I was recently in a coffee house near our church. It’s a great spot for hanging out, sipping the sweet nectar of the coffee bean and eating some delicious treats. While I was there, I noticed some people from our church. They spotted me and came up with a sort of childlike grin on their faces. After the quick formalities, they proceeded to tell me about how they had just complained to the owners of the coffee shop for playing music with cuss words in it over the house speakers. The scariest part is, they said this with a confidence and pride as if they had just effectively shared the Gospel with someone. They stared at me, seemingly anticipating some sort of a Christian high five or group hug as if we had all just survived some sort of biblical persecution. I stood there with only one thought in mind; no wonder people hate Christians.
Growing up, evangelism always seemed like a chore. It was like doing the dishes, I would avoid it at all cost and only when it was absolutely unavoidable did I actually participate. As I got older, I began to adopt what I think is the unspoken mantra of many Christians; evangelism is about getting people to modify their behavior. “I used to do bad things and now I don’t.” So my approach looked something like this: 1. Find someone who is doing something I deem bad. (This wasn’t too hard since I’m really good at pointing out what other people do wrong.) 2. Go and make them feel uncomfortable about the thing you felt was wrong, and then hope they ask you about your faith in Jesus. Surprisingly enough, this almost never works. Neither did telling the Coffee shop owner to only play “Christian” music. But here’s the thing, it seems like a lot of Christians don’t care. I know I didn’t.
Somewhere along the way evangelism became about simply proclaiming a message. The message was, “You’re bad, and you need Jesus so you can be more like me!” It doesn’t matter that the actual Gospel is absent from that message. It only matters that we say it. Because in saying it, I somehow earn my “evangelism badge.” It seems like so many Christians are okay if no one actually responds to the Gospel as long as they simply proclaim it. The problem is two-fold. First, often times our message isn’t really the Gospel but actually some sort of behavior modification. Second, when we do preach the Gospel we do it in such a way that the people listening don’t actually hear us. The goal of sharing the Gospel isn’t simply about saying something that’s true but also saying it in a way that's heard. So frequently--telling people about Jesus-- feels to them like we’re giving them the spiritual middle finger. It certainly doesn’t feel like good news. Truth is meant to be understood, not just proclaimed. Here’s three simple thoughts that have changed my take on sharing Jesus.
2. Invest in relationships:
I’m learning more and more how simple ministry is. It’s about relationships and community. It’s people knowing you love and care for them. People knowing that we’re in this together. People knowing--they can be their imperfect selves and not risk losing your friendship. That doesn’t happen just handing out flyers, or yelling on the street corner with a sign. It certainly doesn’t happen telling people to talk, dress, and act different without even knowing them. It’s easy to tell people what to do, it’s much harder to live life with them. Do you have relationships with non-Christians? Go meet some, they’re pretty cool people.
3. Trust the Spirit
Motivation matters in everything. The “why” I do things is as important as the “what.” For a long time, I was motivated by guilt and fear when it came to evangelism. “What if I miss an opportunity and that person goes to hell?” “What if I say something wrong and that person goes to hell?” No wonder I hated it. The pressure of people’s eternity was on my shoulders. The Gospel should flow out of us all the time. It should be organic and natural. But rest in this truth, the regeneration of a heart is the work of the spirit, not you. We get to share in that work and we should. But ultimately it’s His work. God cares more about people's eternal state then you do. My guess is he’s not going to leave something so important--like where someone spends eternity--in the hands of a disobedient, sinful person like me. It’s His people, His work. Thank you Jesus.
Cancer is a cuss word
“The dichotomy of healing and sovereignty”
Cancer is a “cuss” word. I know as a Christian I’m supposed to think cussing is bad. It’s those “naughty” words we try not to use, or at least not use around people who will judge us. I wonder though, if there's certain moments where the only proper way to describe what we’re feeling is with a word we wouldn’t want our Grandma to hear. Recently, I’ve had such an experience. In fact, it’s an experience that is not unique to me, but shared by many. Someone I love has cancer. Almost one year ago my mother in law was diagnosed with a rare form of blood cancer. Too say it’s changed our lives would be an understatement. Since that moment, we have been in a whirlwind of hospital visits, tear filled prayers, and what seems like a never ending wave of setbacks. I can say without a doubt; cancer is a cuss word. I hate it. I hate what it does to families. I hate that it robs people of experiences and would be memories.
Clearly based on the cursing, there are many of you who are more spiritual than I am. At the risk of complete judgement, you should also know that this journey has left me with some spiritual unrest. Questions about God and theology have been racing through my mind and often times searing my heart with the sting of doubt and weariness. “Doesn’t God love me?” “Can’t he heal my mom?” “We don’t deserve this!” These are the things that this Pastor of ten years ashamedly still wrestles with.
Some would say, “it’s just a matter of faith,” or “you just need to believe and unlock the healing.” As if my mom’s health is some sort of a treasure chest and it rests on me, or her, or all of us, to summon the “key” with our faith. To be honest, I have a problem with that. There are so many people who love Jesus and have way more faith than I do that die of sickness all the time. In fact, everyone dies at some point. Are we meant to live forever in the here and now, but die because we just run out of faith? Couldn’t God in his infinite wisdom have a reason or plan in which someone's death would bring about a far greater amount of good?
But others would say that “God is sovereign,” and that's it. There's no need to seek healing because it’s obviously not his will for her to be healed. This seems to be unsatisfying as well. Does prayer have no effect in changing our circumstances? Is seems like you can make a strong biblical case that prayer does affect our circumstances and this happens frequently in our lives. For a while I felt the temptation to choose a camp. On one hand, do I want to believe that God always wants to heal in the here and now and that all sickness and cancer is simply a demon or something needing to be swept away by my faith? On the other hand, do I want to believe that that prayer isn’t about changing circumstances at all, but only about knowing God’s heart?
As I write this my Mother is sitting in a hospital bed with fluid in her lungs. Despite the difficult circumstances, I’m overwhelmed by a simple, yet profound truth. I don’t need to pick a camp. I can be free to pray big faith prayers, knowing and believing that God can and does heal. At the same time, I can rest and know that on the cross God proved to me that he wants my mom to be whole even more than I do. I can trust that he is working to rescue and redeem--not just her body--but all things that are not as they should be. Jesus reminds us that he was the true and better Adam and through him paradise lost is becoming paradise restored. Cancer is a cuss word, there’s no doubt about it. But I’m thankful today that Jesus hates it even more than I do.