Sunday, March 27, 2011

Acceptance & Evangelism Part II

Growing up, my parents were not Christians. However, I started to attend a Baptist Church with a friend at about age 6. About once or twice a month I went to church with my Grandmother, who was Pentecostal. My experiences showed me something that may not be apparent to the casual observer; Churches/Christians groom their young for spiritual success. We teach our children from the cradle to exhibit modesty, humility, kindness, and reverent speech. This gives the child who is born into a Christian home a distinct advantage within the churches social perimeters and obviously; an edge to understanding The Bible, and the values that God wants for us.

When I was a child, I didn't always relate to Christian families, and felt a little bit like an outsider for these very reasons. Bible lessons were all new to me, whereas my peers had been read these stories since they toddlers. I didn't know who all the Bible characters were, whereas my peers did. They seemed like fairytale characters for all I knew. My parents didn't talk about it, and every Sunday morning was a new set of stories for me to learn. I didn't understand protocol: such as bowing ones head for prayer, or what an alter call was all about? It was a completely different world than the one I knew in my own home. And my parents were good moral people. They just didn't know Christ, and therefore didn't promote ideals based on literal Biblical values with The Bible as a compass for my morality. If I had to describe them, I would call them *agnostic/indifferent* to spiritual matters.

Let me give you a little glimpse into my mind at about age 10 and how I related (or not) to what other children seemed keenly in tune with: At a service at the Pentecostal Church, I sat with my Nanny and sang all the songs & clapped to the music that was part of the praise and worship. Nanny raised her hands to heaven and whispered; "Sweet Jesus...Bless Them Jesus".... There was a circle of women gathered at the front alter who all had their hands raised and they were crying. Now, I'm 48 years old and I still don't know why they cried?? They were in a mess of blessed tears every single service that I attended over the course of a decade. It was just part of the Pentecostal culture, I'm guessing? I have no doubt that someone was in need of a special touch from God, so please don't think I am poking fun at them as a denomination...I'm just saying- It was in STARK contrast to what I knew at my own home... the home that I was born into, and raised by the people whom I trusted the most. People who didn't display a lot of emotion, and if they did, it was likely to be humor or anger. We were just kind of the model nuclear family of the 1960's for lack of a better example.

So, here I sit in the midst of all this hand-raising, moaning, praying, and crying when my Nanny turns to me and says; "Kelly, do you want to go down front and get The Holy Ghost?".......................................................................
I want there to be a pause while you consider this through my 10 year old eyes. I was at best; CONFUSED. At worst; scared to death! I had no idea who this Holy Ghost was, but all I know is: it's making those women cry their eyeballs out!
So, the best response I could come up with at that moment was; "No thank-you Nanny".

I wasn't refusing The Holy Ghost- I was terrified, perplexed, and generally uninformed compared to the average 10 year old in the Pentecostal Church. Noone in my home spoke in tongues, cried out to God openly, or lifted their hands when they prayed. Noone. What was natural to the church families was only familiar to me from repeated exposure, but not as a lifestyle. For example; I knew going in what to expect in praise & worship, testimony time, and preaching. But I understood it from the outside in. Not from my homelife, from my cradle, from a parental example... not from the inside out. What I did learn over time is protocol, but it took much longer for it become concrete and resonate to me, vrs. how much more natural it comes to a child from a Christian family.

Now, you probably think I've forgotten about my title? No, not at all. This description of my 10 year old self is a model. I want you to consider this *mindset* the next time you evangelize. Keep in mind that the people *in the world* have most likely had little or no *Christian grooming and training*. At best they've had poor training, or perhaps they rebelled, and have utterly lost their values. They are not always going to like us. As a matter of fact, they will likely be very much unlike us.

We have the Bible to give us an outline of what Christ-like behavior looks like. (See Philippians 2:12-18 for a start, and study 1 Corinthians 13). We should exhibit behavior with so much kindness that the behavior itself reflects Christ, and is desireable to the new believer, or the potential convert. Until the time when The Holy Spirit convicts them as The Apostle Paul said: "our gospel came to you not simply with words, but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction. You know how we lived among you for your sake." 1 Thessalonians 1:4NIV ... we have to exhibit the utmost patience and forebearance with people as they learn and true desire to follow Christ genuinely grows. This is the essence of acceptance. Wehave to let our little light shine, and make people WANT to know Jesus the way we know Jesus because they want the joy, and peace that only Jesus brings. It has to be so real that they want to know Him too. Preaching AT people isn't genuine. Living out love through the power of God is.

We really can be body of Christ and reach out to the lost IF we visualize ourselves as his hands... hands that reach out to people in any state, and gently lift them up, hold them up, and pat their back as they learn to walk as followers of Him. We are his arms as we hold them as they repent and move forward. And we are His heart as we love them through triumph and failure as they *learn* to trust and obey.
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