Straight to Awkward

Straight to Awkward.jpg

Straight to Awkward

Our Search for Meaning

People at a dinner party, eating and drinking together, making small talk. You walk into the room and try to say the right things, try to not make an idiot out of yourself. Someone says something, tells a story and it reminds you of something that happened to you—so you tell your story—which reminds someone else of something about them and they tell their story. Some people are good at asking questions, most aren’t. Some people are good at offering kind words, encouraging words—most aren’t. Most people are just trying to prove that they’re alright—that they’re funny or smart or successful or whatever. Half of us just say what we think other people want to hear—and the other half of us feel awkward and either get really quiet, or we find ourselves correcting people, making jokes or trying to outdo each other with stories that could begin with the words, “Oh, that ain’t nothin’.”

And it’s so hard for most of us to talk about our faith, isn’t it? To talk about our hope and what Jesus means to us. Why’s it so hard for most of us to talk about about our faith?

Today I’m gonna be talking about how relationships are created by words. The words that we say to people have a powerful impact on the relationship we’re gonna have with them. The words we say to people also have a powerful impact on the relationship they’re gonna have with God—or not have. This is serious stuff.

Let’s pray as we get started: Father in heaven, You are holy. May we live out Your holiness in the things we say to each other—may we bring the reign of Your kingdom into our lives and the lives of the people we love, by speaking words of life, affirmation, and hope. AMEN

In our reading earlier we heard about a religious leader named Nicodemus who came to talk to Jesus after it was dark—I think we can assume he didn’t want the cool kids to know he was there. The conversation, like all the conversations in the Gospel of John, is strange. Nicodemus is being very polite and respectful. He says “everyone knows that God has sent you to teach us, even the cool kids who won’t admit it, we’ve seen the miracles—it’s pretty hard to ignore the idea that God is with you.” In other words, the things Jesus had been doing got their attention—His actions had spoke louder than words. “Preach the gospel at all times, use words when necessary,” but words are always necessary.

Jesus goes straight to awkward. He says, “You’re trying to figure me out but unless you’re born again you can’t see what God’s doing in the world.” Nicodemus wanted to know what God was up to—all the miracles made him think something was happening—and Jesus said, “You’re not gonna get it unless you become part of it. And you’re not gonna become part of it unless God changes you. Opens your eyes. Opens your ears. Gives you understanding—unless you are born again.

Nicodemus didn’t like the phrase “born again” any better than we do. He thought it sounded too much like those crazy people on Christian TV. “How can an old man go back into his mother’s womb and be born again.” I’m sure he rolled his eyes when he said that.

Jesus is like, “Yeah, it sounds strange. God is pretty strange sometimes. He’s like the wind—you know it’s there but you can’t see it.” Then he reminded him about that time when God had Moses make a bronze snake on a pole and hold it up to save the Israelites from being attacked by poisonous snakes—that was pretty weird, too, wouldn’t you say?”

Then He told him the answer to what he had snuck out in the dark to find out—”what is God up to by sending Jesus?”

“For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.” (John 3:16–17)

Then He said to write it on cardboard and hold it up at football games when the camera is on you.

No, then He goes on to say that this is how He’s saving the world. That’s what God’s up to. This is how you can be born again—you got to believe in Jesus, the Son of God, the one who will be lifted up on a cross. Anyone who believes in Him will be changed. They’re not gonna live in condemnation and shame and insecurity and guilt anymore. Jesus is like, “Look, you came to talk to me under the cover of darkness because you don’t want your friends to know you’re here—come back and see me tomorrow during the day. “God’s light came into the world, but people loved the darkness more than the light, because their deeds were evil… Those who do what is right come to the light so others can see that they are doing what God wants.” Like I said, straight to awkward.

Every week when I’m driving to church on Sunday morning, I’m praying that God will bless our worship service—in particular, I also pray that in all the one on one interactions that I have with you guys, that I’ll be encouraging and validating—that I’ll speak words of life and hope in all those little conversations. But then I walk in the door and immediately make it about me. I try to be funny and try to make sure I don’t sound like an idiot. I mean, I hope that God uses me in spite of it all—but every week I have these big intentions and when church is over and I’m driving home I feel like “well, dangit, I did it again. I let my insecurities push me around.”

We have to actually say what we need to say. We have to enter all those conversations like Jesus coming into the world to save sinners. Every conversation should be an incarnation of the Gospel.

People think of talking about their faith as trying to convince someone that they’re right—trying to talk people into Jesus. I think we’re afraid to talk about our faith because we don’t want to be turned down, we don’t want to be rejected. We’re afraid we won’t be able to close the sale. We’re afraid we don’t know enough to answer all their questions. Right?

What if we didn’t think of it so much as trying to prove something—but just something we’re trying to give. Something we want to share. And if they ask a question, it doesn’t matter if we know the answer or not—just be thrilled they’re interested.

In 1st Peter 3:8-11 the disciple who usually said all the wrong things at the wrong times—he seemed to struggle with foot in mouth disease—he’s talking about how we should treat each other when we’re hanging out together. Peter says,

“All of you should be of one mind. Sympathize with each other. Love each other as brothers and sisters. Be tenderhearted, and keep a humble attitude. Don’t repay evil for evil. Don’t retaliate with insults when people insult you. Instead, pay them back with a blessing. That is what God has called you to do, and he will grant you his blessing.
For the Scriptures say,

   “If you want to enjoy life
     and see many happy days,
   keep your tongue from speaking evil
     and your lips from telling lies.
Turn away from evil and do good.
     Search for peace, and work to maintain it.

And then skipping down to verse 15 he focuses on the most important concept when it comes to sharing our faith with others, he says,

“you must worship Christ as Lord of your life. And if someone asks about your hope as a believer, always be ready to explain it. But do this in a gentle and respectful way.”

Let me say that again, if you are a Christian, if you believe in Jesus, then you have to “always be prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you about the hope that is in you; and when you answer them—when you talk about Jesus—do it with gentleness and respect.”

We’re supposed to answer people’s questions about our hope and I think we’re supposed to live a life that begs the question. Live a life that shines like the light of the world—glowing with the hope that we only have because of Jesus.

That hope we sang about earlier. We have a hope that this life isn’t it—bad things happen, trouble comes, but we’ve promised a future, that all this troubler will be resolved and work together for our good. That God is now for you, you have nothing to fear! That goodness and mercy are gonna follow you—that no matter what you’ve gone through, no matter what you’re going through, no matter what is heading your way in the future—there’s still hope for you. You have a new life but it’s hidden in Christ. We only see it by faith. But that hope and promise can get us through anything.

So we gotta live our lives shining that hope into all the darkened corners of every room we walk into. Live a life that begs the question.

And then we can’t be afraid.

We gotta get out of our insecurities. Stop trying to prove anything about how smart we are or how funny we are, stop worrying about trying to prove that God exists and Jesus died and rose again from the dead—stop trying to prove anything, and just start sharing the hope we have. Look at sharing our hope like we’re giving someone a gift.

Try saying this out loud:

Go straight to awkward. Not to prove anything but to offer a gift.

Just go straight to awkward. When you’re talking with someone, instead of saying, “that reminds me of something about me,” say something like, “that reminds me of the time a guy came to see Jesus after it was dark outside because he was afraid.” Or, “I feel that way a lot of times, too, that’s why my faith is so important to me.” Tell them your story. The one about how God has made a difference in your life, how His Word has given you direction. But don’t be a jerk. Don’t make them feel like you think you’re better than they are—that’s gross—be humble. Be respectful and kind. You’re not trying to prove anything, you’re sharing something precious and wonderful.

People tend to remember how we make them feel—more than what we say, they tend to remember how we made them feel long after they’ve forgotten everything else.

We create our relationships with the things we say. We create good relationships and we create bad relationships. We use words to make people feel good or we use our words to tear people down. We bless or we curse.

If someone says something unkind to you, how many nice things are they gonna have to say to make the bad thing go away? In my experience—it’s pretty hard to make the bad things go away once they’re said. They just kinda linger. Maybe we should be more careful before we go ahead and make that joke at someone’s expense. Maybe we should make sure it’s absolutely necessary before we correct someone, or speak critically.

And for all you introverts—this is a hard one, but it has to be said: silence is judgement. If someone is talking to you, maybe telling you something about themselves—and you don’t know what to say, so you don’t say anything—they’ll probably think you don’t like them. Silence is judgement.

And for all you extroverts—this will be just as hard to hear—talking is taking. Listening is a gift. Slow down, let someone else tell a story, let them share their opinion. Ask follow-up questions. Pretend like you’re on a talk show and they’re your guest.

These things are just common courtesy, common sense, but sometimes it doesn’t seem like people have a lot of it these days.

Most importantly, we have to be willing to say what we need to say. Not to try and prove something but to share something—to create something. Because it’s not only our relationships with each other that are created with words. That’s also the way God creates a relationship with us—through His Word. When we speak God’s promises and share the hope that we have in Jesus with other people, that’s how faith is born. That’s how it happens. God said “let there be light” and there was light. Jesus said “you have to be born again” “Stop unbelieving and believe.”

We don’t have to convince anyone of anything. We share the hope we have in Jesus, and He does the heavy lifting—He works the miracles. He gives the new life. We just plant the seeds, God makes them grow.

I’m counting on you guys to make this happen. To be planting those seeds. To constantly be having these kind of conversations with each other and with anyone God sends our way. Some of us are good at small talk about weather and sportsball or movies and TV shows—fine, knock yourself out. But always be looking for opportunities to talk about the deeper things. The way Jesus has given you hope and meaning and purpose and freedom from guilt and shame. Every week when we have HangTime, look for someone who might need you to say something encouraging to them—invite them to join you. Make the little ones smile so they always remember how loved they felt when they were a child in church. Don’t ignore older people just because they’re older than you—I’ll let you in on a little secret—they don’t know they’re old. They think they’re still the younger person they used to be, get to know them, find out who they are. Don’t be intimidated by the teenagers just because they seem so different—most of them are just trying to figure out what it means to be human—I know I was when I was a teenager.

We need to practice having the kind of conversations with each other that can go straight to awkward—straight to Jesus and hope—so that when God sends a Nicodemus your way, you won’t be too timid to say what you need to say. We are the people of God, this is what we do, we have to love each other and love the people God puts in front of us. A big part of loving people is speaking God into their life just like He was spoken into ours. Our faith isn’t something to prove, but something we have to share.

We gotta go straight to awkward—not to prove anything but to offer a gift. This is the mission of the church. We are the stewards of God’s grace, now that we’ve received it, we’ve gotta be willing to share it, so the world can have hope and so that God can be glorified through us. AMEN

donna schulzComment