Monday, August 27, 2012
Connecting with "Them" (a spin off from "The roasting of Chick-fil-A")
The crowd didn’t look like “my” crowd. Different clothes; different hair; different adjectives falling from their lips with great regularity; different topics of conversation. I won’t tell you where I was, because that’s not the point (it was no place inappropriate, that much I’ll say). But while there, the thought popped in my head, “If I were given a microphone and told to talk to this crowd, how could I ever bridge the gap between their world, which is much different than mine, and the gospel?”
How can we connect with, respond to, treat, and talk to “them”?
“Them” is anyone different than us. The crowd at the above event. The gay couple in the apartment upstairs. The homeless man pushing his shopping cart down the street. The hooker on the corner. The cultural “untouchable” at the bottom of the social caste. The unmarried mom on welfare with a bunch of kids. The “undocumented immigrant” living down the street (and please don’t throw rocks at me for not calling them “illegal aliens” My point is to bring a face to mind, not stir a political issue). The classmate who “parties”. The neighbor who supports “that” candidate or platform. The thief in jail. The liberal family member (or the conservative family member, depending on your bent).
In Jesus’ day, “them” included people like tax collectors, immoral women, lepers, Samaritans. “Them” looks different in different times and different cultures, but “them” always exist. So, how can we respond to, connect with, treat, and talk to “them”?
Let me offer six ideas (okay, I know I’m a math and science nerd who likes lists).
First, develop your convictions about our world. We shouldn’t start a conversation here, but we do need to know what we believe and why we believe it. I hold biblical marriage unites one man and one woman for life. As such, I think gay marriage runs counter to God’s design. That is my conviction, based on the Scriptures. When I talk to the gay couple in the apartment upstairs, I may refrain from saying anything, but I need to know what I believe so I can listen wisely. (By the way, I’m only using the gay marriage example because the idea for this post arose as I was thinking about the Chick-Fil-A issue, not because I’m a one-issue writer).
Second, humanize them. Here’s what I mean: I need to keep the “Pharisee in me” from getting out. I cannot become like the one who prayed, “God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector” (
Luke 18:11). Do not view them
as projects or by a label. “Them” are people,
not just gay, or homeless, or poor, or …. “Them” are people made in the
likeness of God ( James 1:10).
Like me, they have strengths and needs. Like me, they struggle with sin issues.
Like me, they are imperfect. I need to remember that, like me, they need God’s
grace. Like me, they are part of the world that God so loved ( John 3:16). I’m not better than “them”.
Third, know that we have good news that “them” need to hear. The gospel message – justification by faith alone in Jesus alone – applies to any and all. The promise of “abundant life” (quality of life, by the way, not a promise of heath-and-wealth) applies to any and all who have trusted Christ. Since all of us “fall short of the glory of God”, none of us deserves grace. Those of us who have tasted grace have the greatest message in the world to present to “them.”
Fourth, show compassion first, not judgment. Someone once said he knew all the Bible verses about his lifestyle. Christians had thumped him with them repeatedly. But he said he started to respond to the words of Christ only after someone showed him the love of Christ. Compassion doesn’t mean we condone what others are doing (any more than we should condone our own sin), and it is faulty logic that leads someone from “You are opposed to gay marriage” to “therefore, you hate gay people.” Instead, compassion means we accept them as people with needs. Compassion looks like the tired but true cliché, “hate the sin, love the sinner”. And this compassion isn’t optional (
Col. 3:12). Be good news, and then at the right
time, tell the good news.
Fifth, as a friend of mine worded it, “get your hands dirty.” It is easy to write about “them” in my office; it is something else to associate with “them” in their world. Jesus did it. How many times is He reprimanded for spending time with tax collectors and sinners (e.g.,
Peter did it ( Acts 10).
Paul did it and encouraged it ( 1
Cor. 5:10). Be the hands of Jesus in “them’s” world. Get involved. (How, you might ask? Several
books give practical ideas for involvement – e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll
send you more information. Or, find someone who is already involved and tag
along. Or, look for agencies in your community and ask them how you can help.)
Sixth, while getting your hands dirty, listen and be teachable. Being teachable doesn’t mean I will (necessarily) change my theology or my convictions about a particular topic, although I might. I may discover I’ve been wrong about something or overlooked something (using Scripture as the standard, of course). Even if I am right, listening and being teachable makes me step into the world of “them” and better understand them. I don’t have to agree with “them” to understand and empathize with them, but I do have to listen.
So, back to the story in the opening paragraph. As the evening wore on, several bridges came to mind (whether I would have the courage to actually speak had the opportunity actually come up is another issue!!). The beauty of the gospel is that it fits their world and their needs. The difficulty of presenting the gospel lies in empathizing with their world, finding a point of connection with “them”, and getting my hands dirty.