I often think about the many people who enter my sphere of influence in a typical week.
I think of the talented people who share my office space. It’s been my extreme good fortune to work with creative people who are not only friends, but fellow believers.
Then for more than 30 years it’s been my privilege to have lunch once a week with my friends in the local Rotary Club. I’ve been in their homes; visited them in the hospital. Businessmen and women from a variety of professions meet to enjoy one another’s fellowship and join our talents in community projects that reflect Rotary’s motto: Service Above Self.
I have, of course, many church friends; not just those decision-makers with whom I sit on the church board, but the friends I’ve cultivated while serving on the hospitality committee and teaching earliteen Sabbath school.
Then there’s my social network (real, not digital) developed over many years. At my advanced age, it now includes runners, motorcycle riders, wheelchair jockeys, former Adventists, Christians from a variety of traditions, Muslims, Jews, Atheists, liberals, conservatives, gays, and straights.
I’m in no way unique. If you stopped to think about it, you’d realize that most days your circle of friends and acquaintances is remarkably diverse. While some might see that as a challenge, in fact it’s a tremendous opportunity.
We have the happy privilege of reflecting Christ’s character to those with whom we come into contact. The challenge for most of us Adventists is that we’ve been conditioned to believe that our “message” is all about a set of doctrines, what we believe. Further, we’ve been conditioned to think that our “message” is all about us—about our health, our schools, our beliefs, etc.
If we have a message—and we do have one—it’s not about us; it’s about God. And if our friends, neighbors, coworkers, casual acquaintances, and others see us as pushing any agenda other than knowing God and reflecting His character, we’re wasting a precious resource.
You and I mingle with countless people each week. And as society becomes more secular, often the only “religion” they know is summed up in what has been called the golden rule, expressed by Jesus in the famous words “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you” (Matt. 7:12).
We often have the unrealistic expectation that people are looking for opportunities to ask us about our fundamental beliefs, or get clarification about some point of prophecy. In fact, most people want to know only one thing: Is it real? Not Is the Bible real? or Is God real? but Does knowing God make a difference in our lives? Are we more like Christ as a result of knowing Him?
Read the Gospels. Jesus caught more flak by being liberal than from being legalistic. “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them” (Luke 15:2) was how His enemies accused Him. Yet He had the unique ability to remain faithful to Scripture while at the same time adapting it to changing situations. How about us? Does knowing Him make us more tolerant and open?
An interesting dynamic is taking place in the world. As more people are declaring that religion in general is irrelevant, a religious fundamentalism that marginalizes all religious expression but its own is growing in strength. Within this increasingly polarized setting thoughtful people are making up their minds about religion in general, and Christianity in particular. What, exactly, do we Adventists have to contribute to this conversation?
Edwin Markham wrote about the challenge of withdrawing into one’s closed, exclusive circles:
“He drew a circle that shut me out—
Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout.
But love and I had the wit to win:
We drew a circle that took him in.”
I sometimes fantasize about what would happen if those with whom I interact throughout the week all found themselves in the same room. Would they know Jesus? If I’ve been doing my job, they would.
Stephen Chavez is coordinating editor of Adventist Review. This article was published May 16, 2013.