Sunday, 4 March 2018

Christians are Hopeful - Colossians 1

Paul writes to the Colossian Christians, encouraged by their faith and love. He writes that their faith and love 'spring from hope stored in heaven' (v5). Faith and love are not simply good qualities that those local Christians have made themselves good at, something naturally found in a few. Instead they result from an incredible treasure chest, a wonderful store. That store is hope - a solid anchor in the future.

This is the hope that Jesus is Lord; that God's purposes will win out; that salvation for believers is assured; and that a resurrection body awaits us! These are certain and sure, like a big stake sunk into the ground setting the direction for us to journey towards. Yet that hope reaches back into the now - life now can be different - and is something worth talking about with people.

This week's False Narrative is that only certain Christians can share this hope - the gifted, the clever or the courageous. Christians fall into believing this narrative often because they are afraid of offending, rejection, being the hypocrite, or not having all the right answers.

Yet the True Narrative is that all Christians can share their faith. Yes some are more gifted and natural at it, but all can talk of the hope they have. The answer to the fear of offending etc. lies not in being more sophisticated, but in your story - as a believer in Jesus who faith and love springs from the hope that you have. Your story is significant - it shows hope reaching into the now!

Our hope of course is possible only because of Jesus: his life, death, resurrection and ascension. We rehearse His story, because it disrupts history and changes everything, and therefore our own story.

The false narrative assumes we have to have it all sorted, ready to give the full gospel in one big neat download backed by all the right answers ...

We don't!

Our friends around us aren't necessarily looking for right answers, they simply want to know 'Is it True?'. Does what you say match what they read in your life? Someone once said 'You are the Bible that people will read' - people may not pick up Scripture, but they will be reading our lives. Many Christians know the phrase 'Preach the gospel - if necessary use words'. Whether St Francis of Assisi actually said this is now debated, but the phrase is still helpful when taken in combination with 1 Peter 3:15 'Always be prepared to give the reason for the hope that you have in Jesus ...'. People will read our lives, see our actions ... but typically it will then be necessary to help them interpret that with words, explaining the good news and thus the hope that we have.

Someone else put it 'Evangelism can be by being, by doing, and by speaking - but all being can equal passive; all doing can equal ambiguous; all speaking can equal facile'. In other words we need a combination ... but the combination is something that all Christians can do! Hope affects who we are, and therefore what we do, as well as what we have to say.

Remember it is our job to be a witness - the late Billy Graham put it like this: 'My job is to witness, the Spirit's to convince, the Father's to judge'. So we don't have to hound or bash people verbally, but simply tell of why my life is different, describing your own comparison of life with Christ versus life without Christ. 2 Timothy 4:5 instructs Timothy to 'do the work of an evangelist'. It may not be his natural gifting, but a role for everyone to step into, because Jesus is for everyone. Bill Hybels sums up his conviction neatly: 'I am convinced that every person I meet would be better off with Christ than without'.

My own tips for becoming better at sharing are:
  1. Pray - pray for opportunities, the right person in the right place.
  2. Be available - make yourself available for times of chat (remember 'Margin 4 Jesus').
  3. Listen - what is the person's story, where are they coming from. Respect that.
  4. Connect - make connections from what they have said, e.g. 'You have hit on an important faith principle there ...', or 'Interesting ... I actually view this kind of thing differently ...'
  5. Share - share your story, how Jesus is real for you. From here you can typically link in the stories of Jesus - what he did and said (remember if people get to see Jesus, they get to see God).
Note that items 1 to 3 above need no special skill - any believer can do them. Yes number 4 starts to bring in some expertise, but this comes with practice.

If you are worried about causing offence or rejection, remember that it is also the way you speak and not simply the content. Both the Peter and Timothy verses quoted above go on to qualify 'with gentleness and respect / patience and careful instruction'. Yet despite your sensitivity and care you may still offend or get rejected. That is something we must accept as part of the role.

For the fear of being a hypocrite or not having the right answers, my advice is to be honest with people that as a follower of Jesus you are still learning (a disciple!), so you do make mistakes, you haven't got it all sorted, and there are things you can't answer. On technical points that stump you admit your lacking in knowledge, offer to go away and research and then get back to them!

In Acts 1:8 Jesus tells the disciples 'You are my witnesses'. He didn't say 'a select few of you are ...'. The disciples all saw him ascend, i.e. disappear from view knowing that he was now to sit with the Father in majesty and rule. That determined their hope for the future, for in him they had seen history changed. The hope changed their whole mindset, it was something they were all going to be able to talk about, and so as hopeful people would all be his witnesses.

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