God is the God of the awkward conversation.
As followers of Christ in the USA, we increasingly find ourselves in a culture that has left much of what we as Christians believe behind, as well as in an atmosphere where political nationalism has polluted the message of the gospel. As such, we will be finding ourselves in more awkward conversations with our friends, families, co-workers and acquaintances.
This post is the beginning of a series in which I’ll try to address a few direct questions put to me by a friend during a long conversation a few weeks ago. Before jumping in, I thought I’d step back a bit and express my gratitude for being able to be in that particular conversation, which in reality wasn’t all that awkward. And this was in great part due to the kindness, grace, and respectfulness of the person I was talking to. I’m very thankful to have several friends who are able to speak about their lives and beliefs on all kinds of topics – from the personal to the political – while maintaining friendships with those who have different views.
Because I’ve been in a number of deep discussions recently, I’d also like to spend some time looking at how Jesus communicated with those around Him, and how we might follow His example in speaking with one another. I’m hopeful that we will find some of these things helpful in a rapidly changing culture.
We read in Scripture that Jesus had amazing conversations with people wherever He went – always going into the deeper matters beyond the immediate concerns people brought to Him. Sometimes it can seem as though every conversation Jesus had came to a happy conclusion…but in the reality of the moment, there was a lot of awkwardness in several exchanges.
In the 5th chapter of Mark, we about Jesus walking into the middle of a grieving crowd of people, mourning the death of a young girl, the daughter of a leader in the local synagogue. Jesus sees all the people in mourning, and asks, “Why all this commotion and wailing? The child is not dead but asleep.”
When they heard Him say this, the grieving people there laughed at Him. (You can read more in Mark 5:21-43.)
One moment they are crying, the next moment they are laughing. And they are laughing at the Lord of Life.
Later on in the book of Mark, a man came up to Jesus, fell on his knees asked Him a spiritual question. After a brief exchange we read, “Jesus looked at him and loved him. ‘One thing you lack,’ He said. ‘Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.’”
“At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.” (Mark 10:17-22)
One moment the man is on his knees asking Jesus for spiritual answers, the next moment he walks away sad. And he is walking away from the Author and Perfecter of our Faith, who loved him.
In John chapter 6, we learn about a time when Jesus was in the synagogue in Capernaum and gave a “hard teaching,” including statements that eating His flesh and drinking His blood will cause us to have “eternal life.”
And from this time, many of His disciples turned back and stopped following Him. (John 6:54-66)
One moment there is a crowd of dedicated followers, the next moment many decide to abandon Him. And they are leaving the One who will soon die for them.
When we talk about God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit, when we talk about our sin and the good news of the Savior who came and died and rose again for us, we will inevitably find ourselves in awkward conversations. We go to church every Sunday and hear these things again and again…it’s second nature to us to know these truths. Yet and more people are unfamiliar with these things – or have so utterly rejected them that they’ve put them out of mind. There will be times when we are almost speaking two different languages – the language of the Kingdom vs. that of our current culture. We need to think through our own assumptions and take the time to spell them out for a people for whom these are new ideas, strange to their ears.
Even then, are we ready to be laughed at? To see people walk away from us? Sometimes by individuals who came eagerly looking for help and didn’t find the answers they were hoping for, or sometimes people may abandon us in droves.
In John 15:20, we read that Jesus said, “Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’” If people responded to Jesus in this way, we can expect to have similar experiences…
- We will be misunderstood.
- There will be beliefs we hold to that do not make sense to those around us.
- We will be asked to say things that we cannot in good faith agree with, meaning that honestly, in our good practice of our faith in Jesus we cannot agree.
- There are and will likely always be things that we believe that our culture, our families, friends and even the government will not.
What will we do in these moments when we have the opportunity to speak about Jesus, in an atmosphere where these truths are not likely to be welcomed?
How shall we then live?*
We can chose to laugh along, or say nothing, and leave the impression that we agree with the rest of the crowd. We can choose to be rude, to speak over someone, or offer clichéd, bumper-sticker answers to their deep hurts and questions.
Yet Jesus gave us a different choice through His example. He was able to look at the greatest need in the other person’s life in every conversation, and He spoke to them there. He was always compassionate with those who were hurting, and He was always truthful, even at the risk of losing followers or friends.
Are we ready? Are we “always ready to give an answer?”**
I’m not sure how well I will be able to answer the questions my friend directed at me a few weeks ago, but I hope and pray that I’ll be able to follow Jesus’ example in answering with love, compassion, clarity and truth. I’m thankful that He is the Lord of the awkward and the eloquent, and I pray for some understanding to come through this series of posts that might bring hearts closer to His.
*I borrow that question from a book by Francis Schaffer entitled, How Should We Then Live: The Rise and Decline of Western Thought and Culture.
The following is a quote about some of what Schaffer shared in that book:
“Schaeffer was also right that the promises of personal peace and affluence were the greatest threats to evangelical faithfulness. He was prophetic in criticizing the Christian church for a legacy of racism and the abuse of economic abundance. He was right when he looked to developments like Roe v. Wade and knew that something seismic had shifted in the culture, and that bigger shocks were yet to come.
He was also asking precisely the right question: How should we then live? That question, which troubled Schaeffer so much in 1976, troubles all of us now. We’re about to find out if Christians in this generation are going to believe and to live authentic biblical Christianity. How will we live now?”
** “Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble. Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing. For,
‘Whoever would love life
and see good days
must keep their tongue from evil
and their lips from deceitful speech.
They must turn from evil and do good;
they must seek peace and pursue it.
For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous
and his ears are attentive to their prayer,
but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.’
Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. ‘Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened.’ But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. For it is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit.”
1 Peter 3:8-18