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Monday, August 13, 2012

The Awkward Evangelist

This may come as a surprise to many of you who read this blog regularly...I am a terrible, terrible evangelist. There are those people who can't talk for longer than five minutes without their enthusiasm for Christ and the gospels bursting out of them.  Those who do this well do so in a way that makes you smile and feel their enthusiasm, even if you are not a believer.  Remember, please, that I have not always been a Christian.  I know what I'm talking about here.  Even when I was my angriest and at my most doubtful about the existence of a kind, loving God of any kind, much less the divinity of Jesus Christ, I encountered people whose belief and love for Jesus was loud and infectious.  Those people have a gift.

Unfortunately the kind of "evangelist" I normally come across is a different breed.  We'll call him The Awkward Evangelist.  You've all met him in one form or another.  The one who comes to your door and refuses to leave no matter how politely you try to encourage him to move to the next house.  I had one of these evangelical encounters recently at the train station in downtown Dallas.  My husband and I had struck up a conversation with the gentlemen waiting next to us.  He was carrying an instrument case and we started talking music.  He showed us his tenor saxophone, a beautiful instrument, black inlaid with gold, mother of pearl accents on the keys.  He pointed out the golden cross gracing one of those pearl keys, letting us know by that simple act that he was a Christian.  A few moments later, we were approached by a man holding water bottles out to my children and asking if they would like a drink.  After checking to make sure the tamper-proof lids were still intact, I thanked him.  He then asked if we would accept the religious flyers he was passing out.  We agreed happily and thanked him again.  He walked away.

At this point, I am fine.  The tracts had a simple breakdown of the gospel citing Scripture, an invitation to become a Christian, and information about his church.  My husband and I glanced over it, chatted a bit about the church's location, then put them away in our pockets and purse.  We continued to chat with our musical neighbor.  A few minutes later, our evangelizing friend was back, asking us if we'd had time to look over the information he'd given us and what we thought.  We said it looked great to us (or something to that effect) and told him we were already Christians.  There was an awkward silence.  He then turned to the man with the saxophone and said, terribly, awkwardly, "So!"

Let me pause right there.  If you ever, ever, ever have to preface your conversational direction with a loud and falsely enthusiastic "So!," just shut your mouth, walk away, and try again later.  It comes across strange, awkward, and not genuine.  I would never approach a jury in final arguments and say, "So!  What'd you think about that case?  I was pretty persuasive, don't you think?"  No, no, no, no, no!

Anyway, he asked our neighbor a few questions about the tract then he went in for what, clearly, he had been trained was the kill-shot.  "So,"  (AGAIN WITH THE "SO!") he said, "if you died today, do you think you'd go to heaven or hell?"  The saxophone player answered calmly, "Oh, I think I'd go to heaven."  The next word out of the evangelist's mouth was a dubious, "Really?"  I don't know what he planned to say next because I couldn't take it anymore.  I piped in, "Dude," (yes, I say "dude" a lot; I still say it's better than "so!"),  "that guy has a gold cross on his saxophone!  I'm sure Jesus can't wait to hear what he has to play on that thing."

I have the feeling some people are reading this and saying to the screen, "but, but, but!"  I know.  We, as Christians, are all under Jesus' directive to make disciples of all men.  I think how we go about this, however, is a varied process.  If I were a non-believer, the musician's simple act of showing me the cross on his instrument would have touched me.  Because he was a groovy guy, laid back and peaceful with an easy manner and attractive style.  My conversation with him, coupled with the receiving of a religious tract, might have made me check out a church, probably even the church the evangelist was working for.  But what happened next would have pushed me far, far away.  Back to thinking Christians were judgmental, creepy, and wrong.

Matthew 5:17 teaches that we are supposed to let our lights shine before men so that they would see our good deeds and follow God.  People should see our joy and our peace and wonder what we have that makes us that way.  To put it a different way, we should be about attraction rather than promotion.  Because God is calling everyone to himself; everyone, regardless of their background, their past or their present.  Everyone has a seed of longing for a relationship with the loving God who made them and we, as Christians, can either nurture that seed by our actions or add another layer of distrust, anger or misunderstanding.  And walking around telling people that they are going to hell, either because they aren't Christians at all or they aren't Christian "enough," doesn't really help our cause.

When our train arrived, I told our evangelical friend, "God bless you" and I meant it.  He is trying, God love him, and I am sure God will bless him for it.  I hope that someone he hands a tract to goes to church and finds out that God is real and God is love.  I hope some of his conversion conversations went a little better than the one I witnessed.  But he did not spread the gospel to me that day.  I did not see Christ reflected in him.  I saw Christ reflected in the kind eyes and easy smile of the saxophone player with a cross emblazoned on the instrument he loved.  God can use us, all of us, to reach people.  We need to trust Him to have us at the right place at the right time, using words the Spirit tells us to use in a spirit of genuine concern, interest, and love for our fellow man.  So let your little light shine (please note the proper use of the word "so") and, as much as it lies within you, live at peace with all men.  Let's set aside the awkward side-hug of a judgment-based evangelism.  There is no better way to spread the good news of Christ's love than to be loving, no better way to show His peace than to be peaceful yourself.  I pray God's blessings over every single person who reads this blog post and I hope it reads as it is meant:  to make you smile, to make you laugh, to make you think, and to let you know that you are loved, completely and with a warm embrace.      

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