You May Have Heard About Me [Acts 28]
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You May Have Heard About Me – 01.29.2023
In Salem, Oregon – there’s a real estate firm that released information on their methods for reaching out to their community. They were very successful, reached lots of people and so they told people, “this is how we do it.” Every agent was assigned 500 families in the city. Agents are expected to contact each assigned family once per month for a whole year. The contact can be personal, a telephone call or a letter. Research indicated that it takes at least six contacts for people to remember who the agent is and the firm represented. During the first year agents are encouraged not to go into their house, and don’t ask for a listing. Obviously there are exceptions, but the general rule was – for an entire year, there’s nothing but relationship building, and don’t try to get into their homes. After the first year, they continue to communicate with the assigned families on a scheduled basis. Research showed that if that pattern is followed consistently for a year and a half, the agent will secure 80% of the listings.
So let me ask, what does the real estate firm know that the church does not? First, people do not like it when strangers show up and try to get into their homes. How many of us have a story of Jehovah’s Witnesses or Mormons? A stranger at the door is automatically confronted by what they call “high sales resistance.” If we feel like someone is selling us something – we dig in our heels, even if it’s a great product. We are automatically against it. BUT, if a friend comes over and tells us about something that’s amazing – they’re not selling it, they’re just really excited about it – our response is night and day. I can speak to this from personal experience. Sara and I are in the process of buying a home for the very first time. And as we started out, we heard a lot of warnings. Here’s some real estate tricks, watch out for the financing, watch out for the inspections. But when you have a personal connection to the person – when the real estate agent is recommended personally by a friend you know and trust and love. Or the real estate agent themselves are a member of the church you’re going to be serving – they’re not going to scam you because they have to sit next to you on a Sunday! It’s a completely different experience.
I’ll tell you another story. I have family who lives over on the other side of the state, and they bought their house a few years ago. They didn’t have any connections, so they went in cold. And I was asking them, “what was it like, what questions did you ask, how did you approach it?” And they honestly didn’t really know. Well, we think it was a really good process – but it was our first time and we don’t have anything to compare it to. The recommendation was just sort of a “shrug.” But since they bought the home, the real estate agent has kept contact every month. Sometimes a card, sometimes a phone call, sometimes even just chocolates. And one time, my brother and sister in law, they had gotten some really bad news and that just happened to be the day that there was a small gift from the real estate agent waiting on the doorstep. And I’ll never forget what she said, she said, “I don’t even know how good of a real estate agent our person is, but they cared for us in ways they maybe didn’t even know – and so yeah, we’d probably use them again if we ever needed to buy another home.” A satisfied customer makes the most effective salesperson, but more important than that is the truth that it takes time and effort to build relationships that people will trust.
Now think about this, I’m talking about the Real Estate industry because it’s been on my mind recently because I happen to be in the process of purchasing a house – but how much more… how much more good news is the gospel of Jesus Christ than having a house seller you can trust? These Real Estate agents are going through all this process to build relationships in order to make a successful sale and then we Christians sit over here with the greatest good news this world has ever seen, the greatest treasure anyone could ever possess – an actual relationship with the eternal God in heaven and we don’t do half what they do. I don’t want to make anybody feel bad – I just want you to be aware that in the competition of who makes the best neighbors, we’re getting beat by Real Estate Agents! [laugh] Today we are finishing up our study in the book of Acts, and I actually mean finishing up. For almost two full years we have been coming back to this story of the early church, to this story of Paul and his travels. We have witnessed the birth of a church and the struggles that they went through. Last week, Paul was a prisoner on his way to Rome – and at the end of the chapter, a hurricane comes in and destroys Paul’s ship. The ship is lost, but the entire boat-load of people wind up on an island called Malta, and that’s where we pick it up today.
[v.1-2]. So right off the bat, I love this simple, practical, concrete way of showing love. The islanders built a fire and welcomed them, because it was raining and cold. That’s just simply and beautiful. You look at the world, you see the problem, you do something that helps. It’s cold, let’s build a fire. And then this crazy thing happens [read v.3-4]. So Paul’s helping out, gathering firewood. And then a snake bites him, and the Islanders see that and think, “he must be a bad guy, because he’s going to die now.” But then, [read v.5-6]. [laugh]. A bad thing happened, so you must be a bad guy. Oh wait, a bad thing happened, but you survived, so you must be a god. But this little interaction led to the next thing [read v.7-10].
Okay, so here’s what I want to do with that. It seems very obvious to me that this little story of Paul on the island of Malta has a clear message about showing kindness to strangers and bringing healing to the people. It said that the islanders showed “unusual kindness” in the very simple, basic meeting of needs. Cold and rainy – build a fire. And I see a challenge for each of us – to reach out and meet the practical needs of our neighbors, to love the strangers around us with “unusual kindness” – right? But here’s what we have done with this passage. There is a tradition, in the history of the Pentecostal denomination, of snake charming. Christians, in worship services, would handle poisonous snakes and if they did not get bitten, that was a sign that God favored them. Have you ever heard of this? It was really popular in fundamentalist circles, but they still have it in obscure places in the modern world too. They play with snakes and if they don’t get bit – it’s a sign of God’s favor. And it’s based on this story. Paul got bit, but he didn’t die. And I think so many of us – we want to read the stories of miracles in the bible as a comic book where being a Christian gives you super powers. We read about “faith that will move mountains” and then we go home and start praying and try to move stuff around the living room with our new faith power. Or we read stories of healing and prayer, and we sit there and try to figure out the right formula of prayer to get what we want from God. But what if the message of this story, and the message of all of scripture is not for YOU to have more power, for YOU to do divine and incredible things – but rather for you to show “unusual kindness” that brings healing to the people around you, for the glory of God. We don’t need superpowers, or snake charming skills to be unusually kind.
Then they get off the island of Malta, after about three months – the hurricane season dies down, they grab passage on a new boat, make a couple stops…[read v.14-16]. So they get to Rome, and Paul is basically under house arrest. He can live by himself, but there’s always a guard there. And because of his work all over the ancient world, and the letters he has written to Rome and all those other places – Paul is actually very well known. And because it’s taken literally years and years from the moment he got arrested to the moment he gets to Rome – his story is well known. So there are just loads of Christians who show up to show him love and support. Do you notice how he uses the phrase “brothers and sisters” over and over? These are people he has never met – but they are there to support him and encourage him. And think about this – all those visits do nothing to change his status. He was a prisoner before they showed up, he was prisoner after they left – and yet that unusual kindness made all the difference. It encouraged Paul. I think about our lives, how many times have you thought: “I could go visit, or I could call or I could write them a note – but it won’t change anything, so what’s the point?” And the point, of course, is that it DOES make a difference. Visiting sick people is not always about healing them with magic Jesus powers. The visiting part is the whole point. Just be with someone. Tell them you love them. Tell them you’re there for them. Sometimes sitting quietly with someone in a room, or chit-chatting about the weather or a thousand other pointless little topics – sometimes that visit or phone call could be the most important thing you do all day.
I want to tell you a quick story. We do two nursing home services at this church. We go over to Hyde Park and Woodhaven. We come in once a month, do a little service, and from a ministry perspective those services are very…unimpressive. If you think of it as entertainment, there’s very low production value. There’s no sound system, no musicians, we sing acapella 2-3 songs, we pray, I offer a 5 minute sermon, and we offer communion. And it’s TINY! Compared to these mega churches with thousands of people. I mean, literally – there’s maybe 5 people in the room, sometimes only 2-3 people. We have more volunteers than attendees some weeks. But for those three people, maybe five if it’s a good week, it’s literally life changing. [hold up the thank you cards] I got these in the mail this past week, and I don’t think it’s fair for the Pastor to be the only one who knows how much you are appreciated. They’re thank you notes. They say, “Thank you for coming to fellowship with us. We appreciate all that you do! From communion to prayers. Pray God continues to pour into you, so you can continue to pour into us” and then it’s signed by the four people we see every time we go. It’s not magic Jesus powers and snake handling that the church needs – it’s unusual kindness. I’m so thankful for the Hyde park and Woodhaven volunteers. I’m so grateful for our care callers and our visitation team. It might seem like a small ministry, but it makes all the difference.
So then there’s sort of an unusual development. The Jewish leaders come to visit Paul, and he launches into his big defense, “I didn’t break any rules, I’m just really excited about Jesus.” And the Jewish leaders, which is a different group of people in Rome than it was back in Jerusalem, they say, [read v.21-22]. It’s definitely a new crowd. They say, “yeah, we don’t know anything about you. We don’t know why people are mad at you, but we’d like to hear about this Jesus fella.” And believe you me that’s all the invitation Paul needed. Huge numbers of people start showing up, [read v.23-24]. Two quick things we’ve got to pull out of that. First, I want to talk about that word witness. It said he “witnessed” all day – what was he doing? Was he teaching a theology course on doctrine? Nope. Was he interpreting the bible in the original Greek to pull out a deeper meaning and send them home with helpful applications for their life? Nope. Was he a brilliant orator, compelling teacher, motivational speaker? Nope. In fact the bible is really clear about the fact that Paul was really BAD at public speaking. So what is he doing with all these people who show up at his prison/house? Witnessing. What is witnessing? The answer is super obvious, I’m not being tricky at all. Witnessing means you see something, and then you tell someone what you saw. So when it says that Paul spent the day “witnessing” it means that Paul spent the day telling stories of the things that he saw. That’s the first thing I want you to see. Paul was a highly educated Jewish fellow, he knew his scriptures and that probably helped. But the most compelling thing Paul did was see what Jesus does in people’s lives, and then tell people about it.
The second thing I want you to walk away with this morning is that Paul’s reception is the most common response to the gospel ever. It says “some were convinced by what he said, but others would not believe.” When you witness, and tell people about what Jesus is doing in the world – sometimes people will listen to you and sometimes they won’t. I think we should find that very encouraging. There’s a ton of stuff out there, books and curriculum and whatnot and it’s very, “here’s the fool proof way to share the gospel and get all your friends to follow Jesus.” The problem is, most of us don’t try it, and if we do try it, it doesn’t work so we give up and go home. And then we never try it again. We give up to easily because we want guaranteed results. Relationships are a lot of work, and we want to know we’re going to get a return on our investment. But relationships are not products you can slap a guarantee on. Pouring unusual kindness into people’s lives, and telling them all the ways you’ve seen God work in your life – it does not always lead to the results you hope for. [pause] It’s still the best thing you can do with your time. Even when you do everything right, some will hear and some won’t. Even Paul, one the greatest evangelists and church planters in all of human history constantly got mixed results. That’s normal.
And that’s basically the end of the story of Paul. The final chapter finishes up like this, [read v.30-31]. The happy ending is that he STAYS a prisoner. There are legends about what happened to Paul, but not a lot of historical evidence. Some say he met Caesar was set free and went on to travel to Spain, but the more likely story is that he was beheaded by Emperor Nero – but all of that comes from sources outside the bible.
It’s almost anti-climatic, you know? We started with this amazing church that was growing by thousands of people every week, and then the problems started, the drama, the church arguments, persecution and danger, and then more church drama. And I’m just sure we cannot find a relatable parallel in the modern world. And as I read this chapter this past week – I always look for, “what is the good news?” Where do I see God working in this story? And I realized that Paul’s situation varied wildly – treated like a criminal, mistaken for a god, treated like a scholar, treated like a crazy person, held up as a celebrity, condemned as a heretic and villain – yet, no matter what happened in Paul’s story, or any of these guys in Acts, no matter what happened – God never changed. God’s love, God’s hope, his grace is always there. The only thing that changes in our lives is how much we pay attention to it. It’s kind of like the sun. The sun rises every single day in the exact same stinking way. And yet somedays we wake up and look outside and say, “huh, the sun’s not out today.” But actually, the sun is still there, there’s just fog or clouds or whatever getting in the way. It doesn’t change the reality – the sun is there. It’s just sometimes your situation is keeping you from seeing it. It’s the same thing with God. God is always there. He rises every single day in the exact same stinking way – it’s just whether or not we can see him. God never changes – he is steadfast, and in a changing world that is incredible good news.
Now my challenge for you this week is one word with two parts. I want you to witness with your life. Like we talked about, there’s two parts to witnessing. You see something, and then you say something. First – you need to see something. You can’t tell stories of what God has done if you don’t SEE what God is doing. Maybe you’re in a cloudy season, and you can’t see the sun – but I promise you it’s out there. God has been working in your life all along, if you just open your eyes to see. You can also see God’s work in the scriptures. Pray for that. Pray that God would open your eyes, to see him in the bible and to see him in your day to day life. In order to witness you need to see something – so go looking. Second, after you see something, say something. When you look at your life, and you start to discover what God has been up to in your world – you need to tell people about that. We should be able to tell stories all day of what God has been up to in our world. And don’t stop at story telling. We need to let the stories of everything God has done for us in our lives, inspire us to live lives of unusual kindness. You can witness with your words, and I think we all need to learn how to do that better. But you can also witness with your life – the way you live, the unusual kindness you give.
As someone who recently bought a house, I am grateful for good real estate agents who are friendly and neighborly. But I’ll be honest, it’s a little annoying that their business practices are better at cultivating loving relationships than some Christians who go to church every Sunday. I feel like it’s a challenge, and we should rise to the occasion. So let me leave you with this. May you open your eyes to see what God has been doing in your life. May you tell the story of Jesus’ life and Jesus in your life to the people around you – witnessing what you have seen. And then may all of that lead you to a live of unusual kindness. Amen.
 Joe Aldrich, “Friendship Evangelism”, Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.