A true story (or so they say). I put it in the form of a verse (which probably made the story even worse):
There once was a songster with writer’s block
Who had no more clever ideas left in stock.
And so, in search of a creative spark,
Wrote down some fun words — almost as a lark.
He cut them up and put them on a table
And arranged them into verse as he was able.
Hoping this act would cure his disease,
It ended badly, when he had a big sneeze.
What could possibly hold all these words down,
But still allow him to move them all around?
The answer was clear and simple to do,
Attach the words to magnets with a dab of glue!
He then placed them all on his refrigerator door.
Everything was ready; he was free to explore!
That’s why this guy gave up writing big hits
And now sells pricey Magnetic Poetry Kits.
It’s in this poem, we find today’s metaphor;
If you’re not a magnet, you won’t get in the door.*
French author Emile Zola once said, “If you ask me what I came into this life to do, I will tell you: I came to live out loud.” In my opinion, that is the key to sharing your faith. If your life doesn’t show forth Christ in an attractive, engaging way, the door to people’s hearts will remain closed to the gospel. And that is why we must live our lives out loud so that our friends and neighbors can see the difference Jesus makes in us. Now, Zola calls this, “living out loud.” Christians usually call this “lifestyle evangelism.” Others prefer the title, “friendship evangelism.” I call it being a “magnet.” We want to so live our lives in front of our friends and neighbors that, even when we are silent, our very lives pull people towards Jesus. Here’s how Jesus described this approach, from Matthew 5:13-16:
“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men. You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.”
Don’t miss this. Jesus believes that, before we say anything, our lives should already be sharing the gospel. The causes we are investing in, the love we show, the compassion we embody and the kindness we demonstrate can have a powerful effect to draw people to Christ.
The sad truth is, people don’t necessarily believe what we say. And for good reason. (For example, I’m not 100% sure that the story about how Magnetic Poetry Kits originated is actually true! It sounds like marketing to me.) Most over-the-top claims are either an attempt to sell us something or some form of power play. Therefore, what we say has only limited effect. Our actions, however, speak volumes.
You may be familiar with Peter’s words in 1 Peter 3, but have you ever noticed the connection between the first two sentences. The passage says: “But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord.” That’s sentence one; and as sentences go, it’s a good one. Without any conjunctions or explanations, Peter immediately goes on to say, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.” So how does sentence one relate to sentence two? They seem to be headed into two different directions. It seems to me, the only thing that makes sense of Peter’s syntax is that as a result of us setting apart Christ as Lord, people will be enticed to ask us why our lives are so different. As a disrupter, we ask the questions that make people think. As a magnet, we make people think by the way we live our lives, and we answer their questions. In other words, we are to live our lives in such a way that we create a stir—that through our deeds of love and mercy we entice people to consider Jesus and that we draw people to Christ by being salt and light in our world.
But what kind of lifestyle will create such a response? Trust me, it won’t come by being ordinary or by simply being nice. A magnet requires us to be something extraordinary. It requires us to live lives of generosity, lives of sacrifice, lives of goodness and mercy, and lives of justice that provoke people to scratch their heads and say, “What makes these people so different?” And it requires us to be people of faith, hope and love.
True story. There was a mission for the down-and-out in New York city. It was always filled to overflowing with people who were trying to leave their addictions behind, but with little success. One of the men who worked there was a guy name Pete. Pete had stumbled in the door years ago, but not as volunteer, rather, as an alcoholic looking for help. Pete’s life had bottomed out, and there was nowhere else to go. But when he came into the mission, he found Jesus; and Jesus changed his life. And as a result, he gave up drinking and began to pour his life into the lives of other men who came through those doors. And he served faithfully for years and years, helping all sorts of people. For close to thirteen years he served there, but then he died. The mission knew there would be opportunities to share Jesus with the street people who came to the funeral, and so they invited several pastors from all over town to come and serve at the memorial service. On the day of the service, the building was packed to overflowing. After the service, the speaker invited people to come forward and pray with one of the counselors who had come to help them. One man came down the aisle, tears flowing down his cheeks. He knelt down at the front and began to pray, “Oh God, make me like Pete.” One of the visiting pastors stopped him and said, “You mean, ‘make me like Jesus,’ don’t you?” And the man said, “You mean there is someone better than Pete?” That’s a magnet.
But note, in order for a magnet to work, it has to be close. So, it is with us. You can only make a difference if you live your life in front of your neighbors. You can only make a difference if you are a friend who cares and is there for them. In order to draw people to Christ, you have to step out and truly love the people God puts in your path.
Now, don’t think this is some new-fangled method that soft peddles the gospel. This has been the philosophy of the church all along. Written as early as 130 AD, but perhaps as late as the end of the second century, a Christian apologist wrote a short letter that defended Christ followers and explained their practices. You can’t read it (even an abridged version) without being struck by the power of a life well lived.
“Christians are indistinguishable from other men either by nationality, language or customs. They do not inhabit separate cities of their own, or speak a strange dialect, or follow some outlandish way of life. With regard to dress, food and manner of life in general, they follow the customs of whatever city they happen to be living in, whether it is Greek or foreign. And yet there is something extraordinary about their lives. They live in their own countries as though they were only passing through. They play their full role as citizens, but labor under all the disabilities of aliens. Any country can be their homeland, but for them their homeland, wherever it may be, is a foreign country. Like others, they marry and have children, but they do not expose them. They share their meals, but not their wives. They live in the flesh, but they are not governed by the desires of the flesh. They pass their days upon earth, but they are citizens of heaven. Obedient to the laws, they yet live on a level that transcends the law. Christians love all men, but all men persecute them. They live in poverty, but enrich many; they are totally destitute, but possess an abundance of everything. They suffer dishonor, but that is their glory. A blessing is their answer to abuse, deference their response to insult. For the good they do, they receive the punishment of malefactor; but even then, they rejoice, as though receiving the gift of life. They are attacked by the Jews as aliens; they are persecuted by the Greeks, yet no one can explain the reason for this hatred.”
Our calling is to draw people to us and then through us to Christ. It’s being extraordinary, filled with the fruit of the Spirit and a heart of compassion. It is living out loud so that they can see Christ in us. It is inviting people to imagine the difference Christ can make in their lives. That’s the power of a magnet.
*This is my poetic interpretation of how Dave Kapell came up with the idea of creating his Magnetic Poetry Kits that are wildly popular (you can see the whole story for yourself by looking at the product description on amazon.com). Since his kits encourage people to be poetic, I figured I should tell his story in rhyme.