login
July 12th, 2015

The power of your story lies in the hashtags.

Acts 22:1-22

#firstworldproblems

What hashtags would you place on the Apostle Paul’s story?

Some of you need a brief introduction to hashtags. They are themes on social media posts, like Twitter. When you want to connect various posts or search for others commenting on the same event or trend, you use a hashtag. At the UCC’s General Synod, the hashtag #GS2015 would help you find comments on the meeting. If I want other pastors to read my tweet, I might use #pastor or #church or #Jesus. Those are common.

Some hashtags are funny. I like the hashtag #80stweets, which turns the clock back 30 years to the time before social media. What might we have posted on Twitter then? “This new video game is the BEST. And it only took me two minutes to download a 17kb file from my cassette!” Or, “Are the shoulder pads in my dress big enough?”

A current popular hashtag is #firstworldproblems. People use this on their own posts (“Left my phone charger at the hotel”) or sarcastically in response to someone else’s whining (“My air conditioning’s been out today and it’s already 80 degrees in the house”).

There are some social media rules. Twitter claims it will actually delete an account if your hashtag has no direct connection to your tweet. In addition, there’s a limit. One hashtag is normal. Two’s OK if the second is a location. More than three hashtags for one post might raise the ire of a Twitter Nazi who will chide you for breaking the rules.

If Paul posted a blog of the story of his conversion in Acts 22, then tweeted the link, what would his hashtags be? Why might that be important, and what might it have to do with the power of your story?

#isawthelight

Paul tells his story on the steps of the Fortress of Antonia, adjacent to the temple mount. He had returned to Jerusalem at Pentecost after his three missionary journeys to bring an offering from the churches of Greece for Christians straining under the weight of persecution. The Jews who believed in Jesus received him warmly, but other Jews who had come to Jerusalem for the feast had determined to silence him. They accused Paul of bringing a Gentile into the temple, a capital offense for the Gentile and, in their minds, for Paul because he aided and abetted the crime.

The Roman guard had to rescue Paul from the lynch mob. Lysias the Roman commander was surprised that Paul could speak Greek, because he assumed him to be the leader of an Egyptian terrorist cell. Paul was given permission to speak to the crowd, and then switched his language to Aramaic, the everyday language of Jews. The crowd became quiet.

What Paul recounted in 22:1-21 was his story, which you probably know well. And if you don’t, I have little to add to what you heard in the Scripture reading today. Paul says,

I am a #Jew born in #Tarsus of #Cilicia. I studied in the school of #Gamaliel. Like the crowd, I was #zealous for #God, even #persecuting the followers of the #Way. But as I made my way to #Damascus, a bright light from heaven flashed all around. I heard the voice of #Jesus of #Nazareth, saying, “Why do you persecute me?” Blinded by the light, my companions led me #Ananias, who told me to get up and be #baptized. I knew what I had to do; I returned to #Jerusalem to pray at the #temple, but Jesus told me to leave Jerusalem because I was in danger. “But Lord,” I said, “these people know I am one of them.” I went from one #synagogue to another to abuse the followers of Jesus, and even participated in the death of the martyr #Stephen.

Do you see how each of these hash tags might connect Paul’s story to someone in crowd? Or maybe he could be a little more creative. If you had to limit it to three, what hashtags might you place next to Paul’s story? How about…

  • #firstcenturyproblems
  • #isawthelight
  • #gentilesforjesus

It’s the last one that got Paul into trouble. His story was interrupted by the mob when he told them that the Lord said to him, “Go; I will send you far away to the Gentiles.” At that point the crowd yelled, “Rid the earth of him! He’s not fit to live!” I’m a little surprised they waited that long. Wouldn’t you have thought the mention of Jesus of Nazareth is what would provoke a reaction? This crowd didn’t seem to care much either way about Jesus. But they did NOT want Gentiles in on God’s salvation.

Since this passage is about Paul’s story, I thought it would be appropriate today to hear a couple of other stories. What would be the hashtags for these other stories?

#hindutochristian

Supriya Reddy earned a Ph.D. in Health Education and Promotion at the University of Alabama and serves as Assistant Director of Public Health and Coordinator of Undergraduate Programs in Community Health at Lenoir-Rhyne University.

I do not have a conventional story of how I came to know Christ as my Lord and Savior. If it was not for another believer, I know I would have never come to saving faith in our Lord. In other words, although I was born and raised in the United States, I was not brought up in a Christian home and was raised Hindu. I was simply born into Hinduism, and because it was all I had ever known at the time, I accepted it as truth. I had never encountered another believer that was bold enough to share their faith with me in high school, but the Lord is sovereign, and as Jeremiah 29:13 states “You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you, declares the Lord.”

I really started seeking as an undergraduate in college. I had so many questions about my Hindu beliefs and constantly wondered why I was so unsatisfied. I was extremely unhappy and was looking to worldly things to satisfy. I had questioned my academic choices of majoring in biology and just felt so alone. During the summer of 2001, I came home and began summer classes at Samford University. I was in an organic chemistry class and did well on the first test. The girl sitting next to me failed the test. As a result, I offered to help her in the class. We quickly developed a wonderful friendship and she used that as an opportunity to tell me about Jesus Christ.

Eventually, my friend brought me to the Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, AL. I told her I would be happy to go to church with her, but we must keep it a secret from my parents in order to avoid any type of opposition. Ironically, I also remember telling my friend that I would never convert, but that I was more than willing to learn about Christianity. I began to study the Word and consistently attend church with my friend throughout the entire summer. I would spend the night at my friend’s house every weekend, so I wouldn’t have to explain anything to my parents. By the end of that summer I had accepted Christ as my Lord and Savior. I believe with all my heart that he died on the cross for our sins and that we have been saved by his grace through faith. As Ephesians 2:8-10 states, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.” Shortly after accepting Christ as my Savior, I did get baptized as an outward profession of my faith. Although works do not save us, I do believe that baptism is a biblical commandment of our Lord.

I shared my faith with my family three years after getting baptized. My mother and sister, although not receptive of the gospel, continue to support me in my decision and do not stand in my way. I still continue to face a great deal of opposition and persecution from my father. He is not supportive of my faith and used to come to my house to physically keep me from attending worship, oftentimes resulting in violence and harm against me. However, I am very grateful that my hometown church had evening services, so for nearly thirteen years, and for my own protection, I continued to worship by hiding it from my father. Currently, I have moved to North Carolina, for a faculty position, and have experienced what it feels like to worship freely. I am eternally grateful that the Lord has graciously found a way to deliver me from what I was facing in my hometown. Without the strength and courage that he has provided me, I would never be able to follow him.

As previously stated, my story may be a little different, especially since religious persecution in the United States is not often mentioned, but I have learned so much from my experiences. First and foremost, I am forever grateful for my friend who shared the gospel with both boldness and great conviction. She is a true depiction of what, we as believers, are called to do. As Matthew 28:19-20 states, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Secondly, I am thankful for my experiences. Although not always easy, the Bible explicitly states that those that walk uprightly with the Lord will face persecution. Through studying the Word, and with the help of my spiritual family, I have slowly learned an invaluable lesson. God is always faithful to bring good out of the most difficult of circumstances.

#nodramaticconversion

Bruce Yergler is a member of Corinth Reformed Church.

I was raised in a small agricultural community in east central Illinois. My family attended a conservative church based on Swiss-German Anabaptist principles brought to America by our ancestors in the 19th century. We would rarely miss Sunday and Wednesday night church services. My dad offered prayers before and after all three meals and we read from the Bible after the evening meal. Church was a way of life. Going to church and attending Sunday school was not ever discussed; it was just assumed.

I never really questioned the existence of a triune God, but was never led to go through the steps of joining the church. The steps involved to join the church seemed to be tedious and hard work. In addition, I would have to give up a lot of activities and friends and follow a lot of rules and regulations.

Towards the end of high school and especially during college, religion and church were not on my list of priorities and even desires. Actually I was rebellious, especially to my mother and rarely attended church and if I did, would sit in the back row with my buddies.

Arlene and I were married shortly after college and my apathy towards church continued. We first lived in Indianapolis and she wisely suggested that we attend a local church. We did and the experience, as I recall, was ok but not really great.

We moved a lot during our first 25 years of marriage. After our first daughter was born, church became more important and more meaningful. We attended a church at each move with denominational preference becoming less important as the moves continued. Looking back, I realize how God placed people and events in my path to influence me and draw me to Jesus.

I don’t know the exact time or place I accepted Christ as my Savior. I never had a dramatic conversion experience of being saved. This lack of a dramatic moment used to bother me a lot. Was I praying hard enough? Was I doing enough? Was I really saved?

Thanks to God’s grace, His word and the process He guided in my life, including those early years growing up, I can now accept that my salvation is complete. My journey with Christ has been a building process of learning and accepting His sacrifice and discounting any works or steps I could take myself.

I am at peace knowing that it is nothing I can do but what Christ has already done.

#onemoreverse

I wanted you to hear three different stories today. The Apostle Paul had a dramatic conversion where in an instant he saw the light (a personal appearance from Jesus) and everything was changed. Supriya Reddy was raised in not only a non-Christian family but a non-monotheistic family, and came to Christ through relationship with a friend who knew Jesus. Bruce Yergler never had that dramatic conversion, but grew to the place of accepting the truth of Jesus.

Which one of these stories is most like yours? Paul’s? Supriya’s? Bruce’s? None of the above?

Mine would be closest to Bruce’s. The hashtags on my story might be #PakistanMK (missionary kid), #straightandnarrow, and #onemoreverseofjustasiam. I was raised in a strong Christian home, always stayed on that path, and suffered through a lot of doubt as a teenager because the gospel invitation that was supposed to make me sure I was saved always seemed to leave me thinking I wasn’t. That was until I stopped putting my trust and hope in what I did and started putting it in what Christ did for me. Every time I share my story, somebody tells me that my story connects with theirs.

Here’s what I take away from Paul’s story and these other stories.

  1. Never tell your story the same way twice. Read Acts 9, where Paul’s conversion is first recorded, and then Acts 22 and 26, where he tells his own story. Then read 1 Timothy 2 and Philippians 3, where Paul relates abbreviated versions of his story in his letters. What you’ll notice is that the details are different. It’s not that they contradict; it’s just that Paul tells his story for a particular audience. Don’t memorize your story. It’s not about you anyway. Know the basic facts of your story, but learn to adjust the telling so that different aspects of it connect with a particular audience.
  1. Don’t judge your story by the response. When Paul told his story, the crowd yelled, “Rid the earth of him! He’s not fit to live!” The negative reaction was not because Paul had a bad story or told it poorly. It was about the condition of their hearts. Jesus said there are different kinds of soil. The seed is the word of God, but we are all sowers – and our skill and experience at sowing will vary. But sometimes it’s just the soil that’s the issue. The people to whom Paul was speaking had hearts that had been hardened by their own blindness and by lies they had been told.
  1. The power of your story lies in the hashtags. Hashtags are how social media sorts millions of tweets, usually from strangers, into connections. The gospel moves from person to person, usually through connections. What are the parts of your story that might connect to someone else and draw that person to Jesus because their story parallels yours? #divorce? #addiction? #Christianparents? #unplannedpregnancy? #outdoorpassion? #loneliness? #jobloss? #abuse? #sundayschool? #music? The list of possibilities is endless. But know what those hashtags are. Know what the three most significant hashtags are. Know that they are the power of your story. Amen.

Leave a Response

You must be logged in to post a comment.