The Good Idea Fairy

I’ve been at war for years against a foe that’s elusive, disruptive, and catastrophically dangerous.  He goes by the name of the Good Idea Fairy.  Image

I was briefed on the danger of the Good Idea Fairy during my initial days in the military.  The intel collected on this particular enemy thus far warns of covert and disruptive operations.  If caught unaware, certain individuals are suddenly overwhelmed with the genius of a certain idea and become hopelessly blinded to the obvious flaws in tactics, logistics, and overall lack of common sense.  More experienced staff and leaders may be familiar to the signs that a Good Idea Fairy is in the area and have developed safe zones and no-fly zones in which spontaneous “good ideas” offered by “that guy/gal” are quickly contained before they can spread.  In the military, the counter strategy is to isolate the infected (typically) officer and distract them with some form of a Power Point presentation with pictures until the Good Idea Fairy has safely left the area.

I am a very common target for the Good Idea Fairy.  I have come to learn that The Good Idea Fairy knows the route from my house to my office rather well.  As a pastor and chaplain, I find myself often knocked over the head with his magical wand as I tweak and twist worship and outreach strategies to change the world, or at least my little corner of it.  My wife, soldiers, and members are pretty good about getting me back down to the ground and throwing me outside or in my office until the effects wear off.  I am always looking for the next great idea or trying to identify the areas that I am losing touch with the community and the world around me.  I’ve found that as a pastor, I forget.  I forget what it’s like to not be a pastor.  I forget what it’s like to not think about church events and services.  I forget what it’s like to wake-up on Sunday morning and go over options on what to do with my day.  I forget what it’s like to be the type of person that I’m trying to get to know.  And when I really think about it, my great ideas are normally at the expense of great relationships.  Who are the great people that I’m leaving behind when I’m too busy trying to make great ministry?

I think we’ve left some good people behind– labeled as bad ideas in our search for the perfect good idea.  I preached this last week about a Good Idea Fairy in the Old Testament.  In a story about Abram and Sarai, God promised them not only a great and wonderful land in which to live, but God promised them descendants and offspring in which to fill the land and become a great and powerful nation.  Now, as the situation begins to unfold, I quickly recognize the work of an ancient Good Idea Fairy.  Abram and Sarai can’t have children and it is going to be awfully hard to fill up an entire promised land without some sort of heir apparent.  I can only imagine what kind of dinner conversation took place as Sarai came up with the good idea to let Abram sleep with her Egyptian slave girl, Hagar, and conceive an heir through her.  Somehow Abram found it within himself to grudgingly and selflessly agree to have sex with now two women until a son was conceived.  Amazingly enough, Hagar does become pregnant and her relationship with Sarai begins to deteriorate and unravel quite quickly.  Imagine that.  What seemed to be such a good idea to Sarai and Abram at first becomes quite the family drama and ends with some of the most heartless and cruel treatment of a young pregnant girl with no choice and no rights that I’ve ever read about, and yet they seem to write it in such a way that one feels that surely Hagar deserved what she got.  Maybe if she didn’t dress like an Egyptian slave all the time, people wouldn’t look at her like an Egyptian slave.  Now I understand my modern perspective and moral perspective are much different than ancient Middle Eastern customs, but the isolation and abuse of others for the sake of pursuing what we believe to be good ministry and good organization planning is all too common across generations.  The baby is not even born yet before Sarai and Abram write off Hagar and her unborn child as their unfortunate bad idea and run her off into the desert trying to get home.

This isn’t the only time that Hagar finds herself in the wilderness, pushed off as a bad idea, with nothing to show for her sacrifice than broken promises and a child that she was forced to conceive and raise, now desperately close to death.  It’s at this point that God does something that I think Abram and Sarai wouldn’t expect.  Who knows if they ever even found out, but God appears to Hagar and speaks to her each time she finds herself alone and desperate.  God tells her that even if everyone else around her as discarded her as a bad idea and broken their promises with her, God will keep God’s promises and still see her and her son through until they too become a great nation.

It’s a hard story to deal with if you’re a big fan of Abraham and Sarah.  We may try to justify their actions and we may try to convince ourselves that their intentions were good or noble on some level; however, the Good News is what happens in the wilderness when God shows up to the one that was cast out.  God still treasures, hears, and speaks with the young girl that was thrown out as a bad idea.  I wonder who we’re leaving behind, forcing out, and have left labeled as a bad idea?  Would we find seek out Hagar in our communities and apologize for how she’s been treated and offer her the support and care she needs to experience the fullness of the promise of God, or is God left to clean up our bad ideas and make the connections and promises that we’re too busy and too afraid to make on our own?

Go therefore…

…and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything that I’ve commanded you.  Look, I myself will be with you every day until the end of the present age.” (Matthew 28:19-20)  I used to be scared of this verse.  At the very least, I was annoyed.  Whenever I head it preached, studied, published, or flashed up on the screen, I knew I had a weekend of looking forward to awkward door-knocking conversations or handfuls of tracts to hand out and leave in “strategic” locations.  I heard words like “saved”, “born again”, and “testimony” and I would feel a sense of dread spreading through my gut.  Evangelism was a buzzword for “get ready to be annoying and feel persecuted.”  If someone was receptive, awesome!  If someone slammed their door in your face or cursed you out, even better.  Jesus likes that too!  Oh, the memories…

The crowning jewel of my evangelistic upbringing was the $20 bill tract and the fake money tracts.

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dollarPrepare To Meet God Money Tract

It was this particular proclamation tool that poisoned any real sense that God was looking down and smiling upon any of this.  Half of the tract looks like a twenty-dollar bill.  The other half is a mocking revelation that you’re not actually lucky, but probably damned for all eternity.  Cagey for sure, but Christ?  Sure, it had a sinner’s prayer on the bottom, but who could read it once the recipient burned it or tore it apart in a frustrated rant that Christians can be real tools?

Evangelism had become synonymous with guilt, shame, fear, and awkwardness.  When one friend of mine didn’t go down to the altar one night, a youth worker asked him, “don’t you want to live forever with Jesus rather than going to hell?”  That’s like asking cake or death! An evangelistic approach that pushes others towards God using the lowest of human emotions denies a God who draws all things to himself through complete love and grace.

So what does healthy evangelism look like?  I imagine it looks most like Jesus.  The attraction of knocking of doors and handing out tracts is that it doesn’t require a relationship.  In fact, it doesn’t even involve a name or a story.  All stories are the same, and names are not important.  Jesus sat with people though, he heard their stories, met their needs, healed their hurts, called them by name, and demonstrated the complete love of God instantly in their lives.  There is an assurance that we matter and are individually significant.  God knows our name and speaks life into our stories. With Jesus, there wasn’t only a quick prayer attached to a vague promise of eternal love and acceptance in the future kingdom of God.  Rather, a deep and abiding love was fully realized in that very moment coupled with an answer to their heavy and honest prayers.

What’s so shocking about the Great Commission is that most Christians I know can quote it and recall it at will; however, the promise of Jesus’ presence is forgotten, edited for length, or dismissed.  He, himself, will be with us every day until the end of the age.  We seem to structure our evangelism programs on one of two models.  Either we’re doing evangelism because Jesus commanded us to make disciples when he left and we have to do it while he’s gone, or we don’t do anything and leave it completely up to God and we trust him to make disciples independently.  I don’t see a faithful Church in either model.  As with most things when it comes to the Gospel, to the Good News, it’s done purely when it’s done in relationship.  It’s done when we don’t have all the answers and we’re willing to take risks and allow the gospel to come alive in new and crazy ways for others and for us again.  The Church needs to look like it’s message.  It’s time to start our discipleship and evangelism with a risky commitment to share our lives with others and become a people of stories and names, not tracts and shame.