Religiously Diverse, Spiritually Hungry

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” Jesus replied, “Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.”
~Mark 1:38 (NIV)

“The Gospel is good news – a message to be proclaimed, a truth to be taught, a word to be spoken, and a story to be told.”
~Tim Chester & Steve Timmis, Total Church

In past posts I’ve given everyone a snapshot of the historical, social, and architectural backdrop of our new town, but I have yet to give everyone a spiritual snapshot.  If I had to sum it up in one phrase it would be this:  “Religiously Diverse, Spiritually Hungry”.  When walking around University City and the Forest Park area it is not uncommon to stand in lines at the DMV with Muslims, check out library books next to Orthodox Jews, play at the park with Unitarians, or get an impromptu visit from the Jehovah’s Witnesses.  Furthermore, downtown U-City is host to a Scientology center, an Orthodox Synagogue, and a plethora of churches.  We live in a cosmopolitan town and that is reflected not only in the nationalities and ethnicities present, but also in the religious communities represented.

Now, some of my readers will say, “What a minute!  The Chicago suburbs are like that too!”  And I would say, “Yes, but with one key difference.”  What is the difference?  People here want to talk about it.  Their religious and philosophical identities are worn on their sleeves.  There is a willingness to share their spiritual stories with complete strangers and listen to the other person’s perspective.

While my this is purely anecdotal, my sense was that the Chicago suburbs are marked more by an air of hyper-civility which proclaims, “To each his own.”  Very little open dialogue around faith (or non-faith) happens and, when it does, it is often strained and awkward.  Not here.  Talking about personal backgrounds and engaging each other in conversation about faith, family, and life in general just seems to happen.  Furthermore, in each of these conversations I see a deep hunger to explore spiritual truth.

Have I mentioned that I love this city?

But there is more to this story.  As I’ve found myself getting into these kinds of conversations with my neighbors, I have noticed something else within myself.  These conversations are matched by a growing curiosity and love for those around me as well as a deepening desire to share my own faith.  While I could write this off as simply a function of a new and more open environment, I think there is more to it than that.  Over the past several weeks I’ve been spending a lot of time in Scripture and prayer.  As I have, I’ve had a growing desire to get to know the people around me, hear their stories, and share where my own life and faith intersect.

Oftentimes we think of evangelism as something that we have to work ourselves up to.  We build up all of this stress and anticipation and, when there seems to be an opening to share the Gospel, we spit it out, awkwardly change the subject, breathe a sigh of relief and hope to God that we won’t have to do that again for another couple of months.

However, my experience over the years has taught me that evangelism, at its very best, is born out of the overflow of a deep connection with God.  This relationship naturally ends up spilling over into our relationships with others as we begin to see them as God sees them and love them as he loves them.  When this happens evangelism takes place naturally.  We begin to share the Gospel not out of guilt, obligation, or with any desire to win an argument, but because we genuinely love those around us.

When we do so, we begin to reflect the priorities and passions of Jesus.  If we read the gospels carefully, what we see, over and over again, is that Jesus had a deep desire for people to know the truth about him and his Father.  At one point he even tells his disciples that the primary reason that he has come is to preach the gospel (see Mark 1:38).  Yes Jesus performs miracles.  Yes he preaches about justice and morality.  Yes he forgives and heals.  But in each of these he matches his actions with words of truth which point the people back to him and to the life that he offers them.  Our lives are meant to reflect this same passion.

But it has to start in the most foundational of places:  a growing, thriving relationship with God.  As we begin to taste and see that the LORD is good, we begin to naturally see the spiritual hunger and curiosity in those around us and respond with the words of grace:  the words of the Gospel.  That is what it means to be an evangelist.  That is what it looks like to bear the good news.

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