Effective outreach to Neighbours by Pst. Zephaniah Ananda

In the Month of March, we focus on the theme of #TheChurchNext door. This is meant to prepare us for effective reach to our communities.

As it is in an epic story, a good understanding of your story, your context and your abilities will lead to an effective life of outreach as we love God with our all and love our neighbours as ourselves.

In a production, whether a play, film, song, poem etc, there is usually a producer who wants to communicate a particular message. The producer needs to understand the audience of his production and the needs they have so that s/he can look at the props needed to help communicate the message in a relevant way.  The ultimate goal is to communicate a message that will inspire and create change in the lives of the audience.

This series is in three parts, in the first part we will look at The power of your story. The second part will be on The context of your audience and in the last part we will look at The delivery props and resources.

Week 1: The power of the your story

This week I would like to begin by looking at the power of your story.

The google web defines a story as;

  1. An account of imaginary or real people and events told for entertainment

“An adventure story” synonyms: tale, narrative, account, anecdote 

  1. An account of past events in someone’s life or in the evolution of something. “the story of modern farming”

All of us have a story. You can either be a producer or a curator of your story. Producers modify a story by editing and producing it in a movie, a song, a play, a novel or a sermon while curators preserve the story exactly as they found it. They are focused on passing it on intact to future generations. Either way our stories have a place to bring change not only in our lives but also in the lives of others around us. Stories have a way of building our relationships and making us authentic with one another.

Because we do not have time to tell all our stories, the story of our lives become like a movie production with incidents and events, some pleasant while others tragic. The question is, will you produce them or will you keep the story to yourself?

Every one of us has a backstory; this is the story behind the story that is being narrated. We have stories of families of origin, past experiences, successes and failures which dramatically affect the way we see the world. They affect the way we feel about ourselves and even influence the way we see God. This makes it complicated when our backstories are filled with pain. Our worldview and perspective on life is formed by our backstories.

God’s plan for your story

God wants to bring new life out of every place of pain in our lives, but we have to work with him in that process. This work can begin when we take a fearless look at our own backstories and give them to God in surrender.

Many of us love stories as long as they do not belong to us but someone else. Our stories are probably too shameful characterised with alcoholism, corruption, debt, drugs, immorality or other transgressions. Remember that we cannot choose our backstories but we can influence our future and change the narrative so that there is a better end.

As Ed Chinn says in his article ‘The power of your story,’ “Our stories carry the imprint of God’s destiny and love. When we back up and look at the whole panorama of our ancestors’ lives – including the sin and shame – we can often discover the threads of our life’s tapestry. We can see the shimmering cords of love and protection which run through our history.”

My story

I have often shared my story on how I was born by very young parents trying out life. My father denied responsibility of his involvement in my conception and my mother who was a teenager had to go back to school after weaning me. I was brought up by my grandmother assisted by my uncles and aunties. I came to know my dad when I was seventeen. A lot of my perspective was shaped by that kind of upbringing until I accepted Jesus in my life at nineteen. My life took a turn for better. However it has not been devoid of challenges.

I love to tell my story because it reminds me of God’s grace even when I did not know and deserve it. It tells me of his mercy and forgiveness in the midst of a sinful world. My story is an encouragement that you can turn out ok, provided that you recognize and acknowledge that there is a God who created you for a purpose and he is able to change your backstory and use it for his glory.

The latest scene of my story is about a miraculous healing from colon cancer last year. It is a story of God’s mercy and grace, a story of God’s provision and healing. Mine is a story of a God who is on a redemption mission, no matter the circumstances.

The Bible story

The Bible is a story of God’s work in the lives of human beings. It is authentic, true and transformational. When we learn about the work of God in people’s lives, we get encouraged to trust and hope for the best as God works in us. When we listen to each other’s stories, we also get encouragement and feel connected because of our humanness.

God possibly has a different view of life than we do, and that could be the reason why the Bible contains some very nasty stories of adultery, prostitution, deception, and murder among others in the lineage of Jesus.

The Bible has real stories of real people going through real issues. We see such stories as the rebellion of Adam and Eve, the envious and murderous Cain and the drunken Noah. We read about the fearful Abraham, the deceitful Jacob and the dreaming Joseph. We have turn-around stories of the timid Moses to become one of the greatest leaders in history. We have stories of women who made a difference like the rogue Rahab who was hospitable to the spies, the orphaned Esther who became an influential rescue of the Jews from destruction. We have the widowed Naomi and loyal Ruth who inspire the power of alignment. Stories of the prophets like Jeremiah, Hosea and Jonah that were not very pleasant. Every story counts for God’s Kingdom, stories are not a waste but a resource.

We many times allow shame or ignorance or even political correctness to improve or modify our stories. But doing so can rob the story its unique gift to the future. Every story carries enormous power on the future generations.

The story of the blind man from birth

Let me share the power of a story of a man mentioned in John 9 who was born blind, but when Jesus arrived on the scene, this blind man’s life drastically changed. Not only would he see with his eyes, but he would also come to a clear spiritual view of Christ. I have shared my thoughts as inserts in italics to draw out some lessons.

The bible records in John 9 that as he (Jesus) went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”

People always look for causes to any incident. They will try to find a reason behind your story.

“Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.

Jesus has full knowledge of your story and knows why God allowed it to happen in your life. Your story could be there to be used for God’s glory.

As long as it is day, we must do the works of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”

God is at work in each of our stories. Jesus came to this world so that he can work in the formation of our stories. He lights up the dark parts of stories and brings hope to the world around us.

After saying this, he spit on the ground, made some mud with the saliva, and put it on the man’s eyes. “Go,” he told him, “wash in the Pool of Siloam” (this word means “Sent”). So the man went and washed, and came home seeing.

God will many times ask us to take foolish steps towards redeeming our stories. We are co-producers of the production that he is making in our lives. He wants our participation. It is by taking those foolish steps of faith that we can reverse the narrative of our stories. 

His neighbors and those who had formerly seen him begging asked, “Isn’t this the same man who used to sit and beg?” Some claimed that he was.

Others said, “No, he only looks like him.”

But he himself insisted, “I am the man.”

10 “How then were your eyes opened?” they asked.

11 He replied, “The man they call Jesus made some mud and put it on my eyes. He told me to go to Siloam and wash. So I went and washed, and then I could see.”

12 “Where is this man?” they asked him.

“I don’t know,” he said.

When God changes your narrative, people will notice and ask. Some people may ask with good intentions while others will do it with wrong motives. This can always be a cue for being a curator of your story.  

13 They brought to the Pharisees the man who had been blind. 14 Now the day on which Jesus had made the mud and opened the man’s eyes was a Sabbath. 15 Therefore the Pharisees also asked him how he had received his sight. “He put mud on my eyes,” the man replied, “and I washed, and now I see.”

16 Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath.”

But others asked, “How can a sinner perform such signs?” So they were divided.

Your story may cause ripples among the religious clout. Some will seek for theological proof, or scientific proof but that does not change your story. When the facts are clear, there is no one who can change the facts of your story.

17 Then they turned again to the blind man, “What have you to say about him? It was your eyes he opened.”

The man replied, “He is a prophet.”

When you look at your story, how is Jesus revealed? Is he just a healer, provider, protector. He could be all those things but this man recognised that the only person who can do such a thing is a prophet. Does your experience of Jesus limit you to just a miracle that he has done, or do you see him as an important person in your life and others.

18 They still did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they sent for the man’s parents. 19 “Is this your son?” they asked. “Is this the one you say was born blind? How is it that now he can see?”

20 “We know he is our son,” the parents answered, “and we know he was born blind. 21 But how he can see now, or who opened his eyes, we don’t know. Ask him. He is of age; he will speak for himself.” 22 His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jewish leaders, who already had decided that anyone who acknowledged that Jesus was the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue. 23 That was why his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.”

When people are seeking to disapprove your story, they will seek your backstory with an intention to fix you in a box or to make your story unbelievable. One thing you must remember is that the narration of your story starts and stops with you. You only have the facts on your encounter with Jesus. Your story has your copyright.

24 A second time they summoned the man who had been blind. “Give glory to God by telling the truth,” they said. “We know this man is a sinner.”

25 He replied, “Whether he is a sinner or not, I don’t know. One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!”

Sometimes people may want to twist your story using partial truths. But you have to be bold enough to tell the truth of your story. All that this man knew was that he was blind and now he could see, period!!. All other details did not matter.

26 Then they asked him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?”

27 He answered, “I have told you already and you did not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you want to become his disciples too?”

28 Then they hurled insults at him and said, “You are this fellow’s disciple! We are disciples of Moses! 29 We know that God spoke to Moses, but as for this fellow, we don’t even know where he comes from.”

You will be called names and abused especially when you stick to the truth of your production. I have personally faced that in my life. Doing good or receiving God’s blessings may not necessarily put you at a vantage point for those who do not appreciate your story.

30 The man answered, “Now that is remarkable! You don’t know where he comes from, yet he opened my eyes. 31 We know that God does not listen to sinners. He listens to the godly person who does his will.32 Nobody has ever heard of opening the eyes of a man born blind. 33 If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.”

34 To this they replied, “You were steeped in sin at birth; how dare you lecture us!” And they threw him out.

Will you stick to the truth of your story in the midst of storms? When your backstory is pulled out and used against you? Will you remain true to your story?

35 Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”

36 “Who is he, sir?” the man asked. “Tell me so that I may believe in him.”

37 Jesus said, “You have now seen him; in fact, he is the one speaking with you.”

38 Then the man said, “Lord, I believe,” and he worshiped him.

God does change our narratives so that we can believe in him. Miracles are a means to an end and that end is a total belief and trust in Jesus. Will you still believe in Jesus even when your story is dismissed? Will you idolise the miracle you have received such that it becomes all that you wanted. Will you stick to the pain that you have gone through and never see the grace of God in taking you through it?

39 Jesus said,[a] “For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind.”

40 Some Pharisees who were with him heard him say this and asked, “What? Are we blind too?”

41 Jesus said, “If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains.

We must pull away from spiritual blindness and see the son of God in our stories, He is the producer hence can make a great ending if we realize our shortage of grace in our sinfulness and give him the opportunity to write the script all over again.

This is a beautiful story of transformation of a man who became a curator of his story. We can also do it to the neighbors of our lives at work, in business and where we live. Your story is a perfect tool of evangelism and outreach. Let me share with you four things some of which are shared by Ed Chinn. These will help us make our stories powerful:

  1. Know your story

If there are any pictures of your back story, look at them and see how your narrative has changed. Any documentation of your story and that of your family can be helpful in giving you a backstory.

Ask the living participants to tell you the stories. If you have close relatives and people who have known you from your childhood, or know your parents, listen to them so that you can get your backstory. I like to go to my grandmother at least once every year to ask questions about their early days. She is a resource that can inform me of our family backstory.

Knowing your story is a part of God’s plan to use every follower of Jesus to change the world.

  1. Own your story

You can own your story, or your story will own you. Either way, you can’t re-write the past, but you can influence the next chapter. When we deny our stories, they define us. When we own our stories, we get to write a new ending.

We must acknowledge the things we have done and what we have not done. We must face the pain and regrets we carry and consider whether we are willing to trade them for the good God has for us. Are you willing to trust God with your backstory this week?

A good way of owning your story is writing it out. You can begin by writing your salvation story, focusing on how you came to understand your need of Jesus and what He has done for you since you surrendered your life to him

  1. Love your story.
    Loving your story comes as a result of owning it and even making humor out of it. It is seeing the details of darkness or corruption in your past with a higher vantage point. It is asking yourself what God was accomplishing through that story. It is looking at how your life has been assisted, improved or even made possible by that story?

    When you love your story you bring honor to God and your ancestors. Don’t react to the negative aspects of the story but see the beauty that it brings. Remember that the genealogies recorded in the gospels, were not pleasant stories. When the gospel is shared it is from a point of love. God loved us so much that he shared the story of his people with us so that we can believe in him.

 

  1. Tell your story.

    Sometimes we are tempted to tell the story we wish happened or what will be accepted by our audience. Keep faith with the real story and tell it as it is. Just like Moses told the story of the great father of faith – Abraham – remember when he offered his own wife, Sarah, sexually to Pharaoh? To be religiously or politically correct, that part of the bible might have been expunged from the “Holy Book.” But Moses kept faith with the story.

Sometimes we think that our story must have a powerful life-change or involve spectacular issues, hardships, and miraculous moments. The truth is that realizing our own sinfulness to being alive in Christ is amazing enough.

Telling our stories must be aimed at bringing transformation and heart change. It is not epic circumstances that make our stories powerful. It is the truth of our stories that make us discover the way to the cross and the living waters from Jesus. This in turn brings about a desire in others to want to have the Jesus we have believed.

Your story is a channel of the amazing spiritual resource that will flow down across the centuries. Protect it from the dilution that comes with time and changing cultures; tell it exactly as it was given to you.

Practice telling people about your story. Release its power to others in, and beyond, your own time.

Conclusion

Jesus is the hero and the main starring of our stories. Some of our life experiences reveal God’s mercy as we recognize our brokenness and need of rescue. Other life experiences show us God’s grace as we recognize how much Jesus has done for us. The main connection of the two parts is the one and true hero of the story, the one who transforms our lives and the one who makes the difference, Jesus Christ the son of God.

For some of us our experience of rescue began at the time when we surrendered our lives to Jesus. Yet it did not stop there, we have seen God come through in various ways that have proved his existence and involvement as the main starring.

Remember that the knowledge of this hero does not exclude us from tragic events and occurrences, but through all the events and circumstances, when he is the main starring, the production does not end even when the supporting characters and producers temporarily disappear. We will see him face to face when he returns as the hero of the end of the production.

When we understand that our story is God’s story, then our story is not limited to the events of our lives but we see our story in the story of others, intertwined to make a beautiful tapestry of our faith in a great God of History. We see our stories as seeds of faith to our family members, friends, neighbors and the generations to come who will believe in the hero of the story.

Telling the world of what Jesus has done should never stop at salvation but the entire journey so that we do not rob God the glory that he deserves. You will discover how your story, the biblical story, and God’s story all come together in one beautiful masterpiece.

If you don’t transform your backstory, you will transfer it to the future. We have to break from our back story, by telling it and giving it to the hero and the main starring.   When you read the bible, you can see your own back story in the pages of the lives that God transformed. Conflict may arise when you are transforming your story, but that should never stop you to participate in writing your story.

I encourage everyone to respect their stories. Just as Jesus did tell stories and they changed people’s perspectives, let them do their own work and deliver their own lessons.

References

http://www.focusonthefamily.com/faith/spiritual-development/new-eyes/the-power-of-your-story

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dawn-gluskin/the-power-of-owning-your-_b_9702810.html

https://newspring.cc/articles/the-most-powerful-tool-your-story

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