About five years ago, some of you might remember that we took part in the National Church Life survey. Over the course of one Sunday and the following week, nearly everyone who attended a church service in Australia filled in a pretty detailed survey about attitudes and patterns of church attendance.
And we’ll be doing the same thing again in a few months.
But here’s some statistics from the LAST survey. In Sydney the ANGLICAN CHURCH has actually grown over the last 10 years or so; by about 7 percent. The PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH grew by 3.9. Which might sound okay, except they’re both far less than the rate of population growth.
In other words, when you do all the maths, the bad news is/ WE’RE SHRINKING. As a proportion of the population, we’re going backwards.
But there was another statistic that was even MORE of a worry. And it probably accounts for the first one. And that is, among Anglicans, only ONE IN TEN who filled out the survey said that they EVER tried to SPEAK ABOUT THEIR FAITH to unbelievers.
90 percent of Anglicans, even when they get the opportunity to speak about their faith; just CLAM UP. And say nothing.
And my guess is, with Presbyterians it’s much the same. If not WORSE. So if we’ve had HALF THE GROWTH, you can probably HALVE IT. And say only ONE IN TWENTY Presbyterians are prepared to come out and talk to their friends about the fact they TRUST IN JESUS.
Now I reckon we’re doing better than the average. But think about it. That means in most churches in our denomination, in a church with 60 people coming on a Sunday morning, there’ll be THREE… three people. Who are prepared to go out of there on Monday and speak about their faith.
No WONDER churches don’t grow. You don’t get A GROWING CHURCH without people talking about their faith.
It seems to me there are a of key things we really need if we’re going to change that. First of all, we need to be MORE DARING. And second, we need to be MORE CLEAR.
And you see BOTH of those things in the Apostle Paul as he comes to the city of Thessalonica. In the province of Macedonia. The north of Greece. (show on map)
First, will you notice – if we’re going to be more effective talking about our faith, we need to be more DARING. We need to be COURAGEOUS.
Now I don’t know, as you read this stuff, if it ever occurs to you that these guys who go around preaching about Jesus, are half the time SCARED STIFF.
I know YOU AND I are like that. But you don’t expect it of Paul, do you? But he WAS. We saw last week how Paul and Silas have already copped it in Philippi because of the gospel. Severely flogged, then thrown in jail. They’ve got the scars to prove that preaching about Jesus isn’t popular.
They reckon some people have a hard time getting life insurance. Like if you’re a movie stunt man or a Formula 1 racing car driver. Well, it’s the same if you’re a first century missionary and you want to tell people about Jesus. It’s as good as painting a giant red target on your forehead. AMP Life Insurance just don’t want to know you.
At the start of Ch 17, Paul and Silas and Timothy are on their way to Thessalonica. They hobble through Amphipolis and Apollonia. Battered and bruised. Each painful step reminding them of what happens when people don’t like what they have to say about Jesus.
If it was YOU, you’d be tempted to think that maybe you should MODIFY YOUR STRATEGY, wouldn’t it? Come up with a different approach. Or maybe come up with a different JOB.
But as they near Thessalonica – a city of 200,000 people – they’re going there with the prospect of facing EXACTLY THE SAME RESPONSE as they had before.
I mean, you’d have to be DARING TO DO THAT, wouldn’t you? You’d have to have GUTS.
And I want you to notice, as he looks back, that’s exactly how Paul says that it was. Turn over quickly to 1 Thessalonians; (p835) Paul’s letter that he writes back to them later on the same year, two or three months after he’s left. And you’ll get a bit of straight talking about how he’s feeling.
Have a look in 1 Thessalonians chapter 2 verse 1 and 2; and you’ll see what it was like. Paul says, “You know, brothers, that our visit to you was NOT A FAILURE.” He says “We had PREVIOUSLY SUFFERED and BEEN INSULTED in Philippi as you know – like we saw last time – but with the HELP OF OUR GOD… we DARED TO TELL YOU HIS GOSPEL, in spite of strong opposition.”
In spite of everything they threw at us, we still believed in what we were doing ENOUGH to still open our mouths.
Now what do you do when you’ve been insulted for your faith? You want to say, NEVER AGAIN, don’t you. Pull back into your shell. Forget about it. “I tried telling my friends I’m a Christian and they laughed at me. NEVER AGAIN.” Once bitten twice shy.
Paul says, with the help of God, we DARED TO DO IT ALL OVER AGAIN. With the help of God we dared to tell you HIS GOSPEL.
And because HE DARED, people believed.
Have YOU tried being a DARING CHRISTIAN? Because that’s when you’ll know you’ve got GOD’S HELP. That’s when you’ll know the encouragement of SEEING GOD AT WORK.
Putting yourself in scary situations is JUST THE SORT OF FAITH that God loves to bless.
If you’ve had a hard time already, DO IT AGAIN. If you’ve never had the guts to say anything cause you’re afraid you WILL GET A HARD TIME, do it anyway.
Turn back to Acts and we’ll see what happens as Paul and Silas and Timothy hit town in Thessalonica. As they DARE to speak about Jesus AGAIN.
Acts 17. After a three or four day walk. They arrive in Thessalonica. There’s a Jewish synagogue there; and when there’s a synagogue, that’s where Paul starts (v2). That’s his strategy. Tell the Jews first. And then everyone else.
Now I said there are TWO things we need if we’re going to speak about our faith. The first one was COURAGE. We need to be daring. And the second one is CLARITY.
We need to be CLEAR WHAT WE’RE ON ABOUT. So we can share our faith in a way that makes SENSE.
Now it seems to me we live in an age where there’s a huge line been drawn between THINGS OF FAITH. And THINGS OF REASON. Where people want to say, well, “You believe what you want to believe, and I’ll believe what I want to believe, and as long as we’re both SINCERE – we’re both right”.
Which makes it seem like it’s THE FAITH that’s the important thing. Not the OBJECT of your faith. Your faith could be in AN OLD BOOT. But if you believe it STRONGLY enough, it can help you get through a crisis. But that’s nonsense.
Many people seem to think that trusting Jesus means checking in your brain at the door. That it’s not possible to have a FAITH that stands up to intellectual, historical, and logical scrutiny.
But that’s not Christianity at all.
Have a look at Paul in action here, and you’ll see what I mean. Because when you look at the three words that tell you what Paul’s doing in the synagogue, maybe they’re a bit SURPRISING.
Because Paul’s not dealing with some sort of VAGUE RELIGIOUS FEELINGS. He’s not even leaving it all up to the Holy Spirit , and sitting back doing nothing.
He’s working hard to CONVINCE. He’s dealing with HARD FACTS. Paul’s not dealing with HIS OWN HALF BAKED BELIEFS. He’s dealing with CERTAIN HISTORICAL DETAILS about Jesus Christ.
Have a look at verse 2 and 3. And just notice the sort of words that are used about what he’s doing. Paul goes into the synagogue and he REASONS with them from the scriptures. He tussles with the issues. Puts his case.
Here are the next two key words that describe what he’s doing – EXPLAINING. And PROVING. That the Christ had to suffer and rise from the . Reasoning. Explaining. Proving.
Pulling out his Scriptures. Pointing everyone to the appropriate parts. And EXPLAINING what they MEAN. What the promises will LOOK LIKE.
Paul shows them a passage like Isaiah 53, that talks about the one who’ll be WOUNDED for OUR TRANSGRESSIONS. Who’ll be punished/ not for his OWN sins, but the sins of others. The suffering and dying messiah. And he says, THINK ABOUT THIS. Understand this. That for hundreds of years, the scriptures have said, “When the messiah comes, he’ll suffer. And die.
And then he shows them a passage like Psalm 16. A Psalm about the Messiah; that says, “You will not let your Holy One see decay. You won’t abandon me to the grave.” It’s all there in black and white. The Messiah when he comes will SUFFER. The Messiah when he comes – won’t be left by God abandoned in the grave. But will LIVE ON.
It’s a bit like an IDENTIKIT PICTURE. Okay, you’ve seen a robbery; what’s the guy look like? Brown hair, blue eyes. Driving a red car. Piece together the picture, put it on posters. And you look for someone who FITS THE DESCRIPTION.
Here’s Paul’s identikit. When you’re looking for the Messiah, look for someone who SUFFERS like the scriptures say. And RISES FROM THE . Like the scriptures say.
Not exactly what they had in mind for their great king; but Paul proves it. From the scriptures. Look for someone who SUFFERS. And Rises from the .
And here’s the crunch. Paul says, you’ve got the parts of the picture. Hold it up against this guy I’m talking about. This JESUS. The end of verse 3. He says, “This Jesus I’m proclaiming to you; that’s what he’s done. Suffered. Died. And rose. THIS JESUS I AM PROCLAIMING TO YOU IS THE CHRIST.”
The word for PROVING/ literally means “to place alongside”. Here’s the Scripture PROMISES. Here’s the PERSON of Jesus. Compare the two. See if they fit.
He’s the one, says Paul.
At which point, we’re told some of the Jews were PERSUADED, and joined Paul and Silas; and a large number of god fearing Greeks and prominent women did as well. Paul had CONVINCED them.
Friends, we can’t expect people to be PERSUADED TO FOLLOW JESUS; we can’t expect people to be JOINING THE CHURCH; if we can’t give a clear argument for why they should. Or if we don’t even dare to speak.
Now that doesn’t mean EVERYONE’S going to be persuaded. But if we NEVER SPEAK, no one WILL be!
It probably WON’T happen with the first conversation. IT might take weeks, or months, or years, or even DECADES. But if you keep speaking the truth with love, then the barriers can come down. And people can become CONVINCED.
But back to Paul. Keep reading, and you’ll see the usual thing happens. V5. The other Jews are burning with jealousy; they stir up a riot. And they storm Jason’s house, where Paul and Silas are staying. And when they can’t find Paul and Silas, they take JASON INSTEAD. And some of the other brothers.
And verse 6, they drag them up before the city officials and they lay charges against them; they say “These men, who have caused trouble all over the world, have now come here, and Jason has welcomed them into his house. They’re all defying Caesar’s decrees, saying there is ANOTHER KING… one called Jesus.”
And as history unfolds, that’s the charge that’s going to send countless Christians to their s. The ultimate crime. Bowing to another authority. Higher than Caesar. That’s the accusation.
And it’s true, isn’t it? That being Christian is about serving a higher king. A king who demands a greater loyalty than the one we have to our job. Or our government. Or sometimes even to our FAMILY.
And sometimes you might be called on to MAKE A CHOICE. To follow the king who died for you, or stay loyal to something ELSE. Something LESS.
It takes GUTS to follow King Jesus. It’s not for WIMPS. It takes DARING. And it takes BOLDNESS. To say NO to that dodgy offer. To keep speaking to your parents about Jesus despite their disapproval.
Anyone who says Christianity is for wimps doesn’t understand what Jesus demands!
If you’re serious about bowing to King Jesus, you’re going to face opposition. Cause we’re going in a whole different direction to everyone else.
You’ll notice the city officials don’t quite know what to do about the charges being laid. The accusations of the Jews. So they put Jason and the others on a bond. “Get rid of Paul and Silas. If they come around again, you’ve lost your bond. And that’s just the beginning”.
And they let them go. And verse 10, Paul and Silas are sent off to the town of Berea, a little bit further west. To lie low for a while.
Which, of course, they DON’T DO. Look at v10. What do they do? STRAIGHT TO THE SYNAGOGUE. Again. Still DARING to proclaim Jesus even though they’re risking trouble again.
But this time the reaction they receive is a little bit different. These guys are TERRIFIC. Of more noble character than the Thessalonians. Why? Not because they just take everything on board and believe it. Look at v11.
“… for they received the message with GREAT EAGERNESS, and EXAMINED THE SCRIPTURES EVERY DAY to see if what Paul said was TRUE”
They wanted to CONFIRM it. To check whether it was TRUE.
It’s not an INSULT to someone/ to check what they say is TRUE – ESPECIALLY something as important as THIS. It’s actually a COMPLIMENT – that you think they’re saying something IMPORTANT ENOUGH to make SURE OF.
Don’t just suck stuff up uncritically. LISTEN. And CHECK IT OUT. Examine the scriptures. And see if this stuff’s true. Instead of just HALF BELIEVING. And HALF DOUBTING. So you’re never quite sure whether you can say ANYTHING. To ANYONE.
Folks, this is a big issue. And I want to encourage you to BE LIKE THE BEREANS. And be prepared to give your faith a GOOD SHAKE. By going back to your bible and putting your TOUGH QUESTIONS. CONFIRM what you believe by DOING SOME HOMEWORK.
Gary Boyce was telling me during the week about how he spent a lot of time researching the CREATION accounts in Genesis. When he was a new Christian, he needed to work out how solid his foundations were. To CONFIRM that what he was TOLD was TRUE.
ASK the tough questions. You’re ALLOWED to doubt. The Bible’s big enough for that. God’s big enough for your questions.
It’s OKAY! This passage is telling us that people who are prepared to ask GENUINE QUESTIONS are NOBLE. Because the fact is, a QUESTIONING MIND IS A FRIEND.
Which is one of the biggest differences between Genuine Christianity and a SECT. You might get Jehovah’s Witnesses coming to the door. Or maybe you know people caught up in some other kind of SECT. You’ll pick the difference. Because THE REAL THING has got nothing to fear from QUESTIONS. Everything we say; everything we believe; as Christians, WE ARE OPEN FOR INSPECTION about.
And so, many of the mainline denominations are WELCOMING the interest in historical Christianity that the DaVinci Code has tapped in to. Because if people go to the trouble of checking the facts. They’ll see that the AUTHENTIC GOSPELS stand up to SCRUTINY. And still point people to the real Jesus.
You’ve got to check things out for yourself. And be confident that they ring true.
It makes sense, doesn’t it. Because it’s the only way you end up with answers you can SHARE WITH ANYONE ELSE.
If you only know something because someone ELSE told you, or because you read it in a book, you’re not going to have the CONFIDENCE to know that YOU BELIEVE it FOR YOURSELF. It’s the truths you’ve discovered for YOURSELF Or know FOR REAL. That MOST EXCITE you. And you’re most likely to share.
And when you DO share. Something ELSE happens. You add a PERSONAL EXPERIENCE of the reality of God to the STUDY.
When you step out with BOLDNESS. To do something you’re not quite sure you can cope with. When you STRETCH your faith. And God comes through. And keeps his promises. And shows his power. And his love. And his goodness.
That’s when you can expect to see your own faith growing. And your love for Jesus deepening. And your witness for him developing and bearing fruit.
And when we ALL start to push our boundaries by speaking with boldness. Learning and speaking with clarity. Speaking with LOVE, but also by explaining and reasoning and proving. We can expect to see our CHURCHES GROWING. And begin to turn around the statistics.