How to speak to people close to you and far from Jesus…

Pastor Jeff Struecker

On Wednesday night, my group and I were talking about reaching somebody in 2021. That’s what the ONE in 202ONE stands for. We started sharing the person that we really, really want to see become a Christian this year. And what I found fascinating is, almost everybody who shared a name, shared somebody in their family; there was somebody in their family that they said, “If there was anybody this year that became a Christian, there’s a daughter, a father, a sister, or a brother that I wish would become a Christian this year.”


Do you have somebody in your family that you know is far from Jesus and you just wish this was the year that they would become a Christian? There’s somebody in my family that I have been praying for and sharing my faith with for more than 30 years. They’re still not a Christian, but I’m praying, “God, let this year, 2021, be the year that they come to faith in Christ.”


You see, when people that you love don’t love Jesus, it hurts. And when they’re far from Jesus, it’s hard to be close to those family members. Did you know that most Christians have somebody in their family that they love deeply but who does not share their faith? Did you also know that there was a point in Jesus’s life when this was true of Jesus as well? In fact, most of his family did not believe that he was the one that could turn water into wine, was the one that could wash away their sins, that he was the King of kings. 


I want to show you a passage from the Bible. It’s John, chapter seven, and you’re going to see what this was like for Jesus, and maybe you can hear the frustration or the pain that Jesus felt when he was trying to convince his family that he was the son of God. But they struggled to believe that this brother really was the one that Israel has been waiting for for thousands of years. John chapter seven explains the circumstances. It starts in verse one, and it goes like this:


John 7:1-9 After this, Jesus traveled in Galilee, since he did not want to travel in Judea because the Jews were trying to kill him. The Jewish Festival of Shelters was near. So his brothers said to him, “Leave here and go to Judea so that your disciples can see your works that you are doing. For no one does anything in secret while he’s seeking public recognition. If you do these things, show yourself to the world.” (For not even his brothers believed in him.) Jesus told them, “My time has not yet arrived, but your time is always at hand. The world cannot hate you, but it does hate me because I testify about it—that its works are evil. Go up to the festival yourselves. I’m not going up to this festival, because my time has not yet fully come.” After he had said these things, he stayed in Galilee. 


Galilee is up in the north. Judea is down in the south. This is a huge festival where lots of people from all the region came to Jerusalem. That word brothers doesn’t refer to his followers. It refers to Mary’s other sons. You could call them Jesus’s half-brothers.


When we’re sharing our faith with people we love, it can get scary. It can be really intimidating. And perhaps with family more than anybody else, because family is familiar with you. They know you better than anybody else knows you. And I think sometimes we have to just get ourselves out of the way to share our faith with our families.


Now, I’m talking to me as much as to anybody else, because there are some people in my family that I’m praying, this is the year, “God, whatever it takes, let this be the year in 2021, that they step across the line and they become a Christian. It doesn’t have to be through me. It could be through anybody, but God, I don’t want to get in the way.” 


How to speak to people close to you and far from Jesus…


So, I’m going to just give you three steps. These may feel like pretty extreme steps, but there are three steps that you may need to take if you’re trying to share your faith with somebody in your family and they’re just holding off, they’re just holding back, and they don’t really want what you’re talking to them about.


Admit your mistakes


Step number one is to admit your mistakes. It’s to basically say that I’m not perfect, but I do believe in the perfect One, and he’s made a big difference in my life. Really, what step number one is doing is saying that I need to get out of the way, and I am not the center of the Christian story. Jesus is the center of the story. What we’re trying to do when we’re sharing our faith at this moment is, we’re trying to make sure that the people we’re talking to understand Jesus is the hero of this story. I’m not. And anything that’s happened in my life has happened because of him, not because of me. Sometimes I think the way that we say it can confuse people.


Sometimes I think our family is so familiar with us that when we start to talk to them about being changed, what they remember is some of those big mistakes that we’ve made in the past, and what keeps going through their mind, because they know us better than anybody knows us, is, “Yeah Jeff, you say that you’re different, but I remember who you were… Don’t forget. We grew up together. So I remember the kind of guy that you were when you were a teenager.”


And what you’re really doing instead of hiding your mistakes is admitting them, to say, “I don’t want anything to come in between my relationship with you. I love you too much to let anything come between your relationship with Jesus. So if I’ve made some mistakes, if I’ve wronged you, or if I’ve hurt you, here are two words that I need to look you in the eyes and you need to hear from me sincerely: I’m sorry.”


You see, when Jesus was having this conversation with his own brothers, his own family, he grew up in a culture because this was Judaism at the time that Jesus lived. Judaism was very much a shame and honor culture. So, his brothers are saying, “Hey Jesus, you’re making all of these outrageous claims, and we don’t necessarily believe the claims that you’re making. But if you really are who you say you are, I’ll tell you what. There’s a huge festival going on down in Jerusalem. Why don’t you just head down there, stand in the middle of these massive crowds down in Jerusalem, and shout to everybody that you are the King of the Jews? Why don’t you just go ahead and go to the big crowds and say it to everybody?”


And they’re trying to use a little bit of family shame to get Jesus to head down to Jerusalem. They’re trying to use the strong sense of honor that Jesus would have grown up in to convince him to go to this festival and to announce to the crowds that he is the Son of God.


Now, put yourself in Jesus’s shoes for just a second. Chances are, you’ve been there before. You see, Jesus is now being strongly tempted. I don’t think any of us can grasp just how strong this temptation would have been when his brothers said, “Hey, if you’re the King of the Jews, just go stand up in front of the crowds, and shout it out.” And now Jesus has found himself in this unenviable position. You’ve probably been there. -where if I honor what my family is asking me to do, I know it’s going to dishonor God. And if I honor God, I’m dishonoring my family. Anybody been there?


Now Jesus is in this position where he has to choose. And chances are, you’ve been in this situation where, if I do what my family is asking me to do, I know it’s going to let God down. And if I do what I know God is telling me I’m supposed to do, I know I’m going to let my family down. What do I do? I’m going to give you the answer to that question. It’s an easy answer. It’s just not easy to do. You always choose to honor God, even if it feels like you’re dishonoring your family, even if it feels like you’re letting down some people closest to you. Eternity lasts for way too long to spend your time and energy caught in the middle of this crossfire where if I’m honoring my family, I’m dishonoring God. And if I’m honoring God, I’m dishonoring my family.


Jesus never makes a mistake, so he doesn’t have to admit it. But you and I do. And please hear me; if there are two words that are standing between you and a family member becoming a Christian, even if you don’t feel like you should have to say these two words, say it anyway. Say, “I’m sorry.” If I made a mistake or if I did something in the past that hurt you, if I’ve done that, I’m sorry. I love you too much to let the mistakes that I’ve made in my past come between me and you or me and Jesus. Step number one may be to just admit your mistakes.


Own your weakness


For step number two, you may have to take it a step further. You may have to not just admit your mistakes, but own your weaknesses. Don’t hide them, but just own up to them. Now, this crowd of people that is gathered around when Jesus’s brothers come up to them, at this point, have seen Jesus’s miracles and people are starting to ask the question, Is this guy really the Son of God? And his brothers are now having to wrestle with, “Wait a second. I grew up with him. I watched him when he played in the streets, and I saw him when he went off to school. Do I really believe that this is the Son of God?”


And owning your weaknesses may be the moment when you’re taking the spotlight off of you, and you’re putting the spotlight on Jesus. What you’re saying is, “Look, I’ve made some mistakes. I’ve committed some sins in the past. I’ve got some faults and some failures, and I’m not going to try to hide them from you. I’m going to try to show you how the one who healed my soul made a difference in my life.”


I think sometimes we Christians can hide our mistakes and our failures, our sins, and our weaknesses from other people. And it’s not because we’re trying to appear perfect; it’s because we’re embarrassed about them. But I’m afraid sometimes it also says that I don’t need Jesus to fix any mistakes in my past. I don’t need him to heal any weaknesses because I’m pretty good all on my own. And eventually you get to this moment where you have to just look your family in the eyes and just honestly admit, “I’ve struggled in the past (in fact, maybe I’m still struggling).”


Perhaps you are wrestling with some real struggles right now. Maybe for you, they’re not just physical struggles. Maybe you’re wrestling with some spiritual struggles. Maybe you’ve made some mistakes in the past and you’ve got an abortion or a divorce or an addiction to prove it. Maybe you’ve tried suicide; it got that bad. And instead of hiding those things, I’m asking you to just own up to them and to say, “I needed someone who is bigger than me or stronger than me to help me when it got really, really bad. And I found that someone; his name is Jesus. And what Jesus did for me, he can do for you also. Look, I’m not perfect. I’ve still got a long ways to go, but I’m a lot further today than I was when you and I were growing up. There’s a big difference in my life. And what Jesus did for me [here’s what you’re trying to tell people], he can do for you as well if you will just own up to and admit those weaknesses.”


If you’re not careful, hiding your weaknesses can make you appear “holier than thou”. And I’ve done the research. I have not met anyone on the planet who likes to be around that guy or that gal that appears holier than thou. All of us find it refreshing when somebody says, “Yeah, I’ve messed up. In fact, I’m still messing up. But Jesus is at work inside of me, and he’s changing me. And I’m better today than I was yesterday.”


None of us likes to be around the guy or the gal who acts like they’ve got it all figured out, because none of us have it all figured out. And we don’t feel comfortable being around a guy or a gal like that. Sometimes it’s refreshing just to admit your weaknesses. 


I was driving this past weekend. It was, no kidding, about one o’clock, two o’clock in the morning. And I was driving between Birmingham and Montgomery. Now, for those of who are watching in Europe, I’m not talking UK, I’m talking Birmingham and Montgomery, Alabama. There’s this stretch of road between Birmingham and Montgomery on Interstate 65 with some road signs, and I’ve never seen signs like this before. 


The road signs basically said, “Warning: If you’re driving and you’re drowsy and it’s late at night, be careful, because the next stretch of road can be dangerous.” In fact, there was more than one sign that said driving drowsy is dangerous. You’re risking your life driving drowsy. I’ve never seen road signs (not billboards) road signs like this. And here’s what I was thinking: I think what they’re saying is that the next 50 miles of interstate are so boring that people have just fallen asleep at the wheel and crashed their vehicles. We don’t want that to happen to you.


In fact, I was kind of looking in the ditch to see if there was a deer sleeping in the ditch, kind of walked across the interstate, it was so boring, it just fell asleep on the side of the ditch, not roadkill, but it was just so boring that it fell asleep. That’s how boring this next stretch of interstate is.


I did the research. Listen, there’s almost 47,000 miles of interstate in America. This is the largest construction in the history of the world. For those of you who live somewhere else, that’s 75,000 kilometers of interstate. I’ve never seen anywhere else in the world with road signs, warning signs, on the side of the road that say that if you’re driving drowsy, you’re putting your life at risk. And I’ve been on some pretty boring stretches of interstate in America. 


Drive down Interstate 90 across the South Dakota. It’s about 350 miles of nothing. But I’ve never seen a road sign that warned you about this weakness about driving drowsy. And when it occurred to me when I was driving this stretch of road at about one o’clock, two o’clock in the morning is, the people that put those signs there, they care about me. They care enough about me that they didn’t want me to get into an accident just because it was early in the morning and I’m tired. And I perked up and I paid close attention the rest of the drive home, because I didn’t want to be another statistic on the side of the highway. 


It’s admitting, “We know people drive early in the morning. We know that this stretch of road doesn’t have much to see. And if you’re not careful, you’ll fall asleep and you’re taking your life into your own hands.” And the people that put those signs there cared enough about me that they didn’t want me to become a statistic.


I think when you share your weaknesses with somebody else, you’re saying to them, “Listen, I’ve made some mistake,s and I’m still struggling. Jesus is working inside of me, and what he’s doing inside of me, he can do for you too. It’s almost like a road sign saying, “I have weaknesses. You have weaknesses. And the one with all power, with all strength can help you in the midst of your weaknesses.” 


So maybe you need to admit some mistakes. Maybe what you need to do is own some weaknesses, or maybe you may even have to get to this step and not just admit them or own up to them, but actually embrace the idea that you’ve failed and you’ve made some mistakes in the past.


Embrace your failures


Jesus is speaking to these crowds, and the crowds are starting to ask questions that his brothers are not willing to consider. Spoiler alert: If you continue to read the Bible, after Jesus’s death and resurrection, as far as we can tell, every one of his brothers believed, “Oh, he really was the Son of God.” And in fact they believe it so much that some of his half-brothers will go to their death because they really believe that their relation, Jesus, was God’s anointed one, God’s Messiah.


Let’s say, you fell down and you broke a bone. And now you’re at the hospital and the doctors are saying, “You know what? We’re going to have to put a cast on that leg.” At this point, you really have two options. You can ask them to put a really small cast on it because I’m going to do everything I can to hide it behind my pants and make it look like I didn’t do anything wrong and that I don’t have anything wrong with me. Or you can just take the opposite approach. You can tell the doctors, “You know what? I want you to put a bright orange and pink camouflage cast on my leg. I want everybody in the world to see my failures and my mistakes because I can’t hide them anyway.”


So, let’s talk about these two options for a second. In my opinion, if you’re going to attempt option number one, and you’re just going to try to hide this broken bone, you’re going to look pretty stupid because at some point, everybody’s going to realize that you’ve got a broken bone and it’s not going to be that easy to hide it in the first place. And then we’re all going to laugh at you because you’re trying to hide the fact that you have a broken bone. 


If you were to take option number two and say, “Man, I did something ridiculous,” you are better off.  It usually happens on a Friday night about one o’clock in the morning in the south, and the story usually begins with a guy who stands up in front of his friends and says, “Hey, you all, watch this…” And pretty soon he’s got a cast on his leg.


Option number two says, “Yeah, I did something stupid. And I got the proof to show it. It’s right here on my legs. And I’m not hiding it from anybody. I failed. I made some mistakes. I’ve got some weaknesses, and here they are; I’m showing them for the world to see.”


This is the option that shows the world, “My savior is strong when I’m weak, that I’m not perfect, but he is. And therefore I’m not the hero of the story. He is. And I need you to see the one who is the hero of this story. I need you to place faith in him. I’m not asking you to believe what I believe, just because I believe it. I’m asking you to believe it because it has changed me. And from time to time, we all make some mistakes. We all have some failures. We all have some weaknesses. And the one who changed me can change you too.”


And at this point, now you’re taking the extra step of saying, whatever is standing in between you and Jesus, if I can do something to remove that obstacle, I will. If it’s me and I’ve hurt you, I’m sorry. If I’ve done something wrong and it’s a stumbling block for you, please forgive me. Let me make it right. But I’m not hiding my weaknesses. 


In the New Testament, one of the greatest followers of Jesus in the Bible, a guy by the name of the Apostle Paul, struggled with weakness, and he dealt with failure. He asked God to make the weaknesses go away, and listen to God’s answer. He says, “Paul, I’m not going to make your weaknesses go away because in your weaknesses, I get a chance to show everybody how strong I am. So, instead of asking for your weaknesses to go away, why don’t you own up to them? Why don’t you let everybody see just how strong of a savior I am, because you’re willing to embrace, even embrace your failures, your mistakes, your weaknesses in the past.”


Do you know why it can be sometimes so challenging whenever you and I are trying to share our faith with a family member, but they don’t believe what we believe? Because as citizens of two cities, you and I have now been adopted into a new family. Oh, we still have that birth family that God brought us into this world in, but now we have a new birth or a rebirth, family also. And this family comes first, our Father and Heaven’s family who has adopted us into his family. And we want our brothers or sisters, father, or mother to become part of that family as well.


Here’s the thing: I can’t do this for you. All I can do is explain to you who he is and what he’s done for me, and even to hide nothing, showing you my failures and my weaknesses. But I want you to know he can do the same thing for you. 


For some of you have known me for a while, I told you this story in the past, and I want to share it with you one more time, because it’s so powerful. I have friends by the name of Wade and Lisa. And Wade and Lisa wanted to adopt. So they went to China and they were at an orphanage in China. And by the way, just to adopt from an orphanage in China was tens of thousands of US dollars. They went into this orphanage, and there were lots of children there looking for a home, lots of young children, lots of children with smiling faces and just thrilled at the idea that maybe this couple is going to take me into their family. 


And Wade and Lisa kind of looked past all of those children.They noticed in the corner of the room was a little boy sitting by himself. In fact, when they talked to the adoption agency about this boy, the adoption agency said, “You don’t want anything to do with him. Let’s talk about one of these other children.” And they were like, “No. Why is he in the corner by himself?” And the adoption agency said, “Well, he has some physical problems. And he also has some emotional problems. And even the children in the orphanage don’t like to be around him. He has a cleft palate and a clubfoot. And our policy is that if you’re to take a child with some physical deformities, you’re going to have to guarantee that you will do the medical work to try to help him get healed. And we realized that that’s not cheap, and we just need you to know up front. He has some emotional struggles, and even the other children in the orphanage don’t spend a lot of time around him. And he ends up spending a lot of time by himself.”


And Wade and Lisa said, “We want to take him and adopt him into our family. We’ll take care of the cleft palate. We’ll pay for the surgery on the club foot. We’ll get him the help that he needs because this boy has no one. All that he has are his failures and mistakes and weaknesses. And everybody looks past him for the little perfect children. This is the boy that we want to adopt.”


They brought him to the States. They put them through a number of surgeries, and they raised them in their own family because they wanted him to know what it feels like to be loved in spite of all of those weaknesses and all of those struggles.


As Christians, you and I have been adopted, in spite of our weaknesses and in spite of our struggles, into the family of God. And we want this for our family. We want this for people that are close to us, but far from Jesus. So maybe one of these three things this year will be the reason why somebody in your family steps across the line: because you were willing to admit your mistakes, you were willing to own your weaknesses, or you were willing to even embrace your failures so that Jesus can show how strong he is to your family or friends.