Thursday, February 18, 2010

A Journey for the Hungry

Recently, I was listening to The God Journey podcast entitled, "A Journey for the Hungry." The conversation was fascinating as Wayne shared his experiences during trip to Brazil and Brad shared his experiences during his trip to Nashville. During the conversation, Brad asked Wayne if he thought Jesus spoke in parables to hide truth or to reveal truth. Wayne answered and said that Jesus spoke in parables to reveal truth to those who were hungry and seeking to understand but he spoke in parables to conceal truth from those who weren't ready to hear it.

That conversation really started me thinking about Jesus' style of teaching and preaching. When speaking to the masses, he said what he had to say but didn't give a lot of extra explanation. If they asked, he gave them more but he didn't spend a lot of time discussing and debating. At times, he even said some outrageous things seemingly to offend those who didn't have ears to hear. They either got it or they didn't but he didn't try to convince them. He gave them freedom to not believe and he even let them walk away unconvinced without defending what he had said.

Paul, on the other hand, often entered into a debate with those who challenged him and he was aggressive in trying to convince them of his viewpoint. The modern church seems in my opinion to be overly enamored with the apostle Paul so I believe they've tended to adopt his style of teaching instead of Jesus' style.

I've come to believe that Jesus' style is more in line with the nature of God. I'm not trying to demean the apostle Paul but he was a man, imperfect as we all are, and was prone at times to be led by his flesh. In my opinion, he was a great man and we can learn much from him but he wasn't perfect and neither were all of his actions.

Sometimes in our enthusiasm to see others enter into the fullness of this life of grace, we become aggressive in trying to convince them instead of allowing them to receive this truth as they are able to. Some capitulate and agree even though their hearts are not fully convinced. The result is "believers" who don't really believe and, when the storms of life come, their faith isn't strong enough to hold them steady.

I'm fully convinced that Jesus' method of sharing as people are ready to receive is the most effective and the most compassionate. When we feel like we have to aggressively debate the gospel, I believe we show a lack of trust in God's love and in his ability to work in the heart of the person we're speaking to. The truth is he loves them more than we could ever love them and he shows it by giving them the freedom to reject him if they choose. It's a love that frees people from guilt and manipulation. It's a love that's real because it gives us the freedom to decide.

The story of the rich young ruler is a good case in point. When asked how to receive eternal life, Jesus told him that he needed to sell everything and give to the poor. Because he was still attached to his wealth, the rich young ruler walked away sad. Jesus didn't run after him and try to change his mind nor did he try to explain further. Instead, he just watched him walk away. Then, he gave more explanation to those who stayed.

Church tradition says that the rich young ruler was Barnabas who, later as a disciple of Jesus, became along with Paul an apostle to the gentiles. I don't know if this is true but this story does prove that truth has to be revealed in its own time.

Trying to force a newborn baby to eat solid food before he's ready is not only ridiculous but it's dangerous to the health of the child. His internal organs haven't developed enough to properly digest solid food. He's just not able to remove the nutrients needed for growth and to maintain health and, trying to force him before he's ready, could result in permanent damage to his digestive system.

Although it does help with numbers, attempting to force a decision from a person can cause similar damage to his spiritual well being. Darin Hufford has written an excellent post on this subject. I believe his post, Christian Preemies, clearly describes the damage done by this aggressive soul winning tactic.

10 comments:

Mishi said...

I think you have made some very good points. I have often thought about Christ and his tendency to say things and let the word fall where it may. In other words, if the hearer had a heart that was tilled and fertile then it sunk in and matured. But if the hearer had a heart that was rocky or weedy then the word either bounced off or was choked out. Christ wasn't concerned with making the word stick in those hearts because He knew it would be fruitless. They weren't ready for it.

Your analogy of a baby being forced to eat foods that they aren't able to digest yet is excellent.

I am reminded of the time when Christ declared to his own disciples that they must eat his flesh and drink his blood to have life. Many responded that it was a hard teaching and many decided to follow him no longer. It is striking that Jesus let them go without stopping them to explain away their fears and doubts. But He gives us the reason why in that same conversation. He explains no one can come to Him unless the Father has enabled them. He trusted His Father and knew the ones who turned away weren't prepared to accept His truth at that time.

I know in my flesh I would have wanted to explain it better, thinking I had not done a good job at explaining the truth and that is why they were leaving. But this shows how much trust I place in my flesh rather than my Father. He is the the great Farmer and Christ is the seed. If the heart is prepared it will accept that seed with no assistance from me.

It's funny how we can credit ourselves with failure of planting the seed but we don't think we are taking the credit when it does sink in. LOL! I think this shows us how sneaky the flesh really is when it comes to completely trusting the Father and His ability rather than our own. My flesh wants to believe (ever so slightly) that it helped in some way. But in my heart I do know that these are His works and I just walk in them...just like Christ did.

lionwoman said...

Excellent Aida! I've spent too much time around pushy Christians in my day. I've found myself wondering what it was about Jesus that made crowds press in on him and hound him relentlessly. I don't think it was entirely the power-hungry. I think some of them just longed to be around him because of the love and acceptance he shared. He didn't push; he just loved and accepted.

Joel Brueseke said...

Aida,

I read this with great interest, because I've thought of this stuff a lot over the years. It'd take too much time to share how I came to all my conclusions (which are not set in stone by any means), but I'll say that part of it had to do with me realizing that as a communicator, I'm neither Paul nor Jesus, and I don't think I have to be like either one. I'm how God wired me, and that's a good thing, and I'm continually learning and growing. I think Paul was also how God wired Paul.

I do have to say that I may disagree with some things that you've said here, so please don't hate me and please don't be angry with me. Please, Aida, please!! I know you're gonna be angry with me! LOL :D I'm just messing. If you could see the silly look on my face that I'm trying to convey in writing... hehehe. :)

Anyway, I fully agree that Paul was an ordinary human being like the rest of us, and that he could be led by his flesh at any time, including some of the things in the Bible about him. I know that would cause many people to gasp... LOL... but not you. :)

But I also think that much of his personality, and way of interacting with people, was the way he was meant to be - wired that way by God. And I think that just like Jesus, Paul had different audiences at different times, and he interacted differently with different people.

Paul seemed to usually speak plainly and forthrightly about things, and indeed, not in parables. And a lot of times, he seemed to be more 'in your face' than Jesus. But... some people responded very positively to that. Some people took his words to heart and believed due to his (Spirit-led?) aggressiveness and persuasiveness, and while others rejected and mocked him, some said, "we will hear you again on this matter" (quote from Acts 17:32).

One thing Jesus said sticks out toe me. He said that those who believe in Him will do the things He did, and even greater things. One thing that I glean out of this is that in some ways, we might individually be like Him, but in other ways, we are meant to be different.

My point is that while Jesus had His way of sharing with and interacting with people, I think God has intentionally made each of us to have our own unique ways. For some, that may be a more 'in your face' type of personality, or more of a debating-style like Paul, and for others it may be completely different. As long as it's how God wired them, I think that's great.

But yeah, I know of many who have taken their bold, in your face personality way too far! :) I can't stand them. Perhaps (well, in all probability), they're following the flesh and not their true self.

And I definitely agree that truth has to be revealed in its own time. No one can force the truth on anyone else. Indeed, we've all seen the damage that fleshly aggressiveness can do.

Wow... didn't mean to go so long, but as I said, I've thought much about this stuff over the years, and I thought I'd share my perspective. In your face! LOL =D I love you, big sis!

Aida said...

Hi Mishi. You’ve made some really great points and I couldn’t agree with you more. When people are unconvinced, my tendency is to want to explain more and maybe say it in a different way because I assume that I must not have made it clear. The truth is we hear the truth of the gospel with our heart and not with our head so, if the person is ready, even our poor attempts at sharing truth will connect with what’s already in their heart.

I think the problem is that the institution has trained us to believe that we have to close the deal right then and there. However, all we’re really responsible to do is to be a witness and to speak what we know to be true. God takes it from there and will use it however he can in that person’s life.

As you said, we really shouldn't be trusting in our ability to present the gospel effectively. Rather we should be trusting in God to make it real in that person's heart.

Aida said...

Lionwoman, like you, I don’t like pushy people who try to force their opinion on me. Even if they’re right, I feel like planting my feet firmly on the ground and telling them, “Buzz off!” How much better it is in my opinion to allow people the freedom to discover truth at their own pace because once they get it, it’ll really be theirs.

Thanks for your comment.

Aida said...

Joel! I’m shocked that you would disagree with your big sis! It took me a while to get over the shock but I decided to forgive you anyway.

Seriously though, you know I love you and I always value what you have to say. I agree that we’re all wired differently and that will come out in how we share the truth that’s on our heart. Some will be more aggressive than others. The main thing is to be led by the Holy Spirit. There’s a time to hold back and there’s a time to push forward and when we’re listening to the Spirit we’ll know when to do what.

I guess I didn’t do a good job in conveying my thoughts. I was really trying to speak about what I see happening in some Christian circles where it’s believed that the end justifies the means. Whatever works in forcing someone to agree is viewed as being okay even though the person may not have actually accepted what we believe to be truth. Legitimate boundaries are often violated in the spirit of “closing the deal.”

Paul had an aggressive style and I feel there’s a tendency to view Paul as a model for Christian behavior. The Bible merely describes his journey. However, it won’t necessarily look anything like mine or like yours or anyone else’s for that matter. I still believe that the modern day church is overly enamored with the apostle Paul. Not that he wasn’t a great man but he was still a man subject to error and not everything he said or wrote was perfect. He was growing and developing just as we are so I think it’s a mistake to try to copy his methods as the church has done. (Actually, it’s a mistake to copy any method.)

As you said, each person has their own style and we need to share in a way that is natural for us. However, I really think it’s best to allow people the freedom to receive it as they can instead of trying to force it on someone. Debating may work well in a small group but I’m not sure it’s the best method in a larger setting. It’s possible to win a few while you’re turning off the many. I wonder if the trade off is worth it. Of course, that just might be me since I dislike debating.

Joel, your thoughts and opinions are always welcomed here so thanks for sharing your heart. As usual, you’ve made me think through and further process what I believe and I think that’s always very good. I love you too, little brother!

Mishi said...

Brava Aida! Your further comment are spot on. That is exactly what Father is teaching me. That we are each unique and are being built by Him in that uniqueness into His Bride. There is no pattern to follow because a pattern holds no Life. Instead God give us Christ and HE said follow me. But when He said this he didn't say He was leaving the schematic for following Him in a thing called the Bible. No, He said he was sending His Holy Spirit (His Life) so we could learn directly from Him through intimate access and relationship to the Father! How wonderful!
Lastly, I have learned that is not Paul's, John's, or any other apostle's pattern I am to learn. The only thing I am to do is to put on Christ. Putting on Christ is in essence living as Christ did in relationship to the Father in always saying, not my will be done but Your will. This is presenting myself as a Living sacrifice to the Father. Just as Christ did, who having the very nature of God, did not deem that equality something to be grasped ! He laid it down, willingly, and took on the form of a servant. He humbled Himself to show us what Love really is by dying for His friends...that is us!

Now we, if born again, have been place with Christ with Him at the right hand of the Father. We have been given the very Spirit of God, not that we should grasp at these things and take then for ourselves, but that we might like Christ humble ourselves and become servant learning obedience to the Father's voice. Only saying what we hear Him say and doing only these things we see Him doing. In this, we glorify Christ and the Father, showing it is by His might and power His works are done.

I could ramble on but I have someone coming over soon. Thanks for the posting. I loved it.

bibl774 said...

All that the Father gives to His Son will come.
Our "free-will" is very limited. How does a totally depraved sinner seek God? Salvation is all about Him, not us.
Paul was not in a "seeker" mode, he was killing christians. God took him and gave him to His Son. Salvation is all about Him.

Barb

Aida said...

Mishi, I believe the Bible was meant to be a record of how God has dealt in the lives of his people. It was never meant to be a guidebook for life or, as you so beautifully put it, he didn’t leave us with a schematic for following him. The Holy Spirit is to be our guide as we navigate through the complexities of life and he will lead us in a way that is suited to our unique personality.

God intended for us to have a relationship with a Person, not with a book.

Aida said...

Hi Barb. Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts.

I’ve been thinking about what you shared since you posted your comment. I think you’re right that we don’t seek after God. It’s always him who comes seeking and saving the lost. However, I’m not sure that I agree that salvation’s all about him in the sense that we have no say in the matter.

I agree that God is always the initiator. However, I believe we still have a choice as to how we respond. We’re free to accept his offer or to reject it. I do believe however that once we’ve truly come to understand the love that he has for us, we won’t reject that offer.