By Justin Randolph
Pastor, Zion Hill Baptist Church, Sevierville
I remember well my first foreign missions trip. I was chosen to join a collegiate drama team who would minister in Rio during the evangelistic crusades of 1998. During our orientation, several cultural mannerisms and customs were discussed. One included women leaving their purses on the floor, another a common finger symbol we consider benign while they consider offensive. These differences were discussed so that our message would not be lost in our presentation.
America today is truly a melting pot of different cultures, beliefs, and practices. It is easy to become cynical in the midst of such change. However, our perspective should be like that of the Apostle Paul who looked at every circumstance as an opportunity to spread the unstoppable message of Jesus Christ.
In Acts 17, Paul is waiting on the arrival of his compatriots. He doesn’t waste this time, but instead invests it in eternity. As he works his way though the city, his heart is stirred due to their unbelief. He decides to engage them in a religious discussion. I believe he simply asked questions, listened, and gained an audience to share His faith in Jesus and the resurrection. You and I can also use questions to learn and gain permission to share our faith with those of a different background than us. We must remember that our job is not to convince or convict, but to share the gospel and allow the Holy Spirit to work in the lives of the people we come into contact with.
As a result of his discussions, Paul is invited to share at Mars Hill. His courage and determination opened a door to share his faith publicly with many. What did he do with this opportunity? He looked for common ground so that his message might be understood and received. When we talk with someone from a different background than us, we have a choice. We can focus on what separates us, or we can find what we have in common. By looking for and finding common ground, we can tear down barriers and instead build bridges to the message of the gospel.
In finding common ground, we must respect and appreciate the different beliefs while at the same time not legitimizing them. In other words, we never want to come across as disrespectful to a person for their heritage or background. Rather, we look for an opportunity to share the hope we have within us. Don’t attack the person for their faith. But, at the same time, do not water down your own faith either.
We live in a culture full of idolatry. Idols of silver and gold have largely been replaced by money, reason, and human ideals. Nonetheless, these do not have the power to change us or save us. Therefore, as believers in Christ, we must like Paul stand courageously for our faith in Christ knowing that its power and impact cannot be thwarted, nor will His Word return to Him void.