Just this week, the pastor who married Cheryl & I, Bill Elliff, who is now pastoring in Arkansas, shared a testimony about a man who came to their church 4 & 1/2 years ago, looking for a handout. One of their associate pastors ended up talking him, and soon the man, named Gary, found himself on the floor, crying out to God for salvation, with one pastor holding one hand, and another pastor the other. Bill said that Gary “used the only language he knew as he prayed, laced with profanity.” He said, “He’s the only man I know who literally cussed his way into the Kingdom! But God heard him and saved him from to toe.” Gary started coming to church every week, and sat on the front row — usually with 4-5 of his friends from the street that he would bring with him. As you can imagine, Gary had quite a ministry on the street from that time forward.
Bill shared this testimony because Gary passed away this week, at only 63 years old. But Bill and all those who knew Gary are comforted by the testimony he had, and how his life had been changed since the time he was saved.
That is quite a “story” about Gary, and how he came to follow Jesus. But if you are a Christian, you have a “story” too. And it is a story to which you should give some thought and attention. First of all, do you HAVE a “story”, and are you ready to share it with others? And then, do you know if the people you love have a “story” as well?
This morning, I want to introduce an emphasis we are going to be focusing on in the next few weeks here at Pleasant Ridge, called, “This Is My Story.” The title actually comes from the old hymn, “Blessed Assurance, Jesus is mine … this is my story …”. That hymn talks about how the person knows that they belong to Jesus, and that they are confident in the relationship they have with Him, so they can sing, “This is my story …”. I want us to spend just a few moments this introducing this series, not by focusing on any one scripture, but by thinking about the importance of having a salvation “story”, and how God can use your own “story.”
I. THE IMPORTANCE OF SALVATION “STORIES”
Throughout the New Testament, we find the testimonies of people who came to know Jesus as their Lord & Savior. These are valuable stories, because they teach us about salvation. They show us how Jesus dealt with people, how they responded to Him, and how they were saved. And consequently they show us how Jesus will deal with us, and how we can respond to Him and be saved too. They show us the variety of ways that God deals with people, and how He meets us, and speaks to us, in our particular circumstances. We learn all kinds of lessons from these “stories”:
— For example, the story of the Philippian jailer in Acts 16 shows us how people can be saved through traumatic life circumstances. That jailer thought his prisoners had all escaped, and that he would lose his life, but God used that near-death experience to save him and his family.
— These stories also show how God can use His word to speak to someone about salvation, like He did the Ethiopian Treasurer, who was in his chariot just reading Isaiah 53 and trying to figure out what it meant – and how God can use a “divine appointment” to bring a witness and someone who needs the Lord together — like when He brought Philip up to meet him in his chariot as he was reading the scripture.
— The story of the woman at the well in John 4 shows us how we must first be confronted with our sin in order to be saved. She wanted the eternal life that Jesus had to offer her, but Jesus made the point to first ask her: “where is your husband?” When she said that she didn’t have a husband, Jesus said you’ve had 5 husbands, and the man you are with now is not your husband. That sounds harsh; why did He say that? Because He knew this woman had to face up to her sin before she could be saved — and we do too.
— These stories show us that we our good works can’t save us: Saul with all of his religious background and good works, “a Pharisee of Pharisees” was not right with God. And through the story of the paralyzed man of Matthew 9, we learn that we are just as hopeless as he was to save ourselves.
— And these stories show us more than anything else where our faith needs to be, if we are going to be saved. That Philippian jailer asked Paul & Silas: “What must I do to be saved?” And they responded with those famous words: “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you shall be saved.” Over and over in these testimonies we see that it is faith in Jesus alone that saves.
These are more than just “storybook stories” — they are factual; they are history — but they are not just “history lessons” to be memorized, but life lessons to be learned. And they show us the most important life lesson of all: they show us how to be saved.
There is nothing more important in life than knowing for sure that you are saved. I remember a few years ago sitting face to face with a man in Memorial hospital in Lake Charles Louisiana, who said that he had just been told that he would not live out the week. I looked him right in the eye and said: “Mike, if what you are telling me is true, there is nothing more important right now than to know for sure that you are right with God, and that you are going to heaven.” And he said he didn’t know for sure; so we bowed our heads and prayed together, and he asked Jesus to be his Savior. That man only had a few days to live; there was nothing more important in his life than knowing for certain that he was saved.
In the same way, life is uncertain for all of us — especially in the days we are living in today. How many times recently have you heard about someone who died early, or unexpectedly?
I don’t think there is anything more important we can preach on than this. The old Puritans said that there were SO many topics on which a minister could preach; so they recommended what they called the rule of “necessity” – what was most IMPORTANT thing for them to preach? What was the greatest need that needed to be addressed by the word of God? Listen: there is no greater need anyone has than to know for sure that you are saved. That man I talked to in the hospital had, in a sense, received a great gift: he knew that he was going to die, so he could make sure that he was right with God. You may or may not receive that same gift. A church family I served once had a relative who was only 50 years old pass away – while he visiting a pastor’s home for dinner! You don’t know when your time on earth may be over. That is why there is nothing more important than for you to know that you are right with God, and that you are going to heaven.
That’s why over the next weeks we are going to look at these “stories” of people whose lives were changed by Jesus. Through these New Testament stories, you are going to hear repeatedly how you can know for certain that you are saved. And you can be sure that if you will bring someone with you these next weeks, they will definitely hear how they can be saved. I don’t believe there is any better way we can spend our time together this fall, than by looking together in the Gospels and the Book of Acts at the stories of people whose lives were changed by Jesus.
II. YOUR “STORY” AND EVANGELISM
One of the important things these stories do is show us how God can use a personal testimony to lead someone else to Him. We see this in several places in the New Testament:
A. That woman at the well shared her story. After she met with Jesus she went back to town and said: “come and see a man who told me all the things that I have done.” (John 4:29) That is not even a very good explanation of Jesus; but God used it, and John tells us that as a result, many from that town were saved!
B. After Jesus cast the demon out of the man in Mark 5, He commanded him, “Go home to your people and report to them what great things the Lord has done for you.” (:19) He specifically told him to share his testimony with others in his hometown.
C. The Apostle Paul used his testimony: In Acts 22 on the stairs of the barracks, after he had been arrested in the temple, he shared his “story”: in verses 3-5 he talked about his life before he met Christ; in verses 6-16 he shared how he met Christ; then in verses 17-21 he talked about how his life had been changed since he met Christ.
That is a great outline for our testimonies too: briefly share how you were before you came to Christ; then relate the circumstances which led you to Christ; then tell how your life has been since you have known Him. This is a wonderful pattern for our testimonies as we think about writing them out.
God not only changed the lives of Paul, and the demoniac, and the woman at the well, but He used their testimonies, their “stories” to bring other people to Himself. God wants to do the same thing with you. He not only wants you to have a story; He wants you to use your story to lead others to Him. You may not realize it, but your “story” can be one of the greatest “weapons” in your spiritual arsenal. The truth is, many people will listen to someone’s “story” who will not listen to a “sermon” or Bible Study — but they’ll listen to the personal story of something that happened to you. So we as Christians need to be ready to share our stories. And we need to be prepared to do it in brief and effective way.
I remember a few years ago, reading an article by a business person which talked about the importance of having what they called a “30-second elevator speech” about their business. They said you never know whom you might meet, for example in an elevator, and they might prove to be a new customer, or investor, or a valuable person to network with for your business. So they encouraged everyone to have a “30-second elevator speech” in which you can very briefly, but effectively convey the most important facts about your business to anyone you meet while traveling in an elevator, or walking across the street.
Well, when I read that, I thought: you know, every Christian ought to be prepared in the same way; we should each have a “30-second elevator story” ready about how we came to Christ, that we can share at a moment’s notice. But we have to be prepared to do that. A lot of times if you wait until you are on that “elevator” or while walking out to the parking lot, or whatever, it will be hard to come up with the right words, or it can be hard to summarize it as much as you need to, so we need to be prepared. Now I know that Jesus promised in Matthew 10:19-20 that His Spirit would give us the words to say when we need them, but I Peter 3:15 also says we should “always be ready to give an account” for the hope that is in us. We need to be prepared, to be ready, with that “30-second elevator speech.”
That is why I want to challenge every member of our church to spend some time over the next weeks, writing out your testimony in a short, succinct, effective way. Beginning next week, we are going to have a book here at the front of the worship center, and we are going to encourage everyone, when you are ready, to bring your testimony to the front to put in that book, as a way of saying, “This MY story; here is what God has done in my life.” That will be a good opportunity first of all for you to make sure that you HAVE a testimony — but it will also help prepare you to share your story with others whenever God gives you the opportunity.
III. YOUR UNIQUE “STORY”
Now, I know that there will be people who will say: “But I don’t really have a very good ‘story’ like sometimes you hear people share. It is just not very interesting.” I want everyone here to understand something very important: Every Christian has a “story.” A Christian’s “story” is just how they came to know Jesus as their Savior. A person is saved when they realize that although God loves them, and wants them to know Him and be in heaven with Him, that they have sinned, and separated themselves from God by their sin. But Jesus died on the cross to pay for our sins, and to restore our relationship with God. And when they believe this, and they repent of their sins, and put their faith in Jesus as their Lord & Savior, they are saved. That is what happens with everyone who is saved. A person’s “story” is just how that happened to them. If you are a Christian, you have a “story.” Or to put it another way: if you don’t have a “story”, you are NOT a Christian!
Let me share a couple of things related to that: every Christian HAS a story. But not all “stories” are not dramatic as others. Some stories are very dramatic, like the Apostle Paul’s: he persecuted and killed Christians, until he saw Jesus on the road to Damascus in a blinding light – that is very dramatic; but not all testimonies are like that! Some people have the story that they were saved when they were 6 or 7 years old, as almost the most natural thing in the world, in their home with their mom or dad. That is a story! Just because it is not “dramatic” does not mean it is not a story, or that it is not a legitimate testimony of salvation.
I heard someone share something one time that I believe is helpful at this point: they compared salvation to crossing a river. And they said you can cross the river at different points: you can step across it when it is still a little stream, or you can cross it when it has become a large river, way downstream. They said that getting saved as an adult is like crossing the Mississippi River where it’s a mile wide. It is very memorable and can be very dramatic. But getting saved as a child is more like just stepping across that river when it was just a little stream. It may not have seemed like a “big a deal” then, but the point is that BOTH people “crossed the river”; it was just more or less “dramatic” depending upon where and when you crossed it!
It can be the same with you and your salvation “story”. You may have been saved as an adult, and have what some consider to be a “dramatic” and memorable testimony. Or you may have been saved as a child, and it didn’t seem very extraordinary at all – but it was real nonetheless. Both of these are legitimate testimonies. The important thing is that you HAVE a story, and that however you did it, the bottom line is that today you are trusting Jesus as your Lord & Savior and following Him.
My own story is not one of those “dramatic” ones, but it is real nonetheless. When I was about 6 years old, our family was living in New Mexico, and one Sunday we were attending a Baptist church there. At the end of the service, the pastor gave the invitation, and I started to make my way out of the pew and go towards the front. My mother, who was sitting by me, stopped me and asked: “Shawn, why are you going down to the front?” I told her that I had seen a friend of mine go down, so I was going too. She said to me, “Shawn, you don’t go down to the front of the church because someone else goes down, you go when God is calling you to go”. And I am glad that she stopped me from making a so-called “decision” that would not have been real in my life.
It was over a year later, then, at a Vacation Bible School while visiting my Aunt Betty, who was a counselor for the Billy Graham team, that I heard the gospel that Jesus Christ died for our sins, and I stepped out — on my own — to follow Jesus as my Lord & Savior. I can still remember as a child sitting on the back of our old blue pickup truck, singing, “Mercy there was great and grace was free; pardon there was multiplied to me. There my burdened soul found liberty — at Calvary.” And I have been a follower of Jesus Christ ever since.
Mine is not a “dramatic” story, but it is my story. My question for you is: do you have a story? If you are a Christian, you have a story. It may be very dramatic, or humorous or unique, like the story of Gary that Bill Elliff shared; or it may be more “plain” like mine — or somewhere in between. But if you are a Christian, you HAVE a story.
During the weeks of this emphasis, we will each have the opportunity to write our “stories” out and put them in a special “This Is My Story” notebook here at the front of the worship center. I hope that you will take this seriously, pray, and write your own testimony, and when you have it ready, bring it to the book here on the Lord’s Supper table. You can type it out if you want to, or make it more personal and write it in your own handwriting — make a scrapbook page if you want to — however you want to do it. It will make a wonderful “book of remembrance” of all of our “stories” of how we came to know Jesus as our Savior, and it will also help prepare us all to share our stories.
Most importantly, for the next 9 weeks, each one of us in attendance here will be faced with the question: Do I HAVE a story? And so I ask you that even as we introduce this study today: Do you have a story? Do you have a testimony of how you put your trust in Jesus as your Lord & Savior? Just because you grew up religious, or were baptized, or are a member of a church, does not mean that you really have a conversion story.
When we were serving in Louisiana, I had talked about how important it was that each of us have a “story” or testimony of our salvation. We had a young father in our church who had grown up in a Christian family, and had attended church, but as we talked about the importance of having a personal testimony, he said, “I don’t really have a story; I have never really been saved”. And he gave his life to Jesus as his Savior & Lord. He had been a kind of “mediocre” Christian, but after this, his life was dramatically changed, and not long after, he surrendered to the ministry, left his job, moved to our Baptist Seminary in New Orleans — and just a few weeks ago he moved to OKLAHOMA of all places to start his first pastorate! But it all began when he realized, “I don’t really have a story” — and then he got one!
I hope that over the next several weeks, everyone in this church will ask yourself: “Do I have a story?” If you do, then I want to challenge you to take some time and write it out, and when you are ready, bring it to the book at the front as a testimony to your faith. And then pray and ask God for opportunities to share your “story” with others.
And most importantly, if you don’t have a story, you NEED one! Don’t walk out of this building today, with all of life’s uncertainties, without knowing for sure that you have a testimony of salvation. Repent of your sins, give your life to Jesus as your Lord & Savior, and then you can sing with that old hymn: “Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine … This is my story!”
— Do you have a story of how you gave your life to Jesus? It doesn’t have to be like mine, or like anyone else’s, but you need to have a story. If you don’t, why don’t you right now, with your head bowed, turn from your sins, and trust Jesus as the Lord & Savior of your life? Admit that you have been going the wrong way, and ask Jesus to forgive you because of His death on the cross that paid for your sins, and ask Him to be the Lord/Master/Boss of your life from this day forward.
And if you’re doing that today for the first time, I want to encourage you to come forward and share that with me. Let’s set up a time for you to be baptized. Baptism doesn’t save you, Jesus does — but it’s important if you have given your life to Jesus that you are baptized and publicly confess Him.
— Some of you might say, “I DO have a story” but I have never followed through and been baptized, and you need to come forward so we can set up a time for you to do that.
— Many of us would say, “I have a story”, but I have never really prepared myself to share it with anyone. As your application of today’s message, would you go home — even this afternoon — and begin to write out your story. It doesn’t have to be long — in fact it’s good NOT to be too long; just like that “30-second elevator speech” — just how you were before you met Jesus, how you gave your life to Jesus, and what your life has been like since. If you want some help, come and talk to one of our staff members, or a Sunday School teacher, and let them help you with it. If you are a child, ask your mom or dad to help. Get your story ready, and beginning next week we will start asking people to bring their “stories” to be a part of our book of testimonies.
— Perhaps you need to come and pray for someone who is on your heart and who needs a salvation story. Prayer is powerful. We have seen God working in the lives of a number of people in the last several weeks in answer to prayer. Don’t be afraid to humble yourself and bring your requests to the Lord in prayer this morning.