and getting their heart ready for this conversation.
Jesus is also making a reference that we read clearly in Revelation chapter 20, the Lamb’s Book of Life, the record of the names of all of God’s people. “Yeah, it’s awesome and I’m going before you my Holy Spirit is preparing the heart of the person you’re going to talk to, but keep this in mind: It’s me who’s doing the work in their heart, not really you. So, don’t be surprised, don’t be a caught off-guard when somebody really wants to have a spiritual conversation with you. Don’t let that thing catch you off-guard because I’m going before you, and I’m preparing hearts before you even start having the conversation.”
III. Accept that you can’t change a person’s heart
The third thing that I want us to see from the Bible today is, you and I cannot change somebody else’s heart. Accept that that’s something only God can do. Who can change a leopard’s spots? Who can melt a heart of stone? That’s something that only Jesus can do. You can’t do that. I can’t do that. If I had a superpower, let me tell you what that superpower would be. This would be my superpower. I mean, it would be awesome to be super strong or super smart or super fast. It would be awesome to be super cool (I don’t even know if that’s a superpower, but it would be great if you had super coolness), but if I could choose a superpower, none of those other things I don’t think would really make a difference in Heaven. This, however, would. If I could make somebody believe what I wanted them to believe, if I could make somebody’s heart change, I would never get another night of sleep because I would spend all of my time changing somebody’s heart.
I can’t do that. You can’t do that. But Jesus can. In fact, he makes it very clear to us back in the book of Ezekiel just how much he can change somebody’s heart. Ezekiel chapter 36 says it this way:
For I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries, and will bring you into your own land. 25 I will also sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean. I will cleanse you from all your impurities and all your idols. 26 I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will remove your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. 27 I will place my Spirit within you and cause you to follow my statutes and carefully observe my ordinances.
I want you to look at this verse for just a second. You have to understand what the book of Ezekiel is saying earlier in chapter 11, because back in chapter 11, the book is saying we have hard hearts that are so hard, that you and I need a heart transplant. I can’t fix my heart. You can’t fix your heart. Only God can do that, but God promises in Ezekiel chapter 11 to take a rock-solid heart and turn it into a heart of flesh. But in Ezekiel chapter 18, the book makes it very clear why our hearts are so hard. It says, “You started to chase after sin. You started to follow after foreign idols, and that hardened your heart. Now you need a new heart. You need a heart transplant.”
If you put Ezekiel chapter 11 and Ezekiel chapter 18 together, now it starts to make sense. My sin, your sin, the person you’re talking to, their sin has created a hardened, callous heart. I can’t change that. You can’t change that, but God says, “I can. In fact, I will change that in the hearts of my people. I will do open heart surgery on them. I will do something for them that they can’t do for themselves, that you can’t do for them. I’m going to give them a heart of flesh, a soft, tender heart instead of a solid, callous heart. And here’s how I’m going to do it: I’m going to put my spirit into them, and my Holy Spirit is going to start to work in them before you even go talk to them, and when you go talk to them, maybe for the first time, they’re ready. They’re ready to hear what you have to say.”
I learned this principle. Probably the most obvious way I learned this principle was when I was on staff as a pastor, helping to lead a church in Elizabethtown, KY in Hardin County, KY, this rural church, and we were going door to door just trying to share our faith with folks with a bunch of rednecks in the rolling hills of KY, and I went to this trailer park (no kidding). I had a team of people from church with me. We were going door to door sharing Jesus. I went to this trailer out in the mountains. It wasn’t even a trailer park. It was just a trailer in the mountains with a bulldog in the front yard. I was taking my life in my hands just going to the front door. It was one of those trailers that had some handmade wooden stairs (You know what I’m talking about?). So, I go knock on the door. This redneck comes and answers the door. I start to share Jesus with him. I’m not exaggerating. He cusses me up one side and down the other and slams the door in my face.
My nose is about an inch from the door when he slams it in my face, and everybody from that church who was with me was shocked at what they just heard. I was shocked. In fact, I really got offended. There was a little bit of Ranger sergeant inside of me that was thinking, I’m going to kick in this front door, and we’re going to have a come-to-Jesus meeting. But I started to walk away thinking, I did something wrong; I said something wrong. I was disappointed, and then I had to be reminded by the Holy Spirit, “Jeff, you can’t change that man’s heart. That’s not your job. I change hearts. Your job is to just be faithful with the message, and I take care of what happens next.”
I needed to be reminded of that. I needed to remind the folks who were with me that I can’t do anything to change another person’s heart, but I can be faithful with the message and then just accept that it’s up to God what happens next, which freed me up. From that moment forward, I have not been afraid of knocking on a redneck’s door with a bulldog in the front yard. I got over that back in Kentucky years ago.
IV. Regularly share what you believe
But here’s what I want you to remember. Well just wrap up with this today: When you start to regularly share what you believe, it starts to become a lot less scary. I want you to think about it with me. You’re frequently practicing sharing your faith. You expect people to be willing to have conversations about faith. Maybe they don’t come to Christ right away, but they’re willing to talk to you about it. You accept the fact that, Hey, I can’t change somebody else’s heart. And when you do this regularly (you are smart enough to figure this out), do you see the acrostic? When you do this regularly, the FEAR starts to fade. Because you’re practicing, the FEAR starts to slip away, and it’s not that intimidating anymore.
A guy who did this a lot in the New Testament, the guy we heard from just a few moments ago from Scripture, was the Apostle Paul, and here’s what he says in Romans chapter 1:
So I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome. 16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, first to the Jew, and also to the Greek. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith, just as it is written: The righteous will live by faith.
Paul says, “I need that Gospel today as much as I needed it the day that Jesus changed me.” You need it today. You need to be reminded that Jesus saves sinners as much today as the day that you became a Christian, and the person who has never heard it before, they need it. Paul did this a lot. Go back and read the book of Acts. 3 separate times in the book of Acts, he tells people his story of what happened when he was on the road to Damascus. This is just something that he did regularly. He did it frequently. “Let me tell you what happened to me while I was on the road, and what Jesus did for me, he can do for you too.” This is the Apostle Paul putting the power of God on display for the world to see.
Look, it’s intimidating. I will be honest with you; I still get intimidated from time to time when I share my faith. I have to pray and calm myself down because my heart starts racing when I think about sharing my faith, especially with the people who are really close to me, because I know what’s on the line. I know what’s at stake here, and when I start to get scared, I have to remember, “Jeff, it’s not up to you what happens next. Just lovingly, graciously talk to people about what you believe, and then leave the results in God’s hands.”
One of my heroes in the faith, if he were physically able to be here today, I would have invited him to be on stage. One of my heroes in the faith for almost 20 years now has been a retired oral surgeon from Birmingham, Alabama. His name is Dr. Bill Buck. I have never in my life (this is not an exaggeration) seen a man who is more comfortable and more willing and therefore more frequently sharing his faith than this man and his family. He does it so often, he does it so naturally, that I sat back and I watched him, and as a lay person, I was amazed at the way that this guy was sharing his faith. It just naturally comes out of who he is and the way that he lives his life.
He’s told me, “Jeff, one of the reasons why I can do this today is because I had to learn a lesson. Here’s the lesson I had to learn: I had to learn how to get over the fear of the sneer of the peer. I had to learn how to get over how somebody might view me if I start to share the Gospel.” Dr. Bill Buck would tell you, “It took a while for me to get over that, but when I got over that fear, I started to get very comfortable with sharing my faith, and I started to do it a lot.”
He’s a 90-year old World War II veteran, and he faithfully shares his faith to this day all over Birmingham, AL. He’s a founding member of Briarwood Presbyterian Church. Theologically, he would be considered a Calvinist, and for all of you Calvinists, I have never in my life met a man who practices sharing his faith more than Dr. Bill Buck.
He told me a story about Charmaine. He said, “She came into my office, Jeff, and she was in pain. Her jaw was in great pain. She thought she needed surgery. I looked at her, and I realized there was nothing wrong with this woman’s jaw. She’s been clenching your teeth so tight, that her jaw is just sore from it, and it’s pretty obvious it was stress. So, I gave her the real antidote to that problem. I sat down with her, and I said, “Can I share with you how I handle stress? Let me tell you what Jesus has done for me and how he could do the same thing for you.” She took his little Four Spiritual Laws booklet home, threw it in a drawer, didn’t want anything to do with it, and he thought, “God, I failed you.”
Then 2 years later, he wasn’t anywhere around. She took this book out. She read it. She became a Christian. Her husband started following Christ. Her family started following Christ, and it made such an impact on her, she went back to him 2 years later and said, “I read that booklet, and God changed my life because you were willing to sit down and to get over the fear of the sneer of the peer and share your faith with me.”
If he were here today, he would tell you, “Sharing my faith is not something that I do. It’s just a way of life. It’s natural for me because I’ve done it so often, so frequently, it’s just become so comfortable for me, that I do it regularly.” And no exaggeration, I have never met another person who shares their faith more comfortably and more often than that man does.
I’m intimidated sometimes. I’m sure you’re intimidated about the idea of really going deep and having a gospel conversation with somebody, taking one of those 20 or 30 casual friendships, casual acquaintances and turning them into gospel friendships. If you’ll start to do it regularly, just like riding a bicycle, the fear starts to go away. And by the way, chances are you’re going to get a little bit better at it over time, and who knows; you, like that couple that shared Jesus with me, the first person you talk to, you may feel like you stumbled all over yourself, but God may use it anyway to do a miracle in somebody’s heart.
• Today, I recognize my need for eternal life. This morning, I surrendered my soul to Jesus for the first time.
– I have let FEAR prevent me from sharing my faith in the past. I’m praying for God to give me peace as I develop a Gospel friendship this week.
+ I will live free from FEAR this week.
- On a scale of 1-10, how comfortable are you with sharing your faith right now?
- How has Jesus supernaturally changed your heart? Can he do the same for someone you know who is far from God?
- When sharing your faith in Jesus, do your actions matter as much as your words? In your opinion, are your actions more important as the relationship grows deeper? Explain.
- When sharing your faith, are you concerned that someone will ask you a question to which you don’t know the answer?
- When you talk to someone about Jesus, do you expect him or her to be ready to accept the Gospel? Explain why or why not.
- With whom was the last person you felt strongly the Holy Spirit was prompting you to share your faith?
- Pray for Jesus to help you overcome any fear of sharing your faith this week.