Yesterday I got a photo message from a friend who was attending the Oregon State Fair. Someone had set up a little booth which had a banner over the top:
ARE YOU GOING TO HEAVEN? 2 QUESTION TEST REVEALS ANSWER. FREE
Would you want to go take the test? Would you feel anxious and afraid of what the folks in the booth might have on their agenda for you? Would you be curious but not want to take the time? Notice the feelings in you. I notice in me: Defensiveness, avoidance, a feeling of futility.
But the booth reminded me of the story of another booth set up by Christians on the lawn at Reed College during Renn Fayre some years ago, as a way to make a statement about the Christian presence on campus. They decided to set up a confession booth. It began as a joke – that there would be so much sinning on campus that weekend, that a ready-to-hand confessional might be useful. But then, it turned serious. They decided to create a confession booth, but not in order to hear others’ confessions of sin. The first person who entered the booth seemed to think this would be a juicy way to collect the stories of the lewd behavior going on – sort of a Renn Fayre story project. No. The booth would, instead, give the Christians an opportunity to confess the sins of Christianity, and apologize for all the un-Christlike behavior perpetrated by the church. Donald Miller writes:
We are going to confess to them. We are going to confess that, as followers of Jesus, we have not been very loving; we have been bitter, and for that we are sorry. We will apologize for the Crusades, we will apologize for televangelists, we will apologize for neglecting the poor and the lonely, we will ask them to forgive us, and we will tell them that in our selfishness, we have misrepresented Jesus on this campus. We will tell people who come into the booth that Jesus loves them…. It would feel so good to apologize, to apologize for the Crusades, for Columbus and the genocide committed in the Bahamas in the name of God, apologize for the missionaries who landed in Mexico and came up through the West slaughtering Indians in the name of Christ. I wanted so desperately to apologize for the many ways I had misrepresented the Lord. I could feel that I had betrayed the Lord by judging, by not being willing to love the people he had loved and only giving lip service to issues of human rights…. And the important thing to do, the right thing to do, was to apologize for getting in the way of Jesus. 
Today’s topic is what we have often called, “outreach.” When I compared these two Christian booths, I was reminded that the most powerful way we can reach out is with hearts of compassion, which lead by listening and serving, not by trying to prove something, or to convince others that we are right. McLaren gets into it in chapter 47 of, We Make the Road by Walking, in a chapter he titles, “The Spirit Conspiracy.” 
There is a characteristic in us as human beings that when we are excited about something, we want to tell people about it; when we have an insight, we want others to be enlightened by it as well. What tends to happen is that over time, we begin to see ourselves as the expert and try to convince others that we are right. We quit listening, because, of course, we have convinced ourselves that we are right. We quit looking for new truth.
So what has happened to the word, “outreach,” is the same thing that has happened to the word, “evangelism.” Both words tend to be heard as triumphalism – the attitude or belief that a particular religion or culture is superior to and should triumph over all others. While the missionary enterprises of the 20th century introduced Jesus to many tribes and nations, the Jesus message was often encased in Western values and culture. So the mission efforts have gotten a negative evaluation from contemporary anthropologists and historians. Somehow, the way of Jesus – known to be gentle and characterized by servant love – came to be associated with powerful institutions and even military efforts, and became what many today call, “Christendom.” This approach to Christianity is a top-down process, and can become oppressive rather than forgiving.
So, McLaren doesn’t even use the words “outreach” or “evangelism” in his chapter. Instead, he says: There are circles of people that the Spirit of God wants to touch and bless, and you are the person through whom the Spirit wants to work. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to conspire with the Spirit to bring blessing to others. [2, p. 235]
It is all about bringing blessing to others. That is the key. As you listened to the passages of scripture I read earlier, that is the tone in them as well. Our job, now as followers of the way of Jesus, is to move through life to bless others. They may choose to follow the same way, or they may not. That part is not our responsibility. But the one thing that may move them to follow the way of Jesus is the experience of grace, mercy and love which they encounter from the people of the way.
The life of compassion was one of the most ancient apologetics of the church. Tertullian, the first Latin theological writer of the church, in the second century, wrote that the most powerful magnet of Christianity was that people would say, “look, how these Christians love one another.” 
Our call is to influence the world, from those closest and most immediate, to the farthest reaches of the universe. And our influence is through blessing, loving; not through winning converts to our team. If people learn love from us, they are part of the Spirit conspiracy, whether they know it or not! That is the good and surprising news we are part of.
The closest circle of influence is our family. We often take our families for granted. We assume that they are there for us. And so, we don’t even notice the ways they love us. Truth be told, there is no one in a better position to hurt our spouses, parents, brothers, sister, children than we are ourselves.
And the reverse is also true – that we are in a better position to support, love and encourage our families than anyone else. But it takes some vulnerability. It means being willing to give when we don’t want to, it means saying out loud the beauties we observe, and naming the hurtful experiences, too, in order to receive healing and forgiveness. In this most intimate circle, we are challenged to live grace at every moment. When we are just too tired to be on good behavior, we tend to hide in our homes. And our families experience that person – the person we really don’t want to be. It is too easy to take them for granted, and neglect the blessing we could give.
Jesus said this is not okay! When Jesus talked about hypocrisy, he pointed to the religious practitioners who put the law before their families. Paul called this kind of behavior worse than unbelief! Treat your spouse with dignity, love your children and guide them gently, he teaches.
If all we do is to treat our families well, it may change the world. Yes, really! Last night a friend of my sister’s posted this on Facebook: So today I honor two ladies who gave birth to Baby Boomers yet demonstrated true strength of the Feminine before it was fashionable. (Neither ever burned a bra!) Zillabell Jane Friesen gave birth to 3 daughters and a son in the mid 50’s and early 60’s. She partnered with her husband on their farm and then went on to have her own adventures. Carol Yvonne Hix gave birth to two sons and two daughters. She conquered her own adversities and had a successful career with Fresno County for many years. God bless you both. You both demonstrated the real strength of womanhood. I pray that someday I might be considered in the same ranks as you.
All these women did was live simple lives and love their families, and it had impact beyond what they could possibly imagine. They have moved into the realm of honored elders, models, and parents of grateful children who have themselves been launched into world-changing lives. It is no small thing to love our families well – well enough to give them strong hearts and let them fly. This is part of the conspiracy to bless.
From this center circle the ripples to out to neighbors, church, city, nation, world and finally to the entire universe. Yes, our ripples of blessing go that far.
In all of these circles, we can be part of the Spirit conspiracy which is spreading quietly within our world for life and goodness. Are you reaching out to be part of this conspiracy? Which circle of influence are you called to work on? Where is the Spirit nudging you?