Monday, February 8, 2016

‘It’s Personal . . . and Private’

Question: When you buy a new car, try a tasty new brand of cereal, visit a wonderful new restaurant, or even find a new TV show that you really enjoy, do you keep that information to yourself? Or do you share the discovery with others, especially good friends, thinking they also might be interesting in knowing about it?

I remember in the late ‘90s when I attended my first NASCAR race at the Talladega Motor Speedway in Alabama. It was unlike anything I had encountered before, so I was excited to tell anyone – and everyone – I knew about it. My enthusiasm might have been a bit much for some people, but I’d found the experience beyond exhilarating and thought others would want to hear about it.

Then several years ago, because some kind of illness had me down for the count, I “binge-watched” a marathon showing of the first three seasons of episodes of “Downton Abbey.” Until then I’d had no interest in the PBS series, even after hearing some people talking about it. But once I had seen the series, I not only couldn’t wait for the next season to start, but also eagerly told family and friends about how much I had enjoyed it. I wasn’t attempting to impose my enthusiasm on them. I just figured they might like it as much as I did.

This is why, when I hear people referring to their faith as “personal” or “private,” reluctant to discuss it with others, I’m inclined to scratch my head. I get that we should respect people who don’t share our beliefs – and I do. I wouldn’t want someone to try to force their convictions and values on me, and it’s not my desire to do that with others.

However, if we’re enthused enough to tell others about a new computer or cell phone, a pastime or pizza place – things that in the great scheme of things don’t matter all that much – why wouldn’t we want to tell someone about a truly life-changing experience we’ve had in the realm of faith? Especially if we truly believe it makes a difference for eternity?

At one time the apostle Paul was a zealous enemy of Jesus Christ and His followers. Known then as Saul of Tarsus, he took great delight and pride in fervently persecuting those who were known as “Christians.” Then he had a personal encounter with Jesus, and the change in his life couldn’t have been more dramatic. For the rest of his life, Paul couldn’t help telling others what Christ had done in his life and what He could do in theirs as well. He wrote, For Christ's love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all(2 Corinthians 5:14).

Paul explained his motivation for telling people about what he termed the “good news.” He stated, For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile” (Romans 1:16). What Jesus offered, he said, wasn’t limited to any select group – it was available to any who would receive it.

Speaking to His disciples, Jesus told them that while the offer of forgiveness, salvation and eternal life was available to all, He wasn’t just one of many possible alternatives. He boldly declared, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). In other words, He was saying, “This matter of eternal life isn’t multiple choice. There’s only one way – and I am it.”

So how does this tie into the conviction some people hold that beliefs are personal and private, not something to be shared publicly – even one-on-one? Again, if we’ve found something truly life-changing, wouldn’t it be selfish, even cruel, not to let other people in on our “secret”? Besides that, Jesus didn’t give us the option of choosing not to tell others. He declared, “Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before men, I will also disown before my Father in heaven” (Matthew 10:32-33).

This doesn’t mean talking with others about Jesus earns us spiritual brownie points, or awards on some heavenly merit badge. He was simply saying, “If I’ve changed your life, if you truly love Me, why wouldn’t you want to tell other people about Me?”

Does Christ’s love compel us to tell others? Or are we, in fact, ashamed of the gospel of Christ? These are very good questions, maybe even hard questions, but they’re questions that only we can answer for ourselves.

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