Monday, February 25, 2013

Before the Conversation...

When I read stories like the one we talked about on Sunday--Philip walking up to the Ethiopian guy and being able to just jump right in and say all the right things so that he was immediately ready to follow Jesus--well, it feels a little bit intimidating.  Of course someone who walked and talked with Jesus, who ate with him and watched him talking to thousands of people, who could ask him all the questions that I always have rolling around in my head--of course Philip would know what to say.  But faith feels so different when it's not based on that kind of tangible interaction.

But over the years that I've been hanging out with people who are not yet following Jesus, I have learned that there are a whole lot of things I can do to prepare for the opportunities I might have.  In fact, if I'm really paying attention to what my friends are doing and what they're experiencing, I can often prepare ahead of time for conversations that may come up.

For example, I think that there are certain times in a person's life when he or she might become more spiritually sensitive--like the birth of a child or a marriage or a death.  If I see that coming on the horizon, I can begin praying weeks and even months ahead of time (1) that the Spirit would be working in that time to draw the person to Jesus, (2) that the Spirit will show me the questions of the heart that my friend might be asking, and (3) that the Spirit would show me what stories from Scripture or from my own life might connect to those questions my friend might have.  So when I get to the actual conversation, I've been thinking and praying for weeks and months about what I might say.

So much of evangelism, at a practical level, is about being watchful and prayerful.  It's about looking for what God is already doing in the hearts of the people around you.  It's about being willing to say something when the time is right.  It's about praying for wisdom and God's leading so that you say something that will help rather than hurt.

Here's a link to a page of questions that you can prayerfully think through as it relates the friend or friends that you're praying for right now.  I hope you'll take some time this week to begin the process of preparing to be there, at the right place and the right time with the right heart.

Monday, February 11, 2013

More than words

Charles Kraft wrote some 30 years ago that "God himself is the message [of the gospel], and we respond to a person."  He then argues that "if the message is life, only life is an adequate vehicle for its transmission."   Charles Kraft, Communication Theory for Christian Witness, (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press 1983), 59.

 I've been kind of chewing on this idea for the last week.  A lot of times I think we feel like the most important thing is to introduce people to the vast narrative of Scripture--to be able to tell the whole story in a nice little elevator-sized speech.  We feel a lot of pressure to say the right things at the right time or to have all the right words.

But God himself is the message of the gospel.  When we invite people into faith, we are inviting them into relationship with a living Being who happens to be the creator and sustainor of all life.   So he is the message.  Relationship with God is the theme.  And relationship with God is something that permeates the whole of life.  Therefore, the message is too big for words.  It's too big for explanation.  It's not simply an idea.  The message of the gospel actually requires a person's whole life to communicate and demonstrate and illustrate what it looks like.

I think this is a freeing idea.  It frees me up to genuinely seek relationship with God, day by day.  It frees me up to chase after God's heart and try to hear his voice and try to build that relationship the same way I would any other relationship in life.  And while I'm doing that, I am illustrating and demonstrating and communicating to everyone I come into contact with the message of the gospel.  My life is a picture of what transformation and surrender looks like.

That's not to say I don't explain with words.  I think that's an important part.  But it is only part of the gospel message.  My life is the rest of that message.

What is your life saying to others about who God is and what he invites us to?  What has he transformed and renewed in you that demonstrates or illustrates what the gospel is like?

Monday, February 4, 2013

quilting connection

I spent the weekend working on piecing together a quilt.  It's got 900 pieces and 2 borders.  And no matter how I try, I can't sew a single piece on straight.  But I like quilting because first you cut up pieces of fabric, and then you put them together to make something even more beautiful than you started with.  In a life full of criminal law and other craziness, I need tangible beauty as a part of my everyday life.  And quilting speaks to me of the kind of restoration and reconciliation God is doing in the very broken world around me.

But my friend Mary can think of nothing worse than quilting.  We were actually sitting around a table a couple of weeks ago, talking about how we're connecting with people around us to be light in the world and share our relationships with Jesus, and she actually said something like, "thankfully, I don't have to do something like quilting!"  Instead, she has a monthly book club with some people in her neighborhood where she's intentionally and prayerfully building relationships with people around her.

What struck me in that moment again is how God has created us to be who we are on purpose.  Mary hates quilting, but she loves books, so she uses her love of books to reach out to those around her.  I connect with other women over quilts.  And both of us have opportunities to minister to those around us as we're pursuing the things that we love to do.

That's not to say, of course, that God couldn't (or doesn't) ask us to go beyond who we are.  Sometimes he does.  He asked Moses to speak for a whole nation.  He asked Jonah to go to Ninevah.  But even when you don't have a clear calling from God to do something outrageous, he wants to use you right where you are, right who you are, to reach the people that you're naturally going to want to be around anyway.

What are your interests or hobbies?  Who is in your life who shares these interests that you might be able to hang out with while doing what you love?  How can you pursue a relationship with that person through the activity that you both enjoy?