Tag Archives: Jesus

words

For me, the dread word “evangelism” can quickly lead to a case of the heebee-geebees.  I have memories of knocking on doors, preparing 30-second versions of my conversion on 3×5 cards, and the hardest, (in my humble opinion), tracts.  “Let’s go witnessing” was the invitation that left me cold and cringing, awkwardly fishing for excuses as to why I just couldn’t do that tonight.

It was scary stuff.

For too many years this was my only view of evangelism.  It was about words – telling someone something.

I’m not degrading the importance of words.  It is simply that for years, my understanding of “sharing the gospel” had exclusively to do with words:  saying the right things, telling people about sin and Jesus’ death and forgiveness and heaven and the sinner’s prayer.

Words.

And I was terrible at it.

I was afraid to approach people on the street, in airplanes, the grocery store, school and start talking about Jesus.  Brutally honest?  When I did summon the necessary courage, I mostly ended up talking about church.

Have you been there, or am I the only one?  My pride and a slightly-underdeveloped spidey-sense tell me it’s not just me.

But the good news is this:  sharing Jesus is more than words.  A world remains outside our church needing to know the God who loves them beyond imaginations, to see as well as hear about Jesus.  We, Christ’s body, can rediscover that fully sharing the Gospel includes speaking the hope of Jesus, but more importantly, it means the giving of our lives to those God loves.  It has been said, “Preach the gospel at all times; when necessary, use words.”

What a statement when Christians in business hold themselves to the highest ethical standards; when teachers are known for the love they have toward students; when we stand against child slavery, ethnic cleansing, and the destruction of God’s created beauty; when we honor the poor; when our “friends without homes” are fed; when life is sacred from conception to death; when the stranger and enemy become, like the story of the good Samaritan, our neighbor.

There’s something powerful about letting the Gospel permeate us so completely that our actions preach more than our words.

Matthew puts it like this:  “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” (5:16)

right or good?

I’ve been contemplating this question for some time now. Evangelical Christians, especially here in the US (I know this type of Christianity best) are concerned (and rightly so) about correct belief. We spend inordinate amounts of time studying and proving ourselves and our doctrines right. After all, it’s what someone believes that is important, right? We’ve all heard the statement, “It doesn’t matter what you believe as long as you are sincere” and we know the answer: “You could be sincerely wrong.”

We devote entire ministries to proving creationism right and evolution wrong, writing books proving the historical accuracy of the Bible, websites to disproving a heretical tenets of particular groups, whole denominations to protect our earnest beliefs in one interpretation of a biblical concept such as the baptism in the Holy Spirit or social practices deemed sinful such as smoking, drinking, dancing, singing alongside instruments or voting Democrat.

Christians are obsessed with being right.

Too often, we’ve forgotten how to be good.

Unfortunately, being good and being right don’t always go hand in hand. In striving to be right, it is all too easy to develop an escapist mentality and disappear into judmentalism – to live our lives south of grace.

When Jesus was approached, he was asked, “Good Teacher, what must I do to be saved?” (Mark 10:17). Good teacher, not right teacher. Perhaps it was already understood by the questioner that Jesus was “right”; he was, after all, asking Jesus an incredibly important question. But this is significant: the young man recognized Jesus as good.

In Matt 25:23, Jesus will address those entering His Kingdom as, “good and faithful”. Notice what comes first: good.

Think about it. Are Christians known for being good in our world? If you were to ask random people on the street what they think of Christians, what do you suppose their typical response is? Would they answer, “Christians are kind”, “Christians look out for others”, “Christians care about the poor and oppressed”, “Christians are loving”, “Christians open their arms to everyone”?

Or do you imagine another response?

“Christians are bigoted”, “Christians are narrow-minded”, “Christians think they’re better than me”, “Christians are hateful and exclusive”.

Though there are wonderful exceptions, the rule is that we are better known for our attempts at professing to be right than we are for our actions to be good.

There’s a world out there that needs good Christians: Christians who are good to those, even, who we consider wrong. Jesus’ goodness was not only extended towards those who accepted His message, to those who were His disciples. He fed the 5000, many of whom may have cried out, “crucify him!”. He even said, “Love your enemies, and do good.” (Luke 6:35).

Yet, in all He did, He did good.

May we be more and more like our Good Teacher.

uninvited dinner guest

sycamore.jpgIn her book, Picturing God, Ann Belford Ulanov writes, “we always must come up against the hard fact at the center of the Gospel: we do not get to God by our own efforts. God comes to us.” I don’t know about you, but I’m grateful for that truth. Normally, I try to get to God through a variety of tired old inventions:
…attempts to convince God to come to me, forgive me, give me one more chance
…baiting God with promises as if He were nothing more than a hungry fish
…figuring the best phrase, speech, formula to get a prayer answered favorably
…conjuring up emotions that should catch His attention

 

all with a misunderstanding of who actually comes to whom.

It is He who comes;

He who seeks.

And as both Rob Bell and Charles Conniry, Jr., write so succinctly, God is not angry. Jesus is not waiting to smite us, to catch us in our wrongs to weigh us down with shame. Instead, Jesus is searching for us like He did Zacchaeus in Luke 19.

You see, Zacchaeus was a morally deficient man: he was a legitimate-yet-thieving tax-collector.

And what does Jesus do? Does He confront Zaccheaus with his obvious sin? Does He tell him to get straight and stop depriving people of their wages? No. What does Jesus do? Does He preach a sermon about tithing? About giving money to the poor? About repenting of sin and turning to God? No?

I have a sneaking suspicion that Jesus’ mode of evangelism would be denounced by a lot of evangelical Christians as pandering, of “not speaking the truth in love“, of bypassing the “important” things like sin and confession and guilt and rebelling against God and the need for a personal savior and would-you-just-pray-this-little-prayer-so-that-you-can-go-to-heaven stuff.

Instead, Jesus invites himself over to Zacc’s house for dinner (how great would it be to invite yourself over to someone’s house for dinner and still be welcomed?). Instead of confronting Zacchaeus in his immorality, Jesus confronts the crowd in theirs – the hypocrisy of casting judgment. Jesus indicts His own followers, the adoring throngs, with a simple offer of friendship to a broken, unrepentant sinner.

And the transformation from thief to disciple is instantaneous: “I will give half my wealth to the poor” (vs.8).

What changed Zacchaeus was not the admonition to repent, not the chiding of a morally superior being – not even a call to follow Jesus. Jesus surprises everyone – and it should surprise us as well – and offers what God offers to each of us:

Salvation through friendship. Deliverance through friendship. Transformation through friendship. No strings attached, no obligations to meet. Pure and genuine friendship.

Who came to whom?

What changed Zacchaeus? Nothing but an uninvited dinner guest.

entering

enter.jpgWe’ve been studying personal transformation – what it is, how it happens – in one of our classes at George Fox Seminary this week. Mary Kate Morse developed what has often been the spiritual development model embraced by the church. It works in a linear fashion something like this:

1. The entrance to Christianity is first through Evangelism: someone outside Christianity is confronted with the good news

2. After making a decision to follow Jesus, discipleship (learning to follow) commences

3. After one begins following Jesus, the inner process of spiritual transformation begins – being transformed into Christ’s image

4. Finally, through all this, a relationship with God deepens.

In a nutshell, the process begins with making a decision (praying a prayer) and culminates in relationship with God; it starts with a decision and progresses into discipleship, resulting in a transformational relationship with God.

But more and more people are entering “the faith” through the inverse of the above process – experiencing spiritual transformation as a result of relationships with missionally-focused Christians: Christians who are not blinded to others because of an unhealthy emphasis on sealing the deal or making the sale to get a quick conversion; Christians who are willing to walk the long road of transformation alongside a seeker; Christians who trust the Holy Spirit’s guidance in their friends lives more than their own attempts at persuasive speech.

More people are meeting God through relationships with His people. They are experiencing transformation which leads them to a decision to trust Jesus. It turns the model on it’s head! Yet God is intimately involved in this process, quietly drawing people to him, transforming them even without their knowledge, bringing them carefully to the place at which they can trust Him.

That’s beautiful. That’s God.

everyone who seeks

seek-2.jpg

In his book, The Great Divorce, C.S. Lewis writes, “Everyone who seeks, finds.” Of Jesus, in Matthew 7:8, the same is quoted: “For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds.

Notice that neither Jesus nor Lewis place any requirements on the seeker, the asker, the knocker. There is no list of do’s or don’t’s to keep. Neither are there any beliefs one must hold in order to approach that which one is seeking. The only requirement is the desire: asking, seeking. Seeking truth, asking for the way.

This is the beauty of God’s words – God in flesh speaking to people then and to us now. This is the promise held out to everyone, regardless of where in the world someone lives or what in the world someone believes:

the woman who seeks, finds.

Period.

the man who asks, receives.

End of discussion.

It is promise that is held out to every seeker in every age, every country, every religion, every creed. Jesus is only exclusive in that the ones who will find are those who humbly seek; the ones who receive are the ones who dare to ask; the ones to whom the door is opened are the very ones doing the knocking. It doesn’t presuppose that those who are seeking, asking or knocking know what they want – they only know that they want:

It.

Something.

More“.

And it, something, more is held out to all – to us and to all who are far off. Everyone who seeks, finds.

shhh…don’t tell

forgive.jpgOur church is currently working its way through the book of Matthew. This past Sunday, I spoke from Chapter 6:1-18. It communicates something vital to us about “spiritual transformation”, something that Diogenes Allen writes of in Spiritual Theology. Allen believes that the aim of spiritual transformation is to become more and more like God’s character and that, in order to get there (though it is not really an arrival) is to travel the road built of spiritual disciplines. Traveling this road culminates in what Allen calls, “love of neighbor”, the hallmark of following Jesus.

Matthew’s first 18 verses are divided into three passages, each dealing with a spiritual discipline contrasted against hypocrisy: Good deeds/giving (vs.1-6); prayer (vs.7-15); fasting (vs.16-18).

In brief, Jesus teaches his disciples (and the crowd that continues massing to listen) what it means to be a continual part of the kingdom of God (which is to be found within us, here on earth). When teaching these three disciplines, I find it interesting that Jesus uses the phrase, “When you give…pray…fast…” instead of “If you…” He implies that these are already, or should be, active in His followers’ lives as the way of developing a relationship with the Father.

After teaching on these disciplines, Jesus ends each with a secrecy clause – do it in secret, in humility. The kicker in each teaching is not the doing of the thing itself (for both Jesus’ disciples and the hypocrites participate in such), but the motivation behind the action: is it done for the Father or for personal recognition? Is it for a deeper relationship with God or for the admiration of others?

Perhaps the “reward” Jesus speaks of is personal/spiritual transformation. This transformation into His likeness continues to occur in disciples to the extent that the motivation is toward the Father.
Does following these disciplines with right motives enhance our relationship with God? Does it endear us to love our neighbor as we love ourselves? What is one of the most powerful indicator of this inward change? Jesus tells us in Matthew chapter 6, verse 12: to forgive others the sins committed against one’s own self. This is “love of neighbor”.