Yesterday, I talked through some ominous feelings I sometimes have about Advent, and concluded that the pre-Christmas/Second Coming season should be about anticipation filled with joy – not dread.
And then Sadness and I had to go and rain on the parade with this little bubble burster:
For believers, anyway. But what about our non-Christian neighbors?
What about them?
‘Them’ for me is a large category that includes all of my non-Christian family, friends and co-workers – not to mention the overwhelming majority of the planet’s population that doesn’t know Jesus – and when I think about this group and what seems to be in store for them, I sometimes have trouble breathing.
As my friend and pastor, Stephen Hambidge, said in his sermon last week, ‘Advent is about more than waiting. It’s about recognizing the source of our hope, and sharing it with others.’
If only I were better at this.
I honestly do try to earnestly follow the famous (mis?)quote from St. Francis of Assissi, ‘Preach the Gospel at all times, and when necessary, use words‘, but I don’t see a lot of growth in this garden.
I try harder and it seems to make things worse. I back off and try to be subtle and gentle, and wonder if they even notice.
I’m not very good at evangelism, and judging by the number of people in the world who continue to not follow Jesus, I’m not alone. The thought of bringing my cynical coworkers to Christ – let alone the militant forces in power in other parts of the world – feels impossible.
Is it even possible that Jesus tore Himself out of the Trinity, came to earth as a human, lived and taught and preached and debated and provoked and antagonized and let Himself be caught, tried, tortured and murdered for us – and then left the completion of His work to the very flawed people who are so weak and flaky that they can’t even keep 10 simple rules that made all this necessary in the first place?
Imagine the battle for your non-Christian neighbor’s soul as the Grey Cup game. The score is tied, and there’s only a few seconds on the clock. Sin’s team throws a game-winning pass into the end zone, only to have it miraculously intercepted by Jesus. Jesus runs the full length of the field, with Sin hot on His heels, but a clear path to victory. Would He really sprint 100 yards, and then stop 10 yards short of the goal line, hand the ball to His three-year-old child, and say ‘It’s up to you now. Don’t let me down!’?
Is that really an accurate analogy?
Or is there room in our theology to hope we’re reading John 14:6 wrong?
As I said a couple years ago in Saving Grace (and Rob)…
Christ is the only Way to the Father, but is Christianity the only way to Christ?
And as I said a couple years before that, in Saved by the Bell? …
The concept of a God of love and justice and compassion just doesn’t seem compatible with the notion of eternal damnation if you fail to believe all the right things during your painfully short life on earth when a great many things are outside your control.
What if your church didn’t have a very strong youth program, and you lost interest in your teen years and never went back? What if the missionary who was supposed to introduce you to God got a flat tire on the way to your house? Billions and billions and billions of people all over the world for the past two million years have failed to believe in (insert denomination here), so they’re all in hell?
[In his book Love Wins, Rob] Bell asks the question, and regardless of what it says in Scripture, I can’t bring myself to say anything but, ‘No flippin’ way!’
You heard me. I said it, and I meant it. I just don’t always remember it. And sometimes, I do doubt it a little.
But if that’s the case, does that mean we’re ‘off the hook’ when it comes to bringing Christ to our neighbors? I don’t think so.
Perhaps, in some way that we can’t begin to imagine on this side of heaven, God does make it all work out in The End.
But people don’t just need Christ at The End, they need Him now.
Or, as St. Billy of Crystal put it in his letter to Harry and Sally …
‘And it’s not because I’m lonely, and it’s not because it’s New Year’s Eve. I came here tonight because when you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible.’
Jesus wants the rest of your friends’ and neighbors’ life to start as soon as possible, and if your friends and neighbors knew what that would look like, they would, too.
And maybe Jesus leaves it to us to bring people to Him because He knows that this frustrating, challenging work is also extremely rewarding and exhilarating. When we do it right, it brings out the best of us. Through this work, we live into the people we were created to be, and become more like our true, best selves.
So maybe Jesus has just handed us the ball on the 10-yard line and maybe we are three-year-olds with only the vaguest concept of what we’re supposed to do with this ball. But maybe Jesus has cheated (which is His prerogative, since He invented the game and built the stadium), and erected some kind of a forcefield around us, so the opposing team can touch us, tackle us, hold us back and even push us back – but can’t quite knock us down. And there stands Jesus in the end zone, cheering us on with a ‘You can do it!’ grin on His face – knowing that the actual outcome isn’t in doubt, but that the experience of participating in His victory will bless us in ways that our three-year-old minds can’t even begin to comprehend.
Jesus could easily win this game on His own, but He invites us to participate anyway? What amazing generosity!
Put me in, Coach. I’m ready to play. (Oh, wait. That’s baseball. Man, I stink at sports analogies.)
Peace be with you.