Sharing Your Faith With Your Family
About the Guest
Sharing your faith with family members isn't a quick process. It may take years of even decades to see them come to Christ. Long time ministry leader, Randy Newman, talks about the mistakes he made when trying to witness to his family, especially his parents. Randy talks about the joy he felt when his 75-year old mother finally admitted that she, too, believed in Jesus.
Sharing your faith with family members isn’t a quick process.
Sharing Your Faith With Your Family
Bob: Randy Newman grew up in a traditional Jewish household, going through the spiritual motions, as it were; but he said it was empty—it was hollow.
Randy: I think so many of those traditions, unfortunately, are just kind of formalities that you go through; but when you come to know the Messiah, they take on so much of a rich flavor. When I first learned about the Messiah in the Passover, I choked back tears—to see that all of these foods that you eat and rituals you go through culminate in the person of Yeshua, Jesus.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Tuesday, April 3rd. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. What happens in a family when a Jewish boy grows up to become a follower of Yeshua? We’ll hear about that from Randy Newman today. Stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. You know, I’ve talked to a lot of people who have had the experience of coming to faith in Christ and trying to explain to their family what’s just happened.
If they come from a family where the other family members aren’t Christians and you come home and say, “Well, I’ve had a profound change—I’ve had an experience,” it’s almost like your family members feel offended as if, “The way we brought you up, or the family that you’ve been a part of wasn’t good enough for you, and you’re rejecting our family heritage.”
Dennis: No doubt. You used the word “explain” how we’ve come to faith in Christ. Most of us, when we go back home—and if we did come to faith in Christ later on--we don’t explain. We’re just zealots—going back, preaching. If truth be known, probably pointing our bony fingers at our family members, implying, if not saying, “Why didn’t you tell me about this? Why didn’t the church where we went and spent so many hours instruct me in how to come to faith in Jesus Christ?”
Well, we have the author of a great book, Bringing the Gospel Home. If our listeners are looking for a great resource that will help them take their faith home to a family member, maybe your parents, a brother or a sister, extended family—maybe you’re getting ready to go back home for a celebration of some kind or a holiday—
Bob: There are great, practical ideas in this book about how to have the conversations in a way that is not offens—well, I was going to say “not offensive”; but at some level, the conversation is going to be offensive. At least it’s gentle—that’s what I think Randy coaches us in.
Dennis: Randy Newman joins us on FamilyLife Today. You did a great job on this, Randy, really kind of putting your arms around folks. It sounded like maybe you made a few mistakes of your own here because you share them in the book, just in terms of how to meet family members and share our faith with them. Welcome back to the broadcast.
Randy: Thanks; great to be with you.
Dennis: Randy is a fellow staff member of Cru®; that’s the former Campus Crusade for Christ. He has served since 1980 in the campus ministry, working with students, faculty and staff members; and has written a couple of books—Questioning Evangelism—and I really like that book because it’s all about using questions instead of making “you statements.” It’s asking people thoughtful questions that kind of dislodge where they are in their faith and their journey.
And then this book, Bringing the Gospel Home. Earlier, Randy, you shared how you grew up in a Jewish family and how you began to pursue God as a boy, a teenager, and then a young man in college. You came to faith in Christ, wrote your parents a letter. They called you. Then, you said in your book that, what followed was your parents began to stonewall you. How did that work its way out—their resistance to your new-found faith?
Randy: Well, I wasn’t the least bit surprised that they told me not to tell Grandma and Grandpa, to stay away from my younger brother. That was no surprise. I think I was just relieved that I had finally told them. I think I had probably already been a believer for several months, and it was just weighing on me. I think I had the conversation in telling them—I think that was just a great relief; but at first, I don’t think I was all that burdened to tell them as much as I just wanted to get grounded and learn, “What was this all about?”
Dennis: So you weren’t trying to convert them right from the start?
Randy: No, not right away; but you were right that I made plenty of mistakes. When I finally did get around to talking about it, it was in a pretty self-righteous, condemning way. It was very much like you said, “Well, why didn’t I know this before? Why didn’t you tell me this before? Why didn’t you see that Judaism and Christianity fit together? Why didn’t we read both parts of the Bible?” There was plenty of self-righteous condemnation.
I’d rather talk about something else. (Laughter) Do you have another topic you want to bring up, please?
Bob: When they asked you not to tell Grandma and Grandpa what had happened to you, and not to try to convert your brothers, did you honor those requests?
Randy: Well, at first I did; but you know what’s interesting is—they said, “Don’t tell Grandma and Grandpa;” but then I think they told my grandparents. So everybody knew pretty early on. I did go and tell my brothers—so I didn’t really honor it as thoroughly as they would have wanted me to.
Bob: And what was the perception—for Randy now to say, “I’m a Christian,” is the idea that, “I’m no longer Jewish now. I’m a Christian. So I’m now kind of a step away from being a member of the family. I’ve stepped away from who we are”?
Randy: I think probably for most relatives it was confusion. “What? He believes what? Why would he believe such a thing?” So I don’t think they went quite so far as to say, “He’s not part of our family anymore.” I do think quite a few of them thought that I’m not Jewish anymore.
Bob: At Hanukkah—what did you do at Hanukkah, when you went home and everybody celebrated Hanukkah? Did you eat the Passover Seder with the family at Passover? How did you handle all of that?
Randy: Sure. I did celebrate those holidays; but you have to remember, by then, I had gone away to college. I wasn’t back there in my parents’ home all that much. By the very next summer, I had moved away to stay away during summers. So I really was kind of gone geographically.
Probably my family thought, “Randy’s not Jewish anymore.” I think that’s probably what my parents thought, that’s probably what both my brothers thought, until—it’s very interesting. I think--many years later, I got married. I married a Gentile woman, who is a Christian. We got married in a church. Then, we had sons. We started raising our sons to know about their Jewishness.
When family came to visit, on Friday night, we said the traditional blessings over the challah and the grape juice, and the welcoming in the Shabbat. When our boys reached age 13, they had Messianic bar mitzvahs. That, I think, started my family to say, “Wait a minute. He still thinks he’s Jewish.” I think it created a lot of confusion for them. In fact, I’m sure several of them still are confused.
Bob: Your ongoing practice of these Jewish customs in your home—tell us about the decision to do that—to have the grape juice on Friday night, to welcome in the Shabbat. That had been a part of the rhythm of life growing up—your Gentile wife—it hadn’t been a part of her life. What made you decide to make that a part of your family structure?
Randy: I think so many of those traditions, unfortunately, are just kind of formalities that you go through; but when you come to know the Messiah, they take on so much of a rich flavor. So the Shabbat, a rest—well, why wouldn’t you delight, and rest, and rejoice in not just the rest on Friday night and Saturday, or the weekend, or a day to worship—but the ultimate rest that we have in Messiah?
Passover—when I first learned about the Messiah in the Passover, I choked back tears—to see that all of these foods that you eat and rituals you go through culminate in the person of Yeshua, Jesus. We weren’t just now living out some rituals. They were really meaningful for us. They were joys. They were great experiences.
Dennis: Well, all the time your mom and dad are watching this occur in your family, you ultimately experience some circumstances. Maybe better said, your mom experienced some circumstances that led to a spiritual breakthrough in her life.
Randy: I tried witnessing to my parents with the frontal assault, the preaching of sermons, the sending of books, the giving of—I mean, I dumped everything I could on them. I sent them a copy of the Jesus film in both English and Hebrew. My parents don’t speak a word of Hebrew. (Laughter) I just thought it would be impressive to them that Jesus spoke Hebrew. It wasn’t. It didn’t work. Nothing worked.
Dennis: Did they ever express condemnation out of all that, like you were offending them, or say to you, “Hey, back off?”
Randy: Yes, a little bit. You know, I took them once to a Friday night service of a Messianic Jewish congregation. They walked out; and they said to me afterwards, “Listen, maybe you like that. If that works for you that is great, but we don’t like that.”
Bob: And the fact that you were on staff with Campus Crusade for Christ, raising support to be on staff with Campus Crusade for Christ—that had to be kind of a complete disconnect to them; wasn’t it?
Randy: Yes. “Complete disconnect” is a good way to put it. I just think it was puzzling and confusing. When I sent my parents books and videotapes they were polite, but I don’t think they looked at them. They didn’t open them up. To be honest, and I hate to say this, but I think I kind of gave up hope. I think I gave up making attempts and then gave up praying.
I had tried all sorts of statements that didn’t work, and I had been experimenting in my own ministry about asking questions. “Maybe questions are a better way to draw people out and make them think.” One time my mother was talking to me on the telephone and telling me that she had been to a funeral. It was a funeral of a teacher in the high school where I went. I knew him. He was a skeptic and an atheist. He was very sarcastic. He didn’t want anything to do with any religion. He was pretty mean-spirited, too, and kind of an angry, bitter man.
He died after a tragic illness. It was a very, very sad story; and he died and never turned around. My mother told me that the man had finally died, and she went to his funeral. She was trying to cheer up his adult children, who were grieving the loss of their father. They also were atheists and skeptics. My mother said to them—she’s telling me this on the telephone—she said to them, “At least now your father is in a better place.”
I thought as she told me that, “Oh, ho, I’m not so sure!” All sorts of Bible verses started racking up in my mind of the sermon I was going to preach about, “I don’t think it’s a better place.” I’m thrilled that God didn’t allow me to preach that sermon. Instead, I just asked one question. I said, “Mom, how do you know that?” Long pause. She said, “How do I know what?” I said, “How do you know he’s in a better place?” Very uncomfortable, by the way—I don’t find that witnessing to family is ever all that comfortable. Comfort is not what we should be looking for as the ultimate goal.
Eventually, after this long pause, my mother finally said, “Well, I guess I don’t know. I guess I don’t know that.” That was a major, major breakthrough. I wanted to jump up and sing the Hallelujah chorus because nothing I had ever said had made any kind of difference, or seemingly so. I think this did. I think she finally realized that her whole philosophy of religion may not really fit together.
She started wrestling and started reading some things. She started reading a book that I had sent her, probably ten years before. She read it before, ten years ago. It made no difference whatsoever, and she gave it away. She gave it to somebody else. I was so angry. Then, somebody else gave her the exact same book, ten years later. She read that copy. She told me she was so thankful that her friend, Mary, had given her this book—a book by Stan Telchin, a Jewish man who wrote this book called Betrayed. It was about his story of becoming a believer in Jesus. My mother started reading this. She sent me an email one day and said she was going to start reading the New Testament.
Randy: Wow is right! Jewish mothers don’t read New Testaments. (Laughter) I don’t know how many of the listeners know that, but a little cultural sensitivity—Jewish mothers and New Testament don’t often go together. She started sending me all these emails about questions she had about Jesus. “What did Jesus mean when He said this? Why did He say this? Why did people hate Him so much?”
Dennis: Wow. You had—your jaw had to drop to the floor; huh?
Randy: You know, email is a wonderful thing because you can scream without the other person hearing you. You know, “YES!” (Laughter)
Bob: So when was the day when your mother finally said, “You know, maybe you’ve been right”?
Randy: Oh no, she’d never—she still hasn’t said that. (Laughter) “Maybe you’ve been right.” Wow—that—I wonder if she’s listening to this. Okay, so—(Laughter) This was a long process—I don’t know—six months, or a year, or more from when she started reading the New Testament, and started reading Stan Telchin’s book, and wrestling with all this and asking these questions.
Then, one day on the telephone, she said to me, “You know, I think I’m going to have the same problem that Stan Telchin had—that he talked about in his book. I think this all makes sense to me. I think I believe exactly what he believes; but I think when I tell my Jewish friends and relatives, I think they’re going to reject me the way they rejected him.” I wanted to clarify, “When you tell them what?” “Well, when I tell them that I’m a believer.” I almost dropped the phone. I think I did fall to my knees after we got off the phone.
Bob: I bet you did.
Randy: So yes, my mom was 75 years old then. It all came together. Now she tells her friends and her Jewish relatives—actually, you know, what’s interesting is—they haven’t really rejected her. I mean, they think that she’s probably a little confused.
Bob: A little verclempt?
Randy: Meshuganah; a little meshuganah. But no, she shares quite freely now about her beliefs in Jesus as the Messiah.
Bob: And was ultimately baptized in a church? Is that right?
Randy: Yes, baptized by my brother, by the way. That’s another story.
Dennis: Here’s where Gentiles who get baptized miss the significance of the public declaration that your mother was making to her friends and the Jewish community of, “I’m not rejecting my Judaism. I’m becoming a completed Messianic Jew.” It’s was a big deal for her.
Randy: Oh, it’s a huge deal. Even though that’s what we Jewish believers are saying when we do that, that’s not how Jewish people look at it. They look at baptism and say, “That’s the ultimate Gentile experience. That’s the ultimate Christian; i.e., not Jewish”—even though the Mekvah bath in the Old Testament and temple times was the forerunner of what baptism is all about. It’s a very Jewish thing, but it’s not Jewish in modern America and in the modern mindset.
When a Jewish person becomes baptized, in most Jewish people’s minds, that’s the ultimate statement of, “I’ve left Judaism, and I’ve embraced another faith,” which is tragic because, again, from our perspective, it’s, “I’m embracing Judaism in all of its fullness—in its culmination and its fulfillment in the person of Jesus as the Messiah.
Bob: You said something about your mom’s journey, and it’s a part of what you say in the book Bringing the Gospel Home. You said it took a long time. You have said in here that when we are sharing our faith with family members, we should expect that it’s not going to be a quick kind of a process. We should expect it may take years or decades for the message to get through. In fact, I sometimes think hearing it from a family member is harder and less easy for someone to embrace than it is coming from a stranger.
Randy: Absolutely. Yes. I have a whole chapter on time because it’s not to say that God can’t work quickly; but so very often, with family, He does not. It takes time. Here’s the paradox or the irony that’s difficult—with family, we’re the least patient. We want them to get it right away. It’s so urgent, in our minds.
We care about them so much that we push it. We want to accelerate the process, when in fact, it may be more effective to slow the process down—the very opposite of what we want to do. The stories that I heard, in talking to people that saw loved ones come to faith—that was the recurring theme, “It took a while,” “It took a while,” “It took decades.”
Dennis: And it took some humility. I was talking with a woman, not long after Thanksgiving. She was sharing with me how she had just gone back to her extended family for Thanksgiving. She found herself not feeling free to talk about her faith with her extended family because, when she started out, she was a little overzealous. She was a little preachy and just coming down a little hard on her mom and dad and her brothers and sisters.
She said, “It’s interesting now, going back into that family 30 years later, and realizing that I’ve probably over-reacted too far because I offended them over here. Therefore, I kind of pulled way back. Now, I’m not feeling comfortable having conversations with other members of the family who have come to faith in Christ; and they’re talking freely around the dinner table or in conversations out on the porch.” She said, “I think when I go back home the next time, I’m going to be not zealous again, and certainly not preachy; but I’m going to engage in the conversations.”
I think it is back to your point. It does take time. It takes perseverance, and it also takes living the life in front of them in an authentic way. I think probably in those stories, in your book that you talk about, that’s what preached the loudest to those family members—when they saw the changes that Jesus Christ made in a person’s life.
Then, they began to wonder, “You know what? This is not a flash-in-the-pan; this is not just some kind of instant change. There really has been a purposeful change in this person’s life. Maybe I am interested in who Jesus Christ is.”
I know we must be talking to listeners who have a passion and a burden for a family member, and maybe you’re like my friend. You’ve made all kind of mistakes, and you’re in need of some fresh hope. Well, I think Randy does a great job in his book, Bringing the Gospel Home, of kind of putting his arm around you and just giving you some coaching, some principles, and some great stories of how others have done it. It is not that it’s a formula—because it’s not. Families are family, but I do think we were meant to take Christ to our family members, the ones we love the most.
Bob: And there’s a lot of encouragement; and, I think, a lot of hope in this book. Again, it’s called Bringing the Gospel Home. Of course, we’ve got it in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. If you’re interested in a copy, go online at FamilyLifeToday.com. Again, the website is FamilyLifeToday.com. Ask about a copy of Randy Newman’s book, Bringing the Gospel Home, or call us toll-free at 1-800-FL-TODAY. We can have a copy of Randy’s book sent to you.
I just want to mention one of the tools that a lot of families have used to share the Gospel effectively, not just with children, but I’ve heard of people doing this with adults—is our Resurrection Eggs®. You can use those—put a different egg at everybody’s plate for Easter dinner. Tell the Easter story, using the Resurrection Eggs, as they open the eggs and find a different symbol representing an aspect of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus.
If you don’t have a set of Resurrection Eggs, probably the best thing to do, at this point, is to go to your local Christian bookstore where you can pick one up. I guess we could do rush shipment to get one to somebody, but the best thing is probably to go to your local Christian bookstore and ask about Resurrection Eggs. Then put them to use this weekend, either with kids, or with the whole family as you gather together for Easter.
I also want to take a minute today just to say, “Thanks,” to those of you who help support the ministry of FamilyLife Today. You make what we do here every day possible. You help us cover the cost of producing and syndicating this daily radio program. There are a lot of expenses involved with that syndication—we appreciate those of you who pitch in to help make that possible with a donation from time to time.
This week, if you can help us with a donation, we’d love to send you a thank-you gift. It is Barbara Rainey’s brand-new devotional book for families called Growing Together in Forgiveness, seven stories designed to be read aloud to the whole family, to help cultivate a culture of forgiveness in your home.
Ask for a copy of the book, Growing Together in Forgiveness, when you make a donation this week. If you’re donating online, just click the button that says, “I Care”, on our website, FamilyLifeToday.com. Again, go to FamilyLifeToday.com. Click the button that says, “I Care”. When you make your online donation, we’ll send you a copy of Barbara’s book; or you can call 1-800-FL-TODAY. Make a donation over the phone, and just ask for a copy of Barbara’s new devotional book about forgiveness. We’re happy to send it out to you, and we appreciate your partnership with us here on FamilyLife Today.
And we want to encourage you to be back with us again tomorrow. Randy Newman is going to be here again. We’re going to talk about some of the best practices when it comes to sharing the Gospel with friends and family members. I hope you can be here.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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