It’s Not the Time for an Altar Call

St Francis receives the Stigmata

St Francis receives the Stigmata (Photo credit: Lawrence OP)

If someone tried to sell you life insurance 12 hours after someone you loved was brutally murdered, how would you react?  What if they knew full well you were suffering and that’s exactly why they stepped in, because they think you’ll be the most open to buying.  How would you feel? If you’re like me, you’d be disgusted that someone would try to take advantage of you like that.Yesterday I was watching news coverage of the Aurora shooting which killed 12 and injured 58.  The evening news programs I saw interviewed several “experts” who were trying to understand why the shooter would do something so senseless.  One of the guys interviewed was from a prominent Christian ministry.  Right or wrong, my stereotyping radar kicked in.  I saw a fellah wearing a full suit that didn’t fit, and hair that all but said “televangelist.”

“Oh, no” I muttered, squirming in my seat.  “Please don’t do it.”

But he did.  In his thirty-second segment, he told the audience that they needed a relationship with Jesus Christ.

What a stupid thing to say.

I believe his message, I just believe that his method and timing were much like a lawyer chasing an ambulance.  Frankly, I don’t think Jesus approves such techniques.  It appears selfish, cold, and calloused.  A tactless approach like this does more damage than good.  He may have spoken the Gospel, but I doubt anyone heard it.  Sadly, he confirmed my stereotypes.  Worse, he confirmed everyone else’s about the Church.

Whatever happened to showing the Gospel before speaking it?

I recall in the Book of Job a man that had suffered the loss of his fortune, his family, his health.  When his friends arrived, they were overcome with grief, wept inconsolably with him and sat with him in morose silence for several days, “for they saw that his pain was very great” (Job 2:13 NET).  Only after this time of proper lament did they attempt to speak a message of hope and repentance to him.

I remember Jesus himself, weeping before the tomb of a friend before he showed the Gospel in action, by resurrecting him from the grave (John 11).

You’ll also find Paul’s command to weep with those who weep in the book of Romans (12:15).  After all, “Love must be without hypocrisy” (12:9).

In times like this, I also muse over a phrase commonly attributed to St. Francis of Assisi: “Preach the Gospel always: when necessary, use words.”

There’s a simple point here.  Show love first, speak love later.  Empathize, and then verbalize.

If we speak a canned Gospel message too hastily to grieving folks, they’ll see us as opportunists not as friends.  And there’s no good news in that.  Now is not the time for an altar call.  Now is the time to weep.

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Categories: Aurora, Evangelism, Theology | Leave a comment

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