Wednesday, August 19, 2009

ROBERT : I am always nervous . . . .

I am always nervous when the conversation turns to evangelism in some way. Perhaps I am unnerved by my sense of not being worthy enough to have even heard the Good News much less be responsible for telling someone else about it. Perhaps it is just shyness, I do not know for certain.

Three moments from my back pages always come to mind.

One is the memory I have of being fifteen and standing on a street corner in some wild and unevangelized city like Memphis or Louisville with my hands full of Four Spiritual Laws booklets. They were given to me and my fellow members of our youth group in Nashville to hand out to folks in such pagan cities in order to save the city and its residents from eternal damnation. Why we were not so concerned about our own city, I do not know. Perhaps the kids from Louisville had gone to Nashville to cover our backs. I am not sure I did much good.

The second moment has to do with the title of a book I edited back in the nineties, a title that has always stuck with me — A Life That Becomes the Gospel. Which sounds to me like a pretty fair witness to having heard the Gospel, the sort of witness I would like to make some day. I was struck by the double entendre for the word becomes in the title and still am. Does it mean to reflect well on the Gospel or to turn into the Gospel? I thought then and still think now that it means both. And I think I am being called to live that out in some way that affects others, maybe even draws them nearer to the kingdom.

The third is the simplest and most powerful expression of the Good News I ever heard. My friend Russell once said to me that he thought three things were true. The first is that God is love. The second is that that Love got loose here on earth somehow in the person of Jesus Christ. The third is that if you believe the first two, then everything about your life is different — the way you talk, the way you act, the way you work and think and love.

I believe that somewhere in between and around and through and up under and next to ‘becoming the Gospel’ and ‘everything about your life is different’ is the kind of bearing witness and preaching of the Gospel to which we are called.

Monday, August 10, 2009

BEN : To tell or not to tell. . . .

To tell or not to tell. Perhaps that is another question that Hamlet might have found himself reasoning had things not ended up as they did.

I come from the part of the pew where ‘telling’ is a large part of what we are supposed to do. It is our job to learn the pitch and become corporate spokespersons for the Kingdom. We are the chosen sales reps, and we are the polished business development folks responsible for fulfilling [sic] the Great Commission. We go forth armed with our elevator speeches to tell folks the Truth. Those who are the best at this, receive the highest honors.

There is stark contrast between the posture of the One Who Came and those who come from my part of the pew when it comes to seeking and saving the lost. I am amazed at how many times the Messiah acts in miraculous ways and then asks the subject of that particular miracle to keep silent and tell no one. This is so confusing that theologians have decided they don’t know either, so they relegate their explanation to an elusive phrase – “Messianic Secret” – whatever that means.

It is an odd thing to carry within you a guilt, deeply seeded from a childhood of Sunday School and Vacation Bible School where one is told time and time again that those who do not tell out the Good News are those who have not really been changed by The Red Letters. That is a lot to process, especially when you believe there is eternal significance attached to the act.

The redemption, if you want to call it that, is that the majority of the people who occupy this part of the pew hear the message from the person in the pulpit and disregard it as a pollyianic cry for new recruits from God’s publication relations department. This part of the pew publishes research [sic] that uncovers the fact that most people who claim to be “evangelical Christians” will never tell [sic] a non-believer [again, sic] about their faith.

I am wrestling very hard these days with the notion that the part of the pew that seems to tout this position also seems to be the part of the pew that is shrinking. In fact, people are scooting across The Great Divide by the millions. And in the middle of a disastrous evacuation, the company messengers just keep getting louder and more obnoxious.

Silence and prayer preserved the Way of Christ after it was in danger of the normalization of Christianity in Rome and beyond. It was those who fled to outlying areas and agreed to preserve the words and practice of the One Who Came through community, study, and practice who are responsible for my hearing of the Red Letters. Were it not for these brave men and women, the Gospel would have been entirely lost. And yet nowhere in The Rule they left for us are the words “Go and tell.”

Perhaps the way to tell the world and fulfill The Great Commission, if such an editorial comment from one telling of the Gospel story is appropriate in the first place, is to read and struggle through the call to love, forgive, and sacrifice in the midst of our tendencies to hate, begrudge, and protect what is ours for the taking.

A wise friend once said, “The Good News is this: After centuries of attempts to erase, diminish, and subvert that message of the One Who Came, it survives today.” The great irony is that the message of faith, hope, and love has largely been spread since the beginning, no matter what words have been said.

Perhaps the One Who Came requested silence because he knew that, in our speaking, our faith would be held captive by the vocabulary most readily available to us rather than set free through our transcendent behaviors — a smile, a glance, or a tear that speaks clearly to all humanity, even those at the very ends of the earth.

These days, my mouth is shut. My heart is open. My prayer is constant.

Perhaps my silence will tell no one, perhaps my silence will tell anyone who will listen — with their soul, the only part we were given by the One Who created us that is blind and deaf to anything less than eternal — perhaps my silence will give voice to the Good News.