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.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

On Getting Old

Generally speaking, I have not regretted getting older through the years. I don't feel old at 57. My body hasn't let me down in any major way yet. I feel like I am somewhere in the middle of life - not much toward the end as far as I can tell.

But recently I have been struggling to get through my workweeks. It seemed to me that I was following my normal routines, but by the end of the week I still didn't have things done - or at least not done as well as I would like. Then I would think of friends of mine in ministry and all the work that THEY get done. THEY don't seem to have this problem. What is going on?

  • Am I being lazy?
  • Am I being unwise in my use of time?
  • Have my mental abilities been compromised?
  • Am I not getting enough sleep? Do I have sleep apnea?
  • Is my exercise routine (recently renewed) wearing me out?

I was relieved by the process of writing my Pastor's Report for the Spring Meeting of the church. It turns out that in the past three months, in addition to spending about three weeks in China, I had special events almost every weekend. We had a Men's Breakfast, a Missions Conference, a Men's Retreat, a Work Day, a Ladies' Day. In addition I have been working on recruiting a part-time assistant pastor and that has involved a couple of trips to do interviews. There is also the "normal" preparation of a Sunday School class lesson, two Sunday messages and a Wednesday teen group program. Plus we are planning and preparing for our Summer programs and buying flowers for Mother's Day and meeting with the board and calling people regarding the Spring Meeting and setting up tables and moving tables... On top of all of that, Lola and I worked through a couple of weeks of buying a new car and I'm trying to do the reading for my next seminary seminar.

I found this all very reassuring. I've been more tired than usual because I've been more busy than usual.  That doesn't mean that I might not have done more with less sleep twenty years ago. But it does seem to me that it is reasonable to be tired when I am very busy with lots of work.


Tuesday, May 7, 2013

View From My Porch

Now that the weather has warmed up I can sit on my front porch in the morning. I love being there with my Bible, my prayer journal and a nice cup of coffee. (Note to self - tomorrow use an insulated cup for the coffee.)

On the porch I enjoy the fresh air, the greening of the trees and shrubs and the chance to watch the birds and animals. But even more than that, I enjoy watching people walking, running, riding or driving by. A few are regulars and we exchange greetings. Others are strangers. But all are interesting.

A young mother stops her car at the curb two houses down and gets her toddler out of a car seat. The neighbor runs a small daycare and I enjoy watching the kids come and go. They are cute and curious. They are excited to see their daycare mom in the morning and excited to see their parents at the end of the day.

But I wonder about the parents - especially the moms. Maybe I'm imagining things, but it seems to me that it costs them something more than money to leave these little ones to go off to work. There is a reluctance - a sadness in their morning routine as I glimpse it through the rhododendron.

Another woman walks by every morning - I imagine that she is going to catch the bus to go to work. I also wonder if she might be fighting an illness. Her hair is very short, she walks very erect and with slow deliberation. She has also been losing weight over the past year. I feel like asking her if she is ok - but we just say, "hi."

Bob from down the street often walks by with his aging shelty. We may talk for a few minutes about neighborhood events or lawn care or dogs or almost anything.

This morning, lost in my prayer time, I looked up just in time to see an obviously pregnant woman walking by to the west, dressed for exercise. She must have been watching me as she approached because she waved a greeting and I waved back. I had such a brief glimpse of her that I wouldn't recognize her if I met her again.

Others come and go. Children on the way to the school bus stop. People walking dogs and/or children. Adults returning from Walmart with a few bags of grocery items. A mexican friend of mine on his bike - going to the restaurant where he works. Neighbors going to the house across the street to make final preparations for the auction to be held there tomorrow afternoon.

I like people. I'm interested in people. But above everything else, I am concerned that people need the Lord Jesus Christ in their lives. They need to know Jesus because he is their Creator and the Judge of all the earth. They need to know him because he is the only Savior and the key to eternal life. They need Jesus because they need the true meaning and purpose that he alone can give to life.

People need the Lord!