Leading others to Christ

street By Joe LaGuardia

I can’t remember the first time someone with an over-zealous type of faith asked me how many people I have led to Christ.  It’s an old evangelist question with the main concern of leading non-believers to the saving knowledge and relationship with Jesus.

It’s a question that asks how many notches we have in our war-against-sin belt, one that puts us on the spot and assumes we are actively asking others to make that decision of faith wherever we go.

Around these parts, its hard to find people who don’t believe in Jesus.  And if its difficult to find or befriend a non-believer, then there is a chance that the answer to said question is “not very many, I’m afraid.”

This was the case when I was a young Christian and first asked this question. At the encouragement of my church, I put distance between my non-believing friends and me when I made a decision to follow Christ.   It lessened my chances of being tempted to make any unwise and immoral actions, but it also decreased my exposure to those very people I needed to “lead to Christ.”

That brought a great deal of guilt.  I thought that I needed to lead many to Christ in order to be a good Christian.

I found out later that I wasn’t alone in that sentiment.

Over the years, I still think about how to lead people to Christ and be intentional about sharing the gospel, but my feelings have changed. Now, when I think about leading people to Christ, it no longer means confronting people with a snap decision on the street corner or in the supermarket.  The meaning of that phrase has expanded.

There are as many ways to lead people to Christ as there are ways to meet people.  And just as the Bible has four gospels to tell the single story of Jesus Christ in different ways, we too need a variety of ways of introducing people to Jesus.

Leading people to Christ does not have to be confrontational.  In fact, it can happen as a result of quiet fortitude in the face of crisis.

Nor does it have to be systematic, as if following Christ is merely the result of finding the correct answer to an equation (or the right words to say in a prayer).

Leading people to Christ can happen in the midst of conversation over coffee or at supper, at the ballpark with a group of people who aren’t all Christians, or at the business conference among peers and colleagues.

Most often, leading others to Christ happens over a long period of time.  It usually happens because we live the life of a Christ-follower, and we show others how to follow Christ too. We lead by example, and sometimes the only gospel you need to preach is the life you live.

We like to think of “leading people to Christ” as some grand, climactic confrontation in which a lost soul is saved miraculously, in the midst of a chance encounter. I’ve seen that happen before, but the “leader” who tries to evangelize others in this manner runs the risk of grandstanding instead.

Leadership happens all the time in the quiet and mundane routine of our daily lives.  It happens when we least expect it. And, yes–when someone decides to call Christ Lord, it is miraculous–but it is a major decision that needs to be sustainable by a life-long commitment to seek God and God’s righteousness.

Following Christ is being a disciples of Christ, for as Jesus said, “”Whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me . . . and those who lose their life for my sake find it” (Matthew 10:38, 39).

That’s more than a decision; that goes to the heart of conversion.

Reconciliation (part 2): The Beloved Community

MLKJ

Martin Luther King, Jr., encouraged Christians to build a Beloved Community marked by God’s reconciliation with humankind and peace between one another.

By Joe LaGuardia and Karen Woods

Several weeks ago, Trinity’s associate pastor, Karen Woods, and I wrote an article on the art of reconciliation and truth-telling to improve race relations.  This is the second of two articles.

In the book of Genesis, God created Eden, a place where God and humans communed together (Genesis 2).  There, a man and a woman were equal partners in having dominion over the earth.

In Genesis 3, however, a crafty serpent exploited that one nagging feeling we humans have: That if we step out on our own and be like gods, then we can live independently from God.

By listening to the serpent, Adam and Eve sinned.  Division resulted:  Humans were cast out of the garden, hid from God, and were ashamed of one another.

Part of God’s punishment affirmed that division: men and women would live in a hierarchy from then on (Genesis 3:16).

People experience that division throughout the Bible until, at the appointed time, God sent Jesus the Messiah to die on the cross for Adam and Eve’s (and our) sins.  Jesus’ resurrection and victory over death reversed the disharmony between God and humans, and humans one to another.

In Christ, all barriers fell away.

Jesus said that the greatest commandments was love for God and for neighbor.  Paul argued that “in Christ” divisions do not define people (Galatians 3:28).  Rather, people are brought into harmony with God and with one another.

Paul echoed this miraculous act in Ephesians 2:13-16, which states that Jesus’ blood brings us near to God and breaks down walls of division and hostility between people.  We become a “new humanity” that makes up God’s family.

In Christ, there is no slave or free, male or female, Gentile or Jew.  Christ rebuilds Eden 2.0.

No one cannot guarantee that all people will make a decision to follow Christ in order to benefit from that peace and reconciliation.  But that is between individuals and God.

Our concern relates to those who call Christ “Lord.”  Christians are obliged to live in this new humanity and model a household of God that invites people–regardless of differences–into what Martin Luther King, Jr., called “the Beloved Community.”

Jesus created this community before America was discovered, before slavery, before we were born, before the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Acts Rights of 1965, 1970, 1975, and 1982.

No amount of legislation makes us equal.  Only living into God’s “new humanity” does.  In that sense, Martin L. King, Jr.’s dream was not far from the Jesus’ vision for how the Kingdom of God plays out in every day life.

There is another thing about Jesus’ act of reconciliation: it never ends.

For far too long, we Christians have ignored what Jesus did on the cross, and many churches remain segregated, stagnate, lost, and aloof.   In some cases, churches adhere more to the partisan politics of the state than the reconciling politics of Christ’s cross.

The major thrust of responsibility falls on Christians because the church is to be a space where co-existence and peace flourish.  If Christians do not discuss these important matters of justice, trust, reconciliation, then who will discuss these matters?

Our concluding questions are important ones for our readers to ponder: What would America look like if Christians practiced a true spirit of peace and co-existence in a fully-realized Beloved Community?  How would our churches, faith, and our very lives change if we adhered to the truths set forth in Paul’s second chapter to the churches in Ephesus?

How would we spread that Beloved Community beyond the walls of the church in order to bring about just communities in which racial profiling, economic inequality, and discrimination no longer have strongholds over the institutions our nation holds most dear?

May God bless us with a Christ-centered vision that overcomes the many divides that create hostility.  May God bless us with renewed hope that the Beloved Community is still our inheritance, a blank check ready to be cashed.

 

6 Bedtime routines for Christians

bedtime-prayerA recent Yahoo News article highlights the bedtime routines of influential leaders.  From President Obama’s late-night security briefings to Stephen King’s obsessive habit of turning the pillows a certain way, it seems that everyone “in the know” has a routine that nurtures success.

What about Christians?  We are called to be disciplined, so what routines help us prepare for God’s new day ahead?  Here are a few recommendations.

1. Prayer.  Although many people pray at the end of the day because they forget to pray during the day, prayer is still a worthy endeavor in thanking God for the blessings along the way.

The solitude and quiet of bedtime prayers also gives the Holy Spirit room to work, and it is not uncommon for a rush of insights to come when we’ve finally given our brain permission to rest.

When you get a barrage of insights, write them down in a notepad, lest you forget.   Then, once recorded, turn them over to the Lord.

2. An Examin.  Prayer alone can be quite helpful, but one of our spiritual ancestors, St. Ignatius of Loyola, turned bedtime prayer into a practice similar to that of day-dreaming.  This practice, called the Examin, has a five-fold process that many Christians, Jesuits especially, still practice today.

First, when one goes to God in prayer, there is a time of gratitude.  Next, the person imagines standing before God and asks the Spirit to speak into his or her heart.

Third, as the imagery unfolds, insights are revealed.  Fourth, there is a recollection of the day’s deeds and confession.  Last, there is a short prayer of intercession.

The emphasis of an Examin actually rests on confession for the day’s events.  There is a proactive, spiritual cleansing that sets the heart right with God and lets the new day come with a clean slate.

3. Journaling.  Useful in recording the day’s events, journaling is simply another way of praying to and worshiping God.

We write, and the physical movements of our hand and pen inspire us to sacrifice our daily living unto the glory of God.

4.  The physical act of getting ready for next day.  Successful people have shown great discipline in this task.  Sometimes, it includes drawing up a “to-do” list, as well as prioritizing time management for the next day’s schedule.

It can also help us put God back in the center of our lives by remembering what we’ve neglected or overlooked, and need to focus on.

Sometimes I do this while ironing a shirt I will wear the next day.  Another person I know does this while removing her make-up for the day.  The physical actions accompany a spiritual commitment to get a fresh start with God and with others.

5.  Letter writing.  There is something precious about receiving a hand-written letter in the mail.  Letters communicate a level of care and concern that exceeds most things we have in our life today.

Letters keep us in touch with family, long-lost friends, and acquaintances.  It re-connects us to the outside world, re-orients our minds to the needs of others, and re-imagines our lives as interdependent in God’s larger community.  It is cathartic to write, and it is cathartic for the recipient to read.

6.  Spiritual Reading.   One of Bill Gates’ routines is to read at least an hour before bed.  Presidents Obama and Theodore Roosevelt are infamous for reading hundreds of pages into the night.

Spiritual reading is invaluable for Christians who need the slower, methodical rhythm that such encouragement offers.  It is, as all of the routines imply, another way to worship and honor God with our time.

As you go about your day, remember that routines are the life-blood of the human soul.  They help us align ourselves to God’s Spirit and put into practice those things that matter most in our life.