In one form or another, I’ve been in full-time Christian ministry since I graduated from college, and I would easily label myself no less fearful today than when I was a sprightly twenty three year-old back then. I’m more wise now, of course, and my specific fears are much different than they used to be back when I had no gray hair…but if you were to judge my life based on quantity of fear right now compared to the amount I had in the past, my guess is the scales would remain even on both sides if we weighed them. That’s an embarrassing thing to admit, but it is unfortunately true.
Yet in spite of my fears, the grace of God remains strong and very abundant in my day-to-day. The flow of fear and anxiety may rush into my heart with annoying consistency, but the Lord’s merciful grace rushes all the more to meet and overwhelm that fright and panic. I’m reminded of Lamentations 3, and how so many Christians are quick to quote verses 22-24 that read,
The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.”
These three verses are wonderful, but they wouldn’t be as impactful if it weren’t for the twenty dark verses that come before it. Go ahead, look it up. Lamentations 3:1-20 is a stripped down, honest slog through some very gut-wrenching hard times the likely author Jeremiah is going through as he writes. I mean, my boy is talking about how God shuts out his prayers, blocks his paths, and fires arrows at his kidneys. He uses the metaphors of chewing on gravel, suffering the attack of bears and lions, and being beaten with a rod of wrath. He is full of fear.
The chief end of man is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever. (The Westminster Shorter Catechism)
Has anyone ever put you on the spot and inquired, “Why do Christians insist on trying to convert people?” Trust me, if it ever happens to you, you’ll remember it.
Questions like these, no matter if its tone is one of cheekiness or just plain curiosity, really make you reflect on the overall purpose of evangelism. Should we be motivated by results—seeing more people go to heaven? That’s important, right? Or maybe the reason for evangelism should simply be duty—being obedient to God’s command to go and make disciples (Matthew 28). After all, the Great Commission isn’t just a suggestion. What if our incentive is rewards—to one day hear God say, “Well done, good and faithful servant!” and receive jewels in our heavenly crown? Sounds selfish, but it’s biblical. Or, perhaps a better motive is that of love—love for God and love for people’s souls, compelling us to share the good news.
I’ve heard plenty of stories over the years about how Jesus has changed people’s lives, and here is one of my favorites…
Adam came to Cru’s spring break evangelism conference (called Big Break) because one of his friends had invited him to check it out. After hearing about how sweet it would be to enjoy a Florida spring break with the price tag that Big Break offered, Adam easily made the decision and soon found himself on a bus with a bunch of people he had never met, traveling down to the Sunshine State.
But Adam had a plan. And it was a good plan, too…mostly because it would get him away from all the weirdo Christians who, for some reason or another, really liked to sing. He’d check into the hotel where the conference was happening, skip out on the boring conference part and enjoy some fun in the sun.
Back before I had kids, I started a one-man stand-up comedy ministry in Cru that utilized humor in order to leverage my motivational agenda of plugging lifestyle evangelism to Christian college students. Word spread about what I was doing, and I was eventually invited to perform at the University of Alabama, Birmingham (UAB) for their weekly Cru large group meeting.
The gathering drew roughly 90 college students, most of whom were ethnic minorities. I didn’t find out about the fact that UAB was such an ethnically diverse campus until I arrived there the day before I spoke. But, sure enough, the small subsection of the school represented in the room that night proved the diversity to be true.
Before I got up front to speak that night, a short five-minute video was played, advertising a ministry called Threads of Hope. This ministry is based out of Puerto Galera on the island of Mindoro in the Philippines and its primary purpose is to assist the economically oppressed by giving them steady jobs making colorful bracelets. The reason why this is such a big deal is because many families in Puerto Galera are so poor that they are forced to resort to prostitution in order to feed their families. Some people even sell their young daughters into the sex slave trade in order to receive income.
If I’m in the right mood, I can be easily convinced to join a group of people and play a game. My in-laws are really big game people, and that always makes for a lot of laughs at family gatherings. Most of the time, the humor comes from someone making a Freudian slip and saying something completely inappropriate, causing the entire room to erupt in laughter.
A few years ago at Christmas, my wife and I gave my brother-in-law a new board game. Not too long after the presents were opened, we gathered together as a group near the still-twinkling Christmas tree and decided to take a crack at some new and healthy competition amongst family. It was a game none of us had ever played before, so the routine course of action took place before we could all get started and play: we read the rules. Ugh.
Honestly, I absolutely can’t stand reading the rules before playing a game. I’m ready to talk smack to my opponents and just get into it. There is fun to be had, and pausing to make sure I engage in the fun correctly kind of saps away most of the excitement for me. The truth is, however, if someone didn’t read the rules first, we would end up playing the game wrong, the scoring wouldn’t make any sense, and the actual fun would get derailed by arguments, frustration, and someone inadvertently kicking the glass coffee table.
A few years ago, I went to see an intramural softball game with my father-in-law, Ed. My wife’s brother was playing in the game that consisted mostly of people from my in-laws’ church. Don’t let that fool you, though. A lot of these church dudes could absolutely crush a softball out into the parking lot without even thinking about it. None of the minivans parked just beyond the outfield were safe.
We got to the game about five minutes before it was supposed to start, leaving us enough time to pick a good viewing spot. Then we busted out our lawn chairs and waited for things to get rolling.
The players on both teams were practicing their throws and swings when I noticed a glaring absence from the field—the umpire. Game time had arrived and nobody was actually there to call the game. I overheard a random discussion from some of the players about what I had just noticed, and looks of concern began to spread quickly over everyone’s faces. Nobody wanted to forfeit the game, but they needed an umpire there to make sure the score could be accurately recorded in order to have the game catalogued in the system for appropriate rankings and what not. I know, I know…this all seemed a bit much for me too, but church softball leagues have a tendency to take themselves very seriously and I wasn’t about to openly mock the system while a bunch of large, angry softball players were close enough to swing a metal bat at my face.
In today’s world, immediacy is the name of the game. And it’s everywhere around us: blazing fast internet speeds, overnight FedEx delivery, laser hair removal, Hot Pockets, and the like. If you can’t get it quick, it pretty much isn’t worth getting at all.
I guess this is why the things that move slowly in this world stand in such graphic contrast to the pace of the surrounding environment. Things like a hand-written letter are a rarity when someone opens up their mailbox nowadays and I’m personally taken by surprise when I’m blessed enough to get one.
And since time-occupying things like this are so uncommon in the modern world we live in, they often have an effect on us that we are unable to ignore. Case in point: Thanksgiving dinner is always worth talking about because it usually takes all day to prepare. Or gloating about finishing a 1000-page novel becomes unavoidably commonplace because it probably takes triple the time to read in comparison to a normal book. In short, the more time, the more noteworthy and influential.
I think about myself a lot. In fact, not a day goes by when I don’t think, “What could make me happier right now?” or “What do I want to do?” And if you were honest, you’d probably say the same thing about yourself. Am I right?
Self-obsession has always been a human problem, but recently I think we’ve taken it to new levels. Ask any kid what they want to be when they grow up and this is what they’ll most likely tell you: a rock star, an actor, a fashion designer, or a superstar athlete. Hop in a time machine and ask the same question to a kid 25 years ago, and you’d get a very different answer with a very different mindset: a fireman, a mom, a police officer, or an army soldier. Yesteryear used to be about giving of yourself to make the world a better place. Now it’s about how to achieve the most success and get the most money to live in a big house with fancy cars and cool clothes while basking in the light of your own fame. I know I’m probably sounding a bit like a bitter old man here, longing for the past, but more and more I keep seeing what a “me-centered” society is doing to our thought process and belief system…and it isn’t good.
A few summers ago, I watched an interesting reality show on NBC called Last Comic Standing. Maybe you’ve heard of it. It’s cancelled now, but I enjoyed it when it ran.
Its format was pretty much like any other reality show in that a million people try out, and the group is eventually whittled down to the top twelve. In this case, they’re trying out to be a stand up comic. The top twelve are all thrown together in a house, they’re given specific comedy challenges, a few of them get promiscuous in the hot tub, America votes, and they get eliminated one-by-one until it’s the last comic standing. Clever, huh?
Well, the specific season I saw happened to include a top twelve participant that was actually a duo who called themselves “God’s Pottery.” Essentially, the two guys in the duo played out these characters (much like Sacha Baron Cohen played the character Borat) both in the house and on stage who were supposed to be examples of syrupy sweet Christian camp counselors.
Back in grade school, I would avoid confrontation like the plague. Wait, what am I saying? I still avoid confrontation like the plague. I hate it.
Recently, I’ve noticed that many people in my life are also non-confrontational like me. They recoil at the very thought of making a scene or disturbing the peace, because they’d rather stay quiet than ruffle any feathers.
And I am similar—I always prefer harmony over dissonance. We desperately don’t want to offend people because we really like being liked…and this is where the offensiveness of the gospel creates a major rub in the hearts of non-confrontational believers.