Monday, November 23, 2009

Second Hand Witnessing

In the nineteen sixties, Joseph Bayly wrote a book entitled The Gospel Blimp which was later turned into a Christian movie. The story focused upon two neighbors, members of the same church. One of the men was always seeking ways to witness about Christ. All of his attempts utilized second hand methods, culminating with renting a blimp to pass over the city and drop tracts. He never developed any relationships with his non Christian neighbors. His next door neighbor, on the other hand, developed relationships with the non Christian families in their neighborhood, occasionally even skipping church to be with them. When a crisis hit one of these families, it was only the latter neighbor who came to their aid and was instrumental in introducing them to Christ.

Holly Vicente Robaina in her blog “Walk with Life” describes a night when she and her husband had dinner at a local cafĂ©. A man at a nearby table was a boisterous Christian. During their dinner, he was constantly praising Jesus for this and that, talking about God’s blessing him, all in a loud voice that could be heard throughout the restaurant. Later that evening her husband, who is not a Christian, remarked: "Acting that way, did he actually think that I'd be interested in what he said? That I'd want to be like him?” Obviously, his answer was “No!” While the man was most likely trying to witness, the content of his words in their setting, was found to be distasteful. Holly reflected: Does he blare out his faith so he doesn't have to engage in a real conversation? Or does he truly believe someone might approach him and want to talk about Jesus? If so, his technique isn't working.”

Keith Green takes a similar view regarding all of the Christian clothing and billboards, bumper stickers and other Christian paraphernalia, concluding that they may just immunize people from the real gospel. He says “It pains me to see the beautiful truths of Scripture being plastered about like beer advertisements. Many think it is wise to “get the word out” in this way but, I believe that we are really just inoculating the world with bits and pieces of truth - giving them their “gospel shots”. (And we’re making it hard for them to “catch” the real thing!). People become numb to the truth when we splash our gaudy sayings in their eyes at every opportunity.” He wonders if those who use these tactics are seeking more the approval of other Christians than to truly witness. Like the man in the restaurant, these are forms of blaring out our faith without having to engage in real interaction with non Christians. All three of these accounts can be considered forms of second hand witnessing. Both have the danger of turning people away from being receptive to the gospel.

If these forms of second hand witnessing don’t work, what does? How can we be most effective in witnessing to our faith? By living transformed lives as Christ’s disciples. This is the best way. Just as Jesus was a magnet to those who were caught up in sin, so by living as Christ lived, we also can be a magnet, drawing others to him. The second man in the Gospel Blimp story was effective because he demonstrated love to his neighbor. The early Christians were described as those who turned the world upside down. How often are we viewed in the same way? What kind of witnessing are we engaged in – first or second hand?

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Immunized Against Faith

One of the techniques used to produce vaccines utilizes weakened viruses. The virus is partially killed off so that it can’t fully attack us. We are then inoculated with this weakened virus. Our immune system is thus able to combat this counterfeit, weakened form. This allows our immune system to build up a resistance against the real virus. We are thus immunized against the disease.

While this approach works well against infectious diseases, it becomes a disaster when it is applied to our life of faith. How easy is it for us to accept a weakened form of faith in our daily lives? Much easier than we might expect! Dietrich Bonhoeffer called this cheap grace. It is a form that has very little impact on our lives. It can be very easy to live our day to day lives without thinking much about God and how He would have us live. The faith we exhibit during our attendance at church on Sunday, for instance, may have little impact on us the other six days of the week. Our Monday through Saturday lives would be much the same, whether God is dead or alive. It allows us to be religious without having a deep desire to know God. It can become easy to have the attitude that we are doing as much as everyone else in the church. We can think that by teaching Sunday School, leading Bible studies, or being on church committees, etc. it is enough. Cheap grace has become the heresy that has infected the church in our times.

But when we look at the demands of Jesus we see something totally different. Jesus calls us to radical obedience, a complete transformation as we give Him our total allegiance. He asks for a total commitment of our lives. He desires us to be completely centered on Him. He wants us to experience authentic Christianity twenty-four seven.

But all too often we give him less. We hold back areas of our lives. We prefer a weakened form of faith that doesn’t demand too much of us. We don’t want to give him lordship over our lives. We want to maintain some control. We are content to live with less. Our prayers may be something like “God, I will follow you, except if you ask me to ….” When we do this we immunize ourselves against authentic Christianity. We don’t really want to catch the real thing.

But Jesus calls us to be infected by him. He seeks to change our spiritual cellular DNA. He wants us to live incarnational lives. As others observe how we live our lives they should see Jesus. We are to live such that even non Christians will praise God as they observe our lives. They should see Christ in us. But this requires a willingness to commit ourselves to living authentic Christian lives, sold out to Jesus Christ. It requires living a life of holiness, constantly growing closer and closer to our Lord. It demands that we care for and serve others with a Christ-like compassion and love. This we cannot do if we have a weakened form of faith. If we have been immunized against true faith we cannot have much of an impact upon others. We cannot easily infect others if we have not been infected ourselves. We will only immunize them against authentic Christianity. Upon reflection, it raises an interesting question. Have I been immunized against the authentic Christian faith or have I caught the real thing?