Acts: A Story to Tell
August 23, 2020 Pastor: Series: The Book of Acts
Topic: Our Before & After Scripture: Acts 26:22–26:31
Have you ever known someone who always had a Story to Tell? As in, no matter what the situation or context, they always seem to have an event from their life or conversational contribution to offer? A little personal awareness here, I know I’m guilty of this. And don’t think I don’t know the difference between someone who is smiling in genuine interest and someone who is smiling out of painful obligation. No, no. I know the difference. I just don’t care. But I’m not the only person like this. There’s something about telling a story that is just as great as hearing a story.
Occasionally, we encounter someone who has a really remarkable Story to Tell. The world has bared witness to several truly inspiring orators, authors, and teachers who are able to so compellingly weave together a powerful story that we are left awestruck. It can come in the form of a speech, a poem, or a song. It can happen on the steps of a courthouse, a church sanctuary, and even within a friend’s living room. Moving stories of inspiration can come at any moment, from any source. And that spontaneity only further heightens the thrill we experience when a story comes from an unexpected or underestimated place or person.
I had an experience like that in the summer of 2012 when I heard a powerful story from someone who caught me by complete surprise. I was at the Creation Music Festival in central PA with several of the high school students from my church. In fact, our own Juliette Kuhn was there with my youth group as a freshman. Many of you have likely never heard of Creation. It is the world’s largest Christian music festival and always featured the most popular and exciting Christian bands and some of the most compelling and challenging pastors and speakers. Usually, there were somewhere around 50-60 thousand Christians that gathered in that mountain valley in central PA for a week of camping, music, and ministry. As a teen, I loved it. As a youth worker, I loved it for different reasons. And that summer in 2012, on a hazy Friday night, with all my high schoolers sitting around me on our tarp, I saw someone carry our main speaker for the session out onto the stage. You heard me right: our main speaker was carried out.
His name is Nick Vujicic. He is the son of two Serbian immigrants and was born and raised in Australia. He is engaging, funny, and a deeply committed follower of Jesus Christ. He was also born without arms and legs. He has a rare genetic disorder called tetra-amelia syndrome. We can only imagine how difficult Nick’s life must have been. From trying to do normal, everyday function without limbs, to the cruel bullies of his youth, to his own struggle with suicidal depression…Nick’s story is one with a significant amount of pain and sadness. But you wouldn’t know that if you heard him speak about Jesus Christ.
That night at Creation, Nick offered one of the most personal and powerful presentations of the Gospel that I have ever heard. He has a moving Story to Tell and the tens of thousands of us there that night were blessed to hear it. He shared his testimony with us and how the presence of God and the cross of Christ had utterly transformed him and given him an almost supernatural sense of joy and purpose. We should never underestimate the sheer power of testimony. When we, as followers of Jesus, share the story of how God has changed us and saved us we open others to a world of grace, redemption, and purpose. Some of you have witnessed this first-hand when you’ve attended the Great Banquet gatherings fostered within our community. Many of you have heard these stories from your parents, your close friends, or even folks within our own church. And this morning we see this in the example of the apostle Paul as he stands and has a chance to share what God has done in his life and his own Story to Tell. We’ll pick up in Acts 26:22-31.
In this lengthy portion of Paul’s story in Acts 26, we find that he is standing before both local and Roman government officials after having accusations brought against him. Paul seemed to always be upsetting people when he entered a city and began preaching, usually the local religious leaders. Paul, at this point, has spent time in prison and gone through several mock trials and now has a chance to share his story. And he does. Paul begins with his past. Born and raised in the Jewish faith and eventually gaining elite status within that community, Paul had followed every rule and performed every task. Paul had become the enforcer of the Jewish faith and was given the crusade of quelling the growing movement of people following Jesus. Through violence and imprisonment, Paul made it his mission to oppose both Christ and any who spoke His name.
And then came the turning point. That powerful and unexpected encounter on the road to Damascus where Jesus appeared to Paul, struck him blind, and then he opened his eyes to God’s truest and most powerful expression of love: the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Paul recounts his own conversion experience and goes on to share how his purpose and identity were transformed and why it was that he sought to share the name and love of Jesus in every house and street corner he could find. And Paul makes it abundantly clear, in verse 29, that it is his hope that all would come to the love and truth found only in Christ. This even leads to the local official saying, “This man is not doing anything that deserves death or imprisonment.”
If we were to read through the book of Acts in a more daily fashion, it would be easy to sort of overlook this passage as a recap or retelling of who Paul is and what happened to him. And, sure, that is accomplished here. But this moment in Paul’s story should serve as a conviction for every person who claims to follow Jesus because it reminds us that we all have a crucial Story to Tell. That story is called our testimony, the narrative of our faith journey.
We should never underestimate how God could use our story to change the life of another. This doesn’t mean that each of us is going to be called to stand before a crowd of people to share our testimony, though that can be a powerful offering indeed. As I mentioned before, you can offer your story anywhere and see it become the means in which someone comes to know Christ in a more personal way. But whether it’s around a dinner table or out on a hike or even simply in front of a neighbor’s house, before we can offer our story, we need to know our story.
Every testimony has three parts. Your life before Christ, your conversion experience, and your life following Christ. I want to expound on these three things so that we don’t overcomplicate or ignore any moment that God has used to open our hearts to the truth and love of Christ. Let’s start with our lives before Christ. Whether we acknowledge it or not, God’s presence is a constant in our lives. But there was a time in each of our stories where we were not actively interested in or trying to be like Jesus. For some, that time was very brief as they remember a bedside experience with their parents. For others, this period of time was much longer. Sometimes that life we leave behind is marked by trauma or destructive behaviors. Sometimes it can seem like a run-of-the-mill life. For Paul, his “before Christ” story was one of rigorous and prestigious religious service, sometimes violent.
Everyone has a “before Christ” collection of chapters in their story. We make a mistake when we try to ignore or erase those experiences. Embarrassing, painful, boring as they may be, they are the means by which you encountered Christ in a way that changed your life, that lead to the second part of your testimony: your conversion experience. I want to be very clear about this part of your testimony. You do not need to have an experience like Paul. You don’t need to have a lightning strike moment, as it was described in our Monday morning men’s Bible study last week. Your conversion experience could have happened in a moment or over the course of many months. It could have happened at a youth camp or in a friend’s dining room. No conversion experience is better than another because, as Jesus said in Luke’s gospel, each represents the moment the heavens rejoiced as one of God’s children was reconciled to their heavenly Parent. And as inspiring as any conversion experience might be, it should pale in comparison to what comes next.
Your life following Christ is why you have a Story to Tell in the first place. It’s why Paul was standing before government officials. Because, in his pursuit to follow Jesus, he preached and offered compassion and shared the Good News of Christ’s cross. So, what is your after? What changed because you committed your life to Christ? How are you different now than you were before? That is the stuff that will draw people in, the stuff that will lead people to wonder more deeply who Jesus really is. For Nick Vujicic, his “after” became a story of hope and joy that surpassed all understanding and has blossomed into a ministry that has seen thousands dedicate their lives to Christ. For me? I went from being a shy kid who wanted to spend his life in caves studying bats to becoming who I am now - following my call to ministry. Some of you have reoriented your lives to better serve the needs of others. Some of you found a new peace that changed everything. That part of your story is important, and the best part is - it’s still being written.
Every single one of us who follows Jesus has a testimony. It’s a personal account of how the very Creator of the universe came into your story and opened your eyes and heart to a new definition of truth and life. Our testimonies are so often the very ingredients God uses to then foster and grow new stories of freedom and redemption. We have to claim where we were before we knew God. We need to rejoice as we recall our experience of being found and known and loved by our Savior. And then we need to live and share faithfully our expressions of Christ’s love each and every day. That is our Story to Tell.