A Reason to Believe

What difference has Jesus made in your life?

How do you see God at work in the world?  If you’re a Christian, there’s a reason you believe Jesus is your Lord and Savior.  You didn’t just come up with it out of nowhere.  And it’s more than just because it’s in a book.  At some point in your life, for whatever reason, your faith became REAL.  You found a reason to believe.  For me, it was a slow burn rather than any single event.  It was the culmination of God working through many people in my life to help me understand who Jesus is.  For you, it could be different.  And odds are there are as many reasons to believe as there are people because God works in our lives in different ways.  But it seems harder and harder to help people cross that line from disbelief to belief and that’s because more than ever we are living in an age of disbelief and distrust.  You only have to turn on the news to see this is true.  It’s mind boggling we live in a country where one event will produce completely opposite interpretations of what happened depending on which news channel you follow.   How many of you have friends or family members you just can’t talk to because of their outlook on the world? 

That level of disbelief and distrust bleeds over to the church as well. 

It’s why so many people don’t come to church. Why bother with religion?  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 be here.  It’s not that most people object to the idea of God or Jesus, they just don’t have a reason to believe.  They don’t have a reason to think coming to church will make a difference in their life.  They’re not actually anti-religion.  They just don’t know what they don’t know.  It’s kind of like Cassie and refried beans. 

Rosarita – the best canned refried beans in the world

When I first moved to Atlanta, I was desperate to find Rosarita refried beans. 

Rosarita refried beans are, by far, the best canned refried beans ever, but they were nowhere to be found.  Believe me, I looked.  Finally, I called Cub Foods, and they had ONE store 45 minutes away that carried it.  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 to round out our meal.  Cassie volunteered to go with me, not realizing how far away it was and after about 30 minutes, and having passed about a dozen grocery stores, she asked me why we couldn’t have stopped at any of those other stores and just pick up a different brand.  After all, 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 a smile crossed my face.  The trip had been worth it.  Until you experience something for yourself, it’s hard to understand what the big deal is.  Whether that’s refried beans or Jesus Christ, simply put, you don’t know what you don’t know.

But we can help people know why Jesus is so important; why the church is so important.

And the good news is anyone can do it. I know you’ve heard me say it before, but 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. 

Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. 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. Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should. Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone. – Colossians 4:2-6

Paul was “full” of it – are you?

Paul gives new meaning to the phrase “being full of it.””

He wants us to be prayerful, watchful, and thankful.  When we’re “full” of those things, we can really make a difference in someone’s faith journey. 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, watchful, and thankful give us eyes and ears that are open to the movement of the Holy Spirit and helps us notice opportunities to share our faith that might otherwise go by. Prayerfulness centers us in God’s will.  When we learn to pray, we learn to trust and rely on God.  Thankfulness creates in us a heart for God.  It helps us to be aware of our blessings and encourages us 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.  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. 

Can you see the penguins?

Paul cautions us to “be wise in the way you act toward outsiders.”

And by outsiders he meant those who were not Christian.  Paul believed our actions are a reflection of our faith.  Fair or not, what we do and what we say impacts how others perceive our beliefs.  When Jesus told us to love one another, it was not only the right thing to do, but it was evidence of our faith.  It showed the world what it meant to be a Christian.  And when we don’t love our neighbor, that is also evidence of our faith. We live in a 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.  If we have any hope of reaching into the hearts and minds of people who don’t believe in Christ, we have to act with love and grace.  We don’t need to know all the answers. We don’t need to be perfect, we just need to point to the one who is. 

Data and image from the Pew Research Center

The world around us is growing increasingly non-Christian.

Spirituality is 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 2021, the number of those people went from 16% of the population to 29%.  At the same time, the number of people who identified as Christian went down the same percentage – from 78% to 63%.[1]  And while the 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.  At the same time, it is more and more 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.  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 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 to church.  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. 

[1] https://www.pewresearch.org/religion/2021/12/14/about-three-in-ten-u-s-adults-are-now-religiously-unaffiliated/

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