Making room for the gospel

thMark wrote me the following after yesterday’s Catch:

I was on my way to lunch and was following an SUV with lettering across the back: “Jesus is my friend, He died for me.” My immediate reaction was: Would I put that on my car? I thought not … which was immediately followed by: Why? Are you ashamed of the Gospel? Which was followed by: No, not me … right? I was glad to read your Catch. I have come to realize that I’m not ashamed of Jesus or the Gospel, but I am ashamed of the Jesus and the Gospel as the World knows Him and it.

Yes, Mark. I think you are exactly right. You are not ashamed of Jesus or the gospel; you are desirous that people know the truth, and you are afraid that a bumper doesn’t give you enough room to tell it or show it. Though the message is a good one — Jesus is my friend, and He did died for me — it’s just that a bumper doesn’t give you enough room to distinguish yourself and your message from the prevailing understanding of Christians. We need something bigger than a bumper to explain our relationship with Christ and our commitment to following Him.

Forty years ago there were all kinds of bumper stickers and T-shirts with messages about Jesus, and they were not offensive, because people were curious. The message of the gospel had not been brought out into popular culture before in this way, and a sticker or a T-shirt gave you a new opportunity to talk about it. People wanted to know. Jesus was suddenly cool. Let’s face it, His long hair, beard, sandals, and the fact that He was against the establishment made Him the ultimate hippie. Christians were the new kids on the block. We weren’t even called “Christians;” we were “Jesus Freaks.”

Today, Christians are old hat. They get attention for other reasons. The gospel message has been politicized, militarized, and dragged in front of abortion clinics and gay parades, and news cameras rarely miss an opportunity to capture these confrontations and exploit them for their entertainment value on nightly news. No longer new kids on the block, Christians appear to want the heads of those who disagree with them on the block. So your message about Jesus being your friend and dying for you only means, to most people, that you are one of “them” and they want to stay far away from you.

We need to have some new answers. “Are you a Christian?” — usually meaning: “Are you one of those people?” — deserves something new, like, “No. I’m a sinner who cannot believe that he is loved by Christ,” or “Yes, but it’s not what you think .…”

Look at it as an opportunity to start over. If you’re going to identify as a Christian in the marketplace, don’t assume that anyone knows what one is. And those who think they do, generally have the wrong idea.

I just read this morning where a Gentile woman came to Jesus asking Him to free her demon-possessed daughter from the demon’s control. Jesus, testing her, responded with a common Jewish understanding of the day that you feed your own family first. You don’t take food from your own children and feed it to the dogs. (Jews talked about Gentiles as being “dogs.” Jesus didn’t believe she was a dog; He wanted to see how she would respond.) “That’s true, Lord,” she said, “but even the dogs under the table are given some crumbs from the children’s plates.” Jesus was impressed with her answer and told her, “Because you have answered so well, I have healed your daughter” (Mark 7:25-30). I like this story for the creative engagement of the woman. She was listening carefully. She put her need in terms of the question Jesus put to her.

If we are going to tell the gospel, we need to put our words in the terms of the conversation we are having. We need to be creative in how we respond. We need to listen carefully and respond within the framework of the other person’s belief, whether we agree with it or not. The woman was not a “dog.” She knew it, and Jesus knew it, too, but the conversation was framed by the perceptions of the day, and the woman spoke her truth into that framework, and in so doing, she reframed it. We need to do the same. That takes careful listening and rephrasing. It means adjusting to each conversation. It means engaging. Take the bumper sticker and turn it into something. Take the misperception and use it to construct a new understanding. (This could actually be fun!)

And finally, it means acts of love and kindness, because words are not everything. Words and actions. Jesus not only spoke to her, He healed her daughter. The woman went home and found her daughter free and whole.

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19 Responses to Making room for the gospel

  1. Lisa in Sunland says:

    I’ve been afraid to put on a “Christian” bumper sticker because I’d hate for the sum of my walk with Jesus to be evaluated merely by my driving!
    Also love the assortment of stickers illustrating today’s Catch, most of which are judgmental and “preachy” and totally sum up what the world thinks of “Christians” today. Which is, in fact, what so many of us have earned people thinking of us as we go forth to change the world by might and sight (“TV filth is a tidal wave out of a cesspool” and “Don’t let some scumbag steal your virginity”!), and not by faith and love. Sad….
    Thanks for emphasizing over and over that we need to be “freaks” about the Gospel of Welcome!

  2. That is really a good analogy, to frame your answer based on the questioner, situation, etc. I like that. And I never thought of the Gentile woman’s response that way. Excellent! I enjoyed BlogTalk last night. First time I’ve managed to catch it while I was working late. Will definitely try to log into it more often.

    • jwfisch says:

      Yeah. She was actually very clever, and I like that Jesus liked that. Some teachers might have been offended, but He was right there with her. Love it!

  3. Carole in Midland says:

    For a long time now, I’ve been a little dismayed by the “selling” of Jesus – T-shirts, bumper stickers, dust catchers for display in the home – seems if somebody puts a cross or a scripture verse on it, we just gotta have it. I imagine that some, maybe even most, sellers give a portion of the profits to some good cause, but do we ASK before we hand over our dough? Is this the modern-day version of the moneychangers at the Temple? Are we to be known by our love, or by our T-shirt? Is there a better use for that money? I don’t have the answers, and yes, I’ve spent money on Jesus “stuff” too, but now I’m questioning those choices… I realize I bought it for my own edification, not so much the Lord’s – and I’ve NEVER had anyone stop and ask me to tell them more about the message on my shirt…

  4. TimC says:

    If Big Media were reporting on the event with Jesus and the woman, the headline would be, “Jesus calls woman a dog.” The amount of word spin that comes from Big Media these days is one of the big factors in the creation of misunderstanding about what Christianity is.

    • Lisa in Sunland says:

      So true. One of the many stickers in the photo rings true for this: “Christian bashing – the only acceptable form of hate left in America.”

  5. Lynn Suzanne says:

    I have never really understood the part in this story about WHY Jesus asks the woman that question. I’ve read this Catch over a few times (slowly, even!), trying to understand. I totally “get” the point John is making, about listening to understand, and responding to people based on their framework.
    And I understand the context of the day (Gentiles being referred to as dogs, and Jesus asking a question that the woman would understand based on the common Jewish understanding, etc.)
    My question isn’t about any of that at all.
    What I have always wondered is, Why did Jesus ask the woman a question to test her? What about this particular question “tested” her — What was Jesus testing? What response would have been “not so clever”? And if she responded with an un-clever response, would Jesus have refused to heal the daughter? If so, why is that?
    I don’t understand the purpose of Jesus asking this particular question, and what he was trying to find out about the woman by asking it. Was his healing of her daughter contingent upon her answer to this question?
    Thanks, anyone, for clarifying this for me.

    • Lisa in Sunland says:

      Wow – what a great question! Drove me to read a few commentaries, and after doing so, I am left with this as my conclusion…. Jesus, knowing everything, knew that this woman had great faith. His question pointed out that He was here to offer salvation first to the Jews. Most gentiles would be discouraged by this, but He knew that the woman would show her great faith to his disciples(who, in the version in Matthew 15, say she is pestering them) and to others listening. So, he asked the question specifically to evoke her worthy response, then granted the healing she requested, thus showing her (and us, as we read the Bible later) His mercy and love.
      The best commentary I found (after, admittedly, a short search since I’m at work) is this one: But if you google the verses and add the word “commentary” to your search, you can find others.

    • jwfisch says:

      Read Lisa’s comment; I think it will answer your question and point out another angle I hadn’t considered — that he was teaching his disciples something about the value of every person — even Gentiles (“dogs”). Jesus gave her a chance to rise up out of the hole they — and Jews in general — had her in and show them up with her faith. Pretty cool I think.

  6. kevinm1957 says:

    This is one of the best “Catches” I have read. Really good stuff here! And I agree with the last “why” above as to why He asked this question of the woman. It was a great example of what faith is and how it works; and in fact expounds on Jesus sermon about the mustard seed. It’s an example of Him saying that what we need to have is faith and through faith we are saved.

  7. I have gone both ways. I had a bumper sticker and it was funny how some wrote down what it said, but I also had a woman pull me over while driving telling me she would pray for me! I’m like what? I thanked her and sure enough when I decided to purchase another car it was bumper sticker free! I mean honesty how is a bumper sticker going to ‘save’ or ‘help’ anyone? It doesn’t, but maybe give some curious folks a glimpse and that is all they see, especially the way I drive! They don’t call me Mario for nothing,lol! Anyhow, I find which I knew from years ago that speaking to others is the key and Jesus knew this too! This is why He sent His disciples out, not just to heal, but to pull their weight (iow work) but to speak the truth in love. I had made a doozy of a mistake as I have mentioned before and it hurt me, however in my despair, anger, hurt, and betrayal, God shone through my darkness and gave me a new testimony. Do you folks remember his “Catch” about baseball? He used the words that are part of my testimony. I at that time was 44 y/o and my life was spiraling downwards over my guilt of what I did, but God was there to change this sinners heart. I became pregnant, something that was never, ever, happen in my life time. I apologize that this is long, anyhow, when I went to the drs. office and had the u/s the technician mumbled under her breath, but gave me a picture of the ultrasound stating it was an early pregnancy! I was like what? On my drive home I heard, “The earth was void and dark and without form.” 2 weeks later I went back and relieve that it was a new technician performing the test and she came back excited, showing me a similar u/s picture except it had this little star in it and she excitedly blurted out, “See this is baby!” On the ride home ‘that’ day, I heard, “The Lord said let there be light and He saw that it was good!” I have shared the story of my miracle baby with strangers all the time. This 1 lady at the DMV even her sons got excited about it, lol! So sometimes people need to hear that even if we mess up God still blesses us! He knows our heart and that is something most “men” don’t get! Even a little faith goes a long way (have faith like that of a mustard seed you can move mountains) With God all things are possible! But what do I know I am just the dog licking up the crumbs 😉

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