A Proper Approach How to enter into gospel-centered relationships

How we approach people as we seek to be missional is important.

This simple truth reminds me of all the movies I’ve seen over the years in which a pilot is about to land their plane and they get ready to make their approach.

They have a checklist to go through, a way to be prepared.

And they know that if they do all that’s on that checklist, then they will be much, much more likely to land the plane safely than if they went about it all willy-nilly.

Why do we think being and sharing the good news of Jesus would be any different?  Our approach matters too!

Sure, we might not have a checklist that we must work through each time…but there are some tried and true ideas to help our approach be much, much more likely to succeed!

Why Talk about Our Approach at All?

This notion of writing about this topic became self-evident last week.  I wrote a blogpost called “5 Reasons Not To Be Judgmental” that got shared around on Facebook a little bit.

The response was what I expected.  Several people were in agreement with me that being judgmental is a bad thing and that, among other things, it hurts the way we present ourselves to those who have yet to follow Jesus.  And many, many more people were angered by the post, claiming that I had gone too soft or too liberal or had become too tolerant.

Despite the fact that I should have known better, I waded into the comments to duke it out with the latter group.  In one particularly tense comment thread I found an unexpected ally, Sam.  I don’t know much about Sam other than he seems to be somewhere on a path toward Jesus.  I don’t know where he might be on that journey, but I’m pretty confident that he’s on it!

Sam decided to make his voice heard in a conversation where one commenter was saying that any preaching of the gospel should include an strong effort to convince the hearers that they are “wretched sinners.”  And while an awareness of sinfulness and repentance is certainly part of responding to the good news of Jesus, it seems to me from a lifetime or reading and studying the New Testament that it is the role of the Holy Spirit to convict people of sin and lead them to repentance.

This is where Sam stepped in.  Here’s what he said:

approach

I was impressed by what Sam shared!  So I asked him if I could use his comments.

approach

And Sam replied:

approach

And he concluded with this zinger:

approach

I was left more or less speechless by what Sam had shared!  And from that day until now all I could think about was sharing Sam’s words on this blog.

So, there they are — the wisdom of Sam, highlighting the importance of having a proper approach when being missional!

Boiling Down Sam’s Ideas about Approach

So, how can we get the most out of Sam’s words?  Well, I think it might be good to look through them and find the best nuggets.  Here are the results of my mining efforts:

  1. We must have an audience that’s willing to listen!  If our approach is too aggressive, too judgmental, too churchy, or too negative overall, then no one will listen.  So if we are hoping to share and be the good news where we work, live, and play, then we MUST find ways for folks to listen to us!
  2. When we share we should be “positive and accepting.”  This is going to feel like watering down the gospel to some folks.  But stick with me for a minute.  The word “gospel” literally  means “good news.”  It follows logically then that we would want to have “good” things to talk about when we share the “good news”!  And simply because we’re in proximity to or having a conversation with someone whon our church culture deems as a “wretched sinner” doesn’t mean that we agree with or condone whatever sinfulness that is present.  Instead it means that we are trying our best to be like Jesus, who was infamous for being friends with “sinners and tax collectors” (Matthew 9.10-11, 11.19; Mark 2.15-16; Luke 5.30, 7.34, 15.1).
  3. Actions speak louder than words. Sam implores us to let our loving and selfless actions do the talking as we make our approach instead of talking about how others are evil for their actions.  What kind of actions should we engage in?  I love how Sam starts at a really simple level — just asking if everything is okay or if we can help in anyway.  I’m pretty sure that all of us can take those two steps!  And in so doing we will be more likely to move the relationship closer to Christ.
  4. Our actions in the community are noticed.  Sam said, “It’s really hard to shut out any group who displays positive work in their community, who supports groups of people who are otherwise ridiculed and discriminated against, even if they don’t agree with them.”  There it is, in plain English.  How we treat people in our neighborhoods is a known commodity.  People see us.  They see us as individuals, families, small groups, congregations, and as the Church as a whole.  So, wouldn’t we want what they see to be attractive instead of repulsive?
  5. Following Sam’s approach can lead to people feeling impressed, inspired, curious, and respectful.  Aren’t these reactions much better than the way that people tend to think of us today, namely as judgmental, hypocritical, old-fashioned, and too political?  And in so doing, wouldn’t the person we are sharing with be more likely to respond positively to the good news of Jesus and his kingdom?

Our Approach Should Be Like Jesus’ Approach

But those of us who are Christians follow Jesus and not Sam!  So how did Jesus do this?

Much could be written about Jesus’ approach but I only want to explore one little story here: the calling of Matthew.

A little background would be good.  At this point in Jesus’ ministry he has gained a reputation for being a good teacher, a worker of miracles, and a friend of the unlovable.  One group that was certainly unlovable by the vast majority of Jews living in Palestine in the first century was tax collectors.

Now when we think of tax collectors today we might think of IRS agents with their carefully pressed suits, calculators, spread sheets, and complicated tax codes.  But Matthew was a different sort of tax collector.  He was more akin to the member of a gang who shakes down local businesses for protection money.  In other words, Matthew had more in common with mob muscle than pencil pushers.

And Matthew did his work publicly.  Everyone knew who he was and what he did.

So when Jesus started his approach with Matthew, all of these things were true and everyone, Jesus and Matthew included, was aware of them.

Here’s how it went down:

As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him. (Matthew 9.9)

Notice what Jesus didn’t do.  He didn’t judge Matthew.  He didn’t tell him to shape up before he would be able to follow him.  He didn’t care much about the opinion of anyone other than Matthew.  And he didn’t try to convince Matthew that he was a wretched sinner.

Instead Jesus just said “follow me.”  Jesus asked Matthew to join his community, to become one of his traveling band.

How crazy!

Jesus’ actions certainly don’t line up with our typical approach.  We tend to tell people that they have to behave and believe correctly before they can belong to us.  But Jesus didn’t do that.  He told people that they belonged and then taught them through his own life how to behave and believe!

 

Friends, let’s follow the advice of Jesus (and Sam) and let’s fix our approach to sharing the good news!

 

What do you think?  How can we fix how we approach sharing the good news with someone who has yet to follow Jesus?  Let me know in the comments below!

Fear: 5 Ways It Trips Us Up How trusting God can trump our trepidations

Fear is a strong.  There aren’t many things that can motivate us more.

Sadly, advertisers and news organizations know this.  They present products and news to us in ways that play to our fears, manipulating us to behave and believe in the ways they want us to.

But there is another way brothers and sisters!  It’s not an easy way and I certainly haven’t totally figured it out.  But fear can be trumped by trust for the follower of Jesus.

Trust > Fear

5 Ways Fear Trips Us Up

But despite this truth — that trust is greater than fear — our fears can really get in the way of us following Jesus well in the real world.  I’m sure there are dozens of ways this can play itself out, but below I’ve listed 5 that I experience or readily see in places I frequent.

  1. Fear can block love — 1 John 4.18 says that “perfect love drives out fear.”  But the flipside of this aphorism is true too, namely that in the absence of love, fear thrives.  In a recent post of mine on Facebook (and on this blog) this has really come to light for me.  (In the next few lines I’m going to make some assumptions, I apologize in advance.)  In my opinion, due to the highly vitriolic and unhelpful ways in which certain corners of the print, broadcast, and internet media have reported on the Syrian refugee crisis, many Americans are exhibiting lots of signs of irrational fears about Syrian refugees.  These fears create an environment in which people call the people running for their lives from the violent conflict in Syria all kinds of horrible things.  In some instances Americans have very directly wished death on these refugees.  But I wonder how things would have been different had we all started with love instead?  Would we have been as apt to listen to erroneous and one-side reports about this refugee crises?  Would we have been as willing to name-call and demonize the refugees and those who are seeking to show them compassion?
  2. Fear can feed our biases — There’s a funny song from a musical called Avenue Q called “Everybody’s A Little Bit Racist” (consider this your content warning!).  And while it’s very likely true that we’re all a little bit racist, perhaps the gentler way of saying the same thing is that we all make decisions in our lives based on explicit and implicit biases.  This is very often a good thing.  Biases can be benign and can be based on past experience, thus creating shortcuts for our thinking in the present.  However, if left unchecked, our biases can also create great amounts of tension, hatred, and even out-right racism in our lives.  And when we add fear to the mix, this concoction becomes even more volatile!
  3. Fear can prevent us from serving — Service is central for a follower of Jesus.  In fact, Jesus himself said that he came to serve, not to be served (Mark 10.45).  And those of us who follow him are to imitate him (Philippians 2.5), including his desire to serve.  However, fear can block us from serving others.  We can worry and become anxious that those we serve are somehow a threat to us, even when there’s no evidence to support these feelings.  And sometimes it can escalate even further, with our fears convincing us that certain people don’t deserve our service for one reason or another.  Check this out though: in Luke 1.74 the priest Zechariah sings a prophetic song about the impact that Jesus was going to have — through Jesus, God has “enabled us to serve him without fear.”  As crazy as it might sound with our human ears and sensibilities, serving others as God leads is worth whatever risks may be involved.  Obeying God should trump all things for a follower of Jesus, including (and especially) our fears!
  4. Fear causes us to become slaves — When we are in the grips of real fear, there’s not much else that we can do except focus on that fear.  Here’s a silly example, that I’m using with permission, to highlight this idea — my wife’s fear of bugs and spiders.  When she sees one, especially if it’s a cricket or a spider, all the rest of the world starts to melt away.  She locks in on that creepy crawly and forgets all about everything else (including that 5am is not a good time to shout bloody murder!).  I’m convinced that our fears can do the same thing to us as followers of Jesus.  If we are fearful of people who live on the other side of town, for example, then we can become a slave to this fear, allowing it to dominate our thinking and our actions.  So instead of loving all people and incarnating the good news of Jesus and his kingdom among them, we look down on them, judge them, and avoid them at all costs.  This is not how things should be for us as followers of Jesus!  Here’s how Paul put it in Romans 8.15: “The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.””  In other words, our ability to call on God as sons and daughters of the Most High can and should destroy all our debilitating fears that threaten to enslave us!
  5. Fear can prevent us from sharing the gospel — In Philippians 1.14 Paul writes the following: “And because of my chains, most of the brothers and sisters have become confident in the Lord and dare all the more to proclaim the gospel without fear.”  What he is getting at is that the example of how God was using him while he was in prison was inspirational to others, even allowing them proclaim the gospel without fear.  Unfortunately, we don’t always look to examples like Paul’s and we allow fear to prevent us from sharing and embodying the good news among our friends, families, and neighbors.  And this isn’t just some minor thing that we can put off until later.  No!  Being bearers of the good news is our central calling as followers of Jesus!  In Matthew 28 Jesus told his disciples that they were to make disciples of all people and that same Great Commission applies to us today!  Brothers and sisters, we mustn’t let our fears prevent us from fulfilling our purpose as followers of Jesus!  Instead, we must trust God, looking to inspirational examples as needed and allowing him to push our fear away with his love.

So what’s the solution to all of this fear?  We must begin with love, keep our biases in check, serve others no matter what, not allow ourselves to be enslaved, and proclaim the good news.

But how?

Trust Jesus.  Simple to write; difficult to live!

Trust > Fear

 

What do you think?  What are some other ways that fear trips us up as followers of Jesus?  How can we combat our fears?

Jesus Was a Refugee Would we have not accepted him?

“Given the tragic attacks in Jerusalem and the threats we have already seen, Egypt cannot participate in any program that will result in Jewish refugees – any one of whom could be connected to terrorism – being resettled in Egypt,” Prefect Gaius Turranius said in the letter [to Caesar Augustus]. “Effective today, I am directing the Egypt Health & Human Services Commission’s Refugee Resettlement Program to not participate in the resettlement of any Jewish refugees in the State of Egypt. And I urge you, as Caesar, to halt your plans to allow Jews to be resettled anywhere in the Roman Empire.” [Adapted from Gov. Abbot’s letter to Presidnt Obama, found in this press release]

Thankfully this letter was never sent by Prefect Gaius Turranius, the person who served as Egypt’s governor when Jesus’ family fled Israel after Herod the Great went on a killing rampage in Jerusalem (Matthew 2.13-18).  Instead, it appears that Jesus and his family were able to find safety in Egypt for some time (estimates vary from a few months to three years).

refugee

“Escape to Egypt” by Sebastiano Ricci

But this letter (with the modern names, etc. added back in, of course) was sent in recent days from Texas’ governor to the US’s president, along with 30 other similar letters and declarations from other US governors.

That’s more than half of the states in the US!  More than half of the states in the US won’t accept people fleeing from the very threat is also feared within the US — ISIS, or the Islamic State.

Of course, ISIS is a horrible group that has committed numerous atrocities all over the world, one of which I’ve written about before.  And there is fear that some of those who are fleeing Syria are or will become a threat to America due to being radicalized.  And this fear may not be unfounded, since one of the suicide bombers in Paris was carrying a fake Syrian passport and apparently was himself on the run from the violence in the Middle East.

But none of this changes the fact that the Bible says some clear things about how to treat those who are refugees.  Let’s look at some of those passages (as found in this article at relevant.com):

When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. (Leviticus 19:33-34)

When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the foreigner. (Leviticus 19:9-10)

He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing. And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt. (Deuteronomy 10:18-19)

Do not oppress a foreigner; you yourselves know how it feels to be foreigners, because you were foreigners in Egypt. (Exodus 23:9)

“So I will come to put you on trial. I will be quick to testify against sorcerers, adulterers and perjurers, against those who defraud laborers of their wages, who oppress the widows and the fatherless, and deprive the foreigners among you of justice, but do not fear me,” says the Lord Almighty. (Malachi 3:5)

“As for the foreigner who does not belong to your people Israel but has come from a distant land because of your name— for they will hear of your great name and your mighty hand and your outstretched arm—when they come and pray toward this temple, then hear from heaven, your dwelling place. Do whatever the foreigner asks of you, so that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you, as do your own people Israel, and may know that this house I have built bears your Name. (1 Kings 8:41-44)

No stranger had to spend the night in the street, for my door was always open to the traveler (Job, discussing his devotion to God) (Job 31:32)

For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ (Matthew 25:25-36)

And add to all of these passages this passage from Matthew 2 that I referenced at the beginning of this blog:

When they [the wise men] had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.”

So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.”

When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled:

“A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.”

After Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who were trying to take the child’s life are dead.”

So he got up, took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel. (Matthew 2.13-21)

 

Jesus Was a Refugee…So What?

What does all of this mean?  For those of us who follow Jesus, what are we to do with the clear injunctions from Scripture to care for those who seek asylum in the places where we life?  And what does it say to us that our savior and his family were people that were shown compassion when they became refugees themselves?

First, I’m not going to pretend that governing a city, state, or nation is simple.  Let’s be honest, I have a difficult time governing my own life sometimes!

I understand that there’s a balance to be struck between compassion and protection and that where politicians fall on that spectrum is based, in my opinion at least, on whatever may help them get re-elected to their current gig or help them position themselves well for their next gig.  Let’s not fool ourselves.  Politicians on both sides play to the emotions of their constituents in order to remain relevant, popular, and electable.

So, for a little while at least, let’s leave governing cities, states, and nations to one side and look at our lives as followers of Jesus instead.  We aren’t called to balance safety and compassion.  Nope.  Look back at the passages above and search for others that talk about how we are to treat foreigners.  The Scriptures are clear that God expects love and provision to be extended to refugees from those who claim him as their God.

On a personal level, as followers of Jesus, we have no other option, other than disobedience, of course.

So let’s not let fear, misinformation, possible ethnic prejudice, and political posturing prevent us from obeying God’s call to love the refugee.

But what does the fact that Jesus was a refugee add to this picture?

Here’s what I think: The fact that our savior was a refugee himself shows that he understands completely what it is like to leave everything behind because of terror.  He knows the long and hard roads that refugees face — roads full of danger, pain, and suffering.

And since Jesus was a refugee himself, as he leads his people to care for the refugees in their midst through the indwelling of the Spirit, he will know how to direct them to show true compassion.  It’s our job as followers of Jesus to respond to the Spirit: listening to him, learning from him, and obeying him.

I’m about to use a word I don’t use all that often: duty.  Caring for the refugees in our midst is our duty as followers of Jesus.  Leaving this duty undone is a grave disservice to current refugees and a slap in the face of our once-a-refugee-himself savior.

 

What about US History?

What role does caring for refugees have in American history?

Here are some brief highlights:

  • Many European settlers in the US were refugees themselves, fleeing persecution, natural disasters, poor economic situations, and war.
  • All throughout our history the US has been a beacon for the lost and the hurting in the world, even in very difficult and complicated times, such as in the immediate aftermath of the fall of Saigon during the Vietnam War.  During that time around 125,000 Vietnamese made their way to the US [SOURCE], one of whom is a personal friend of mine!  And during the height of the Cold War, there must have been great fear about communism spreading in the US due to Vietnamese refugees, not to mention the potential security risk.  (Sound familiar?)
  • And for many years the US has had federal policies allowing for the migration of thousand of refugees into our country each year, many of whom are/were fleeing similar situations to that found in Syria.

It appears that the history of the US supports allowing for Syrian refugees to seek asylum here — plain and simple.

 

Now What?

The US is likely to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees, who will be placed all throughout our country, including in the states whose governors don’t want them.

So, what are we to do as followers of Jesus?  Here are some suggestions:

  1. Give.  Just think about it…currently half of Syria’s population has fled their homes.  That’s crazy!  So those of us who claim to follow Jesus can help by giving to one of the many organizations who are helping with the Syrian refugee crisis.  Here’s one I recommend: Texas Baptists Refugee Relief.  The Texas Baptists are giving aid to a network of churches in Lebanon, where 1.5 million Syrian refugees have resettled.  Many other groups are offering aid.  Research one that you like and give.
  2. Advocate.  If you are a follower of Jesus and are convicted by the truths of the Scriptures about how to treat the foreigners among us, write to your state and national politicians, asking them to enact policies to help bring aid and compassion to those seeking asylum in our land (especially if you happen to live in a state whose governor has tried to close its doors).
  3. Act.  There’s a good chance that some Syrian refugees are already living near you, especially if you live in a major metropolitan area.  Whether that’s true for you or not, talk with your pastor, community outreach person, and/or your missions person at your local church.  Ask them if your church has a plan to care for the refugees entering our country and potentially our cities.  Ask if they’d be willing for your church to serve as a host church for refugees.  Have them ask your church’s denomination or wider church network about next steps.  And, if the Lord is leading you, perhaps open your home, cook some food, or offer whatever other acts of love and hospitality that you can.
  4. Pray.  Pray for those who are fleeing the continuing war in Syria.  Pray for the health and safety of the refugees.  Pray for the followers of Jesus all over the face of the earth to rise up to this great challenge.  Pray that this crisis can be used by God in order for his church to share and embody the good news with and among people desperate for it.  And pray for God to use you as he sees fit.

 

Thanks so much for reading this!  You may not agree with me on every point, and that’s fine.  Either way, let’s follow our savior who was once a refugee as he leads us to love everyone, especially those who are most in need.