November 2011


O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his steadfast love endures forever”—Psalm 118:1 

No post today due to the holiday.

I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving Day!

Please check back next Friday, and, as always, thanks for reading.

© 2011 Tom Cheatham. All rights reserved.

Advertisements

One of our favorite restaurants is a place in Mentone, AL called The Wildflower Cafe (http://www.mentonewildflower.com/index.html). They feature fresh ingredients and a creative gourmet menu. On the evening we visited, we enjoyed the salmon Wellington and a dinner special, the “Greeked” mahi-mahi.

Although the food was good, the overall experience was marred by the brash and loud young man sitting at the table just across from and behind us, at my left. He was with a date and was obviously—and did I mention LOUDLY?—trying to impress her with his knowledge of various subjects, his achievements at work, the people he knew, blah, blah, blah. He had not learned to use his “inside voice,” and his mama and daddy had apparently not taught him courtesy and manners in a public setting. Or it they had, the lesson hadn’t stuck.

But what can we expect in this disconnected day, when people walk around or drive with their cell phones stuck to their ears or are routinely rude and discourteous, whether driving, walking, dining or simply living? Like the woman who at the polling place completely ignored the sign on the door that said “No cell phones allowed.” What happened? She kept her cell on, and when phone rang, she didn’t immediately shut it off. She had to be scolded by the poll worker before she took action!

We are so unaware of our surroundings and the people—our neighbors—who populate them. We don’t pay attention. I think it’s because we have become so thoroughly self-absorbed, intent on getting our own way, asserting our privilege. But such behavior should come as no surprise in a society where selfish and greedy corporate executives make ridiculous salaries and pull down outrageous bonuses, where government officials care not about helping the American people find jobs but rather about getting elected and keeping their own jobs, where we have had drilled into us that the pronoun “I” is more important by an order of magnitude than “we.”

But the fundamental teaching of Jesus still stands. Drawing on the ancient Hebrew tradition, he said: “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it:  ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets” (Matthew 22:37-40).

What would our land be like if we were to connect with God and with each other in such a way?

© 2011 Tom Cheatham. All rights reserved.

When I served as Associate Pastor of Westminster Presbyterian Church in Mobile, AL back in the day, I didn’t like it when I discovered that the policy of the Evangelism Committee was to show up on some unsuspecting newcomer’s doorstep on a Thursday evening and ask to come in to talk about the church. I said so to Mr. Corn, the chair of the committee, and suggested that it would be better to call first. But in his blustery, dismissive way, Corn just shot the idea down, drawing from his secular business experience in some kind of sales, saying that we would lose people if we tried to make appointments. Never mind the resentment we caused against well-meaning Christians who wanted to barge in and disturb somebody’s quiet evening!

The Jehovah’s Witness who showed up unannounced on our cabin porch on Lookout Mountain last weekend in Mentone, AL was of Mr. Corn’s ilk. When I opened the door a crack, she said “I know you’re on vacation, but I thought you might like something to read,” and handed me a tract. (In fact, I had plenty to read already, materials of my own choosing.) She left, heading out on her mission to bother all the other cabins on our road.

How in the world do people get such FUBAR notions about evangelism in their heads and hearts? Who is teaching them this stuff?! They certainly don’t get their methodology from the Bible, and especially not from Jesus. Do they really think invading someone’s space, violating their privacy, will create on opening for their viewpoints? How would anyone expect that another will regard as “good news” a message brought by a messenger who clearly has no respect for feelings or the need to be left alone, free of the assault of a zealous religionist?

Evangelism of the sort practiced by our Lord and his disciples has some key features that need to be followed by everyone, especially those whose method of preaching or “sharing” is to hit a stranger over the head with their big black Bible.

First, build a relationship and earn the right to be heard. I don’t have in mind a particular incident from our Lord’s ministry, but rather the whole character of his presence among us. The Gospel of John says he “dwelt” among us. And the same gospel emphasizes over and over the joy of staying (“abiding”) with Jesus. He’s constantly asking questions; engaging people of all sorts, whether haughty or humble; and on his final night, honors his disciples by calling them his friends.  He had become particularly close to three of them.

Spiritual life is about trust, first and foremost. Trust in God, made known in Christ, yes. But also trust in those who are your guides on the journey, those who will sit with you and talk about the things that matter most. You don’t do that by showing up on a doorstep or cold-calling on the phone or accosting somebody on the street or the campus with a tract. Instead, you tell your story, make yourself vulnerable and open to the gaze of someone else into your soul. Those who witness and run don’t do that.

Second, be honest and open. At his trial, Jesus said: “I have spoken openly to the world; I have always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all the Jews come together. I have said nothing in secret. Why do you ask me? Ask those who heard what I said to them; they know what I said” (John 18:20-21). Both the gift and demand of his message were clear. There’s even his encounter with the Canaanite woman in Matthew in which Jesus, with his honesty about his mission, risks alienating the one asking him for help.

By contrast, how many “evangelists” are deceptive? The JW at our door certainly was. Her tract did not even include a statement about which religious body produced it, except the very small print on the back about the “Watch Tower Society.” Hidden agendas abound with those who lure folks in with a free meal or a movie or a T-shirt. Or what I did in college with Campus Crusade for Christ (as it was then called): call up a student and ask to come by to take a survey. Trouble was, the “survey” was a ruse; results would actually never be published. The real goal was at the end of the survey to share the “Four Spiritual Laws” and try to get a convert. Instead of resorting to such tactics, just be up front about your intent, and those who are interested will respond. How honoring to Jesus, the Truth, is it to try to fool people?

Third, make sure what you share is really good news and not a way to promote some institutional agenda. Every now and again with cold-calling evangelism or the “Just As I Am,” “I-See-That-Hand” altar call, you might get a name on the roll of a church. But will you get a disciple, someone who is growing into a mature follower of Jesus? If you’re trying to build up the membership roll of an institution so you can boast about your attendance or your budget, you deserve to fail, and I trust God will not give success for such an unworthy goal. But if you are sharing a truly life-altering message of faith, hope, and love, justice and peace, serenity and fruitfulness, leading people into following Jesus on the way, then God will bless. Folks long to hear good news in these days when almost everything we hear on TV or see online is bad, and then it’s worse. Evangelism needs to proclaim the amazing new thing God is doing in Christ, that he will and can do in someone’s life. Then it’s an honorable endeavor.

Mr. Corn believed in evangelism by ambush. The JW at our door probably just thought she was doing good, offering something worth interrupting two people trying to get away from it all. Both would-be witnesses were misguided. Evangelism that’s worth the name and honors the Name has to be informed by how Jesus did it.  After all, the good news is about him. If he’s the one with all the answers, maybe we should listen to and learn from him as we set about to tell his story.

© 2011 Tom Cheatham

Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” No, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good (Romans 12:17-21).

Billy Brasfield or “BillyB” as he’s now known, is a famous make-up artist who has worked with stars like Sharon Stone, Lady Gaga, and Mariah Carey. According to an article in the regional magazine Catfish Alley (“Making Over BillyB,” Fall 2011:61-63), Brasfield’s home in Aberdeen, MS is filled with signed photos of the famous women who have entrusted their public faces to his care.

Brasfield lives most of the time in New York and L.A., but when he’s home in Aberdeen, he continues his campaign to save the disappearing historic houses there. He’s done an HGTV mini-series called “Hometown Renovation” and has visions of restoring one of the city’s run-down diners.

It seems strange that BillyB would be giving back so much to his boyhood town. After all, he was bullied for being gay. But the bullying was part of what led him to go to New York and gave him the opportunity to be someone other than Aberdeen’s “gay guy” (62).

I found BillyB’s story amazing and convicting. If I had endured such scornful treatment, I certainly wouldn’t have wanted ever to go back, much less help the town that so reviled me. But Brasfield has taken “every opportunity to contradict the stereotype” of the South. He told the magazine that his main objective in doing the TV show in which he did makeovers of homes and a country church was to “showcase Aberdeen” and “show Mississippi in a positive light” (62). 

I don’t know if BillyB is a person of faith or ever has read Romans 12. But he’s definitely living the noble, higher way envisioned in that text.

Apparently it can be done, and in the midst of real life, with all its conflicts, hurt, and meanness. Imagine that.

© 2011 Tom Cheatham

For more on Catfish Alley, go to http://www.catfishalleymag.com/.