On Revelation and Assimilation

I remember the first interaction I had with my ex-fiance.  We didn’t really know each other personally, but we would engage in conversation and do some activities together. A few months and several interactions later, we began to date one another.  Still more months and interactions later we got engaged.

Woman Receiving Engagement RingThis is a fairly typical story.  Two people meet, get to know each other, and then after a time they continue making deeper and deeper levels of commitment to one another.  Engagement, as well as marriage, are two moments which solidify a certain depth of commitment between two people.   It is odd for us to think that two people would meet for the first time, chat for a few minutes, and then immediately commit the rest of their lives to one another.  Even in arranged marriages there are people who  understand the individuals well enough to know if that kind of relationship will work, and there is still a ‘leading up-to’ time where the two people are at least aware of what is going on.

Why is it, then, that we tend to see evangelism as a ‘blind marriage’ occasion?  We think it’s crazy for two people to get married if they have only know each other for a few hours (or even days), and yet we impose that kind of perspective on our un-saved neighbors.  I would like to propose that we rethink our understanding of evangelism.

To be perfectly honest, I never felt comfortable inviting my friends to church with me.  While I was in youth group, we would be asked several times to bring our friends to church for special occasions or for Wednesday night Bible study or whatever.  I would always feel awkward about this.  It’s not because I didn’t think God was important or that salvation didn’t matter, but it’s because whenever I did invite my friends I would hear the messages they were hearing and it would unsettle me.

“You’re an outsider.”
“You don’t know what’s going on here.”
“You don’t know who God is.”
“You need to dedicate your life to Jesus tonight!”

My friends were seen as outsiders, as strangers, and in order to feel truly welcomed they needed to get with the program and convert.  Then, and only then, could they be a part of the community.

Now, I know that this was not the intended message of the youth leaders or laypeople.  However, these were the messages that were communicated through what was said, how people acted, and what people said about our friends when they weren’t there.  And I am as guilty as everyone else for sending these messages.

Now I have another story to tell:

when I was about five, I remember coming home from church and climbing into the top of my bunk-bed and asking Jesus into my heart.  This is my conversion story, and it is entirely made up.

The truth is, I don’t know when I was saved.  I can’t point to a calendar and say, “here, on this day, I became a born again believer!”  I do know that at some point I did, but I don’t remember how.  I remember something about a Sunday school teacher talking with me about it, so maybe it happened then?  I don’t know.  I do know that I invented a story because people kept asking me about my conversion experience and when I came into a relationship with the Lord, so that’s where the bunk-bed conversion story came into play.

Honestly, I don’t know when Christ became my savior because I don’t remember a time when I didn’t know who Jesus was.  I grew up hearing about him all the time.  I would pray to him before meals with my family, and I would hear about him at church.  I never had an opportunity as an infant to not know who he was.  And this is why I believe there is a big weakness in how we do evangelism.

One of the biggest assumptions we seem to build off of when talking about evangelism is that people who are not Christian do not have a relationship with Jesus.  I think this is one of the most harmful and, frankly, ignorant assumptions we have.  There is rarely anyone in the United States who does not know who Jesus is.  You can ask anyone, “Who is Jesus?” and I believe most people will give you an answer.  Everyone knows who Jesus is.  Everyone has feelings about who Jesus is.  Everyone has some sort of a relationship with Jesus, even if that relationship is simply an acquaintance.

So why do we approach evangelism as if they don’t?  Why do we talk to non-believers as if Jesus is some total stranger to them?  Why do we treat them as if they couldn’t tell the difference between Jesus and George Bush?  And why do we assume that he is not already working in their lives?

The problem with not recognizing a relationship that is already there is that we then set up all kinds of persuasive arguments aimed at getting people to like Jesus. We talk about his character, what he did, what he does, and what he is doing as if Jesus were on a blind date with this person.

But what if evangelism became more declarative than persuasive?  More acknowledging that coercing?  More about revealing a God who is already there than introducing a completely foreign concept?

If we are to take this perspective seriously, then evangelism isn’t about trying to get someone to marry a complete stranger they just met.  Instead, it is about helping someone develop a relationship that is already there.  I didn’t get engaged the first moment I met my ex-fiance’.  That didn’t happen until months into our relationship.  Similarly, expecting someone to surrender their entire lives to a being whom they hardly know is expecting too much (and I would contend is ultimately damaging in the long run).

What does this say about that moment of ‘conversion,’ then?  Maybe when someone becomes a born-again believer it is not a moment when they first enter into a relationship with Christ.  Instead, it is simply the moment when Christ went from being ‘some guy I know’ to ‘Lord’ and ‘Savior.’  I am not trying to say that the salvation experience is not important, but we ought to consider the implications of suggesting that Christ is completely unknown to people who aren’t saved.

I sense that our views of others, and creation as a whole, could benefit greatly is we seriously begin to open our eyes to the work that God is already doing in our world and in the lives of those around us.   Maybe we would begin shedding ourselves of an ‘us/them’ mentality and simply see ourselves as being on a different stage in this journey. No one is a stranger to God, and who are we to take people on blind dates with a ring in our pocket?

Advertisements

On Dating and Marriage

The atmosphere for the message was set.  I had been worshiping with the congregation for about 20 minutes, and even though there was some awkward reverb going on, my heart was ready.  The songs, the prayers, and the readings had allowed me to focus in and hear from the Lord.

A man in a suit walked up to the pulpit to introduce the revival speaker for tonight’s service, and after he had prayed over the service in preparation for what was to come he began to introduce the man who would bring the word of the Lord to us this evening.  But then it happened…

The audio feed for Olivet’s Live Streaming  website cut-out, and I couldn’t hear anything through my headphones anymore.  Since there wasn’t even a video feed to look at, I decided to go for a drive.

The morning message was good.  Very good, in fact.  I sat with my group of fellow Preaching Ambassadors and heard how our lives shouldn’t be lived through our efforts and actions, but that God should live in and through us in a way that our lives naturally produce good fruit. (the spirit of Christ in us – holiness).  It wasn’t until my drive tonight that something began to solidify in my heart and mind.

I enjoy driving.  Especially evening driving.  The day is winding down, not many people are on the road, and there is a general calm to the world.  Not to mention the low lighting gives a sense of privacy when driving a car with no tinted windows.  Evening/night driving has always been a time of quiet reflection and prayerful thinking for me; and a time to tune in to whatever God wants to talk about.

Apparently he wanted to talk to me about relationships.  I can’t say for sure if he had ever ‘said’ anything to me overtly about this topic ever before, either because I thought relationships are too ungodly to talk about, or because I have always been oblivious to what the word actually means when it is lived out.  But this time was different.  And in a world that has so many mixed and perverted messages about dating (or courting, or whatever you want to call this period of a relationship) and marriage, it was refreshing to hear what my Heavenly Father had to say about them as they pertain to my life.

As most of my conversations with God start out, I admitted my general stupidity about a lot of things.  I don’t claim to have a corner on relationships, and even though I worded my previous paragraph a little pointedly, I could very well be mistaken in my understanding and (God forbid!) I am putting words into God’s mouth.

What if our relationships didn’t exist for the sake of the relationship?  What if we dated someone for something more than just the dating experience?  What if marriage was not an end to a means, and dating a simple ‘phase’ to get through with no inherent significance outside of engagement, which has significance only in the fact that it precedes an ultimate goal: marriage.  What if our romantic relationships existed for a purpose greater than romantic and emotional fulfillment?

The Christian life is about living in a way that points directly to God.  Holiness is about being sourced by God; not leaning on our own strength, abilities, and understanding, but being entirely dependent upon the Spirit.  After all, the ultimate purpose of a Christian is to show God’s love to the world, correct?  Living selflessly, thinking of others before ourselves, showing grace and forgiveness – these are all ways that we demonstrate who God is and how much He loves us (and all people).  And what is important to know is that we cannot live in such a way on our own, which is why we need God to live it out through us by his power, by his mercy, by his love and grace.

What has been on my heart and mind recently is this:  What if my relationships did the same thing?  What if the purpose of my relationships was not to reach an ultimate goal, or fulfill some desire, but that the purpose was to show God to the world?

This morning before the service I jotted down something in my phone, and it says:

“What if the purpose of [a] relationship is to be a means by which the love of God is communicated to the world?  Wouldn’t that force us to focus beyond ourselves, to desire to build up and support each other?  To forgive mistakes and show grace [quicker]?  To love each other more?

“What would it look like if our relationship was not about us doing all things for the sake of the relationship and constantly trying to weave God into the mix, but that it was a vessel God uses to show the world who He is by the way we treat each other?”

If that were a reality, then everything changes.  Rather than constantly looking forward to the next anniversary, engagement, marriage, and whatever other major points in a relationship, every moment becomes significant.  Dating is no longer an awkward pre-engagement phase – it has a true purpose.  engagement becomes more than wedding-planning.  Yes, there are many nuances of relationships that are complicated, but what would it look like if communicating/displaying God’s love to the world was the primary purpose behind it?

Suddenly, marriage no longer becomes a goal.  Marriages becomes a part of the overall story of the relationship.  The two people get married because they can’t not get married.  They love each other so much that they can’t not commit their lives to each other.  They love each other so much that they can’t not forgive each other.  They love each other so much that they can’t not give up themselves for each other.  And all of this is not because they inherently have an ability to love each other in such a way, but because God has loved through them.  God is so alive within each of them, and is living through each of them, that they get wrapped up in this active and vibrant display of His love.  It is not merely a story of each person loving each other, but God loving each of them through each other.

Would that create a beautiful image of God’s love for the world?

“You see this couple and how they love each other?  That is how much I love you.”

What are your thoughts?