Tag Archives: incarnation

Faith-sharing as a Way of Life

By Rev. Dr. Rob Haynes

The word “relational” gets thrown around a great deal when discussing evangelism. Just what that means deserves a closer examination. Allow me to illustrate one way I have in mind. I had many questions about faith before I made a decision to follow Jesus in my early 20s. One of the things that compelled me to become a disciple of Jesus Christ was the honest and open engagement with Christian friends who cared about me. Just such a relationship was as much a force in my Christian conversion as anything else. Maybe I am not alone.

As I reflect on those days, one incident sticks out. I was out for dinner with a group of friends. As we sat out on the balcony enjoying a beautiful fall evening, we could hear someone preaching on a nearby corner. We could not make out much of what he said, but it was obvious that his message was one of condemnation for all in earshot. I listened to my friends ridicule him and the message he was offering.

A few days later, these same friends and I were having deep conversations about faith with a Christian neighbor. Her steady, calming, loving answers to our doubts and questions about faith told us that she cared about us. You see, my friends and I were not disinterested in faith, as our dismissal for the street preacher may have suggested. Rather, we wanted to engage in discussions of faith with someone who cared about us and was willing to be involved in our lives to prove it.

A recent survey (see Bryan Stone’s work at Boston University’s Center for Practical Theology) has affirmed that the role of relationships is paramount in faith sharing. Across all major streams of American Christianity: Mainline, Catholic/Orthodox, and Evangelical people frequently reported that making a decision to be a disciple of Jesus Christ is an inter-personal matter. The survey revealed that the three most influential things that lead to Christian conversion are:

               1.      A spouse/partner

               2.      A minister (especially that minister’s preaching)

               3.      A particular congregation

Near the bottom of the list were things like television/radio and evangelistic events. Notice that the more personal and relational aspects of the life of faith have a greater  impact on one’s decision to follow Christ. The more programmatic or impersonal seem to be less effective. I share this not to cast aspersions on the efforts of those who hold large-scale evangelism events or broadcast a Bible study over the radio. However, I do offer it to challenge some of the assumptions about who are the evangelists in our churches and our communities. It often is not the “professional” who is all but unknown to the members of the audience pushing people to make a decision. Maybe the cliché has credence: “People don’t care what you know until they know that you care.”

So how can we translate such findings to our own ministry contexts? First, the role of a spouse in the role of faith formation can be vital. For those of you who are praying for your spouse, keep it up! Be encouraged as you minister to your spouse and know that you are not alone. Lean on your pastor or a trusted friend to walk alongside you in this journey.

Second, if you are a minister serving a church, your relationships with the believers and unbelievers in your community (and the pews) are so important. Stone also reminds us of the importance of preaching in evangelism. The opportunity to preach week in, week out is a gift. While there are dozens of pressures that may demand your time each week, preaching is tantamount. Be intentional about the time you set aside for the sacred space of sermon preparation. Notice the difference between this type of preaching and one I mentioned earlier is the personal relationship of the minister. Take time to unpack your sermons through conversation in the public spaces: the coffee shops, soccer fields, and park benches in the community where you serve.

Third, the culture of the congregation is crucial. Many visiting a church will decide if they are coming back long before the notes of the first song are ever played. Rather, the greeting they received at the front door, the help they got finding the nursery, or the handshake they got as they found their seat all go a long way to helping them determine if they will return.

Thinking of faith-sharing along these lines also leads us away from looking for another off-the-shelf program to try next month in our churches. It encourages us instead to think of faith-sharing as a way of life. I am thankful for my friend who saw it that way. I pray that someone sees you and me that way too.

Rev. Dr. Rob Haynes is Director of Education and Leadership at World Methodist Evangelism. He may be reached at Rob@WorldMethodist.org.[/vc_column_text][vc_facebook][vc_tweetmeme][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][/vc_column][/vc_row]

The Cross-Resurrection Contradiction

One of the fears many people have when they think about evangelism is that they will be asked questions about Christian doctrine and belief for which they don’t have adequate answers. One of those questions is: Why would a good God allow suffering to exist?

I understand the fear (and often the stunned silence) that might follow a question like that. It’s a big question! Yet, the reality is that no one—no Christian, or person of another faith or even no faith—can fully and completely answer a question like that. It is simply too deep; the mystery is too great.

And yet although the question of why may be shrouded in mystery, the question of meaning is not. As Christians, we have a great deal to say about the meaning of suffering, the way God attends to it, enters into it, and ultimately redeems it. About that we have much to say.

So a better question might be: Given the reality of suffering, where is God, and what does God intend to do about it?

At the heart of Christian faith is a commitment to a God who enters into suffering. Frequently, in evangelism, our conversations focus on explaining who Jesus is as divine; and yet, especially in the context of suffering, we need to help people understand who God is by focusing on who Jesus is as human. When we do that, we see that the crucified Jesus is the revelation of God.

The crucified Jesus stands at the center of our understanding of God, and the cross stands at the center of God’s relationship with all of creation. God’s compassionate love for the world takes on the form of suffering. As we walk with those who are suffering, hoping and praying that they might experience the saving love of Jesus Christ, we do well to remember that the atonement offered through the cross of Christ reveals God’s faithfulness to those God created. It lays bare God’s indestructible love, God’s willingness to experience pain, God’s commitment to endure and overcome a world which stands in direct opposition to Him.

In the profound words of Jürgen Moltmann, God “molds and alchemizes the pain of his love into atonement for the sinner.” [1]

The cross of Jesus reveals that the experience of suffering is contained within God’s own nature. It reveals a God who is intimately involved in the world, who is moved and affected by all that we experience, and who willingly becomes vulnerable to suffering.

So while we may not have a definitive answer to the why of suffering, we can and must proclaim without hesitation that God is in the midst of it, ready and able to share it with, and carry it for, those who are walking a dark road.

When we seek to share the gospel amid evil and pain, moving outward from an interior experience of the cross to an understanding of shared suffering is imperative. Our world does not fully correspond to God. It is filled with brokenness, suffering, and death—a reality made severely apparent in the cross. On the other hand, the Resurrection points to the promise of a reality that will correspond to God.

This ‘cross-resurrection’ is a profound contradiction. Yet the cross shows God present even in the midst of that contradiction. In God’s love, God embraces the very creation that does not correspond to God, and thus God suffers. God’s love is not simply active kindness toward humanity; rather, it is love that suffers as it embraces the very evil that stands in opposition to it.

In modeling this love, we join God’s protest against all infliction of suffering, standing in solidarity with, and sharing as much as we are able, the suffering of others.

Several years ago, Kayla Mueller was martyred for her faith at the hands of Islamic State militants. In the public statements issued after her death, her family quoted from various letters she had written:

I find God in the suffering eyes reflected in mine. If this is how you are revealed to me, this is how I will forever seek you.

I will always seek God. Some people find God in church. Some people find God in nature. Some people find God in love; I find God in suffering. I’ve known for some time what my life’s work is, using my hands as tools to relieve suffering.

Kayla discovered the truth that God inhabits suffering. She encountered God there and did not shrink from the danger of joining God there.

Our witness for Christ is strengthened when we open ourselves to the possibility of encountering God in suffering as well. We need not set out to the farthest corners of the earth. Suffering is all around us, often residing quietly but powerfully within people we encounter every day. We need not have an answer to the question of why. Rather, we need only to enter in, willingly making ourselves vulnerable as we offer the compassionate, indestructible love of Christ.

 

[1] Jürgen Moltmann, The Spirit of Life: A Universal Affirmation [1992], trans. M. Kohl (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2001), 136.

 

Reprinted with permission from www.gospel-life.net.

 

And Now We Begin

Now that we’ve celebrated God’s decision to put on flesh and bone and move into the neighborhood, we’re left with the question, what do we do now?

How do we follow this one who entered the suffering of humanity? How do we follow this one who proclaimed that the kingdom of God is at hand? E. Stanley Jones provides an excellent answer, especially in this season of New Year’s resolutions.

How do we begin and where?

We can’t wait till everyone is ready…we must begin with ourselves. “Religion that doesn’t begin with the individual doesn’t begin, but if it ends with the individual it ends.”

I suppose we must go out and begin to think and act as though the Kingdom were already here. And as far as we are concerned it will be already here. That means that if we are to think and act as though the Kingdom were already here, if we have said personally that Jesus is Lord and have made a personal surrender to him with all we know and all we don’t know, we belong… to the Unshakable Kingdom. Then I prayerfully consider how I can apply the Kingdom spirit and principles to all my relationships as far as it depends on me, to my personal thought, life, actions, and habits, to my family life, to my professional or business relationships, to my class and race relationships, and to my national and international relationships, to my recreational relationships, to my church relationships. I can’t change everybody but I can change me and my relationships as far as they depend on me. In each of these I can say: As far as I am concerned the Kingdom is already here.

In light of its being already here, how do I think and act? I am certain of one thing about that kingdom, that the Kingdom is the kingdom of love. So I will begin to love, if not by my love, then with his love – for everybody, everywhere, I am a disciple of the kingdom of God, under its tutelage and control and unfolding sovereignty. I may make blunders and fall, but if I fall I will fall on my knees, and if I stumble I will stumble into his arms. I have a destiny – I am a seed of the new order – “the good seed means the children of the kingdom” (Matthew 13:38). I am sown in this particular place to be the interpretation and meaning and message of the new order. I know the seed and the soil are affinities, so that all the resources of the Kingdom are at my disposal. So “in Him who strengthens me, I am able for anything” Philippians 4:11, Moffatt).

I have a total Gospel, for humanity’s total need, for the total world. I ought to be happy – I am!

  1. Stanley Jones, The Unshakable Kingdom and the Unchanging Person, Abingdon Press, 1972, p300-301