Posts tagged ·



Malicious witnesses


Mission, evangelism, outreach – three words which ultimately mean the same thing: going out and sharing the Gospel.
There are some differences, though: mission conveys the (literally apostolic!) idea of being sent, evangelism has a focus on the nature of what is being shared – the Bible – and outreach suggests the existence of a structure to go back to. The differences between these three leads to a major question: why are we doing this? What leads us to “do” mission? What do we share? And with whom?

Yes, the Great Commission instructs us to go and teach all the nations. And that’s very well. But if it is our sole motivator to go out and share the Gospel, then not only does evangelism become something we just do, but the message we share itself becomes stale. We end up needing to be right, and we end up needing to persuade others that we are.
We start to develop standard answers to deep and personal questions, for instance on creationism, eschatology, homosexuality, suffering, science, etc. – and these are answers we need to have ready, because we can’t be seen to “not have it sorted”.

Woe to us if we end up like that. If we end up reciting the same message to all, with just some tiny alterations in style. Because the fact is the Word is alive to all of us. It grows, it interacts with the people who hear it, and it changes us. The point is, it has interacted with us (and still does). It excites us, makes us passionate.

For instance, I find that I come truly alive when I share some passages that really resonate with me (for instance the story of Gideon. Or John 15.) But every time I do, it is because I explain what this meant to me. How that is relevant to me (and, I hope, it can be to those I share it with). I find that much harder to do when I’m talking to non-Christians.

I’m not sure why, but I think there are three main reasons:

  1. I feel the weight of responsibility. What if I say something wrong and shut that person off to the Gospel?
  2. I’m representing some organisation to an outsider – and personal beliefs shouldn’t come into that, surely.
  3. I need to be seen to have it all sorted. If not, my message is worthless.

And so, when I started taking part in evangelism events, it soon became an intellectual exercise – one that goes both ways, and which allows me to probe some questions myself too; but still, one that involves the mind when I’m talking, and the soul only afterward when I’m praying. I find myself pigeon holing people into categories, which stops me from truly engaging with them.

The Psalmist warns us:

Malicious witnesses rise up; they ask me of things that I do not know.

Psalm 35:11 (ESV)

Should we then stop going out to share the good news? Stop opening ourselves up to these malicious witnesses? Of course not. But we should be wary of these malicious witnesses; and of the focus they have on asking us things thatwe do not know. Rather than addressing the intellectual arguments as something we can get sorted for ourselves and explain on our own to others, and thus becoming falsely self-reliant and arrogant; we should focus on what we know.

What do we know? We know our story. We know how we got changed. We know how reading the Word excites us. How much Jesus matters to us. We know Jesus. What we do not know, is the apologetical arguments – not until we have made them our own. And even then, what we know is the story of how they became our own.
This is what we can share without risk of self-satisfaction and self-reliance. This, and this alone. The rest we must leave up to God.

Twelve pounds fifty

1 comment

The other day, I was walking past someone sat under a bridge reading a book. He was frustrated, he told me, as he had come “this close” to getting off the streets. True enough, what he needed was ridiculous: £12.50 to get somewhere (which he was told he would get reimbursed later!), and meet a landlord who had agreed to rent out a place to him. That situation taught, or refreshed a few things for me:

Twelve pounds fifty

1. One life can be changed by something ridiculously small.
Without these £12.50, he would have stayed on the streets, probably despondent.
With these £12.50, there was a chance he could find a home, get off the streets and get a fresh start.
Every penny helps” is something we hear a lot from charities – and I tend to admit that in an “it all adds up” kind of way. But it’s so much more than that – a small amount can be crucial on its own.

2. It is easier than you’d think to give up close to the end, because of a setback.
The amount of stuff this guy seemed to have fought for – finding a landlord willing to take him without much money, getting the promise of being reimbursed some of his way off the street, etc. – is a testimony that he really tried hard to turn his life around.
But when I met him, he had given up. There was no way he could get the sufficient amount in time. His frustration from it was visible – nearly tangible, but he wasn’t asking for help.
Sure, it is important to start – and I’ve tried to explain this before – but it is just as important to see things through. Setbacks will come along the way, but they are no reason to give up trying.

3. Hope is fragile, but can sometimes be rekindled easily.
He had all but given up. The money got him to get up and run to the station. All of a sudden, it became possible again. As it turns out, I bumped into him again the next day – where he was in a hurry to go and try again (seemingly, there had been a setback the day before). The change was great – from static and seated to standing and running.
He had hope again – and that was rekindled very easily.

4. Different responses are appropriate at different times.
Lecturing him about contents insurance (which would be quite cheeky from someone who does not have contents insurance anyway), or assuring him of God’s love for him there and then, would probably not have gotten through to him. Worse, they could have been damaging. There is no set formula to rekindle hope in someone. Sometimes, all that is needed is a few words, sometimes it’s action. It’s important to discern where to use each.

5. Sometimes, you have to actively look for where to give.
Just because he didn’t ask, doesn’t mean he shouldn’t be given. Of course, it is easier to give when asked – but many reasons stop people from coming to you to ask: pride, despondency, etc. So be on the look out for people who need your input, whatever the shape. Be ready.

6. Giving takes many shapes.
There’s monetary gifts. There’s giving your time, or your attention. There’s the trust the landlord gave him when he decided to let him in without guarantees. There’s prayer. That means that there is always something you and I can give.

7. Giving never happens in a vacuum.
Those £12.50 were only what was left of what was needed. There had been, presumably, people before me who had given this guy their money and their trust (the total amount was in the £60 region, I think). There will be more people too.
Celebrating this is key to building a community of people who share in the humility of service, rather than in the boastfulness of achievement.

8. Giving is best in a relationship, but giving can start a relationship.
I wanted to know he made it. I wanted to let him know I cared, too. But I didn’t know him, and had no way of chasing it all up. A relationship allows for so much more than momentary giving. But it has to be a healthy relationship between equals – not one of dependance. And the balance is hard to strike when giving is at the core of the relationship – I’ve messed it up twice so far and have yet to get it right, but I’m getting better at it.

9. Sometimes, giving doesn’t lead to what you planned.
I wanted my input to get him off the streets. As I mentioned earlier, it didn’t work out on the night, as he told me when I bumped into him the next day. Control stops the moment you give the money, and that’s something to accept as and when you give. Then, when it doesn’t work out, it’s no reason to stop giving altogether.

10. It’s alright not to know.
There is a small chance that this was a scam. I don’t believe it was, but it is possible. Not knowing what my money ended up doing is fine – not pleasant, but fine. Because it stopped being my money the moment I gave it. The only valid reason to chase up the result of my giving, is in order to keep on helping, if and when necessary.
At the same time, it is nice to know we were useful. So if you’re on the receiving end, do tell your helpers that they have been useful.

10. Tomorrows aren’t safe.
Like this guy’s, your house may burn and you may lose all your possessions. There are a few things that are beyond sudden damage: God, and, hopefully, friends. Know to place your trust in them and to nurture your relationships with both.

11. The damages of the culture of entitlement and all the criteria for entitlement that come with it are staggering. If that guy were in more dire need – if he were on drugs, for instance – he would have had access to a shelter. And he was aware of that. I totally get why these people should get more help; but in a culture of consequences, drugs can appear as an easy way out.
The same culture stops us from realising what life can be like when you stop getting NHS – because, after all, everyone is entitled to NHS support… but for some reason (involving missing paperwork), this guy didn’t.

12. “Refunding” is not always enough.
Sure, at the end of the day, you will end up (roughly) the same. And better a system where a refund is possible than a system with no aid at all. But this system only works for those who have the cash to advance; and was not enough in this case. What’s free after all is taken into account is not free at the point of use and this should be kept in mind.

12 ½. You can’t always play it safe.
This ties in with the above. Refunding means getting the receipt, and means being sure that the money was used in the way you intended to be used. But trust is vital in giving. And that trust, I would argue, should not have to be earned.

Self-worth, hospitality and evangelism

no comments

Today, when hearing about church action and church hospitality in the student context, something along those lines came up:

“When they come to a Christian circle, students find people who are genuinely interested in who they are”

My first reaction was “that’s great!” And true enough, without that, there can be no real relationship. No connection – and therefore no discipleship. I even blogged about the importance of relationship over argument-based evangelism some time ago.

In the context of today’s talk, though, it got me thinking that we’re considering “genuine interest” as something others are looking for – a magnet for lonely students*. But what if you have low self-esteem and feel your life is basically a succession of failures? Would you want people to be interested in that?
For instance: I’m a PhD student. People sometimes ask me what I’m working on. It is a question I dreaded – and yet people were only trying to be nice by asking it. The reason I dreaded that was that I felt my research was (a) boring (but that can be overcome by people who show genuine interest) and (b) completely worthless (methodological nitpicking). It is the famous impostor syndrome. This happened to me, and yet I don’t see myself as a particularly insecure person. It can genuinely happen to anyone, and not just about worklife. To people in that situation, regardless of how genuine interest is, it is scary.

In other words, the question I’m asking is where does genuine interest turn into scrutiny – not in your own eyes, but in the eyes of the person you’re trying to welcome?

Self-worth issues within Christianity can be seen as “covered by grace”: we’re not worthy anyway, but then, none of us are, not even “to gather the crumbs under God’s table”. No, we’re not deserving of God’s love – and it’s quite healthy to remember that. But it does not mean we are not worthy of each other’s love. Yet I would assume (and I’m saying that without any qualification on the topic, so please do correct me if I’m wrong) that for people already struggling with self-worth, that particular message will echo in a very strong way, and ultimately be harmful both to the person’s health and to their access to the Gospel.

So how do we make sure that, when we’re trying to build up a relationship, it stops short of unwelcome scrutiny or does not bring about undesirable feelings of worthlessness?

*ok, that’s a caricature, and the interest is genuine. But there’s a reason why we mention it when we talk about outreach…