Sermon: "You've Got a Story to Tell"

Delivered June 5, 2005 by Rev. Mark Gaking.

audio The audio file of this sermon is available for download and listening in MP3 format.
Sermon Text: Acts 26:4-5, 9-11, 12-18, 20-23

Good morning. It's a pleasure and privilege to be with you this morning. If you would, if you have your own Bible, or a Bible in front of you and if you would open it up to Acts, Chapter 26, we'll read some selected verses from that chapter as we begin in a few minutes. Acts, Chapter 26, starting at verse 5:

"Since they have known me for a long time; if they are willing to testify that I lived as a Pharisee according to the strictest sect of our religion,"

And then Verse 10: "And that is just what I did in Jerusalem. Not only did I lock up many of the saints in prison having received the authority from the chief priests, but also when they were being put to death, I cast my vote against them. And as I punished them often in all the synagogues I tried to force them to blaspheme and being fearlessly enraged with them I kept pursuing them even to the foreign cities. While so engaged, I was journeying to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priest. At mid day O king, I saw in the road a light from heaven, brighter than the sun shining all around those who journeyed with me and when we had fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in Hebrew dialect, "Saul, Saul why are you persecuting me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads." And I said, "Who are you, Lord?" And the Lord said, "I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. But get up and stand on your feet, for this purpose I appear to you: to appoint you a minister and a witness not only of what you have seen, but also to the things that will appear to you."

In Verse 22: "So having obtained help from God I stand to this day testifying both to small and great, stating nothing but what the prophets and Moses said was going to take place, that the Christ was to suffer and that by his resurrection from the dead he would be the first proclaim life both to the Jewish people and to the Gentiles."

Lets pray and ask God's blessing on this time. Let's pray. Our great God, I pray that the words in my mouth and the meditations in my heart would be glorified and an honor unto you and I pray that you would open the eyes, and hearts and minds of those listening and that your spirit would be present and that you would be with us. In Christ's name we pray. Amen.

I was finishing tying my shoe and I reached up and two guys were standing on front of me. I had just finished a workout and these two guys on my track team said, "Mark, what are you doing this Thursday night?" And I said, "Well why? What?" And they were like "Well we would like to invite you to the coaches Bible study." And I said, "Coaches Bible study, what's that?" They said the coach is having a Bible study and we would like you to come. And I thought, All right, fine, I will come. Well just before that invitation, before that meeting, much prior to that I had gone through a period in my life where I was rather depressed. My parents I thought put too many rules and things on me and I couldn't stand my parents. I didn't like school. I didn't like life and I didn't see any purpose in life. I wondered, why was I here? What am I doing here? What's the purpose? What meaning is there? Where am I going? I kept asking those questions. To the point where I was getting very very depressed. Well that meeting resulted in me going to the coaches Bible study that Thursday night. I went to the Bible study and they handed me a Bible. I didn't know what to do with a Bible; what do you do with it? And so they helped me along. I read the verses they said to look up and they helped me find things. And then I went home that night and I thought, "That's nice."

And then they invited me back the next week. I went back to the Bible study and again they handed me a Bible and they were very friendly. They helped me find the verses they were talking about and I kept hearing things and hearing this talk about God and Jesus and so forth and then I went home. I thought, "Well, that's nice." And then they invited me back for the third time. I came back for the third Thursday night and then again they gave me a Bible and I followed along, but this time was a little bit different. Things began to click. I began to all of a sudden understand that there is this God who was perfect and I was far from perfect and I began to understand that Jesus was that mediary, that person who took care of my sins. I began to understand a small bit about the Gospel and that night I went home after it was over and I went up to my room, closed my door and got right before my bed and kneeled and I prayed. I said, "Lord I messed up. I know you are perfect and I have messed up and I pray that Jesus will come in and take over." So I prayed as best I could a prayer for God to take over my life. And God did.

I came back the next week and I didn't know what I had done and the guys said, "Mark, you seem different." I said, "What do you mean different?" Well they said you just seem different. Did you do anything? I said, "Well I invited Christ in my heart I guess." And they said, "Oh, that's great." And they put their arms around me both real and figuratively as well and they kind of took me under their wing and began to really disciple me and spend time with me and they got me connected to a good Bible teaching church and I began to grow and to understand this Christian walk. And through the years, the more than 20+ years, I have been blessed to serve at various ministries and evangelism, counseling and discipleship. And God has been good. I can't say that life has been perfect, but I can say that God has given me a purpose. God has given me meaning. I have joy. I still struggle with praying, but I like to pray and still growing that way and God has been good. I have purpose and I have meaning now that I never had before.

You see our testimonies, and I will say from now on that our stories instead of testimonies, are powerful. Our stories are powerful because they reflect God and they reflect Jesus. They also reflect the gospel of Jesus Christ, which has power as well. You see, the apostle Paul, his story is powerful, as he is talking with the King Agrippa, as he is giving his story to the king and they are trying to decide what charges they should bring against Paul. So Paul gives his story to the King and at the end of that time the king says, "What Paul, would you have me be a Christian right now?" And Paul says, "Well yeah you and everyone else listening I would like to be Christian." So God and Christ are seen throughout and reflected throughout Paul's story. And God and Christ are seen in my story: as God began to work in my life, pointed me and moved me towards people who were Christians who could share with me the Gospel, and as I heard the Gospel, the Gospel was powerful in my life. The Gospel that you and I are more sinful and flawed than we ever dare believe and more accepted and loved than you ever dared hope at the same time because Jesus loved us and died for us. That's exciting news!

Each of us has a story to tell. Each of us who has come to Christ has a story, and our story is so unique, so personal that God has done in our lives, that there are people around you that God has prepared that story for. Just as you have a unique story, God has a person to hear that story as well. Maybe you feel like at times that you can't share the Gospel. Maybe you can't answer those tough questions that someone may ask you if you are trying to do that, but you've got a story that's so exciting, that's so incredible that God is working in your heart and nobody can dispute your story. Did you know that? Nobody can dispute it; nobody can say, "Mark, the coach didn't take you, you didn't have that story or that Bible study back then, or you didn't get depressed like that." People can't dispute your story. Your story is your story in what God has uniquely done in your life.

Well right now we are going to have another opportunity to hear another story of someone in the congregation. A story of how God has worked in her life. Kim is going to come up and share her story and we will listen to see what God has done.

Kim speaking: Well when I was asked to share my story this morning, my first thought was I don't think I want to do that, but I remember and maybe you do what the worship leader said last week at the 8:15 service and I decided that I should reconsider. As we sang last week, "Here I am Lord" I am going to read this though and I hope that is okay with everybody. I was blessed to be born in to a Christian family. I really can't ever think of a time when I didn't believe that Jesus was God's son and that he came and died for me. We attended church and Sunday School every Sunday at a small Methodist Church in Montgomery County or at a even smaller Methodist Church in Pennsylvania when visiting my grandparents. I knew all the familiar Bible stories. I am sure that some of you remember those lessons we would have with the big pictures on the front and the story on the back. And I had memorized the hymn "In the Garden" by age 10. Both of my grandmothers were Christians and one of them was particularly fond of giving my family lots of books and Bible stories including a daily devotional by D.L. Moody that was presented to me when I was 10 years old. I read through it then and have read through it several times since. I also had a wonderful Sunday School teacher for several years during my teens, a woman who taught who me much.

In college the Lord led me to a fellowship group that met 2-3 times per week after dinner and there I was involved in Bible studies and prayer at a deeper level than I had ever been before. Helping with the local Young Life club during college introduced me to some contemporary praise music and many other committed believers. I think that this is probably when the idea of a personal relationship with Christ first became real to me. During both of my post-college jobs the Lord provided Bible study groups that met weekly at lunchtime through which I could grow spiritually. When Rick and I moved to Baltimore and started our family, we began attending a small local church. At this church we all received a lot of love and support, but the Bible teaching I would say was a little bit uneven.

About 16 years ago someone from Central Presbyterian Church invited me to attend the Elizabeth Circle. This was a group of mostly young mothers that met on Wednesday mornings. For those of you who are new to the church, that's probably the precursor to WOW that we have now; Women on Wednesday. The fellowship that I enjoyed and the teaching that I received there was wonderful and the Lord knew how much I needed it. Over the next 10 years I formed friendships, studied the scriptures and prayed with this group of women. It was during this time, under some very godly Bible teachers that I realized that the more that I studied God's word the more my appetite for it grew, and I am thankful that this love for Bible study continues even now. In God's time, about 7 years ago, our family began looking for a new church. Central was where we started looking and where we stayed. I have been so happy to have my whole family sharing in the fellowship of this church. Rick and I joined a small group, which gives me another opportunity to grow in my faith. I am blessed to be able to participate in the ministry of WOW, with occasional schedule juggling almost every week. I also believe that God has given me a passion for stewardship of his creation and I try to apply what I learned to the activities that I feel called to do, which includes gardening and teaching others about native plants and helping with recycling here at church. I have made many mistakes in my life and I still have much to learn about God and his nature and his will for me. I still worry way too much and pray too little, but I do truly look forward to the times that I spend with him by myself and at worship each week and my love for the Lord and his purposes continues to grow.

That's an incredible story: to see God at work in Kim's life through growing up in a Christian home where she had Sunday School and attended women's fellowship where she grew in Christ and really began to grow, that's an incredible story. And I believe right now that God has used her story and will continue to use her story throughout many more lives. It's a special story. Paul's story is unique. There is not many of us that can say a shining light came down, boom, and we came to Christ that way. That's unique. Most of us, like mine, was a very quiet way that we come to Christ. It's still a very powerful way that God uses us and brings us to Christ.

We live in a culture where stories are so important. People can relate to stories sometimes better than any other way of talking and teaching to them. I know that sometimes in teaching and preaching the path, I will be wonderfully exegeting from Scripture and people will be half falling asleep and then I will give a story and people will come alive with a story: they just pop up and that's the way people relate to stories. Maybe you have never had a chance to write down your story. In your bulletin, if you open up your bulletin, there should be an insert in your bulletin that looks like this. The inserts says My Testimony or you can write My Story right there, My life before Christ, How I came to Christ, My Life now in Christ and as a Christian. This afternoon or this evening or whenever if you take the time just to sketch an outline of your story and begin to write that out so you can begin to have an idea of what your story is about. And maybe you say to yourself or say to me, "Mark, my story is kind of personal. I am not sure I want to share my story with anyone. It's so personal." And there are parts in my story that are incredibly personal that I sometime share and sometimes I don't share the whole thing, but I believe that God can help you even though you feel like you have a personal story, to still share that story because God can use that story as well.

Well maybe you ask or maybe you wonder: "Mark, I don't have a story. I mean I am on this point of just wondering about this Christ and is he real, and is this God thing something I should pay attention to?" Maybe that's where you are in your life and that's your story, and your story is that you are on a quest, you are on a journey, you are seeking God and that's an incredible story itself and I would just challenge you to share that story with others as well: that you are seeking or on a quest, your inquiring after God. That's a great story as well. This summer there will be wonderful opportunities I am guessing, as you are on vacation meeting people, at your neighborhood pool, golf, hiking, at work or wherever you are to tell your story and to share your story with people all around you.

And one more thing, if you are like me and have been a Christian for many years; I have been over 20 some years a Christian, sometimes you can get a little bit ho-hum. I know when I first became a Christian I shared my story and told the Gospel to people that walked, lived and breathe and I would get obnoxious and they would say quit it. I was just so excited. I was in this honeymoon period. I just couldn't stop telling my story, but after walking with Christ for a while, I still want to tell my story, but I don't have that honeymoon period, that bubbling up joy that you did right after you come to Christ and I sometimes have to say, Lord restore me that joy, that excitement that I had and that I need to have right now. Help me realize what Christ has done in my life, how exciting in your life and then help me to remember to tell that story to others, how the joy, not some burden, but a joy wound up inside that you say "I can't help but tell you my story." "Would you like to hear my story?" "Can I tell you my story?" Let's bow in prayer.

Our heavenly Father, Lord we are thankful that you first worked in our lives and that you Lord have given us a story to begin with. Lord you are a great God, and Lord we pray that you will continue to help us to love you, to seek after you, and help us realize that we have a story. Help us to tell that story with the love that comes from you. In Jesus' precious name. Amen.

© 2005, Rev. Mark Gaking
Central Presbyterian Church, Baltimore, MD 21204 410/823-6145