Once upon a time, I was a new Christian determined to win the world for Jesus. I thought everyone should go to Heaven and I was the one to show them the way. I had ALL the answers to anything anyone could ever ask me about faith. Then, eight years ago, Papa John died and I didn’t have answers for MY questions, and when I finally had those pieces of life somewhat reorganized, Mama died and dumped my apple cart again. I went to a seriously dark place emotionally and mentally and almost gave up on everything.
A year later, I’m still recovering, but I’m a different person. I still believe Jesus is our savior, sacrifice, lord and the ONLY means of salvation and eternal life. (Wonder how many followers THAT lost me?) I still want to go to Heaven . . . especially if it means I’ll see Mama again. I’m still “on the firing line” as the old gospel song says, but . . . BUT, I understand a few things differently now. For instance, everyone doesn’t WANT to go to Heaven. Lots of people could care less about Heaven or Jesus too for that matter. I know there’s a difference between civil rights and religious teachings. I’m different and I’m scarred now, and because of that, I have a better missionary position than before.
I’ve developed my position around three critical ideas: a perceived interest, a perceived need, and/or an established relationship. First, I have a willingness to discuss the story of my faith in Christ and what He’s done for me with anyone who shows even the remotest interest. I believe all Christians should be willing and able to do the same because we are admonished to “always be ready to give a defense or reason for the hope we have in us.” I also think it’s important to pay attention to the person I’m talking to. If I see the reptilian haze begin to fuzz over their eyes or they seem to bristle at the name of Jesus, then it’s time to talk about the weather or football or — God forbid — politics.
Second, I’m willing to start a conversation about Christ and faith with anyone (even a stranger) who seems to be in a state of physical or emotional turmoil or pain. Some people might see that approach as intrusive or offensive, but I see such a conversation in the same light as a compassionate nurse or doctor checking on someone he saw take a tumble or having a little trouble breathing. I like to help people; I want everyone to go to Heaven, and I have the skill set for such a conversation. If they seem open, I go as far as inviting them to church one Saturday night or Sunday morning; if I sense pushback, fine – it’s a perfectly legitimate choice on their part and we’ll just leave it at that. It never hurts to care about people, though.Finally, I’ll initiate faith discussions – often intense ones – with non-believers I have an established relationship with. The key is ESTABLISHED. I’m not going to ask a person if he’s a Christian on our first meeting unless he brings it up. Football is much safer for a conversation starter. I’m talking about people I’ve known and interacted with over a lengthy period of time. It could be a friend, but I’ve also had these faith discussions with my regular waitress at restaurants I frequent. These are people who know a decent amount about me. Hopefully, they can tell I’m a Christian before I even bring it up; if they can’t, I’ve got a bigger problem because my life isn’t a reflection of Whom I serve.
Discussions like these, however, are YEARS forming and they are not without hazards – I’ve lost touch with a couple of people I considered good friends over tension between our beliefs, but such is the risk anyone who wants to point people towards God’s Kingdom must be willing to take. It doesn’t feel great and it certainly doesn’t make me some sort of martyr to lose a friend over my faith, but if you put yourself out there, it’s likely to happen at some point. In the end, all I can do is show the way; I can’t walk the path for them. My grandmother-in-law had a saying I think of often: “We must let people go to Hell in their own way.”
Now just as I have three key ideas I live by for sharing my faith, I also have three things I avoid. For one, I will NOT “debate” religion in a comments section of a website or in posts on Facebook. Text is a poor way to debate ideas because so much communication and meaning relies on non-verbal cues. It is extremely difficult to gauge someone’s state of mind or read his intent on a message board. I see online religious “discussions” as THE fastest way to obtain proof of Godwin’s Law, Poe’s Law, and – most profoundly – John Gabriel’s Greater Internet Theory, often all in a single comment or post. Remember, don’t feed the trolls.
The second thing I will not do is participate in any sort of mass “direct evangelism.” For those who didn’t grow up in the South, direct evangelism is going door to door in neighborhoods, trailer parks, and shopping malls to ask random people to sit down and discuss their salvation. This kind of missionary position is not the exclusive domain of Jehovah’s Witnesses or Mormons, but they’ve made it famous; however, I know of several “regular” churches where one night per week is “visitation night” or “outreach night.” I know this human faith wave has produced fruit, but I also know it’s created more bad press for Christians than good. No one wants to deal with telemarketers, even if the product is salvation, and knocking on the wrong doors these days is a quick way to meet Jesus in person via a 9 mm slug to the head.
My final taboo is “Christian merchandising.” My cars do not sport chrome fish or any other Christian device. I do not own a Christian t-shirt. I don’t carry a reference or study bible with me wherever I go. None of this is due to my shame at being a Christian; it’s the polar opposite. Before chrome fish, we didn’t have chrome fish with feet, chrome fish eating chrome fish with feet or vice versa, or chrome flying spaghetti monsters. Also, I know how I drive and ESPECIALLY how my Budge drives. I don’t want to embarrass Christ with our road rage. I can’t think of a worse witness for Jesus than cutting someone off with a huge chrome fish on your bumper THEN giving them the finger when they blow their horns at you.
So, that’s my take on sharing my faith. I want everyone to go to Heaven, but I’m not naïve enough to believe everyone will make it in. Hell, some days (LOTS of days) I have serious doubts about myself! Love y’all; keep those feet clean.