Greater Mount Calvary Holy Church, a megachurch in Washington, DC, held their first-ever “Gas on God” event last Saturday morning, giving 250 drivers $20 each to help pay for gas. The church’s executive pastor explained that “our desire has always been to meet the needs of the community” and hoped the commuters they helped “felt God’s love for them in a tangible way.”
That’s a church I would like to join.
There’s more good news in the news:
- The California School for the Deaf in Riverside, California, has made the New York Times due to their undefeated season as the highest-ranked team in their division.
- Sesame Street debuted Ji-Young, the show’s first Asian-American puppet.
- Chicago billionaire Ty Warner, who manufactures Beanie Babies in China, has responded to supply chain problems by booking more than 150 cargo planes to airlift the toys more than six thousand miles to Chicago for Christmas sales.
- A Jewish community is being rebuilt in Poland nearly eighty years after the Holocaust.
- And an emotional support duck ran the recent NYC Marathon in custom webbed sneakers.
Each story illustrates the same theme: news outlets know that people are grateful when we make public our personal values and victories. With one major exception.
Three seasons in my neighborhood
Walking in my neighborhood early yesterday morning, it seems like we are living in three seasons simultaneously. American flags left over from Veterans Day are still dotting some front lawns. Thanksgiving decorations and pumpkins are much in evidence. And more houses every day are displaying Christmas lights. Not to mention the signs and banners proclaiming allegiances to various high schools and colleges.
Why do we do this? Those inside these houses cannot see what they are displaying outside them. Unlike political posters that are persuasional by design, I cannot imagine that those who put out such holiday displays are trying to make those who pass by more patriotic, thankful, or supportive of Christmas.
One explanation is that there is something in us that wants to make public what matters to us personally. And our culture affirms this practice.
Even though there are more Americans with no religious affiliation than ever before, I am not aware of an effort to ban Christmas decorations lest we offend the irreligious among us. Even though some claim that the Pilgrims did far more harm than good to the Native Americans they encountered, I have not seen a national strategy to cancel Thanksgiving. Some proponents of the 1619 Project view America as endemically racist and flawed from its inception, but no one I know fears offending them by displaying American flags on Veterans Day.
However, if evangelical Christians seek to share their faith in public, a rising tide of opposition brands us as intolerant, discriminatory, and even dangerous.
A very troubling report
It is conventional wisdom today that all truth is personal and subjective. As a result, sharing Christ in public is viewed as the imposition of our beliefs on others. I have no right to tell you that you should like classical music, any more than you have the right to impose your love for ballet on me.
This view of truth extends especially to the claim that non-Christians need to trust Christ to escape hell for heaven (Acts 4:12). Such a claim is increasingly seen as intolerant in the extreme, a view that is affecting and infecting Christians as well as the larger secular culture.
For example, a very troubling Barna report recently showed that 47 percent of practicing Christian Millennials say it is wrong to share our personal beliefs with someone of a different faith in hopes that they will one day share the same faith.
As we move closer to Thanksgiving and Christmas—once religious holidays that are now broadly and deeply secularized—how should Christians respond in ways that draw people closer to Christ?
Balancing boldness with discernment
During his first missionary journey, Paul was stoned in Lystra and left for dead (Acts 14:19), but he revived and “rose up and entered the city” to continue preaching (v. 20). When he faced opposition in Corinth, he nonetheless remained in the city for eighteen months, “teaching the word of God among them” (Acts 18:5–11).
Conversely, when city leaders in Philippi asked the apostle to leave, he complied (Acts 16:39–40). And when crowds erupted against him in Thessalonica, he escaped the city by night (Acts 17:1–10).
Here’s the principle: balance boldness with discernment.
We are to “speak the word of God with boldness” (Acts 4:31) and courage (1 Corinthians 16:13). At the same time, we are to seek God’s leading as to where we go and what we say, knowing that his Spirit will give us the discernment to know when we are in Corinth and when we are in Thessalonica.
We must not be presumptuous, jumping from the temple and expecting angels to catch us (Matthew 4:5–7). But neither are we to shrink from the calling and privilege of sharing the only news that can save souls and change hearts (2 Corinthians 5:17).
If we will seek God’s leading at the start of each day and then through the day, he will guide us, empower us, and use us to speak his truth and model his grace.
When earth is “a part of heaven”
If we truly love Jesus, we will love everyone he loves enough to pay any price to help them love our Lord. We will seek the Spirit’s discernment in showing that love in its most effective ways to those we influence, but we will also testify with Paul, “I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16).
The key factor to remember is that eternity is in the balance here. Every person you meet today will live forever in God’s presence in heaven or separated from him in hell. No price we pay to help them find salvation in our Savior is too high.
In The Great Divorce, C. S. Lewis noted: “Earth, I think, will not be found by anyone to be in the end a very distinct place. I think earth, if chosen instead of heaven, will turn out to have been, all along, only a region in hell; and earth, if put second to heaven, to have been from the beginning a part of heaven itself.”
Which will be true for you today?