Weaving the message of Jesus into our words and work:
VII. Problems, problems, problems...
A. Be careful in groups!
B. When the Tuff questions come up...
C. Antagonists --
When other office workers want only to argue with you:
"Paul, I can tell from our conversations that this issue is a major obstacle for you, and one that keeps you from getting any further in exploring a relationship with God. I wish I could help more, but I am obviously not qualified in this subject--the questions God answered for me were in other areas--but I do know that I can find detailed and scholarly reference materials, by full-fledged academic professors and experts, on this issue. And I am more than willing to do this for you, Paul, if you think it might be of help to you to find out what other credible and well-supported viewpoints might be available to you. My personal experience is that God wants us to have peace of mind about honest questions, without sacrificing our intellectual integrity or commitment to the truth...Would you like for me to get that information together for your consideration? And after you have had a chance to go through it, maybe you could give me your opinion of its strengths and weaknesses."
When they try to interrupt you in groups with objections, or try to embarrass you in public:
"(Shaking head). I wish it were something that simple! From what I have gathered from teachers and reading over the years, that issue is much more complex than that. I don't know much about that subject, but I DO know that there are many, many academic professors that have examined that issue and come out at a radically different conclusion than your statement [or at a satisfactory answer to that question]...I don't know enough to debate it here myself, but if you are interested in considering those other positions, I can find some academic materials for you--but let's talk about that one-on-one later..."
Gentleness is always the order of the day, and fruitless quarreling is useless for all...if they continue to bring the objection up (trying to bait you), keep pushing it off with the "I am not qualified...do you want me to get you some credible information?"
D. When you get in over your head in questions, personal problems, resource commitment
1. Admit it, but point out that this is not a limitation for God--He has many people that have had to wrestle with the same thing!
2. Ask for permission to talk over their situation (without using their name, if that makes them more comfortable) with a counselor or pastor at your church--one that you personally 'use' for input in tough situations.
3. Then, bring some questions back from the pastor for your friend, get the info, and talk with the pastor AGAIN. Then, ask for permission to set up a discreet meeting between the three of you--that the pastor suggested that it might speed the resolution process up for your friend, if the three of you could meet for lunch, coffee, or a glass of wine after work one day.
4. Use this opportunity to grow your knowledge of this area, of course, but do not bet your friend's future on your ability to master a difficult area quickly!
E. The 'offense of the Cross' issue: arrogance issues, messenger issues
1. The simplicity of the Cross offends the arrogant--cf. Naaman in 2 Kings 5:
When Elisha the man of God heard that the king of Israel had torn his robes, he sent him this message: “Why have you torn your robes? Have the man come to me and he will know that there is a prophet in Israel.” 9 So Naaman went with his horses and chariots and stopped at the door of Elisha’s house. 10 Elisha sent a messenger to say to him, “Go, wash yourself seven times in the Jordan, and your flesh will be restored and you will be cleansed.”
11 But Naaman went away angry and said, “I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call on the name of the LORD his God, wave his hand over the spot and cure me of my leprosy. 12 Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than any of the waters of Israel? Couldn’t I wash in them and be cleansed?” So he turned and went off in a rage.
13 Naaman’s servants went to him and said, “My father, if the prophet had told you to do some great thing, would you not have done it? How much more, then, when he tells you, ‘Wash and be cleansed’!” 14 So he went down and dipped himself in the Jordan seven times, as the man of God had told him, and his flesh was restored and became clean like that of a young boy.
2. "Actually, it's a good thing He made it this simple--many of us would miss it otherwise, due to problems with time, priorities, conflicts, etc...At least this way, the issue can be focused on quite clearly, and the decision can be made without requiring massive and difficult life changes on our part."
3. "Believe me, friend, it is much more complex than it looks--its just that the complexity, difficulty, and cost is over on God's side, not ours. His care for us, and His interest in making this accessible to us went to great lengths to make our response the 'simple part'...Believe me, the theology of the Son of God suffering in our place, in an event of Roman execution is NOT a 'simple matter' for God--He shouldered the responsibility for the work of bringing us back to Him, and He did that so our part would be simple, easy, and accessible to children and even adults! (warm smile)..."
4. Make sure the arrogance is THEIRS, not YOURS!
5. "Offense of the Message" versus "Offensive Messenger"! (have you considered Breath mints yet?...smile!)
F. The problem of Friendly Fire -- when other Christians try to 'help you'
1. This should not come up much in the real one-on-one conversations. They should be private enough to preclude 'eavesdropping'
2. If they somehow learn of your conversations with Joe or Joan, and want to get involved, thank them for their interest, and ask them to pray for Joe or Joan privately (not with you)--for their spiritual growth and strength through the 'personal issues' they are facing right now. Then explain that you cannot be more specific than that--that it would violate a confidence shared, even though the 'personal issues' are standard, basic issues we all face..."Nothing to see here, folks, move along..."
3. If they have proven themselves trustworthy, evangelical, and mature, then you can pray together for Joe or Joan--but do not give details that could be construed as 'betraying a confidence'--this is CRITICAL!
4. If they embarrass the faith by either unethical behavior, situational inappropriateness, or work habits 'not unto the Lord', and they are mentioned in your conversations with friends, simply don't judge, and don't align with them:
"Yeah, I heard about that, too. I would assume that Jeff meant well by spray painting 'Jesus saves' in large block letters on the side of the building, and his passion for sharing that with others is probably commendable...But I really don't think I could agree with those methods of communicating (tired smile)...many of my friends would find that behavior offensive or obnoxious, and it might somehow even influence them away from taking God's offer and message seriously...I'm sure my life and actions have sometimes done the same...fortunately, the bigger issue is not how some Christians act, but how we re-act to God's offer in our lives."
1. Unless you came from the same background, these often require outside help (of which there is plenty)
2. Most cults are effective because of their community loyalty and care for one another. If you can show God's love through your interactions with them in times of crisis, you may can get a hearing. If you can talk them into coming to a group of Christians for prayer over their specific situation, that can be very helpful in showing an 'alternative' love. [Just call up some Christian friends to come over specifically for praying and befriending this person. Be careful about inviting them to a normal bible study--this can get out-of-control and off-focus quickly!]
3. Sometimes you can ask them about those that leave their group:
"Harry, I know of a couple of people who used to be practicing members of a group like yours, but I have never asked them why they left and became more 'mainstream' in their religious beliefs. Do you know what reasons people might give for leaving? Do you know anybody personally who left?"
4. If you can hook them up with an ex-cultist for a three-way meeting, that is the best you can do sometimes (assuming the ex-cultist is a mature and loving believer).
5. Be VERY careful about using anti-cult web sites--their tone can sometimes be amazingly abrasive and repulsive. You can get tons of information there, but be very selective about where you send your associates to on the Web. [You may have to issue a disclaimer about the tone.]
H. Other World Religions
1. Similar dynamics to cult issues, but often the religious commitment is more a matter of culture and history, than a personal conscious choice.
2. With eastern religions, sometimes the background differences are so significant that your words will not communicate clearly (e.g. 'incarnation'). Sometimes you can open a discussion with the "How much do you know about Jesus..." approach.
"I have always wondered what the religious tradition you were raised in taught about Jesus Christ? Did they talk about Him at all? Did you have any contact with Christian teachers? What were they like? Did they show love? What do you remember them teaching? Have you ever been curious about the life of this Jesus person? I've got this video that you might enjoy..."
3. Many, many adherents of these religions know as little about what they are supposed to believe as those that call themselves 'Christians' do about their faith!
4. The issue for many of these will be a correct view of the heart of Jesus of Nazareth, and this will have to be communicated by you, in the context of your life:
"Whew! I went though a challenge last week, in which I felt my Lord was being as patient with me as He was with the woman at the well so long ago!"
"Huh? What woman?"
"Oh, sorry. I was referring to a story from the life of Jesus, in which He was travelling..."
5. Pick the stories that have been closest to YOUR heart for this approach.
6. Jewish people have a special requirement to be able to discuss this and investigate this privately and secretly:
"Barry, I know enough about my Christian faith to know how much we owe to our Jewish heritage. Two thousand years ago, you and I would likely have been worshipping God in the same synagogue in Israel (although I don't think I would have been allowed to sit in the inner group with you). Every book of our New Testament was written by a messianic Jewish believer in the first century. We were a Jewish 'denomination' for at least the first century or two of our existence. Our Christian scholars today defend the accuracy and holiness of the Hebrew bible. Rabbi Saul in the New Testament said we non-Jews were just sort of 'tacked on' to God's gracious program for the people of Abraham. If only our histories since the second century would have been different! But I know the reality today, Barry, and I know that you cannot even begin to consider for yourself the message of Jesus of Galilee without getting massive amounts of cultural pressure on you. I wish you could be free to look at the stories of other Jews that thought through this issue and came to a different place...They are quite honest about what they had to deal with afterwards, but they felt the trade-off was worth it...By the way, if you are interested in reading some of their stories, let me know--I can either find for you the URL on the web, or get you a copy of the material and give it to you here at work...That way you can look at the material privately, without attracting any undue attention...Just let me know, friend."
I. When they say 'no'..."I've thought it over carefully, and I really DON'T want God in my life"
1. Obviously, ask the "hmmm, I'm surprised, Marla...how did you arrive at that position, friend?" question
2. If they mention a problem or reason that you were unaware of:
"Huh? I wish you had told me that this was a major issue for you. How much weight did that have on your decision?....YYY....Well, I need to tell you that many people have found very satisfying answers to that issue. And there is a ton of good, helpful, and credible information on that--which I can STILL get for you, if you want to do a quick re-evaluation, to make sure you have considered all the data...If this is the main obstacle to you moving forward with the Lord, then this might be very useful and important to you...Would that material be something that might be helpful to you?"
3. If the problem was something you tried to help them on:
"Oh. I assume then that the material I brought to you wasn't very helpful? What points or issues did the material not address?"
4. If they avoid giving a reason: "just some private reasons" or "just not ready to make that step yet"...
"I can understand that, Jack, it's always a personal and private matter of the heart, between your heart and God...some people need a little more time to get used to the idea of God's good heart--in my case, it took some YY months/years...I would encourage you though, while this stuff is still fresh on your mind, to make sure you have the 'right' God here (smile)...He is a good-hearted God and ready to become a positive, and contributing agent in your life--I have certainly experienced that in my life...when you get ready to bring this question up again with Him, just remember that heart...And, of course, if you have any questions along the way, let me know--I'll help where I can, you know that don't you?...YYY...Good. Now, what is the status on the project/accident/situation etc?"
5. Do NOT argue!
6. Do NOT disengage from caring and helping.
7. Do NOT stop praying.