I am concerned that we – the people of HillSong Church and Christians in churches like ours throughout Chapel Hill, Durham and around the country – have trouble talking about Jesus. The mere mention of his name does something inside a person, something wonderful but also something startling. When Jesus enters a conversation, that discussion suddenly becomes very personal, intimate, and emotional.
So, we balk and back peddle. We change the subject or look for a joke. We retreat to surface level banter. I have seen it. I have felt inside myself.
We talk about church.
Oh, I love my church’s music.
Hey, have you seen that church’s program for students.
Yesterday at work, we were all talking about the churches we attend.
We talk about the Bible.
I have read the Bible through 5 times.
I enjoy movies based on Bible stories.
I believe everything the Bible has to say. (Watch people hesitate when you ask them to start naming the specific Bible teachings they believe.)
We talk about doctrine.
Do we believe in charismatic gifts, you know, speaking in tongues?
Hey, are you a predestination guy, or a free-will guy?
Can someone lose their salvation?
In faith circles, these and other topics come up in conversation and the loudest and most dogmatic voices end up dominating. It ends up as one person’s opportunity for him to spew his uncompromising views and crush dissenting opinions. Jesus is hardly mentioned. It’s theological hair-splitting that many people find boring, irritating, or unimportant.
Don’t misunderstand. Doctrine matters. I spend time on the study of Christian belief. I read the Bible throughout the week. My sermon preparation begins with my reading of the word. I don’t finish until I think what I have to say comes from what I have read in the Bible.
But we are not called to worship the Bible. We are not called to follow the Bible. The Bible is supposed to show us the ways of God and the truth about God. Our allegiance is to God as God is revealed in Jesus. We are Christ-followers, not Bible thumpers.
Why do people answer questions about faith by talking about church?
What do you believe is about Jesus? Well, um, I go to HillSong Church.
I don’t know how many times I have sat with people who are Christians. I know they try their best to follow Jesus. I want our talk to go deeper, so I say, “Talk to me about faith. Talk to me about you and Jesus.”
I can predict their response. Yeah, I grew up in a Christian family.
I did not ask where the person grew up. I asked about Jesus. But the response is about church or about reading the Bible or about being raised in a Christian family or listening to some Christian celebrity. I have had this conversation a dozen times, often here at HillSong. Why?
Why is it so safe, easy, distant and uninvolved to talk about church?
Why is it so difficult and scary and dangerous to talk about Jesus?
After Jesus rose from death, he ascended to sit at the right hand of God. His Holy Spirit came and filled his followers. This was few months after the crucifixion. The political tensions led the temple leaders to conspire with Herod and Roman governor Pilate in the death of Jesus lingered, so the disciples preaching was dangerous. Yet those who abandoned him the night of his arrest were boldly speaking his name after the resurrection. They had no trouble talking about Jesus.
One day, Peter and John were at the temple and a beggar asked for money. He was paralyzed, unable to walk from birth. Peter said, “Look at us. … What I have, I give you in the name of Jesus Christ. Stand up and walk” (Acts 3:4, 6). The man, over 40 years old, walked for the first time in his life. And jumped. And danced. He praised God.
Peter then preached to the gathered crowd that Jesus was crucified, but the very ones who killed him could be forgiven. They needed to repent of their sins and God would wipe the sins off the record like they never happened (Acts 3:19). The temple leaders were annoyed at this because Peter and John were teaching that in Jesus there is resurrection (Acts 4:2).
Maybe that’s why we don’t talk about Jesus. It annoys people. People don’t want to hear religious theories. Jesus is personal and close and real, we get uncomfortable, and in talking, we make others even more uncomfortable. We’re not sure what to say, and when we finally get the words out, people aren’t sure of what to do with what we’ve said.
God calls us to enter the discomfort, and speak the truth about Jesus.
But it’s hard. It’s so much easier to talk about the Tar Heels or complain about the government or comment on the weather.
We’re called to enter the difficulty and if we don’t have the words to say about Jesus, we’re called to look for them. When we find the words, we’re called to share them. To talk about Jesus is a calling from God.
When Peter and John answered the call and talked about Jesus, they were arrested. The book of Acts says the rulers, elders, and scribes demanded to know by “what power or by what name [did the disciples heal this man and speak this teaching]” (4:7)? Peter replied, “Let it be known to all of you … that this man is standing before you in good health by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead” (4:10). Peter quotes Psalm 118, calling Jesus the stone the builders rejected.
Then, he and John get released, and they return to the disciples to the disciples who by the time have grown to over 5000 in number (4:4). Among the Christ followers, Peter says Jesus is the Messiah, and he quotes Psalm 2.
Through this series of incidents, a healing, teaching at the temple, arrest, inquisition by some of the most powerful and deadly people in Jerusalem, and then teaching the disciples, Peter and John continually point back to Jesus. The relationship with him changes, grows, and takes them to unpredictable places. Jesus dictates the posture of a disciples’ life.
Jesus speaks as forcefully today as in the 35AD. We hear him in the Bible. As the church, we are the body of Christ, and he speaks among us. We hear him through one another. We hear the quiet voice of the Holy Spirit speak deep inside our spirits. We are guided to see and hear Jesus in the events of the time in which we live.
Maybe we don’t talk about Jesus because we don’t hear him. We don’t hear him because life is full of noise. And we listen to it. Some distractions are malevolent, some benign. Anything that commands attention we’re supposed to give to Jesus is damaging to our spirits.
Recall this event in Jesus’ life.
38Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. 39She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. 40But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.” 41But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; 42there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”
Martha wasn’t wrong. Domestic chores need to be done, but not at the expense of time spent listening to Jesus. Our sharing of Jesus in our daily lives, daily conversation is to be an outgrowth of ever deepening relationship with Him. When we listen to Him and invite Him deeper and deeper into our souls, it becomes more and more natural to talk about Him. I don’t mean, Praise Jesus! I just got a great parking space. Praise Jesus! My team won the game. I am not talking about artificially forcing Jesus into every sentence or even every interaction with others.
Nor am I referring to clever evangelistic strategies. We don’t need relational cues or techniques to steer conversations in a spiritual direction. We go deep with Jesus in worship, in service and in small group participation. He is always on our minds. Talking about him is not an attempt to convince others of something. Talking about him is self-expression.
Peter did not try to “win the handicapped man” for Christ. Peter and John were not soul-winning. They went to the temple for prayer. They were seeking Jesus when the man approached them. They said to him, “We give what we have – Jesus.” When questioned by the authorities, the disciples talked about the power of Jesus. When sharing with the larger community of believers, Peter and John did not discuss programs or doctrines or theology. They said the Psalms point to Jesus. He is the Messiah, the Savior.
Do our lives points to Jesus?
Here’s a practical way for each of us to continue the inner journey with Jesus, and if necessary to alter the direction of our lives if we aren’t walking closely with Him.
Write down the following questions. What matters most in my life?
How do I spend my time?
Who determines how I use my money?
What enters my mind when my mind wanders?
What defines me?
[re-read the question]
This little exercise only works if we are honest with ourselves. Spend time this week, reflecting on these questions. Don’t try to cram Jesus into your answer. Don’t settle for one-word answers. And do not accept the first answer. If Jesus is truly what matters most, then as you answer that first question, go into detail about why he matters so much. Note what in your life indicates that Jesus matters. If someone else were answering about you, would they upon observing your life agree that following Jesus and serving Jesus and sharing Jesus are your top priorities?
Deal with each question. Answer honestly. Go deep with your answers.
Then, look for Jesus in your own life. Is he guide? Is he savior? Is He master? Or do you want Him to like Santa Claus just give you what you want?
If we examine the essential truths about ourselves and change the course of life so that Jesus is at the center as Savior and also as Master, as helper and also as leader and motivator, then Jesus will naturally, not in a weird way, come out in our speech much of the time. When asked about faith, our answer will be about Jesus, not church. When asked about church, our answer will be about Jesus, not an institution.
Will this lead to people believing in Jesus because of our witness? I don’t know. Some who met Peter and John became follower of Christ. Others heard the disciples talk about Jesus, and they threw them in prison; they whipped them, stoned them, beheaded them, and crucified them. People don’t always want Jesus talk and we should only share His name out of love and out of our own experience with Him. We don’t hammer people.
I don’t know what will happen in others when in a natural, not forced or imposed way we begin sharing Jesus in our thought and speech. I simply know that when that happens, it is a sign that we are focused on Him in our hearts and we are walking with Him. We are living the lives we are called to live. Our Jesus talk will not be the artificial stuff of televangelists, but rather genuine confession of lives totally committed to Him.
What does life look like when a person’s relationship with Jesus is so deep and real that his Jesus talk is open, unapologetic, direct, and filled with love? Why don’t we find out?