Monday, February 13, 2012

Church de-tox, re-tox and a parable from Jesus to settle the score: parable of the fig tree

I have a confession to make. I am guilty in my life time of putting pressure on people to make a decision as to whether they will believe in Jesus or not. I confess this because I realise it is wrong to put pressure on anyone. In every opportunity I have to share the gospel, I should do so with gentleness and respect.

One of Jesus' parables really helped me to think today. It goes something like this.

There was a man who had a vineyard. There was a fig tree growing in his vineyard. The owner went to the fig tree to look for fruit. He was quite unimpressed when the tree bore no fruit. In fact the tree had been growing for three years, so he was very unimpressed that he had waited so long for fruit. 

The owner told his gardener- 
"Look, I've been waiting three years now for this tree to produce some fruit. It's just a waste of space. Cut the thing down."
The gardener implored the vineyard owner-
"Hey boss, just give me one more year. I'm gonna give extra special care to this tree. I'll get extra manure and dig the soil over and over. Within a year I really hope it will be producing fruit. But, if it doesn't, then fair enough cut the thing down and use the land for something else."

I have some various thoughts swirling around in my head. Most of them have to do with the way evangelicalism shares the gospel with people. The extreme example that presses my buttons is when person A presents the "four spiritual laws" to person B and then hands down an ultimatum- "if you get hit by a bus today will you go to heaven?" 
I have a problem with the ultimatum approach. The are a few reasons for this. For one, I am not the judge of a person's soul. So to say to some body "imagine if you died" is actually a macabre, fearful and unloving thing to say to a person. On the other hand, God is the judge of a person's soul. Only God knows when a person will die. Only the Holy Spirit convicts of sin and righteousness, not me, not any other person. Having said all this, there may be a time when a direct word is needed to challenge some one, but I think the above parable gives us a clue how this should happen.

I have a friend that I have been sharing Jesus with for about 8 months now. This friend is quite open to what I have been saying and sharing. My wife and I have shared many stories about Jesus with him and he has always had something interesting to say, and it is clear that he is thinking things through. Later, this same friend began to pray with us "thank you Lord for bringing these friends to me, thank you for giving me faith." In another conversation this same friend said, "you should come to my village with me and tell people there about Jesus." This friend of mine is moving closer to Jesus. I am not one who cares to draw the line as to when some one is in and when they are out. I just know that moving closer to Jesus is the most important thing. I also know that the Holy Spirit convicts of sin and righteousness and not me. I also know that baptism is a great step of commitment to following Jesus- a covenant to say, "I will not live a life of sin." 

A dilemma came the other day. Another friend of mine met with the one who is coming closer to Jesus. My believing friend decided to issue an ultimatum. "What would happen if you were dead and standing before God." 
My friend answered, "well, I'd be pretty surprised!" I kind of think it was a good answer. 
I was thinking, "oh great, just where do we go from here now." 
I decided to throw my two cents in- "I want to follow Jesus 100%, do you think you want to also, or are you still thinking about it?"
"I'm still thinking about it. I'm 50-50 I guess."
"I have a better question, would you like to meet up again and share more stories about Jesus?"
"Sure I would."

We were meant to meet up today. My friend told me he was feeling sick. Whilst I know this could be true, I also felt that he may have been a bit put off by last week's conversation. There was to be a fourth person present, who has been judgmental of my friend in the past. Sometimes I just can't get over how judgmental some Christians can be. (Chalk that up for my detox period. This whole experience has felt like a "re-tox" not a de-tox.)

What is the right approach? Well reading Jesus' parable today gave me some good insight. I think it goes something like this- if you have been sharing the gospel patiently with someone for three years and they have still not chosen to follow him yet.... then don't give up. Give them a fourth year. But in that fourth year redouble your efforts to really show them and tell them the saving love of Jesus. If after that fourth year the person chooses not to believe then so be it, then it is time to move on. They are free to choose not to believe. In the end it is between them and God.

The fact is, sometimes somebody is not ready in their life and God knows what is in their heart. It is never our place to pressure some one to believe.