Sunday, November 16, 2014

Hugs and hand grenades

I grew up in a church that called itself fundamentalist. In hindsight, it was a lot more about following rules than it was about following Jesus and His Way of love. It was much more about making people behave themselves than it was about listening to them and caring about them. 

One of the major tenets of this particular church (and from what I've seen since, a LOT of fundamentalist churches) was this concept of "witnessing." 

Now, first of all, I am perfectly willing to share my faith as the Holy Spirit leads me and as the situation gets set up by Him. (And as I listen to Him, He also tells me when to be quiet and let Him do His work.) And He gives me opportunities to share a few words about my relationship with Him - sometimes where and when I least expect it. 

But there is something here that I think a lot of believers miss. The word "witness" - for the most part - is a NOUN and not a verb. Especially as used in the Bible. "You will be My witnesses," Jesus said in Acts 1. That means that it is something that we ARE, not something that we DO. 

So witnessING (as it is done today, and I'll give examples below) is contrary to the pattern of scripture. In fact, in my experience, it only HINDERS someone from accepting the good news because without exception, it makes unbelievers feel as though we Christians believe ourselves to be better than they are. (Ummm, we're NOT.)

It's true that believers are born again into a war in progress. It's true that we can wage spiritual warfare. Successfully, I might add. But this warfare is not accomplished with weapons of destruction. People need love. People DON'T need judgment. People are NOT the enemy. People - INDIVIDUAL people - are our MISSION.


Bumper stickers, tracts, Facebook posters, and other 'blanket' affirmations and platitudes just don't work. They are like throwing a hand grenade into the middle of a crowd hoping to make a statement about the power of God. There is a LOT of collateral damage. People get hurt. Badly. Such tactics don't take the individual into consideration at all. They just open fire and give those who "throw the grenade" a false sense of having "witnessed" and thus having fulfilled their Great Commission obligation. 

How tragic.

Messages or Facebook posts or tracts that use guilt or fear to get people to engage in these harmful behaviors (done in the name of good) only serve to keep God's people in bondage and hinder their ability to earn a hearing when the people around them are hurting. 

You see, using spiritual hand grenades absolves us of any responsibility to reach people who need reaching, to find those people who are searching, who are ready to hear, (ever think that someone in your circle of friends might NOT be ready to hear and be turned off by your obviousness? think about it!) and to show them the love of Jesus in a personal way. What these people need are hugs, not hand grenades. Hugs are personal. They can be messy because they involve human contact. And they only target one (or at the most two) at a time, so there is a considerable increase in time investment. 

Let me illustrate. 

About thirty years ago, my dad had a pretty major heart attack. Thankfully, he survived it!!  He was in the hospital, flat on his back with machines hooked up to him, monitoring his heart rate, his breathing, and his oxygen levels, only allowed to see one person at a time, and the pastor of the local church came to see him. The first thing out of his pastor's mouth was not "How are you?" but "Are you saaaaaved??" 

If Dad could have gotten up out of that bed (he told me later) he would have punched that guy in the mouth. HARD. If the story had ended there, my father would never have had a valid opportunity to respond to the Good News.

A few days later, another fellow came to see him. He sat with him, visit after visit, engaged him in conversation about the things that mattered to Dad, listened to him, and ended the visit when Dad showed signs of fatigue or of needing sleep. He never spoke a word to him about his soul, not for nearly three weeks. But he came to see him every day, took an interest in how he was doing, what he cared about, and how he felt. He really showed my father that he cared about HIM.  And finally, when he heard the Spirit whisper, "Now," he asked my dad's permission to ask him a personal question. (Read here: RESPECT.) Dad agreed. And the man simply said, "Are you fully trusting Jesus as your only way to a relationship with God?" Dad thought for a moment and simply said, "Yes. I am." And from that moment onward, his life and his attitudes changed. 

This is an example of what I mean by hugs and not hand grenades. 

Photo "Sadness Woman In Friend's Arms"
courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at
If our friends know us at all, and if we have been true to our beliefs in our own lives and choices, they will know what our stand is, and whether we are Christians or not ... because they're smart people. We don't have to beat them over the head with it, and we don't have to be "in their face" with it all the time. All that does is make them want to run screaming in the other direction!! There is nothing that we can do to MAKE them become Christians, to see the "error of their ways" (can you begin to see how insulting that kind of attitude is to people?)  In fact, convicting people of their sin and bringing them to Jesus is not our job. It's God's. "HE [that is, the Holy Spirit] will convince the world of sin, of righteousness and of judgment," Jesus said in John 16. 

When I used to "witness" the way that I hear people trying to convince other believers to do - with a Bible in one hand and a club in the other - one person told me that the reason she became a Christian was NOT because I kept nagging her or reminding her about it. If anything, she said that my behavior toward her kept her from embracing the gospel because she didn't want to be that "in your face" kind of believer. (News flash!) What convinced her was not anything I said. In fact, the thing that spoke most to her was that she saw how happy I was now. She'd seen me at my worst ... and she knew that in spite of my obnoxiousness (and trust me, I was sickeningly zealous!) I was truly happy for the first time in my life. And THAT - above all else - was what got through to her. 

Huh. Who knew. 

The world needs more genuine hugs and far less impersonal and judgmental hand grenades. And so does the church.

Just saying.

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