SAINT PATRICK’S DAY: SHARING YOUR SHAMROCK
Scott Bayles, pastor
First Christian Church, Rosiclare, IL
Those of you who happened to be in attendance about this same time last year may remember me sharing true story behind Saint Patrick’s Day. But since Saint Patrick’s Day is an annual event, I thought I’d refresh your memories and tell it anew for those who weren’t here last year.
Rather than being a celebration of leprechauns, beer, and all things Irish, Saint Patrick’s Day was originally a celebration of the life and death of Patrick of Berniae and Ireland’s acceptance of Christianity!
Since his father was a deacon and his grandfather a priest, Patrick had a very religious upbringing. But when he was about sixteen, he was out working in his father’s field when Irish militia raided the land. Patrick was kidnapped and carried off as a slave to Ireland. There, he worked as a herdsman, remaining a captive for six years. During that time he writes that his faith grew and that he prayed daily. After six years he finally escaped by stowing away on a ship, traveling more than two-hundred miles, and finally returning home. When he was old enough, he followed in his father’s and grandfather’s footsteps, eventually becoming a Bishop in the church. But in the latter half of his life, Patrick felt called to become a missionary—to go back to the land in which he had been a slave and share the grace and love of Jesus Christ. So in latter part of the fifth century, just four hundred years or so after the death of Christ, Patrick became instrumental in bringing Christianity to Ireland.
Others had tried to bring Christianity to Ireland, but the Irish people could not grasp the concept of the Trinity—the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, who are all said to be God. To them it sounded like polytheism at best and nonsense at worst. While other missionaries had struggled to explain the concept of the Trinity, Patrick relied on a simple illustration—he used a shamrock, or three-leaf clover, which was the symbol of national pride in Ireland at the time, to explain the nature of the Triune God of the Bible. Each leaf is separate and distinct, yet part of a whole. It’s just one clover, yet with three individual leaves. By making that simple comparison, countless Irish men and women were able to accept the basic concept of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Thus, Saint Patrick’s Day is supposed to be a celebration of the life of Saint Patrick himself, who died on March 17, as well as a celebration of the birth of Christianity in Ireland.
Last year, in honor of Saint Patrick’s Day I attempted to follow in Patrick’s footsteps by unpacking the doctrine of the Trinity. This year, while still following in Patrick’s footsteps, I’d like to take a different route and talk to you about sharing your faith!
We are not all missionaries. None of us are likely to be responsible for bringing Christianity to a country that had rejected it for centuries. But, like Saint Patrick, we are all responsible for sharing the grace and love of Jesus Christ with the world around us.
Before he returned to heaven to be with God the Father, Jesus gave his disciples a very important mission—so important that Jesus repeated it five times, in five different ways, in five different books of the Bible. Matthew recorded it this way: “Go, then, to all peoples everywhere and make them my disciples: baptize them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and teach them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20 TEV).
This mission was given to every follower of Jesus, not just to preachers or missionaries. It belongs to our whole church and to each one of us individually, and it’s not optional. If you belong to God’s family, then this mission is mandatory.
Something most of us don’t realize is that the Greek verb translated go is actually not a command; rather it’s a present participle and should be translated going. We aren’t actually commanded to travel the world; in fact, the only command in these verses is “make disciples.” Essentially, Jesus is saying, “While you are going, wherever you are going, make disciples.” No matter who you are or where you are, you ought to be a witness, sharing the Father, Son and Holy Spirit with those around you.
Now, that being said, although we have the same faith in Jesus, we don’t always share our faith in the same way. So I’d like to talk with you about three different ways of sharing your faith—think of them as the three leaves of a shamrock, each one part of the whole. With these three leaves, you can share your shamrock (your faith in Jesus) in just about any given situation. Since we’re remembering Saint Patrick today, let’s start with the approach that he used, which I call the intellectual approach.
• INTELLECTUAL APPROACH
Saint Patrick was in a situation where he had to reason with the people of Ireland and convince them intellectually that there is a God, there is only one God, and he eternally exists in three persons or dimensions (the Father, Son and Holy Spirit). His weapon of choice was the shamrock, but the real battle took place in the minds of the Irish people.
Discussing logical or empirical arguments for the existence of God, the deity or Christ or the authenticity of the Bible is known as apologetics—literally it means to make a defense or a case; in other words, to explain why you belief what you believe from a factual standpoint. And it’s something that we are all called to be able to do: “Always be ready to answer everyone who asks you to explain about the hope you have, but answer in a gentle way and with respect” (1 Peter 3:15-16 NCV).
You see, faith and science are not mutually exclusive concepts; rather, our faith in God and Jesus is rooted in scientific and historical fact. For example, if someone were to ask me why I believe in God and I wanted to use the intellectual approach to answer them, I might say something like this:
In our age of scientific enlightenment, there are really only three possible explanations for the existence of life, the universe and everything. First, you can believe that the universe itself is eternal—but the law of entropy and the fact that the universe is expanding, pretty much destroys that theory. Second, you can believe that the universe simply spring from absolute nothingness—but, again, that theory flies in the face both the laws of cause and effect and energy conservation. Nothing comes from nothing and nothing ever could. There is, however, a third possibility. It’s found in the first chapter of the first book of the Bible: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1). In an age of empirical science, nothing could be more certain, clear, or correct. The universe we live in, the Earth and life itself are far too complicated and sophisticated to be carelessly pawned off as the result of blind evolutionary processes.
There are countless other examples that I could, and would love to give, when it comes to defending our faith in God, Jesus, and the Bible, but the intellectual approach is just one method of sharing your faith and it’s probably not the one you will use the most. The second leaf on our shamrock, and probably the most frequently used, is the invitational approach.
• INVITATIONAL APPROACH
The invitational approach is the simplest and easiest method and it’s the one modeled by Philip in the Gospel of John:
Philip went to look for Nathanael and told him, “We have found the very person Moses and the prophets wrote about! His name is Jesus, the son of Joseph from Nazareth.” “Nazareth!” exclaimed Nathanael. “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” “Come and see for yourself,” Philip replied. (John 1:43-46 NLT).
Philip doesn’t argue with Nathan. He doesn’t give a reasoned defense as to why he believes in Jesus. He simply tells him, “Come and see.” That’s what every single one of us ought to be doing. Whenever you have the opportunity to talk with an unchurched friend or family member or co-worker, you tell them, “I’ve found Jesus! Why don’t you come and see for yourself? Come to church with me this Sunday.” All it takes is an invitation. According to a study by Lifeway Research, 82% of unchurched people say they are at least somewhat likely to come, if someone would invite them—you need to be that someone.
If you love God and you love your church, then make a concerted effort to invite your friends, relatives, associates, and neighbors to church with you. And let me give some advice when inviting. First, don’t say, “Why don’t you come to church sometime.” That’s too general and too vague. Instead, say, “Why don’t you come to church with me this Sunday,” or whatever day you choose. Give them a specific date to plan around. Also, people don’t like showing up somewhere new, feeling out of place or greeted by strangers. So if you invite someone, tell them that you can pick them up or meet them for breakfast beforehand or, at the very least, meet them at the door.
You don’t have to get into an intellectual or religious debate with people; just invite them to come and see for themselves the way Phillip did. Finally, the third leaf of our shamrock is the interpersonal approach.
• INTERPERSONAL APPROACH
I’ve talked about this before, but the interpersonal approach simple means sharing your own personal story about how you came to Christ one-on-one with another person. That’s what Paul did in Acts 22, if you remember. Paul was in the city of Jerusalem preaching about Jesus when some Jews from Asia stirred up the whole crowd against him and had him arrested. Riots were breaking out, but Paul pleaded with the commanding officer to let him address the crowd. When the crowd quieted down, he announced: “I am a Jew… thoroughly trained in the law of our fathers and was just as zealous for God as any of you are today. I persecuted the followers of [Jesus] to their death, arresting both men and women and throwing them into prison” (Acts 22:4 NIV). This is what Paul’s life was like before he met Jesus.
Then he tells them how he met Jesus, say, “As I was on the road, approaching Damascus about noon, a very bright light from heaven suddenly shone down around me. I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me... ‘I am Jesus the Nazarene, the one you are persecuting.’” (Acts 22:7-8 NLT).
Then he explains the difference Jesus has made in his life, saying, “I obeyed that vision from heaven. I preached first to those in Damascus, then in Jerusalem and throughout all Judea, and also to the Gentiles, that all must repent of their sins and turn to God” (Acts 26:19-20 NLT).
This was Paul’s testimony and you’ve got one too. You’re testimony follows the same pattern Paul’s does.
1. What my life was like before Jesus
2. How I came to faith and committed my life to Jesus
3. The difference that Jesus has made in my life
Sharing your story is an essential part of sharing your faith. You may not be a Bible scholar or apologist, but you are an authority on your own life, and it’s hard to argue with personal experience.
Personal stories are also much easier to relate to and they build a bridge that Jesus can walk across from your heart to theirs. Many people who won’t accept the authority of the Bible will listen to a humble, personal story. That’s why Paul shared his testimony on six different occasions rather than just quoting Scripture arguing apologetics.
You need to know your own story. Break it down into these three parts. Write it down. Memorize the main points. And be ready to share it at all times. Your testimony may mean more to someone than all the sermons I will ever preach from this, or any other, pulpit.
It’s by individually and collectively sharing each leaf of our shamrock that we grow God’s family, his church, and reach the absolute most number of people with the good news of God’s love and grace.
I know it’s hard. I know there are some of you who’ve been sharing your faith, who’ve been inviting people to come and see, but you get discouraged. Jesus warned us that not every heart is fertile soil. But you just keep spreading those seeds. The truth is—only about 2% of church-goers will invite an unchurched person to church with them this year. Folks, that’s not enough! Every single one of us needs to contribute. Every one of us is responsible for following in Saint Patrick’s footsteps, for sharing our own shamrock with those around us, and reaching out to them with the love and grace of Jesus!
Are you ready to do that this week?