For instance, a number of years ago I began praying for an atheist friend of mine who is a scientist. I connected with him through our common interest in hiking. He didn’t believe in anything at the time, let alone God.
Lisa and I had plans to go out to dinner and a movie with him and his wife (who was a Christian), so the week prior I prayed every day that God would open up a door to share something with him that would remove one of the barriers standing in the way of his receiving Christ.
At dinner our wives talked about school, which led to kids, which led to after-school activities, which eventually led to a discussion about church. Then he spoke up.
“I just don’t understand why this religion business is so important to you three,” he said.
His wife jumped in immediately and began talking about how religion was important to teach positive values to the kids.
“I agree. That’s why I go to church with you,” he said. I just don’t believe in any of it.”
Then it happened—I sensed that a door had opened. Nothing mystical happened. No angel dust fell around the room. I didn’t get a funny, warm feeling all over my body. I just sensed I was supposed to say something, so I did.
“Honestly, I think most churches do a pretty mediocre job at teaching kids values,” I said. “In fact, I think you can be a person with positive values and never step foot in a church. The way I understand it, Christianity is about helping people get to heaven. Learning positive values is secondary to that.”
Once I said that we were oﬀ to the races.
My friend’s problem was that he felt that he was good enough to get to heaven, if there was such a place, based simply on his being a good person.
“Listen, I know I’m not going to be able to make you believe what the Bible teaches is true by the time we ﬁnish our cheesecake, but let me at least make sure you understand what it is that I’m saying.” I took his glass of ice water and moved it to one side of the table, and then I took my glass and moved it to the other side.
“Imagine this glass over here to my left—that’s you. Now imagine this glass to my right—that’s God. The Bible says because of the things you’ve done in your life (the Bible calls it sin) you have oﬀended God’s holy nature and created a pretty big rift between the two of you. The space in between these glasses represents that rift. Got the image?”
“Got it,” he said.
“How are you going to get back over to God’s side?”
“By being a good person. He’ll let me in.”
“Really?” I took a pack of sugar and said, “This sugar packet represents Mother Teresa. Let’s imagine she took what I call ‘the goodness long jump.’ Based on her being a good person alone, how far do you think she would be able to jump across this chasm to get over to God’s side?”
“All the way?”
“Nice try. The Bible says she would fall way short. But since she’s Mother Teresa, arguably one of the most godly people of the twentieth century, let’s imagine her ‘goodness long jump’ takes her halfway across.”
Then I took the packet of sugar and placed it in between the two glasses.
“Here’s my next question,” I said as I grabbed a packet of Splenda. “This Splenda is you. Based on your goodness alone, how far do you think you would make it across the chasm between you and God?”
He grabbed the packet and put it next to Mother Teresa.
His wife burst out laughing. “This is Mother Teresa we’re talking about!”
Then she grabbed the packet and moved it way back.
“Here’s the central idea behind Christianity,” I continued. “Your sin has made it impossible for you to make it over to God’s side. You need help. What’s worse is the Bible says that if you don’t ﬁx this problem by the time you die, you will stay separated from God, forever. The Bible calls that hell.”
Then I let that sink in for a moment and asked him one more question, “Do you believe this?”
“I believe in Star Trek.”
“What does that mean?”
“Something’s out there. I just don’t know what it is yet.”
“Fair enough,” I said. “But hopefully the USS Enterprise can get us to the movie in time, because all this talk about God you started is going to make us late.”
He laughed, we paid the check and then drove as fast as we could to get over to the theater.
As it turned out, the only movie that wasn’t sold out was one starring Jodie Foster and Matthew McConaughey called Contact.
Even though it’s been years since the movie came out, and I’m sure you probably saw it, I won’t spoil the plot and details just in case you haven’t seen it. All I will say is that Jodie Foster plays a scientist who happens to be an atheist, just like my friend. And by the end of the movie she experiences something that shakes her to the core.
Simply put—it was one of the most compelling movies about faith and science I’ve ever seen.
We walked out of the theater and the ﬁrst words out of my friend’s mouth were, “You set me up.”
I didn’t set my friend up. God did.
The only thing I did was devote myself to prayer, and God did the rest.
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