Thursday, June 4, 2015

Waiting on the Front Porch

How are you at waiting?  Me?  I'm not very good at it.  I'm rather impatient and when I'm excited, it's even worse!  But in chapter one of the book of Acts, Jesus tells the disciple to stay in Jerusalem and wait, to wait for the Holy Spirit.  Have you been watching the mini series AD:  The Bible Continues?  We have been.  I’ve got some mixed feelings about the show but in some of the early episodes, I was struck with the excitement of the disciples.  Some of them couldn’t wait to go out and share about the resurrection, others couldn’t wait because of fear, they wanted to get out of Jerusalem for fear of being found and killed.  Some just didn’t know what to do!  In the show they looked to Peter for guidance.  Peter looked scared and confused a lot but he was trying to be obedient to what the Lord had told them, so they waited.

I’ve been reading a lot, lately.  Usually I read articles about the church, about faith, about people.  I’ve been reading a lot of articles on evangelism recently.  Now, I have to tell you that I have not ever really been a fan of the word evangelism.  It kind of puts a bad taste in my mouth, well it used to anyway.  I grew up in the 80’s when we were being overrun with TV evangelists, many of whom were crooked.  We heard about them taking money from the poor, the elderly and well, just about anyone that would give it to them.  We heard how they cheated people and told people it would go to good use and often times it went for a new car or an extravagant home. 

We also had the people who went door to door trying to get people to go to their church. And if you didn’t go to their church, well, you were doomed.  They didn’t care if you already went to church, just another church, it wasn’t good enough, you had to go to their church.  We had book and record burnings trying to save people.  We had some crazy evangelists out there.  Not all were like that of course but they are the ones you usually heard about the most.  It was very confusing growing up with that.  I didn’t want to be one of those crazy church people.  It was hard because we know that we are supposed to share God’s message with others but others didn’t want to hear it because they didn’t trust church people.  They were afraid they would be made to feel bad about themselves, that they would be judged, that they would be treated as less than worthy.  It was hard.  I wonder, have things really changed all that much?  I don’t think we see the door to door thing as often any more but I do think we still see a lot of judgment out there, when what we really need to see a lot more love.   But I don’t think evangelism has to have that negative connotation.  It doesn’t have to be in your face, my way or the highway. 

Now, when I was younger and struggling with this, my daddy told me that the best evangelism was the way we lived our life.  The way we live our life out loud in front of the world.  We should be real and honest.  A neighbor of mine says we should be the same inside the church as we are outside of it.  Daddy said if we were living right, we never had to say a word, or at least we never had to force it.

Now back to that waiting.  I’m sure you are wondering what waiting and evangelism have to do with one another.  Well, remember those articles I’ve been reading? Yes, well, the ones on evangelism where quite interesting and are changing my views on that word.  Evangelism doesn’t have to be loud, it doesn’t have to be preachy, it doesn’t have to even be in words.  I think this is where the waiting comes into play.  I think the waiting and the going out and doing, and being work well together.  Sounds kind of weird to say wait and do in the same sentence.

I think as we are out doing, as we are out serving, as we are out in ministry, sometimes, we have to wait.  Waiting sometimes can mean, just being present, just listening, just waiting for the right moment.

I think I’ve shared the story with you all about my neighbor who was an atheist before.  She let me know very quickly after we met, that she was an atheist who didn’t believe, so I chose to just be her friend, to just be with her and listen.  Inevitably, she would end up moving the conversation towards religion, towards God, towards what I believe and my faith, by asking me questions.  I seldom ever brought the subject up myself, she almost always did.  I waited.  Let the power of the Holy Spirit do the work for me and then when it was time, I trusted that that same Spirit would give me the words to share with her.  I think by my waiting, she felt safe to talk to me about these things. 

Now, I’ll be honest, I didn’t do any of this purposefully.  I never felt qualified to do any talking about faith, religion or God and I was always terrified that I would say the wrong thing or turn her further away.  When she would ask a question, I remember almost always pausing, waiting and taking a deep breath before I tried to answer or speak.  As I am writing this, I'm thinking how interesting it was that I always took a deep a breath.  In retrospect, I wonder if that wasn’t me breathing in the Holy Spirit so that maybe God could speak through me.  It wasn’t ever something I thought about at the time though. 

I wonder if our evangelism wouldn’t be more effective if we always did this, if we always waited, if we always took a deep breath as if to breathe in the Holy Spirit so that it can work or speak through us.  Sometimes in our excitement we want to rush out and as the song says, Shout it from the mountaintops!  We want to change hearts and make disciples so badly that we end up alienating people instead of drawing them near.

Evangelism isn’t easy, it’s tricky; even this quiet kind.  Evangelism requires us to go out, to get out, to leave our pews, to leave our comfort zones.  I’m the first one say that I really like my comfort zone and I really don’t like leaving it.  It’s, well, you know, comfortable!  We like our pews.  It’s much easier to come into the church building, be with like-minded people, greet one another, sing hymns together, be in communion together.  We need that!  It fuels us.  But I wonder if sometimes we aren’t a little like the disciples in Acts 1:10, looking heavenward, instead of looking around us seeing where we need to go and do, to go and be, to be those disciples growing the kingdom and maybe we can do it with some quiet or soft evangelism.

One of the articles I read recently asked the question, “Is the church, whichever church you attend, a front porch church or a backyard church.”  Interesting question.  I’ve always been fascinated by front porches.  I love them and hate that they have gone to wayside.  Front porches kept neighborhoods connected.  One of my favorite scenes from “The Andy Griffin Show” was when he, Aunt Bea, and Opie are on the porch after dinner.  Aunt Bea is crocheting, Andy is pickin’ at his guitar and Opie is playing with a toy and then a neighbor or friend appears and joins them on the porch and they have dessert together!  I love that!  Since the demise of the front porch, neighborhoods have become somewhat cold.  Neighbors don’t seem to know each other much.  They keep more to themselves now. They are more of backyard people where they are separated by fences, sometimes by really tall, private fences.  We can hear each other but we can’t see each other, we aren’t so much apart of each other’s lives.  

Front porches kept us connected.  They were welcoming, inviting, they invited people to come over and get to know each other.   So as a church are we a front porch church?  Do people see us?  Or are we a backyard church?  Doing everything behind a privacy fence, where people on the outside can hear us but not see us.  Where people know we are here but don’t feel that sense of invitation, of welcome from the outside?

Being a front porch church can be soft, easy evangelism.  When we are out where our neighbors can see us they become intrigued.  If we are in mission, we become a front porch church, outside where people can see us, where we share Jesus with them.  Even if we never say a word about Him, He can be seen through us and neighbors can become curious and wander over to visit on the front porch. 

The thing about front porches, the important thing about front porches, is that they help us to get to know our neighbors.  When we get to know our neighbors, they get to know us too and then through us hopefully they can see love and kindness, a family that cares and takes care of one another.  Hopefully they will see something that they want to be a part of and hopefully, that something is the body of Christ.  Like my daddy said, “It’s how we live our life that is the best evangelism.” We need to be present, on that front porch, we need to be listening, and we need to be waiting for the Holy Spirit while we are doing all of that to open doors, doors of conversation or even just open doors for others to see what it’s all about.  That waiting is hard, sometimes we want to push through and just share and be heard, but sometimes we need to wait, on the front porch of course, and let the Holy Spirit lead us.

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