Sobremesa ix.

You have to be nice to me...

I’m an outsider… AND you have to be nice to me. 

Everybody enjoys laid back, sobremesa time (table-talk). We can relax and just be ourselves… coffee, good food, conversation… what’s not to love? But if our hearts are set on an effective Christian presence in the real world, evaluating our weaknesses will benefit everyone. 

For now, I’m thinking about a nagging, undiscerning tendency among believers to talk shop in the presence of those who are not believers. It’s as off-putting and offensive as speaking English with someone at a table where not everyone speaks English. Those who are not already insiders are made to feel “left out” and “less than the rest.” 

When we start talking shop, do we think people around us will be impressed by our fine-tuned grasp of Scripture and sound doctrine? Their real reaction might be closer to… “what the__  are they talking about?”… or “so I guess that makes these people better than me?” 

When we are alone among unbelievers, it can be harder to find ways to contribute meaningfully to the conversation… but it might also be easier to avoid offense. On the other hand, a core of discerning disciples in the presence of just one person who is not a believer, can make a huge difference in that person’s experience at table with us. 

It’s no fun feeling like the outsider. I’m an outsider… always have been. Now I’m a veteran missionary (picture me on a crutch with a bloody rag wrapped around my head). People—including Christian people—often struggle with what to say when I tell them what I do. “Oh, that’s nice.” And then we get back to talking about cars… or the weather. 

There are other factors that make me weird and unfit to be with you. I might be more strange than you imagined. But it doesn’t matter how strange I am or how uncomfortable I make you feel. There is a Biblical exhortation for you about people like me:

Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.  (Colossians 4:5-6, ESV) 

See? it’s right there in the Bible…

  • I’m an outsider… AND you have to be nice to me.

  • I often have outsiders at table with me… AND I have to be nice to them.

It takes time to have a disciple or two around us who think of the outsiders in the room first. It takes patience to cultivate a shared ambiance in which the presence of someone new means we postpone the gossip and shop talk. Instead, we share testimonies of how Jesus found us…  of how blessed and strengthened we have been by the whole experience. Hugs and genuine interest in the newcomer help, too.

Insulated is a good thing for the wiring in a house. It’s not a good thing for Jesus followers. Remember this cute little acronym?

JOY…  Jesus first… Others second… Yourself last… 

Properly fleshed out, it might look radical to “normal” Christians… but it will look so attractive to outsiders!

Sobremesa (after-meal and coffee time) should be one of the most inclusive, embracing things we do.

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