Tag Archives: evangelism

Speak with Respect

Recently a friend asked me what to do when she felt led to share Christ with someone who does not believe. With all the current emphasis on speaking “correctly” in various settings, she was concerned that her mention of Christ’s name was disrespectful to people who do not believe. She had read Paul’s words to Timothy, a young pastor, to preach the word “in season and out of season.” In other words, preach all the time. It is fundamentally the message Christ gave to his disciples as he prepared to ascend to heaven when he said, “As you are going, make disciples.” Jesus said, and Paul reiterated, that we are to be busy sharing our faith all the time. My friend wanted to know how she could speak of her faith without upsetting people who do not believe.

The answer is that it is not possible to know whether the mention of Christ’s name will upset someone. Christians are called to love people the way Christ does, and if they love people, they will want to share Christ with people who do not know him. In the US today, a mention of Christ, even an invitation to receive Christ, is not against the law. It is free speech protected by the First Amendment, but that protection does not have any effect on the personal reaction of someone who thinks religion is a bunch of “ghost stories.”

This problem really is a problem in some countries around the world. Not too long ago, a new convert to Christianity in Morocco was arrested because he “shook the faith” of a Muslim. This new Christian is so happy in his faith that he can’t shut up about it. His Muslim neighbors complained that he was always inviting them to church and talking about Jesus. In prison he was tortured by guards and abused by fellow prisoners, but he said, “Before I became a Christian I had no peace, but now I have peace all the time.” In prison, subject to torture and beatings, he had peace. He is currently out of prison on condition of being silent about Jesus, but he is not silent, despite the risks. He reminds us all of the statement by Peter to the high priest in Jerusalem: “We must obey God rather than men.”

In Iran, a Christian and a Muslim had a quiet conversation in a park. They were in the capital city, where Evin prison holds many Christians imprisoned for being vocal about their faith. These prisoners are all convicted of being threats to national security. During the conversation, the Muslim spoke of the religious police who circulate all over the city and of the many rules and regulations that control daily life in Iran. He said, “This place feels like a prison.”  The Christian in this case had to be discrete in his response to this statement. He had friends in Evin prison who had carelessly agreed with such statements, only to discover that the statement was made as bait to entice them to criticize the government. He did not hesitate out of “respect” for the Muslim’s unbelief but rather as an act of serpentine wisdom. He truly must beware. If a Christian in Iran speaks of Christ to a Muslim, he does so knowing the risk he is taking.

In the US, Christians are not yet at risk of arrest for sharing the faith. I greet people in the name of Christ without knowing their beliefs, because I love to share Christ. Even people who look a bit puzzled and turn away do not seem to feel that this greeting is illegal speech. In the US we speak freely because free speech is protected. However, this state of affairs can change and may change. Without even repealing the First Amendment, it is possible for the Supreme Court to frame the wording of a decision about speech that categorizes faith sharing as outside the protection of the First Amendment. It is hard to imagine how that could be, but with daily assaults on the free exercise of religion, some assault on free speech about religion seems almost inevitable. Already, the word “proselytizing” has begun to surface as a scornful description of faith speech.

When Christians speak to anyone about Christ, the motivation is love. Love is both respectful and powerful. Real love is willing to do the hard thing in order to bring blessing to the loved one. There certainly are people who are adamantly and angrily opposed to the sharing of faith speech in public. They do not want to hear anything about Christ. They might be very angry if someone said, “Jesus loves you.” Christians need to be wise about when they  speak and what they say.

Fortunately, before Christ was crucified, he promised his disciples that the Holy Spirit would always be with them to guide and inspire their words. He also promised them that they would be hated and reviled, even persecuted. Christians who obey the guidance of the Holy Spirit need to speak when they receive that guidance, but when they do, they must also be ready to accept whatever response they receive. Those to whom they speak may think the Christian is kindly sharing something good, but it is possible that those people will erupt angrily, lashing out and accusing the Christians of hate speech or even unconstitutional acts.

There may be reasons to be silent on some occasions. Jesus taught that Christians are not called to barge in like roaming cattle. The guidance of the Holy Spirit is the only reliable guide for speaking or being silent. A Christian must certainly respect the human value of each person, but a Christian must expect and be willing to ask for the respect of those who do not believe. Every person is entitled to respect for being human, without regard to what he believes or does not believe. When a non-believer rails against a Christian for speaking of what he believes, the Christian has the same right as the non-believer to speak up for respect. Not aggressively demanding respect, but quietly asserting a right to be respected. A non-believer has the permission of God Almighty to refuse to believe, but the non-believer does not have God’s permission to speak abusively or to engage in outright assault. In the US, believers should be able to speak with courtesy and respect in conversation with unbelievers, but there is no guarantee that the response will always be in the same vein.

Christians must respect everyone, but they must always follow the guidance of the Holy Spirit. If a Christian speaks of God’s love to someone who reacts violently, Christians must continue to follow the guidance of the Holy Spirit in love and grace. To speak of God’s love to someone who rejects him is not a lack of respect; it is an act of profound love.

What is your experience when you speak of Christ to people who reject him?

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Is Christ at Your Table?

In a recent conversation with a pastor recently returned from a mission project in Hungary, I asked him how he was able to begin conversations with people in a secular society. I have observed the rising pressure of secular thinking in the US culture and the way secular pressure is reshaping the US government, even to the redefining of familiar words in unfamiliar terms. I thought there might be something for American Christians to learn from a person who had been a missionary in a completely secular nation.

Hungary has been a nation for a long time. It has had its ups and downs in the power grid, but since it exited the hegemony of the Soviet Union it has, at the least, remained independent. The legacy of the years as a Soviet satellite is a nation where church buildings are museums. This state of affairs is actually not much different from many western European nations. In those countries, a state church receives money from the national government, but nobody takes the church all that seriously. Church attendance is not common, and the statistics decline with the age of the group surveyed.

What, then, did a missionary to Hungary do in order to share Christ with people who believe they have grown past all that religious voodoo?

This missionary spent some time observing before he did anything. While he observed, he got acquainted. He met people on the street, in stores, in churches, at the fence that marked the boundary between his yard and his neighbor’s yard.

He asked a lot of questions:

  • ·         Do you have children?
  • ·         What do you think of the price of coffee these days?
  • ·         Where is the best place to get new tires for my car?
  • ·         Have you eaten at the new restaurant downtown?

Then he listened.

These questions don’t sound very spiritual, but they do sound very human. His theory is that after we get right with God by putting our faith in Christ, we need to get serious about loving our neighbors. He believes that Christians try to share Christ before they have shared themselves, and most people simply aren’t ready for the good news until they have learned to trust the messenger.

After this missionary pastor made some casual friends, he invited those friends to dinner. He says that if people are enjoying a good meal together, laughing about the antics of some relative last Christmas, they are predisposed to share more of themselves and to receive more of other people. This missionary looks to the gospel for this model, finding many stories of Jesus in social settings, irritating the Pharisees who expected a religious man to act religious. The missionary told me that he had no success at all when he tried to buttonhole someone and ask “Do you know Jesus?” but people who had eaten at his table would sometimes come back and ask, “What did you mean yesterday when you said that Jesus died for murderers? I thought Christians had to be good people.”

The missionary has a lot of philosophical and theological underpinnings for this approach. Maybe he will write a book someday about the three tables: the table at my house, the Communion table at my church, the table of the Lamb’s Wedding Supper in heaven at the end of time. For now, I am trying to absorb what he said about sharing himself first.

Do you share yourself with people who need Christ? Do those people trust you to love them for themselves, not for a conversion statistic? In your heart of hearts, do you truly love people for Jesus’ sake? Will you continue to give of yourself as generously if they never respond to the good news of Christ? Are you making friends, or are you cultivating prospects which you will drop when they prove not to be productive? Jesus said that we should be salt and light. Are we doing that job?

Fundamental Human Rights Are Important to Christians

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, one of the first achievements of the United Nations, was signed by the United States on December 10, 1948. For many countries, the freedoms named in this document were not always comfortable, and many signers fall far from actually protecting the rights in this declaration. Article 18 is particularly problematic for countries with state religions, but the USA has no state religion, and until recently, the USA would have been regarded as exemplary in its enforcement of Article 18. In fact, most American citizens would see in Article 18 a wordier statement that protects the same rights protected in the First Amendment to the Constitution of the USA.

                The First Amendment to the US Constitution reads as follows:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

 

                Articles 18 and 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights read as follows:

Article 18

Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.

Article 19

Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.

                It is important to note that the First Amendment protects both a right to the exercise of religion and a right to freedom of speech. The two rights are addressed separately in Articles 18 and 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Whether protected in a single article or in two, those rights are naturally and logically linked, because speech is integral to the exercise of religion. It is worth noting that the authors and legislators who passed the First Amendment did not think it necessary to say that a person was free to change his religion and free to manifest it in teaching, while two hundred years of observation of nations and human oppression motivated the authors of the UDHR to spell out those rights. The fact that they are not elaborated in more words does not reduce the protection of the First Amendment, because all those issues were intended to be incorporated within it. The Founders of the USA wanted to be sure that citizens could speak and act on their faith, including the right to persuasive and instructive speech. Even though they knew that any unprotected human right is subject to be suppressed by an autocratic or dictatorial government, they could hardly have imagined that in the twenty-first century, the freedom to speak of one’s religion and to talk with others about its teachings and its value would be compared to rape. Yet this sort of thing is actually happening in the US military.

                Writing in the Washington Post, Sally Quinn reported a conversation with Mikey Weinstein of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation discussing his concerns that military personnel should not be subjected to what he called “proselytizing”: “This is a national security threat. What is happening [aside from sexual assault] is spiritual rape. And what the Pentagon needs to understand is that it is sedition and treason. It should be punished.” This is harsh language for the act of sharing our faith that is central to Christian discipleship. Weinstein was returning from a meeting with Pentagon officials where he participated in a discussion of proselytizing, a practice Weinstein considers to be as brutal as sexual assault. Pressed for some explanation of his attitude, Weinstein placed the real onus for such brutality on groups he called “dominionist” and “fundamentalist,” but it is his general attitude that is concerning to Christians. Christians consider Christ’s command to “make disciples” wherever they go to be a foundation principle for obedient discipleship. For any part of the government to attempt to shut down the freedom to talk with others about their faith would simultaneously shut down their freedom to exercise their faith.

                For the moment, the military is attempting to quiet the uproar caused by Mr. Weinstein’s comment. An announcement reported in USA Today simply says that conversations about faith are allowed as long as they don’t constitute harassment. Needless to say, the definition of “harassment” is fairly subjective, but for the moment, it is not considered treason for one soldier to offer to pray with one of his fellow soldiers, or for a petty officer to invite her bunkmates to a prayer meeting.

                This issues concerns Christians, however, because it brings to light an attitude that is not unknown in the culture at large. While many secular thinkers simply ignore Christians, some feel obligated, like Mikey Weinstein, to protest and attempt to suppress expressions of Christian faith. The Freedom From Religion Foundation strongly protests the National Day of Prayer each year. This year’s announcement included this statement: “Don’t let the Christian Right hijack our secular Constitution.” Just last month, the FFRF celebrated joyously because they succeeded in persuading the Breathitt County Schools in Kentucky to remove displays of the Ten Commandments on the basis that the displays amounted to establishing a state religion. (Exactly how a display posted by a school district is in violation of the Constitutional prohibition against an act of Congress to establish a religion is not clear, but the displays were removed nonetheless.)

                While many Christians prefer to stay out of political warfare, they need to know and care about attempts to suppress the freedom to share the faith. The authors of the US Constitution and the authors of the UNDHR all felt strongly about the freedom both to choose a religion and to talk about it with others, even to be persuasive in the conversation. This right is not universally protected. In many countries, the government states a commitment to freedom of religion, but the “freedom” is actually nonexistent due to the tightly constricted legal language. For example in China, people are “free” to be Christians or not as they choose, but if they choose to be Christian, they must belong to a church the government registers and read the Bible the government prints and listen to preachers the government authorizes. If they meet with neighbors for a spontaneous prayer meeting or if they choose to attend a church led by a pastor who did not graduate from the seminary the government operates, they can be arrested and imprisoned. The kind of liberty Christians enjoy in the US today is not common around the world.

                The news about the attempt of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation to suppress the sharing of Christian faith is just a hint at the ferocious enmity of some secular thinkers toward Christians. It is worth noting that secular thinkers constitute only one pincer of the cultural challenge Christians face in the US. The other pincer is Islam, and Islam is even more ferociously opposed to Christian evangelism than atheists in general. The move by Islam to promote the incorporation of sharia courts into the American legal structures could result in significant suppression of the ability of Christians to share their testimony with Muslims in the US. In a sharia court it would be a serious crime to converse with a Muslim for the purpose of sharing some other faith.

                Jesus warned Christians that the world would reject them, because the world rejects him. It is clearly as true in the US as in any other nation. Unlike a nation such as China or Uzbekistan, the US actually responds to citizen action to protect rights such as the freedom to exercise the faith. Christians may wish not to be sullied by dirty politics, and they certainly should stay out of the mudfights, but Christians can and they must be voices for the freedom to exercise the faith in speech and action. Pray for the USA, and pray for the continued protection of the freedoms protected by the First Amendment. Freedoms that are not protected disappear.

A Verse for Meditation

We do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as servants for Jesus’ sake.  2 Corinthians 4:5 

Questions for prayerful meditation:

 ·         If I invite someone to church and that person responds with remarks about some “mythical God” or insults me for my “primitive idea about a god” who is being insulted?

 ·         Who did Paul think he was in the big picture? Who am I?

 ·         In conversations on  Facebook and elsewhere, some people tell me to keep my religion to myself. Does this verse provide any suggestion for a response to that concept?

 ·         What is the difference between asserting my right to free religious expression as protected by the US Constitution and asserting my faith in conversations with people who disagree with me?

 ·         Where and when is the right place to assert citizen rights to religious liberty?

 ·         Where and when is the right place to proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord?

·         How does my commitment to being a servant change the way I assert myself?

When does simple restriction become outright persecution?

This week I read some news reports from Iran that set my mind whirling. I forget the actual wording of the headlines, but the story told of people being arrested for conducting Christian worship in an unauthorized location. I learned that this is a serious problem in Iran. Not only can people be arrested if they are discovered while worshiping in someone’s house or some other unregistered location, but people known to be Christians are sometimes simply stopped and questioned about their worship locations. Or about their beliefs. Or about whether they tried to tell a Muslim about Christ. Iran is a nation where the term “restrictive” takes on huge dimensions. Iran is serious about suppressing the expression or even the living evidence of Christianity.

It sounds like something nobody would ever imagine could happen in the USA. However, as I read it, I heard echoes. It hasn’t been that long since I read about a big uproar in California when a Homeowners Association took a couple to court for holding weeknight Bible studies in their home. Then, there was the late February announcement that was publicized in only one place that I ever found. The federal government announced a rule change for student loan forgiveness shortly after losing the Hosanna-Tabor case in the Supreme Court. Whereas previously, someone with a big student loan could earn loan forgiveness by serving in any capacity whatsoever with any 501 ( c ) 3 organization whatsoever, after February 28, 2012, a student could not earn loan forgiveness by serving with any 501 ( c ) 3 organization with a primary purpose of worship or proselytizing. In Christian circles we call “proselytizing” evangelism, but you see what is happening. Any lender can make any rules he likes for qualifying or forgiving the loan, but it is interesting that after the definition of the purpose of a 501 (c ) 3 organization worked against the government in Hosanna-Tabor, the federal government quickly revised the rules on loan forgiveness.

I must say something here. I think Christians should steer clear of money from any government at any level. That money always looks good up front, but there is an old rule that still holds true: he who pays the piper calls the tune. Some people say that the recipient of money becomes a puppet, operated by the strings attached to that money. However you word it, the recipient of government money is likely to be required to do some things in order to qualify for the money. A church that receives government money to operate a homeless shelter could very well discover that the government does not want the homeless to be subjected to suggestions about prayer and Bible study. That is their prerogative, and any faith organization that objects is not on firm ground, I think. My comments about loan forgiveness are about the standard being changed after many years of making no distinction. I actually believe it is a big mistake for a student to count on money from the government or on loan forgiveness of a duly incurred obligation. Nevertheless, the timing and nature of this change to the regulation looks suspicious to me.

I also read this week about Christians in numerous countries being set upon by mobs. The mobs accuse Christians of being spies or of polluting the minds of Muslims or Hindus by talking about Christ or of simply being socially unacceptable. These mobs inflicted actual physical injury to Christians, sometimes quite serious injuries. It made me think about Dan Savage’s diatribe that caused almost 200 young people to walk out of a meeting where Savage was supposed to be helping the group learn anti-bullying tactics. His rant was everything a bully could dream of, and the injury he inflicted was quite serious, even if no literal blood flowed.

My point is to say that in the land of the Constitution and the home of the First Amendment, anti-Christian sentiment is expressed in numerous ways. I don’t know the history of Iran’s restrictions and persecution of Christians, so I don’t know if there was a gradual increase in the intensity of restriction and persecution of Christians. I do know that the kind of things happening in the US today tell me that Christians need to be alert. It is no time to be complacent about our freedom to worship and our freedom to pray in public and our freedom to have Bible study wherever we like.

I don’t suggest we become aggressive, however. Jesus gives us the response to persecution, and it is the same message he gave us for every day. Put all your hope in God. Love God above all, and love the people around you. Love people who insult you and try to hurt you. Pray for them. Give them more than they ask for. Always show Christ to everyone you meet.

We should not have to struggle to remember these things. This is the way we are supposed to live whether or not we are persecuted. If we do this all the time, then some people will actually see Christ and get to know him for themselves. It won’t be our doing. It will be the work of the Holy Spirit using our faithful testimony to do what he does best – build faith in Christ.

We need to be watchful, because as citizens of the USA, we are the only ones who can really preserve, protect and defend our Constitutional freedoms. But while we are doing that, we must always be faithful to our first allegiance: Christ the Lord of all.