Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Embarrassing Jesus?

As I drove down the street today, I noticed a man at the edge of a church parking lot with a placard in his hands. His small sign said, "Christ died for our sins." I was stopped in traffic, and when he noticed that I looked toward him, he started shouting at me across five lanes.

I am not sure what he said, because I couldn't hear him well enough to distinguish his words. I am willing to give him the benefit of a doubt and suppose that he was shouting a clear and biblical explanation of the Gospel - that we are sinners and Jesus provided the sacrifice necessary for the forgiveness of our sins. But even given that benefit of a doubt, I think that what he was doing there today was wrong. He may have had a good message. He may have had good motives. But his approach was, in my opinion, an embarrassment to Jesus. What he was doing might get him points with his particular church group, but I believe most unchurched people who saw him ended up thinking less of him and less of Jesus.

Just down the street from him was a man in a funny hat who was dancing and pretending to play a guitar in front of a pizza place. During tax season there were people dressed up as the Statue of Liberty dancing and waving a sign a few blocks in the other direction. But these other guys are trying to be funny, clowning around to get attention for a fairly simple transaction. By contrast, this guy in the church parking was earnest and intense. His message involved death and life. I think he made people nervous. I am not sure how effective a dancing Statue of Liberty is at attracting business for tax preparation services, but I think a Bible screaming fanatic must be far less effective in gaining a hearing for the Gospel.

I've known other people who have taken similar approaches - sometimes involving a bullhorn. They tend to subscribe to "magical thinking." They know the Bible verses that say, "Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God" (Romans 10:17) and that "It pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save those who believe" (1Cor. 1:21). Certainly these verses are true - but these folks take them to mean the word of God is magic. If they can just get you to read a verse from their placards or hear them shout some verses while you pass by - then "God's word will not return void." It will accomplish God's purpose and save some souls.

Tonight this guy can go home and say, "I went out and witnessed for Jesus for X hours today. Certainly God will use this to save some souls... His word will not return void. We will never know how many responded until we get to heaven."

I think he is completely mistaken. He spent X hours scaring people and embarrassing Jesus. Those who saw him just think he is weird - maybe even dangerous. I doubt that anybody heard enough of a gospel message to seriously consider it, but they got enough to associate Christ Jesus with weirdness.

Driving back past this church I noticed the construction workers laboring in the hot sun just down the block. I wondered how much more effective the man with the placard might have been if he had just brought them a cold bottle of water. That might have opened an opportunity for the gospel, but what he was doing certainly did not.

By all means, work to tell people the gospel. But not in ways that embarrass Jesus and discredit the message you are trying to share.

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