Monday, January 19, 2009

DO NOT TRESPASS!

No one I know actually wears a sign around their neck with that proclamation printed on it in big, bold letters, but many effectively spell it out with their eyes and body language if you dare mention anything about spiritual matters. Their visage can become stone-cold as the lights go out - nobody home here! Must be Mt Rushmore! How and when did broaching the subject of Christianity become an almost punishable offense?

The people of the beautiful Caribbean island of Antigua do not feel this way (they didn't in the '70s anyway). How very different those brown-skinned men and women were from our country of driven Americans. It was as though the air dripping with sun, the mellow breezes and the ever rippling blue-green sea was part of their souls - making them bright, open, courteous, and as friendly as if they'd loved you forever. Their eyes sparkled with delight when approached even on the street about the Lord. Their "signs" read: "I'm open; I'm interested; I'm available for discussion!"

When offered tracts or any other written materials, almost every man and woman received them with what approached reverence - indeed, obvious appreciation. One lovely single mom struggling to support her children as a maid at our motel, declined my offer of sodas, foodstuffs and toiletries as our group prepared to leave the island, instead asking, "Do you have any books or pamphlets, or anything else about the Lord?"

It's not quite like that here in the U. S. Even when dealing with family the "signs" sometimes loom as big as a billboard on the interstate. I knew my aunt was not a part of any church, so I asked her one day about her faith. Whoa! She blew up at me. She didn't scream, but I could tell she wanted to. After a few minutes of red-faced huffing, she let me know the bottom line: her beliefs were private, locked behind the door of her life, and how impertinent of me to inquire. I - also red in the face but huff-less - slunk home.

That, and other similar experiences made me very cautious over the years. Since I'm not an extrovert and fairly cowardly, it would take me some time to regroup from such encounters. My tendency was, for awhile, to see those "signs" hanging around the necks of all, heed them, and keep my mouth shut. Eventually, however, the days rolled on by and dulled the unpleasant memories; I would stick a toe back out into the shallows, test the water, and move on out slowly.

Did you notice how many times I used the words, "I, me, and my" in the above paragraph?
The problem with looking at yourself, other than the fact that you're not looking to the Lord, is that a lot of precious time is lost not only in being afraid of lost people, but also in explaining your hang-ups, failings, and expounding on the psychology of why you're a coward. O, Lord, have patience!

What if the early church family had reacted in the same way when they tried to talk to their aunts?! Can you imagine Paul running out the door and keeping still about Jesus just because a cantankerous old relative spewed on him? Paul did not walk in the light, power, and at the bidding of Paul. He was lost in the Son of God - but supremely found at the same time, carrying the death of Christ around in his body, yet moving in and speaking to a dark world by the Life of Christ in his body. As a result, he knew exactly who and where he was, Whom he was serving, and how he was able to do so - he knew full well and rejoiced that it was not because of his ... anything.

How do we as ambassadors for Jesus Christ break through those forbidding "signs"?

"[Not in your own strength] for it is God Who is all the while effectually at work in you [energizing and creating in you the power and desire] both to will and to work for His good pleasure and satisfaction and delight" (Phil. 2:13). Amplified Bible

Lynn Stringfellow, campus minister in Tampa, shares these guidelines:

1. Desire - to do God's will (not just the part I like).
2. Pray - God will send someone into your life who needs Him (this is a pouring out of the heart for God to work in your life, not just a simple prayer).
3. Watch - For the answer to that prayer (be on the look-out for the person God is sending. Watching is Faith in Action).
4. Identify - Who the person is God has sent into your life.
5. Pray - For an open heart in him or her, and the opportunity to connect.
6. Watch - For an answer to that prayer (again, this is the action of your faith.)
7. Pray - A prayer of thankfulness and dependence.
8. Share - The Good News.

See the dependency upon the Lord? Not that I sit home on the couch watching an old movie and wonder why God isn't sending someone my way, but KNOWING this is God's work and He will lead.

"That with the utmost freedom of speech and unfailing courage, now as always ... Christ (the Messiah) will be magnified and get glory and praise in this body of mine and be boldly exalted in my person, whether through life or through death" (Phil. 1:20b). Amplified Bible