As the old saying goes: “the purpose of the gospel is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable*.”
I was seriously concerned that I sounded too passionate whenever my literature professor brought up the gospel narrative, but I almost couldn’t help it. Jesus, as I have experienced it, was intoxicating. He was, and is, sheer grace; confusing to some and utter joy to others; winsome to some and devastating to others.
Worry crept into my heart, until a student approached me after class to talk about my relationship with God and 5 minutes later she was desperate to come into this Kingdom and share in its glorious life. Am I crazy or some sort of walking nut job hoping to proselytize everything within a 100 foot radius of my person? No, I simply open myself up to interruption and encounter, and when I do that, the unthinkable happens.
Let me tell you another story. I was walking around the bookstore and approaching me in the periphery is one of the girls from another class. She begins to ask me what I got on the previous test and she tells me her grade. after a few minutes of conversation, she realizes I am a person who follows Jesus and this fact throws her for a loop, because it is impossible to be a philosophy major and believe in Jesus! I simply explain to her how I got into this way of life and she is encouraged.
Growing up in a Christian home herself, she tells me that after two years of college, she left the faith of her parents. And the only church she has visited in our college town was confusing, as she sat down to hear the talk, as soon as the man who is going to deliver the sermon stands, the girl next to her begins to tell her how much she hates the guy speaking. She never returns. On top of all that, her parents are involved in politics and lead two-faced lives. And when she has ever struggled with her faith, her parents tell her it is because she doesn’t understand the gospel, as they proceed to use language unfitting for the home.
After a few minutes of talking about Jesus, she asks me, almost feverishly, “Jon, do you think God is angry with me for not being satisfied with the ‘because I said so’ answers of my Sunday school teachers?” I looked at her, and realized that there was a hunger for authenticity, as many Millennials have, and I told her, “No, I believe God dealt with all of that on the cross to show you and I how much He loves us and desires us to wrestle with truth and existence.”
Tears formed in her eyes. “Would you like to come into the Kingdom?” I said. “Yes,” she said, with a burning hope in her heart, “I want nothing more than that!”
And this is my main point: Listening is the most important starting place for the person who is going to lead someone to Christ. More important than a formula or presentation, there is a moment where Jesus wants to be for that person who they need Him to be right where they are at. How about the lame man at the well? Jesus heals him and tells him to tell his friends everything Jesus did for him. The story of the short tax collector is told by Jesus that he will eat at his house. The Samaritan woman at the well is told, without giving away her private information, that she is living with a man who is not her husband, in spite of the fact that she has had five other husbands in the past. All of these people had one thing they knew about Jesus, and none of them knew the same truth, and yet it was enough for them to change their entire lives to follow Jesus and bring their friends into the same kind of life.
For the lame man, Jesus was a healer.
For the tax collector, Jesus was a subversive leader who shared meals with the outsider.
For the woman at the well, Jesus was a racial barrier-breaker who told her a few things he had no way of knowing outside of divine revelation, and suddenly she runs into town announcing, “Come quickly! There is a true prophet who has told me everything about myself!” All will take note, that Jesus didn’t tell this woman everything about herself, but when the broken part of a person is healed, the whole comes into focus.
Who does Jesus need to be for these, the Millennials? Well, I suppose She needs to be a good listener, steeped in the gospel narrative, and not trapped in the familiar turn or burn message. And of course, by “She,” I mean the church.
*Finley Peter Dunne (1867–1936) was an American journalist and coined this phrase as it related to the role of the newspaper. Of course, this relates because Christians are called to embody the good “news!”