Taking food from the hungry

Not long ago I shared a conversation with a young man in high school who had lots of questions about God and faith. I mean some really, really good questions. He wanted to believe - he knew that there was more "out there" - but he wasn't buying into the picture that had been painted for him over the years. The whole "Everyone I know who claims to be a Christian is such a hypocrite" was in full display, and I was certainly sympathetic to his story. It's one we hear all too often and it makes it much more challenging to point others to the beauty and truth of Christ when all of His self-professed followers are acting like a bunch of boneheads.

But what struck me the most in our conversation - what left me scratching my head - was the treatment this young man said that he received whenever he expressed his doubts from other Christians that he was close to. They got angry with him. They became hostile towards him because he didn't believe like they did and it drove him father away.

I believe I'm gonna need a little bit of help understanding this approach to evangelism.

I've got a little bit of a confession to make. There were several years early in my ministry, years where I spent a lot of time in seminary classes having animated discussions with my classmates about all sorts of theological issues, that pointed me in a rather negative direction. I could call these my "zealous years" but perhaps they were more like my "arrogant years". I thought that I had figured it out all. In fact, I was convinced that I was right. About everything. As a result, my tolerance level for those who didn't believe or practice their faith in the same way that I did plummeted to dangerously low levels. The results of this were predictable: I became someone who was angry and hostile to others who did not follow Jesus.

I could totally understand where this young man was coming from because I had been one of those people that he was describing. Sure, I wanted people to know Jesus and love and serve Him all of their days, but my version of Christianity became more important than the Jesus who saves. And I'm not proud of that period of my life. I was coming into contact with people who were hungry for truth and purpose, people who were desperate for Jesus, but I was taking their food away because they didn't see things the same way that I do.

This is a huge problem in the church today. Give it any name you want - traditionalism, church politics, denominationalism, whatever - many believers are convinced that their way is the right way and all others be damned. And when that line of thinking takes root, the results are predictable. While we say that our goal is to draw men and women to Christ, what we are really doing is repelling those same people because of our arrogance and obstinance.

There really aren't a whole lot of arguments left to sift through when we talk about how to "do church the right way." Most people gravitate toward a style or methodology that caters to their own desires, and that's not always a bad thing. But the key that is often missing is Jesus. Yes, Jesus. A reading of the New Testament reveals to us a Jesus who hung His hat on the same message over and over again: repentance, faith, and love. Wash, rinse, repeat. Methodology took a back seat. Every word, every action was driven by these principles. It wasn't about whether your way or my way was better. There was only one way, and that way was Jesus. The one way is still Jesus.

I am grateful to say that my conversation with this young man led to him being convinced that Jesus is worth it. It wasn't really anything I said or didn't say but rather a realization on his part that Jesus died for him and wants a real, life changing relationship with him that knows no boundary or end. He still had lots of questions after we talked and prayed together, but his journey of faith with Christ has begun. And there was no anger or malice involved. The young man was simply hungry and was waiting for someone - anyone - to show him where he could get a bite to eat without being angry with him for having an appetite.

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