Monday, February 25, 2013

Gospel Gone Viral

Saint Francis of Assisi is believed to have said, "Preach the Gospel at all times, and when necessary use words." Whether or not he actually said it, it remains a good point. Call it lifestyle evangelism if you will, but the life of a disciple of Jesus should look different from the rest of the world and that difference should be attractive. I'm not saying that God owes the Christian any special blessing, but we are promised a "peace that surpasses understanding" (Philippians 4:7) as we are called to live a life separate from the world.

Sometimes we see the fruit of living out the Gospel in our lives as family members become Christians or as a coworker or friend reaches out for Jesus in a time of need. (Sadly, the converse is also true- it is possible for our lives to actually make the Gospel unattractive) Other times the seeds are planted, but fruit won't been seen in our lifetimes. And then there is the rare time when one's lifestyle makes such an impact that it literally makes headlines and goes viral.

This post comes a couple of weeks late, but there were some headlines that caught my attention (and much of the world's) that hit right around the same time.

First (ranked because of the number of YouTube views) is the story of Robbie Novak, also known as Kid President. This 8 year-old hit it big with his 'Pep Talk' video (not cool, Robert Frost!), a light-hearted call for hope against the cynicism of the world that has been viewed just over 11 million times (as of this posting). While his videos may not explicitly contain the Gospel message, his roots appear to be planted in good soil as the videos are the brainchild of his brother-in-law who is the social media director for Freed-Hardeman University.

Next, ranked by level of social uproar, is Dan Cathy, CEO of Chick-Fil-A. You might remember not too long ago when he was asked (by a Baptist publication, it is important to note) about his support of traditional marriage. Although his company's charitable contributions to "pro-family" groups was not a secret and he was asked the question by a religious publication, his answer created a firestorm in the LGBTQ community nonetheless. Soon after, prominent mayors would say that his company would not be welcome in their communities, protests would begin, and of course counter-protests would organize in support. At first glance you might think Cathy was living out the Gospel by standing up for what he believes in both in his personal life and professionally. But it is what he's done away from the spotlight that I want to highlight.

If you follow college football you know there's a postseason bowl game sponsored by just about every product under the sun; Chick-Fil-A is no exception. Dan Cathy's guest of honor for the game his company sponsored was Shane Windmeyer, director of the LGBT group Campus Pride. Shrewd political move? According to Windmeyer, Dan Cathy actually reached out to him to reconcile and through several conversations the two become friends. Cathy wanted to hear the other side of the debate at a personal level and hoped that they could reach the point to agree to disagree. If this act surprises you, or even possibly offends you, we need to remember that Jesus was routinely criticized by the religious elite for hanging out with sinners.

In a similar vein is the story of the defection of Megan Phelps-Roper from the infamous Westboro Baptist Church which is led by her grandfather, Fred Phelps; you might have heard of him. Jeff Chu got the scoop on the story as he encountered Megan at his congregation, Old First Reformed Church in New York. Jeff, it is important to note, like Windmeyer is gay. What is curious, and not addressed in his article, is why she went to a gay-friendly congregation in Brooklyn, a thousand miles (physically and spiritually) from her home church in Kansas. Jeff, it turns out, knew Megan from spending time with her as he was writing his book, Does Jesus Really Love Me? A Gay Christian's Pilgrimage in Search of God in America. Despite your opinion on his sexuality, his life (not limited to his lifestyle) must have made enough of an impact that one of Megan's first church services away from everything she grew up believing was at this congregation. Regardless of your convictions regarding homosexuality, I strongly encourage you to read this story. Hers is a terrific example of God's word convicting in spite of religion.

Finally, as a bookend with Kid President, are the stars of A&E's hit show 'Duck Dynasty'. To be honest, I've only watched this once to see what all the hype was about. I wasn't really a fan, only because those types of shows don't typically appeal to me. But I am a fan of the Robertson's lifestyle and family as it is portrayed in the show. They are unashamedly Christian, shown gathering at the end of every show for a family meal which begins with a prayer of thanksgiving (and although the standard line "in Jesus' name, Amen" is typically edited out, it was included in their season finale in November). Brandon Hooks, a fan of the show, did a Google search on the Robinsons and found this testimony by Willie Robertson, speaking at Harding University. Hooks made the decision to follow Jesus and his wife arranged for him to be baptized by the family. While this could be written off as a case of celebrity worship, it is important to point out that his wife is a Christian and they have been attending church together as long as they've been married- since 2007. It wasn't until he saw Duck Dynasty and heard Willie's testimony that the Gospel began to move in his heart which just goes to show you never know how, when, or by whom the Gospel will impact another.

You and I are unlikely to become stars in a reality TV show or get a million hits on YouTube. But you never know who is watching how we live- children, enemies, the hyper-religious, or the unbeliever. And sometimes, our lives preach the Gospel louder than words ever could.

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