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Monday, April 4, 2011

A Stranger in my Inbox

I got an unusual email through the Facebook messaging system this morning.  Using very poor grammar, a complete stranger suggested to me that it was good to have "friends from all over" and asked me if I agreed; then he acted as if he knew me well and really wanted to hear from me.  When I stepped over to his profile to look (I wanted to make absolutely sure I didn't know him), I saw that his profile was poorly filled out with strange and vague responses.  He had few friends, mostly female and most with eastern European names (I didn't know any of them, either).

I went back to the email and reread it a few times.  I could think of a million ways to respond, but each of them seemed either very rude, or very paranoid.  I have been taught by society that a person can't be too cautious, and when you suspect the worst, you are probably right.  My profile is locked down with the maximum security settings for this reason, and it is out of mercy that I allowed this person the ability to contact me at all.  Honestly, I believed the worst, and nothing had been done to change my mind.

The best response is probably no response, I thought.  That is the recommended response from the world.  It is certainly the safest in the impersonal online world.  Still, I doubt that this is all that God wants from me today.

I don't believe God has called Christians to be naive and walk into traps.  I also don't believe God has called us to suspend the good judgment He gave us.  On the other hand, God has called us to "entertain strangers" and openly broadcast our faith, given the opportunity.  So where is the middle ground between being a Christian misanthropist and being a Christian witness?

I think we can answer that by examining the life of Jesus.  He took interesting questions from people who acted friendly but had unfriendly motives, and He always answered them--only He answered them with a truth that cut to the heart of the matter.  If we read through the questions and their answers now, and really analyze them, we come to understand that Jesus' answer always called sin into the open and demanded repentance and honor for God (see Matthew 22: 15-22 for an example of Jesus' convicting truth).  Truth is so much more clever than all the wit and rhetoric in the world!

I think that really answers my question.  If I should decide to send any kind of answer to this man, I can only answer with words I know God has given me; I cannot answer with my own human wit, based on speculation about a heart I do not know.  I believe the only effective witness is an answer based on "inside information,"  the specific, unspoken needs of an individual, which only God knows.  Because of this, I have to pray and ask for God's guidance, and only respond if He tells me to do so.

I only brought this up because it has become a trend in the Christian community, lately, to blindly take in strangers, overlooking any risks involved.  In fact, we are often made to feel guilty for being cautious, because we sometimes let caution hold us back from taking any visible action.  A popular song on the radio tells Christians to roll down our windows and give money to beggars at the traffic lights, but even those who don't serve God know that this could be a dangerous practice.

So what should we do?  There is no question that we ought to love the strangers Jesus died for, but let's be careful about how we do that.  The Bible instructs us to measure every step with the truth, and obey only God's directions, not basing our actions on what we think is right and good (Psalm 119: 105; Proverbs 14: 12).

We can be certain we have overcome the world by the power of Jesus' sacrifice (John 16: 33), and that we have been empowered to do God's will, despite the risks.  However, as long as we live in this world, our bodies are still subject to troubles and harm.  Therefore, God has taught us prudence to protect us from unnecessary trouble (Proverbs 16: 22; Proverbs 21:16). There is a difference between boldly taking on trouble because God told us to, and boldly getting into trouble because we think God will bail us out.

In all cases, He has told us to pray (Romans 12: 12; Ephesians 6:18), so this should be the starting point, and the first, if only, action that we take (Matthew 5: 43-44).  Beyond that, sometimes God instructs us to pass up "witnessing opportunities," because the time is not right and the person is not receptive to the message (see Matthew 7:6), while on other occasions He tells us to speak His words with boldness, even when we don't feel we've adequately prepared (Matthew 10: 18-20).  Only God knows which situation we are in, so let us listen closely to Him.

Now, as for my own situation, I am trying to balance prudence with my witness, and waiting on God before I dash off an email response.  I've prayed for this person, and about this person, several times today, and this blog post will remind me to keep praying for years to come.  Maybe that's all God wanted in this situation, or maybe there is more to be revealed.  I don't know.  I'm still waiting.

How about you?  Can you think of any further instructions that Christians should keep in mind when they meet strangers and wish to share their faith?  Looking forward to your comments.  Until next time, this is me reminding you to stay savvy, and stay in God's will.