A few months ago we did some business with a person who quickly endeared herself to us with her warmth and transparency. She worked hard, with integrity, and still had time to chat affably about all sorts of topics.
At some point she and Cheryl were discussing the irony of life’s journey and the conversation drifted to who we were, our values, and even our faith. This seemed to touch a nerve and the woman inquired a bit more about what we thought and believed.
It didn’t take long before it was apparent why she was pursuing this line of questioning: her husband had family members who were evangelical christians, associated with a well known religious organization. They had been relentless in reminding this woman and her family that they needed to find a church, pressing them about the state of their souls, and ‘witnessing’ to them about the consequences of their sin. The continual barrage of moralizing spoiled most of their get-togethers and finally boiled over with her husband banning future visits from his family.
As Cheryl listened it became apparent the woman felt frustration and anger but something more was brooding beneath the surface: hurt. These good people felt targeted, embarrassed, belittled, and confused about what God was like. Their relationship with family had become conditional on making a religious choice they weren’t prepared to make.
It reminded me of many from my past who were pressured in various ways to make faith decisions. The threat of hell, guilt, social pressure, need to please, need to belong, etc. are not good reasons to become a disciple of Jesus. In fact, everything I see from Jesus suggests that those are actually the wrong motivations.
When I was working at Tyndale University I had an employee who was taking a history course about the Crusades. He attended an evening class once a week and I asked him one morning what he had learned the night before. He was very good at recalling the various topics and explaining the motivations and complexities for each of the crusades as he covered them. The information he shared was so fascinating that I cornered him for updates each of those mornings for the rest of the semester.
So, with a nod of thanks to JR, let me give you my version of the success of the medieval holy wars known as the Crusades.
They were a hot, holy mess.
Hope that clears everything up for you.
Crusaders are like that – they believe they can force things to happen – but crusaders often break things and mostly just reproduce more crusaders.
I have known some crusaders in my life – people who felt that they were making God happy with their boldness or knowledge or devotion. Crusaders always – always drove me in the opposite direction.* In the end it took me many years of methodical process to come to faith.
My point is that choosing to follow Jesus has never been something that can be strategized, manipulated, forced, argued, or coerced. With apologies to crusaders, following Jesus is not something you choose in a moment, it is a process of opening yourself to a hunger you have, to beauty you see, to an urge in your spirit.
At the end of biblical book of John there are four ‘scenes’ where Jesus interacts with his disciples after his resurrection (John 20:19 – 21:25). I suppose they may have been recorded randomly but my suspicion is they are intentionally messaged for his present and future disciples.
The first scene is a commissioning from Jesus where he sends them to continue his work in the world and gifts them with the mysterious benefit of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit.
The apostle Thomas is the star of the second scene. He was unable to believe the story that Jesus is alive and so he became known over time as ‘doubting Thomas’. But this is grossly unfair: first, who can blame anybody for not believing a dead guy had come to life?; second, he had not seen Jesus the way that the others already had; third, Jesus didn’t make him feel uncomfortable about his doubt. Jesus understood that Thomas’s belief was on a timeline of his own, not somebody else’s. Timing.
The third scene brings some of the disciples full circle. Jesus had originally called them to metaphorically ‘fish for people’ and now they are reminded of that again as he provides a full catch of fish in spite of their previous failure. They hadn’t displayed any skill or ability in doing this, they simply obeyed his words. Obedience.
The fourth scene is a simple conversation Jesus has privately with Peter, his most fiery crusader. But Jesus doesn’t challenge him to work harder or strategize better or preach more or force anything. Rather he asks busy-body Peter to simply care for and feed Jesus’ sheep. Love.
There is no suggestion of crusading in any of those scenes but each is instructive as to why people choose to follow.
I am especially struck by what Jesus is saying in that last scene: they are his (Jesus’) sheep. Peter’s only responsibility is to care for them; to feed them.
Many christians feel that it is their responsibility to convince, cajole, and convert but Jesus thinks of it differently. Our responsibility is simply to care for others; to feed them.
No Four Spiritual Laws, no Romans Road, no fiery sermons, no closing songs to melt our hearts. Jesus doesn’t use apologetics or doctrinal statements or pithy prayers of faith, just availability, relationship, good news, love.
People follow Jesus because they choose to; not because they are pushed but because they are drawn.
“And this is the way to have eternal life—to know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, the one you sent to earth.”
(John 17:3, NLT)
* Interesting that centuries later christians would choose to call their corporate evangelistic strategies ‘crusades’.