Engaging Others

Confronting the King

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In the midst of an extremely divisive climate in our culture, we could use some wisdom on how to best engage in heated conversations without throwing gas on the fire. As we also live in what has become a post-Christian society, we could use some wisdom on how to best share the teachings of Jesus in a way that corrects misunderstandings about him and that confronts the ways that he is often misrepresented.

Recently I was asked to write four short devotional-type messages that will be published in an upcoming issue of the Sports Spectrum magazine. Each these four writings were to be based on the overall theme of how we should engage others who might hold different opinions about life than we do.

For this project, I decided to use four different encounters that Jesus had during his time in the Jerusalem temple recorded in chapter twelve of Mark’s gospel. In each of these encounters, we see the wisdom of Jesus confronting and challenging others in a way that can help us in our conversations today. Those encounters and some principles that we learn from them have been summarized below, and I hope this helps all of us in carrying out our duty of being peacemakers and voices of unity, grace and truth in the midst of so much divisiveness and confusion.

 

TRANSCEND TALKING POINTS

Mark 12:13-17

In chapter twelve of Mark’s gospel, Mark records some stories of Jesus being challenged by different groups of people with hard questions to see how he might react or respond. Those who are offended by his life and message are hoping to get him to saying something offensive or damaging to his reputation, but in each one of these encounters, Jesus demonstrates great wisdom as he responds with answers that transcend all the potential traps and talking points.

In one encounter, the Pharisees and Herodians attempt to trap Jesus with a question on taxation. These two groups were notorious adversaries in regard to many political and religious issues in the same way that we might think of Republicans and Democrats today. Jesus seems to be a threat to both of their agendas, and so they come together to try and force Jesus into a position of either supporting Roman authority or Israelite independence.

Today, we live in a very divisive and opinionated society where people are quick to pick a particular side of an argument or issue. As those who belong to Jesus, we must be different and respond in ways that transcend the typical talking points.

Jesus’ response doesn’t affirm or condemn either agenda. He basically says, “The coins bear the image of Caesar so give them to Caesar; man bears the image of God so give yourself to God.” It’s a brilliant response that avoids the trap of picking a side while also challenging the agenda of both. 

A GOOD QUESTION

Mark 12:18-27

In another encounter that Mark records in his gospel, the Sadducees attempt to trap Jesus with a question concerning the resurrection. The Sadducees were a group of wealthy Jewish families who controlled the Jerusalem temple and the highest religious council of Israel. They were conservative in their beliefs and did not believe in a resurrection or life after death. Therefore, the teaching of Jesus was ridiculous to them.

The Sadducees simply come to mock Jesus’ belief in a resurrection by giving an obviously ridiculous and unrealistic illustration of a woman who was married seven different times. They then ask Jesus, “In this resurrection and eternal life that you keep talking about, which one of these seven men will get to be her husband?” In their minds, they’ve just proven that belief in a resurrection and eternal life is dumb.

The Sadducees believed that this life was all that mattered because this life was all there was. It was this belief that motivated their materialism and skepticism. We all know people like this today, and we are probably familiar with people who ask overstated questions in an attempt to make our beliefs look foolish or unpopular.

Jesus doesn’t entertain the overstated question. Instead, he responds with a question that challenges the Sadducees’ own understanding of what they claim to believe, and then he uses what they believe to prove the validity of his own teaching. It’s another brilliant response and a reminder that sometimes a good question is the best answer. 

SOLID ANSWERS

Mark 12:28-40

After some encounters with people who opposed his message, Jesus is approached by a scribe who seems to be sincere in the question that he wants to ask. This scribe is a teacher of the Jewish Scriptures, and he wants to know Jesus’ honest opinion concerning what commandment best sums up all the other commandments of God.

Whenever we are confronted by people who ask overstated questions to criticize what we believe, we must recognize that these questions are rarely sincere and that the person asking such questions is not really seeking any sort of answer. However, whenever we are approached by people who ask honest questions and who seem to be sincere and teachable then we need to be ready and able to give clear and insightful answers that confirm what we believe.   

Jesus gives this teachable scribe a very direct and clear answer. Jesus tells him that the command in Deuteronomy 6 to love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and the command in Leviticus 19 to love your neighbor as yourself can be combined to give you the fundamental command that best sums up all the other commandments. The scribe finds Jesus’ answer agreeable and appreciates such a clear response. 

As disciples of Jesus, we must devote ourselves to studying the Scriptures and truly knowing what we believe. And then like Jesus, we must stay ready and able to give solid answers to sincere questions.

THE ULTIMATE QUESTION

Mark 12:35-37

After Jesus withstands the challenges of his opposition and answers some hard questions with great wisdom, Mark tells us that no one else dared to ask him any more questions. So now, Jesus decides that it’s his turn to ask a question. Jesus asks, “If David himself calls the Christ ‘Lord’ then how could the Christ be merely his son?”

Jesus is challenging everyone’s understanding concerning the identity of the Christ and the nature of the kingdom of God. Contrary to the people’s understanding of the Christ and the kingdom of God, Jesus declares that the Christ cannot be reduced to just a future Son of David; he is the eternal Son of God and the promised Savior-King who reigns over the heavenly kingdom that will one day be fully established here on earth. 

Jesus exposes the misunderstandings and the false expectations that many people in his society had about the Christ and the eternal kingdom of God, and he does so by asking a question that gets to the heart of the matter. He is essentially asking, “Who am I? Am I just human or am I more?”

Jesus is the most misunderstood and misrepresented figure in human history. Today, our society is full of misunderstandings and false expectations concerning Jesus and the eternal life that God gives. And so, as his representatives, may we boldly proclaim the truth about the kingdom of God. And may we start by simply asking others the ultimate question, “Who is Jesus?”

 

Coffee and a Question

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When we talk about reaching others, in a sense we are talking about what most people would refer to as evangelism. This means actively trying to share the good news about what God has done through Jesus with the hope that people will respond to this news by repenting and following Jesus as King.

However, one potential trap that many people fall into is that if we’re not considerate in our efforts to do this, we begin to come across like a "Christian-salesman" peddling Jesus as our product and strictly focusing on ‘closing the deal’ and moving on to the next customer.

In order to avoid such a trap, I would like to propose a little bit more casual and sincere approach to reaching others. It's an approach that requires nothing extra added to your daily routine except a little more focus on the people around you and how you interact with them. It is so easy that we can simply call this approach, Coffee and a Question.

The Coffee and a Question approach goes something like this: You invite someone you know to join you for a cup of coffee, and then when you actually meet for coffee you ask them this simple question, "So what's your story?" Reaching others can begin with something as simple as drinking coffee with someone and asking them, "So what's your story?"

Once you're at the table with someone, and you've asked them this question, the hardest part is over. Now, you must simply enjoy the time together and let this person experience the love and goodness of God that ought to be noticeable in you.

We must remember what it means to be living temples with the Spirit of God dwelling within us. This means that people ought to experience the presence of God every time they experience our presence.    

And so, to give us some direction in what this should look like, I want to give us four words that ought to describe our presence as we are sitting across the table with someone - Listen, Learn, Love & Language.

Listen

Too many of us are too quick to talk too much. In our effort to share the good news of Jesus, we feel this urge to immediately start talking to people about our faith, our church, our small group, our view on culture, our view on politics, our preference in books or music until we feel like we’ve gotten the message across in some form or fashion. We act this way and then when people seemed turned off by what we have to say we chalk it up to their own hardness of heart.

The problem here should be obvious. Nobody wants to be talked to and treated as if their opinions, beliefs, doubts and worldview are inferior, unimportant or irrelevant. Nobody wants to be constantly talked to and yet never listened to.

And so, to reach others, avoid talking to people and seek to talk with people.

Learn to be a good listener. 

So many of us start by looking for opportunities to talk to people, but what if instead we started by looking for opportunities to listen to people? People like to talk. Become a favorite sounding board for those you interact with. When others feel heard, they will be more receptive to hear you.

Learn

It is important to be a good listener, but in our listening we need to be learning. This is what distinguishes a good listener from someone who is just good at letting people talk. We don’t listen for the sake of listening to someone; we listen for the sake of learning as much as we can about that person.

Again, there is a temptation to immediately try and teach others about our faith. But this can often come across inconsiderate and therefore ineffective. And again, we cannot just ignorantly blame it on the person we are trying to reach. 

And so to reach others, make it a priority to try and learn more about someone before you try to teach them anything.

Learn to ask good questions. 

This commitment to learn as much as you can about the people you are trying to reach will help you tremendously when the opportunity comes to actually share something with them. When you know more about their background, tendencies, desires, insecurities and goals you will be able to more thoughtfully discern why they view the world the way they view it. And when others feel known and understood, then they’ll listen to you.

Love

The more you learn about another person, the easier you will find it to actually love that person. Also, this person will be more likely to feel loved by you because they feel known and understood by you. You are able to serve this person in the very specific and targeted ways that they need it the most. 

We all know that we are commanded to love our neighbor, but too many of us are defining loving our neighbor as being nice to people around us. Although being nice is certainly part of it, simply trying hard not to be mean to people is not the same as loving your neighbor. 

And so, to reach others, start going out of your way to serve the people around you.

If you find out someone is struggling in some way, invite them to have coffee and just spend time with them. When people experience sincere love from you, they will begin to trust you.

Language

Perhaps this will be the most difficult adjustment for many of us. In our daily conversations with the people around us, we tend to talk most about work, weather, food and sports. We desperately need more substance to the things we are saying. 

In his book, Follow Me, David Platt describes how many of us can have conversations all day without ever mentioning God at all. He says that we have a tendency to talk like atheists. Platt urges us to start making an effort to weave the good news of Jesus into the fabric of our conversations and interaction with the people around us. Others need to hear us speak about God as someone we know, love, experience and worship.

And so, to reach others, use language that acknowledges who God is and what he has done for you.

Learn to speak about God.    
 
Do the people around you know how grateful you are for your reconciled relationship with God? Why would we expect others to want a relationship with God if they have never even heard us speak about ours? Is there anything in your life more worth acknowledging than your reconciled relationship with God?

When it’s important to you, it will be interesting to others.

The Follow Up

And this leads us to a very important step in the Coffee and a Question approach - the follow up. You have spent some time listening to the person's story and learning more about their background, tendencies, desires, insecurities and goals. Now, actively love this person by asking this question, "Would you mind if I prayed with you real quick about _____?" 

All you're doing is picking out something important that you have learned about them during your time together and asking if you can pray with them about that particular thing. This is a way to love this person immediately and to let them experience the language of a life that loves and trusts God.

If the person declines the prayer then don't pray, tell them you enjoyed the time together and ask if they'd like to do it again sometime (go ahead and try to set an actual date). If the person accepts the prayer then pray with them, tell them you enjoyed the time together and ask if they'd like to do it again sometime (go ahead and try to set an actual date). Depending on how this first meeting together went, next time you will either ask more questions about something that was shared or if appropriate you can share your story with them which may present an opportunity to share the gospel with them.

So that's the Coffee and a Question approach to reach others, and an entry point to our mission of making disciples of Jesus. If we can remember the words listen, learn, love and language then we should have a good perspective on how to actually execute this approach.

Some of the more practical applications in this stage are:

  • Take advantage of opportunities to listen to people.

  • Ask good questions.

  • Look for opportunities to do random acts of kindness.

  • Acknowledge your relationship with God in conversation.

  • Ask to pray with the person about something they shared.

I mentioned at the beginning that this stage is what many people would define as evangelism. And although there are definitely evangelistic aspects to this stage, I do not think it is helpful to view this stage as the evangelistic stage and then the rest as more discipleship focused. The two should actually never be separated. Making disciples is the commission. 

Our mission is not to make converts or believers but to make disciples of Jesus and to teach them to obey all that Jesus has commanded. Therefore, we must realize that camping out in this stage is not carrying out the great commission. We seek to reach others hoping for the opportunity to also one day be given the privilege to teach them a new way of life and a new way of seeing the world based on the life and teachings of Jesus.