Recently, I reflected on the names of the people that I have personally had the privilege of helping become followers of Jesus. As I came across each of their names, I was incredibly moved because each one reminds me of a beautiful story of grace and redemption. I’ll never forget:
- The businessman who yelled, “Sign me the %$#@ up! I’m going for it!” during my backswing on the eleventh hole of the local golf course;
- Seven-year-old Alyssa, whose tender voice and infectious smile reminded me of everything that was right in the world;
- The hippie from a rock band who became a Christian and then told me he couldn’t wait to have sex with a Christian girl. When I told him the Bible says he’d have to wait until he was married, he said, “You’re kidding, right?”;
- The star high school wrestler whose father’s absence left a hole in his soul so large you could drive a truck through it;
- The man with autism whose former church refused to baptize him because he couldn’t recite the confessional formula exactly they way they had written it.
From time to time I’ll stop to think about what people far from God are looking for: Answers? An experience? Healing? Friends? Acceptance? I can’t speak for everyone, only the people I’ve helped become Christians, but in my experience, people far from God are looking for one thing: the ability to look death in the eye and smile. They want hope. They want to know that there’s more to this world than a life that vanishes quicker than smoke from a fire.
This explains, better than anything else, why God allows us to go through rough stretches in our lives. He knows that Heaven and Hell hang in the balance. He sees people tumbling towards a Christless eternity and is furiously trying to capture their attention. Sometimes, in a last-ditch effort to draw their gaze away from the world, God will allow us to walk into a dark place so our non-Christian family and friends can see how we respond to it. There’s a reason for the trials and pain we go through, and it isn’t a funny-sounding theological phrase, but rather the names of people we know: Larry in accounting; Jeff in your bowling league; Wendy who works down the hall; your husband, John; your wife, Annette. They’re watching us. More accurately, they’re hungering for something we have, and sometimes the only way they’ll get a glimpse of it is when they see us stumble into situations where we can “make light of death.”
Historians have often marveled at how the church has grown the fastest when it has been persecuted the most. This may be because people who are far from God intuitively sense that the only person who can show them how to truly live is the person who is not afraid to die.
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