On Recommending Our Religion
On Sundays, I stand here with a Bible in my hand, a sermon in my head, the love of Jesus in my heart, a prayer on my lips, and thirty minutes on the clock. I then give my best to do my best to say something which will convince people that our unseen God calls and cares, hears and heals. The problem is that when I begin to speak, I tend to assume that people will know what I am talking about—but, of course, that is not always true.
I heard a rib-tickling story the other day about a devout Catholic boy, who had gone to the Catholic Church all of his life, and who was suddenly drafted into the Army. After about ten days, his mother called him on the phone and asked: “How’s it going, Son?” He replied: “It’s just awful. First they took away my clothes and gave me what they call a uniform, but nothing fits right—even my boots are rubbing blisters on my feet. Then they even took my name away from me. Nobody calls me ‘Tommy’. I am now ‘Number 198.’ All I hear is ‘198 do this…198, do that.’ They get us up at five o’clock every morning and all we do is march and climb hills and run obstacle courses and fight. I fall into bed exhausted and they get me up at five the next day to do the same thing. I was just trying to hold on until Sunday when I could get some rest. Wouldn’t you know, Saturday night they said ‘We’re not getting up at five tomorrow, we’re getting up at four and marching 15 miles to church.’ Well that’s what we did. And you know what? It was a Baptist Church, Momma. We marched in and sat down and a guy got up and he opened a book and he said: “Number 198! Are you weak and weary, cumbered with a load of care?” And I jumped up and said: “You’re darn right, I am! I’m plumb pooped. Not only that, but I’ve been in this army seven days and you’re the first person with the common decency to ask me how I’m doing!”
We assume that people understand things. But when we are speaking about our faith in Jesus Christ and our belief in the church, not everyone does understand. Therefore, we must work extra hard to make sure that we are speaking clearly and simply, openly and honestly.
Of course, that’s precisely what Simon Peter was doing when he preached on the first Pentecost. He was boldly bearing witness to the truth of God and he was well-qualified to do that. He had been one of the followers of Jesus. He had traveled with Him daily. He had heard Jesus preach and teach and he had watched Jesus perform His miracles. He had seen Jesus change people’s lives dramatically. Now here in Acts 2, Peter proceeded to speak for Jesus Christ and for the church. So clear and powerful was his witness that on that day 3000 people were converted to Jesus Christ. He recommended his faith in such clear and convincing terms that thousands of people heard, understood, and responded.
Now I suppose that none of us could be as effective as Peter in sharing our Christian witness. However, I believe that through faith and commitment, we can all be empowered by the Holy Spirit to recommend our religion to others meaningfully and productively. Therefore, I’d like to take the three clear elements of Peter’s sermon—the power of words, the power of love, and the power of commitment—and use them as a guide for declaring a clear, understandable message about Christ and His Church.
First this. We recommend our religion by the way we speak.
Peter was a powerful, effective, convincing witness that day because of the way he spoke. Words are so important. A word can excite or a word can depress. A word can make us glad or sad or mad. Words can inspire and lift our spirits or defeat and deflate our souls. Words can motivate and encourage or they can crush and kill. Words can convince us to stand tall for what is right or they can destroy hope and blast reputations. Words can offer a beautiful prayer and preach a powerful sermon…or they can incite a bloody riot and tell a dirty joke.
The words we choose—and the way we choose to use them—communicate more about us and our faith than we can possibly imagine. Profane words, bigoted words, hateful words, cruel words do not promote the cause of Christ or represent the Spirit of Christ. They never have and they never will. We dupe ourselves by calling our dirty talk mature, adult, realistic speech. Come on now! What could be more immature, more childish, more unrealistic? If you want to be a good witness for Jesus Christ today, then clean up your act and clean up your speech. Speak the words of faith, hope, and love in tones of compassion, kindness, and respect. The point is that we can turn people on to the church or we can turn them out of the church by the way we speak.
Some years ago, when Catherine Booth died, her body was carried to a great auditorium in London. For hours and hours people streamed by her casket in an overwhelming display of love, affection and gratitude. By the hundreds they came. One man in that long line expressed what they were all feeling that day. He said: “She spoke to me as no one ever had before. She cared for me and I could tell it by the way she talked to me. I was an outcast, lonely and lost. I will never forget her voice. There was something so wonderful and so meaningful about the way she spoke to you. You could feel the spirit and the love of Christ in her words.”
Well, how is it with you? Are people drawn to Christ and to His Church by the way you speak? Peter in his sermon, spoke clear, clean, simple, honest words—and people were drawn by the thousands to his Christ. We do recommend our religion by the way we speak.
Then this: We recommend our religion by the way we love.
One of the most beautiful aspects of this story from Acts 2 is the way it made clear that Christ is the Lord and Saviour for all people of all nations: Medes, Parthians, Egyptians, Romans, Asians, Elamites, Arabians…and on and on it goes. They were all there. They were all welcome. They were all included. Carl Sandburg was once asked what was the ugliest word in the English language. Sandburg, in the way only he could do it, repeated the question: “The ugliest word? The ugliest word?” He said it a third time, “The very ugliest word?” When he had everybody’s attention, he quietly dropped the egg into the nest and said: “Exclusive.” My friends, the Church of Jesus Christ is not exclusive—never! And this church is never exclusive. The doors of this church are opened wide, and the doors of our hearts are opened even wider. Here all are loved and treated with respect. Here all are invited to accept Jesus Christ and be baptized in His name. “Whosoever will may come.”
Several years ago, an interesting article appeared in Good Housekeeping magazine written by Lois Wyse. It listed some hints for young women considering marriage. She said there are six ways to learn everything you need to know about a man before you decide to marry him. Here they are:
- First, she suggested, “Watch him drive in heavy traffic.”
- Her second suggestion was that you, “Play tennis with him.”
- Third, she said, “Listen to him talk to his mother when he doesn’t know you’re listening.”
- Fourth, she said, “See how he treats those who serve him (waiter, ushers, maids, service station attendants, etc.)”
- Fifth, she suggested, “Notice how and for whom he spends his money.”
- Sixth, “Look at his friends.”
Then after those six suggestions she came up with another one, almost as an afterthought. “Oh, by the way,” she said, “If you still can’t make up your mind, then look at his shoes. A man who keeps his shoes in good repair generally tends to the rest of his life, too.” (Look at that, will you, every fellow in here is checking out his shoes!)
Did you notice a common thread in that list of qualities? Not counting the last one about the shoes, all the rest of the guidelines have to do with how we treat other people. I think the writer is on to something very important here. If you’re looking for a person worth your time, your friendship, or even your love, then look at how that person treats other people. The way we treat other people reveals a lot about who we are. More to our point, it reveals a lot about our faith. All outer religious fervor and activity mean nothing if we are cruel and hateful toward other people. So if you want to do good for Christ in this world, then treat other people with love, respect, compassion and kindness.
Well, what do you think? Are other people drawn to Christ and to His Church by the way you treat them? Peter included all people in his call to come to Christ. No one was excluded. All were embraced by the love of the Lord. We recommend our religion by the way we love.
Now this: We recommend our religion by the way we serve.
At Pentecost people by the thousands became Christians because they saw Simon Peter’s commitment and service to the church. Peter was devoted to the church and for good reason.
You see, there is no institution in the world that serves people like the church. There is no institution in the world that helps families like the church. There is no institution in the world that redeems lives like the church. There is no institution in the world that lifts up God and inspires righteousness like the church. There is no institution in the world that teaches love and cultivates goodness like the church.
But even more than that, the church has Jesus Christ. I was in a conference recently with Peter Drucker. Every business person here knows the name Peter Drucker. But what you may not know is that Peter Drucker is a radiant and powerful Christian. Listen to what Peter Drucker says: “The world is starving to death for Jesus Christ and we have Him. We are here to share Jesus Christ with a needy world and everything we do in the church ought to be for that purpose!” He’s right. Here in this church we have worship services and Sunday School classes. We have Bible study sessions and small group ministries. We have youth groups, children’s groups, singles’ groups, mission work groups, and groups for older people. We take trips and put on dramas. We play games and produce concerts. We paint houses and build clinics. We feed the hungry and help the needy and we do it all for one purpose: to share the love of Jesus Christ.
Well, do you get the message? I’ve got a great sermon title which I haven’t yet used but which seems appropriate here: “Are you standing on the promises or just sitting on the premises?” Think about that. You see, if you want to be a good witness for Jesus Christ and experience the reality of His presence in your life, the best thing you can do is to commit yourself to the church with all your heart and soul. You see, we recommend our religion by the way we serve the church.
Paul Rees tells about a man who came to the vicar of a little English church and said: “I would like to purchase a plot in your church’s cemetery.” They went out and walked around the cemetery, and the man picked a spot beside some lovely flowering trees and near a gently babbling brook. The man said to the vicar: “I’ll write a check to cover this costs.” The old vicar stood silent for a moment, and then he said: “Now you have made arrangements for the resting place of your body. May I ask you if you have made plans for the resting place of your soul?” The man replied: “No one has ever asked me that question before.”
Well, after today, none of you will ever be able to say that no one has ever asked you that question before, because I am asking you right now: “Have you prepared a resting place for your soul? If you have not, then don’t let this moment of opportunity pass.
“Seek ye the Lord while He may be found. Call upon Him while He is near…”