Two weeks ago, on May 12, the Pew Research Center released their findings from interviews they’ve done with more than 35,000 Americans. At first glance, the study “America’s Changing Religious Landscape” paints a very negative picture of the future of the Christian faith in America. The study confirms the theory of some in our society that the Millenials, those 30 and under, are just not as interested in following Jesus. The study also shows that it’s not just the Millenials who are increasingly describing themselves as “nones” when it comes to religious preference. Sarah Pulliam Bailey, who writes for The Washington Post says, “Christianity is on the decline in America, not just among younger generations or in certain regions of the country but across race, gender, education and geographic barriers.” In a society that measures success by numbers the report is certainly not good news. I’ve read so many articles this past week by those who want to go ahead and preside over the death of Christianity in America.
Ed Stetzer is one of my favorite bloggers. Ed is passionate about Jesus. He believes the Bible cover-to-cover. He is also the Executive Director of LifeWay Research. Ed has his finger on the pulse of what’s happening in our nation. He’s written several articles based on the findings from the Pew report. He wrote an article for CNN on May 16 that started like this:
The headlines were deafening this week — if current trends continue, the last Christian at Boston’s historic Park Street Church will leave the faith in a few decades, join a Wiccan coven on Harvard Square, tell her live-in atheist boyfriend that Christianity is dead, and we’ll all just move on from this failed Christian experiment. (Stetzer, Ed. “No American Christianity is not dead” CNN. May 16, 2015)
Sounds pretty bleak doesn’t it? The rest of the article points out that the word “Christian” means different things to different people. He differentiates those who call themselves Christians into three categories: The cultural, congregational, and convictional. Dr. Stetzer defines the first two categories as “nominal Christians.” They identify as followers of Jesus, but their relationship with Jesus really has nothing to do with how they live their life, they rarely if ever look to God’s Word to guide them in their daily lives, and their friends wouldn’t know they were Christians unless they told them. They were probably raised in the church, but never raised to new life in Christ. Congregational Christians probably have some connection to a local church, but rarely if ever attend.
The last category, “convictional Christians,” are engaged in a local church and order their lives around their faith convictions. Their relationship with Jesus is of greatest importance in their daily decision making. Their life revolves around, is energized, informed, and directed by their faith. They share their faith, what God is doing in their life, not as an after-thought or in a forced manner, but as part of the very fabric of their life.
Ed Stetzer says that the first two categories of Christians are definitely in decline. More of those on the periphery of the faith are dropping out. The last category, “convictional Christians” is slightly in decline, but much more steady than the first two categories. In a society that is becoming increasingly secular, if not anti-Christian, those who are only marginally committed to Jesus will only naturally shrink back and be more than comfortable to just fit in with society. On the other hand, in the same cultural climate, those who are passionate about knowing and walking with the Lord will see the increasing darkness of our society as an opportunity for His Light to shine all the more brightly.
Some may wonder what this has to do with our study for this morning? I’m convinced that in the blind beggar healed by Jesus we have found a great example for you and me if our desire is for our heart is to be a “convictional Christian,” one who is passionate about letting His Light shine in our homes, neighborhoods, workplace, and community. Let’s read our Scripture and we’ll talk more.
16 Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath.” But others asked, “How can a sinner perform such signs?” So they were divided. 17 Then they turned again to the blind man, “What have you to say about him? It was your eyes he opened.” The man replied, “He is a prophet.” 18 They still did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they sent for the man’s parents. 19 “Is this your son?” they asked. “Is this the one you say was born blind? How is it that now he can see?” 20 “We know he is our son,” the parents answered, “and we know he was born blind. 21 But how he can see now, or who opened his eyes, we don’t know. Ask him. He is of age; he will speak for himself.” 22 His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jewish leaders, who already had decided that anyone who acknowledged that Jesus was the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue. 23 That was why his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.” 24 A second time they summoned the man who had been blind. “Give glory to God by telling the truth,” they said. “We know this man is a sinner.” 25 He replied, “Whether he is a sinner or not, I don’t know. One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!” 26 Then they asked him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?” 27 He answered, “I have told you already and you did not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you want to become his disciples too?” 28 Then they hurled insults at him and said, “You are this fellow’s disciple! We are disciples of Moses! 29 We know that God spoke to Moses, but as for this fellow, we don’t even know where he comes from.” 30 The man answered, “Now that is remarkable! You don’t know where he comes from, yet he opened my eyes. 31 We know that God does not listen to sinners. He listens to the godly person who does his will. 32 Nobody has ever heard of opening the eyes of a man born blind. 33 If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” 34 To this they replied, “You were steeped in sin at birth; how dare you lecture us!” And they threw him out. (John 9:16-34 NIV)
If you will remember our last study then you will know that Jesus healed the man who had been blind from birth. Jesus’ disciples wanted to know what caused the man’s blindness. Was it his sin or the sin of his parents? Jesus let them know that it was neither. The man’s blindness, instead of being caused by sin, would result in God being glorified.
The man’s neighbors came around and couldn’t believe what they heard and saw. They had never known him as anything more than a blind beggar who sat out by the temple and begged for money day in and day out. When they saw him, he was up on his feet, grinning from ear-to-ear, and telling everybody about what had happened to him. John tells us,
8 His neighbors and those who had formerly seen him begging asked, “Isn’t this the same man who used to sit and beg?” 9 Some claimed that he was. Others said, “No, he only looks like him.” But he himself insisted, “I am the man.” 10 “How then were your eyes opened?” they asked. (John 9:8-10 NIV)
“I am that guy!” They wanted to know what happened so he told them. “The man they call Jesus made some mud and put it on my eyes. He told me to go to Siloam and wash. So I went and washed, and then I could see.” (John 9:11 NIV)
Somebody said, “The Pharisees need to see this.” So they took him to the Pharisees who heard what the man had to say. It was such a remarkable story that the Pharisees were divided by what they heard. Some of them said about Jesus, “This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath.” But others asked, “How can a sinner perform such signs?” So they were divided. (John 9:16 NIV) Can you imagine the tension that must have been present when the hard line Pharisees realized that the larger group was not of one mind? Someone tried to diffuse the tension by turning the conversation back to the man who had been healed. “What have you to say about him? It was your eyes he opened.” The man replied, “He is a prophet.” (John 9:17 NIV) That didn’t work out the way some of the Pharisees had hoped it would. The hardliners decided the man must have never been blind to begin with so they sent for his parents.
I’ve read this story over and over again this week and I’ve determined that if Ed Stetzer was assessing the faith of the blind beggar’s parents he would place them firmly in the “cultural” or “congregational” categories. They just didn’t want to get involved when the heat got turned up in the kitchen. Listen to what they said when the Pharisees started quizzing them about their son.
20 “We know he is our son,” the parents answered, “and we know he was born blind. 21 But how he can see now, or who opened his eyes, we don’t know. Ask him. He is of age; he will speak for himself.” 22 His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jewish leaders, who already had decided that anyone who acknowledged that Jesus was the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue. 23 That was why his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.” (John 9:20-23 NIV)
The Pharisees turned their attention back to the man. They wanted to put words in his mouth when they said to him, “Give glory to God by telling the truth,” they said. “We know this man is a sinner.” (John 9:24 NIV) The man who had his sight restored said, “Whether he is a sinner or not, I don’t know. One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!” (John 9:25 NIV) The man stuck to what he knew. He didn’t know anything about Jesus’ personal life, His history, or theology, but there’s one thing he did know—he was blind when He met Jesus and Jesus restored his sight. “One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!”
Just as the blind beggar had a story to tell, so you and I have a story to tell also. Tell it. Don’t be ashamed of what the Lord has done in your life. Don’t question what others will think of your story. It’s your story. It’s a true story of how the Lord’s love broke through and changed your life. Share your story.
Through the years I’ve asked many, many people to tell me their story. More times than not people have told me, “Well, I really don’t have much of a story to tell.” I’m not inclined to take “no” for an answer so I ask a second question: “How did you come to know Jesus as your Lord and Savior?” I eventually get them talking and I learn that they have a wonderful story of how the Lord captured their heart and saved them. I’ve learned that when people tell me, “I really don’t have a story,” what they mean is they don’t have a story of how they were an axe murderer at age 9, or a drug kingpin at age 13, and ended up doing time on death row at age 15 when the Lord opened their eyes and turned their life around. I know folks who have unbelievable testimonies like the Apostle Paul, but most of us don’t. That doesn’t make your story or my story any less of a miracle. Do you know what all of us who have surrendered our life to Jesus have in common? You may have been born into a family who loved the Lord, took you to church, and taught you about God’s love for you. One day you knew you needed the Lord to forgive you of your sin and come into your heart as your own Lord and Savior and you’ve been walking with Him ever since that day. That’s a beautiful, miraculous story. You were dead in your sins, but were raised from death to life by the resurrection power of Jesus. Or, you may have a story more like the Apostle Paul. You declared yourself to be an enemy of Jesus, you wanted nothing to do with Him, you lived your life however you wanted to live it, but the day came when He opened your eyes and you fell on your face and cried out to the Lord to forgive you and come into your heart. That’s a beautiful, miraculous story. God can save those who were born in the back pew of the church and have been in church every Sunday just like He can save His declared enemies. God can save those who others see “good” people and He can save those like David Berkowitz, who was viewed as evil by everyone. You may not know the name David Berkowitz. David was the Son of Sam serial killer who terrorized New York in 1976, but who later surrendered his life to Jesus Christ and now ministers as an inmate to inmates at the Sullivan Correctional Facility in upstate New York. All of us, whether you’ve always been in church or whether you are David Berkowitz, were born dead in our sins. Dead I tell you. No spiritual pulse whatsoever. What dead people need is not a class on morality, behavioral modification, or coaching in etiquette and manners. Dead people need to live and life is only found in the One who declared Himself to be “the way, the truth, and the life.” If Jesus has raised you to life then you need to tell somebody. See your story for the miracle it is and share it.
I find another piece of encouragement from the blind beggar that I hope will encourage you also. The more he shared his story the bolder he became. Look at verses 29-34 with me. The Pharisees said,
29 We know that God spoke to Moses, but as for this fellow, we don’t even know where he comes from.” 30 The man answered, “Now that is remarkable! You don’t know where he comes from, yet he opened my eyes. 31 We know that God does not listen to sinners. He listens to the godly person who does his will. 32 Nobody has ever heard of opening the eyes of a man born blind. 33 If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” 34 To this they replied, “You were steeped in sin at birth; how dare you lecture us!” And they threw him out. (John 9:29-34 NIV)
What happened to the blind beggar cowered in the corner begging for money with his eyes cast down to the ground? Wow! Now he’s giving theology lessons to the highest class of theologians in Jerusalem. His willingness to stand up and speak up about what Jesus had done in his life made him all the more comfortable to continue to stand up and speak up. That’s the way the Holy Spirit will work in your life and mine if we will only take that first step and share our story when the opportunity presents itself.
I can remember the first time I shared my testimony. I hadn’t been a follower of Jesus very long at all when I was asked by the FCA leader at my college if I would share my story with a group of high school athletes the next week. I said, “Sure,” but my heart immediately started racing. I wasn’t even in front of the kids. I had only been asked if I would share my story. I began talking to God about it. I prayed for Him to use me. I told Him I was scared I would say the wrong thing. I wrote down my story over and over again and it was never right, not like I wanted it. I was a mess!
I was supposed to speak to the kids at their huddle meeting in the evening, but the whole day I was a mess. I was so nervous I thought I was going to throw up. I was afraid I would mess it up. I didn’t realize there was nothing to mess up—it was my story of how I came to know Jesus as my Lord and Savior. It was my story of how Jesus was working in my life. I know that now, but didn’t realize it then. I was so nervous I thought I was going to have a heart attack. By the grace of God, and I mean that literally, I survived. I was able to share my story and I didn’t throw up.
The FCA leader asked me to speak again and I did. I was still nervous, but not as nervous as I was the first time. During the four years I was in college I lost count of how many times I had the opportunity to speak to kids in FCA huddle groups, FCA Rallies, FCA Summer Camp, at a Christian camp called Kanakuk, at juvenile detention centers, and other places. Somewhere along the way, I’m not sure when it happened, but somewhere along the way I wasn’t nearly as concerned about being nervous as I was excited that I got the opportunity to tell my story of how Jesus opened my eyes to my need for Him.
I relish the opportunity to share the story of Jesus’ love with others. Last year Ryan told me that he was going to share a devotional with the football team at Centennial once a week. I was so pumped to hear the news. I hadn’t been out to watch the boys yet so I decided to go out and watch them practice. One of the coaches grew up here at BCC so I was standing on the sidelines talking to Andre when all of the sudden the head coach called the boys up. I was still talking to Andre when all of the sudden the coach yelled out, “They are all yours!” The boys came running over to where I was standing on the sidelines. I didn’t say, “But coach I don’t have my Bible with me. Coach, I didn’t bring my notes. Coach, I haven’t had time to prepare.” I just shared God’s Word with the guys and prayed for them. You see, the more you share your story the less anxiety you will feel about sharing your story.
There has never been anyone come to me and say, “You have an amazing story! You should write a book. Let’s make a movie!” Never happened. Yet, I’ve seen God use my story in the lives of others and that encourages me to never hesitate to share my story of how God has worked, and continues to work, in my life. You have no idea how the Lord will use your story to impact the lives of others if you will just share it.
Some of you have probably read one of the more than 70 writings of C.S. Lewis. Maybe you’ve seen one of the four movies based on his books, The Chronicles of Narnia. C.S. Lewis was an amazing writer and theologian, but most don’t know that when he was 15 years old he declared himself to be an atheist. He stuck to his guns through his service in World War I and into his career as a professor at Oxford University.
In 1926, while he was teaching English Literature at Oxford’s Magdalen College, C.S. Lewis met another young faculty member named J.R.R. Tolkien. The two men hit it off. In 1929 they formed an informal discussion and writing group called The Inklings where they read literature and discussed ideas together. J.R.R. Tolkien and Hugo Dyson, a professor of English at Reading University, were both very committed followers of Jesus. C.S. Lewis wrote that they would gather on Friday evenings to talk about literature, but would always end up talking about something better. Dyson and Tolkien knew that Lewis was an atheist, but they didn’t shy away from their Christian faith with their friend.
There was a night in 1931 that lasted until 4 am with the three friends talking about Jesus. Lewis was hung up, he just could not understand how the death of Jesus could open up salvation to the world. He couldn’t comprehend how the death of someone 2,000 years ago had any application for his own life. Tolkien and Dyson explained to their friend that if he read a myth of a god sacrificing himself that he would be moved by it. Lewis wrote that the light came on through the help of his friends. He wrote,
Now the story of Christ is simply a true myth: a myth working on us in the same way as the others, but with this tremendous difference that it really happened: and one must be content to accept it in the same way, remembering that it is God’s myth where the others are men’s myths. (October 18, 1931)
Stories. In the midst of sharing the stories the men had rambling around in their minds, J.R.R. Tolkien and Hugo Dyson shared their own story of how Jesus had changed their life with their atheist friend, C.S. Lewis. It didn’t happen in a night or a week—it took years, but the men continued to love and share life with their friend as they shared their own experiences with Jesus.
Six years later J.R.R. Tolkien would put the notes he had read to C.S. Lewis in the form of a book, “The Hobbit,” which would later become a part of a greater work called, “The Lord of the Rings,” but if you asked C.S. Lewis, “What’s the greatest story Tolkien ever wrote?” It wouldn’t be any story about Bilbo Baggins—it would be the story of how Jesus changed Tolkien’s life. Soon after his conversion C.S. Lewis wrote to his childhood friend, Arthur Greeves, and said, “How deep I am just now beginning to see: for I have just passed on from believing in God to definitely believing in Christ – in Christianity… My long night talk with Dyson and Tolkien had a good deal to do with it.” (October 1, 1931).
The blind beggar had a story to share and he shared it. J.R.R. Tolkien had a story to share with his friend and he shared it. You and I have a story to share with those the Lord has led into our life and we must share it my friends. We must. God hasn’t led people into your life for you simply to enjoy their company—He wants you to share His love, grace, and saving power with them.
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
May 24, 2015