Monday, August 27, 2012

Evangelizing – Let’s Talk About Jesus….

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


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 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 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

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Colorado Shootings, Where Were You God? (Part 2)

When Keith and I were first married (about 10 or so years ago) it was during a time in my spiritual journey when I was searching for my way spiritually.  I was filled with angst over several “big ticket” spiritual paradoxes. 

Hell was not an issue since I never really believed in hell. True, until I happened upon the Tentmaker sight, I couldn’t actually support universalism via scripture but that was mainly because I was a new Christian and didn’t know that much about scripture.  Through Tentmaker and other similar sites, I eventually learned that virtually all scriptures that preach a hot, eternal hell can be explained. 

And I had never been used or abused by religion…what I’ve heard Lynn Hiles refer to as “hoodwinked or bamboozled” by religion.

One of my biggies was free will versus sovereignty. But the biggest biggie….which could actually be deemed a sub category of determinism….the one that dogged me for years….was the POE.  The problem of evil.

Keith and I talked endlessly about it.  He is very settled in his beliefs and has no problem seeing God as the cause of all the things in the world that we, in our short sighted humanness, deem evil. If not Him, then who?  The “devil”?  Evil men?  The idea that any one or any thing could wreak havoc outside of the plan and purpose of God was far more troubling.  

This view was….totally unacceptable to me.  Yet, a good case can be made to support it.  Believe me, Keith came up with many, many arguments.  None sufficed.  None appeased.  None let God off the hook. 

Yeah…I know….who are you, oh man, to talk back to God.  Does the clay have the right to get pissy with the potter?  But I did….and I seethed with unanswered questions and the utter outrage at the unfairness of the way He set things up. 

And during our discussions, Keith would often point out how those who suffered the greatest evils, like the Christian martyrs, were given a depth of spiritual bliss that the rest of us did not experience.  One name in particular came up often.

His books line the bottom shelf in the book case in the living room.  Richard Wumbrand.  At the time, I didn’t want to hear about spiritual bliss in exchange for horrific suffering.  Not fair.  Not acceptable. 

And now…ten years later, I still don’t have any definitive answers. I do have some intuitive beliefs that have given me peace.  I am not haunted anymore by the questions.

Oddly, a quote by Wumbrand….whose mistreatment “at the hands of the Communists” but allegedly purposed by God casts the faintest light of understanding on the POE.

"God sees things differently than we see them, just as we see differently than an ant. From the human point of view, to be tied to a cross and smeared with excrement is a horrible thing. Nonetheless, the Bible calls the sufferings of martyrs light afflictions. To be in prison for fourteen years is a long period to us. The Bible calls it 'but for a moment,' and tells us that these things are working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory (2Co 4:17). This gives us the right to suppose that the fierce crimes of the Communists, which are inexcusable to us, are lighter in the eyes of God than they are in our eyes. Their tyranny, which has lasted almost an entire century, may be before God, for whom a thousand years are like one day, only a moment of erring astray. They still have the possibility of being saved." Tortured For Christ

And another comment articulated by a young mother on a Christian message board cast another dim beam of light.  She talked about her kids…and skinned knees.  How, when they skinned their knees, it was like THE WORST THING THAT COULD EVER HAPPEN TO ANYONE EVER….FOR ALL TIME.  That was the skinned knee seen through the eyes of the child.  A skinned knee seen through the eyes of a parent….well, she knew that this too would pass and that in the grand scheme of things, a skinned knee was really not that big of a deal. Even if the injury was the result of being pushed or tripped. So she hugged them, wiped their tears away and told them it would be okay.  

And doesn’t God do the same thing for us.  He wipes our tears. He tells us it will be okay.  Through the Apostle Paul, God tells us that these light momentary afflictions (skinned knees) are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us… us. 

In this earthly realm those promises still ring kind of hollow.  For the families of the victims of the Colorado shooting, the verse in Romans might be very little comfort. 

Perhaps we are like little kids with skinned knees. What seems utterly unredeemable in our eyes to God is not really a problem.  The Bible says He will work all things together for good. 

How he can bring good out of tragedies like the death of a child, the Holocaust, war, famine and pestilence, disease, I haven’t a clue. 

Comments welcome….