Ephesians 5:6-14 Nobody should deceive you with stupid ideas. God’s anger comes down on those who are disobedient because of this kind of thing. So you shouldn’t have anything to do with them. You were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord, so live your life as children of light. Light produces fruit that consists of every sort of goodness, justice, and truth. Therefore, test everything to see what’s pleasing to the Lord, and don’t participate in the unfruitful actions of darkness. Instead, you should reveal the truth about them. It’s embarrassing to even talk about what certain persons do in secret. But everything exposed to the light is revealed by the light. Everything that is revealed by the light is light. Therefore, it says, Wake up, sleeper! Get up from the dead, and Christ will shine on you. 

Have you ever felt like you were just going through the motions in life and did not really know where you were going? That is kind of like what Paul is talking about here. He is writing this letter to show people the life in Christ that is waiting for everyone. We can all live in such a way that would embarrass other people and even fill us with guilt. Paul is reminding the readers that Christ came to extinguish the former way of life and move us into this new life that looks so different from how everyone else in the world wants us to live.

Light and darkness are a key theme throughout the New Testament, and one of the things I have thought about is how much of a difference light makes. When the light shines, we can see the path we should be on and see obstacles that are in the path that are trying to trip us up and cause us to change course. But when we trust that Christ is guiding us, our entire life is different and has a different purpose – life has an incredible purpose!

I love how Paul brings to light the life that is dark, that is going away from Christ. This kind of dark life leads us astray and we only think about ourselves and what we want and how we’re going to get it. But Christ, invites us to a new way of life that encompasses the entirety of humanity and desires us to bring more people into the light. This kind of life, where we embrace the life Christ gives, produces more fruit (lasting rewards) than anything we could do solely by living for ourselves.

When we walk in ways of darkness (see the end of Ephesians 4 and the beginning of chapter 5), it is like our soul is dead and sleeping and we cannot see or experience the life that Christ has to offer. But Christ comes along and shouts to our sleeping souls, “Wake up sleeper! Get up from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” This life is not always easy, but it is definitely rewarding and worth everything to have Christ shine his light on us so we can reflect his glory where ever we are and whatever we do.


Simple Steps (Sharing Our Faith) Part 4 of 4

This blog series (parts 1-4) is the sermon teaching how to share our faith in Jesus Christ easily and naturally. Sermon given by Ryan Stratton on Sunday, September 21, 2014.

The Scripture reference for this sermon is Luke 15:1-7.

I have heard it said it takes a people an average of 10 times to hear the gospel (good news) message of Jesus Christ before they decide to make any life change. Our job is just to be faithful to the Spirit’s leading and go when he says “go.”

So let’s look at the parable again with the lense of learning how to witness and share our faith:

  1. The shepherd know there is part of the flock that is missing.
    1. This means we should be open to hearing from God to see what the situation is (this applies to unbelievers as well as those who have strayed away for whatever reason)
    2. All this means is that we simply leave our place of comfort (being with those like us) and moving toward those God is leading us to.
  2. The Shepherd “goes for a walk.”
    1. We see the shepherd meets the sheep exactly where it is.
    2. For us, it is simply listening to the other person so they feel valued (people will not come to love and follow Jesus if we do not show compassion and love toward them)
  3. The shepherd does not judge or condemn.
    1. He just carefully pick up the sheep (our case: speaking God’s love to the person) and guides it back to the flock.
    2. The shepherd is constantly guiding and being the right example to point the sheep to the life that God can and does offer for ALL.

That is really how simple it is. In the midst of the conversations we have, at some point it may become spiritual. So I invite you to think about how you came to faith (your personal faith story). This is basically 3 things: How you came to faith, how you are different because of your faith, and why your faith continues to be important for you. The best part is, this can be done in 100 words or less (45 seconds to 1 minute). I would be happy to sit down and work with you on this.

An example testimony:

I was raised to think of and believe in God and Jesus Christ. In my teenage years, I drifted from the church but always felt a hole and a longing to return. My friends helped me see and experience God in studies, prayer, etc. When I look back, I see that God has pursued me and that I have sensed his presence throughout my life. Jesus Christ broke me out of the prisons of selfishness and pride so that I could experience this new life that only he can give.

After this we can share the good news (the gospel message).

Examples of what you might say:

Amazing Grace

Amazing grace! How sweet the sound

that saved a wretch like me!

I once was lost, but now I’m found;

was blind, but now I see.

John 3:16-17

God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him won’t perish but will have eternal life. God didn’t send the Son in the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through him.

The important thing is that we speak of the Gospel in personal terms, however you might say it: God created everything. People strayed. Jesus Christ came, showed us how to live and rose from the dead so we would have eternal life and know God personally. It is by God’s grace we are saved.

God is actively seeking out those people who are far away from him. We have the opportunity to join with God in this endeavor.

There may be people thinking, “my faith story is not important enough or valid enough to share.”

Every story and person matters. I invite you to take a name tag. On it, I would like you to write your first name. Below your name write:

“I can share my faith story, it matters!”

Now, wear your name tag throughout worship and at least on your way home.

No one is too far from God. No story is invalid. Here is our challenge: this week, if we are open to is, God will place in our path someone we should talk to. I hope and pray we all take the time to see God working in us so that we can reach out to those people in need so they can enter the joy, rest and real life God through Jesus Christ offers to all people.

Simple Steps (Sharing Our Faith) Part 3

This blog series (parts 1-4) is the sermon teaching how to share our faith in Jesus Christ easily and naturally. Sermon given by Ryan Stratton on Sunday, September 21, 2014.

The Scripture reference for this sermon is Luke 15:1-7.

For some reason, many of us, including me, are timid or afraid to witness our faith about Jesus Christ to another person.

  • They say 90% feel they have failed in witnessing attempts in the past.
  • They are biblically illiterate.
  • They leave it to the professionals.
  • We shouldn’t impose our faith on others.
  • My actions will speak for me so I don’t have to talk.

Our job is not to try and “convert” someone to the Christian faith. Our job is to continually point people to the faith by our actions AND our words. A simple definition of witnessing is “to see or hear or experience something and to testify to it’s occurrence.”

Another definition comes from Stuart Briscoe, “A witness is someone who by explanation and demonstration gives audible evidence of what he has seen and heard without being deterred by the consequences of his actions.”

Basically a question we should all answer is, “if we know and have possession of something or information that brings us joy, should we hesitate to share?”

We love to tell (share with) people about the restaurant, the movie, the new drink, the new friend, etc..

Evangelism is much easier than most people may think. It boils down to this: “just take a walk and begin a conversation with someone and see how the conversation naturally flows.

This is an aspect of our everyday lives. We have been studying and practicing this concept in our Saturday worship as well as in the youth group. Notice this also, evangelism can be done anywhere: at the store, in rush hour traffic, at home, in our neighborhood, school, work, etc.. The shepherd was at work.

“But,” you might say, “I’m not allowed to talk about Jesus at school or at work.” This is kind of true. Our actions, work habits and demeanor should lead people to ask questions like, “what makes you so different, joyful, peaceful, able to cope with this stress?”

At this point, we can share.

There is no secret to evangelism. There really are simple steps we all can take to point another person toward Jesus Christ. Think about this for a moment, who was it that brought you to faith? Parents, children, teens, pastor, friend, youth director–who?

So many people encounter those “zealous” Christians who want to constantly change someone’s mind about Christ and feel it is their job to get the person to “make a commitment” right then and there. We should speak the truth so that people will be open to hear the voice of God speaking to their lives. It is then people will be able to begin to change their lives and follow Christ.

Simple Steps (Sharing Our Faith) Part 2

This blog series (parts 1-4) is the sermon teaching how to share our faith in Jesus Christ easily and naturally. Sermon given by Ryan Stratton on Sunday, September 21, 2014.

The Scripture reference for this sermon is Luke 15:1-7.

We all know the saying, “there is one in every crowd.” Well Jesus says this shepherd knows exactly how many sheep are in the flock. ALL of a sudden, when he was doing roll call and looking over past attendance, the shepherd notices one of the sheep is not there. There’s one in every crowd who always likes to do their own thing and not clue the others in or simply may not want to follow. The sheep stopped coming to prayer group, Sunday School, Bible Study, worship, etc… One just wanted to do it’s own thing!

Can you feel the tension and panic from the shepherd who unconditionally cares for each individual sheep? “One of the sheep under my watch and care has gone missing!”

Did you also catch that 99 stayed behind? Sheep usually do not go off alone. People don’t either unless something may be wrong. Maybe this one sheep felt abandoned. Maybe he saw a shiny object, or a squirrel, and gravitated toward it. Maybe the other sheep did not like him…they wouldn’t let him play in the sheep games. Maybe he did not feel welcome, even if the other sheep were the most welcoming and gracious people. Our imaginations could come up a many ideas why the sheep left the safety of the flock. The point is the sheep is missing!

Without thinking or hesitating, the shepherd goes off and searches for the missing sheep out in the wilderness and among any type of danger, ridicule, etc.. he might encounter.

The shepherd finds the sheep! What does the shepherd do when he finds the sheep?

He tries to convince it to return…no.

He begins to shame the sheep for wandering off…no.

He tells the sheep of the wonderful activities the rest of the flock is doing so he’ll be enticed to come back…no.

The only thing the shepherd is interested in is that the lost, confused, loner sheep has been found. So he bends down and gently picks up the sheep and carries it back on his shoulders ALL THE WAY back to the flock. Without complaining, without saying someone else will come get you, without plotting how the sheep will be blamed for making the shepherd go out of his way. The shepherd took the initiative and rejoiced the whole way back!

When he gets back with the rest of the flock, the shepherd throws a party–not for admiration of himself; but because the sheep is back! He throws the party for the sheep!

Imagine this: in all three of the parables there is an act of repentance. The sheep in this story could not repent of it’s own; but the very act of it allowing the shepherd to pick it up and carry it back to safety is a symbol of repentance because the sheep completely trusts the shepherd to care for it and lead it.

I’m sure sometime while the sheep was out, it thought (if sheep could think this way), “I’m lost and I am getting hungry and thirsty and I am all alone and scared. I don’t know the way back. I need help! Where is my guide? When the shepherd appears the sheep allows him to carry it. In essence, the sheep was saying, “I cannot do this on my own and I know now I should stay with you.”

God says through the prophet Ezekiel, “I myself will search for  my flock and seek them out. As a shepherd seeks out the flock when some in the flock have scattered, so will I seek out my flock. I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered during the time of cloud and thick darkness….I will seek out the lost, bring back the strays, bind up the wounded, and strengthen the weak.” (Ezekiel 34:11-12;16a)

God is working in us and through us. He is constantly inviting us to participate in bringing more people into his flock and back into the flock. This is why we witness and share our faith.

Simple Steps (Sharing Our Faith) Part 1 of 4

This blog series is the sermon teaching how to share our faith in Jesus Christ easily and naturally. Sermon given by Ryan Stratton on Sunday, September 21, 2014.

The Scripture reference for this sermon is Luke 15:1-7

“When he was the pastor of the Methodist church in Scarborough, William Sangster had an eccentric member who tried to be a zealous Christian. Unfortunately, the man was socially inept and usually did the wrong thing. While working as a barber, the man lathered up a customer for a shave, came at him with the poised razor, and asked, ‘Are you prepared to meet your God?’ The frightened man fled with the lather on his face!” (Wiersbe, Warren. Wycliff Handbook of Preaching and Preachers)

Warren Wiersbe paints this story of how some people try to be “creative” in their evangelistic and witnessing methods.

We all know the saying attributed to St. Francis of Assisi, “Preach the Gospel at all times and if necessary, use words.” This is absolutely true since our lives are to represent the good news of Jesus Christ: by how we move, how we speak (how do we speak to those who serve us), how we interact with others (peaceful or downgrading or demeaning), by our actions (actions really do speak louder than words). But there comes a time when we must speak and use our words to convey the hope we have in Jesus Christ.

1 Peter 3:15 (CEB) “Whenever anyone asks you to speak of your hope, be ready to defend it.”

1 Timothy 2:4 (CEB) “God wants all people to be saved AND to come to a knowledge of the truth.”

Today’s story of the lost sheep, in Luke 15, will be our guide to see why we should bear witness to our faith and how we should go about it so we can follow our Shepherd, Jesus Christ.

First, we’ll talk discuss this story–hopefully shedding new light on it–then we’ll explore how this relates to our everyday lives and finally see what God may have to say to us about sharing our faith.

This is really an interesting chapter since it consists only of 3 parables that Jesus taught: the lost sheep, the lost coin, the lost son. If we pay attention, we’ll see some interesting points to consider that we could easily overlook. First of all there are 100 sheep; then there are 10 coins; then there is 1 son. Jesus is funneling down the numbers to show us what is important.

As the Pharisees were listening to these stories, can’t you just imagine them trying to figure out why these stories were being told and how they are applicable to them?

The similarities in each of these stories is simply this: something is lost and then it becomes found. Isn’t that true of us here and our friends and family who do not know or believe in Jesus Christ did not realize we were lost and searching for God; but all of this time God is actively seeking out his flock–and he uses people like you and me.

More important than this, we see the owner, the leader, the parent who is concerned and searches (sometimes through the situations themselves) for the lost item, animal, person AND THEN rejoices and throws a party because what once was lost is now found!

This chapter starts off with the Scribes and the Pharisees chastising Jesus for socializing with sinners (people “beneath” them). But Jesus welcomed and still welcomes anyone and everyone who will listen and follow.

We always have people that will say negative things about us or make fun of us for whatever reason. Most of the time it is because those making fun of us do not really understand what is really going on.

Jesus did not let their comments bother or deter him from doing what he thought he should be doing. He just keeps on doing what he knows is the right thing to do: reach out to show and tell ALL PEOPLE HE CAN about God’s unconditional love to ALL. So he begins with a parable about a shepherd and his sheep.