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Have you ever scrolled down to actually read through any of those "Accept the Terms" boxes that pop up on your computer screen? I remember doing it once, but mostly I just click the "I accept" box and go. I'm not generally a person who disregards small print. (No editor does.) But I also know that if I want to watch the movie, update the software, or buy the song on iTunes, "decline" isn't really an option.
We "accept" whatever comes with what we really want almost automatically; without knowing much about what that might entail. Why? Because we believe that what we want is worth whatever restrictions or limitations we don't bother to investigate. We see the promise of good and will put up with whatever it takes to have it. We click "yes" without a second thought because we are willing to pay the price.
I think online click boxes can give us a little insight into how to evangelize more effectively.
First, we ought to notice that all the legal terms, limits, and conditions only appear after you've decided that you want what you see. In other words, the product you are viewing looks good. If what we are trying to give people is God, this should not be difficult. After all, God is goodness itself; he is the supreme and highest good. We don't have to make God look better than he is; we just have to show God as he is. And that is precisely where we get in the way.
There is, to be sure, a cost of discipleship. But it seems to me that in our efforts to share the faith, too many of us tend to itemize all the terms and conditions before we ever get to why anyone ought to accept them. Too many rules, too much to give up, too few benefits. Receiving the love of God in Christ ends up looking like the losing proposition it isn't. More than a few of us do a very fine job of presenting faith as a wholly unappealing -- and joyless -- option. Of course there are rules, and there is no such thing as a bed of roses without thorns. Anyone who attempts to live by faith in Jesus Christ will encounter the Gospel tension between "hard teachings" and "Good News." The question is whether anyone will decide to give it a try.
Somewhere along the way I think some well-intentioned Christians wanted to make sure that everyone who followed Jesus knew that they were in for some real challenges. But why would we work so hard to make it seem as if what Jesus gave to us was somehow less than what the world has to give? Why would we keep God's overflowing love and mercy a secret?
Sometimes I think we forget that no one in his right mind is going to sign on for a life of suffering, persecution, and sacrifice only. Yes, the Christian life will include those things as long as we are pilgrims in this world. But a personal relationship with Jesus offers us so much more. It is, in fact, brimming with grace, freedom, purpose, and joy. Our motivation to evangelize isn't because misery loves company. We share our faith because we want every person on earth to taste what heaven is like.
And there really is no app for that. Despite the new media we can and should use for the sake of reaching the whole world with the love of Jesus, our message is the same. "God so loved the world that he gave his only-begottten Son, so that whosoever believes in him shall have everlasting life" (John 3:16). And behind whatever means we use to communicate the Good News, people will decide whether or not they think it is worth trying by what they see in us. If what they see is God's love, the terms and conditions won't keep them from clicking, "I accept."
Jaymie Stuart Wolfe is a wife and mother of eight children, and a disciple of the spirituality of St. Francis de Sales. She is an inspirational author, speaker, musician and serves as an Associate Children's Editor at Pauline Books and Media.