Posted by: dacalu | 24 December 2014

5 Tips for Keeping Good News Good

Merry Christmas. At this time of year, Christians celebrate the good news of Emmanuel, literally “God with us.” We remember that Jesus Christ, light from light, God from God, very God from very God came to live and die as one of us. We remember a time when God was so vulnerable that our petty vanities put him to death. And we remember he rose again and returned to us. The kingdom of God has come near in this child of Mary.

As we celebrate the birth (“nativity”) and revelation (“epiphany”) of Jesus Christ, I’d like to share 5 tips for evangelism: how to keep the Good News good.

  1. Good news is not bad news.

Christians believe that Jesus’ life and death solved very real problems in the world, but no one needs to evangelize for those problems. People know that life is difficult, humans are fallible, and that selfishness and foolishness abound. If your concept of Jesus helps you with a particular problem – perhaps original sin or total depravity – share that, but don’t project your problems onto others. If they feel the same challenges, they will be moved that you’ve found a way out. If they don’t, no amount of talking will convince them. People have enough problems of their own and Jesus is, I think, a sufficiently broad remedy. Share the solution.

  1. Good news is a gift.

When I tell people about my relationship with God, I do exactly that. I share with them something wonderful in my life, something important to me. They can take it or leave it. We are tempted to present the good news as a contract (If you do X, God will do Y) or an ultimatum (unless you do X, God will do Y). There is no gift in that and people are right to be suspicious until they read the fine print. It’s enough to offer your own perspective and get out of the way. God is surprisingly good at making relationships.

  1. Give because you love the recipient.

The best gifts take personality into account. It’s worth knowing people’s hopes and fears before attempting to give them a gift. The good news cannot be spread through a mass-mailed flyer. It has to do with real people taking real care of one another. In this case, no gift at all is better than a gift given grudgingly or belligerently. God gave godself to the world in Christ Jesus and we must be as free with ourselves. The joyful and compassionate sharing shapes the message as much as the words we say. People will receive whatever we offer, so if we offer judgment, fear, or hate, that is exactly what they will receive or reject. Only when we offer love can they receive love.

  1. Add to. Don’t take from.

Have you ever looked at someone and wished you could shake the stupid out? You wish there were something you could remove that would make them a better person. It doesn’t work that way. Whether it is fear or self-righteousness, ignorance or pride, you cannot remove things from people. Time insures that we always move forward. New beliefs get layered on top of old. We know this in teaching, but forget it sometimes in evangelism. The good news is something that helps people move forward from where they are. Turning around (repentance, metanoia) is something they must do for themselves. It comes from recognizing they are not where they want to be – and never from knowing you disapprove. The good news should be something added to their lives and never something taken away.

  1. Listen.

God is sneaky and manages to arrive everywhere before we arrive. That means I never speak the good news without also listening for it. Everyone you meet will have something interesting to say, some wisdom to share, some love worth learning. One of my favorite Christmas hymns is It came upon the midnight clear, with words by Edmund Hamilton Shears. The last verse sums up my feelings well.

For lo!, the days are hastening on,

By prophet bards foretold,

When with the ever-circling years

Comes round the age of gold

When peace shall over all the earth

Its ancient splendors fling,

And the whole world give back the song

Which now the angels sing.

We strain to hear it and we work to hear it, even as we sing our own part. We will only know that word has spread to all when we can all sing together, each in our own voice.

Whether you are an ardent believer, a seeker, or a skeptic, I wish you light and life this season. I hope you find thoughtful reflection, honest communication, and love for one another. Those are the greatest gifts I know. For me, that is the good news of Jesus Christ – God loved us so that we might love one another.

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