Talking About Our Faith
One day she noticed she couldn’t recognize her most important words—the ones she had been collecting like antiques, the ones that were handed down to her. She realized this when she went to show them to her granddaughter, but they had changed. When was the last time she took them out—how long had they been this way? All she knows is that she opened the special locked drawer where she had been keeping her favorite words—and most of them had been replaced with generic counterfeits. The ones that hadn’t been substituted with forgeries had become so brittle that when she tried to pick them up, they broke in her fingers and turned to dust.
These were her special words—sacred words. They used to be so full of meaning—larger than life—but now they were small, one dimensional plastic echoes of the words she used to know.
Words like grace, faith, holiness, glory—God. Those words used to give her hope—hope—dang it! That’s another one. See, “hope” used to be this amazing word filled with all the future possibilities of eternal life and heavenly bliss—it was so comprehensive—now it just seemed like wishful thinking—pretending to believe things might turn out okay. Ugh! See what I mean? This new counterfeit hope just isn’t as good as the one she remembers tucking away in her secret drawer.
She had put them in there so they’d be safe. She didn’t want them to get contaminated, she didn’t want to be like some of her friends who kept taking their words out and playing with them—she didn’t want them to get broken. She had a good friend one time who played with the word “God” so much that it became unrecognizable—first it just kinda lost it’s edges and started to look like a soft focused cuddly little deity, then it just disintegrated into an impersonal impression of a spiritual abstraction. Almighty God became All Pretty Good. She was horrified at the way her friend had chewed on “God” and mangled and twisted the word into something that didn’t even look anything like “God” anymore—so she locked her words in a safe place and kept them out of her mouth—never saying them in public.
Maybe it’s too late. Maybe they were lost forever—or maybe they could be restored. She sat down in the kitchen with her granddaughter and one by one pulled out the broken words—and the hollow plastic fake words—describing what they used to be like. She even let the child hold them and say them—and when they were done for the day—she left them out on the table so they could come back to them later.
When the words in our spiritual vocabulary lose their meaning, we don’t just lose words—we lose the power of speaking grace, forgiveness, love, mercy and salvation to other people. If we can’t articulate our faith—if we can’t talk about our faith with other people—you might wonder if we really have faith at all.
A study in the Journal of Positive Psychology analyzed fifty terms associated with religious virtue. They discovered that 74 percent of these words were used less and less frequently over the last hundred years: “Grace”…declined. “Mercy”…declined. “Wisdom”…declined. “Faith”…declined. “Sacrifice”…declined. “Honesty”…declined. “Righteousness”…declined. “Evil”…declined. We might expect heavy theological terms like “atonement” or “sanctification” to fade in our increasingly secular society, but basic moral and religious words are also getting dropped. Things we Christians call the fruit of the Spirit—love, patience, gentleness, and faithfulness—declined. Humility words, like modesty, down by 52 percent. Compassion words, like kindness, dropped by 56 percent. Gratitude words, like thankfulness, declined by 49 percent. What do you think our society is gonna look like without these words? I think we’re starting to find out.
We gotta talk about our faith. If we don’t, we’re not gonna have faith—not as a culture, or as a nation, even as individual people. Because faith comes by hearing—somebody has to talk about it if anyone is gonna hear about it. The Bible says we have to confess with our mouth and believe in our heart—that’s how faith works. Romans 10:9-10
“If you openly declare that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is by believing in your heart that you are made right with God, and it is by openly declaring your faith that you are saved.”
Confess with our mouth, believe in our heart. We gotta talk about what we believe is the truth—or people will just believe any lies they hear. Let’s pray as we get started:
Father in heaven, make us so full of Your word, so full of Your grace and truth—that we can’t help but overflow with thankfulness and faith—everywhere we go, with everyone we meet. Open Your Word to us now, help us truly get it, bring us alive in Jesus’ name. AMEN
Heart. How many really good spiritual conversations do you think you’ve had in the last year? More than a handful? Meaningful, life changing conversations about faith. A recent Barna poll found that only 7 percent of Americans say they talk about spiritual matters at least once a week. Seven percent! These are the same people that will tell you their spirituality is one of the most important things in their life. If you limit the poll to only church going Christians—only 13 percent of them said they talked about spiritual things weekly. Church going Christians—So, that’s us.
Why don’t we talk about our faith? Is it because we don’t care? I have a hard time believing that very many of us would say we don’t care about our faith—I don't think that’s true.
Or is it because we don’t feel qualified? Like we don’t think we know enough about it to say much? Like maybe we’re afraid if we bring up spiritual things, that someone might ask us to clarify our terms.
Jonathan Merritt in his book “Speaking God From Scratch” tells the story of asking his friend Katy what she meant when she said she “Asked Jesus into her heart.” Where did the image of Jesus entering her artery and aorta come from, and what was she trying to express exactly? He said she paused in confusion—she had never been asked that before. Finally, she said it meant that she’s “saved.” What did the word “saved” mean, he asked her? Which confused her for a moment. “Saved,” she explained, meant she’d accepted God’s “gift of grace.” But what does “gift of grace” mean. Exasperated, she said, “It means that I asked Jesus into my heart!”
There are so many fuzzy ambiguous words floating around the Christian lexicon—it’s like it’s own language. Christianese. Words and phrases like: sin, salvation, baptism, the blood of the Lamb. Maybe you’ve been around the church enough to be somewhat familiar with all this. Have you ever given a “love offering” or started a “prayer chain”? Have you asked God for “traveling mercies” or a “hedge of protection”? Do you ever talk about “doing life together” or “seeing the fruit” of someone’s life? Have you ever had a “quiet time” or confronted someone with “truth in love” or thought of yourself or someone else as a “backslider”? If you understood that last paragraph, you probably speak pretty good “Christianese”—and when you try to talk about your faith with someone who doesn’t know all the insider lingo, it can be awkward. Every word and phrase has to be explained and translated into English. Maybe that’s why some of us are hesitant to talk about our faith.
But I think the biggest reason we avoid talking about our faith is because we don’t think it’s a safe subject—I think we stay away from talking about God because it might make people nervous and create tension—everything’s so politicized these days—these kind of conversations easily get us into arguments.
Because the church has done such a bad job of talking about Jesus, a lot of people think the Christian “God” is a nearly heartless monster who enjoys punishing people. And our most important words have been twisted into unrecognizable distortions—mostly by the way we’ve misused them. “Faith” has become an insurance policy that provides eternal fire protection for the after-life. “Conversion” is a decision driven mostly by fear. Joy is an afterthought. “Grace” is more rational than amazing. “Mystery” is, well—mystery isn’t part of the deal anymore. We’ve done such a bad job talking about our faith, that it just doesn’t feel safe to bring it up in polite company.
There’s a famous quote often attributed to Saint Francis that goes something like: “Preach the gospel at all times; use words if necessary.” The idea is good—that faith is best seen as a lived practice and example through our actions, rather than a lecture. That Christianity is more credible when it’s shown by works of love, compassion, and service. I’m not arguing with any of that—faith without works is dead faith—but without words, there isn’t any faith to start with. Words are always necessary. Words create faith. Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God.
We’re in this room today talking about Jesus—believing in Jesus—because someone talked about Him with us. Someone told us the Gospel—that’s how we came to believe. And the person who talked to us—at some point in their life, someone had talked with them about Jesus, and so on—all the way back to Jesus and the cross and the resurrection. The Christian faith is transmitted from person to person, generation to generation, by people talking about Him. When we stop talking about our faith in Jesus—we stand in the way of the future of Christianity.
We believe it’s our sacred duty, our highest calling, to share our faith with the people God puts in our lives—whoever God puts in front of us. That as we go about our lives, we’re to talk about our faith—talking about what we know about Jesus. Just talking about we know—sharing what we’ve been given.
My favorite Scripture about sharing our faith is 1 Peter 3:15, it says,
“Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.”
I love that. The Christian life’s supposed to be just walking around day to day looking for opportunities to have these kind of conversations—answering people’s questions about the hope we have in Jesus. Living a life that begs the question. Cultivating a life that’s saturated with hope—hope just oozing out of your life—hope so noticeable that people will ask you about it.
Nobody is interested in the answer to a question they haven’t asked. Imagine some overweight dude sitting in a fast food restaurant eating a double cheeseburger and drinking a large chocolate milkshake. What would happen if you walked up to him and said, “You need to consider changing your diet if you want to live long enough to see your grandchildren.” How do you think that conversation would turn out? But if the same man asked someone that he thought might know what they were talking about—like his doctor or a friend at work—if he asked them what he oughta do to get in shape. Then those same words, “You need to consider changing your diet if you want to live long enough to see your grandchildren”—they sound completely different. He might be able to actually hear them.
It’s the same with talking about our faith. No one is interested in answers to questions about you faith that they haven’t asked. That’s why we gotta constantly be on the lookout for people who are asking the right questions.
The other day I was casually scrolling through Facebook and one of my “friends”—someone I’ve never met and have no idea who they are, what passes for a “friend” these days—they made one of those “Vague Posts,” you know, they say that something awful is going on in their life but they don’t say what it is because they’re looking for sympathy and want everyone to ask what’s wrong. They said something like, “I just can’t take it anymore. What do you guys do to hold on?” At first, I just kept going but then I thought about that 1st Peter verse: “Always be prepared to give an answer for the hope that is within you.” So, I went back and tapped in the comment box—and I just stared at the blank box. “What do I do to hold on?” How can I say something about my faith in Jesus that doesn’t come off like a flimsy prize from a box of corn flakes? I typed this: “Warning. Do not roll your eyes.” I thought that might keep it from sounding like a meaningless platitude—but what to say next? What can I say about my faith—what gives me hope and keeps me holding on? I didn’t wanna just say, “I hold on to Jesus.” Or “I trust in the Lord.” Those things are true but didn’t seem helpful—they sound like cliches’. God sauce with empty calories. So, after my warning disclaimer, I said something like “I hold on by trusting in the promise and hope of the resurrection of Jesus.”
It wasn’t a bad answer, it wasn’t a great answer—but I gave it some thought and gave it a shot. I think that’s all we’re supposed to do, I think that’s what being faithful looks like. We look for opportunities for meaningful conversations about our faith—that’s our job—and it’s God job to make something come of it. We say the words, He works the miracles.
See, it’s not our job to argue with people. It’s not our job to impress people with vast theological knowledge and wisdom. It’s also not our job to tell people they’re in sin, or that they’re going to hell—or any other bad news you might think the good news of the Gospel compels you to jab in people’s face. Satan is the accuser—that’s not supposed to be our job—he’s the one who’s gonna take delight in pointing out every sin, every failure, every doubt, every guilt and shame—he’s gonna try to discourage every one of us—make us feel like there’s no point in trying because God is holy and righteous and we’re all just a bunch of hypocrites. The devil is gonna try to turn every spiritual conversation into an argument and try to make people run from faith in Jesus. So, don’t fall for his tricks.
Our job is to share the good news. The Gospel. The promises of God. We don’t even have to know that much about it because our job is to talk about OUR FAITH. Why we believe. What believing in Jesus means to us. How Jesus gives us hope. The meaning and purpose our faith in Jesus gives us. The difference He’s made in our life. See, that’s something we can all do. Nobody can argue with your experience—with your story. Nobody can argue with what Jesus means to you and how Jesus gives you hope.
So take your faith out of the drawer and talk about it. Have conversations with your family and your friends about it. Have them often. But don’t use cliches’—use your own words. The more you do this, the better you’ll get at it.
It’s so important. We believe that talking about God is the hope for the world—because we believe speaking the words of the Gospel is a means of grace—it’s the way God gives His grace to the world. That by saying “Jesus died to forgive you of your sins—Jesus rose from the dead so that you can have eternal life”—when those words are spoken to you, that’s how the grace and forgiveness of God is transmitted to you! We believe proclaiming the Gospel is the way people are saved—how people are made right with God. That God works through those words and creates the faith in the people who hear those words, that’s how they receive His gift of salvation. Makes talking about God pretty important doesn't it?
You become the transforming, life changing, sacramental power of God to save—when you talk about your faith.
In the beginning God created the heaven and earth—He spoke, and everything was created from nothing—with just words. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us in the person of Jesus. He died and rose from the grave so that you can have new life now and the hope of eternal life. Then He filled you with the Spirit of God so that you can actually be His presence in the world—you represent God to everyone you know. If you’re a Christian, the Spirit of God lives within you—so that when you speak about your faith, life will come from death, hope will come from despair, light will fill the world, and our holy God will be glorified. AMEN