I went to the campus pub with another student — a total stranger. We had a list of questions from the professor that we were to ask one another in turn. The topics quickly and progressively deepened. They touched values, ethics, personal experiences, relationships, faith… the unspoken point was not to accomplish the list, but to begin to know one another and find places of connection. The stigma in asking personal questions was removed, as was the ability to escape, if we wanted to pass.
What if it was normal to breach tough, intimate subjects in everyday life? To be real in our concern for others, without fear of offending? What if we really shared our faith with the intent of knowing another, and making a lasting connection? What if we cared enough to share the Gospel without fear of rejection or outcomes?
Following is a recent conversation with “nf” (new friend). I’ll pick up a few minutes into it — after the intros and niceties. For whatever reason, this time we were both receptive to getting real.
Me: Do you believe in heaven and hell?
nf: Yes — I mean, this can’t be it, right?
Me: Do you believe in Jesus?
nf: Yes. I grew up going to church. I guess I’ve always thought of myself as a Christian. I mean, there’s nothing I disagree with about the Bible, but there’s a lot I don’t really know. It’s frustrating that Bible stories sometimes seem contradictory… I went to a Christian camp when I was in high school — that’s the closest I’ve ever felt to God. But it was hard when I was in college and even now, working. Sunday is my only day to just chill and get caught up on everything. I’ll probably get back into church and all when I’m married, and have kids.
Me: Why are you waiting, besides finding the time?
nf: I don’t know. I guess I just haven’t found a church I really like. The music is so bad. I think they are trying to be cool enough for the younger crowd — but they just whine instead of singing. Or they are aspiring performers trying to “make it,” and they have a captive audience at church. I like Amazing Grace and all the old hymns. I do go (to church) sometimes… with my girlfriend, or my family on holidays. And I pray every night before I go to bed. I guess I just don’t think going to church is all that necessary. There seems to be a lot of hypocrisy and trouble there. But it will be good for my kids to grow up in church like I did, and I’ll definitely go then.
Me: It makes me wonder… you know a lot about Jesus, but are you are saved? You know, born again? Forgiven? (I didn’t know his church background or lingo)
nf: Do you mean am I going to heaven?
Me: Yeah, I guess that’s part of it. You said you believe in heaven and hell — an afterlife. Do you KNOW where you’ll spend eternity?
nf: No. I mean, no one does, right? We hope that the Big Guy let’s us in, but we don’t know till we’re there. I’m a pretty decent, good guy. At least I try to be. But it seems presumptuous to say I KNOW I’ll be in heaven.
Me: If you were to die today — and you could, right? (he nods) Why would God let you into His heaven?
nf: I know the right answer (smiles) — because I believe in Jesus. John 3:16. So yeah — I guess I am going to heaven. I believe in Jesus, and the virgin birth, and the cross and all that..
Me: So does Satan — if you’re saying you know all about Jesus — as in an intellectual belief. Satan has that too. Think he’ll be in heaven?
nf: Obviously not. But God decided that back when He threw out Lucifer and a third of his angels.
Me: Okay, then what does it mean — to you personally — to say I believe in Jesus?
nf: I guess it is sort of an intellectual belief. I agree with all the Bible says about Jesus and His death on the cross. I know He did it for me too, if I believe. I know that is the only way to get to heaven… that I can’t get there by being good enough.
Me: You did spend some time in Sunday School, didn’t you? (but he’s not smiling — he’s deep in thought, and in my uncomfortableness, I tried to “save” him from that)
nf: So, yes — I guess I do know I’ll spend eternity in heaven (he looks up, comfortable again with his faith)
Me (back on track): NF, would it be okay for me to challenge you on that notion? Only you know the correct answers. I just want to make sure you aren’t counting on something you don’t have.
nf: Okay. ( I can tell he’s a little hesitant and would like to change topics)
Me: Just so you know, I’m not trying to convince you of anything, or tell you where you are right or wrong. I want to share how believing in Jesus has changed my life. Because, if I don’t share it and help others to know Him better, I’m not doing what he asks me to do — which is to love you!
nf: Sure. Go ahead.
Me (I feel the disconnect — the defensive posture) Nf, I think I was saved back when I was 14. I was at a Baptist youth rally, and heard the WHOLE gospel for the first time. Everything else fell away as I understood I was a sinner deserving of hell — in need of a Savior. And that Jesus died for ME just as fully as if I was the only person in the world. They said I had to accept His work on the cross, personally. I walked forward as a profession of faith. I still think I was saved then (I probably won’t know for sure till heaven)… but I didn’t understand much at all about Jesus my Savior, or that He was also my Lord. I went about my life as if I wasn’t changed… does that all make sense?
nf: Yes — that’s sort of like my camp experience.
Me: Well, Jesus has taught me a lot since then — about having a personal relationship with Him — praying as if he’s really listening, because He is! About not being entitled to anything, about trusting Him in everything, and living my life as if it’s about HIM not me. I get a lot wrong, and still have a lot to learn… but I am constantly changed by His presence in me, through the Holy Spirit. And it’s not just about heaven… He offers me abundance — here on earth!
I guess my challenge to you would be this — if you know that God died for you, and Jesus isn’t affecting your decisions, your thoughts and your actions, every day — if you don’t want to worship Him, spend time with Him, follow Him… do you REALLY believe as John 3:16 requires? Can a personal encounter with Jesus, really not affect you every day? change you?
Don’t you think something would be different in your everyday life, if the Holy Spirit moved into your body! The Bible says that having the Holy Spirit dwell in you is better than the disciples living with Jesus! Is He that real to you? Do you believe that?
Me: Absolutely! I’m not looking for your answers, but Jesus might be.
Sadly, this conversation only happened in my imagination. I’ve encountered many people with whom I’d like to talk more deeply about faith, but I haven’t earned their trust to a point that we can go there. I want to share, but haven’t discovered just how to build that into many relationships.
I’ll be spending the last week in my 40s at Young Life camp as an adult guest. What better place than summer camp to turn 50, right? The wonderful people at Young Life do a great job of earning the right to talk to kids about Jesus. Of loving kids, sharing the Gospel, and trusting God with the rest. I know I will laugh and enjoy myself, and I pray I will learn a lot about building relationships that include faith-talk from my week at camp.
As I shared in my last post, “God’s Will and Planned Neglect,” I may not be called to action in every instance. First, I need to protect my time with Jesus, and listen for God’s leading. Then, when those unexpected divine appointments happen, I need to obey immediately. Jesus is a game changer as John 11:25-26 makes clear: “whoever believes in me, though he die yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in Me, shall never die.”
When God recently used me to lead a friend to experience salvation, I was humbled and changed. I’ve felt called for years to talk to people who believe they are Christians, but have never really heard the Gospel and don’t know Jesus personally. It is such a JOY to see the light turn on in these wonderful, prayerful, thoughtful seekers as the Holy spirit enters their hearts for eternity.
My prayer is that a similar conversation to the one above will soon be a reality for me and someone Jesus loves.
Do you struggle as I do to talk seriously about salvation? I’d love to hear your thoughts on how you find ways to introduce a deeper conversation when you feel led to talk about faith outside Bible studies and churchy venues.