The Contagious Christian's Mind-Set
1 Peter 3:8-19

I got a surprise call from BBC TV recently asking if I had a sense of adventure. Could I think on my feet and cope without home comforts? Did I like a challenge? Was I willing to appear on their programme 'Bare Necessities'? Two teams compete against each other to see who can survive in a remote location somewhere in the world for a week with only the bare essentials provided. Was I willing to join a team of three vicars competing against three bookmakers? Naturally. With God on our side it would be no contest. Could I participate at short notice? With a fantastic curate in charge back home, of course. Go anywhere in the world? For an audience of 2 million, when do we start? Did I have any phobias? Real men don't have phobias - at least we don't admit them to strangers. Would I be prepared to eat anything? Yes with my eyes closed. Could I work in a team made up of strangers? Try me - I had just attended a leadership summit in America - now it was payback time.

The last question - Did I have one wish? 'To see heaven on earth' I heard myself say. The interview lasted half an hour. The delightful young programme co-ordinator assured me she would come back to me in a few days. My wife thought I was utterly mad. My daughters couldn't wait to see me off. I was thinking of the incredible opportunities. Christian Aid had nominated me because they wanted viewers to realise most people in the world have to survive on bare necessities every day and thought I could help get that message across. I put the phone down and began to prepare myself.

Physically I had three weeks to get fit. The first thing I did was block into my diary a two hour gym session every day for the next three weeks. I had three weeks to learn how to survive in the wild. I got out my un-read SAS Survival Guide and began to learn about which plants and animal parts you can and cannot eat. How to trap game. How to collect water. How to make a shelter from branches and leaves. How to start a fire. I remembered we had an army officer in the church family. I would call him about their endurance training. I also began to prepare myself psychologically. What it would be like to join a small team of strangers thrown together with a common task? I needed to quickly discover their strengths and weaknesses and compliment them. I began to listen to tapes on team building, determined that we were going to work well as a team. It didn't matter if we won or not as long as by the end of the week we still cared for each other and worked as a team.

Finally I began to prepare myself spiritually. What did God want me to achieve through the programme? How could I show that being a Christian makes a difference in a godless cynical world? Mentally, physically and spiritually I began to imagine myself already there. Getting ready to go - to go anywhere. Then the BBC phoned back. They were really sorry but they couldn't use me after all because apparently I regularly visit the mystery location chosen for the programme and they felt I would have had an unfair advantage...

So I won't be putting my SAS survival training to the test after all or get to appear before 2 million viewers. But I did learn one thing. Had they asked me to go that night I would not have been ready. Mentally, physically, or spiritually. Three weeks training might just have been just enough to get back to basics and learn how to survive in the wild. And what was the Lord teaching me through all this? The answer is in our readings tonight. With hindsight the deeper question I ask myself and I ask of you also tonight is this - "Am I ready, always ready to give an account of the hope that is within me?" Now, Tonight? Tomorrow? Any time? I may know a lot of theology. I may have been a Christian many years. But am I ready to share my faith right now if asked? Our gospel reading reminds us that Jesus could return at any moment. Will he find us faithful? Are we ashamed of him when it comes to the contagious Christian test? If so there is a sober warning there. He will be ashamed of us. In this series we have already considered the contagious Christian's motivation and mandate. Now we come to the Contagious Christian's Mind-set. Please turn with me to 1 Peter 3.

1. How do we become Contagious?: Our Manner
"live in harmony with one another... In your hearts set apart Christ as Lord" (1 Peter 3:8-15)

"Finally, all of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble. Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing... Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. "Do not fear what they fear; do not be frightened." But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord."

Lee Strobel was a reporter for the Chicago Tribune who began to attend Willow Creek in the early 80's in an effort to appease his newly converted wife, Leslie. In his very helpful book, "Inside the Mind of Unchurched Harry and Mary" Lee recalls, "When I walked into church as a skeptical unbeliever, my 'hypocrisy antenna' was scanning the place for signs that people were playing at church. In fact, I was aggressively on the lookout for phoniness, opportunism, or deception, because I felt that if I could find an excuse for rejecting the church on the grounds of hypocrisy, I could feel free to reject Christianity as well." You see in-authenticity or the lack of integrity among those claiming to be Christians can become an almost insurmountable barrier to belief. Lee Strobel found it in the Christians he met and they led him to Christ. Would your friends? Would mine?

Most people won't come right out and say it but you had better believe they are thinking it. They are not interested in believing our message about a risen Christ and commit themselves to him unless they first observe the living Christ in us. Perhaps you can think of neighbours or friends who have been turned off Church because of a Christian they know. We are to be good news before we share the good news. "live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble. Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing" This is what it means to "set apart Christ as Lord of our hearts." Two thrones chart.

What does 'harmony' mean? Its similar to integrity. Harmony or integrity is when your thoughts, your words and your actions are integrated - they are at the same place, consistently saying the same thing. What is humility? Humility is not denying your strengths but it is admitting your weaknesses. Being honest about your failures, about your sin and need of a Saviour.

Bill Hybels says, 'So many pretenders are walking around the corridors of our culture these days that genuine, sincere people wind up creating quite a stir just by being themselves.. People who are investigating Christianity don't expect perfection from Christians. They are too smart for that. What they do hope to find is someone with the courage to confess their blunders and make things right."

Simply put, authentic confession is a powerful witness to the transforming power of Jesus Christ as Lord in your life. You are seeking to please him not your boss, not yourself. It stands out in stark contrast to our culture, in which nobody admits to wrong doing of any kind. People instinctively rationalise their short comings, cover their tracks, and hire successful lawyers to get them off the hook. No one seems to own up and take responsibility anymore. So how about it? Do you ever come clean by admitting your wrong? Or are you working overtime to present an image of infallibility to everyone around you, fearing if they knew you were imperfect all would be lost? In a no fault society, don't underestimate the power of a sincere apology - only the influence of the living God will prompt a person to say. "It was my fault and I am sorry."

It might be the most compelling manifestation of true Christianity your friends have ever seen. We draw people to the Father or repel them by the way we live. How we conduct our daily lives has implications that reach all the way to eternity. How do we become Contagious?: It has to do with our manner - being ourselves, being realistic, being honest, learning to live "in harmony with one another... Where in our hearts Christ is Lord." That's the 'how'. Now the 'when'.

2. When are we most Contagious?: The Moment
"Always be Prepared to give an Answer" (1 Peter 3:15-17)

"Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behaviour in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. It is better, if it is God's will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil."

The moment is always - always now. We are never off duty, always on show - that's why its important to be ourselves and relax. Every encounter with another person created in the image of God can become a divine appointment. At any moment we are either prepared or not prepared. Can you give an answer for the hope within you? In the next few weeks we shall be considering a variety of tools that will help us to give an answer. But if you can't wait till next week, read chapter 11 of Bill Hybel's book. Becoming a Contagious Christian.

People in the city and the market place commonly ask each other "How's your year going?". Rather than give a standard reply, why not answer with something like this: "Well, financially okay, family-wise, pretty well; and spiritually things are great, which do you want to talk about?"

Here are a few more one liners - for starters.

What continually amazes me is how such a simple line can begin a process that ultimately revolutionises the life of another person. Don't let the simplicity of these questions cause you to discount their usefulness. They can literally open doorways into eternity. Are you ready? Can you give an answer for the hope within you? Until you can explain something you don't really understand it. So what is our hope? We are told here not only about how to become contagious and when to. We are also told what to be contagious with.

3. With what are we Contagious? : His Message
"Christ Died for Sins once for all" (1 Peter 3:18)

For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God."

This is our hope. A living relationship with God as our Father through the death of Jesus Christ in our place. Through Jesus and on the authority of His Word we know that all our sins are forgiven and that we have eternal life. A place in heaven. This is our hope. The people around us have little reason for hope.

On Friday night Stephen Hawking, the Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge and author of A Brief History of Time gave a lecture at the Royal Society in Edinburgh. From his wheel chair and using a computer voice box Hawking said that an accident or global warming would wipe out life on earth. He feared the human race would not survive for another thousand years. He said

"I am afraid the atmosphere might get hotter and hotter until it will be like Venus with boiling sulphuric acid. I am worried about the greenhouse effect."

One of the greatest scientific minds in the world is worried and frightened about the future. It may in part be because he has rejected belief in a Creator God. With no certainty about his origins he has no hope for the future. In verse 14 Peter says, "Do not fear what they fear; do not be frightened." We have nothing to fear with Jesus at our side. Perfect love casts out fear. Our past is dealt with and our future is secure. This is our hope. This is the message we are to be ready to share when people ask us why we are different. God is in control. He will create a new heaven and new earth. That is our hope.
"For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God."

This is our message. Don't fudge it, change it, soften it, deny it, replace it. Instead live it and explain it when asked. Seekers have little respect for weak Christians. Deep down they are looking for somebody, anybody to step up and proclaim the truth and then live it boldly. Why can't that be us? We have the Holy Spirit, we have the Word of God and we have the church. We want to be contagious Christians. The lets be real with people. Lets manifest an authentic identity and not be more or less than what God made us. Lets be emotionally authentic and grapple with what ever life throws at us. Lets admit errors when we make them. And lets stand up boldly for what we believe. Lets declare it, without apology and see how contagious we can become. Contagious Christianity is friend to friend, person to person, neighbour to neighbour. The plan is biblical, its logical, its strategic, and it was proven by Jesus, his friends and many other since. Lets give it ago this week.

I am indebted to Bill Hybels and Mark Mittleberg and their book, 'Becoming a Contagious Christian' for ideas and material used in this sermon.