Bridge Out Ahead

23 06 2010

One of the most common questions that I get in response to Lord Save Us has to do with how we treat those in our life who are living outside the will of God. I believe we need to approach this topic with a great deal of humility and self-reflection. Personally, I’ve found myself in trouble when I start being too sure that I understand God’s will for SOMEONE ELSE. Clearly, it’s an area we’ve all struggled with which probably explains why, “Well, what do we do then?” comes up so often. Now, those less charitable accuse me of “loving people straight to hell” or the more civil phase it “how do we introduce the notion of repentance?” The following is an exchange of letters that explores this conflict.

Really enjoyed your convicting commentary. Honest question, “Conversation” is important. Do we share with those living in sin willfully are we not to bring to their attention the Idea of Repentance? If a person is going on a road and we know the bridge is gone and they are headed to destruction and we don’t tell them, where is the Love behind that?

Thanks for checking out the film and thanks for your comments. Good question, fair question.

I guess my take is that the true Gospel isn’t really shared outside of some kind of relationship. And Conversation is simply a place to start. I believe that if these people (whomever we want to witness to) KNOW that we are a Christian – that is the source of our love – then that love, in fact, WILL lead them to the cross. When we demonstrate something beautiful and true (God’s love, His Truth and Grace) to people, they are attracted to it. If we are obedient to God and truly rely on Him and create a space for the Holy Spirit to show up (relationships), then He will do so – and it’s amazing. I find it curious that in John, Jesus calls the disciples to LOVE one another (13:34-35) and later tells them he will leave a Spirit of TRUTH as a helper. Why not the other way around? We need to do our part and trust that God is with us. I think we often feel the need to jump in front of God and the Holy Spirit if we don’t see the results WE want.

As for your bridge-out analogy, it doesn’t account for someone who doesn’t believe that the bridge is out – which is likely to include most of the people we are talking about here. So then what? Interestingly, in my five or so years working on this project and then screening it for about every kind of audience imaginable (gay, straight, Christian, secular, young, old, etc), I didn’t meet ONE person who hadn’t heard the Gospel – or some version of it. I’m not sure they understood it in the same way we do, but they THINK they do and therefore aren’t open or aren’t the blank slate we sometimes assume they are. But, interestingly, I did meet hundreds, possibly thousands of people who had NEVER felt God’s love, specifically never felt God’s love from someone who claimed to follow Him. That blew me away. So our premise is often wrong. People need to experience God’s love – which Jesus explains and demonstrates repeatedly is our job. The thing we forget (and I learned on my journey) is that when people know we care about them – when we’ve proven it so they believe us we have their best in mind – they are likewise interested in us and what we believe.

I believe evangelism, sharing the Good News, requires much more from us than posing a simple question like, “You don’t want to burn in hell do you?” or “Do you know Jesus died for your sins?” This faith is not an intellectual transaction it’s a heart transforming experience to enter this journey of knowing God. So for me, trusting in God to teach me how to love the unlovable (uh, me) is how I myself will truly understand the Good News and how we can more fully reflect God’s love to people who don’t know Him.

My reading of the Scriptures leads me to believe Jesus was showing us HOW to do it as well as what to do. Relationships with others are the key. If we love God, this is how we show Him. His idea, not mine. Hah. ‘Cause it’s pretty freaking difficult, wouldn’t you agree? The iconic American preacher Billy Graham once put it this way, “God’s job is to judge, the Holy Spirit’s job is to convict and our job is to love.”

Well put! Especially the part that addressed my “bridge-out analogy”… I get it!!! I was convicted of that fact in your movie and in your response to my question. I do try to jump ahead of God and His Spirit many times in these situations. Thanks for taking time to respond and may God continue to bless you and your unique ministry. “The unlovable” is me as well. I think I understand your view on conversation/relationship. Kind of like the Game Show version where they spent a couple of hours in the green room talking. Thanks again.

This conversation really encouraged me. Illustrating again, that there are so many people who love God are sincerely trying to figure out how to best love others. Being open to revising and improving my relationships with others seems to help me find ways to better serve and know God. That’s my experience anyway. I invite you to give it a try and see what you find – this whole “loving others” thing may turn out to be quite a revelation.


Communication Breakdown

4 06 2010

By Dan Merchant

While producing my documentary film Lord, Save Us From Your Followers I’ve spent the past few years trying to understand the so-called “Culture Wars” in our fine country. Is the conflict the genuine collision of opposing social and political viewpoints? Is all the yelling simply human nature as amplified through cable news hosts and talk radio personalities? Is the Us versus Them mentality that pervades America and it’s churches an inevitability in a fallen world? Maybe.

Or maybe the fundamental problem is so simple and obvious that we don’t want to believe it’s true.

As I traveled the country meeting with and interviewing all manner of folk I kept hearing the echo of one of my all-time favorite movie lines: “What we have here is failure to communicate.“ I can still hear Strother Martin’s menacing innuendo as he stands over Paul Newman in the classic Cool Hand Luke. Could it be that we have lost the ability or, perhaps, the will to communicate? And by “communicate”, I don’t mean simply spouting what I believe at someone else, but actually caring enough to find a way to articulate the message in a way “the other” receives it. Think of communication like a quarterback throwing the ball to his receiver: it requires timing, accuracy and sometimes touch. If the quarterback drills the ball off the side of the receiver’s helmet when he isn’t looking and then cries to the heavens, “Nice catch brick mitts!” I’d argue that the QB failed to “communicate” with the receiver.

I have to admit that I’d spent years perfecting a “debate and conquer” technique that bears a striking resemblance to the “brick mitts” approach. And if someone responded with, “Hey, I wasn’t looking, “ or “I’m standing two feet from you, put a little touch on the ball,” I had a cadre of Biblical trump cards at the ready: “The truth divides,” or “pearls before swine,” or “the world will despise us”. I had become more comfortable being right than emulating Christ and being obedient to his call on my life. There was not a lot of “dying to myself” going on in these encounters. Humility was absent and judging was quick and easy and, sometimes, kind of fun. I was amazed by my own ability to turn acquaintances into enemies over issues large and small. Yeah, I was in a downward spiral of moral superiority.

Which brings us back to the Lord, Save Us interviews. I wanted to know if others had been struggling like I had been. Was it even possible to communicate in a respectful, civil fashion on issues of faith and hot button political issues? To frame the potential conversation, I began each interview with five simple questions:

1) How do you think the world began?
2) Where do you think you’ll go when you die?

3) What is something that Christians are known for?

4) What is something that Jesus Christ is known for?

5) If Jesus returned today do you think he’d vote Republican or Democrat?

Then I stood back and listened. You would have been as amazed as I was. The willingness of people to engage floored me. When people believe you are willing to listen to them, and that you are not merely lying in wait to shout them down with your opinions, they will talk to you. Yes, and let me encourage you here, an actual conversation is possible. I spoke with young and old, meek and bold, obnoxious and gentle, intelligent and earnest, those who agreed with me and those who didn’t – and I have to tell you, I was transformed. Just being able to connect in a simple conversation seemed such a positive first step to closing this abyss that can separate us from others. How can we love our neighbors as ourselves – as Jesus inconveniently tells us to do – if we’re not even willing to talk with them, to attempt to understand who they are as fellow image bearers of God?

But here’s the punch line: many of those who had negative perceptions of Christians had positive perceptions of Jesus. Those who thought Christians are known for “warfare” and “hypocrisy” claimed Christ was best known for “healing the sick and loving the poor,” and “loving the least, those discarded by society”. Uh, what? Why do they understand these important things about Jesus and want to run from me, his representative, his spokesperson? “What we have here is failure to communicate.” If interacting with me discourages someone from considering Jesus and what God has for them, then I need to change how I’m communicating. If my desire to be right causes me to miss being used by God then I need to change how I am communicating. Yeah, I know, people walked away from the Sermon on the Mount, “following this messiah sounds hard, let’s go find another one,” but when I fail to communicate (live out the Gospels) I may be driving away the very people God brought into my path.

Pro Life Goes Global

19 01 2009

Last Monday, January 12th, my favorite USA Today columnist Tom Krattenmaker presented a terrific column on what he described as a new wrinkle in the Evangelical Pro Life movement ( Krattenmaker proposed that by carrying the Sanctity of Life argument beyond the womb to include on-going efforts to thwart slavery and human trafficking, Christians engaged in this effort were in fact expanding the Pro Life agenda. I can’t tell you how refreshing it is to hear the conversation expanding into to such a forward thinking space. Pastor Rick Warren has long expounded on adding to the agenda by including extreme poverty and AIDS hospice work to the traditional Pro Life (read anti-abortion) platform. And while eliminating (reducing) unwanted pregnancies and abortions is obviously still a primary concern and focus, the inclusion of these other long neglected facets of need actually lend credibility to the Pro Life platform. While interviewing Dr. John Perkins for Lord, Save Us From Your Followers, he described to me a more “holistic” approach to the Pro-Life agenda, one that specifically called for our amplified attention on the issue of poverty. “I agree with Dr. Dobson that we should be concerned about the babies in the womb, but I wish we would care more about them when they are out of the womb,” Perkins said. Yeah, pretty basic I know, but such simplicity and clarity reminds me not to over think the issues. It also reminds me to do what I can to help.
Compassion First founder Mike Mercer, featured heavily in the USA Today piece, mentioned to me that, “10,000 new non-governmental organizations could all focus on ending human trafficking and slavery and they’d all be busy. There is room for everyone to help. We need everyone to help.” Mercer’s involvement in the human trafficking issue came as a result of a personal encounter. While on a fact-finding trip he came face to face with young women who were trapped in a life of sexual slavery and debt bondage. Mercer describes the burden as highly personal, “Now that I know their names I am unable to ignore them. They are my problem now.”
This past fall I had a lunch with Justin Dillon, director of the excellent concert/cause film Call + Response. We talked about the impetus for his filmmaking journey and I was struck by how similar the description of his motivation was to Mercer’s – again it was personal. Dillon told me about being on tour in Russia and meeting some young women who were in the midst of being trafficked. Appalled and surprised by the bold corruption, Dillon’s vow to expose this world of Human Trafficking evolved into Call + Response. We should pick up on the clue that when someone encounters such pure evil they are personally changed and, beyond that, driven to enact change. I appreciate the sacrifice of the hundreds, maybe thousands by now, like Mercer and Dillon. Regular guys, not men of great means, but men who have had their hearts broken by the suffering of others and are strong enough of conviction to rally others to the rescue. I am also grateful to see the church moving beyond political agendas to embrace the needs of fellow Image Bearers of God.