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Being born-again can be a lonely road. Spiritually we’ve got lots of company (God and Jesus are always with us through God’s spirit, just as Jesus promised), but fellow human believers are few and far between. It can be discouraging at times to feel so alienated from the general population.
How do you resolve this dilemma? Or can it be resolved?
The good news is yes, it can be resolved, and the best way to start is to be who you are. In other words – just be yourself. If you’re born-again, be born-again. Let people know you’re born-again. They should know anyway, but if they don’t, don’t try to “hide” it to keep the conversation polite. You know what I’m talking about. Jesus said that our worst enemies will be those under our own roofs, and he wasn’t kidding about that.
He might also have mentioned that one of those enemies under our own roofs is – surprise, surprise – us. We can definitely be our own worst enemy if we choose to hide our true spiritual identity. It comes back to bite us hard, and may even cost us our grace. DON’T BE YOUR OWN WORST ENEMY. Don’t lose your grace. Stand tall in God.
The next step, after we out ourselves, is to be clear about what we believe. Millions of people call themselves “Christians”, but what they actually believe has nothing to do with what Jesus taught us. As born-agains, we must necessarily believe what Jesus taught. Believing it implies living it as well as preaching it. Jesus is our example, and our task is to mirror his example in our lives. So – don’t drink yourself into the gutter. Don’t watch porn on the internet. Don’t have pre-marital sex, and don’t marry someone who is divorced (if the divorced spouse is still alive). Jesus wasn’t preaching just to hear himself speak. He was showing us which choices to make that would lead to the best outcome for all concerned. That’s what God’s laws are all about.
Bad choices have bad built-in consequences, and good choices have good built-in consequences.
Along with living your rebirth openly and being clear about what you believe, you should also not shy away from correcting false teachings. Jesus didn’t preach to non-believers, and nor did he yell at them for being non-believers. He just let them be.
In contrast, he spent a good deal of time yelling at people who said they were believers but showed by their words and actions that they were not. These were the hypocrites, and he didn’t hold back in telling them what he thought of them, or what was waiting for them if they continued in their hypocrisy.
Keep in mind that Jesus made a clear distinction between those who purposely skewed scripture and misled people (either from pride or a hidden agenda) and those who just got it wrong and/or messed up. He didn’t yell at the woman who was caught in adultery; he gave her a second chance. We all make mistakes and have moments of weakness, and sometimes those can be real doozies. Mistakes don’t condemn us; consciously and consistently choosing what we know is wrong – THAT condemns us. We all know the difference between those who sincerely love God but occasionally mess up, and those who are just pretending to love God in order to get a paycheck or fit in with the Sunday morning crowd. If we don’t know the difference, we need to learn it real fast because that latter group – the professional preachers and Sunday-morning Christians – is the main reason driving many would-be believers away from finding God.
Living fully as a born-again follower of Jesus means to be fully open about who you are and what you believe. That doesn’t mean you should preach to everyone, but anyone who knows you should also know that you’re a born-again follower of Jesus. Jesus only preached to those who wanted to hear, but everyone who knew him or knew about him during his ministry years knew that he was a strong believer. You shouldn’t be mistaken for a Muslim or a Buddhist or an atheist. If people don’t like what you have to say or don’t want to be around you because you’re a believer, let them be. Pray for them. But let them be.
Which brings us back to the original dilemma and its resolution – how do born-agains find fellow born-agains when they are so few and far between?
The answer is: God will bring them to you. When you live your beliefs openly and fully, God will bring like-minded believers into your life (as well as believers who need to learn a few things from you, and believers who have something to teach you or remind you about). Jesus said: “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” He was including human companionship in “all these things”. We don’t need to go out and look for fellow believers; if we’re living our lives as we should be living them, we’ll just happen upon each other.
God will make it happen.
I came across a video of a street preacher plying his trade at a “gay pride” festival. While it was difficult to make out what the preacher was saying and whether he was actually preaching or just yelling responses to his tormentors, the words spewing from the mouths of the hecklers rang loud and clear.
I’m not going to repeat them here.
As I watched (sound turned way down) the relentless onslaught of hate emanating from the crowd, I couldn’t help but wonder what the heck the preacher was doing there. The phrase “don’t throw your pearls before swine” sprang to mind. I tried to recall an instance in the gospels where Jesus preached to a crowd of rowdy and possibly drunken and/or stoned sodomites, but I could think of none. The best I could come up with was Lot and the angels admonishing rowdy drunken residents of Sodom the night before God destroyed their city.
But in this example, as in all examples of preaching in the Bible, the Sodomites came willingly to Lot. Certainly, they didn’t come to be preached to, but they did come to him. He didn’t seek them out.
This may seem a minor distinction, but it is actually very important. Jesus roamed the countryside as an itinerant preacher, but he only preached to those who came to him wanting to learn about the kingdom, and only healed those who sought his help. He didn’t impose his preaching or healing on anyone who didn’t want them and he avoided places where he knew he wasn’t welcome. Even God doesn’t impose himself on anyone: He respects our free will and waits for us to give him a clear signal before he rushes in to help.
This approach – waiting for a clear signal – is crucial to successful preaching. Whether done two thousand years ago or today, preaching must be done to those who want to be preached to. Otherwise, it’s a waste of time. When Jesus told his followers to go out into the world and preach the Good News, he didn’t mean to stand on street corners and rail at all and sundry. He meant to feed those who were spiritually hungry, wherever you encounter them. People who are hungry for the Word will come to you on their own volition; God will send them. What kind of message can possibly be conveyed when a preacher’s every word is drowned out by a mob shouting expletives and curses? That is not preaching.
The Word is a precious cargo: We carry it with us wherever we go, and our job is to share it with whoever wants some. We let them know it’s available, they come to us of their own free will, and we give it to them freely. The heckled preacher at the “pride” festival would have done better just to leave a few flyers around rather than try to force-feed God to people who clearly had no hunger for him.
As for targeting sodomites, Jesus stated that there are far worse sinners in need of repentance, and that Sodom’s judgment will be far less than that of hypocrites. If it’s sinners that preachers genuinely want to reach, they’d be better off heading to the top floor corner offices of banks or multinational headquarters, or to seats of government, or to the inner reaches of the Vatican or any commercialized church today because THAT’S where the super-mega-sinners park their arses and plot their dark deeds day in and day out. In the grand scheme of things, as Jesus pointed out, the “sin of Sodom” is small peas compared to people who pretend to be something they’re not in order to rip people off.
Bottom line? Just because you think someone needs to hear the Word doesn’t mean that they want to hear it. There are more than enough people who want to hear the Word. Preach to them. In the meantime, pray for those who have shunned God. It may be that they, like me, will one day turn.