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Dr. Jay P. Cook, Pastor

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Telling Your Story – A Contagious Story Can Change A Life
1 Peter 3:15
Acts 26

Real-life stories can be powerful – they tend to get people’s attention. They can change minds, touch hearts, and impact lives. They can even reshape societies and redirect history.
Take, for example, the story of the hard-living, liquor-slogging, vulgarity-spewing captain of a slave ship in the 1700s who in the midst of a terrible storm cried out to God for deliverance from the wind and waves—and mercifully received it. His name was John Newton, and he later told of how that experience was used by God to dramatically reorient his entire life and perspective, including his views on slavery. His story and experiences became key influences in the life of William Wilberforce who, decades later, succeeded in abolishing the slave trade in the entire British Empire.
What if Young Life had not been around for Brian Shirak?  The ministry of Young Life helped to change the life of Brian and in turn helped kids here in Richwood and the surrounding area make decisions to follow Christ. Ask Brian about his story of having a relationship with Christ.  Stories are important. 
Do you know who Bob Pierce was? Good chance you don’t know who he is but his story and life his life has changed thousands of people’s lives. A young missionary named Bob Pierce felt such compassion for a young Chinese girl whose widowed mother could not afford to send her to a mission school that he gave all he had to help: fifteen dollars. That was enough to enroll her in the school—and he committed to sending money every month for her continued support. When he later went back to America and began to tell others about the needs he had seen in Asia and the story of what he had done to help this girl, the concept of child sponsorship caught on and began to grow. Today the organization he started, World Vision, has over 500,000 people sponsoring children every month, supporting 100 million people in 99 countries, and it has become one of the largest relief agencies on the planet!
Stories can be so powerful? We see in these stories transformation: one helped to stop slavery in the Western world and the other provides food and support to needy people around the world!
When it comes to “Developing a Contagious Faith,” stories can have a huge impact as well! That’s why the Bible is so adamant in 1 Peter 3:15 about our need to “always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.”
Our stories / testimonies can be absolutely contagious in their influence and impact! Chuck Swindoll writes in his book, Come Before Winter: “The skeptic may deny your doctrine or attack your church, but he cannot honestly ignore the fact that your life has been changed.”
Let me tell you about the Apostle Paul who finds himself arrested and makes a defense of his belief – he has been arrested and is on trial for his life. So let’s look at Acts 26 and a great example of how God used one man’s story. In this passage the apostle Paul is in prison for his faith, and he’s given the opportunity to speak in his own defense before King Agrippa. He tells his story in a clear and powerful way—one I’m confident we can all learn from. I’ll read it, and you can follow along in your Bible. We’ll start in verse one, and read most of the chapter.

Have you ever spent time in jail because of your belief in Christ?  I haven’t but Paul did. Paul was obviously very effective in his communications here—and the way he went about telling his story left some great clues for all of us to benefit from. So for the rest of our time together we’re going to look at five principles we can learn from Paul’s example in order to help us all be more ready to tell our own stories whenever opportunities arise. There is an insert in the bulletin with the passage from Acts 26.  Please take that out and follow along as we look at the 5 principles that are built around an acrostic of the word “S.T.O.R.Y.” Let’s begin with the “S.”

  1. The “S” in STORY: Start with the Other Person.  It is not about me but rather it is about relating with the other person.  Our story may help the other person with their decision to follow Christ.
    1. Notice that Paul didn’t start with himself. In verses 2–3 and you’ll see that he actually focused his attention and opening words directly on his listener, King Agrippa.
      1. More than just being polite or introducing a topic he wanted to talk about, he was very careful to establish areas of common ground that they had with each other on an ordinary, human level.  Jesus did the same thing when He talked with the woman at the well.
      1. They were both Jewish, even if King Agrippa was not observant in his Judaism. They were both well educated and aware of the details and nuances of the Jewish faith.
      1. And Paul spoke to him with great respect, even if he didn’t respect his values or lifestyle. Paul was establishing rapport, which earned him the right to ask at the end of verse 3 that the king patiently listen to what he had to say.
    1. Paul taught that we need to do whatever it takes to lead another to Christ. Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 9:22–23: “To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel that I may share in its blessings.
      1. In other words, he was very intentional about relating his message in a way that would be understandable and relevant to the person he was talking to—without ever softening or compromising it in any way.
      1. Most of us as Christians struggle with either not talking about our faith at all, or going to the other extreme and talking only about OUR faith and experience. Each of us needs to be careful to not fall into that latter trap of self-centered spirituality.
    1. Put the other person first.
      1. Ask questions
      2. Really listen
      3. Get to know them and understand where they’re coming from.
      4. Then, based on what you learn, relate your story to their experience and situation. You’ll be much more effective and much more useful in God’s hands.
  1. The “T” in STORY: Talk with Confidence and Clarity 
  1. Think about the situation for a moment. Paul was a prisoner, and he was actually brought into the room wearing heavy chains. It was a humiliating situation, standing in shackles before this king and his sister who, we are told in Acts 25, had come into the room with great pomp. Paul was seemingly at a huge psychological disadvantage in this interchange.
  1. Yet it’s obvious that he was not intimidated or hesitant. As soon as he was given the opportunity to talk, he waved his hand to silence the crowd and then began to speak boldly.
      1. He talked about being “fortunate” to be speaking to the king. Then he laid out his facts clearly and concisely. 
      1. He confidently appealed to the knowledge of his Jewish listeners at one point and also to the king himself at another point.
      1. And he stood up to Festus when Festus called him insane, and asserted calmly that he was not crazy, and that in fact what he was saying was true.

 

  1. Where did Paul get this confidence and clarity?
      1. First, he personally knew who Christ was. Paul had learned long time before this event about God’s Son his Lord and Savior, Jesus. He had his own personal experience with the Lord – Christ had personally called him.  You can’t argue with Paul’s experience.
    1. He had carefully looked into all of the claims and evidence, and talked personally to some of the people Jesus had walked with.
    1. So Paul was able to exclaim in one of his letters, “I am not ashamed, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him for that day” (2 Timothy 1:12).
      1. Second, he knew who he was: He knew he was a favored son of the King of Kings—so he wasn’t going to let a mere human king intimidate him.  We have been adopted into the family of God – have become co-heirs with Christ.  That is about as awesome as you can get.
  1. Knowing the truth about God and about himself gave Paul courage and strength even in the most difficult of circumstances.  
  1. And guess what? The same can be true for all of us!
  1. Many of us get timid about our faith and about sharing Christ with others.  Maybe it is because we think that I can’t do that:
    1. I haven’t the training
    2. I haven’t read the right books
    3. I never went to the classes the pastor offered
    4. And I didn’t go to seminary
    5. Whatever your excuse is it is not legitimate enough to get out of God’s calling.
    1. That’s why I offered “Becoming a Contagious Christian” and have spent the last month teaching on sharing your faith. I want all of us to be grounded in the truth and able to share our faith.
    1. Bible Study on Sunday nights is looking into what we believe and how we can be sure of what we believe.  You ought to be there.
      1. Third, he was empowered with the Holy Spirit.  He trusted in the Holy Spirit to equip him with the right words at the right time.  We too ought to have that same assurance: Counting on who the Lord was – knowing Christ personally; knowing who was – a servant of the Lord, an apostle called by Christ and empowered by the Holy Spirit.  What else would he need?  What else do we need?
  1. The “O” in STORY: Organize Your Story Chronologically.
    1. Notice that Paul didn’t ramble around when he told King Agrippa his story. He had obviously thought it through ahead of time and had organized his thoughts—in keeping with what Peter said in 1 Peter 3:15 about “being prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks.”
    1. He clearly and concisely relayed his experience in the order it actually happened. Check him out starting in verse 4, where he talks about his experience growing up, before knowing Christ.
      1. He said, “The Jews all know the way I have lived ever since I was a child, from the beginning of my life in my own country, and also in Jerusalem,”and he continued in that vein through verse 11. We refer to that as the “B.C.,” or “Before Christ” part of his story.
      1. But then in verse 12 he shifts into talking about his encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus, and he elaborates on that experience through verse 18. This is the middle part of his story, which we’ll refer to as the M.C. part, meaning “Met Christ.”
      1. Then in verse 19, he goes on to the “A.D, After Deciding to Follow Christ.” part of his story, which is what happened after he met Christ. He says, “So then, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the vision from heaven …”and he goes on from there.
    1. Notice how the whole account feels so natural? That same approach works well today too. We’re all used to seeing before-and-after testimonials that illustrate how buying a product, or taking a medication, or getting on an exercise routine can make a difference in our lives.
      1. Only, in this instance, the difference is a deep, real, and lasting change that goes right to our very heart and soul—and lasts for all eternity!
      1. As a committed follower of Christ we can tell our story the same way:  B.C = Before Christ, M.C.= Met Christ, A.D.= After Deciding to Follow.
      1.  And that story can have a huge impact on the people around you, even if it might seem kind of bland and unexciting to you. If knowing Jesus has changed your life, then a whole lot of people out there could benefit from hearing about it.
    1. Also, before I go on, let me say a brief but important word to any of you who feel they are still in the B.C. (before Christ) of life - have never met Christ / M.C. You may be listening to all of this and thinking to yourself, “My story? What story? I’m still trying to figure out what all of this means!”
      1. Well, if that’s you, we want you to know we’re really glad you’re here. We’re confident that this church is a place where you can sort out what to think about God, and learn about how to take “next steps” on your spiritual journey.
      1. Nothing could be more important, so please hang out after the service in the Sanctuary and I and a couple of other spiritual leaders will be thrilled to talk to you when this service ends in a few minutes, so we can talk about whatever questions or issues you’d like to discuss
      1. So, please do everything you can to be here the next two weekends, when we’ll go into much more depth on what this whole “M.C.” or “meeting Christ” part is all about. This is such a vital issue—and I’m committed, as is this entire church, to helping you move forward in your journey toward Christ. We hope that, with God’s help, you’ll also soon have a spiritual story to tell!

 

  1. The “R” in STORY: Relate Your Experience to the Other Person’s Life
  1. I love this one—and can’t overemphasize its importance. Paul related with King Agrippa who was Jewish and grew up knowing the truth of following Christ.  How do we relate with someone?  Let me give you a simple outline using the B.C.; M.C.; & A.D. model. 
  1. I am going to do it through my own story using the B.C.; M.C.; and A.D model.
      1. B.C. How many of you grew up in the church?  Can I see your hands?  Great I did too – had no choice – whether we wanted to we were going on Sunday morning.  I’m sure some of you can relate
        1. Just because I went to church did not make me a Christian – becoming a Christian doesn’t happen through osmosis or because your Grandmother had 20 years perfect attendance.
        2. Or that your father was a preacher – I had to make up my own mind about following Christ.  
      1. I certainly wasn’t a perfect kid growing – were you?  Any of you had a perfect childhood and teenage years?  I didn’t necessarily hang out with bad kids either – I was a typical kid – doing some things I now have selective amnesia – I have purposefully forgotten but nothing that was so out of the ordinary.  Played a lot of playground basketball and sandlot football and baseball. 
        1. Notice I don’t go into much detail here – the real important thing to remember is that we need keep things brief.
      1. But I was consider basically a good kid that was active in Scouts, went to church camp, and was active in Young Life – even taught Sunday School but had never made a decision to follow Christ.  Until my Senior year in high school.
      1. M.C. – Met Christ - there were a lot of people in my life that talked about their Christian faith and it made a lot of sense but something hadn’t clicked yet – It was like I was going through a long spiritual pregnancy.  The Holy Spirit was expecting new birth anytime in me.  The spiritual birth happened in the Spring of my Sr. year of high school at a rally that our Young Life leader took us to at the Point in Pittsburgh.  The speaker was a guy by the name of Arthur Blessitt who had walked carrying a cross with a wheel on it from Hollywood California to Washington D.C. and he stopped for a rally in Pittsburgh to share the good news of Jesus Christ. I’m not even sure exactly what he said but I understood that God wanted me and I had to say yes.  He gave an invitation to become a Christian and my life hasn’t been the same since. The Holy Spirit has been transforming me from that time on.  He is still working on me. Was this something spectacular with fireworks – no but it was a life changing moment for me.   Everything that my parents, Sunday School teachers, camp counselors, a special dean of a church camp at Jumonville Uncle Jack, and a really great Young Life Leader, Ray Saunders all came to together to bring about a spiritual birth and God’s transforming grace is still working on me.  Young Life recently did a tribute to Ray Saunders who recently passed on to glory.
  1. The story must never end there – what is happening in the A.D., after deciding to follow Christ is extremely important because then we can ask others to join us in this transforming spiritual journey.   Here is the thing you got to attempt to close the deal
  1. One of most common errors that salespeople commit is to present all of the details about their product, but then shy away from asking their potential customer for the order.  And didn’t we all hate it when a schoolteacher would talk about the importance of a subject, but then leave us fuzzy about what we needed to know to be ready for the test?
  1. If all you do is tell the story of our personal encounter with God and leave it there, you’ll be like that salesperson, or teacher. You’ll be an almost-Contagious Christian! You’ll have told some interesting spiritual autobiographical information, but you’ll likely not persuade your listeners to follow Christ.  One of the most common errors after telling your story is to shy away from having a person respond.   
  1. But look at what Paul did in verses 26 and 27. He courageously said, “The king is familiar with these things, and I can speak freely to him. I am convinced that none of this has escaped his notice, because it was not done in a corner. King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know you do.”  If effect he’s saying: “You’ve heard my story, you’ve got the information, and you know it’s all true — NOW DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT!”
  1. We need to follow Paul’s example, and not just tell others about our experience with Christ, but also apply what that can mean to them, and encourage them to act on that knowledge by seeking and following Jesus.
  1. The “Y” in STORY: Your Mission: Point People to Christ
    1. The reason Paul was so bold, so clear, and so persuasive was because he knew he was on a mission. His top concern was not to defend and preserve his own life—it was to save the lives and eternities of the people who were listening to him! 
    1. This was about leading another person to make a decision to follow Christ! It was about being contagious with the wonderful message that Jesus Christ can change a life. He had changed Paul’s life, and Paul wanted the same for everyone listening to him, including those who were acting as his enemies.  I understand that is why I am where I am today and I want others to be sharing their faith.
      1. And notice that his hearers got the point. In verse 28 Agrippa said to Paul, “Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?”
      1. Agrippa was feeling the challenge. He knew that Paul was on a mission, and that mission was him! 
      1. And notice, too, that Paul didn’t back down even an inch. He didn’t say what many people who claim to be Christians today would say: 
        1. “Well, I don’t want to try to change anyone’s mind. I mean, I’m just saying that the Jesus approach works for me. But you may have a different perspective—you know, your own truth.
        1. It would be presumptuous for me to try to tell you my way is right and your way is wrong. I’ll just pray that one way or another God will lead you in the right direction, whatever that might be, and let’s try not to offend each other—okay?”
        1. Be offensive if you must – the place of eternity is at risk. 
    1. Can you imagine? Paul scanning the room from left to right, then looking at King Agrippa in the eye, and, throwing caution and political correctness to the wind, said boldly: “Short time or long—I pray to God that not only you but all who are listening to me today may become what I am,”and then he winsomely added, “except for these chains.”
      1. He was trying to persuade the king and everyone else within earshot to move everything that was getting in their way in order to know and follow Jesus as their forgiver and leader!
      1. The prisoner was passionately trying to take captives for Christ! The king felt the heat, and really had two choices: get right with God or get away from Paul! If you look at the passage, you’ll see that he unfortunately got up and left the room. I hope and pray that any spiritual onlookers here today will make a better choice than Agrippa did.

Conclusion:
And I trust that all of us who name Christ as our leader will capture some of Paul’s tenacious spirit and get on the offense with the people around us who are dying to know the real Jesus.
Listen, you’ve got a story to tell, and God can really use it, so please remember:
• Start with the other person
• Talk with confidence and clarity
• Organize it naturally
• Relate it to the other person. And remember:
• Your mission is to point them to Christ, so they can begin their own story!
I began this message by mentioning the story of John Newton, the former slave trader who called out to God from his ship in the middle of a storm and became a committed follower of Christ. He not only spoke and wrote often about his story, he also put it into a song—one that has become a favorite to millions for hundreds of years. Listen to the words of that song. It’s his powerful story, and it’s yours and mine, too:

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found
Was blind, but now I see!

hear us but that we will finally hear Him.  (William McGill)

Please click here for slides to accompany the sermon.