Don’t Avoid; Unpack

Loaded words and topics are definitely worth sorting through.   

Twilight Missions Part 2
(of a multi-part series)

Last night I got back from a short trip out of town.  Fatigued after a sleepless night, and sitting in a car for hours, the last thing I wanted to do was unpack.  You’ve probably had the feeling as well, especially if your trip was long, and you had multiple suitcases.  Those bags are full of stuff that needs to be put away in specific places.  They probably have dirty clothes in them, as well.  You’d like to push them against the wall, and unpack them later.  You’ll avoid them as long as possible.  

In evangelism there are some topics I would also rather avoid.  We talked about some last week.  The people around us keep mentioning God, church, and faith.  We want to tell them “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”  These words are like bags that a person may never have personally sorted through, let alone together with somebody else.  

They are topics we would prefer not to open, because we may find things within them that could provoke confrontation.  Some “bags” have been zipped up with soiled clothing in them for decades.  They’re going to smell ripe when opened, because the beliefs hidden in them are often twisted. 

The Apostle Peter tells us, 

And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures” (2 Pet. 3:15-16).

Twisting scripture involves taking a verse, a thought, or a word from the Bible, and working on it until you make it say the opposite of what it means to say.  When that is deliberately done, it is evil.  However, for the most part, people seem to passively absorb things that have already been twisted by others.  It simply becomes part of their belief pattern without them being aware of it.  When you come along with a Bible, though, it flushes out twisted thoughts, and depending on how much your friend is attached to them, confrontation can break out, even on a low level.

If your reaction to this and all evangelism is one of avoidance, because you think of yourself as a non-confrontational person, you certainly aren’t unique.  Most people are non-confrontational.  In fact, when folks like to stir the pot, we think of them as abnormal, call them trolls.  Still, even they prefer to do their trouble making on social media, under a cloak of anonymity.  

Then why risk a disagreement?  Because the risk-reward ratio is worth it.  Every evangelistic encounter, even those that don’t go well, have the long-term potential for salvation.  

Before we tackle any of the mechanics of Twilight Missions, I want to show you what spiritual dynamic takes place when you’re interacting with someone over an open Bible.  Yes, In order to have productive evangelistic encounters, we’re going to have to help people sort through their bags.  And the first thing you need to know is that words are important.  

1 Cor. 2:12 Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. 13 And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.

First, be clear what you didn’t receive when you believed in Jesus:  the spirit of the world.  God was not interested in aligning you with the rhythm, ebb, and flow of darkness.  He had no desire for you to more effectively intuit this age. 

Instead, you got the Spirit who is from God.  Why?  So that you might understand the things freely given by God.  There’s no problem with God giving, since He does it freely.  The real difficulty is that we don’t understand what He has given us, and if we have no comprehension of God’s bequests, then it is as though He hasn’t given us anything.  Understanding is a critical component of our appreciation.

In 1844, a German scholar named Tischendorf visited a monastery in the Middle East.  One day while he was there, the monks were burning trash–paper garbage and parchments.  As he wandered around, he caught sight of an old manuscript in one of the rubbish bins.  It immediately got his attention, and looking closer, he suspected he had found something of incredible age and value.  As it turned out later, Tischendorf had indeed discovered the oldest, most complete manuscript of the Bible in the world, known today as the Codex Sinaiticus.  He begged the monks to turn it over to him.  To them apparently, the manuscript had seemed worthless.  Their only reluctance lay in their suspicion of Tischendorf’s interest in it.  In the end, the man who understood Codex Sinaiticus eventually rescued it from a trash fire.      

Understanding is massively important, and so the Holy Spirit acts like a searchlight, Illuminating all the things of redemption that God has deposited in His people—the riches of Christ’s cross and resurrection, and the glory of His Lordship.  But this only becomes evident under the influence of the Holy Spirit.  

“We impart this in words…”  (v. 13)  That little phrase signals precisely the point where Paul, and all the apostles come in, as well as everyone who wishes to minister to people.  The redemptive accomplishments of Christ given to us, made understandable by the illumination of the Holy Spirit, comes packaged in words.  Ultimately it reaches us in human language, and we, in turn, convey it via words to others as well. 

Don’t let people play postmodern games with you, claiming that language is too enculturated to have universal meaning.  If words were all that fluid, the world would have fallen apart long ago.  Instead, words are still our most popular form of currency, and God uses them.  

The entire Bible is one long, attempted impartation.   It comes through words we impart to our family and friends, words “not taught by human wisdom, but taught by the Spirit,”  and these interpret “spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.” 

In evangelism, the people we reach are in twilight at best, and not yet spiritual.  But, the principal still remains.  When we seek to help them, the Spirit and the Word must be involved for their understanding.  We shouldn’t have one without the other.  Pray that the Spirit moves and illuminates while you’re sharing the Spirit-taught words derived from scripture.  In doing so, you will fill serious gaps in those who occupy the confusing zone of Twilight.  

People who are stuck in an ambiguous spiritual condition are usually short of words that interpret true spiritual things.  Make no mistake, they have a lot of words, but only the kind that corresponds to cultural religious ideas.  

There’s a wildly popular devotional right now in which the author presumes to receive words from Jesus and pass them along to the reader.  She’s so sure of this fact, that when she writes, she speaks as Jesus in first person.  I’ve seen a number of those daily entries, and found them congenial, and positive, but mostly I’ve noticed they are not Jesus talking.  Remember that words taught by the Spirit are supposed to interpret the redemptive riches God has given you in Christ.  Yet, entry after entry from the devotional sounds more like a therapy  session, thick with the theological unclarity of the author, and catering to the reader’s appetite for mere sentimental uplift.  

When someone gets used to a steady diet of such “ministry,” by comparison they will begin to find the actual words of Scripture, morose, spartan, uninspiring.  Unfortunately, we much prefer an instant sugar rush of cotton candy, rather than the slower, more trustworthy feel good of fruits and vegetables.  

Words are needed that impart and interpret.

Folks who occupy spiritual twilight may never have had someone help them open their biblical worldview, their “bags,” and sort through them.  And these needy souls are all around us.  If you can’t identify them, just look for the ones who drop constant cultural references to religious themes, but don’t seem to own them.  

I overlook these people, which is a bad habit.  I’ve been desensitized to Midwest and southern Jesus-friendliness, where people are prone to say, “God bless you,” or routinely confess in a conversation that they need to get back to church.  When I hear such cultural lingo, I assume they don’t need to unpack anything.  

Maybe they don’t.    

Then again, maybe they do.  

Some of the most surprising things have happened, when I asked a person, “Would you have time to read a chapter of the Bible with me this week?”  I meant to say (but didn’t), You keep using that word.  I do not think it means what you think it means.

Twilight can be an exciting part of the mission field.

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