I came upon a quote on my Facebook feed the other morning.
"How much do you have to hate someone to believe that everlasting life is possible and not tell them?"
The quote was spoken during an interview by Penn Jillette, of the Penn and Teller duo. It was his response to a fan who, after seeing his show, approached him to evangelize....and throw in a complimentary Bible. It did not change his mind, but the guy did impress him...and it provided fodder for future jokes about all the wishy washy Christians who confine their faith to Sunday mornings. The whole quote, in context follows...
He walked over to me and he said, “I was here at the show last night, I saw the show and I liked it.” He was complimentary about my use of language and my honesty… he said nice stuff… and then he said “I brought this for you” and he gave me a pocket Gideon’s Bible with the New Testament and Psalms… he said “I brought this for you, I wanted you to have it… I’m proselytizing… I want you to know I’m a businessman, I’m sane, I’m not crazy.” And he looked me right in the eye, and it was really wonderful. I believe he knew that I was an atheist. But he was not defensive, and he looked me right in the eyes. And he was truly complimentary. It didn’t seem in any way that it was empty flattery; he was kind, and nice, and sane, and looked me in the eye and talked to me, and then gave me this Bible. And I’ve always said, I don’t respect people who don’t proselytize. If you believe there is a heaven and hell and people could be going to hell or not getting eternal life or whatever and you think “well, it’s not really worth telling them this because it would make it socially awkward.” How much do you have to hate somebody to not proselytize? How much do you have to hate someone to believe that everlasting life is possible and not tell them that? If I believe that there is a truck bearing down on you, and you didn’t believe it, there’s a certain point at which I tackle you. And this is more important than that. This guy was a really good guy. He was polite and honest and sane and he cared enough about me to proselytize and give me a Bible which had written in it a little note to me and five phone numbers and an email address in case I want to get in touch. Now, I know there is no God, and one polite person living his life right doesn’t change that. But I’ll tell you, he was a very, very, very good man, and that’s really important, and with that kind of goodness, it’s okay to have that deep of a disagreement. I still think religion does a lot of bad stuff, but that was a very good man.
So what is the message? The message many Christians hear is a call to get out there and knock on some doors or to stand on a street corner and shout things like "the end is near"
This reminds me of a cartoon I saw once....two men standing at a bus stop...both with briefcases, one wearing a suit and tie, the other wearing a t-shirt with big, bold letters that said
“LET'S TALK ABOUT JESUS!!!! “
The guy wearing the t-shirt is explaining to the guy in the suit, "it guarantees me a seat all by myself."
I bet it does!! Anyone who has ever been an unwilling participant in a conversation with an over zealous Christian can surely relate. And while there is a message in Penn's quote, I don't think it is necessarily the message understood by many Christians. You know what I think the message is?
How about....follow the lead of the spirit. I don't think it is a call… or an excuse..to evangelize to everyone who happens to cross our path throughout the day. Jesus didn't evangelize to everyone he met.
In fact, Jesus said,
For I did not speak on my own, but the Father who sent me commanded me to say all that I have spoken. I know that his command leads to eternal life. So whatever I say is just what the Father has told me to say.” John 12:49-50
People can only hear what they are ready to hear. Trying to convince them prematurely only causes them to dig in their heels and fight like crazy for what they believe. I think it was my friend Martha who said:
Sometimes one is not ready for the "truth" at that time, and to just be compassionate is the way to go. If you went ahead and told them the "straight truth" it would in essence be like talking to the wall. Making it so when they are "ready" they are already tuning you out.
Timing is everything. Who better than the Holy Spirit to know just the right time and place? So pay attention to the nudge…
The encounter left Penn with a positive impression of at least one Christian. A seed planted.
And what about the encounter itself....?
Note that there was no discussion of theology...no high pressure sales tactics (guilt, threats or fear). None of the usual rhetoric like...if you died tonight do you know where you would spend eternity? No mention of the sinners prayer....or questions like have you asked Jesus into your heart? And no warnings about hell. Just one human being interacting with another human being...sharing the gospel.
The guy who spoke to Penn was respectful, sincere, authentic and genuinely seemed to care. His BEHAVIOR declared the gospel as much as anything he had to say
A quote usually attributed to St. Francis of Assisi instructs us to…
Preach the gospel at all times. If necessary use words.
Actions really do speak louder than words.
Do all spirit led encounters look like this interaction? I don’t think so. Sometimes the reception will be chilly or even hostile, but spirit led encounters will always produce fruit...someday.
“The very man who has argued you down, will sometimes be found years later, to have been influenced by what you said.” ~ C.S. Lewis