Many children undergo an interesting change around the time they enter middle school. Suddenly, they don’t want to be seen with their parents. In previous years, if they forgot to bring their books or their lunch to school, Mom or Dad could walk right into their classroom and deliver the needed goods and the kids were even grateful. Not anymore. This good deed must now be performed on the sly. The parent has to wait in the hall, out of sight. The child will eventually make his way outside the classroom, furtively glance up and down the hallway to make sure no one is watching, then quickly grab the forgotten item and skulk back into class. Being in that position kind of made me want to yell after my child, It’s okay. They all have parents too.”
While such behavior is understandable among children, it can be extremely painful when practiced by adults. Most families probably have a cousin or uncle they wish would not come to the wedding—that one family member who seems to cause a twinge of embarrassment whenever they turn up. But what if you happen to be that family member?
Many of us in Jews for Jesus became that person when we came to faith in Jesus. Sometimes we are not invited to extended family functions, or sometimes we are invited with the condition that we keep quiet about our beliefs.
It may hurt when unbelieving family members are embarrassed by what we believe or the fact that we are missionaries, but it is understandable because they don’t yet know Jesus or understand that telling about Him is a high calling. Thankfully, we have a spiritual family that does understand.
So you can imagine how discouraging it is when members of our believing family in the Body of Christ become embarrassed to be seen with us. Recently a pastor and head elder reneged on their commitment to have Jews for Jesus in their church because they didn’t want to jeopardize their relationship with Jewish community leaders. I can’t tell you how many times this has happened, and it never gets easier to hear about it. These are people who love the Lord and know that Jesus is the only way for people to be saved. They truly want to see Jewish men and women come to faith in Christ. But when we do, and when we speak out for Him among the Jewish people in their neighborhood, they become embarrassed by our presence.
This trend has been painfully obvious among those who are involved in “dialogue” and “reconciliation” movements. These groups work hard to forge better relationships between Christians and Jews, a commendable endeavor. But those relationships usually develop at the expense of those of us Jewish believers in Jesus. I had an opportunity to point this out in a recent book review for Christianity Today. I titled the review “Elephant in the Room” because that is what we Jews who believe in Jesus become in these situations. We are there, larger than life at times, but people are embarrassed to talk about us or include us in the conversation. When I asked one Christian leader why he didn’t insist that we be included in a dialogue he was organizing he told me, “David, I love you guys, but Messianic Jews bring more heat than light to the discussion.” One well known seminary sponsoring such a dialogue even chose to exclude one of their own professors because he was a Jewish Christian. How shameful. And let me tell you, it’s getting worse.
The real problem with this kind of embarrassment is that ultimately it can lead followers of Jesus to distance themselves from the Lord who bought them. According to a recently published article in Charisma magazine, well known Christian Pastor John Hagee, who has developed quite a close relationship with Jewish leaders, no longer teaches it is necessary for Christians to preach the gospel to their Jewish friends. This is a dangerous trend that is carving a wide swath through the whole Body of Christ.
People are embarrassed to be too closely associated with anyone or anything that endangers their acceptance into the status quo. The problem is, they don’t realize and can’t admit it. Instead, they tell themselves that they don’t want to jeopardize their chances of influencing a person or group for the gospel. That sounds like a noble concern, but it is based on a false premise.
How are people influenced for the gospel, and whom does God use to accomplish His purposes? The Holy Spirit convicts the world of sin and of truth, and God uses the foolish and simple to confound the wise. He took a bunch of fisherman and empowered them by His Holy Spirit to go and build His church. Therefore, we do not have to worry that someone else is going to interfere with our ability to influence someone for the Lord because the only influence we have on someone’s heart is what the Holy Spirit empowers us to do.
If we would realize that evangelism only works when it is powered by the Holy Spirit then we would not insist that certain methods be used over others. The method is to be faithful and obedient to God’s word and to clear our hearts of the clutter that would stand in the way of what He wants to do in and through us.
Too often people do not realize that they are shielding their own reputation, their own relationships and their own sense of acceptance when they disassociate from what they term “confrontational methods.” The gospel is not to be presented for the purpose of distressing someone, but it is bound to cause distress in the one who understands it. This is not due to the method but the message itself. Our sin alienates us from God. If it were not so, we would not need a savior. Anyone who understands the message, no matter how lovingly it is presented, must feel confronted by the very personal problem to which Christ is the only solution. To avoid confrontation is to avoid the truth of the gospel.
It is natural for the world to avoid confrontation because everything in our society teaches us to seek as much comfort and avoid as much pain as possible. I certainly prefer comfort to pain, don’t you? But if we would follow Jesus, we must accept that there are situations in which we must set aside our comfort and endure pain. If we don’t, we show that the world has influenced us more than we could ever hope to influence the world. Charles Colson recently commented on this trend: “Mainstream means getting along. To get there, all we have to do is abandon biblical responsibility.”
Recently I was reading someone’s application for our missionary staff. Most telling for me was a reference from this person’s former employer. She said of this applicant, “In all the years he worked here, I never knew he was Jewish and I never knew he was a Christian.” I could not in good conscience consider that application.
We must firmly resist the temptation to be embarrassed by our Lord or by our association with His people. We will constantly be pulled in that direction by our own human desire for acceptance. If we cannot acknowledge that tendency in ourselves, what hope do we have of rejecting it?
Jesus warned us, “Therefore whoever confesses Me before men, him I will also confess before My Father who is in heaven. But whoever denies Me before men, him I will also deny before My Father who is in heaven.” Let’s not behave toward Jesus like a middle school child toward their parent. Let’s openly acknowledge Him and all those who love Him. The more people see our love for Him, the more they will be able to love Him, too.