Summary: Learning from Paul's own story how we can best share Jesus with others.
INTRODUCTION: Last September Pat Payaso ran for an open seat on Boston's city council—and he got an idea for a creative way to campaign."Payaso" translates to "clown" in Spanish; according to a report in Time, Payaso "donned a rainbow wig, a red nose, and clown makeup in recent campaign photos and videos on social media."
But then he actually showed up at a polling place with the clown costume, and people were a little scared: "Police tell The Boston Herald that Pat Payaso's presence near a polling location at Roxbury Community College made some people nervous … and they called the authorities." An officer called to the scene stopped Payaso and "realized he wasn't a threat." In more than one sense: Payaso finished eighth in the race for 4 seats.
Payaso wasn't trying to terrify anyone (at least, I hope not!)—he just wanted to spread the word about his campaign and garner some interest from potential voters. But the way he did it ended up being far from fun and would up alienating people.
Now think about the ways you try to share the gospel and the good news about your faith: Are we making friends, family, or coworkers feel safe and cared about as we tell them why we believe what you believe? Or might they feel confused or judged or even afraid of us? There are so many misconceptions about Christianity out there today—how can we avoid and overcome these in order to share the Good News about Jesus?
Paul the Apostle gives us an example. When last we left Paul, he had just narrowly escaped being beaten to death. He must have been badly bruised and shaken, but he recovered his composure enough to ask permission to speak to the crowd, for he has a story to tell. [READ Acts 21:37—22:21]
Note how Paul [BIG IDEA] GOES OUT OF HIS WAY TO SHOW THE WAY. Let's look at how he does this:
I. BY IDENTIFYING WITH THEIR STORY
A. Paul speaks their language:
The commander expressed surprise at Paul’s ability to speak Greek, the trade language of the Roman Empire, but then Paul addresses the crowd in Aramaic. The Aramaic Paul speaks to the crowd was the vernacular for much of rural Syria & Palestine & lands east. The fact that Paul spoke fluent Aramaic caused the people to become “very quiet” (22:2). Any who may have thought he was a collaborator with the Gentiles would probably have realized they were wrong.
B. Paul respects their heritage:
To the angry crowd in Jerusalem, whose complaint was that he taught against the law, the temple and the people, Paul stressed his personal loyalty to his Jewish origins and faith. Paul begins respectfully, calling his audience “brothers and fathers” (22:3). He spoke of his Jewish birth and upbringing, and if his training in “the law of our ancestors” under the eminent teacher Gamaliel. So his Jewishness was incontrovertible. He was “a Hebrew of Hebrews,” with a thorough training as a Pharisee under the most revered teacher of the era.
C. Paul understands how they think:
He draws attention to his zeal for God, which was as great as theirs, since he had persecuted followers of the Way, both men and women, even to prison and to death. The Sanhedrin could attest to this, since it was they who had issued him with the extradition order that he took with him to Damascus. The description of his activity as a persecutor of Christians (4-5) opened the way for him to describe his conversion, which we’ll get to in a second.
D. Paul tailors his message to them:
This isn’t a canned stump speech that Paul gives everywhere—he has very mindful of whom he is addressing and tailors his message accordingly. He identifies with their story.
According to research from the Center for the Study of Global Christianity, one out of five non-Christians in North America does not "personally know" a single follower of Christ. That's 13,447,000 people who don't have a Christian friend or even acquaintance. The percentages get higher for certain religious groups:
For instance, 65 percent of Buddhists,
75 percent of Chinese people,
78 percent of Hindus, and
43 percent of Muslims in America do not personally know anyone who is a follower of Christ.
Worldwide, the numbers are much worse: more than 8 in 10 non-Christians do not personally know a Christ follower.
Todd M. Johnson, one of the researchers for the study, said that relatively small gestures—like inviting families into your home—can have a bigger impact than huge mission campaigns. Johnson said, "We should really have lifelong friendships with Hindus, Buddhists, and so on. It's so simple, and yet it becomes a big deal."
This is the mindset behind our “Share Hope” initiative, which we’re going to do again. Invite an unchurched person into your home, show them hospitality, and at some point ask if there’s anything they’d like prayer for. Then remember to pray for them, and follow up later to see how that played out. Identify with their story.