Evangelism and Time Wasting

Some friends and I were sitting around talking about life with God and the church last night…

Well actually, we were talking about evangelism. 

The “E” word.

Seems like many of us had stories of ridiculous evangelism efforts: Halloween-like tracts filled with scenes from hell; strangers (and occasionally friends and family) that were determined to “get us saved” in order to meet some kind of heavenly quota; threats of hellfire and brimstone; awkward preachers and occasionally bad music.

What was interesting, however, was the fact that many of us (and we are a diverse group: college students, graduate students, parents, career people, etc.) had stories of these “ridiculous” efforts actually working. Most of us just shook our heads at these “success” stories, but we couldn’t deny them.

It seems like most of it boiled down simply to the idea that God is mysterious and supernatural, and can work any way He’d like to, thank you very much. 

My plans aren’t your plans,
nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.

Just as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways,
and my plans than your plans. (Isaiah 55:8-9)

More than that, however, we also talked about how there’s such a tendency for the church—or rather different expressions of the church—to “bash” any method of evangelism that doesn’t mesh with a particular perspective or paradigm. The hip “younger” evangelicals bash the folks that stand on corners and preach, or hand out tracts; more conservative folks bash the “soft sell” of relational evangelism; new churches trash talk the bad coffee and awkwardly warm fellowship of the mainline church down the street.

But I think God uses it all.

What’s more, I think when we focus on what’s wrong with all of these other evangelism efforts, we really do two things: First, we simply reinforce the stereotype that Christians are more concerned with what we’re against than what we actually stand for. It’s always easier to point out what’s wrong with someone else than it is to amplify your own beliefs.

Secondly (and relatedly), focusing so much discussion and and time on what’s wrong with other evangelism paradigms (or worship paradigms, or leadership paradigms, or communion paradigms, or etc. etc. etc.) really just diverts much needed energy from our efforts. 

I know this whole discussion may seem abstract and “church-centered”, but it’s really not. I meet people all the time who look back at their past—especially if they grew up in a strand of church that’s different from what they attend now—and just tear it to shreds. Ex-Catholics disdainfully talk about the hierarchy and the dryness of their life of faith. Folks who come out of mainline denominations talk about how there’s no Jesus in their “religion”. Pentecostals talk about manipulation and using “God-talk” to exert control and authority.

I’m not denying those things happened, or that there’s some truth to them. But some of the most spiritual and supernatural (should I say, “Holy”?) people I’ve ever known were Catholic. Some of the most faithful and devout individuals I’ve ever met have been United Methodists. I’ve known Baptists who have wept over the brokenness of the world. I’ve known Pentecostals who are humbly serving in obscure roles around the world.

It’s difficult to state unequivocally that a church “is” a certain way (though I’m sure there are examples somewhere), but really the point is that we need to not waste time focusing on our negative experiences and instead embrace with gratitude what God is doing now in our faith and church. To the degree we retain resentment at our spiritual past, we won’t be able to see what God might want to do now with us.

So… If you died tonight, do you know where you would spend eternity?

 

Muah!

 

Old school this time: great song from the Eagles.

 

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Jesus is SO Down With Marvin…

I’m journeying through Mark’s gospel with some friends, and we were talking this week about 2v13-22. Essentially, Jesus goes to this guy named Levi (no relation to my son) who is a despised and outcast member of his culture, and invites Levi to follow him.

Then, as if that’s not enough, Levi throws a part for a bunch of his friends and invites Jesus to it. His friends are, well, colorful. Scripture says they were “tax collectors and sinners.” Again, tax collectors were seen as corrupt and greedy, less than moral. The word “sinners” here is even more interesting. There were two different Hebrew words (and concepts) for our word here. The first word was ‘am ha’ aretz. This essentially meant “people of the land”. They were simple people, people who weren’t interested in the rigorous obedience of the Pharisees or the political change of the Essenes or Zealots, but they weren’t necessarily awful. 

The other possibility, however, is slightly more scandalous. The second word is resaim. This word means the wicked. It means people who aren’t even the slightest bit interested in being good, much less holy.

To be clear, we’re not sure which word is being used here, but one thing is clear:

Jesus is with them, either way.

And what’s more—what is really freaking people out—is what Jesus hasn’t asked of these tax collectors and sinners…

… He hasn’t asked them to get their lives straight first.

… He hasn’t shamed them.

… He hasn’t berated them for their lack of morals or for their “bad behavior.”

… He has a party.

So when people come up to Jesus immediately after this and ask, “Why do John’s disciples and the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast” (2v18), something very interesting is going on. You see, fasting itself was pretty common in Jewish culture; it’s actually common in many religious systems. There’s nothing wrong with fasting at all. But fasting typically has a specific connotation to it:

it’s associated with repentance. 

We’re told that John the Baptizer came “proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (1v4), and the Pharisees were desperate to see God act on behalf of Israel, so they pursued a pretty vigorous program of fasting and righteous (not so they could be buzzkills, mind you, but so God would come to Israel and set them free and bring His peace and shalom to His people).

But when Jesus shows up, he neglects the repentance part and goes straight to the party (his “repentance” in 1v15 isn’t so much about repenting of your sins as it is about rearranging your mind and your life to see the Kingdom in a new way).

He’s saying, “You don’t have to arrange your life to invite God into it; He will come into it just as you are. I don’t want to leave you unchanged; no one wants to be wicked, after all, but I’m coming to the party and you’re invited.”

So, incidentally, when Jesus talks about “unshrunk cloth” and “new wine” in verses 21-22, this is what he’s talking about: the “old way” is not  a bad way, but it really doesn’t fit reality anymore.

Jesus is here, and he’s having a party.

Are we inviting people to a party?

Or are we beating them up?

Or are we selling them “get-out-of-hell” insurance?

A friend of mine sent me this article this week, and it made me think of this passage of Mark and this blog post of mine.

Go read it, please.

….

 

Shouldn’t we be singing a better song?

 

I can’t help but read the words of the Grantland article and think about the way we do evangelism. Just reading the words in light of Jesus desire to throw a compelling party for people makes my heart ache for the way we should living with our friends.

Marvin said, “I asked God that when I sang it, would He let it move men’s souls.” 

Do we ask God to let us move men’s souls when we sing the Gospel song?

Or do we just ask for a sale?

Also note: lots of folks hated it. They were outraged. Marvin was corrupting, destroying the National Anthem.

But there other folks there too.

… and they heard that song, heard it in a new way, in a way that they never even know that they needed. Something welled up inside them. Everything that was old and tired about that song now seemed new and refreshing.

They got it.

And they wanted IN.

BLESSINGS.

*e

 

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Evangelism Training With Marvin

Part of this post appeared in a message I gave at my church in 2010. 

How do you view evangelism? How does your church view reaching out to the surrounding world to proclaim Jesus’ Lordship?

Ever thought of it as a song?

Ever thought of it as The National Anthem?

Here’s my thought process: Most of us live in a culture (USAmerica) where the gospel of Jesus is simultaneously so familiar that it can be ignored, and so unfamiliar that it can be confused and mocked (which is also probably our fault as the church, but that’s another post altogether).

The situation is not too different from the National Anthem: most of us have been hearing it since we were children, at countless sporting, graduations, and civic events. For the majority of us, it has lost its power. As the saying goes, “familiarity breads contempt.”

It’s not the song’s fault. It’s just that we’ve heard it so many times we’ve become almost immune to it, inoculated by uninspired and off-key versions.

Some of us would say the same thing about the gospel; we’ve heard it in so many uninspiring ways, so many bombastic and overblown ways, that we’ve begun to think, “What’s the point?”

I want to suggest three images—three songs, actually—of evangelism, and suggest that we have the ability to choose how we (and our churches) “sing” the gospel, to ourselves and to our friends. 

The Off-Key Gospel

(Note, there were a lot of candidates for this, including an iconic guitarist)

Sometimes we encounter people, churches and organizations that just miss the point entirely. If we look and listen hard enough, we may hear familiar words and notes, but they are so skewed and off that we can’t take the song seriously. Maybe the fruit of their lives—corporately or individually—betrays the message of the song. Maybe their utter lack of preparation says, “We don’t really care about singing to you.” Ultimately, they seem to lack sincerity. They sing because they know they’re supposed to, but their motives are suspect, even mocking what they are purportedly celebrating.

This is not about excellence. It’s about humility. It’s not that Rosanne didn’t have the capacity to sing (maybe she does; maybe she doesn’t; I don’t know); it’s that she didn’t care enough to prepare. The song of God doesn’t have to be sung perfectly, but it should be sung in a way that it’s understandable, and that says something about our willingness to prepare and bring our best.

The Beautiful, Bombastic Gospel

Demi can sing. Obviously. She sings loudly, skillfully, and forcefully. She’s obviously been trained and knows how to knock this out of the park. And let’s face it, she’s cute, a pop icon.

But for me at least, there’s a detachment in this performance. It lacks subtlety and dynamics, and most of all I don’t hear any vulnerability or humanity in it (which is ironic considering Demi’s journey after this).

There are so many churches that “sing this gospel” well—they are adept at phenomenal performances that know how to orchestrate just the right tones. But in the midst of the lights and sound and noise, a little humanity gets lost. The “beautiful gospel” can lose sight of the vulnerability and brokenness—the utter humanity—of Jesus and His work.

Our gospel song should not be addicted to triumphalism; it’s not “Easter All The Time.” The gospel embraces the full range of human emotion: from the struggle at Gethsemane to the mourning at the cross to the joy at the empty tomb.

Gospel “Soul”

Now we’re talking.

A few things stand out to me in Marvin Gaye’s version of the National Anthem.

  • It is familiar. Though there’s an unexpected drum groove underneath, Marvin keeps the melody the same, and it’s easily to recognize.
  • It is decidedly Marvin. He’s decided to approach the song with some originality and creativity. He puts something of himself into the song.
  • It’s soulful, but subtle. Marvin was a master, one of the icons of R&B. But he pretty much gets up there and sings the song. No crazy runs. No extended improvisations. His humanity and his feeling comes through.

To me, this is the way the church needs to approach evangelism—and the gospel—in our culture. Infused with humility and restraint, but individual (and organizational) creativity and inventiveness. Unafraid to be ourselves, but faithful to the message and melody of the gospel of Jesus.

What evangelism song are you—or your church—singing to your community?

Evangelism and Eyesight

‘But you are my witnesses, O Israel!’ says the Lord.
‘You are my servant. You have been chosen to know me, believe in me,
and understand that I alone am God.
There is no other God—there never has been, and there never will be.
I, yes, I, am the Lord, and there is no other Savior.
First I predicted your rescue, then I saved you and proclaimed it to the world.
No foreign god has ever done this.
You are witnesses that I am the only God,’ says the Lord.
‘From eternity to eternity I am God. No one can snatch anyone out of my hand.
No one can undo what I have done.’ (Isaiah 43:10-12)

 

Yes, it was written long ago that the Messiah would suffer and die and rise from the dead on the third day. It was also written that this message wuold be proclaimed in the authority of his name to all the nations, beginning in Jerusalem: ‘There is forgiveness of sins for all who repent.’ You are witnesses of all these things.’ (Luke 24:45-47)

 

And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. (Acts 1:8)

Witness.

Over and over again, God tells us that we are witnesses to what he’s done, and that we are to tell others what we’ve seen.

Not always what we know.

Not our opinions about their character.

Evangelism starts with being a witness. It begins with seeing.

Sometimes we want to start the “telling” part of our lives without addressing the “seeing” part.

What gets in the way of seeing something?

Sometimes our vision is obscured, because we’ve let something come in between us and what we’re trying to see. Either we need to move the obstructions, or we need to move in order to get a different perspective.

Sometimes our vision is blurred, because of something inside of us needs repair or correction, sometimes by going to see a professional. No matter how hard we try, something we’ve grown up with, something that we’ve learned to “live with” is making it impossible to see Jesus accurately.

Sometimes we are simply distracted; we are looking at everything else except the object of our sight. Sometimes we just need to admit that there is too much going on in our lives, and remove the distractions and find a time and place to “see” the thing that we’ve been looking for all along.

How are you doing “witnessing” (seeing) Jesus? Do you need to move something?Do you need time and help to correct your vision? Do you just simply need to find a way to focus on his activity in your life?