Wednesday, January 11, 2012

A Friendly Dialogue

Paul then stood up in the meeting at Mars Hill and said: "Men of Athens! I see in every way that you are religious. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKOWN GOD. Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you." Acts 17:22 & 23

I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who makes things grow.
1 Cor. 3:6 & 7

"Chickity China, the Chinese chicken. Have a drum stick and your brains stops tickin'."
Barenaked Ladies

I inhaled a book the other day. Actually, to be fair I haven't totally finished it. But I did burn through most of it in about an hour. It's not that the book was tiny. It is over 140 pages. It's just that I found it so enjoyable and easy.

The book is "A Friendly Dialogue between an Atheist and a Christian," by Luis Palau and Zhao Qizheng. Essentially it is the transcripts of a public discussion they had a few years back. For those who don't know, Luis Palau is a Argentinian Evangelist now based primarily in the U.S. (The new Billy Graham in many respects) and Qizheng is a scientist and Chinese diplomat.

I won't bother going into detail about all that they spoke of, or the interesting cultural nuances that they touched on. Suffice it to say that the concepts of spirituality, Atheism & religion are very different in China as compared to those in the Western world. (I did find it all rather fascinating.) If you are curious for more information you can click here.

The main reason I enjoyed this book was that I found it so completely refreshing to hear two adults with different view points behave like adults, interact like adults, and speak WITH, instead of AT, each other like adults. It truly was a civil and respectful discussion to understand each other's perspectives from a position of mutual respect. I suppose the reason that hit me so hard is that this type of dialogue is simply not the norm these days. That is such a pity!

Far too often, what passes for "Evangelism" in the U.S. runs something along the following lines...

"Turn or burn" is such a helpful phrase, don't you think? Nothing makes a person say "Sign me up" faster than someone throwing that in your face. Who needs to sit down and actually get to know a person, their hopes & dreams...and their struggles, when you can just inform them of this truism?

Now, the fact of the matter is that I am convinced that Jesus is correct when he said that he is the only way to peace with God. I agree with Peter when he stated emphatically to the religious leaders of the day that salvation can be found in no other name than Jesus. (But I do not miss the irony that Peter had to point that out to the "Professional" religious establishment.) I am convinced that to reject Jesus is follow a path that leads to terrible sorrow. But how does one show and explain this to others?

When Jesus was doing his public ministry, he established an interesting pattern as a model. Jesus developed these illusive things called "Relationships" with other people. Yes, there was a good deal of public preaching. I don't know if they had tracts and pamphlets back in that day, but if they did I'm sure the Disciples passed a few out. Still, nothing seemed to substitute for an old fashioned relationship. That way, others could see if the one trying to convince them was practicing what they preached.

I should add that it was never about being flawless and perfect. I think that perhaps the strongest evidence of the truth of Jesus is when one of his followers falls right on their face in that relationship, but then shows humility and repentance. That speaks volumes.

Back to the Book:
Both Palau and Qizheng sought to understand each other's worldview. They looked for common threads out of genuine good will and curiosity. As such, this book shows another method that demonstrates true humility and respect. This method is excellent and proper to follow in any circumstance, and oddly enough, was also modeled in Acts by Paul when he first went to Greece.

Paul heads on up to the Areopagus, where the various philosophers of the day hang out, and enters into a discussion with them. The exact translation of the Greek has been lost over time, but I believe it went something like this; And lo, didst Paul holdeth up a sign with the words "God bless I.E.D.s for dead American soldiers," written upon it. And sayeth he unto the crowd; "You stupid, pagan Greeks! What's wrong with you people? Can't you tell that your ideas are all idiotic? You are all going to burn in hell if you don't listen to, and do, exactly what I say! I'm right. You're wrong. End of discussion!

OK, not exactly.

If you read the entire portion in Acts 17:16-34, you will see Paul being very diplomatic and respectful to the city. Paul was very put off by all of the idols that he saw, but instead of bashing them he USED them to make a point. Paul finds common ground in the quest by the the Athenians to find & know truth. He acknowledges that they are curious, religious to a fault, and desired to be respectful to any and all gods. So Paul uses that desire for truth as a bridge to attempt to explain to them about the one, true God he knows. He is respectful of their culture, their religious & philosophical concepts, and speaks to them in a language they understand. (Both linguistically and logically.)

Now THAT'S how it's done, folks.

You really wont get very far by being a rude jerk to people. And such behavior is certainly beneath anyone who claims to follow Jesus. To put it another way, Galatians 5:11 says that the cross is an offense to people to begin with. If this is the case, then WE don't have to be.

When I see the Bryan Fischers and Todd Friels of the world berate, belittle, mock and put down well as other Believers, as is often the case, I learn one thing and one thing only about them and others who use these methods: They are merely trying to show what good, "Religious" people they are...and perhaps trying to justify/earn their salvation. It really & truly is all about them...nothing more, nothing less.

Never, ever forget this; YOU never "Save" ANYONE! And that was never your job to begin with. That is Jesus' job. YOU are salt & light, because Jesus declared you to be by his grace, NOT a witness. Just be who you are, where you are. Let God worry about picking up the shaker and sprinkling you onto others. God will use you to plant a seed. Then HE will be the one to cause it to grow.

My brain fogs over when I try to comprehend how God does what ever it is that he does with those seeds. So I've been learning more and more to not worry about it. I simply have to trust in my own feeble way that the Holy Spirit knows what he's doing with the salt, the light and the seeds. I have enough trouble being somewhat faithful as it is.

The thing is, proclaiming the Gospel is a wonderful privilege. But a part of that privilege is being allowed to swim in the culture of others and their lives. Learning about others and their perspectives teaches the Believer more about the infinite God of the Bible and the amazing beauty of the people, places and cultures he has allowed to flourish in his world. (And the weird, funky foods are pretty awesome, too.) So just be mindful of that beauty when speaking with anyone, let alone when you are trying to be a "Witness," that's all I'm saying.

It's just a thought



P.S. Back in 2008 I was fortunate enough to go to China a few months before the Olympics. I was able to visit Shanghai, Xian and Beijing. (Yes, the air pollution in Beijing is as bad as everyone says.) At any rate, other than being able to chew the air in the Capital, it was one of the best visits I have ever been on. I found the Chinese people to be absolutely wonderful, fun and fascinating. The juxtapositions between the amazingly modern buildings that were going up everywhere, right next to architecture that was centuries old, was fascinating. Also, I should mention the food...always an important component for me. The food was fantastic! I LOVE CHINA! (I really want to go back.)

So without further ado, some shots from my trip

#1. Shanghai

By far the most popular fast-food place in China. Good ol' KFC. I never got the chance to eat in one of their Pizza Huts, but I know that in most Asian cultures cheese is kind of an oddity.

#2. Nummy!

Our school group was treated to some of the best chow I've ever had. It's next to impossible to get good stuff like that here.

#3. "You Blockhead!"

Personally, I think I look good in clay

#4. Ethnic minorities and musical police.

<--- It's good to know that the Chinese tourist ministry caters to shape-shifters.

#5. Terracotta warriors & Tourists.

<--- That would be me, 6th from the right.

#6. Xian.

The old Imperial City. With walls so think and wide, you can drive cars around on them. Hence the need to drive busses and traffic through them.

#7. Lost in translation, Part 1.

Enough said.

#8. Lost in translation, part 2.

Even better!

#9. 4 Star Toilets.

Yes, they rate them over there. (Something we might wish to consider.) Trust me, you don't want to get near the ones rated 2 or less.

#10.Baby butt-crack

Should the need for a toilet be required, yet unavailable for your toddler, never fret. Just squat and expunge.

#11. Beijing.

The entire city of Beijing was replicated on a scale map. That was absolutely amazing.

#12. Kids will be kids.

Maybe it was because everyone had black hair, but Chinese teens and young adults always struck me as looking a little "Emo." But they sure are sweet people.

#13. The Great Staircase.

Holy Moly, I can't believe I climbed that whole thing without going into cardiac arrest. The wall is hard to truly imagine until you see it with your own eyes.

I miss China. I really, really do. Hopefully, some day I'll be able to go back.

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