"They Just Won't Believe Me!"
This question is very real; trust me, I hear it all the time!
I have people come see me and they're frustrated! They're trying, they are trying really hard. They're trying to follow Christ and they're telling everyone what He's done in their lives. The problem is, people, (especially the ones who know them the most), seem to be the very ones throwing the biggest stones. They are tossing their past around, reminding people of who they are and what they've done! They love reminding everyone of how they used to smoke dope together, gang-bang together, rob people and do other crazy stuff. They love to put their "tainted past" on parade!
The issue to them is, they know Jesus has radically changed them, so they cry out, "hey, take a look at me! Jesus changed me! He can change you too!" But those who hear these words, just laugh, mock and deny the miracle God has done!
I think this is hardest among the people who know us the most! People who know us the most, often think we're all words and no action. No matter what we've done, no matter how much we've changed and no matter how much we love Jesus, there will always be people who just don't believe us or they're not ready to trust us yet. They even did this to Jesus and He didn't have a "tainted reputation" to overcome.
When God radically saves people, especially those with "bad reputations", there's always going to be people who think and say; "how could Jesus save someone like you?", "I've heard this script before" and "quit playing; you're all talk, no action!"
Unfortunately, we also live in a society that doesn't forgive people, and it often doesn't want to either. It wants to just condemn and ridicule. It often resorts to punishment and retribution for those who are "already at the bottom." I work in a homeless shelter, and I see the consequences; they're harsh! Society doesn't care if you've given your life to Jesus. Society doesn't care if you've changed. The reality is, people can't get housing because they got caught smoking a blunt 15 years ago, another person can't get employed because he got arrested years ago for getting into a fight and another fella continually gets harassed by the police because he used to be a known gang-banger. You know the stories; felonies and bad reputations follow us around like a bad infection; they're next to impossible to get rid of. They're hard to escape from.
But we live in this reality, so somehow we have to deal it!
Tonight I want to encourage you all, because I know it's incredibly difficult; especially if you're trying your hardest to do everything you're supposed to. Jesus has forgiven you, but society hasn't, your friends haven't, and too often, the church is there, casting stones as well! It sucks and it's wrong! But somehow, we gotta deal with it and find a way to spread the miraculous love of Jesus.
People are going to "think what they think", and people are going to "do what they do"; but we can't let them "live rent-free in our heads". You know what God's done in your life, you know His love and you know the miracle. You want other people to know that too. My friends, it takes time, people aren't going to just believe in you or believe you immediately. They want to see it in your actions, you're going to have to prove yourself, and that takes time!
Despite the negativity that often gets flung at us, I believe deep down, people do want to see the miracles God does; they want to see Jesus changing people's lives, especially those who have done terrible things, but people have been duped too many times. People want to see God's Kingdom in action, they want to see changed lives, but as a caution, they hold people at arm's length, not wanting to feel like a sucker again.
It comes down to this: Words don't mean nothing until they see sustained change in our lives!
I want to encourage us all with 2 verses tonight; Paul says in Galatians 6:9-10; "Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary. So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith." (NASB)
Firstly; we must not lose heart. Paul encouraged his readers to not lose heart. He knew how easily distressed and discouraged we can become. He knew we could feel utterly defeated. Especially when everyone's slamming us, it's hard to stay positive. Paul tells us, "let us not lose heart in doing good."
Paul had to go through this himself; he got his reputation by persecuting Christians. He acted like a police man or government official who had permission to stone Christians to death. He took pleasure in doing this! He was a motivated and determined man! Paul had an awful reputation. But Jesus met him on the road to Damascus and miraculously changed him forever. Paul started preaching and sharing the love, but when people first saw him, they didn't want to believe him, they still saw him as a hater and a killer. Acts 9:19-21 says; they "were not at all sure they could trust him, they kept saying, “Isn’t this the man who wreaked havoc in Jerusalem among the believers? And didn’t he come here to do the same thing—arrest us and drag us off to jail in Jerusalem for sentencing by the high priests?”
Paul had to go through the same thing, he was labeled. He had to not lose heart! Paul would have heard similar things that some of you may have heard! You might hear; "once a thug, always a thug; once a crackhead, always a crackhead; once a rat, always a rat," Paul no doubt heard words like; "once a Pharisee; always a Pharisee; once a killer; always a killer!" You get it! Paul had to fight negativity, just like us; he had to not lose heart, just like we do today,
It took time for Paul, he had to prove that his words gelled with his actions. We need to shove aside the negativity and keep listening to the truth, the truth that reveals that Jesus has changed us and loves us deeply.
Be encouraged; do not lose heart, stay positive, keep the faith, keep your eyes on the cross!
Secondly; we must not grow weary in doing good. Despite all the opposition, Paul encourages us to keep at it! Do not drift away, do not give up, stay on the path. Despite the opposition, keep your eyes focused on the prize, and keep aiming at it! Persevere. Be patient!
This is imperative; weariness can be so deadly, it can be so destructive. Paul is saying, "don't let it defeat you." Because if you grow weary, it will eventually defeat you! When no one is believing us, or listening to us, it's so easy to lift our arms in despair and say, "forget it Lord, I want answers, I want to see results!"
We also have to remember that we become weary when we think we can do it all on own own. Jesus loves our friends and family more than we do. We need to remember that. They are in God's hands. Jesus is working in them. Jesus loves them more than we can ever imagine!
At this point; all we can do is pray! There's a time to just keep quiet and pray; say "Lord, they're yours, they're in your hands!" The psalmist said, "be still and know that I am God!" When we try and control someone's destiny, when we try and control the situation, when we try and make someone listen who doesn't want to listen, we will become weary. When we try and be God, we'll become weary! We need to let God be God.
When I feel weary, it's often because I'm trying to control the situation, I'm trying to force change! I'm not being still and letting God be in charge. When I'm trying to run the show, that's when I feel overwhelmed and helpless! I need to surrender myself back to God; I do this by praying. I can't change people! God does!
Let me tell you; there's so much peace in letting go. There's peace in praying. There's peace in being still and letting God be God.
Thirdly; Paul tells us to do good to all people whenever we have the opportunity. By surrendering to God, I'm not suggesting that we distant ourselves from the world to continuously pray. No; we need to be active, we need to "do good to all people". Our strongest witness will often not be our words, but our actions! People watch us, they want to see how we respond, how we act and how we react.
Paul wants us to keep at it; "whenever we have the opportunity". He's telling us, do good, all the time, to all people. Don't have vacations in doing good, don't choose who you'll be good too; help, assist and love the people you come in contact with. It doesn't matter if they're friends, family or enemies, let Christ work in and through you.
Doing good may be resisting the bottle, it may be giving away some of your money, it may be volunteering or it may be helping a neighbor carry her groceries upstairs.
One of the strongest displays of witnessing I have seen recently is; this guy who I know very well, who can become very angry, has the reputation of fighting. The other day, someone came up to him and started getting his face, calling him names and provoking him. This guy resisted that urge to fight and hurt that person. He could could have splattered this drunk man over the pavement, but he choose to do good! He choose peace. He choose to pray. When this happened, the people who know him, saw Christ working through him!
I want to close with something else Paul tells us in these verses, he says "in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary."
I want to encourage you all with this: It takes time, but it's about God's timing, not ours! God is at work in you and in the people we're in contact with. His Holy Spirit is maneuvering in secret and wonderful ways. He will use the good we're doing for His Kingdom! We need to let God be God, because God sees and He brings about change and salvation, we don't. We just need to just keep being faithful to Him, no matter the circumstances.
Do good and may God do His work in and through us all.
A brief summary of why I wrote this: There's a ministry on the West-side of Chicago called Mission:USA; every Tuesday night they have a Church service called The BRIDGE. Their services are open to everybody, but especially those who find it hard to gel in their local congregations! Or to put into cruder terms; a lot of these men and women are ex-offenders, homeless and low-income folk who have felt ostracized and rejected by many churches, so their mission is to be a bridge between prison, the streets and the Church. The Bridge helps these wonderful men and women find churches that will welcome them with open arms.....
And isn't this exactly what the Gospel and the "Kingdom of God" is all about?
Every Tuesday night, The Bridge has a host team from a Church, who greet the guests and provide a meal. The guests anonymously submit questions about their "walk of faith", and staff from The Bridge pick out a relevant question. Meanwhile, they have invited 3 pastors from 3 different churches to come and give a 10 minute sermon each about this specific question or topic. In my humble opinion, this is a great concept and ministry, who's staff is very loving, compassionate and supportive to the "least of these".
This was a sermon preached on 10/21/14, in response to this question;“Witnessing to my Friends”
I’m trying to witness to my friends and my family, and trust me, I want them to know all about how God has been good to me, but there are problems. Some of the people from my old life are just not hearing me at all on this, I haven’t exactly been a saint in my past, so people look at me kind of funny when I talk about church to them. Can I really overcome this? If so, where do I start? What do I say? I want to be a good witness for the Lord if I can, I just don’t know how.