Saturday, February 28, 2009

How To Share Jesus Christ

Two songs have been haunting me this past week. U2's "Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" and REM's "Losing My Religion."U2 Joshua Tree

Over the past few weeks, I've been having an email conversation with two people that have made me question how to share my faith in Jesus. One is a non-Christian who took offense with what this person thinks is my lack of concern over two-thirds of the population of the planet who do not believe in Jesus Christ. This person sees me as arrogant to believe that I have the true religion and he and two-thirds of the world do not.

The other person professes to be a Christian but is also an active homosexual. This person found condemnation in what I would call mainline Christian churches but found a Christian church that accepts homosexuality as a personal choice and not a sin. Again, this person thinks that I'm arrogant and unloving and "cherry-picking" my Biblical texts to support my theology against homosexuality.

Then I heard an interview on the Hugh Hewitt radio show Thursday with William Lobdell. A friend of Hewitt, he came to faith in Christ through Hewitt's sharing his faith with him. He then became the religion reporter for the LA Times. After covering the clergy-abuse scandal in the Roman Catholic Church he, in his words, "lost his religion." He is now a professed deist bordering on atheism.

What really started me thinking was Lobdell's comment that after losing his religion, he was "at peace with it."

I believe in Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. I believe that I am a sinner. I believe that Jesus Christ lived the perfect life, died on a cross to pay the price for my sin and rose from the dead on the third day to give me eternal life. I believe that Jesus did all this for "the world" so that whoever believes in Him (has faith in Him) will be saved and have eternal life.

I also believe that I have a mandate from Jesus Christ to "go into all the world and make disciples of all nations" (Matthew 28).

But this past week I've been thinking hard about - and struggling with - how to do that.

How do you share your faith in Jesus Christ and "make disciples" with people who are at peace with what they believe and it doesn't include Jesus? They know about Jesus, they have heard about Him. But they also know about Christians and have a very low opinion of most of them as fanatical, hypocritical, and some criminal. How do you reach a person who doesn't want anything to do with Jesus because a Jesus follower lies, cheats, and commits crimes against children?

I've been taught - and have taught - that people who don't know Jesus as their savior "still haven't found what" they are "looking for." But what if that isn't true? What if they have found what they are looking for in something else other than Jesus? My approach to evangelism (sharing Jesus) has been based on the premise that Jesus Christ will be exactly what people have been searching for all their lives and haven't found. That Jesus will be the source of the peace and hope that they've been looking for.

But what if they've found that peace and hope in something or someone else? This is a distinct possibility that I never acknowledged before.

This has to be dealt with in how I share Jesus Christ with the world. That other people are not going to think that I have the Truth they've been searching for but haven't found.

I believe that it is true, that I actually do have the Truth that they have been searching for, but that can't be my opening line!

I think that First Century Christians had some things a little easier. Practically no one had even heard of Jesus Christ when those Christians began sharing their own faith with them.

But today, in Twenty-First Century America, practically everyone has heard of Jesus. Everyone has at least heard the name of Jesus (although it is mostly as a curse word). And they simply don't care to have anything to do with the message of Jesus Christ. Not because of the message of peace and love and forgiveness, but because of the messengers who appear to not live that kind of life.

I've got my work cut out for me. I not only have to work against people's unbelief, but also their impression of Christians such as sick pastors who abuse children, members of churches who say that God hates homosexuals and liberals, and Christians who don't live the Christian life.

Because I believe that God in omniscient and omnipotent, I believe that God anticipated this very challenging era that I find myself living in. As such, I believe He has raised up our generation of disciples of Jesus "for such a time as this." He has given me and my brothers and sisters in Christ (the Church) the Word, the power of the Holy Spirit, and the reasonable intelligence to figure out the best way to share our faith and make disciples of people who still haven't found what they are looking for (even though they think they have) and have lost their religion.


Anonymous said...

You also seem to think that the main, if not the only, reason anyone would reject your message is because of the hypocrisy and abusive behavior of some Christians. While that phenomenon is certainly a enormous disgrace and hugely discredits your religion, your assumption, again, is deeply naive and willfully ignorant, bordering on arrogant.

I've made a point of studying a wide range of spiritual and philosophical ideas, and here is my own (admittedly somewhat snarky) summary of Christianity theology (which I was raised under):

God created Man and Woman, after creating the whole universe in 7 days, and condemned them with something called Original Sin after they were bamboozled by a talking snake into disobeying Him about eating some fruit (this is not some kind o a metaphor, of course, this literally happened in the real world - never mind that the earth is billions of years old and the human species arose between 50 and 100,000 years ago from prehuman hominids). Thousands of years later, God impregnated a woman in order to be born as a human being. He did not do this through a human surrogate, he literally magically impregnated a woman, so that Jesus was actually born of a "virgin". Now Jesus was already God, so this means that God fathered Himself as a child. It was necessary for God to become his own Son so that he could arrange a sacrifice, of Himself to Himself. This was necessary in order to placate Himself for mankind's Original Sin, which He had condemned mankind to in the first place, all those thousands of years earlier. This blood sacrifice was necessary because...well, because God just requires blood sacrifice (a just, merciful and peaceful God). If you accept Him as your personal Savior, you'll be rewarded with Heaven after death, and exist in bliss for all eternity in His presence. If you don't believe he's your Savior, you'll go to Hell after you die, and suffer agony for all eternity. The way believers demonstrate their acceptance of him as their Savior is to eat and drink his body and blood. This act of cannibalism is neither bizarre or barbaric, but the purest, most holy and pious act a human being could possibly make, and in fact is the gateway to eternal life.

It's never even *occurred* to you that people reject Christianity quite simply because it's central tenets are mind-bogglingly absurd?

It's a testament to the impressionability of the developing brain that most Americans still grow up believing all that without experiencing any sort of cognitive dissonance. Only brainwashing from an early age deadens us to its ridiculousness of it all. I'm personally deeply ashamed that it took me until the age of 19 to finally see it for what it was. When asked why I am no longer a Christian, I like to answer that the most important reason is that I grew up.

Jim Geers
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Anonymous said...

Ed, good post. It's a struggle I myself have been going through and am now doing a personal study on. I am studying the Bible looking for the following --- What Is The Bible's Stated Purpose, What Are God's Expectations Christians and Jesus As THE Example For Christians To Follow.

My initial sense is that the Church --- as a body of people --- have gotten so far off the path it's become difficult for them to even see where the path is anymore. It's not that I think you, as a pastor, or me, as an active member of a church should "hang it up" and leave the Church... there is still a lot of good to be given and had in the community that any real church should be. It's more a realization that, like turning a huge oil-tanker around, it will take time and effort and persistence.

So, how do you alter your approach to sharing the gospel? Simple... drop all your agendas.

There is truth, and there is how you handle sharing this truth. The more I look at the life of Jesus, the more I see how he handled this concept. Not Jesus' bigger life and purpose, but how he interacted with people.

People can sniff out an agenda quickly, even if your honestly trying to not have one. If you're trying not to have one, you likely still do have one... just drop it from your mind.

Don't help your friend move in the hopes you will get a chance to share the Gospel with him, just help him move. Don't give food baskets at Christmas with your church's name on it, just give the basket.

One of the more heartbreaking things I have read recently was how Ted Haggard apparently had no one to help him move. It doesn't matter whether no one from his former church wanted to help him move or he felt he couldn't ask them, someone should have helped him. Not to tell him that what he did was wrong, not to help him change his ways, not to do so in an act of charity, but because he's a human being and he needed a helping hand.

"How do you share your faith in Jesus Christ and 'make disciples' with people who are at peace with what they believe and it doesn't include Jesus?"

First, you respect them as human beings, not as people needing to be saved. Second, you respect the fact that they believe what they believe and don't do anything with the intent to change that. Third, you said it above... share YOUR faith, but only if asked or if the opportunity arises. Fourth, look further into the word "make" and it's context. We see "make" as "persuade with an intent" but does the example of Jesus show that?

As an example, lets say we have a well driller whose beliefs are not important to this story. He goes to Africa to build a well for a village and none of the people speak English and there is no way for him to communicate with them. Even though he doesn't need help building the well, some of the men come to help him. They are curious and helpful so they join in. Two of the men are so interested the well driller shows them how to do it. When he leaves, he leaves 2 new well drillers for the community. He has "made" those well drillers. He had no agenda, no intent to change people. He did, however, have a desire to share his skills in helpful ways and be a good neighbor (albeit a more global one).

As Christians I think we've become too caught up in trying to change people. We should be concentrating on simply being good neighbors and friends and parts of our communities.

We should be concerned that people are not saved, but it should not BE our concern. It's a subtle shift of focus, but it is having a huge impact on my brain the more I think about it.


Anonymous said...

The first half of my previously posted comments got cut off. Here is the beginning
Several comments:

The title and chorus of the REM song "Losing My Religion", though like a lot of works of art uses symbolism on different levels (it's a song written by Michael Stipe after all), refers not so much to religious faith as to the Southern expression for losing one's composure. It's a song about unrequited love. The narrator is full of mournful self-doubt after revealing his true feelings. Given Stipe's proclivities, the object is likely another male. Point being, not really the best example of a song about abandoning Christianity, LOL. The U2 song is a better example, as I believe Bono has long acknowledged the religious subtext there.

Now here's a remarkable statement: "But what if they've found that peace and hope in something or someone else? This is a distinct possibility that I never acknowledged before."

I would ask if you're joking, but you meant that. You're a clearly intelligent and educated man. Yet it's never occurred to you that it's possible for all the diverse peoples of the world and their countless traditions, some of them predating even Judaism by thousands of years, to find peace or meaning or satisfaction in any other philosophy, religion or point of view other than Christianity? By this you give evidence to the common impression held by Non-Christians that Christians, especially American Christians, are willfully blind, self-isolated and unsophisticated people. In a shrinking and interdependent world, in the midst of an age of instantaneously available information about any subject known to man, how inexcusable. Your friend called it right. This is profound arrogance.

Not being a believer, I have little interest in the theological validity of the Christian prohibition against homosexuality and other violations of sexual purity, but having once been a Christian even I know there's nothing in the New Testament that is uncontroversially clear on that point (1 Cor 6). Of course, the Old Testament explicitly prescribed execution for that and other sins, so one might logically surmise that Jews like Jesus would preach the same, even if it somehow didn't make it into the Gospels or Epistles. Never mind the irreconciable contradiction between the disgusting, punitive savagery of that God and the God of "peace and hope" you describe.

Anonymous said...


I like your perspective and I think we try to figure everything out too many times instead of just living today. To me, God is love, compassion and grace. Yes... don't try to debate or change, just live by example and as we come in contact with those who might not think like us, smile enjoy whatever reason brings you together and be grateful.

Sometimes like you said, we try to figure everything out too much and that causes the anxiety or struggle. Just like a headlight on a car, it can only see so far ahead. Stay on the road and travel as you move forward and enjoy every moment we are given.

Life can be simple, we have to make a conscience choice each moment to keep it that way.


MARCO said...

thanks for this!