Rev’d Jonathan Gale
I’d like to speak about the cycle of confidence.
How confident are you in your identity as a Christian?
If you identify as a Kiwi, you will be proud to be a Kiwi and you’ll value your citizenship as a New Zealander.
Now owning your identity has both advantages and disadvantages. If you head overseas and wear a cap that says, “Proudly Kiwi” you are going to get both smiles and scowls.
Those people who have a positive impression of us will ascribe to you all the positive things they’ve heard about New Zealand. Those people who have a negative impression of New Zealanders will ascribe to you the negative things they have heard about. It happens all the time. It’s all about reputation.
You see, there are some Kiwis who have done wonderful things. They’ve given us a good reputation. An English mountaineer may have heard of Edmund Hillary and of our support in international conflicts, and could have a positive idea about us.
However, if another Englishman had never heard of these things, and his friend had been on the wrong end of a punch thrown by a Kiwi in a London pub; in his eyes we would have a bad reputation. He may well have a negative idea of us.
Now, before we look at what the Scriptures say about this, it’s worth admitting that we have all found ourselves in a situation where we’re not sure we want to identify as Christians. This is of course because some people have given Christians a bad reputation and in some circles we just don’t have the confidence to deal with the labels that are sometimes applied to us.
But what happens with God’s people, the Israelites, as they are rescued from slavery in Egypt and on their way to the Promised Land? They, like us, were a people with a mission.
The conversation between God and Moses is fascinating on many levels.
We know Moses lacked confidence from the beginning. When God first called him to the task (you remember the story of the burning bush?) Moses made every excuse under the sun why he was not up to it.
In the Old Testament passage today 12 Moses said to the Lord, ‘See, you have said to me, “Bring up this people”; but you have not let me know whom you will send with me.
It’s not enough for him that God sends him on a mission. “So who are you going to send with me? I can’t do this on my own!” is what he’s saying.
You see he’s doubting God. What is true, however, is his realisation that for him to handle the job God has given him, he needs God 100% involved with what they’re doing. He says, ‘If your presence will not go, do not carry us up from here.’ Moses wants God to identify with them!
16For how shall it be known that I have found favour in your sight, I and your people, unless you go with us? Now here’s the thing: when you have a sense of mission – of being sent to do something specific – you do need God with you.
So here’s our first question: do you have a sense of mission? Because if we don’t have a clear understanding that we are called to share the Good News of Jesus with people who don’t know him, we’re not going to identify strongly with God’s people who do that.
The passage goes on.
In this way, says Moses, we shall be distinct, I and your people, from every people on the face of the earth.’ Now that’s identity – being distinct. When I am distinct, I stand out.
Here’s our second question: do you have a sense of distinction? In this way we shall be distinct. It’s our sense of mission that leads to our sense of distinction, that sets us apart. It’s the job that Jesus has given us that gives us the sense that we belong to him.
But what actually makes us different? As Christians, (and this is the vital difference), we are not simply sent on a mission – God sees our faith as we set off and goes with us. 16For how shall it be known that I have found favour in your sight, I and your people, unless you go with us? It’s God’s being with us that defines our identity. God responds to our faith when we carry out our mission and we develop a sense of being part of his people.
So here’s our third question: is God with you in what you are doing? You see we will only fear that we may be tarred with the unfortunate stereotypes of being Christian if it is not clear that God is with us.
So here it is:
- when we have a strong sense of mission (i.e. we know what we’re here on earth for), then
- we have a strong sense of being distinct (i.e. we strongly identify with God’s people). When we both know what it is we’re here for, and identify with the people whose calling it is to carry out our mission, then
- God sees our faith and comes alongside us. We have a strong sense that he is with us.
But there is a fourth thing … and it has to do with reputation – the right reputation. In the reading from Thessalonians Paul is writing to the Christians in the city and he says this
8For the word of the Lord has sounded forth from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but in every place where your faith in God has become known, so that we have no need to speak about it.
We don’t have to say anything because your reputation precedes you.
Do you have the confidence to carry out your mission to speak about Jesus? Moses didn’t to start with. He only achieved that when he set off on his mission and identified with God’s people.
So which comes first? God being with us or the assurance that God will be with us? It’s always the latter. God needs to see us take a step of faith before he responds.
As we act in faith and do what God calls us to do, we grow in our identity as God’s people. Our assurance that God is with us grows, and our reputation as God’s people grows.
The cycle builds confidence.
- Sharing Jesus with others
- Identifying with those fellows who do likewise
- Experiencing God’s being with us as he responds to our faith
- Growing in confidence as our reputation for genuine Christian action grows
It is a cycle and we need a bit of bravery to start things off. That’s why faith is important. It represents the confidence we have yet to develop.
- We do
- We become
- We experience
- We grow
Here it is again:
- What do we do? – We share Jesus
- Who do we become? – We identify with our fellow Christians
- What do we experience? – We experience God being with us.
- How do we grow? – We grow in confidence because the genuine reputation of who and what we are spreads around.
And of course that just reinforces the whole cycle again.
Last week I suggested you ask God to give you something to say or do that would stretch your faith. Let’s be more specific this time.
Ask God to give you someone (even if at this stage it is a Christian) to speak to.
If we are to learn to share the Good news, we need to learn to talk to people.
Find a stranger and engage them in conversation. Ask them questions about themselves. People love to talk about themselves – and listen.
The first lesson in learning evangelism is to learn to listen.
Everyone has a story. Find one stranger a week and talk to them – about anything.
Scripture references for today:
Matthew 22: 15 – 22
1 Thessalonians 1: 1 – 10
Exodus 33: 12 – 23