What difference has Christ made in your life?
How do you see God at work in the world? It seems more than ever we are living in an age of disbelief and distrust. With over 250,000 deaths in the United States alone there are still people out there who think the coronavirus is nothing more than the common flu. Worse, there are those who believe that masks and vaccines are a conspiracy by the media and the liberals to circumvent our liberties. To what logical end makes no difference. Their distrust is so complete that if a liberal said the sky is blue, they would think it was a socialist plot to take over the world. I actually have a friend who believes this and it is so hard to be friends when you can’t even agree on what’s real. More than ever, we are living in a world desperately in need of Jesus. But perhaps more than ever, it is harder and harder to believe in that which we cannot see. People need a reason to believe.
When I first moved to Atlanta, I was desperate to find Rosarita refried beans.
No, you didn’t jump into the Twilight Zone. Just bear with me and it will all connect to Jesus. Rosarita refried beans are by far the best canned refried beans ever, but they were nowhere to be found. Believe me, I looked. It wasn’t until I called Cub Foods, 45 minutes away that I found ONE store that carried them. Cassie and I had just started dating and I wanted to cook a Mexican dinner for her so I decided to make the journey for these refried beans. Cassie volunteered to go with me, not realizing how far away it was. After about 30 minutes and having passed about a dozen grocery stores, she asked me what the big deal was. Canned refried beans are all the same. I assured her they were not, but it wasn’t until she tasted them that she believed me. “These are the best refried beans I’ve ever had,” she said and I knew she was hooked. I had successfully opened up her mind to a world where refried beans were not all the same.
Of course, living in California, Cassie knows there are way better refried beans than Rosarita.
But at the time she was limited by what she knew. Even though there existed a whole other world of flavor out there, she didn’t know it existed so it was hard for her to imagine there would be much of a difference. That’s the same with me and Indian food. I never had it before and in my mind I had these preconceptions about what it might taste like, but when I actually had it, it was mind blowing! I’ve loved it ever since. Daal, palak paneer, masala dosa, chiken tikka masala…I love the rich spices and flavors of Indian food that are similar yet so different from what I knew before. Until you experience it for yourself, it’s hard to understand what people are talking about. You do the best you can, but we are all limited by our experience. Simply put, you don’t know what you don’t know.
It’s why so many people in the world don’t believe in Christ.
Even if they do, it’s not always easy to convince people to dive deeper into their faith. Why bother coming to church or joining a faith community? They’re all a bunch of hypocrites anyway. I felt like that at one time so I understand it when people tell me that’s why they don’t feel compelled to come to church. It’s not that most people object to the idea of God or Jesus, but they just don’t have a reason to believe. They don’t have a reason to think coming to church will deepen their faith. They’re not anti-religion. To be sure, there are definitely some who are, but for the majority of folks out there, they just don’t know what they don’t know. For them the reality of Christ doesn’t exist or if it does they don’t feel a need to go deeper. It’s up to us to make a difference, to show them why Christ matters.
The good news is anyone can do it.
You don’t need a seminary degree or any special training to help people understand why our faith is important. You don’t need a sandwich board or a megaphone or a stack of Bibles to hand out either. In fact, all you need…is YOU! For the most part, this section of Paul’s letter to the church at Colossae is about living a Christian life. But it’s the last bit of advice he gives that is going to be our focus today. The formula for success at showing people the love of Christ resides in you and Paul shares with us exactly what we need. Please listen to these words from Colossians 4:2-6. Hear now the Word of God.
2 Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. 3 And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. 4 Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should. 5 Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. 6 Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.
Prayerful, watchful, thankful.
That’s what we need to be “full” of to make a difference in someone’s faith journey. Prayerful, watchful, and thankful. It’s these three components that can open us up to opportunities that might otherwise pass us by. Being prayerful, watchful, and thankful puts us in the right frame of mind to be open to the Holy Spirit and notice when an opportunity opens up for us to share our faith in just the right way. There’s a beautiful passage of Scripture in Matthew where Jesus tells the disciples, “In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah: ‘You will be ever hearing but never understanding; you will be ever seeing but never perceiving. 15 For this people’s heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them.’ 16 But blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear. 17 For truly I tell you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it.” Being prayerful centers us in God’s will. When we learn to pray, we learn to trust and rely on God. Being thankful does the same. It creates in us a heart for God. When we approach life with a thankful heart, we are driven to show our appreciation by sharing our love with others. And both of these help us to be watchful. We develop what Jesus calls eyes that see and ears to hear. It’s like those Magic Eye images that used to be super popular, the ones where there is a hidden 3D image within the picture? Once you find the image, it’s so much easier to see it again and again, but until you do it can be pretty tough. At least if you’re me. Finding opportunities to share your faith is like that. Once you train your mind to look for those opportunities, it becomes easier and easier for us to do.
Paul cautions us to “be wise in the way you act toward outsiders.”
And by outsiders he meant those who were not Christian. Paul knew even then our actions are a reflection of our faith. What people see in us is how they perceive the reliability of our beliefs. When Christ told us to love our neighbor, it was at least partially for this reason, to be a reflection of what it means to be Christian. That’s what Paul means when he says to “make the most of every opportunity.” Each encounter we have with people outside of our faith is a chance to show what it means to be Christian. Authenticity is what we need the most. We live in a very skeptical world, one that struggles with accepting facts let alone something as intangible as God. And the church hasn’t done much to help its own cause. We are in the news far more for what’s not good about us than for what we are doing well. Stories about scandal, abuse, and hypocrisy are in the public eye much more than stories about disaster relief, helping the homeless, or funding college education. It’s no wonder people have doubts about what the church promises. To them it could be just another scam to get their money. I’ve had friends who have said as much. They feel like worship is just a means to separate people from their money. So if we have any hope of reaching into the hearts and minds of people who don’t believe in Christ, it has to be with truth and integrity. We have to be our most authentic self and trust in Christ that being “you” is enough. We don’t need to know all the answers. We don’t need to be perfect, and the world honestly isn’t expecting us to be. We just need to point to the one who is. We don’t need to be perfect, we just need to point to the one who is.
The world around us is growing increasingly non-Christian.
Spirituality seems to be as strong as ever, but there is a growing trend away from faith in Christ. The number of people who don’t belong to a church or any religion keeps growing. In a study done in the US from 2007 to 2014, the number of those people went from 16% of the population to 23%. At the same time, the number of people who identified as Christian went down the same percentage – from 78% to 71%. And while the vast majority of people still identify as Christian, it would be wise to assume many of them do not actively practice their faith. More likely they identify as Christian in name only. But more and more it is increasingly important to BE Christian in the world today. The world needs the radical love of Jesus Christ. The world needs the peace that a life in Christ can bring. And the world desperate needs the grace, mercy, and forgiveness that Christ offers – not only to us, but the love, grace, mercy and forgiveness we can offer one another. So this week as we continue our time of waiting, pray for those who don’t know Christ, who have drifted away, or who don’t see the importance of focusing on their faith. Think of at least one person who needs that prayer and focus on them. Be watchful for an opportunity to share your faith or invite them into our community. And be thankful that Christ is in your life. When we have an attitude of gratitude we become more inviting to those around us. So be prayerful, be watchful, be thankful. Do you believe Jesus has made a difference in your life? Then make sure you let it show.