Monday, May 23, 2011

Approaching A Lost and Hurting World:

Note: I am aware that this post is a bit wordy and needs some serious proofing. I allowed a bit of stream of consciousness to take priority over style. I plan to go back and refine this post a bit, but in light of the last blog that urged us to be loving toward the lost and hurting, I wanted to give some practical advice for application. I felt the need to provide advice in a timely manner was more important than refining before posting. Make no mistake, sharing a rough draft is difficult for an English major.

I wanted to dive a bit deeper into some things mentioned in the last blog post. I mentioned the need to reconsider our method by which we approach the topic of homosexuality and the homosexual in particular. We should not buy into the world’s caricature of our approach, a false dichotomy in which Christians either ignore orthodox belief in favor of tolerance or spew hate by condemning and judging the homosexual community. These are certainly not our only two options. When broaching the topic, especially with a homosexual, the Christian must keep in mind that this is a person with feelings and understandings that might not be equal to our own. We are not simply trying to excise a sin from a life, but we are trying to reach out to that life itself. How, then, do we lovingly approach those hurt and in need of Christ yet hindered by a calling to let go of that which they do not want to give up because they cannot yet see the reason to give up that which they have come to understand as a part of their life (In context of the last essay this thing is, but is not limited to, sexual preference for the homosexual. But this can apply to anything that a person of the world puts before Christ)?

There is a right time and place, just as there are wrong times and places. One must make sure the Spirit is guiding and is in the conversation. To imagine any good coming from a Christian who wishes to fully take on the task of explaining Christian ethics that have been instilled in the Christian by the transcendent Spirit of God to a person who is not willing or being made willing to listen is to think too highly of our powers of reason and powers of conviction and too lowly of the need for God’s grace to go out before us. The Scripture seems clear that some persons, who have yet to submit to the Lord, the natural man as they are called, not only will not understand the ways of God, but also cannot understand the way of God (I Corinthians 2:14).

Once again, I must stress that the Spirit must be involved. Therefore, when I suggest that there are times that people will not understand our message, this is not to suggest that Christians should never attempt to explain our position or try to promote them as reasonably as we can without coercion. We are called to proclaim His way, and we are called to move towards seeing His will done on earth as it is in heaven. Often times, it is the case that we should speak forth His truth even to someone who has yet come to have a relationship with God because our vary proclamations, as guided by the Spirit, are the tools God uses to soften the heart of the seeker. However, with this all in mind, there are times when trying to explain God’s way is futile. If we do not feel called to speak, then perhaps God has not yet made this person ready to hear. Be certain to listen for His call to move before acting rashly.

Even when we do feel called, we might not be called to give our full reason, but called to share, in a more pastoral manner, the human need to submit to God. From the Christian perspective, each person is born into a state of self-centeredness and must begin a process of deliverance from such reliance before he or she can obtain the knowledge of the Kingdom of God. In other words, to truly know Christ and His ways is to walk with Him. Before such a walk, full spiritual explanation is not always beneficial. This is nowhere more evident than in the conversation Christ has with the rich young man who cannot let go of the self’s want for riches in order to follow. At this point in the conversation, Christ does not go into a long treatise concerning the evils of the reliance of riches. Instead, He tells the young man that if he wishes to see the Kingdom, he will simply give up his riches. Indeed it is not only explicit evil that man must let go of in order to commit to Christ. Any person, object, idea or the like that one holds as more important than Christ must be given up or at least put in proper perspective. This is seen in Christ instruction for persons to hate their family (Luke 14:26). Of course this is a dramatic statement, but it is deliberative in that it stresses the importance of placing God as first and only in our heart. While we will still love others once Christ is first, our love for others then flows, not from the self, who is selfish and manipulative, but from Him. If there is any one thing that a person decides is too important to give up for Christ’s sake, that thing, no matter what it is, is a hindrance to relationship and has one remain in rebellion against God. It is our roll as followers of Christ to explain this reality boldly, yet lovingly. We do not speak up because we hate, but because we love.

Understanding takes time, but commitment does not demand full comprehension. One does not have to accent to some understanding as to why this or that is not good before coming to Christ, he or she must simply follow Christ, giving up whatever is asked of us for the sake of obtaining life hidden in Christ. This is a matter of trust and not understanding. True understanding cannot happen until the Spirit fully enters the heart, and the Spirit cannot enter when some other thing is in His rightful place as Lord of one’s life. In other words, until God has been given room to work, and conviction is allowed to soften the heart, one cannot come to know God and why He asks of us what He asks of us. It does little good for someone to say, “Before I allow God anywhere near my life, I must understand why He wants to do with it what He wants to do with it.” It does not work that way. God does begin to convict the heart of humanity before acceptance and salvation, but He is still involved and the heart has to be willing to listen to His urgings. There is still interaction, and as long as one runs, He cannot be heard properly.

Even when a self-centered being is beginning to break in light of the revelation that the self’s ways are insufficient, sometimes a straightforward, “this is why you should not do this or that” is not the proper approach, for they are not quite ready to go so deep. Basic steps are often needed before bigger steps can take place. Instead, a loving approach in which one simply encourages the seeker to trust, to trust that God knows best and that he or she will be fulfilled despite giving up one’s self-wants, might be the best approach. In the end, we all come to realize in light of spiritual maturity that there are several areas of life that we do not at first understand why we must give up, and there are even areas of life we do not realize are sinful until we have spent some time walking with the Lord. If this is true for all Christians, then every Christian should be understanding when one is frustrated and even hurt by the idea that God would want one to give up something the individual has come to feel affection for.

Even though, for discernment’s sake, we might choose to limit our conversation on how we feel upon this or that, focusing on the love of God, this should not ever lead us to feel ashamed of our beliefs. If asked, we should feel able and willing to tell the truth about our beliefs. Often times, Christians who adopt a platform of love and acceptance for the sake of the hurt and infirmed of the world, begin to let this tactic be harmful to their convictions instead of being a proper expression of discernment. I have often taken note of the psyche of pastors, whose focus to be inclusive to all people, showing the good new is for all. At first they simply begin with that good messages of acceptance for all who repent and turn to God, but, as their fame leads them into the public spotlight, they allow their passion for the message of acceptance to bring shame to the truth of the exclusive nature of Christ’s message, that He is the only way. While Christ’s message is for all, it is a narrow way. We must not allow our approach, becoming all things for all people, to begin to reshape our convictions. We must not be like those pastors who shudder and stutter when a non-believing talk show host asks if he or she needs to accept Christ’s message to be saved. If we really care for that person, we must be bold.

Remember it is the Spirit’s role to convict, not ours. While we may and should remain firm in our conviction, in the end, all the yelling back and forth about why this or that is wrong or not does very little good. While deeper relationship that is being promoted by the Spirit might one day lead a Christian to share exactly why he or she affirms this or that as something that must be given up for Christ, the starting point should be one of understanding, sympathy, and love. Our role is to share what Christ has done for us and what He has taught us. It is not our job to force an opinion on another. Once our case has been made in love, it is then the Spirit’s job to work on that person’s heart. If the Christian sharer begins to try to convict, He or she is stepping in the way of the Sprit’s work. Once the case has been made, it is not our job to rub it in, but to support the one who hears, for conviction can be a painful experience, and we all need someone present when we are in pain. Simply put, many times all one needs to hear is that no matter how they feel at a certain point in time, God’s will still demands us to let go, and this letting go, whether we see it this way or not, is for our benefit and will be rewarded by God who wants to be first, not because He is selfish, but because He knows what is best for us. We need to be those persons who remind others that we too know the pain of letting go of our selfishness, for all of us at one point or another must let go to be His. The pain should not be lost on us. We should be sympathizers strong in our convictions not condemners strong in our judgment, and never allow our need to be sympathizers strong in conviction be confused with tolerators strong in our self-righteousness.

In sum, Christians do not have to accept the world’s options of letting go of conviction or remaining bigots. We can be loving while firm in our convictions. We must remind ourselves that the Spirit is and always should be in control of our calling to go forth and tell the truth. With this in mind, we must wait upon Him, for His timing is not always our own. Even when we know the time is right, we must remain aware that He should be in control of our words. We need not always give a full treatise on our beliefs, but we must meet people where they are, sharing in love above all else. We rail against the world’s way because we love those in the world. We must remain patient with the seeker. If they are listening, then they are where they should be. We should never try to accelerate the process beyond the pace the Spirit wants to work, lest we run the seeker off. Our role is to help the person understand that coming to understand God’s ways takes a submission to God, a readiness to listen to Him. Yet, even though it is our role to love, we must not allow this want to limit our words for others’ sakes to lead to embarrassment of belief. We must be bold in our conviction. In our boldness, we must also constantly remind ourselves of our place. If true change is to take place in the life of another before our eyes, it is not because we changed the person’s life. It is because the Spirit changed the life, and we were just there as His instruments. What a privilege, a privilege to be Christ for others in need. Remember this: The world is hostile to the Truth. Our attempts to be loving towards the lost can help soften the worldly hearts that approach us, yet our message is still hostile to their way of life, and, in the end, no matter how loving we are, our need to remain firm in conviction will mean that we will be hated by some. But, take heart, for it is our love for those who hate us that allows us to be hated and vulnerable. It is this vulnerability that shows that we are the true humans, awakened by the Love of God. It shows that love fills our hearts.