Wednesday, December 10, 2014

The Worst Evangelist

"I think he just ain't used to anyone being honest. It scares him." 

We sat at the train crossing while the cargo screamed past, our eyes locked on smoke and steel and the sort of graffiti that always makes me feel something. I thought, Why on earth is that scary?

She ran her thumb along the edge of her phone, up and down, and I knew we needed the pause at those railroad gates, but I sure didn't know what to do with it.

For the fourth or fifth or twentieth time this week, my church-girl common sense was failing me.

It never used to be that way.  Back when everyone I knew had grown up just like me, with patent leather Sunday shoes buckled across the bridges of our feet, steeped in the sort of religion that hinges on knowing the names of the brothers in the fiery furnace, back then we took turns doling out the catch-phrases of our church culture when "trouble" crept our way. We spoke in code, and though we hadn't even considered it, it wouldn't have mattered that it wasn't a universal tongue.

This was our history, the faith of our grandpas and moms, Zacchaeus, Georges Washington and Bush, Queen Esther, Amy Grant, and, reportedly, Michael Sever. It was tradition and truth, handed down, handed down, landing square in our laps.

I used to wonder what it might be like to have friends who weren't exactly like me. It made my blood pump and my heart race. I wanted to run towards it, to do something different and new. Those flannelgraphs had made me believe all the world needed was The Answer. And I had It.


The gates raised and we eased over the tracks while I counted minutes in my head. We still had five, so she strung together sentences about abuse, addiction, and shame, all before most of the city had poured its first cup of coffee. We drove past upstairs windows covered with air-brushed wolf blankets.  A leathery man crossed the street and stared me down, his breath catching in the air like a burning question.

Words escape me when it comes to restraining orders and meth cookers and kids who don't know their mamas. My answers are lost in tangles of poverty and abuse, where there's no familiar back-story to bolster the fuzzy middle and we don't share the unspoken etiquette of the church - just nod along, you know this is true.

And it is.

But I can't fill the gaps when the stakes are this high. I can't make up for years of hell with a Bible story or the mention of His name. That's not my job, though I'd do anything to make it so. I wanted to be the savior of someone so dang bad. I wanted to fix the world. I wanted it to be as easy as I once believed, back when everyone was just like me.

You lost your job and your house is next and every single day you remember the skills you're trying to forget, you're running and gunning from people who want to eat you alive, suck you back in, use you and break you and feed you to lions? You need Jesus. 

You hear the scratch of tinfoil and your mouth waters? You miss what it was like to sleep for days and forget your reality for just one second? You need Jesus.

You're terrified he'll learn the truth about you? You want to trust but life has taught you to dodge? You see clean houses absent of chaos and your heart throbs with wanting but you know you'll never come close? You need Jesus.

You've burned every bridge and wounded every heart and pretty soon, you'll be handed the keys to your freedom, no one will own you or frisk you or track your every move...and you're scared to death? You need Jesus.

What does that mean to someone who doesn't know who He is? Someone with no frame of reference, no childhood storybooks or family legacies or years of small moments where the pieces snapped together until they claimed it as their own?

It feels impossible, because you can tell the truth, but you can't make someone believe it.
You can speak the only words that have a chance of helping, but it won't be lost on you that you want for nothing and never have. You can say it all, but what they really need is for you to be it. And that's terrifying. It'll make you desperate for Him.

Some days I remind them they need Jesus then beg God to prove it.

Most of the time, I default to baring my guts, talking about the wrong things I've done and still do. I get impatient and sometimes rude, then walk their way with my head hung low to apologize. I talk about the places in my faith that confuse me still. I share the ways God keeps on rescuing me, not because I read my Bible every day or never cuss or have a strong reign on the worst of who I am, but because I keep proving my need to be rescued.

"You can stand around a Christmas tree with a family like Joseph's, with cheaters and beaters and deceivers, with a family like Jacob's, who ran away and ran around and ran folks down. But out of a family line that looks like a mess, God brings the Messiah...You can never be undone." - The Greatest Gift by Ann Voskamp

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  1. "for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God". They need Jesus because they are sinners in need of a Saviour. We can't be the gospel...we can't "be Jesus" to them. We have to point them to Jesus. The gospel is something to believe. They need Jesus because they are at enmity with God and are separated from Him because of their sin. It doesn't matter the circumstances of their life...they don't get a pass because they grew up in dysfunction. Every man is responsible for their own sin. They don't have to have grown up knowing "church lingo"....the gospel is easy to understand but faith is a GIFT FROM God. So yes we tell them and it sounds ridiculous to them....that's because they don't have the Holy Spirit to give them understanding. God has to open their eyes to understand. That is God's part and that is the hardest part....that we can't make them believe. I wish I could believe for them but I can't. But we have to remember they aren't helpless victims. They are sinners separated from we all were before we believed.

    1. Yes, this is exactly what I would have said back when I only associated with church people.
      But now I spend most of my time with unchurched people, and it changes everything.
      The truth never changes, but everything around it does.
      Specifically, how we can best communicate the Gospel.
      I find the answer is almost always "doing" over "saying", and that was sort of news to me.

    2. Well I will have to respectfully disagree with you...and that is why I wrote what I did. Jesus said "if you do not believe I am He you will die in your sins". That is what they need to hear and you can't protect them from that. There is nothing you can "do" to communicate the gospel. The gospel needs to be spoken with words. What you are talking about when you talk about "doing" over "saying" is not the gospel...that is just acting like a Christian and showing compassion. That is not the gospel. We are getting the actual gospel confused with the social gospel of "doing". The gospel doesn't need to be contextualized into "doing" depending on the people you are with. The gospel is facts that need to be believed. And as an aside....just because someone is "in church" doesn't mean they are saved....I can say that because I was one of them :-). So the gospel is for church people as well.

    3. I'm thankful the Gospel is so much more than "facts that need to be believed". The Gospel - the whole of our faith - tells us our words are worthless without the living, breathing, sweating, crying love and hope of Jesus. It doesn't exist outside of love, and we can't love at arm's length. MY job is to love God and love people. HIS job is to woo them to Him, to show them who He is and how He loves them, make them believe. If we can't be in honest, real relationship with the lost, our words will never mean a single thing. Re-read my last paragraphs and you'll see that I'm not suggesting we stop talking about our faith. I'm just saying our job goes so much deeper.

      I appreciate your willingness to disagree in a polite way. Next time, it'd be awesome if you'd leave your name!

    4. People need Gods word, no doubt. But they don't need it beaten into them. There's always a balance in everything. As Christians we should be "doing" and "saying". For most people who meet me, they won't ever get the chance to hear God's word from me, but they will get to see me "doing" God's word by how I treat others, how I treat my children, how I talk, look, etc. If the first thing Shannon did was talk to these people about just God's word I don't think they would receive her the same. She is "doing" the Word by loving these people, helping these people. And just maybe God will work in these people's hearts to open them and hear his Word. As Christians we are called to live as Christ lived. Christ was faithful to people, but above all else, he loved them! If only I was able to love as Christ. I strive for it daily, and fail daily.

    5. Just so you don't think I am a "sayer" and not a "doer" I will give you some background information. From the time the Lord saved me I knew I had to tell other people the "Good News". I was in my 40's and had been in and out of church before I was saved. I didn't believe because someone did good works for me....or befriended me...or tried to be extra nice to me. It was the Lord drawing me to His word and showing me my sin. I had never read the bible despite being in church on an off. I knew nothing of Jesus and His atonement. I knew no "church words". But one day the Lord drew me to pick up the Bible and in it He showed me His holiness and my sinfulness. I knew at that moment I was destined for hell. But He also showed me Jesus and His salvation. I remember telling my husband...."If anyone knew this why didn't they tell me?" I was flabbergasted that no one I knew had ever set me down and talked to me about my sin and God's holiness.

      Every since the day I believed it has been my desire to tell people about my Lord. My husband and I went looking for a church to do outreach in. We asked if we could open a food pantry that would be gospel centered. The Pastors said yes but the church can give you no money and there is no space in the church for it. So my husband and I rented a space outside of the church and bought food and bibles (with our own money) and put a sign outside that read "Free food and bibles". We gave the gospel and a bible to every person that came in. We told them upfront that we were there in the name of Jesus and that yes we would give them food but my real concern was for their soul and the first thing on my heart was to talk to them about their need for Christ. We told them we wouldn't make them "qualify" for the food....that if they told us that they needed it we would believe them and that it would be between them and the Lord. 99% of the people we talked to were thankful and receptive. A few stormed out...some never came back. But the ones who did come back...every time they came back we talked to them again. We never beat it into them, we told them plainly what the bible said....we gave them cd's with the gospel...we gave them printouts with the gospel...we answered their questions. But at no time did we ever not tell them about their need for a Savior.

      So you see the first thing I did was TALK to them about God's word and guess what.....they didn't hate me. Did they all Did some..yes. So if we're talking about Evangelism....that does require words.


  2. Are you seeping into my soul lately? Every.single.word of your posts lately just jumps into me and makes me cry YES. Because finally, someone gets it.
    Someone who isn't me.
    Someone who also gave up the fancy white picket fence for the people in small communities with smaller incomes. Love my people on this street.

  3. Sometimes all I know to do is keep smiling and loving and paying phone bills and giving out food and pray like crazy!!!!

  4. shannan... your words stay with me each time you post... it is so much more complicated (and simple?!) than i believed when i was growing up. i think of all the families i work with at my school and the struggles they face day after day after day... how i can forget that as i sit in privilege. i thought of you, too, when i listened to this tedtalk podcast on money. the last section in particular about money and happiness. how research is showing people are happier when they give. thank you for speaking your truth and allowing us to wrestle with ours.

  5. Please promise me you will never stop writing and sharing your heart with us. That is all. Oh, and solidarity, sister. Solidarity!

  6. Thank you for your writing! You have and continue to inspire me! Please keep teaching me!!

  7. Thank you Shannon! Poetry and truth--your writing cuts to the bone.


  8. Thank you for your willingness to be so open with us. It helps so much. You help me see the world outside my bubble.

  9. I believe that what you and Beth up there are saying is both true. Yes, there will come a time when we need to speak the words of truth into people's lives, but there are also times when our actions speak that word for us. People who need Jesus, who are desperate for redemption, I believe, already know it deep down. This is Holy Spirit work, and I believe he can use all methods, all people, as weak as we are, to communicate that need to others. Like you, I thought I had all the Sunday School answers until God brought a desperate girl who was very much unlike me into my life. Yes, I've told her she needs Jesus, and she has told me back that she knows this, but mostly she needs to learn to build trust in people again and to get physically and emotionally better before she can even think about approaching God. This world is so cruel. Maybe speaking the gospel is simply giving them a place to rest, a place to trust, a place to be vulnerable.

    1. "but mostly she needs to learn to build trust in people again and to get physically and emotionally better before she can even think about approaching God".

      Shelley, I'm going to push back a bit but I hope you will take it with the spirit intended and take out any negative tone that you may hear in my writing. Here's were I have a question about what you said above that I quoted. Romans 1:18-21 "The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. that they are without excuse, because although they know God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened."

      Here's what I'm trying to say. We are not the victims....God is. He is the one that we have sinned against, and blasphemed and disrespected and all performed all other manner of atrocities against Him. According to Paul....we all have sinned...there none that is righteous...NOT ONE. The bible says that your friend has no excuse. She knows she's sinning against God yet she doesn't want to repent? You said that she needs to do x,y or z before she can approach God. She doesn't need to clean herself up to approach God...that's the whole point of the gospel....that's the point I'm trying to make. She can't save herself....she needs to believe in the atoning work of Jesus on the cross. That is the only thing that will save her. Unless she is told that she needs to repent and believe she is being mislead. If she is being made to believe that she is ok to stay in her sin and continue to blaspheme and dishonor God because she is a "victim" then that is not helping her. That's why I'm making a big deal about what the "gospel" is. Can you tell me what you believe the "gospel" is?

    2. sorry didn't leave my name...that's from me above...Beth

  10. This... yes. "Maybe speaking the gospel is simply giving them a place to rest, a place to trust, a place to be vulnerable."

  11. Yes. It's so easy for the truth to sound trite. It's easier to say the truth than to live it. And, every day, every one of us, SO needs to see it lived.

  12. The quote at the bottom…BOOM! Love!

  13. Also saw this book and thought you would like it: It talks about poverty and violence and the answer.

    1. Yes, I've had my eye on that book. Thanks for the reminder!

  14. we toss recipe cards back and forth at each other; "Mine is the way, there is pudding in it you know" and when the gospel does penetrate another's heart we look for the key ingredients so we can repeat the recipe with the next person. But my experience with the Lord is that there is no recipe, and thus no way for me to predict or control the outcome. there is simply obedience with the next thing. Even in Beth's case above-God spoke to her heart through His word. HE alone receives glory for that-and He does not like to share His glory. When we reduce sharing the gospel to a recipe we make God small. God alone knows the very piece of truth a person needs in a moment. That's the example He set-He dealt with each person He encountered in a personal and specific way.

    Like Shannon, as I’ve entered into relationship with the hungry and suffering-i've discovered that all of the recipes i’d been given ask for ingredients that are not available, so i have to begin cooking with what is available-to take the metaphor a bit farther. When WWII hit, soldiers would gather around the radio to hear from pastors and priests on BBC’s Sunday programs-only to find that the words fell empty in the context of war. Enter in CS Lewis and what became the book Mere Christianity (from the Radio Theatre book "CS Lewis at War") And even Lewis flopped at first cause he was used to speaking to fellow professors, he had to learn to speak to the men where they were at. Jesus, being God Himself, was a master at that and He set us the example. The Gospel’s are full of all the ways He spoke truth to the people He met-and all the ways He was misunderstood as well.

    Dear Shannon-as you wrestle through the hard and messy and misunderstandings-i pray that Your Comforter would comfort as only He can. to borrow from Sara Groves; "Keep your eyes on the prize....hold on"

    1. love this analogy-thanks so much!

      words like 'wrath' and 'atoning' are reasons some just can't hear as they are painful and judging words. people in tough/painful situations may need to hear GOD IS GOOD AND LOVE AND THERE--ALL THE TIME. different people are brought into different lives with exactly what that particular wounded person needs...some need and can handle strong and demanding words--some need the softness of actions and encouraging words.

      have a joyful day!

  15. You were there. You listened. You heard. Sometimes that brings healing - just knowing someone is hearing your story...cringing at your pain. As much as we want to be a part of "saving" someone, just knowing you are someones next step in that direction is enough, because it always takes more than one step. And believing Isaiah 55:11, that His word will accomplish the purpose for which it was intended...that takes some of the pressure off. You speak it. The Holy Spirit takes over from there. You were there. You listened. It was enough.

  16. please keep sharing--i learn so much from you!

  17. "i keep proving my need to be rescued."
    me too.

    i really, wholeheartedly believe that we can preach the gospel at all times, and if necessary, use words.
    i used to feel responsible to "share the gospel" because that's what my church growing up taught me.
    now, i know different. actions REALLY do speak louder than words.

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