Friday, April 8, 2016

Things I've Learned So Far this Year Part 1: Picking Fights

I have heard this type of story before and probably told of few of my own. "How I defeated the door knocking evangelist" "How I used my wrist watch to ruin the life of  an evolutionist" "How I made that lady cry for daring to disagree with me in Sunday school". People either don't know what to say when the Mormon missionaries and Jehovahs Witnesses come calling or they choose to fight and humiliate these nice folks and then brag later in the men's locker room we call the church fellowship hall. 

Mine is a story of neither.

Well maybe part of the former but none of the latter.

Ok maybe I recently exhibited some of both, but the point is I’m learning from it instead of hiding behind it.

Each year some really super nice folks from the local Kingdom Hall come around inviting us to their commemoration of the death of Jesus. I normally don't engage frankly because I can't keep all those apologetic arguments straight in my head. I know that the essential difference always comes down to how we identify the person and work of Jesus Christ, but I can’t remember which group says what. I don't improvise. I preach from a manuscript that is prepared from research. I would die in an extemporaneous debate. 

However I was working on our house, and I saw two women pass the window. As I answered the door I thought "What on earth am I going to say?" 

They extended their invitation and what poured out from my mouth was something like, "No thanks, but here let me pray for you because it is my hope that you will truly understand who Jesus is instead of who your group has made him out to be."

I prayed. I prayed a prayer of thanks for the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It was almost more a confession of faith than anything. A presentation of the Gospel through prayer. I prayed for these nice ladies to learn the truth. When I opened my eyes they were gone. 

Obviously my prayer had been too powerful and had caused both of them to be raptured on the spot. That was a reasonable assumption right? Alas I looked up the block and they had moved on to my neighbor's house. I prayed for them again silently because if they knocked on his door they were likely in for the quintessential old man on porch with shotgun. 

This is not a tale of my victory over Jehovah’s Witnesses. This is a tale of my defeat. All I did was scare these women away. They didn't listen to me one bit. All I had at the end of this encounter was a good joke about the rapture, nothing more. 

The Sunday School argument would be "You planted a seed Thomas! Don't despair! The Gospel offends people you can't be surprised by that."

Ok so best case scenario is that I planted a seed. But there is a good chance that seed fell on the path or among rocks or may grow and be choked by the weeds around it. I'm not trying to be negative just honest with the way I was received. I am sure I wasn’t the first person to question the veracity of their faith system. Could God use this experience to help these women? Yes. But it will be despite me, not because of me.

As to the second part of that Sunday School argument: I am more and more coming around you the conclusion that yes, the Gospel does offend, but that doesn't mean God wants His people to be offensive. 

As Christians, we seem to relish bad behavior as long as it is in the proper context. There was a time when I would have worn this story as a badge of honor. And I'm not ashamed of it, just aware that I acted out of panic and not compassion. 

But does God command us to be abrasive or to be bold? There are many places in scripture to see an answer but here is the one I have repeatedly come back to since high school:

2 Timothy 2:22-26 22 Flee from youthful passions, and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart. 23 But reject foolish and ignorant disputes, knowing that they breed quarrels. 24 The Lord’s slave must not quarrel, but must be gentle to everyone, able to teach, and patient, 25 instructing his opponents with gentleness. Perhaps God will grant them repentance leading them to the knowledge of the truth. 26 Then they may come to their senses and escape the Devil’s trap, having been captured by him to do his will.

I don’t think this passage needs a lot of exposition here. The point is fairly clear. There are youthful, immature reactions—quarreling, ignorant disputes—that do nothing for the cause of Christ. But Paul instructs young Timothy to be mature, to be gentle to all pursuing righteousness, faith, love and peace. Paul does not fail to impart the absolute importance of the message to be taught. There is nothing here to suggest that we can’t or shouldn’t speak truth with confidence and boldness when we share our faith with others.

But there is a line between effective witness and belligerent intolerance. It is easy to fall prey to emotions when having a friendly debate about beliefs. But we have to separate it out and remember that the only emotion we should feel in a presentation of the Gospel is love. And it may be tough love, but even a parent who has to discipline their child doesn’t rejoice in that child’s humiliation.

Love is bold to be sure. If we love others as Christ has instructed we will not back down in a moment to share and educate about our faith. But there is this perception that God somehow needs us to defend him from the dissenting opinion. Here is the long and the short of the dissenting opinion: it changes nothing. If what we hold as biblical truth is in fact biblical truth then God doesn’t need us to fight off attacks on His character. Rather He has commanded us to instruct and teach in gentleness and love.

Perhaps when we hear the doorbell and find theological opposition at our door it is simply a natural reaction to feel as if we are at risk.

But when has this faith been about reacting naturally to what life throws at us?

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