These stories below are taken from a website titled HUMANS OF NY. HONY is “a page that began as a photography project in 2010. The initial goal was to photograph 10,000 New Yorkers on the street, and create an exhaustive catalogue of the city’s inhabitants."
The website creator writes, “Somewhere along the way, I began to interview my subjects in addition to photographing them. And alongside their portraits, I'd include quotes and short stories from their lives.”
Taken together, these portraits and captions became the subject of a vibrant blog. HONY now has over twenty million followers on social media, and provides a worldwide audience with daily glimpses into the lives of strangers on the streets of New York City.
Over the past five years, it has also expanded to feature stories from over twenty different countries.
“Being a grandfather is quite different. It’s much looser than being a parent. I don’t have to always worry about providing patterns of behavior. I just get to give her little kisses. I was allowed to borrow her this morning so we are walking through the park. It’s our personal pastime. She likes to look at the dogs and birds. Today we saw some blackbirds which was quite exciting.”
“One night I was talking with my wife about how perfect our life was. It was twenty-five years ago. We had four children. We’d just saved enough money to buy a new house. We felt so lucky. I remember she said: ‘What if God takes something from us?’ The next day I came home from work and found my wife screaming. She was holding our oldest son. He’d stuck his hand in the washing machine and electrocuted himself. We couldn’t revive him. We rushed to the hospital but the doctors said there was nothing they could do. I begged them to try. My friends from the church came and we all started to pray. And the doctors were able to bring him back to life. He became a case study. Today he’s 29. He has learning problems. He can’t read or write. But he has a job as a security guard. He enjoys his life. And to this day, I believe in miracles.”
“I had to leave Venezuela. I’ve lived there my entire life. My parents are buried there. But five months ago I had to leave. It just got too dangerous. One day I was attacked while walking home from the supermarket, and I woke up on the ground. I’ve had guns pulled on me several times. I just couldn’t do it anymore. I’m trying to start a new life but it’s impossible to find a job. I’ve applied to about sixty shops so far but nobody will give me a chance. They think I’m too old. I tell them to try me for just a few days, but they won’t. I did find one part time job cleaning toilets and picking up trash. These are things I’ve never done in my life. But right now I can’t afford to be picky.”
Today we are starting a new series entitled THE GREAT SUGGESTION which is a word play on the Biblical mandate The Great Commission, which is found in Matthew 28:16 – 20.
Read Matthew 28:16 - 20
This is a passage that most, if not all of you have read or heard taught. It is the final mandate Jesus gave to his disciples before leaving them and returning to the Father in heaven. It is on this mountain that Jesus commissions the disciples (and those yet to come) to go out and share His story; to go out and proclaim the Good News of salvation through Jesus Christ. To proclaim the Good news of the Kingdom of God. He is giving his followers the commission and authority to go out and share their story what God has done and what He is doing in the world and in their lives.
The word GO in this passage is an action word, it is also actually a command and not a suggestion. The word “go” is not followed by the sentence, “If you want to.” The word GO is simply a call to evangelism. We are called to be evangelists. Now, this probably stirs up a lot of emotion in you. Some of you may be super excited about this. Others are probably very uncomfortable. There are perhaps even a few of you who are saying, “Nope, not me, not ever!” Whatever emotion it stirs up in you this series is intended to give perspective as to our call to evangelize as followers of Christ.
Today I am going to paint a picture using very broad stroke as to what evangelism is. It is going to be an introduction to sharing your story. The simplest description of evangelism I can give is sharing the story of how God is at work in your life. Your story answers the question, “What is God doing in your life?” The stories I just read are examples of what a life story may look like. Now they may not directly give focus to God but they do show that everyone has a story to tell and God can certainly be found in these stories. Regardless, if your story is mundane like taking a grandchild out for a walk, miraculous like a child coming back to life after prayer, or morose like leaving your country because of danger and facing the uncertainty of how you are going to survive, God can be found in your stories… if only you look.
We will spend the next several weeks hashing what I evangelism is and is not. But today I want introduce two truths (1. Everyone has a story to tell, it just needs to be discovered & 2. Your story needs to be told).
You Have a Story to Tell…
- Everyone has a story to tell, you just need to discover it. You and I have a, if not many stories to tell that connect us with other people in both profound and superficial ways. People have told me that they have no story to tell or they think their story is not worth telling. I lovingly say to them, “You are wrong.” For example, About 15 years ago I was a youth pastor in Erie, PA and I had someone come in and share his testimony or faith story at youth group. It was one of those good juicy testimonies, you know the kind… It had all the grit and grime but ended with, “But Jesus saved me and I am happy today.” We’ve all heard these stories before. After the night was over a young girl, who happened to be the pastor’s kid, said to me, “I do not have a good story to tell. I have been a Christian my whole life and that is so boring. Nobody would be interested in my story.” My response was, “You have a story worth telling. Your story is that God has been with you your whole life. He has been a part of your life for as long as you can remember. You do not know of a time where you did not know God. This is a story I wish I could tell. Unfortunately, my testimony may be appealing with all the dirt and drama that people like to hear, but I have to live with my poor decisions and actions. I can now say that God has done a miraculous work in me, but I really wish my story could have been, ‘I have always known God and he has always been in my life.’”
- You have a story. Now, this may come across as harsh but I think it needs to be said, “to say you have no story or your story is not worth telling is to deny that God is actively at work in your life today.” God is at work in you and that story should be told. But the reality is that your story is not just the story of you, it is about God working through and in you. The story is there and you need to discover it. In a few minutes I will walk you through a discovery process.
Your story needs to be told
What God is doing in and through you is important and helpful to helping others discover Jesus Christ. Our own individual experiences help us to share with others who are going through what you went through. Jesus commissioned his disciples to share His story. His story is the Good News of God actively working in and through his people both past and present. We have opportunities throughout our lives to share our stories with people and Jesus has given us the authority and power to share his story to those whom he places in our lives. This will be talked about more in the weeks to come… Discover It… BUT HOW???
What is your story and how do you discover it?
There is a little exercise that I would encourage you to do this week or in the weeks to come. (Click here to download "Discovering Your Story" PDF)
- As with everything, begin with prayer. Ask God to show you what you need to write in your story for His glory.
- Get a piece of paper make a chart to write down significant events of your life. Childhood, teenage years and adulthood. (I.e. Friends you had, your marriage, college, work, salvation, death etc.)
- Go through your list and highlight the difficult and trying moments. (i.e. divorce, loss of a loved one, loss of job, etc.)
- Write down some of you critical moments (good and bad experiences) down and determine if experiences altered or affirmed your views or faith in God? (i.e. Did you sense the presences of God? Did you feel abandoned? Was your faith challenged? Were you angry with God? Was your faith strengthened? Did you cling to him more tightly?)
- During your critical moments (good and troubled times) who or what helped you get you through these experiences? (friends, spouse, parents, substances, God, strangers, buying stuff etc.)
- Were they positive or negative? Were the things or people you turned to helpful or were they hurtful in overcoming or celebrating your critical moment?
- What part did God play in forming and shaping you during these times?
- Significant Events (personally I remember key things about my life… The impact of music, the desire to be liked and loved by my peers and the opposite sex, my parents getting a divorce, seeking pleasure in things other than God, wanting to be happy, the moment I became a follower of Jesus Christ, my call to the ministry, when I married Carrie, when I became a father to all of my children, losing my best friend to cancer, facing unemployment and how I would provide for my family, experiencing the kindness of friends who supported my family and me, and the faithfulness of God throughout my life.) As you can see, this isn’t my whole story, they are just significant events that stand out in my life.
- How was/is God present the critical moments of your life (i.e. during the good and tough times)? In each of these I can discover critical moments and how my views of God were altered. For example, when my parents divorced I believed if only my dad would go to church with us, everything would be ok and my parents would get back together. This is didn’t happen, but it didn’t destroy my faith, and it also didn’t enhance it. I was disappointed with God. When I faced unemployment, I questioned God as to why, but I also trusted Him because I knew He was with me and would provide for us. I saw the kindness of friends and strangers thus I saw the faithfulness of God through his people.
- When did “God show up” in your life? When did you feel his presence most? What was the outcome? I call these highlight moments. I have hundreds of books in my office, and if you were to grab a random book chances are you would get one that has yellow or orange highlights throughout it. When I read a book and something grabs my attention I highlight it because it impacted me in some way. Sometimes I go through my books and read the highlighted parts and they remind me of the key points of the book and moments where God really spoke to me. This is how I would describe God showing up in your life. I remember a time in my life where God showed up in my life during a worship service. I sensed his presence with me. I could not explain it, measure it or prove it happened. I just remember it and being overwhelmed with his presences. If your life story was written in a book where would the highlights be? Where are the moments where God was most present in your life? Share those moments.