As Easter approaches, many churches are stepping up their outreach.
Christians who share their faith aren’t intolerant, Ed Stetzer says
It shows they believe what Jesus said and care about those around them, he says
Ed Stetzer holds the Billy Graham Distinguished Chair of Church, Mission, and Evangelism at Wheaton College and is the executive director of the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism. The views expressed in this column belong to him.
(CNN)“Hey, do you want to come to church with us on Easter?”
You may have heard this or something similar from a friend, co-worker or family member. Depending on where you live, perhaps you’ve already received a mailer or two about a local church service.
Maybe you’ve wondered why Christians like me won’t just leave you alone. I assure you, it’s not because we like imposing ourselves on others. In fact, for many of us, it’s just the opposite.
On a recent Sunday, I stood up at Moody Church, an evangelical church in Chicago where I am interim pastor, and encouraged people to invite their friends to our Easter services. I reminded the congregation that Christians should be committed to the task of evangelism, that Jesus commanded it.
But I also know that, to atheists or adherents of other faiths, it can be confusing to know how to respond to such outreach. Understanding our motivation may help.
The great commission
The fact is churches are gearing up for Easter like pizza places are for the Super Bowl. They know this will be the biggest Sunday attendance of the year, Christmas included. Many members will have brought guests, and pastors want to be sure to preach a compelling sermon.
For many churches, including mine, we actually prayed over cards with names on them — the names of people to whom our church members were reaching out — so they might have open hearts.
I imagine some react in horror to that statement thinking: How dare anyone try to convert someone to another religion?
That makes sense in a world where spirituality has been Oprah-fied, and in a culture that says it’s fine to believe what you want as long as you don’t try to convince anyone else to believe differently.
It works great, if not for one reality: the words of Jesus.
You see, Christianity is a missionary faith because of the life and teachings of Jesus. Sure, you probably know the teachings of Jesus that fit in our culture: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” for example. And the world would be a better place if we all did those things.
But Jesus had many other teachings as well — and they’re just as important. After his resurrection, but before his ascension to heaven Jesus said some things that explain why Christians are still evangelizing.
Christians call these commands commissions, and they include: “Go and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19); “You will be my witnesses” (Acts 1:8); and “As the father has sent me, I am sending you” (John 20:21).
These are the last earthly words of Jesus before his ascension. That gives them an even greater weight to many who believe his last words should be our first priority.
The ‘P’ word
Some people may think “proselytize” is a dirty word, but that depends on how you define and practice it. Proselytize means to convert someone to another belief or opinion. And the truth is, we all do it — or at least try to. We try to convince our buddies that our sports team is better, our wives that this restaurant serves tastier food, our children that smartphones aren’t actually as interesting as adults make them seem.
We proselytize because we deeply believe what we are sharing is important enough to expend our energy and enthusiasm. For Christians, they share because they truly believe the founder of the faith told them to, and that his message changes people.
And some people — even atheists — appreciate our efforts.
Comedian Penn Jillette, a well-known nonbeliever, explained how he responded to someone sharing a Bible with him:
“I don’t respect people who don’t proselytize. If you believe that there’s a heaven and hell … and you think, ‘Well, it’s not really worth telling them this because it would make it socially awkward’… how much do you have to hate somebody not to proselytize?”
I get that Christians who are proselytizing seem out of step in modern, live-and-let-live America, but when you are a Christian, you don’t get to pick and choose which of his commandments to obey.
I understand that some non-Christians think Christians who share the good news are being intolerant.
Admittedly, some Christians have been intolerant at times throughout history, seeking conversions through unethical means. However, sharing our faith itself is not intolerant, but in fact is something that shows we really believe what Jesus said and we care about those around us.
Tolerance means more than acceptance of different people’s beliefs, sometimes it also means listening to them. And when a whole lot of people believe there was a guy who was dead on Friday, and alive on Sunday, that’s something worth explaining, particularly at Easter time.
So, please don’t be offended.
Your Christian friends, neighbors, family members or co-workers are mustering up some courage because they care enough to reach out to you. They believe they’ve seen lives changed and are following a person whom they believe guides them toward faith and good works.
Don’t be shocked that your friends think Jesus’ last words should be their first priority — particularly around Easter, the day when they believe he came back from the dead. Their sharing with you means they care enough to get uncomfortable.
Trust that it comes from a good place and take a moment to hear them out.
During the PassoverSeder we recount in detail the plight of the Israelites as slaves in ancient Egypt, and we celebrate their eventual salvation. However, the Seder is not just about commemorating past events.
The Talmudic sage Rabban Gamaliel II called upon us to include a personal element in the rituals of the Seder. “In every generation, a person must see themselves as if they personally left Egypt,”1 he instructed, leaving it to us to figure out how to make this ancient tale of redemption relevant to us today.
One suggestion was offered by Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneersohn of Lubavitch, the third Rebbe of Chabad, also known as the Tzemach Tzedek. He viewed the rabbinic instruction to drink four cups of wine (or grape juice for those who avoid alcohol) during the Seder as a framework for achieving personal freedom.2
Each cup was instituted to reflect another expression G‑d used to promise the Jews that they would be rescued from Egypt and become a nation with the power to determine their own destiny.3 If we follow this path, the Tzemach Tzedek writes, it can lead us on a personal journey towards freedom from any negative practices that hold us back.
Here is my personal understanding of those four 4 steps to breaking bad habits, based on G‑d’s 4 promises:
G‑d’s first expression of redemption to the Israelites was, “I will take you out” of Egypt. Before you get clean, you must get out of the mud. The first step to breaking free from a habit is to simply stop doing it. Medieval Jewish scholar Maimonides says, “A sinner should abandon his sins,” and suggests that you control your thoughts before they trigger a repeat offence.4 Immediately stop, even if you have already gone at it again.
After the Israelites left Egypt, they were ill at ease with their new identity. G‑d promised: “I will save you,” and supplied them with protective clouds of glory and manna from the sky. The second step on the path to breaking free is to immerse yourself in an alternative, positive reality. When dropping an old habit, adopt a new one to take its place and fill the void. Happiness researcher Gretchen Rubin says that it is much easier to form new habits after a change in life. Adopt your new activity steadily and continuously so it becomes the new you.
G‑d gave the Israelites the holy Torah on Mount Sinai as a roadmap to living a meaningful life. The expression, “I will deliver you,” alludes to the study of Torah, which spiritually and intellectually transforms you. The third step on this journey is to establish the ethical reasoning of your decision and an understanding of the new person you are trying to become. As the Israelites said after receiving the Torah, “naaseh v’nishma” (“we will do and we will understand”). After you “do” by adopting a positive activity, the next step on the journey to change is learning and understanding.
As the Israelites wandered through the desert, G‑d promised them that He would bring them to the Promised Land. Knowing that they would have a place to call their own allowed them to establish an emotional connection with their new selves. This positive emotional bond is reflected in the expression, “I will take you as a nation.” The fourth step on this path is to not only rationalize and understand the person you want to become, but to also fully internalize the change within you, because emotion plays a big part in influencing the decisions we make.
“Through the story we are redeemed from Egypt,”5 the Tzemach Tzedek once commented. You have the power to make the Passover narrative your own success story.
Rabbi Yehuda L. Ceitlin is the outreach director of Chabad Tucson, and associate rabbi of Cong. Young Israel of Tucson. He coordinates the annual Yarchei Kallah summit of Chabad scholars, and was on the editorial staff at Chabad.org.
Sefira Ross is a freelance designer and illustrator whose original creations grace many Chabad.org pages. Residing in Seattle, Washington, her days are spent between multitasking illustrations and being a mom.
But Sessions is getting a much warmer welcome among the nation’s law enforcement community, which has largely embraced his plan to prosecute more drug and gun cases, crack down on immigration offenses and ease up on suing local police departments accused of violating minorities’ civil rights.
Sessions will further explain his plans to realign the Justice Department’s priorities on Wednesday, when he addresses a gathering of federal, state and local law enforcement officers in Richmond, Virginia. He can expect an enthusiastic response.
“Happily for us, on vast majority of issues, we’re on the same page,” said James Pasco, a senior adviser at the Fraternal Order of Police.
FEB. 28: Sessions: ‘We Don’t Need To Be Legalizing Marijuana’ 1:15
The Justice Department wouldn’t comment on what Sessions will say in Richmond. But a spokesman said his remarks will expand on a number of his recent actions, including a memo ordering a crackdown on violent crime and a speech that warned that a recent uptick in crime was “the beginning of a trend” that requires a “return to the ideas” that cut lawbreaking to historic lows since the 1990s.
In that Feb. 28 speech to state attorneys general, Sessions blamed Mexican drug cartels for a record spike in heroin overdoses and suggested that he would reverse Obama administration policies that sought to reduce the prosecutions of low-level, nonviolent drug offenders on charges that carried mandatory minimum prison sentences.
Sessions said in the speech that from 2010 to 2015, the number of gun and drug prosecutions had dropped. “This trend will end,” he said.
Sessions, a Republican former U.S. senator and federal prosecutor from Alabama, also signaled a new approach toward police departments accused of discriminatory policing. He said that rather than “spending scarce federal resources to sue them in court,” federal money would be better used going after criminals.
Michael Ramos, president of the National District Attorneys Association, said it was refreshing to hear Sessions promise to “get back to tough-on-crime.”
The Obama administration, Ramos said, went too far in seeking ways to reduce mandatory minimum sentences and get people out of prison. That lenience, he said, could be driving crime rates.
“We’ve gotten to a point where the pendulum is starting to swing back,” Ramos said.
Lawrence Leiser, vice president for policy at the National Association of Assistant United States Attorneys, said his organization opposed easing up on mandatory minimum sentencing and welcomed a return to earlier approaches.
He said he viewed Sessions’ take on law enforcement as “inspiring.”
“Assistant U.S. attorneys are encouraged by the attorney general’s approach to combating drug trafficking and violent crime by using all of the lawful tools that are currently available to prosecutors,” Leiser said.
That said, law enforcement officials cautioned that the Trump administration is only a couple months old, and Sessions had yet to articulate how the new priorities would be put in place.
Ronal Serpas, a former police superintendent in New Orleans and chairman of the group Law Enforcement Leaders to Reduce Crime and Incarceration, said he embraced Sessions’ focus on violent crime. But his group has also warned the administration against using jail and prison as the tools to attack crime more broadly.
The group also urged Sessions to rethink his opposition to sentencing reform.
And it warned against rumored cuts to the Justice Department’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services.
“I’d like to see the attorney general focus narrowly on the issue of violent gun and drug crime and not get distracted by the big sweeping arrests we had in the 1990s,” Serpas said. “I argued for those things back then. But I saw that those massive arrest strategies don’t work. There’s tremendous collateral damage.”
Thomas Manger, president of the Major Cities Chiefs Association, said he was encouraged by the mere fact that Sessions was speaking directly to local law enforcement agencies so early in his tenure.
That’s important to many police officials who saw the Obama administration as being too critical of police during a time of eroding trust between cops and the public, he said. Much of those problems have been driven by increased scrutiny of shootings by police and an uptick in attacks on officers.
“We’re just trying to get off on the right foot and help influence things in a direction where the big cities around this country are providing the best service we can,” Manger said.
So the Sunni Dictator Dog of Turkey, the man who has ruined the lives of his people with his hate and his ego has the gall to call the governments of Germany and the Netherlands Nazi’s. When he first took power in Turkey the country and it’s people lived in relative peace with its neighbors and within its own borders. Turkey was the crown jewel in the Middle-East of the countries that had a majority Islamic population as far as people of various religions being free to worship as they pleased. There were many Gothic Churches that were hundreds of years old that dotted the landscape of this beautiful restive country. Now by my understanding of the many different articles I have read over the past few years several of these landmark Churches have either been destroyed or turned into Sunni Mosque.
Since Er-Dog-an has been in power he has through his policies created a situation where it is rather common for the people to have to try to survive car and truck bombs as well as suicide attacks on not just Turkey’s police and military personnel but on the civilians themselves. He had created tensions with Russia and with Israel before recently correcting this error, at least publicly. I say publicly because if you honestly think that Russia’s President Putin or Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu consider him a friend or that they trust him you are being quite delusional. He has spent his time in power doing mainly one thing and that is to gain more power and control over every aspect of life within the borders of Turkey. He has invaded his Shiite neighbor Syria and is not welcome in Iran or Iraq. Yet personally I believe that one of his biggest most arrogant and stupid policies has been his constant assault on the Kurdish people. The Dog has made it very plain that he wants nothing to do with peace with this huge ethnicity of people that live in the eastern part of Turkey. He could have peace with them if he wasn’t so darn greedy. The Kurdish people simply want their own homeland and being they already had settled in the eastern part of Turkey it would have been easy to have had peace with them by simply letting this small part of Turkey be officially theirs. Then the two Nations could have easily become good neighbors, brothers, sisters and trading partners. There would have been peace this way and many people who are now dead would still be alive. He has been playing the EU against Russia card trying to see how much he can get from both sides. He cared so little for his countrymen that instead of sealing off their border with Syria and not allowing millions of refugees to enter Turkey at all he let them in then has used them as bargaining chips with the EU trying to extort money and EU membership from them.
Now this egomaniac Dictator dares to call the governments of Germany and the Netherlands Nazi’s because of their policies that he personally doesn’t like. Think about this for a moment please, why is he slandering the leadership of these two countries? In Rotterdam they are going to be having elections very soon and Turkey has a huge number of Turk people living there now and there was going to be a big rally that the Turk Foreign Minister was going to address and the government decided to not let him show up. What is going on is very simple, if the Turk population grows to a high enough level they can then have more control of the laws passed in that country. If a minority population can gain control of a foreign country and they are loyalist to their home Dictator, this Dictator can have a huge effect on being the defacto Ruler of that Nation. Do not be naive, the people who believe in the teachings of ‘the prophet’ Mohammed know that they are ordered to infiltrate Infidel countries and when they have sufficient numbers to attack from within and to take control of the country and then to convert everyone there to Islam. The easiest way to take control of a Democratic country is through the ballot box, then if that doesn’t work, take it by force. Europe is starting to wake up and many of the people of Europe’s Nations are realizing the dangers they are having now and that it will only get much worse if they allow Islamic believing people to settle in their country. It is obvious why this Sunni egomaniac used the slur of Nazism toward Germany because the pain of their past but when this horse’s behind referred to the Netherlands the same way he showed his ignorance and his hate as well as pure stupidity. The worse thing that has happened to the Nation of Turkey since world war two has been allowing this madman to continue breathing within their borders. I say this because as he proves constantly like this upcoming referendum to give him alone even more power to rule as a King or a god would, he is only interested in making as many people as possible bow to his power, even Nations outside of Turkey’s current borders. If the EU Leaders in Brussels ever allow Turkey or any Islamic Nation to become part of the EU, that will be the kiss of death for their Countries and their way of life, and their very lives.
truthtroubles.wordpress.com/ Just an average man who tries to do his best at being the kind of person the Bible tells us we are all suppose to be. Not perfect, never have been, don't expect anyone else to be perfect either. Always try to be very easy going type of a person if allowed to be.
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“I hope we once again have reminded people that man is not free unless government is limited. There’s a clear cause and effect here that is as neat and predictable as a law of physics: as government expands, liberty contracts.”~ Ronald Reagan.