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The Difference Jesus Makes in Our Lives

January 2, 2022 Speaker: Mitchel Kirchmeyer Series: Inviting to Surrender (Vision 20...

Passage: Luke 8:26–8:39

One of the most personal and powerful ways to share the gospel is to simply tell people the difference Jesus has made in your life.

For Christmas, our families create Amazon wish lists for gift buying. Some items I put on that list are things that would be fun to have: like another nerdy Star Wars or Lord of the Rings shirt. Other items I put on the list are things that would make life easier. Throughout the year, I pay attention to times when I need something that I don’t have or when having something would make what I’m doing a lot easier. You could say that I measure a gift by how much of a difference it makes in my life. Does it make something easier? Does it make something more enjoyable? Does it relieve a problem I have? Does it fill a need?

For instance, I use a French press to make coffee. The problem is that I need hot water to make the coffee and a French press doesn’t heat water. So somehow I need to heat water up. I could send the water through a drip coffee maker without coffee grounds to heat it up. Or I could get a tea kettle out and heat it on the stove. Both of those processes are a bit inconvenient. So I put an electric tea kettle on my list. I just fill the kettle with as much water as I want, then I choose how hot I want it, and press start. I consider this tea kettle a really good gift because of how often I use it. It’s made a big difference.

If I heard that you had this same problem with your French press, I’d recommend the electric tea kettle to you because of the difference it has made for me. And I could do the same thing with other problems or needs. If you told me that you like listening to something while you mow the lawn or work out but your headphone cable keeps getting snagged and pulled out of your ear, I could tell you about the difference wireless headphones have made for me. If you told me that your board games keep getting messed up in the box because the cover doesn’t stay on tight, I could tell you the difference these huge box bands have made for me.

Oftentimes, we are telling people about the difference something has made in our lives. And people are often telling us about the difference something has made in their lives. “Oh you have to try this!”, “Check out that restaurant; you won’t regret it!” “I can’t live without this!” “You’re going to love it!” We all have needs, wants, and problems in our lives. And when we find something that makes a difference and we hear that someone has the same need, desire, or problem that we had, we tell them about what has made a difference for us.

When we begin to think about this on a spiritual level, we do something that I think is odd (and I’m speaking from experience). The odd thing we do as Christians is we are afraid to tell people the difference Jesus has made in our lives. As humans, we all have the same deep spiritual needs, desires, and problems in common. As Christians, we have found the answer to the problem. As followers of Jesus, we have found the person who makes all the difference in the world. And yet, we tend to filter Jesus out of our conversations. Perhaps we hope people will see the difference Jesus had made in our lives, but we are reluctant and afraid to tell them the difference Jesus has made in our lives.

Today’s message and the next couple messages are about our growth theme and vision for the year. I want this to be a year of learning to tell people the difference Jesus has made in our lives. My hope and prayer is that by the end of this year, we would be people of greater gratitude leading to deeper joy - a joy that isn’t possible for us to hold in and keep to ourselves. I want us to be so soaked in Jesus’ love for us that we can’t help but talk about it.

This year, I want us to go on a journey together as a church. My hope is that evangelism would move from an “I have to” to “I get to” and “I can’t help it!”. I am speaking as one who is on this journey as well. I want telling others about Jesus to feel natural and to be an overflow from the joy I have in him. This will be a year of learning together, of growing together, of taking steps of faith together.

This morning, I want to go back to a story in The Gospel According to Luke that we looked at last year. Turn with me to Luke 8:22-39. There are many elements that we could focus on in this story, but we are going to focus on the difference Jesus makes in one man’s life.

The Man Without Jesus: What was this man's life like? (8:26-33)

Verses 26 through 33 tell us what this man was like without Jesus. Pay attention to what this man is experiencing. Put yourself in his shoes: what is it like to be him?

26 Then they sailed to the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee. 27 When Jesus had stepped out on land, there met him a man from the city who had demons. For a long time he had worn no clothes, and he had not lived in a house but among the tombs. 28 When he saw Jesus, he cried out and fell down before him and said with a loud voice, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me.” 29 For he had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. (For many a time it had seized him. He was kept under guard and bound with chains and shackles, but he would break the bonds and be driven by the demon into the desert.) 30 Jesus then asked him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Legion,” for many demons had entered him. 31 And they begged him not to command them to depart into the abyss. 32 Now a large herd of pigs was feeding there on the hillside, and they begged him to let them enter these. So he gave them permission. 33 Then the demons came out of the man and entered the pigs, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and drowned. (Luke 8:26-33)

What is this man’s life like? What was it like to be him? Out of control, hurting and in pain, hurting others and hurting himself, broken relationships, estranged from those he loves, alone, angry, homeless, broken, his life is unmanageable, tormented, seen as a threat, people pushing him away or trying to fix him.

If you have surrendered to Jesus, you were this man. If you haven’t surrendered to Jesus, you are this man. Perhaps you aren’t experiencing spiritual darkness as extreme or as obvious as he is, but you are experiencing it to some degree. You have people in your life who are this man. They are experiencing the effects of spiritual darkness. Anyone who doesn’t know Jesus is on the same path as this man, perhaps not as far down the path of darkness as this man, but this is everyone’s ultimate trajectory without Jesus.

The Man With Jesus: What difference did Jesus make? (8:34-39)

Let’s now read what’s different about him because of his encounter with Jesus.

34 When the herdsmen saw what had happened, they fled and told it in the city and in the country. 35 Then people went out to see what had happened, and they came to Jesus and found the man from whom the demons had gone, sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind, and they were afraid. 36 And those who had seen it told them how the demon-possessed man had been healed. 37 Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked him to depart from them, for they were seized with great fear. So he got into the boat and returned. 38 The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him, but Jesus sent him away, saying, 39 “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” And he went away, proclaiming throughout the whole city how much Jesus had done for him. (Luke 8:34-39)

What difference did Jesus make in this man’s life? What is now true of him because of Jesus? What is now different about this man? What has changed?

  • From tormented to free.
  • From wild, reckless, and dangerous to calm.
  • From out of his mind to in his right mind.
  • From hurting to healed.
  • Wants to follow Jesus - no obligation
  • Thankful, grateful

The people who knew this man before this man knew Jesus saw such a difference in him that they were actually afraid.

The Man’s Job: What Should He Do Now? (8:39)

Jesus gives the man one job. Let’s reread verses 38 and 39:

38 The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him, but Jesus sent him away, saying, 39 “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” And he went away, proclaiming throughout the whole city how much Jesus had done for him. (Luke 8:38-39)

The man responds to what Jesus has done for him with surrender. He wants to be with Jesus. He wants to follow Jesus. Jesus has become the most important person to him. But Jesus doesn’t let the man come with him because Jesus has a different plan for him. Jesus wants him to live out his life as a disciple among the people he knows - among his family and friends back home. These are the people who knew what he was like without Jesus - the people who watched his life slowly deteriorate as darkness took more and more territory. The job that Jesus gave him was to declare to his Friends, Relatives, Acquaintances, Neighbors, and Coworkers (FRANC) how much God had done for him.

I think we have at times made talking to people about Jesus too complicated. While Katie and I were in college, we were involved with an organization called Cru and then we spent two years interning with them after we graduated. One of the key skills in which we wanted every student to be trained was sharing the gospel. We would teach them using a booklet called the “Knowing God Personally” booklet - the KGP. It’s small and only has four points.

I am thankful for this training that I received and I think it’s important for all of us to be able to explain the gospel. That being said, one of the limitations with this approach is that it doesn’t really fit naturally into our everyday relationships and our everyday conversations. What this teaches us to do is to find an opportunity to take people through a gospel presentation. So here’s what happens. We have a relationship with someone who isn’t a believer. We have a desire to share the gospel with them or we might feel like it’s something we “should” do, so we wait and we wait until we see the right opportunity to do so. We might pass on multiple opportunities because we feel nervous and anxious about transitioning to the topic of Jesus. Finally, we work up the courage to share the gospel with them and we hope that they respond well otherwise it’s going to be really awkward.

Now, would I say that you should never do this? No. Scripture shows us that sharing the gospel by laying it out like this is a valid way to tell people the good news. However, I think this approach puts a lot of pressure on one moment in a relationship. We build up to it, we get nervous and anxious about it, it doesn’t fit naturally into our normal, everyday conversations.

I want to simplify it. The most natural and personal way to share the gospel with people is simply to tell them the difference Jesus has made in your life throughout your everyday conversations. I think there can and will be times where we make a big declaration of what Jesus has done in our lives without it coming up naturally in a conversation. That seems to be what this man in the story did: he proclaimed throughout the whole city how much Jesus had done for him. It seems he told anybody and everybody. And sometimes that is what we must do: “Hey, I want to tell you how much Jesus has done for me.”

But notice that this man needed no training to do what he did. Jesus didn’t have to tell him: “Now here is how you can tell people how much God has done for you.” He knew what God had done for him - he knew better than anybody! In fact, he was an expert on the matter. He already had all the training and knowledge he needed. He was an expert in sharing the gospel because he had firsthand knowledge of the difference Jesus had made in his life. He knew what his life was like before and he knew the difference Jesus made.

He also didn’t need Jesus to give him a pep talk to get over his fear because he wanted people to know the difference Jesus had made in his life. It was natural. It flowed out of him. Telling people about Jesus was an overflow from gratitude and joy from the difference Jesus had made. He couldn’t help but tell people.

The man didn’t need a training session on how to talk to people about Jesus. He didn’t need a pep talk about how important it is. All he needed to do was share his firsthand experience of what Jesus had done for him.

His story may seem more dramatic than ours. I certainly can feel that my personal story of coming to Jesus isn’t very exciting. I don’t remember a time when I didn’t believe in God. I didn’t have a rebel period where I walked away from God. My growth as a disciple and in my understanding of the gospel was gradual. For this man, his experience was like flipping on a light switch in a dark room: it was dramatic and obvious. My experience has been more like slowly turning on a dimmer switch. But the truth is that every person who calls themselves a Christian is the story of King Jesus invading enemy territory to rescue that person from darkness. If today you call Jesus your Lord, then you are a story of King Jesus breaking through enemy lines to rescue you from the darkness.

The amazing thing is that Jesus now goes on a rescue mission into enemy territory through his church. Jesus said, “I will build my church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.” Jesus is invading enemy territory through us. This means that the place you live and the people you know are not accidental. Jesus has stationed you in people’s lives for a purpose. The job he has given you is to tell your Friends, Relatives, Acquaintances, Neighbors, and Coworkers (FRANC) how much he has done for you.

I think it takes pressure off for us to think of evangelism as telling people the difference Jesus has made in our lives. I want this to be a year where we grow in gratitude and joy for the difference Jesus has made in our lives which then overflows into telling other people about it. You are God’s show and tell to the world - your life shows them what he is like, your words tell them what he’s like. You are God’s show and tell to your Friends, Relatives, Acquaintances, Neighbors, and Coworkers (FRANC). You are God’s show and tell wherever you live, work, and play.

Perhaps you are thinking: “I don’t really think the people in my life want to hear about Jesus, about God, or about my faith.” That might be true. But I think that many times we assume they don’t want to hear it or we fear that they don’t want to hear about it. Instead of sharing about Jesus or asking if they want to hear, we say “no” for them.

There was a research project completed recently that surveyed people who weren’t attending church. The findings were published in a book called You Found Me: New Research on How Unchurched Nones, Millennials, and Irreligious are Surprisingly Open to Christian Faith. One of the statements they asked unchurched people to respond to was this: “If a friend of mine really values their faith, I don’t mind them talking about it.” Forty-five percent somewhat agreed. Thirty-four percent strongly agreed. Only thirteen percent somewhat disagreed and only five percent strongly agreed. Three percent were not sure. What’s key here is to notice that 79 percent of our unchurched friends are fine with us talking about our faith if we value it (You Found Me, 58-59). That’s four out of five who don’t mind hearing about our faith if it matters to us. Other findings they shared are that one out of two people say they would accept an invitation from a friend or family member to attend a church and that one out of every three unchurched people expect to be regularly attending church in the future (You Found Me, 71). The point the book tries to make is that people in our lives are probably more open and receptive than we think they are.

Also, let’s just think about the types of conversations we have with people. What do they tell us about? They tell us what they did over the weekend and what they’re looking forward to with no filter. Many people feel the freedom to offer us their unsolicited opinions about politics, masks, vaccines, Christianity, the Pope, sports, and whatever else with no filter about what they believe. People are often telling us about products, places, or people that have made a difference in their lives and recommending them to us: TV shows, restaurants, mechanics, carpenters, scalp massagers, coffee drinks.

And we do the same thing, but we often filter Jesus out. We filter God out. We filter out all things that are connected to our faith. We don’t tell people that we went to a worship gathering with our church family over the weekend, we don’t tell people about the encouraging thing we read in the Bible, we don’t tell people about serving with our church, we don’t tell people about the good conversation we had about God, we don’t tell people about how God has blessed us this week.

I’m not advocating that you sit down with everyone you know and give them your testimony - although I would cheer you on if you wanted to do that! I’m advocating that we turn the filter off. I’m advocating that we get better at seasoning our normal conversations with how much Jesus has done for us rather than looking for an opportunity for a big gospel presentation. The principle we can follow is this: Be who you are, see who wants more. And who are you? You are a follower of Jesus. You are someone for whom Jesus has made a life-changing difference. Don’t filter Jesus out. Be who you are and see who wants to hear more about Jesus.

Like I said, this is a journey we are going on together because I’m trying to grow in this area as well. And I want to grow in this because I believe one of the most personal and powerful ways to share the gospel is to simply tell people the difference Jesus has made in your life.

So to get really practical, I want to invite you to sit down this week and reflect on the difference Jesus has made in your life. Don’t approach it like a homework assignment. Instead, approach it as a time of worship. One of the primary ways to worship is to express gratitude and that’s what we are doing when we reflect on how much Jesus has done for us.

Answer these two questions:

  • What difference has Jesus made in your life?
  • What difference is Jesus making in your life?

I have a sheet that’s more specific that can help get you started (list below).

  • What is different about you because of Jesus? How are you a different kind of person because of him? (What would you be like without him? What are you like because of him?)
  • What difference has he made this year, this week, today?
  • What difference has he made in the painful and challenging experiences in your life?
  • What difference has he made in how you think about death?
  • What difference has he made in your parenting?
  • What difference has he made in your relationships?
  • What difference has he made in how you approach life?
  • What difference has he made in how you approach your work and responsibilities?
  • What difference has he made in how you handle finances?
  • What difference has he made in how you handle disappointment, fear, and anger?

Try to come up with one thing each day and write it down. Or block off 30 minutes to write down what is different about you because of Jesus. We have our big conversion story, but we also have many transformation stories that make up our big life story. There are different opportunities for each of them.

If you don’t know what difference Jesus is currently making in your life, then that is possibly an indication that you are on auto-pilot spiritually. It may be an indication that you have shifted into relying on yourself instead of relying on him. It may be an indication that your life is too hurried and busy or you are filling your spare time with things other than God or both: you don’t have much free time and the free time you do have is used to pursue things other than Jesus. If that’s the case, then this message is an invitation to you to return to Jesus. This is an invitation to find joy in Christ by saying “thank you” for all he has done in your life.

If you can’t think of any difference Jesus has made, then either you have forgotten or you haven’t really surrendered to him. If you look at the list and you see areas where Jesus hasn’t made a difference yet, then that is perhaps an area you still need to surrender and that’s ok.

When we see those areas where we had problems, needs, and desires, those are our struggles we have in common with the rest of humanity. And God can use the human struggles you have in common with others as a bridge for the gospel into their life.

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