What gives you hope? When you are coping with the death of a loved one, dealing with a job layoff, stuck in Upstate NY, shuddering your business. What goes you hope? Where do you put your hope? Where does your hope come from?
Psalm 62:5–8 || Rest in God alone, my soul, for my hope comes from him. 6 He alone is my rock and my salvation, my stronghold; I will not be shaken. 7 My salvation and glory depend on God, my strong rock. My refuge is in God. 8 Trust in him at all times, you people; pour out your hearts before him. God is our refuge. Selah [CSB]
So many of the songs of the Bible found in the Psalms are about going through difficult situations, and yet it also seems to be the place that talks the most about hope.
Our world is full of fear, not hope these days. Why? Because so many people have ignored God and placed their hope in science, medicine, knowledge and their own hands. They have made the chief end of things living a long, healthy life on this earth with as much pleasure and as little pain as possible.
None of those things are evil or wrong on their own, in fact they are gifts from God! But they are not where we turn to for hope or satisfaction…anything other than God in that role is an idol.
We know that all of life exists to declare the supremacy of God and that our lives are not about our pleasure. We live for a bigger mission. We live with a greater purpose. We live for a higher calling and we live with a tremendous HOPE because we have faith in the God who made us, the one who gave His life for us and indwells us.
We believe we will have an unprecedented number of opportunities in the days to come to share that hope with others. We want you to be ready.
1 Peter 3:15–16 || Instead, you must worship Christ as Lord of your life. And if someone asks about your hope as a believer, always be ready to explain it. 16 But do this in a gentle and respectful way. Keep your conscience clear. Then if people speak against you, they will be ashamed when they see what a good life you live because you belong to Christ. [NLT]
We should always be ready to share the hope that we have. But how, right? One of the most powerful ways to share your hope is to share your grace story. To share the story of what God has done in your life, or your testimony.
In one sense, I am not sure I like the title “testimony” because it sounds like I am on trial. Most times when I am sharing, no one is really judging me, though I may think they are in my own mind. However, I guess I do like the word in that it reminds us that it is not WE who are on trial, but God. We are giving witness to God and what He as done. In that sense the words fits well, because people are often judging God, and we can give an eyewitness account of what he has done.
This is SUPER evident in the story of the man born blind that Jesus healed:
John 9:13–27 || 13 Then they took the man who had been blind to the Pharisees, 14 because it was on the Sabbath that Jesus had made the mud and healed him. 15 The Pharisees asked the man all about it. So he told them, “He put the mud over my eyes, and when I washed it away, I could see!” 16 Some of the Pharisees said, “This man Jesus is not from God, for he is working on the Sabbath.” Others said, “But how could an ordinary sinner do such miraculous signs?” So there was a deep division of opinion among them. 17 Then the Pharisees again questioned the man who had been blind and demanded, “What’s your opinion about this man who healed you?” The man replied, “I think he must be a prophet.” 18 The Jewish leaders still refused to believe the man had been blind and could now see, so they called in his parents. 19 They asked them, “Is this your son? Was he born blind? If so, how can he now see?” 20 His parents replied, “We know this is our son and that he was born blind, 21 but we don’t know how he can see or who healed him. Ask him. He is old enough to speak for himself.” 22 His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jewish leaders, who had announced that anyone saying Jesus was the Messiah would be expelled from the synagogue. 23 That’s why they said, “He is old enough. Ask him.” 24 So for the second time they called in the man who had been blind and told him, “God should get the glory for this, because we know this man Jesus is a sinner.” 25 “I don’t know whether he is a sinner,” the man replied. “But I know this: I was blind, and now I can see!” 26 “But what did he do?” they asked. “How did he heal you?” 27 “Look!” the man exclaimed. “I told you once. Didn’t you listen? Why do you want to hear it again? Do you want to become his disciples, too?” [NLT]
The religious leaders were judging Jesus. The blind man did not try to defend Jesus. He just met Jesus and didn’t even get to really see him. So, he could not defend his teachings, he could not speak of the character of Jesus. What he did share was his grace story – the story of the way God showed up and poured out grace into his life and changed him.
Notice that the Jewish leaders could not argue with the man. They tried to dismiss what he said to prove their point, but they could not discount the work that God had done in the man’s life. He WAS blind. He NOW sees. There is no denying it, even if they will not believe in Jesus they cannot deny his work.
Let’s spend a little more time looking at a testimony of a more famous man in the Bible: Saul. In Acts 9, Saul meets Jesus and it changes his life.
Acts 9:1–20 || 1 Meanwhile, Saul was uttering threats with every breath and was eager to kill the Lord’s followers. So he went to the high priest. 2 He requested letters addressed to the synagogues in Damascus, asking for their cooperation in the arrest of any followers of the Way he found there. He wanted to bring them—both men and women—back to Jerusalem in chains. 3 As he was approaching Damascus on this mission, a light from heaven suddenly shone down around him. 4 He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul! Saul! Why are you persecuting me?” 5 “Who are you, lord?” Saul asked. And the voice replied, “I am Jesus, the one you are persecuting! 6 Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.” 7 The men with Saul stood speechless, for they heard the sound of someone’s voice but saw no one! 8 Saul picked himself up off the ground, but when he opened his eyes he was blind. So his companions led him by the hand to Damascus. 9 He remained there blind for three days and did not eat or drink. 10 Now there was a believer in Damascus named Ananias. The Lord spoke to him in a vision, calling, “Ananias!” “Yes, Lord!” he replied. 11 The Lord said, “Go over to Straight Street, to the house of Judas. When you get there, ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul. He is praying to me right now. 12 I have shown him a vision of a man named Ananias coming in and laying hands on him so he can see again.” 13 “But Lord,” exclaimed Ananias, “I’ve heard many people talk about the terrible things this man has done to the believers in Jerusalem! 14 And he is authorized by the leading priests to arrest everyone who calls upon your name.” 15 But the Lord said, “Go, for Saul is my chosen instrument to take my message to the Gentiles and to kings, as well as to the people of Israel. 16 And I will show him how much he must suffer for my name’s sake.” 17 So Ananias went and found Saul. He laid his hands on him and said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road, has sent me so that you might regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 18 Instantly something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he got up and was baptized. 19 Afterward he ate some food and regained his strength. Saul stayed with the believers in Damascus for a few days. 20 And immediately he began preaching about Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is indeed the Son of God!” [NLT]
Just a short while after his encounter with Jesus, Saul starts preaching about him!
I guess one of the first things we can learn from this is that it is never too early in your faith to start sharing it with others!
NOTE: Paul was educated in the Law, so he actually DID stick around for a while and refute the religious leaders and teach about Jesus being the Messiah. It almost got him killed and they had to move him to a new location.
Saul continues to preach to the Jews, who know God but do not accept Jesus, and most of his time is spent defending Jesus and the scriptures.
Eventually, Paul goes on some missionary journeys and travels around telling people about Jesus. In Acts 22 Paul gets permission from the Roman Commander, Claudius Lysias, to addresses an angry mob in Jerusalem. They want to arrest and kill Paul for what he is teaching. Listen to what Paul shares:
Acts 22:1–15 || 1 “Brothers and esteemed fathers,” Paul said, “listen to me as I offer my defense.” 2 When they heard him speaking in their own language, the silence was even greater. 3 Then Paul said, “I am a Jew, born in Tarsus, a city in Cilicia, and I was brought up and educated here in Jerusalem under Gamaliel. As his student, I was carefully trained in our Jewish laws and customs. I became very zealous to honor God in everything I did, just like all of you today. 4 And I persecuted the followers of the Way, hounding some to death, arresting both men and women and throwing them in prison. 5 The high priest and the whole council of elders can testify that this is so. For I received letters from them to our Jewish brothers in Damascus, authorizing me to bring the followers of the Way from there to Jerusalem, in chains, to be punished. 6 “As I was on the road, approaching Damascus about noon, a very bright light from heaven suddenly shone down around me. 7 I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?’ 8 “ ‘Who are you, lord?’ I asked. “And the voice replied, ‘I am Jesus the Nazarene, the one you are persecuting.’ 9 The people with me saw the light but didn’t understand the voice speaking to me. 10 “I asked, ‘What should I do, Lord?’ “And the Lord told me, ‘Get up and go into Damascus, and there you will be told everything you are to do.’ 11 “I was blinded by the intense light and had to be led by the hand to Damascus by my companions. 12 A man named Ananias lived there. He was a godly man, deeply devoted to the law, and well regarded by all the Jews of Damascus. 13 He came and stood beside me and said, ‘Brother Saul, regain your sight.’ And that very moment I could see him! 14 “Then he told me, ‘The God of our ancestors has chosen you to know his will and to see the Righteous One and hear him speak. 15 For you are to be his witness, telling everyone what you have seen and heard. [NLT]
What does he share? The story of what God did in his life. His grace story. There is a bit of a rhythm here that I like.
That is a great outline for you and me to use when we are sharing God’s story. Who we were and what we did before God. (do not glamorize this!). God’s work in reconciling us to Him. Who we are, the hope we have and the purpose we have now that we have been re-born.
By the end of his speech, the mob still wants to kill him because of the claims he made about Jesus. They never question his testimony. The never doubt his encounter with God. They challenge his theology.
In Acts 26 Paul is on trial before Herod Agrippa II, and his defense? It starts with his conversion experience from Acts 9, again:
Acts 26:1–23 || 1 Then Agrippa said to Paul, “You may speak in your defense.” So Paul, gesturing with his hand, started his defense: 2 “I am fortunate, King Agrippa, that you are the one hearing my defense today against all these accusations made by the Jewish leaders, 3 for I know you are an expert on all Jewish customs and controversies. Now please listen to me patiently! 4 “As the Jewish leaders are well aware, I was given a thorough Jewish training from my earliest childhood among my own people and in Jerusalem. 5 If they would admit it, they know that I have been a member of the Pharisees, the strictest sect of our religion. 6 Now I am on trial because of my hope in the fulfillment of God’s promise made to our ancestors. 7 In fact, that is why the twelve tribes of Israel zealously worship God night and day, and they share the same hope I have. Yet, Your Majesty, they accuse me for having this hope! 8 Why does it seem incredible to any of you that God can raise the dead? 9 “I used to believe that I ought to do everything I could to oppose the very name of Jesus the Nazarene. 10 Indeed, I did just that in Jerusalem. Authorized by the leading priests, I caused many believers there to be sent to prison. And I cast my vote against them when they were condemned to death. 11 Many times I had them punished in the synagogues to get them to curse Jesus. I was so violently opposed to them that I even chased them down in foreign cities. 12 “One day I was on such a mission to Damascus, armed with the authority and commission of the leading priests. 13 About noon, Your Majesty, as I was on the road, a light from heaven brighter than the sun shone down on me and my companions. 14 We all fell down, and I heard a voice saying to me in Aramaic, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It is useless for you to fight against my will.’ 15 “ ‘Who are you, lord?’ I asked. “And the Lord replied, ‘I am Jesus, the one you are persecuting. 16 Now get to your feet! For I have appeared to you to appoint you as my servant and witness. Tell people that you have seen me, and tell them what I will show you in the future. 17 And I will rescue you from both your own people and the Gentiles. Yes, I am sending you to the Gentiles 18 to open their eyes, so they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God. Then they will receive forgiveness for their sins and be given a place among God’s people, who are set apart by faith in me.’ 19 “And so, King Agrippa, I obeyed that vision from heaven. 20 I preached first to those in Damascus, then in Jerusalem and throughout all Judea, and also to the Gentiles, that all must repent of their sins and turn to God—and prove they have changed by the good things they do. 21 Some Jews arrested me in the Temple for preaching this, and they tried to kill me. 22 But God has protected me right up to this present time so I can testify to everyone, from the least to the greatest. I teach nothing except what the prophets and Moses said would happen— 23 that the Messiah would suffer and be the first to rise from the dead, and in this way announce God’s light to Jews and Gentiles alike.” [NLT]
Paul didn’t create some glamorous story. He didn’t try to change his story. He simply shared, whenever he had the opportunity, the work of God in changing him. In this passage he even talked about the hope he had.
It does not matter your background. You do not need a “flashy” story. We do not try to persuade people with Disney-esque stories of what God has done. But every man, woman or child that has encountered the living God and received forgiveness of sins through faith in Jesus HAS a story – a tremendous story! A rescue story.
When I am getting to know someone who I know is a Christian, at some point I may ask them to share their story, and I may share mine. If I know they’ve been around the church a while, I may use certain “churchy” “Christianese” words and phrases that are like shortcuts to getting at broad and complex topics. For example, and this is an exaggeration, but I could say something like:
“Christ’s redemptive work has drawn me to him through an ongoing process of sanctification which he began at a very early age in my life, as I made a profession of faith when I was 5, was baptized when I was 8, and truly dedicated my life to Christ when I was 10. Since then I have gone through some seasons of apathy, though not total apostacy, but God in his mercy has always been faithful to admonish, redeem, and sharpen me, through scripture and prayer, especially in the context of fellowship with the saints and discipleship of elders.”
That’s like my entire life of faith summed up in two (long, Paul-like) sentences. It’s not super personal, and I would want to expand on some things in a normal conversation, but just for the sake of example, I could say those exact sentences to many of you, or to probably any pastor in our association even if I didn’t know them, and I’m pretty sure they would track with what I’m saying and know exactly what I mean be those words and phrases.
However, If I was talking to someone who’s not familiar with words like “sanctification, redemption, apostacy, elders, etc...” then they’ll either write me off as a weirdo, or just pretend they know what I’m talking about without having benefited at all from it, or really learned anything about what God has done for me. For some people, I would want to expand on what it means to “make a profession of faith” what it meant for me to get baptized, and what I mean by “dedicated my life to Christ.”
All this is to say, it’s helpful to know who you’re talking to, and I think it’s ok if you tell your story a little bit differently when talking to your church family vs. a neighbor or a coworker who has never been a part of any church. This is also why it’s good to practice talking about what God has done and is doing in your life to all kinds of people!
John 4:1–26 || 1 Jesus knew the Pharisees had heard that he was baptizing and making more disciples than John 2 (though Jesus himself didn’t baptize them—his disciples did). 3 So he left Judea and returned to Galilee. 4 He had to go through Samaria on the way. 5 Eventually he came to the Samaritan village of Sychar, near the field that Jacob gave to his son Joseph. 6 Jacob’s well was there; and Jesus, tired from the long walk, sat wearily beside the well about noontime. 7 Soon a Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Please give me a drink.” 8 He was alone at the time because his disciples had gone into the village to buy some food. 9 The woman was surprised, for Jews refuse to have anything to do with Samaritans. She said to Jesus, “You are a Jew, and I am a Samaritan woman. Why are you asking me for a drink?” 10 Jesus replied, “If you only knew the gift God has for you and who you are speaking to, you would ask me, and I would give you living water.” 11 “But sir, you don’t have a rope or a bucket,” she said, “and this well is very deep. Where would you get this living water? 12 And besides, do you think you’re greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us this well? How can you offer better water than he and his sons and his animals enjoyed?” 13 Jesus replied, “Anyone who drinks this water will soon become thirsty again. 14 But those who drink the water I give will never be thirsty again. It becomes a fresh, bubbling spring within them, giving them eternal life.” 15 “Please, sir,” the woman said, “give me this water! Then I’ll never be thirsty again, and I won’t have to come here to get water.” 16 “Go and get your husband,” Jesus told her. 17 “I don’t have a husband,” the woman replied. Jesus said, “You’re right! You don’t have a husband— 18 for you have had five husbands, and you aren’t even married to the man you’re living with now. You certainly spoke the truth!” 19 “Sir,” the woman said, “you must be a prophet. 20 So tell me, why is it that you Jews insist that Jerusalem is the only place of worship, while we Samaritans claim it is here at Mount Gerizim, where our ancestors worshiped?” 21 Jesus replied, “Believe me, dear woman, the time is coming when it will no longer matter whether you worship the Father on this mountain or in Jerusalem. 22 You Samaritans know very little about the one you worship, while we Jews know all about him, for salvation comes through the Jews. 23 But the time is coming—indeed it’s here now—when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth. The Father is looking for those who will worship him that way. 24 For God is Spirit, so those who worship him must worship in spirit and in truth.” 25 The woman said, “I know the Messiah is coming—the one who is called Christ. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.” 26 Then Jesus told her, “I AM the Messiah!” [NLT]
John 4:39–42 || 39 Many Samaritans from the village believed in Jesus because the woman had said, “He told me everything I ever did!” 40 When they came out to see him, they begged him to stay in their village. So he stayed for two days, 41 long enough for many more to hear his message and believe. 42 Then they said to the woman, “Now we believe, not just because of what you told us, but because we have heard him ourselves. Now we know that he is indeed the Savior of the world.” [NLT]
John 1:43–46 || 43 The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Come, follow me.” 44 Philip was from Bethsaida, Andrew and Peter’s hometown. 45 Philip went to look for Nathanael and told him, “We have found the very person Moses and the prophets wrote about! His name is Jesus, the son of Joseph from Nazareth.” 46 “Nazareth!” exclaimed Nathanael. “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” “Come and see for yourself,” Philip replied. [NLT]
Luke 5:27–31 || 27 Later, as Jesus left the town, he saw a tax collector named Levi sitting at his tax collector’s booth. “Follow me and be my disciple,” Jesus said to him. 28 So Levi got up, left everything, and followed him. 29 Later, Levi held a banquet in his home with Jesus as the guest of honor. Many of Levi’s fellow tax collectors and other guests also ate with them. 30 But the Pharisees and their teachers of religious law complained bitterly to Jesus’ disciples, “Why do you eat and drink with such scum?” 31 Jesus answered them, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do. [NLT]