I like my veggies fairly soft. My son and daughter like theirs crunchy. I say, if I’m going to use all that energy to chew, it better be steak that I’m eating. Green beans (I called them string beans growing up) should be soft but not mushy just like carrots and broccoli and cauliflower. I don’t want the “life cooked out of my veggies,” but I don’t want them raw either.
Our calling today is to go to the hurting with a message of comfort springing from genuine love. God never called us to convert anyone. In fact, He never called anyone at any time to convert others. There is no command in Scripture that requires us to become convert specialists. I know that sounds radical, but it seems heretical only because of the way we’ve had our spiritual meals (and more specifically our theology) served to us. We’ve had them served one way for so long that we’ve grown so use to that taste that any other taste is unpalatable.
Every generation has to deal with this same problem. Even in the first century A.D., Jesus rebukes that generation for not coming to Him and believing what He was preaching to them because they were very comfortable with the way they were living and what they were believing. At that time, Jesus told them three short parables: the attendants of the bridegroom and the groom, the old garment and the new, unshrunken patch, and the new wine and the old wineskins. These parables were the answer to the question that the disciples of John the Baptist asked Jesus. The record of that question is given in Matt. 9:14 and in Mk. 2:18:
“Then the disciples of John came to Him, saying, ‘Why do we and the Pharisees fast, but Your disciples do not fast?’”
There was a noticeable difference in the way Jesus lived and the way the religious leaders lived. Jesus and His disciples weren’t following the traditions of the elders in the way they approached life. The reason that this rejection came about is given in Luke’s gospel on the same parables. But Luke adds an important explanation when he says,
“And no one, after drinking old wine wishes for new; for he says, ‘The old is smoother by comparison.’” (my translation of Lk. 5:39).
The new wine was a metaphor for Jesus’ teachings. The old wine was a metaphor for the teachings accepted and implemented by the religious leaders of Jesus’ day. Jesus’ wine was not as preferable as the older, smoother wines that they had gotten use to. In the south where I came from we make the same point by saying, “It is difficult to teach an old dog new tricks.” That old dog had already learned what gets him by and he has no desire to add to it. The same thing is true with all elements of one’s sub-culture. We like the way we were raised and anything different just doesn’t seem right.
There is an old saying that states, “You are what you eat.” And, of course, there is some truth to that statement. But there is more abuse of it than good use of it. Today I seem to be around people who can’t eat a meal without at least a passing comment about the calories, the protein, the salt, or some other issue that sits on the plate like a snake, coiled and ready to strike at any moment. And of course it is all so very serious, even deadly, business.
If I never hear another comment about diets or food groups or cholesterol or whatever else is involved in the food that I’m about to put into my mouth, it will be too soon. There is more to life, and there is certainly more to talk about than all that stuff. But we’ve become so cautious that we border on full-blown paranoia when it comes to what we eat.
Thank God that I am hard of hearing (and getting more seriously so as time transpires). I can actually tune out most of that conversation now with some ease since I have to strain to hear in the first place. So, if I’m not interested in a conversation, all I have to do is stop exhausting myself in my attempts to hear it in the first place. That’s a win-win for me.
The same thing can be said about our view of evangelism and of our drive to convert the world to Christianity. Since the Bible never gives us such a mandate, we have managed to develop such a perspective only through a series of assumptions and conjectures.
Evangelizing or preaching the gospel is not synonymous with converting people to Christianity.
Making disciples is not synonymous with leading others to make a decision to become what the world thinks is a Christian. Following Jesus is not synonymous to becoming a good Christian.
What people need is what Jesus provides. But what He provides is not restricted to those who believe in Him or who become Christians. Much of what Jesus provides is through Him though not requiring faith in Him. Forgiveness of sins, the conquest of sin’s necessary rule within, and Satan’s natural ownership and rule over each person once he sins are all provided by Jesus’ death on the cross but gained apart from faith in Jesus. These are all blessings that God’s grace has secured for each and every individual through the cross of His Son. But their experience is not waiting for or dependent upon a person placing his faith in Jesus. God provided these blessings for all mankind including those who have never heard of the name of Jesus much less have believed in Him.
But eternal life and the gift of the Holy Spirit are received through faith in Jesus. And without faith in Jesus, these blessings cannot be obtained nor experienced in every day life.
But every morning God’s lovingkindness is flowing over the rim of heaven toward every creature God has made and continues to sustain. Forgiveness and fellowship along with a host of other blessings are being offered apart from faith in Jesus, but, nevertheless, because of Jesus. If we want our message to be relevant to a daily shrinking world, we must understand that God is accessible apart from faith in Jesus. And He is that because He sent Jesus to die to make Himself accessible.
The closer all men come to God through learning from Jesus the more they will leave the corruptions of their faith and of personal lifestyles and draw close to God. Wouldn’t it be fabulous to see all men come together with such purity of heart and compassion for one another? Purity of heart because they have seen God as never before. Compassion because they realize that God is the Father of us all.
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