Expectant for Advent

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What stirs up emotional longing within you? You could be an expectant parent awaiting the arrival of your firstborn. Maybe you are daydreaming about or patiently awaiting a new relationship or job. Perhaps you have not taken time for yourself in an awfully long time, and you are planning some time away. Whatever that longing is, stop right now and eagerly consider what sensations are pouring through your body when that longing is fulfilled.

Are you relaxed? Is your heart racing? Are you filled with purpose?  Do you feel a fire burning on the inside? I know you have had this feeling before, and I know that you have probably spent a great deal of time and mental energy in your life seeking after those feelings.

So many of the fantastic things in life are mundane. The objects of our greatest longing are often common, but our experience with them is new and so makes them feel unusual for a time. I suspect that a great deal of our unhappiness occurs because we take so many things for granted. And so we set our sights constantly on things that are new or different from our norm. It is as if our heart stops due to boredom, and we must be electrocuted every now and again.

Because fantastic things become mundane, we require frequent reminders. Have you ever considered why you celebrate a birthday? The only thing more common than birth is death. Why must we celebrate one’s birth every year? Does it seem odd when you see so many loved ones gathered around an infant simply because it has survived its first twelve months on earth? Many people refuse to celebrate birthdays as they get older, because the celebration has come to mean something different. It becomes a reminder that they are closer to death and thus further from birth. Except for centenarians. I imagine they celebrate every birthday, as it would become a novelty to continue chalking up the years.

The truth is, every year of life ought to be celebrated. Life is the most incredible of all miracles. The newness of an infant’s life reminds us of that. That is why we admire so much those who remain in their old age dignified, but young at heart. That is to say, they have kept the good parts of their youth and parted with the negative. Furthermore, we admire this because we are so accustomed to the inverse. Some of the most insufferable children I have ever known have been adults.

The Christmas season is one which produces in many a deep sense of longing. I suspect that most of this is nostalgia. In a time where tradition is so often subverted, Christmas remains (for now) an almost unanimous vestige of folk tradition. This nostalgia is not always associated with warmth. One may even feel nostalgic for the stressful elements of the season. For many, that is the mark of time with their families.

Although Christmas is a decidedly Christian holy day, it is interesting to consider not only its secular ritualistic roots, but also its secular practice. Like several Christian holy days, Christmas borrows heavily from folk traditions of old. This provides a carry-over into the secular members of modern-day Western society. It provides context for common ground in a sacred context. Because of this, many disagree as to what “Christmas is all about.”

As a sacred tradition, Christmas is a day of remembrance for the incarnation of the Son of God. It is a birthday celebration but an inherently unique one. The Child born that night in Bethlehem would go on to become the very first human in history to conquer death and live forever. Yet we do not celebrate His birth each year out of novelty to tally up the years. There is a sense in which a birthday celebration reminds us of how spectacular is our very existence. Christmas is a birthday celebration that reminds us of something much deeper.

In accordance with Biblical prophecy, the grown-up Jesus would not begin His earthly ministry until a prophet would come to prepare the way for Him. That prophet was His cousin, namely, John the Baptist. We are told that when Mary was expecting Jesus she visited for several months with her cousin Elizabeth who was expecting her son John:

“When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. And she cried out with a loud voice and said, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And how has it happened to me, that the mother of my Lord would come to me? For behold, when the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby leaped in my womb for joy.  And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what had been spoken to her by the Lord.”

Luke 1:41-45 NASB

Before he was even born, John the Baptist longed expectantly for the coming of Christ. As both men grew up, John would go on to begin a ministry of baptism, wherein He foretold of the coming of the promised Messiah. In his first recorded [post-natal] encounter with Jesus he shouts:

“Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”

John 1:29 NASB

Even this notion of being excited about a Savior, despite the unparalleled magnificence of salvation, has become mundane to us in the present day. But in John the Baptist’s day, it was felt as something exponentially more profound. For centuries God had spoken to His people through His law and His prophets. Both foreshadowed the coming of a Messiah who would fulfill them both and save mankind from their sins. Then there was silence for some four hundred years. The people of God were desperate for a voice of prophecy to arrive.

John the Baptist enters as the first voice of prophecy in four centuries. He knew of his role as Christ’s forerunner ostensibly before his own birth. I imagine him being nearly overwhelmed with excitement upon seeing Jesus. While his fulness of Spirit and unique role in history may have amplified his excitement, every sinner can look to Christ with the same expectation.

This is the significance of Christmas. God made man. Man became estranged from God through our nature made corrupt by wrong-doing. God prepared a means by which man could know fellowship with God. The birth of Christ is the fulfillment of promise. No matter how typical or insignificant it might feel to us, no matter how much we might take it for granted, we celebrate Christmas to remind us of the kindness and mercy of God toward us.

To know Christ is to remember His work in the past, to seek His work in the present, and to look ahead to His work in the future when He returns. On Christmas we celebrate the fact that He came at all. As we consider Advent, let us ask God to fill us with the expectation of John the Baptist, to be overwhelmed with that sense of longing and excitement. Let us take this season of remembrance as a time to remind us afresh of the magnitude of our gracious God’s profound love for us, His people. He gave His Son to bring hope unto the world!

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Who Would Jesus Vote For, and What Would He Name His Yacht?

“It Looks Just As Stupid When You Do It.” That was the caption on an anti-tobacco refrigerator magnet I was given in junior high.

Whoever wrote the ad was either untrained in persuasion or was trying to subliminally create a positive association with cigarette smoking. One’s first thought at this ad is that, despite how silly the creatures look, they do at least look pretty cool. If nothing else, it created an indelible mental association between cute and innocent animals and cigarettes.

More importantly, people (especially young ones) do not care about whether or not they look stupid unless looking stupid makes them uncool. Studies prove that the addition of a cigarette in one’s hand often does make them appear cooler to the bystander. Albeit, it seems that there is a coolness threshold, wherein a nicotine-slave fiendishly sucking down a chain of cigarettes crosses the parabola into unsavory (uncool) territory. I’m not even going to address the blatant uncoolness of electronic cigarettes.

The point is, nobody cares about appearing stupid unless appearing stupid is a barrier to their social acceptance. If one is preoccupied with impressing others and must do so via means of stupidity, then they will not think twice. “Not thinking twice” is actually a pretty good definition of stupidity.

The other inherent silliness of the ad is that it presupposes a similarity of social roles between humans and non-humans. And this is my main point.

The animals don’t look silly because they somehow know better than to smoke cigarettes. They look silly, because their civilizations have not advanced to the level of establishing complex structures, such as a tobacco industry that generates three quarters of a trillion dollars annually, for instance. Animals, it turns out, enjoy cigarettes too. They just were never clever enough to invent them and skilled enough to make them, but that’s not to say they were never unwise enough to habitually smoke them.

Another slogan that was popular in my youth was “What Would Jesus Do?” People would wear bracelets with the slogan. It became a ubiquitous cultural phenomenon.

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And apparently Kanye West still sports one?

The original intent of the bracelets (other than financial profit) seemed innocent enough. They could be used as a reminder to “do the right thing” throughout the day. While it is asinine for someone to need a bracelet to remind them about what they should be meditating on already, sometimes infants need their milk. The bracelets became no more than a fad and an unoffensive context for a Christian subcultural foray into the mainstream.

“Would Would Jesus Do?” as a fad was pretty harmless, but as a theological principle it is incredibly unhelpful if taken to its logical conclusions. You see, the fad did not end with bracelets. After George W. Bush began sending troops into Iraq and Afghanistan in 2003 I started seeing bumper stickers on people’s cars that read “Who Would Jesus Bomb?” Then in subsequent elections “Who Would Jesus Vote For?” started appearing. The trend continues.

I should make a bumper sticker that says “What Would Jesus Name His Yacht?” or “What Would Jesus Name His Firstborn Daughter?” Imagine contexts in which Jesus might be purchasing a yacht or being married and having children. It’s a funny thought, isn’t it? Is it a sin to own a yacht? Some people probably think so, but no, not if you have the means. Is it a sin to bear offspring? On the contrary, the Scriptures tell us to “be fruitful and multiply.” So why is it a funny thought? Because Jesus had a different social role and function than other people do.

The anti-tobacco ad is silly because it unfairly associates human civilization and capacity with animal civilization and capacity. Jesus is fully man and fully God. As peers in Christ’s human nature, we are able to laterally relate our experience with His. Herein, Jesus refers to us as His “friends” (John 15). But as subjects unto His divine nature, our relation to Him is quite different.

Jesus came to earth with a very specific purpose and role. The example He has set before us and the lessons He has taught us provide us with the instruction for leading lives of holiness, but they do not define the nuances of our daily experience. Because of Christ’s Messianic role He lived in such a way that promoted His mission.  Although our Christian mission is to proliferate His, our earthly role is not materially the same. It is of the same Spirit, but of different functions. The body performs a different set of tasks from the Head (1 Corinthians 12).

With these things in mind, it is not helpful to constantly pose the question of what Jesus would or would not have done. It may be relevant to basic questions of morality, but it is useless in light of complex social scenarios. These questions are not helpful because they miss the point of the Gospel entirely. Christ’s Gospel is good news for condemned sinners. It’s chief aim is to save and internally transform a person (gradually) into the person God designed them to be.

To this end, we are given the instructions for daily living. In addition to being preoccupied with one’s conversion and spiritual growth, Christ’s instruction is also focused on the growth of His Kingdom as promoted through evangelism and discipleship. For that reason, the complex social structures in which we try to retrofit Jesus Christ do not boast the precedence that His Kingdom holds.

That is not to say that Christians are not tasked with engaging with the complex systems of our surrounding societies. At times, many of you have probably felt immense internal conflict regarding that engagement. I will address that at a future date. In the mean time I’m pretty sure I know who Jesus would be vote for, but I’ll address that in my next post.

 

Tribal Integrity

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And Cain talked with Abel his brother: and it came to pass, when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother, and slew him. And the LORD said unto Cain, Where is Abel thy brother? And he said, I know not: Am I my brother’s keeper?

Genesis 4:8-9 KJV

The irony of Cain’s retort is that he was technically not his brother’s keeper- at least in the paternal sense- for Able was a grown man. He smugly asked the question to dodge the confession God was clearly importuning. Cain’s words are particularly aggravating because he was obviously not expected to be his brother’s keeper in that sense. What further revealed Cain’s callousness is that he didn’t desire to be his brother’s keeper in any sense.

Cain’s first sin was self-exoneration. In the very act of sacrifice, he revealed his own delusions of self-importance. He had prepared an offering that was displeasing to the Lord but convenient for himself. God chided Cain for his inward motives. His delusions quickly devolved into an entitled self-centeredness and then into covetousness. God compassionately warned Cain to “master his sin.” Instead he left his covetousness unbridled, and it resulted in the first murder in recorded history.

Human beings have always existed for worship of our Creator. Worship is not merely wrapped up in art or song but in the very activity of our lives. Our fellowship with God was always intended to be the hub of our existence- from it all else flows. When the parents of Cain sinned, corruption and brokenness became humanity’s inheritance. There is, of course, a greater inheritance gifted unto the children of God. But until death or the fulfillment of the second act of Christ’s coming, humanity will suffer the plight of our fallen nature.

“How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! how art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations! For thou hast said in thine heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north: I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the most High. Yet thou shalt be brought down to hell, to the sides of the pit.”

Isaiah 14:12-15 KJV

Our befallen nature distorts our reality and predisposes us to see false gods everywhere, even in ourselves. The devil himself is our example. The story of Cain reveals to us the logical conclusions of our idolatry. His self-adulation deluded him into entitledness and thus covetousness. James reminds us “when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death.”

The majority of mankind are not so murderous, but we do have a propensity toward individualism due to our delusional self-appraisal. To be clear, it is natural and necessary for one to pursue their own needs primarily, but the individualist pursues his own needs exclusively.

Humans have always been tribal by nature, and this has protected and enhanced civilizations throughout history. We are social beings who thoroughly depend upon one another. While self-concern is necessary to the success of the individual, and therefore to the tribe; individualism is damning to the tribe and therefore to the individual.
There are many variables that encourage individualism in a society, and one must be keen to break free from these influences. For they arrouse in us the greatest defects of our humanity- wantonness and vanity. Individualism may transpire into ruthless competitiveness or devestating indifference (such as neglect)- all of which diminish the integrity of the tribe. But there is another motivater that agitates our unity as a people. Fear.

I don’t mean fear in a legitimized sense. There are enemies of humanity ever pursuing havoc and seeking to goad a society into submission. They are the ones for whom fear exists. Fear is reaction. It is not a reaction that springs up to transform us into cowards. It springs up to motivate our preparedness for battle. Fear exists to be overcome, and it is overcome by tactical confrontation. In this sense, fear is an appropriate motivator. Unfortunately, fear is often treated more harmfully. In a society so motivated by comfort, virtues like courage become all but lost.

In modern western society this notion has become endemic. A successful human society has always been tribalistic. Tribalism requires that all men be keepers of their brethren, for both love and survival. Any threat to the integrity of the tribe must be dealt with properly, lest it corrode the entire society from the inside out.

In the 1980s the media helped to proliferate a pedophile scare. Anyone growing up around this time may recall the warnings to beware of perverts apparently lurking around every corner. My church even had its very own “Tickle Man.” He was a fat old man with a beard who would tickle random children. When his sordid, pedophiliac past was eventually revealed, the pastor promptly excommunicated him from the congregation.

Perhaps there was an uptick in perverts in the 80s. It’s hard to say. In the very least, a great many of them were put away or more carefully monitored. While monsters still do exist in our society, the vast majority within have, in the very least, a desire not to harm one’s neighbor. We would all be better for it if we took a step further.

“Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves….”

Philippians 2:3 NASB

Christ famously prepares his disciples for their ministry by admonishing them to be “gentle as doves, but wise as serpents.” We truly have an obligation to be suspect of others. In any society, trust out to be earned. The trouble comes when we lose our ability to even issue trust because we are so motivated by a fear that is rooted in the toxic generalization that every peer is a probably threat. There needs to be a sense in which we can plan for the worst but give a benefit of doubt to presume the best about others. A society crippled by fear of one another will be a society easily subjugated. Even in the absence of threats of domination, a society will be totally maimed by fear.

The integrity of a society demands personal discipline coupled with deep love and servitude for one’s family and peers. Individualism (in the form of neglect or aggression toward others) and fear (in the form of total and general societal distrust) are the acids that deteriorate the fabrics of a society. These truisms are applicable to any society, though I would argue that a society is all the better off in the presence of shared creeds that regard the reason humankind exists at all. But that is another matter.

Invisible Oppressors

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“The scribes… were saying, “[Jesus] is possessed by Beelzebul,” and “He casts out the demons by the ruler of the demons.” And He called them to Himself and began speaking to them in parables, “How can Satan cast out Satan?  If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. If a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand.  If Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but he is finished! But no one can enter the strong man’s house and plunder his property unless he first binds the strong man, and then he will plunder his house.”

Mark 3:22-27

The wisdom of Jesus is remarkable. In this particular exchange He is, on the surface, defending the origin of His power. In doing so, He goes on to say a great deal more. A prominent lesson to be inferred here is that internal divisions disrupt unity and pave the way for inevitable defeat. There is strength in numbers acting in solidarity with one another, but when those numbers are broken off into factions there is vulnerability. Jesus teach us also that it takes the greater strength of one to overcome the great strength of another.

Throughout history, civilizations have always been vulnerable to external and internal forces  which have been represented as foreign governments or rulers, business corporations, and political or religious ideologies. Much is said these days regarding the individual person or group’s perceived experience of “oppression.” The blame for societal oppression is often placed on racial, gender, religious, or economic groups. While injustices do occur within these parameters, it seems to me that the majority of systemic injustices are rooted in issues of class and/or ideology.

The human brain likes shortcuts and will seek to ascribe a familiar face to a threat. It could be said that our greatest enemies are those that are invisible to us in our day-to-day. The class ruler or the ideologue makes use of this tendency of the human brain and so seeks to persuade the members of a society to cast blame unreservedly on their own peers (based on superficial identifiers) in an effort to divide them into factions. Once divided, they are more easily brought unto the heel.

The irony of this, of course, is that the members of a society will waste their time bickering or warring with one another all while unwittingly being subjected to shared injustices. There is strength in numbers, and we take on our enemies by “binding the strong man.” but we are so often weakened by division.

While we can draw these lessons from Christ and apply them to our experience of earthly injustices, Jesus is referring more directly to spiritual tormenters. Every human being is alienated from God because of their sin. This alienation renders us vulnerable to Satan and his kingdom- the enemies of our souls. This sinful nature is what drives humanity to act unjustly  in the first place.

Because our sins alienate us from God, they set us on a course to hell where we will forever remain alienated from Him. There is no earthy life or afterlife to be truly cherished unless the terms of this alienation are rectified. Jesus came to earth to do just that. When He died on the cross, He bore the punishment of our sins. He bore injustice that He might justify us before God. When He resurrected from the dead (for death is a curse for sin for which He was not worthy) He made it possible for us to be made spiritually alive- to be restored to our fellowship with God.

Even after this fellowship is restored Christians are still affected by the evil nature of these bodies in which we dwell. With God’s help we fight against this sinful nature all of our lives. The sin has influence in our lives, but it no longer has power to subdue us and to formally separate us from God. Because of that, it removes the power of Satan in our lives. Jesus Christ is greater than the “strong man,” and He gives us authority in Himself to oppose our (invisible) spiritual enemies and to subdue them. Our individual fellowship with God must emerge into corporate fellowship with other believers. God invites us into His kingdom and calls on us to spread His Gospel that others all the world over might know such freedom.

 

You Must Embarrass Yourself

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“…Michal the daughter of Saul looked out of the window and saw King David leaping and dancing before the LORD; and she despised him in her heart. …and said ‘How the king of Israel distinguished himself today! He uncovered himself today in the eyes of his servants’ maids as one of the foolish ones shamelessly uncovers himself!’ So David said, ‘It was before the LORD, who chose me above your father and above all his house, to appoint me ruler of the people of the LORD, over Israel; therefore I will celebrate the LORD. I will be more lightly esteemed than this and will be humble in my own eyes….”

2 Samuel 6:16b, 20b-22a NASB

King David was well-known for his charismatic and intense spirit. He was called a man after God’s own heart. We can learn a lot from his life, both in terms of what to do and what not to do. Not everyone is going to match the vigor of David’s spirit, as we are all gifted differently with varying temperaments. But there is one area in which we must all strive to be like him, and that is in our willingness to embarrass ourselves.

I’ve recently been sharing my thoughts on Christian evangelism. In my last post I discussed how evangelism is obligatory for Christians. I received some thoughtful feedback on the matter. One reader discussed his personal struggle with pursuing evangelism. In summation, he said that his reluctance to evangelize is informed by an avoidance of personal risk derived from the social intimidation that comes with the thought of being negatively associated with certain Christians.

The Scriptures have much to say regarding this matter. Jesus told His disciples that if others rejected them, it was actually Jesus who they were rejecting (Luke 10). He says also that the world will know they belong to Christ when they see the love that Christians have for one another (John 13). Jesus says also in His famous Sermon on the Mount:

“Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.”

Matthew 5:16 NASB

In other words, if we love God we will be driven to love others and to good works. When the watching world sees the love we have and the righteous deeds we perform, they will know that we are of God. When we are pursuing and living for God, our lives become a window to nonbelievers into the person of Christ. Our love for God will motivate us to obedience and will stir in us a love and compassion toward others. Our love for others will draw us toward sharing the Gospel with others. Many will reject us! But is not us they reject, but Christ- provided we are living according to Christ’s teachings.

If nonbelievers reject the message, we need not be ashamed for sharing the message. It is God who, as the Psalmist says, “illumines [our] darkness” (18:28b). So long as they are in darkness, they will respond as those who are in darkness. We do not help them to see the light of Christ by covering it to avoid their (or our own) personal discomfort. The Gospel will change them. We must never change the Gospel.

Jesus also tells His disciples to “count the cost” of discipleship (Luke 14). Being a disciple of Christ will require personal sacrifice, often in the form of personal discomfort. Fortunately, we have as our example One Who gave His body willingly to be tortured, stripped, and crucified for the sake of our salvation. There is no sacrifice too great to make on behalf of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Paul reminds us of the suffering he endured for the Gospel. He counted as gain everything he lost for the sake of Christ. And everything he gained, he esteemed as dung (Philippians 3:8). He spoke of his evangelical pursuits as a race for which he exercised great discipline to win (1 Corinthians 9). His prize was to fulfill the work of Christ.

These Scriptures present to us a great personal challenge. Are we willing to esteem God above all others? Jesus says that to follow Him, we must proverbially hate everyone and everything else in comparison (Luke 14). It is only by this estimation that we can ever publicly shame ourselves to live a life of overt praise as David did. And it is only by this estimation that we be made willing to endure personal discomfort and any other more severe manner of sacrifice.

The call to evangelism is first a call to total love for and surrender to God. When He is the object of our affections, no earthly shame will matter. Do you love God this way? If not, ask Him to tune your heart to sing His grace. As the hymnist Robert Robinson writes:

“Come, Thou Fount of every blessing,
Tune my heart to sing Thy grace;
Streams of mercy, never ceasing,
Call for songs of loudest praise.
Teach me some melodious sonnet,
Sung by flaming tongues above.
Praise the mount, I’m fixed upon it,
Mount of Thy redeeming love.”

 

 

Evangelism is Not an Elective

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“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you….”

Matthew 28:19-20a NASB

As He ascended into Heaven, Christ parted with words that would set the tone for the entire future of Christendom. His disciples would go on to obey this edict and take the Gospel to the the whole of the known world. The Church of Jesus Christ continues to pursue this mission to this day. Some of them do, anyway.

In my last post I recalled a recent experience in which I totally disregarded an opportunity to evangelize a stranger. This experience was disappointing for me, despite the fact that I’ve not recently had a tendency to evangelize, probably due to distraction and self-centeredness.

In the preceding weeks, God had begun to stir up a passion in my heart toward these matters. This is always the origin of Christian evangelism. As the late Keith Green said, “You put this love in my heart.” Evangelism arrises from an overflow of love and gratitude for our Savior. It is mercifully driven by His work in us.

“…[The religious authorities] commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John answered and said to them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge; for we cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard.”

Acts 4:18b-20 NASB

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When confronted by opposing religious authorities, Peter and John expressed an INABILITY to stop preaching the Gospel. They were so wrapped up in their love for and thankfulness toward Christ that they couldn’t help but tell all about it to others. Their love for and fellowship with Christ led to a compassion for others, to see them become believers of His Gospel.

The day after my aforementioned experience, I had an experience of another sort. I work at a homeless shelter and have recently gotten to know a man who is staying there. Before I left for the day I struck up a conversation with him. He told me that he was moving out soon. As I was about to leave, I felt a compulsion to share Christ with Him. I almost ignored it entirely, but I was constrained by the Holy Spirit.

I began conversing with him, prayerfully seeking an opportunity to mention Christ. Finally he made mention of a local Christian ministry at which he had attended some services and performed some court-ordered community service hours. I abruptly asked him, “Are you a Christian?”

He pinched his fingers together as he informed me that he believed in the power of prayer and that he felt like he was “almost there”- almost ready to commit himself to God. I sat down and talked with him for a while, and he began to tell me his life story. He kept stopping and saying, “I’ve never told anyone this stuff before. I don’t know why I’m telling you.” I answered some questions he had and persistently shared the Gospel.

As we wrapped up, I asked if I could pray for him. He eagerly gave me his hands, and we prayed. As I left he kept remarking on how amazing it was that this conversation had occurred, as he has been on the fence with these matters. I gave him my number and went on my way, assuring him that I only spoke with him because I felt God leading me to do so.

Although circumstances like this have been normative in my life in times past, this entire episode was a unique experience for my life in recent years. My hope is that, through God’s help and courage, I begin to seek out evangelistic opportunities elsewhere. It has been natural for me and so many Christians to disregard this critical piece of Christian living.

We are not only called to lead righteous and holy lives, but to love God and to love one another. Jesus tells us in John’s gospel that if we “love Him, [we] will keep His commandments.” Therefore, if we love Him, we will obey the call to share the Gospel persistently with others.

Might I challenge you, as I am being challenged, to pursue a pure fellowship with Christ through the Spirit of God? Will you make specific requests of Him that He will surround you with His Spirit and keep you in His steps? That He will give you a love and a passion for Him that overflows into a deep love for others? That you will be granted wisdom, opportunity, and courage to share His Gospel to those you meet? He commands it! Evangelism is not an elective for the child of Jesus Christ!

 

Everybody, Stereotype

Image you are driving in your car in an unfamiliar city. Your phone is dead, you are running on empty, and it is pouring rain. You grit your teeth just hoping your car will make it to a gas station or, in the very least, a safe stopping point. You drive deeper into neighborhoods with boarded up buildings, storefront churches, cash advance outfits, and the like. You are lost, and the only thing dissipating more than your surroundings is your gas tank. Your car is hacking along on fumes, and suddenly, as the watery squall gushes at you, your car begins to hydroplane.

You lose control, slide into a curb, and you blow out your front passenger tire. You are stranded. You drape your jacket over your head and step out of the car. The street is  becoming a lazy river. Your shoes and socks are soaked through immediately. You lock your doors and hurry onto the sidewalk and begin scanning in every direction- looking for bright lights and signs of commercial life. You spot a brightly lit banner about a quarter mile up the road. The rain starts to subside. As you walk toward the fluorescent lights, the once pouring rain is now a trickle.

Things seems to be advancing in your favor. You begin to relax. Your surroundings are unfamiliar and feel rather unsafe, but you tell yourself that your night cannot get any worse. “Surely the weather has kept everyone in for the night,” you say to yourself. Despite your comparatively zen state, you are still on red alert. You finally make it to the bright lights up the road. There is a sign on the door. Haphazardly written in Sharpie it says, “Kenny’s Chit’lins -N- Fish closed- power outage.” You hang your head and let out a sigh. Then the worst happens. A car pulls up to the side of the street, just a few feet behind you.

The muffler is loud. There are men raising their voices. Your stomach sinks. You are outnumbered. You resign to the fact that your night is about to get a whole lot worse. Maybe this is the last night of your life. After all of your years on this earth- your overcoming of adversities; your celebrations of your life’s greatest joys and victories, this is not how you imagined it would end. Sopping wet, staring through the window of Kenny’s Chit’lins -N- Fish. “What even is a chitterling?” you ask yourself. “I guess it’s too late to find out now.” The car door closes. Four-five-six men step out of the car. At least it looks that way from the shoddy reflection. You are too afraid to face them. They seem to be walking toward you. You slowly turn around. One man reaches into the pocket of his large coat. He slowly pulls his hand out of his pocket and brandishes a pocket-sized New Testament.

Now stop. How much relief do you feel in that moment after realizing that these men are on their way to a Bible study?

Do you see what you did there? You just profiled this group of men. You automatically assumed that just because these ostensible goons were on their way to a Bible study that they must be safe. How dare you!

This is the logic of some people in reverse. They might say something like, “See? You shouldn’t stereotype others. Those men turned out to be nice, church-going boys.” What they would fail to see is that they have just traded a negative stereotype for a positive one. Apparently one is allowed while the other is not. To such a person I would explain that they do not have a problem with stereotypes, they only have a problem with stereotypes when they pertain to a group of people they believe are socially oppressed.

It is, in fact, impossible not to stereotype.  When you are walking through the woods, you might recoil at the sight of a vine because your brain has not immediately figured out that it is not a venomous snake. Some paths in the brain are longer than others, and your brain has a tendency to quickly generalize an experience before it has time to analyze it. Stereotyping is the brain’s way of not taking a gamble when the stakes of survival are high.

Go back to the illustration from before. Before you had time to analyze the situation, you had to make value judgements to prepare for your own survival. Upon learning that the men were apparently harmless, you had to incorporate separate generalizations in order to get a picture of what these men might be like based on your general experience with the types of people that attend Bible studies. They may not always be stellar acquaintances, but your experience at least tells you they are unlikely to rob, injure, or murder you. Your knowledge or personal encounter with inner-city crime statistics or criminal encounters tells you the risk of danger is at least more likely.

When your survival is at stake, there is no time to worry about false assumptions. Once you are able to safely gather more information regarding your encounter you are able to determine the probable safety of the situation and make the decision to either salute, flee, or prepare for battle. If and when you are enabled to calculate that you are safe, then you may begin to lay down your arms of generalization.

Stereotypes should never be forsaken. They should only be refined through furthering keen observation and learning. They should be seen as tools for survival, anecdotes of information, and sources of good humor. When need be, they can be surrendered on an individual basis. For by their nature they are generalizations, and generalizations hold different value in the context of genuine relationships. Everyone deserves the benefit of the doubt, but only the foolish will on principle forsake their doubts to seem cordial or accepting. After all, social niceties only exist in those not absolved by danger.