Thursday, September 01, 2005

In N Out


Evangelism in our culture has become very oriented around labels. We size people up to see what label we stick on them so we can talk to them through the filter of their label. When we begin to witness to someone we usually decipher which religion they are practicing, for example, not because we’re genuinely interested in their life or beliefs but because we need to know so we can tell them why they’re wrong and we are right. So witnessing, ultimately, becomes about us being right, them being wrong, and our ability to articulate it to them. Some people are masters at this technique.

A youth pastor friend of mine once bragged to me that he was meeting the Mormons (the Mormon missionaries) once a week. In their weekly meetings each group had an agenda. My friend’s agenda was simple, prove them wrong. I imagine the Mormons had a similar agenda. Neither party was genuinely interested in the wellbeing of the other. My youth pastor friend later boasted that the Mormons stopped meeting him because they didn’t like him, I failed to see how this was a positive thing.

Another way we size people up is by their conduct. If someone is a partier we will address the evils of partying. Alcohol is bad, drugs are bad, sex is bad.

I have another friend who says he’s sick of watching his friends “throw their lives away” on drugs and sex. He’s involved in the new Christian club on my alma matre’s campus. I agree with, I’m sick of it too I constantly see people living in futility finding instant gratification. My hope for them is to find the best and fullest gratification, that they would find the great kind of life I profess but rarely live out. I disagree with the method my friend presumes. His choice is to separate himself from “them” to be “set apart” (a disgustingly misinterpreted phrase). The plan he shares with the new Christian club is to invite speakers once a month and give alter calls on the stage at lunch. They also are going to “reach out” and individually walk out to students and witness to them. I imagine the conversations will revolve around why people should become Christians and leave their life of sin, you know the kind of conversation every high school student wants to spend their lunch in. Of course coming around to why we’re right and their wrong. They have already invited me to speak at their stage at lunch. I don’t imagine my message would fit their mold. It seems to me the idea of “reaching out” being presented ends with a slap in the face.

Why do we have to size people up?

Why do we need an agenda?

I was thinking the other day about a quote from Rob Bell, “love with an agenda isn’t love is it?” I think sometimes love can become an agenda in itself too. We love to love. We love because we know we should. What if we became people who love without obligation or agenda? What if we were people who love instead of people who have to love? What if we left behind all our agendas?

I often say Christians need to be witness before they can witness. Think about the word witness. Where do we find this word in the world? In a court room. A witness is someone who is intimate with the given situation or occurrence. It’s someone whose seen it been a part of it. Christians need to be a part of it before they go out and talk about it. I find that most of the people who go out witnessing with an agenda to get people saved are the most bigoted people in the world I couldn’t spend ten minutes with many of them. Are they witnesses? Is that the life God calls us to? If it is I’d rather steer clear of God. Thank God that’s not the kind of life He wants for us. We need to practice what we preach and preach the truth. The truth is it’s not about being right or wrong. In the end we’re all wrong about something. It’s really about embarking on a journey not joining a club.

If we are people who love then we will actually take interest in people, their lives, their hobbies, their beliefs. We can listen without always showing them how wrong they are and how right we are. They’re people with value and God is in love with them exactly how they are, shouldn’t we? If we really want to follow Jesus and be like Him shouldn’t we stop and think when we’re doing something, anything, what if Jesus did this? What if God did this? What if God’s only concern was for us to be right about stuff (or be wrong and Him be right)? What if God was just waiting for His turn to speak and didn’t really care about what we were saying? What if God only loved Christians, would there be any?

It’s God’s kindness that leads us to repentance isn’t it? Why don’t we lead with kindness?
The word evangelism just leaves a funny taste in my mouth. I know it shouldn’t but it does. Because it’s become, in many circles, something perverse. It’s become all about labels and agendas. People need to know that Jesus’ way is the best and fullest way to live. His way is filled with beauty and love. Show people that way. Live it!

Defend your faith by being the most healthy and full and most intimately involved person you can be. Be you, the you God created. St. Francis once said “preach the gospel and if necessary use words.” And sure, Talk about it. I love talking about Jesus but realize that it’s not about who is in and who is out. I often say Christians need to be witnessed to too. People need relationships and people who care about them on every place on the road. I have places inside me that are as good as dead and I need life brought to them. I’m just like the rest of the world, Mormons, Hindus, Buddhists, Baptists, Cults, Satanists, Pagans, even soccer moms. I need healing. I need love.

12 comments:

Janette said...

Beautiful!

One day I hope we all come to the realization that people are people and people are who God adores. We crown ourselves so often with spiritual superiority, feeling pity or a snobbish sense of importance because we "get it" and the other poor shmucks don't. No!

The world is full of brilliant, compassionate, beautiful people who we "look down on and pity" when in reality we are not fit to sit at their feet and listen to what they have to say. Once Christians begin to really respect and love people for who God created them to be, then we will be able to more fully realize what it means to live life TOGETHER.

It's incredibly sad because I know it's instinct to feel that way, that we've got it all together and we are graciously letting others know the secret. I know the moment I get cocky I fall on my face and am humbled by things out there in the world far greater than I.

In Torrey we are reading Homer and Virgil right now- pretty much the antithesis of the Christian worldview. As Christian college students, safe in our own little Christian Ed classroom, our first instincts were to point out that, hey- God trumps Homer and Homer's a putz cus he didn't get it. What we didn't see was the profound visions that Homer had on what it means to be a man, a human being. Homer, the greatest secular writer of his time, identified that man cannot be fully human unless he lives in community with other men and follows an inherent moral law. Sound familiar to anyone? Homer knew what he was talking about! Yes, he lived in a chaotic worldview driven by the hopeless interaction of gods, fates, and destiny- but he was not dumb or ignorant. Homer was a brilliant man and I think that recognizing that, with any great historical figure, we have much to be thankful for and learn from is crucial to our humility as Christians.

bobbiehelland said...

I can agree with the cults, Satanists, pagans and even Hindus part. But soccer moms? Don't ask me to go there.

On the serious side, this ties in with the ability to ask questions, doesn't it? To establish genuine caring and genuine interest and genuine relationship before anyone will begin to consider allowing us to speak into their lives, or before they will care to know what's going on in ours.

Janette nailed it in her comment. Imagine discovering something of value in pagan literature!

WES ELLIS said...

the concept that christians are the only ones who have access to truth is at very least arrogant. Everyone has access to Truth. Everyone has access to God, which means they have access to beauty, Good, comassion, hope... the things that are of God. God exsists in paganism, secularism, ect. There is good all over the world. In rob bells words "we live in a world that is drenched in God." So we who know God affirm Him where ever He is. We have good eyes to find the pure, the beautiful things in the world. We point out the good even if it exsists in a bar or a pool hall.

Thanks Bobbie and Janette I'm very excited that you've shown interest and have poured out such good insight.

Dolores said...

Can I elaborate on your courtroom witness theme? A witness is one who, as you explained, has experienced something and now is telling of his experience. He is not the judge. We often think we're "witnessing for Christ" while we are actually "judging for Christ". And I'm pretty sure that's not what He wants us to do!

SimpleJoyofPain said...

Amazing Wes, I can't believe this is the same person who used to hate reading books...

Being able to see the good or God in the world is also vital to art. Madeleine L'Engle and C.S Lewis say that artists see glimples of heaven in the earthly landscape and try to show it to us through their art. I believe this can be done whether the artist is Christian or not. Truth is everywhere, and while Christians may know that they respond to the God they see in a work of art, I think the world knows it responds to something. They may not know what it is, but it is something.
I too have a dislike of Christian 'witnessing' as it has come to be touted in youth groups; Grabbing people in Jack-in-the-Box and bashing them over the head with a Bible. Coming to someone in an attitude of arrogance, that you know the truth and they don't is the most effective way to cut off all real communication. People won't hang around where they feel condemned.
Your comment that we have eyes to see the pure, the beautiful brought to mind the ridicule so often bestowed upon the pure and innocent. What is it about people that they much vent their shame and anger from their sin on someone they see as pure? To look down on the innocent as childish, immature, stupid, incapable of understanding? It makes me want to scream: innocence is not ignorance!
Hm, that was a little vehement, I guess I'm more than a little sore at the moment.
It's so womderful to read your thoughts Wes, may you ever continue in your growth towards Christ. You clearly show Christ in all you do, and it is such an encouragement!

jeff said...

Christians need to be witness before they can witness.

It’s God’s kindness that leads us to repentance isn’t it? Why don’t we lead with kindness?


I wonder if we ARE a witness, will we ever need to perform the ACT of 'witnessing'. It's that whole being a light-in-the-darkness thing...

Too many times, 'witnessing' is just an opportunity for us to either earn some good works credit with the Lord or to show everyone else why we think they're wrong & going to hell (whatever that means).

We just had a HUGE discussion about hell on my blog. I came away with a number of new ideas, but one thing sticks out... Without 'hell' as a motivating force to act right, I'm left with a relationship with God...one based on love for Him and not so much, fear of hell.

It seems more genuine. And I think people will be more drawn to that.

(btw- Wes, I'd welcome some of your opinions on my blog about hell & judgement. I like what I've read from you. It's the 2nd blog down, after a weak attempt on my part to lighten the atmosphere of my blog...)

demerging

WES ELLIS said...

You may be relieved to hear, Amanda, that I still hate books... I just read them now.

Pastor Art said...

A witness: “martureous” in Greek where we get English martyr. there are likely a couple of reasons for this. Those who spoke as witnesses of an event became libel for perjury according to Torah - let them throw the first stones Deut.17:6-7. If we follow this out we find that those who bear false by virtue of their being the first stone thrower become murders and therefore libel themselves of capital punishment.

It is said by an historian watching “Christians” die that the empire changed as a result. (I do not remember just a part of that reading thing Wes) We as people of Jesus spout out about being dead in Christ Etc that picture of our decreasing and Him increasing, taking up the Cross and all the other concepts surrounding become guidelines on how to communicate truth, from the point of “martyrdom” speaking our last words as it were every time we open our mouths. Moreover would we risk our lives as a result of what we have said to another about truth. Remember not only does the Holy Spirit speak through us (or should) but the Son hears being beside us and the Father “judges” what we say. Remember the world is “judged” already they need to hear that their sentence can be stayed and the divorce reconciled because their astrangeness is forgiven like Gomer’s. Truth vastly important!! But a slave wants to hear about being freed first.
Pastor Art

Ashley said...

Awsome post. I think that it is so important that we always remember to not love with an agenda but more so because you truly care for thoes people.

Teresa said...

I think I've read a lot of that HUMMM? :) My husband and I are planning to visit a Mosque. We visited a guy who was a Muslim (not just one), but this guy connected right away with Jim because Jim has a genuine interest in cricket. We invited him to visit our home and our church any time he wants, but we will go visit him too. When he found out my husband was a Pastor, his immediate reaction was "Do you think you are going to convert me"? I hate that! I too have that quote by St Francis on my bedroom wall. I lent the "Velvet Elvis" book to a 14 year old girl in our "family gatherings". She wanted to read it because we show out youth the KOOMA DVD's which Rob Bell does. I'm not finished with it yet, but I thought that if she wanted to read it...Thanks!

bobbiehelland said...

A challenge for your thinking cap, Wes. Address Amanda's issue:

'Your comment that we have eyes to see the pure, the beautiful brought to mind the ridicule so often bestowed upon the pure and innocent. What is it about people that they must vent their shame and anger from their sin on someone they see as pure? To look down on the innocent as childish, immature, stupid, incapable of understanding?'

I would add: to mock and belittle someone for their views on purity and clean language. And these are 'Christian' folks.

Whaddaya say, Wes and fellow bloggy peoples?

WES ELLIS said...

I'm responding to BobbieHelland in my next post.