Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Speak the Word

“Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season” (2 Timothy 4:2a, NIV 2011).

A second year fellow came to my clinic office on Christmas Eve to have me sign some leave papers. I asked him how he and his family would be celebrating Christmas, as he is Muslim. He spoke of his faith’s respect for Jesus as a prophet and how they celebrate His birth in that regard. He focused on the similarities of our faiths and how Muslims and Christians are worshipping the same God. He spoke of Muslim prayer and charity and respect between the faiths. I agreed with him that we Christians do, like he, worship the One God—but I knew I shouldn’t end it there.  I then spoke of God Himself coming as Jesus, God Himself entering humanity. I spoke of the atonement and spoke of forgiveness and grace, clarifying that Christianity and Islam were far apart on this understanding of God’s work and presence. None of our conversation was argument; all was heart to heart.

I was recently concerned when I heard that the leaders of the Catholic Church had declared that Catholics should not evangelize Jews. As usual, my concern was based only on a partial truth. What the Pope and Cardinals truly said was different than my hearsay assumptions:
“In concrete terms this means that the Catholic Church neither conducts nor supports any specific institutional mission work directed towards Jews. While there is a principled rejection of an institutional Jewish mission, Christians are nonetheless called to bear witness to their faith in Jesus Christ also to Jews, although they should do so in a humble and sensitive manner, acknowledging that Jews are bearers of God’s Word…”
In other words, the Christian mandate to bear witness for Christ has not changed, but has been tempered with respect for God’s history with Israel, as well as with respect and dependence on the Jewish writings that are the foundation of our faith and by respect for the terrible sufferings that many, sometimes in the name of Christ, have brought upon the Jewish people. Witness mandated with sensitivity and respect and love.

Of course, we Christians, whatever our denomination, can go so far in demonstrating our respect and love that we fail to speak the word of truth.

As I chatted with my Muslim fellow, I was tempted to leave the conversation at the ecumenical commonalities between our faiths, to foster friendship and allow God to reach him through some other miraculous way. But in the midst of our conversation, God’s Spirit told me I must go beyond friendship and speak the truth in love. God then opened a door to work as He wills in this young man’s life. I’m glad I was listening. I needed to hear. I needed to speak.

Dear God,
I so often fail to speak the word of truth, the word of Christ. Mold me into a better witness for you.

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