We Have a Problem
Today at Melbourne Heights, we’re finishing up our sermon series called “One Small Step.” And, over the last couple of weeks, we’ve spent some of our time together talking about what it took for Neil Armstrong to make it to the moon. Because I told you from the beginning of this series that I didn’t think it was possible to preach a sermon series called “One Small Step” without at least mentioning the most famous phrase ever uttered in space, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”
But today, I want to spend some of our time together talking about what’s probably the second most famous phrase that’s ever been uttered in space. These words were spoken on April 13, 1970, just two days after another Apollo mission had launched. As the astronauts onboard were conducting some of their routine duties, they needed to stir the oxygen tanks to get a more accurate reading of how much oxygen they had left.
But this ended up being anything but a routine task. Because when the oxygen tanks were stirred, it somehow ignited damaged wire insulation inside of the tanks that caused an explosion. And if it wasn’t scary enough for the astronauts to feel this explosion when they were 200,000 miles from earth and stuck in a spacecraft that’s about the size of an SUV, the explosion also vented out the oxygen inside of the space module’s tanks.
So you had three astronauts that were hundreds of thousands of miles away from earth and their oxygen tanks had just exploded. And that’s when one of those astronauts, Jack Swiggert, reached out to mission control in Houston, Texas to tell them, “Okay, Houston, we’ve had a problem here.” When Mission Control asked them to repeat their last transmission, Jim Lovell – the mission commander – responded, “Houston, we’ve had a problem.”
Now, I know that may not be the way you remember this particular phrase. You probably remember Jim Lovell saying, “Houston, we have a problem.” But Jim Lovell never said that…Tom Hanks did in the movie Apollo 13. And the screenwriter of the movie openly admits that he changed Lovell’s line because it didn’t build enough suspense.
But whether Jim Lovell said, “Houston, we have a problem” or “Houston, we’ve had a problem,” why are we talking about it during this sermon? Well, throughout this sermon series, we haven’t just been talking about space travel. What we’ve really been talking about is something that many of us find every bit as difficult as the idea of sending someone to the moon. This series is about sharing our faith. And for many of us, the idea of sharing our faith seems as hard as sending someone to the moon.
The idea of sharing our faith seems as hard as sending someone to the moon.
And one of the reasons why the idea of sharing our faith seems so hard is that we’re afraid of what could go wrong. We’re afraid that if we start sharing our faith that things could blow up on us and leave us in a situation that we don’t know how to handle…just like the astronauts on Apollo 13.
And let’s just be honest here, there are plenty of people out there who haven’t made this any easier for us. I mean, history is filled with people who have perverted the good news of Jesus Christ, and it makes it feel like we’re all just sitting on a bomb that’s about to go off whenever we start to talk about Jesus.
You’ve got people like an 89-year-old retired civil engineer, named Harold Campings, from Oakland who made national headlines when he tried to share his faith over a decade ago. And why did Campings make national headlines?
Well, through a series of calculations that he made when he was reading his Bible, Campings determined that the world was going to end on May 21, 2011. But when May 22 rolled around and we were all still here, Campings realized that he must’ve miscalculated…so he decided to take another crack at it. And I guess he noticed that he failed to carry a five somewhere along the line because Campings next prediction was that the world would end on October 21, 2011…five months after his previous prediction.
Well, I don’t know if you realize this or not, but today is February 19, 2023…and we’re all still here, so clearly, Harold Campings was wrong. But because of the way that he tried to share his faith, Campings made it seem like every Christian is a crackpot dooms dayer who could care less what happens in this world as long as we make it to heaven.
So a lot of us are afraid to share our faith because we’re afraid that if we do people will think that we’re just a bunch of crackpots too.
And it gets worse from there. And that’s because it wasn’t that long ago that a small church in Kansas was making national news because of the way they were sharing their faith. And I want to emphasize the their faith part because their theology and practices have been rejected almost universally by other churches…including ours. But this group was routinely showing up at funerals and boldly declaring who God hates.
And because this one church – that has rightfully been labeled as a hate group – perverted the Gospel of Jesus Christ and turned his message into one of hatred and intolerance instead of love and acceptance, a lot of us are afraid to share our faith because we know that people already think Christians are bigots.
Or then you have people like the ones I talked about during the first sermon in this series, you know, the ones who came to came to my door when I was just a baby. Well, when these two guys were talking with my mom at the front door, I decided I wanted to come join them…the only problem was that I was on the second floor. So I went tumbling down the stairs and let's just say a baby heading down the stairs in a walker isn't a pretty sight.
Clearly distraught by my fall, my mother turned to take care of her ailing child, only to hear one of those guys at the door utter the most unbelievable thing. He said, “Ma'am, that can wait a minute. What we're telling you is far more important.” Needless to say, my momma slammed the door in their faces and did what any respectable person would have done, she took care of her baby.
But those two guys made God sound heartless, so a lot of us are afraid to share our faith because a lot of people think that God could care less about them.
Or then you have people who try to share their faith the way that one church group tried to do it with a waiter I used to know. This group decided to leave a tract behind on their table when they finished their lunch. And, if you don’t know, a tract is like a really little brochure that people pass out to share the good news of Jesus in 200 words or less. Now, these tracts come in all shapes and sizes but the one this group left for my friend was designed to look like money.
And John Acuff who is an author and comedian explains why that wasn’t such a good idea in his book Stuff Christians Like. Acuff explains:
I've never found what I thought was a ten-dollar bill on the ground but was actually a tract disguised as a ten-dollar bill and thought to myself, “Phew, I thought that was going to be free money. Let's see what this tricky but potentially life-changing piece of paper has to say today.”
So here my friend was working hard to take care of this big group of churchgoers and instead of actually tipping him for his service, they left him a tract that looked like money. And how do you think that made him feel about Christians? It made him feel like Christians are manipulative liars who could care less about him. So there are plenty of us that are afraid to share our faith because a lot of people believe that Christians don’t really care about them.
So let’s just be honest here, after running through all of the examples – the end-time prophets, the hate-mongering churches, the insensitive door-to-door evangelists, and the deceptive Bible tracts – it can kind of feel like you’re walking through a minefield when you try to share your faith. And if you make one wrong move the whole thing could blow up on you and leave you in a situation that you don’t know how to handle…just like the astronauts on Apollo 13.
So how can we share our faith when we’re afraid of everything that can go wrong?
How can we share our faith when we’re afraid of everything that can go wrong?
Well, ultimately there is one thing that we have to remember whenever we’re sharing our faith. And this is a lesson that we can learn from one of the very first people to ever share his faith in Jesus…a man named Stephen. So if you’ve got a Bible close by, go ahead and grab it and turn with me to Acts 7.
But before we dig deeper into this passage, I’ve got to tell you that things don’t go well for Stephen. As one biblical scholar, named Gary Neal Hansen, notes in a commentary on this text:
In the passage prior to this, Stephen was called to bear witness before the Sanhedrin, and in some ways, it looks like he did a poor job. This might seem like the ideal opportunity to bring the good news to his people's leaders, using his famous wisdom and grace. Rather than a sermon, though, Stephen gave a summary lecture on biblical history to the learned assembly, ending it with insults and rebukes. He never named Jesus, but he accused them of his murder. It was no surprise that they were infuriated rather than converted.
As a matter of fact, these religious leaders were so infuriated by Stephen's attempt to share his faith that they drug him out of the city to stone him. And let's face it, having someone call you names, make a few jokes at your expense, or even slam a door in your face is nothing compared to getting killed because of your faith.
But here's the interesting thing, as the story begins Stephen doesn’t do a great job of sharing his faith...but before it is over, Stephen manages to turn the table and show the people he was talking to who Jesus really is. And that’s where I want us to pick up today. So let’s take a look at Acts 7, and let's listen to the end of Stephen's story. We’ll start reading in verse 54, where we’re told:
54 Once the council members heard these words, they were enraged and began to grind their teeth at Stephen. 55 But Stephen, enabled by the Holy Spirit, stared into heaven and saw God’s majesty and Jesus standing at God’s right side. 56 He exclaimed, “Look! I can see heaven on display and the Human One[m] standing at God’s right side!” 57 At this, they shrieked and covered their ears. Together, they charged at him, 58 threw him out of the city, and began to stone him. The witnesses placed their coats in the care of a young man named Saul. 59 As they battered him with stones, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, accept my life!” 60 Falling to his knees, he shouted, “Lord, don’t hold this sin against them!” Then he died.
Acts 7:54-60 (Common English Bible)
As Stephen begins sharing his faith with the high council of the Sanhedrin at the beginning of Acts 7, he starts out on shaky ground. He begins by questioning this council's knowledge of the Bible. He goes on to accuse them of killing Jesus. And he finishes by calling them names. Now, it is true that the Sanhedrin did not understand the Bible the same way Stephen did. It’s also true that the Sanhedrin worked along with the Roman government to kill Jesus. And it’s also true that they were stubborn people, who sometimes acted more like the rest of the world than the people of God. But questioning someone’s intelligence, or accusing them of murder, or even just calling them names is never a good way to share your faith.
But at the end, Stephen takes a different approach. As the mob begins to stone him, Stephen follows Jesus’ example. In the worst imaginable situation – when people are literally picking up rocks and throwing them at him – Stephen remembers what Jesus did when he was dying on the cross. When Jesus was dying on the cross, he asked God to forgive the people who put him there. And Stephen does the exact same thing. Stephen asks God to forgive the people who are stoning him.
And when Stephen asks God to forgive the people who are killing him, he shows us the one thing we need to remember whenever we share our faith. When we share our faith in Jesus, we need to act like Jesus.
When we share our faith in Jesus, we need to act like Jesus.
And what does that mean? Well, it means we don’t need to try to scare people into believing in Jesus like an end-time prophet. We don’t need to try to guilt trip people into believing in Jesus like a hate-mongering church. We don’t need to be pushy like a door-to-door evangelist. We don’t need to try and trick people into believing in Jesus like a deceptive Bible tract.
Instead, we need to treat people the way we wanted to be treated. We need to legitimately care about them, and love them the way Jesus loves us.
So how do we do that? Well, throughout this series, we haven’t just been talking about why sharing our faith can seem so difficult. We’ve also been talking about small steps that each of us can take to share our faith.
And here’s one small thing you can do to share your faith while loving others the way Jesus loves us all: over the next few days, I want you to ask your Facebook friends how you can pray for them. Now, these are your Facebook friends, so they should be people you already know and care about. So it shouldn’t be weird or pushy to want to pray for them.
So all you have to do is write a post or make a quick video where you say something like this, “We all have so much going on in our lives right now that I just want you to know that I’m here for you. So if you have something going on in your life that I can pray about, let me know.”
And if your friends respond to the post, pray for them. It’s that simple. But that simple act can show people that you love them and that God loves them. And it can open up the door for them to come closer to Jesus.
So, when you’re sharing your faith don’t worry about the problems you might run into. Focus on acting like Jesus and loving the people you talk to the way that Jesus loves you…and you might see Jesus change their lives forever.