grumpy pharisees

17 Jul

This is a book review (of sorts) I just posted on the BookCellar blog for Tri Robinson and Jason Chatraw’s new book “Jesus in the Mirror.” I enjoyed writing it so much (okay, it’s more my two cent’s worth on the subject than it is review) I thought I would post it here as well. God deliver us all from the little pharisee within, from the JAMES within, from the jerk within be he leaning left or right…

Okay, so how do you give a fair and honest review when your boss is one of the authors?

Tricky business – unless you happen to enjoy the book. Which I did.

I have always loved listening to Tri’s stories. He is a storyteller par excellance. And between his stories and observations and those of Jason, I found myself in a nicely provocative read on the often dicey subject of evangelism.

Over thirty years of listening to – and presenting – spiels of how to share our faith, most of what I have encountered had more in common with sales and marketing rather than the Gospel, with prospects rather than people. Having had a front row seat for the original teaching series Tri called “Please Forgive J.A.M.E.S.” (Judmental, Arrogant, Mean-spirited, Exclusive and Self-righteous – an acronym that might be appropriately shortened and personalized to “Please forgive M.E. = Myopic and Egocentric) and the bit of controversy surrounding it, it was something of a walk down memory lane reading Jesus in the Mirror.

At the heart of the book is the simple, ongoing reminder and challenge that true “evangelism” is not about sharing a message, but being, embodying, living one; not about making a sale but sharing a life – namely mine; that the sharing of life is itself being “good news.” There’s the bottom line issue for us: Are we good news? How much easier it is to enjoy a “one night stand” with someone as you seek to impregnate them with your Jesus spiel in a love ‘em and leave ‘em style than it is to actually share your agendaless life with that other person across the road.

The latter way is, of course, precisely what Jesus did. He didn’t have a spiel, nor did he spend his time going around and apologizing for the James-iness of the Pharisees, nor did he rag on or rage at them all the time (though he certainly did give them what for on occasion). Jesus was simply with people in compassion (including the Pharisees, when they would let him; someday I’m going to have to make that “God Loves Grumpy Pharisees” bumper-sticker I have displayed in the bookstore), eating with them, laughing with and at them, no doubt, and telling many, many stories.

I recently read the following story on an online friend’s blog about her encounter with someone doing “street evangelism” that well illustrates that J.A.M.E.S. isn’t always overtly rude – just disingenuous with lurking ulterior motives of making a coversion strike when the conversation has gone on long enough (thanks Jennifer Stuart for letting me share this here; you can find her blog at

I was sitting on the dirt next to a tree on the sidewalk in downtown Madison, Wisconsin. It was night time, so the only lighting was a juicy mix of streetlights and store lights, maybe some Christmas decorative lights as well, even though it was the later part of sweet early June.

I was selling necklaces that I had made; living out of a van with my guitar-playing gypsy boyfriend and a new puppy. A girl came up to me that evening and spent a lot of time asking me about each necklace; where I was when I made it, where I got the beads, how they would affect someone’s energy, and so on. She just wanted to know it all, and I was incredibly touched that a stranger was so kind and curious; and yet there was something strange. She was asking question after question, but wasn’t really engaging with the answers. I was just happy to be talking to someone.

After about a half hour of this flowery girl talk, she told me that she had come to tell me that there was one true savior and that he wanted me to be saved. My heart broke. It broke in half and fell to the bricks, oozing down into the crevices with leftover cigarette ash and dog pee. It made me hate her and anyone like her. I would not have minded had she walked up to me with a bible, stating her point, even if she wanted to yell at me or make fun of me. But she took the trouble to engage me in conversation, to find what mattered to me, and only then tell me her true purpose for starting the conversation.

I remember some old “friends” showing up at church saying they wanted to reconnect over lunch. As lunch went on we sensed something more was on the table. And then there it was, unveiled without a hint of subtlety. In fact, they asked if they could bring in a white board and then they commenced their sales pitch for a well-known pyramid marketing scheme. When we called them on their bait and switch routine, they defended themselves by saying that this is what all Christians do when they share Jesus with people.

Please forgive the jerks. Please forgive James. Please forgive ME.

Or better yet, with a humble bow or footwashing and without white board, canned speech, or memorized presentation, how about we just be Jesus to people – especially to those on the other side of the road, crossing over and out of the well-worn “Christian” ruts that would normally take us on a wide path around them?

How about just being human?

And if we say anything, how about simply saying what Jesus told his disciples to say when they went out being Jesus to people – just eight simple words: “The kingdom of God has come near you.” Sometimes less is so much more.

Yeah. These are the contemplative places Jesus in the Mirror took me to, and any book that takes me to such places is a good book (in my book).

Take and read.


Posted by on July 17, 2012 in Evangelism


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4 responses to “grumpy pharisees

  1. randall

    July 17, 2012 at 5:10 am

    Wow, this really spoke to me, Pastor Mike. You wrote one word that really spoke volumes to me: agenda. So many people I talk to or I have heard speak often come across that way. Like they are trying to sell me, or sell me on, something. Please God never let me speak to people with an agenda. I just want to be real like you, and Pastor Mike.

  2. wordhaver

    July 17, 2012 at 1:10 pm

    Randall, you strike me as quite agendaless. Love your heart. And for the record, I think I am just poking at the art of being real…

  3. Betty

    July 17, 2012 at 5:54 pm

    Thanks, Pastor Mike. Yeah, please for give M.E.! I hate to say it, but it’s true. So often when people want to spend time with us there is an agenda. This product or that product. And it hurts-especially from the church. Money is not more important than people-and yet it seems to be the bottom line. Heartbreaking. I want to love others and do it well, not push and shove. Still learning. No agendas. Good stuff, examining myself here and not others.

  4. wordhaver

    July 17, 2012 at 5:55 pm

    Amen, Betty! 🙂


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