When we packed for vacation, we didn’t have a menu. Instead we bought some stuff: string beans, apples, bluberries, spinach, mushrooms, onions, garlic, a little animal protein, some milk and cheese, some eggs. We brought some stuff from home too: butter, olive oil, coffee, coconut oil, nuts.
Now that we’re here, it’s just a matter of mixing things up the right way for the right moment. This is last night’s creation, which has no name, and will never be replicated. It has some beef, lots of mushrooms and spinach, and is seasoned with garlic, pepper, a tiny bit of salt, and some sun-dried tomatoes. I cooked it last night because I was looking for an excuse to eat sun-dried tomatoes, and this seemed like a good possibility.
“The right way for the right moment” is what’s key here, because when you look at how people who are effective at sharing their faith give verbal proclamation, you come discover one thing right up front: they don’t have a recipe. Consider Paul: With the Philippian jailer, he just says, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.” To the folks in Athens, he quotes Greek Poetry. To Roman citizens, he present a legal argument. To Jews he draws upon Old Testament passages. His presentation is, in other words, always “the right way for the right moment”.
If I’m to be effective at inviting people to step into God’s great story, then I need to bring certain ingredients along, all the time, and be ready to serve up the good news in a way that’s uniquely crafted for each person, in the same way that I wouldn’t waste my sun-dried tomato concoction on someone who didn’t like tomatoes. I need to offer each person nourishment in a way they’ll be likely to receive it.
I’d suggest that there are several ingredients each of us needs if we’re to be effective in sharing Christ and inviting people into God’s story:
1. a genuine belief that God’s news is good. I know that I’ve offered people food sometimes that, when I tasted in the kitchen, was a disappointment to me: too dry, undercooked, over-seasoned, cold, whatever. When I bring it out, I’m half hearted about it because of this. The same holds true of sharing Christ. Unless I believe that the work He’s done in my life, and the story into which He’s inviting all of us is truly good news, and powerful enough to change the world, I’ll serve it up half-heartedly. When that happens, all the good ingredients in the world, won’t help the other enjoy the food.2. I need a decent command of God’s big story, or at least how it’s playing out in my own life. Not having a sense of humanity’s problem and/or, God’s grand solution, will mean that I’ll be trying to serve life giving food without having life giving ingredients. I’m working on a little pamphlet that will offer the key ingredients in a nutshell. I’ll tell you about it when it comes out sometime this fall.
3. I need to listen to one’s I’m serving because that’s the only way I’ll know how best to present the food. Paul would never have wasted his time quoting poetry to the Philippian jailer, but it’s central to his talk given to the Athenians. How did how know when to use poetry, and when to just say, “believe!”? The answer is simple: Paul listened to people. Listening is a lost art these days – just look at government, or the way conservative and emergent Christians argue with each other.
Until I listen to the other, my chances of sharing life with him or her in a way that is really serving, and life giving, is remote at best. James said it this way: “your ears should be bigger than your mouth” (that’s my paraphrase). I’ve some distance to go here, but I’m finding that the more I listen, the better the relationships, and hence, the better the sharing of God’s grand invitation.
When these three ingredients (belief that God’s news is actually good, a decent command of God’s big story, and a capacity to listen before speaking) are in place, inviting people into the grand adventure that is God’s story in this world is both more joyous, more natural, and more fruitful.
Can you think of other important ingredients?