Acts 1:8, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”
Welcome! My name is Conor, and I want to welcome you if you are here on campus, watching live online or tuning in weeks/months/years from now.
Do we need to even acknowledge what happened last weekend? Like, should we need to bring it up? No… Okay, here is what I will say, and then we can move on. The long-time Bengals fans I know are saying “We went to the Superbowl! Praise God!” And all the newer Bengals fans, like myself, are saying, “Ya but… Kupp and Stafford, why you gotta do us like that? That last drive… dang!” Okay, moving on!
If I took a guess, I’d bet almost every person would say they would like for their lives to make a difference. Even if it was a small difference.
Just google “finding my purpose” or “how to be happy” and the results are overwhelming. Harvard Business Review posted an article saying “Nine out of 10 people are willing to earn less money to do more meaningful work."
Maybe you feel like, outside of the Bengals, your life doesn’t make much of a difference right now. If that is you, good news. There is hope for you. We are going to talk about how your life can make a difference.
And I know some of you and you are making a huge difference in your families, communities, and schools. Well done, but we still have a lot of work to do and need to keep talking about it.
About 2000 years ago, there was a mysterious, peculiar group of people I want to tell you about. This group of people lived so counter-cultural that they radically changed their community and eventually the world. This group lived in the midst of a Greko-Roman culture. So, take this counter-cultural group aside, here are some things that were common in that time period:
- It was common practice for parents to leave a baby on the outskirts of town. The babies would have little to no chance of survival.
- Women were viewed basically as property. They had little, to no say in much of anything, including the impact they had on the world and the impact they had on their own bodies.
- Nowadays, we have systems and programs for the poor to get fed and have a roof over their head for a night. Back then, if you were poor, you most likely didn’t have a roof over your head and you probably didn’t know when you were going to eat your next meal.
- Taking care of the sick. Historians believe that about a 3rd of the population died from a pandemic. Some think it was the first of chickenpox or measles. Most people back then would have evacuated a city or street or a medical facility. (Is this now? Or in history…)
But this counter-cultural group of people stepped in and did things like:
- Took in the babies left for dead.
- They valued women, gave them dignity and decisions, helped them be all God created them to be, and even started leadership initiatives within the group.
- They would take in the poor, feed them. Clothe them. House them.
- In the midst of a pandemic, they chose to run into the areas with hurting, sick and broken people. Knowing it might very well cost them their own lives. And history tells us that it did for some.
This group changed the world that we know today. More on this group later.
Just so you know, I’m all for changing the community for good and social change, and all that stuff. But, I believe with all of my heart the best kind of change that can happen to a community and to you and me is to step into the love, grace, freedom and lordship of Jesus Christ. I’m ALL for doing good. Praise God for self-help books and bloggers and stuff… but self-help only gets you to the surface level. The kind of change I’m talking about is a deeper, rooted change that starts in your heart and flows out.
I’m convinced that the way Jesus tells us to live is the best, healthiest way to live… even if you don’t believe in God and don’t hold the Bible to be the authority for your life.
If this is your first time here or maybe you aren’t sure about Jesus or the church, welcome! So glad you are with us! We have been talking about “For Everyone”, that’s the series we are in. And today, we are talking about being "for our community." Whether you are a Christian or not, we can all make a difference in our community. Community, meaning where we work, learn, eat, play and rest. I want you to take 10 seconds right now and think about your community, where you work, learn, eat, play and rest.
I want to talk to you about three things that will help you make a difference in your life and in your community!
How do we make a difference? How do we change our community, where we eat, sleep, play and work? Three things. Are you ready?
1. Live questionable
Question, “Do you live a questionable life?”
Some of you are like, “Well, yes I do…” or “I don’t but she certainly does”.
I want to help you go from a questionable character to a questionable life in Jesus.
Do you live a life that is so different from the world/culture that people can’t help but ask why you are so weird? Tell the person next to you, “I’m weird!”
Here’s the deal.. If you live like the world, then the world will never think to question you. If you act and talk and spend like everyone else, then why would I ask you, why you are so different?
It says it like this in the Bible. A guy named Peter wrote a letter and it’s now in the Bible called 1 Peter. In Chapter 3, he said, “but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.” Let’s break that down.
The first part says “in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as Holy…" In your hearts… In your hearts. This is a deep conviction, a deep belief, a lifestyle of living and breathing. Living this way can’t be, as Peter is saying, a check-off-the-list kind of living. (I went to church…check, and I prayed before meals…check, and I gave some money away…check). “In your hearts” means it’s not what you do, it’s who you are.
Who are we? The foundation of living a questionable life is found in people surrendering to the Lordship of Jesus. Here is what I mean. Making Jesus “Lord” means Jesus is your boss, he is the king, he is the “el capitan” as my father-in-law would say. Whatever Jesus says, goes.
And if you consider yourself to be a Jesus follower, it is your job to make following Jesus attractive to your world. Author, Michael Frost put it like this, “The church (you) is to be like a movie trailer to God and his love, mercy, justice, and reconciliation.”
That’s so good. What’s a movie trailer that’s out right now. Yell them out! You see the trailer and that makes you want to see more or see the movie. What if people saw our lives (like a movie trailer) and thought, “Huh, I wonder what he is all about” OR “I’d kinda like to have what she has."
Matthew 5:16 - Jesus said, “In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”
Then it says, “...always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you...”
So, if a person walks up to you and asks why you are so different or weird, Peter tells us to be ready to give them a reason for the season! Are you prepared to have a conversation with someone about why you have hope?
Guys, I’m figuring out what this looks like in my own life and family right now. The truth is I don’t have this all figured out. I feel like I need to hear this message more than anyone else. In December, I had COVID which was awful. We had a death in our family. And on top of all that, I experienced a kind of depression that I’ve never experienced before in my life. I kind of felt like my life is a bit of a mess, and I’m supposed to have hope. Hope that is like a movie trailer to point people to God?!? Well, smack me in the face and call me skippy… Tell me more!
I have had to remind myself to stop and remember what Jesus did for me. He died for me. He rose from the dead, conquering sin and death so I can have life and freedom no matter what life throws at me. I have to remind myself I do have hope, not because of what happens in my life but because of what Jesus has done in me and for me.
This means EVEN IF I do something stupid, EVEN IF life smacks me in the face, EVEN IF my wife isn’t healed from her stomach issues yet… I can get back up because of the grace and love and goodness of God!
I desperately want that hope for you. I want my life and my family to have the kind of hope that points people to something that is deep, raw, authentic, genuine, and sincere. The kind of hope that when you see me and see us, you can’t help but wonder why we’re so stinkin’ weird. I am weird… let’s be clear… but I think it’s a good weird. That’s what my mom tells me.
Do you have hope in Jesus? Do you live in such a way that people might ask you why you have hope?
What are you saying, Conor? I have to stand on top of my desk at work and tell everyone about Jesus? Well, no… maybe… not necessarily.
The Bible describes this in two different ways.
1. Some people have the gift of an evangelist. Meaning, they can talk about Jesus on a platform. They are excited to have conversations about faith with you. These people proclaim the gospel/goodness of God.
2. All Jesus followers should demonstrate Jesus in their lives. The churchy word for this is evangelism. Some people have the gift of an evangelist. All people should evangelize through the way we live.
The last part of that verse and into the next says, “...yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience." Jesus people… You wanna know what this means… Don’t be a turd. Type that in the chat… Don’t be a turd.
Can I vent about turds for just a second?
- If I had people come up to me and ask, “Hey, do you know Jesus?”
- I’ve seen people leave a gospel track…
- I’ve seen people destroy their testimony/witness/influence on social media because they thought winning an argument online would be a good way to win people to Jesus… It’s not! Stop it.
I want to help you go from a questionable character to a questionable life in Jesus.
- He was a turd. Not a Christian turd but just a turd.
- Before Jesus.
- Kicked out of school.
- Met Jesus and started living differently.
- Went back to tell his story at the school that he got kicked out of.
- Now, I’m happy to report that he is not a turd, not smoking weed and he is the Bible teacher at the school he was kicked out of.
He went from a life of questionable character to a questionable life in Jesus.
Do you live a questionable life?
2. Live intentional
The Bible says in Colossians 4:5-6, “Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.”
“Make the most of every opportunity." Living a questionable life is super important. But doing that with intentionality is even more impactful.
Okay, I’m doing this differently and people are starting to take notice. Cool! Now what? Now, do that over and over again in the same places, with the same people and you will start to see something special happen.
If you are like me and you are a visual person, then maybe this will help. You could say it like this:
Good actions. Good will. Open doors.
Jon was telling me about a show called “Cheers." We were talking about being intentional and he said, “Ya, tell them I told you to mention the show Cheers and how everyone knew Norm”.... I’m like, “Why are we cheering and who’s Norm?” So, be like Norm and when you walk into the places you normally go to, people know your name and you are a familiar face.
I thought of the show The Mandalorian. Where are my Star Wars people? For those of you who don’t about The Mandalorian, it’s a show on Disney+. It’s family friendly. You should go and watch it. It’s great! When Mando goes into the town, meets the sheriff and helps the town with that massive dragon creator thing. So, he met with the people. He met their needs. And THEN, he was able to ask for help to save Tatooine.
Norm and Mando were intentional!
Here’s another example. You are doing your thing in the grocery store. You’re shopping and you say hi to your cashier. Then, the next time you grocery shop, you might see that employee again and you say hi again. Then next time, maybe you introduce yourself. Then the next time, you keep showing up and asking how they are doing/family good/did you see the game and as you build a relationship, I’d bet you’d be surprised when someday, they might ask you a question or share something difficult they are going through. You then have an “in” to share why you have hope.
Or what about this… You’re kid is in middle school and involved in some stuff. Maybe you offer to help coach or bring snacks or whatever it is. And as time goes on and the more you keep showing up, the more people will trust you and know that you are FOR them.
Good actions. Good will. Open doors.
So here are some practical ways to start this:
Learn names! According to human behavior expert, Dale Carnegie, "Remember that a person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language."
Go to the same places regularly! Go to the same grocery store and go to the same place you like to eat out and go to the same gas station.
For those of you who are watching online from around the world, if you came and visited Cincinnati, you would find this community to be really unique. So unique that during the Superbowl, announcer Mike Terico shared that Cincinnati people don’t share where they went to college but where they went to high school. Community, schools, neighborhoods are huge and many of you are already doing this. You already go to the same places, you know people’s names. But listen to me, we need to be intentional about bringing people hope. Bring people hope in Jesus and do it by living a questionable and intentional life.
Go home tonight and think about this question, “How can I be intentional in my community?”
3. Live relational.
It’s all about relationships. You want to know how to change a community. You do it by getting to know people, one step at a time. One person at a time. And by living a life in Jesus, you will expose those people to God.
This means it can’t be a one and done thing.
This is why one time serving projects aren’t as impactful because there is little relationship involved. We go in. We give food away. We build a building. We give money away, but then it’s all over. Those aren’t bad things. God can and has used those moments for good, but the bigger impact comes from spending your time in relationships.
This also means it’s not about a building. It’s about Jesus… and you! The church isn’t a building. It’s you. You go and be the church out there! And come with your stories that God did out there and we will celebrate them in here!
Finally, all of this has to be done together. We are created to walk out our faith and make a difference in our communities with others. The aftermath of what we went through with COVID, but was the case even before COVID, was that overwhelming reality of loneliness. Do you feel alone right now? I know I did, especially in December. And I’d be willing to bet I am not alone. We can’t do this alone.
This is a big part of what we want to do with our RSVP invite. We are inviting all of you, whether this is your first time or millionth time, we want to invite you into community. If you haven’t RSVP’d yet, please do so. Even if you are all in here and you think we might know you are in, we aren’t assuming anything. There will be cards when you leave to grab. There is a QR code on the screen. There is a website to RSVP. We gotcha covered. We, I, want you to live a relational life with those who are far from God, as well as those pursuing God and we want to help you do that.
Three things that will help you change your life and make a difference in your community. Live questionable, live intentional and live relational.
The group that lived counter culture 2000 years ago - they were a group of people called “Followers of the Way." They were Jesus followers. Because Jesus is the “Way." They were Christians. They decided to live reckless abandoned to the mission of God. And they changed our world as we know it. Together, not alone.
In Acts 1:8, Jesus commanded them, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” They did what Jesus said.
And I believe with all of my heart, that if God moved through that counter-cultural group of people back then, then he can move through this band of misfits now. Are you willing to step out and live a questionable life? An intentional life? And a relational life?