Today I Saw God
" I think that we humans don't have the capacity to imagine eternity, Mom" said my ninth-grade daughter Joanne. "If we can think of it a little bit, we may live differently."
This short conversation recently grabbed my attention. My daughter's English class had been reading and discussing the book "Dante's Inferno." She was assigned a small group project that explored the different levels of hell as described in the book. When she spoke about her class, she mentioned how she was scared about the conditions of hell portrayed in the book. The most unbearable thing to her was the eternal pain, whether the pain was from a little pinch or painful burning. I agreed with her but also encouraged her to think about the eternal joy on the opposite side: heaven, which is given to us through Jesus.
Lately I have been thinking about this conversation and the word "eternity." Even though I call myself a Christian, l don't usually think about the eternal life while I am living my daily earthbound life. I often live moment by moment and easily forget my final destination.
When I was in fifth grade, my Sunday school teacher taught us about salvation, which leads us to have eternal life in heaven. We learned not only about eternal life in heaven, but also about eternal life in hell. I took it very seriously and started praying everyday for my dad and family who didn't believe in Christ at that time. I was devastated because I loved them so much, and I wanted them to be saved. I brought my best friends to church with me as much as I could because I truly believed in eternal life, whether in heaven or hell.
However, as I got older, having been a Christian for a while, my thoughts about eternal life dulled. The joy of salvation became a phrase instead of a condition in my heart. I can't remember the last time I invited nonbelievers to church or even shared the good news.
I have a reasonable excuse not to do these things often. Because I work at a church, I hardly encounter nonbelievers on a daily basis. Still, I know that is just an excuse. I deceive myself in many ways, making myself believe that I have done my best so far. But I know that is not true.
So, how can I invite people to church so they too have a chance to enjoy eternal life in heaven?
One of ways God showed me recently was through a children's music camp. We all have neighbors, co-workers or friends who don't believe in Christ or who don't know who Christ is. And one way we could introduce them to Christ is by inviting their children to experience a little taste of heaven by singing, playing instruments and learning about other cultures all around the world. An experience like that could show them that God holds the world in his hands.
I pray that Floris UMC's Children's Music Camp in August could be an opportunity to provide a glimpse of eternal life to children who may share their experience with others, just like I did with my friends and family as a child.
I truly know how powerful it is to share the good news of Jesus Christ. I believe that God heard my prayers for my dad when I was young. Though he was not a believer then, he became a strong believer later in his life. I am deeply grateful for my Sunday school teacher who taught me about eternal life.
I would like to invite you to share this good news with the children. I wish as I grew older that I had kept that passion about eternal life in heaven. If I did, I would have lived differently each day. But, it is never too late to help others and yourself.
As a psalmist prays in Psalm 51, I pray, "Restore to me the joy of salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me."
The results were rather shocking. I mean ever since I was a child I knew my cholesterol was high (familial hyperlipidemia is the official diagnosis), but this was off the charts. My cholesterol was 314. My LDL was 209, and my HDL was 95. (Note: physicians like to see your cholesterol below 240LDL below 160 and HDL below 60). Something had to be done.
When the doctor and I spoke about strategies, she was pretty clear. She said my levels were likely the result of my age and that medication would probably be the only way to get them to come down. I explained that I really didn't want to go on medication. I wanted to give diet and exercise another try. That's where my friend Tracy came in.
For months Tracy had been telling me about this new exercise program at the gym we both attend. In casual conversation she would share, "I think you would like this," or "Why don't you come with me?" She was persistent but not in a pushy way, more out of compassion and care. She knows me very well and really thought this experience would be good for me. One day I finally said, "Yes."
And you know what? She was right. It was exactly what I needed. Being an extrovert, I needed to be part of an exercise group. Being a morning person, I needed something that started between 6 and 7 a.m. Being a novice at weight training, I needed a trainer. And being already committed to a morning routine of prayer and scripture reading, I needed something that did not have a hard start time.
Twelve weeks in, and my cholesterol is down to 239! My LDL is at 148the lowest ever in my lifeand my HDL is at the very protective level of 91. My health has been dramatically altered, transformed if you will, because of my friend Tracy.
Why tell you this story? I've been thinking a lot about this experience. This is a wonderful example of evangelism. That is to say, how we share "good news." Tracy shared her experience with me knowing me well enough to know that I too would benefit from and even enjoy what she herself had experienced. She was right.
I think we, myself included, are far more comfortable in sharing things like an exercise program than we are the life-altering experience of knowing Jesus. I've been very convicted by this experience. I now pray for God to place people and opportunities in my life that allow me to share the transformation I experienced from knowing Jesus as boldly as I share the transformational experience of an exercise program. Like the early church we read about in Acts that "never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Messiah," (Acts 5:42) I pray that I will never stop telling people about the life-changing effects of knowing Jesus.
Evangelism. Ugh. This word seriously grosses me out. It sparks memories of faith communities in which the true message of the Gospel was perverted, and people used "evangelism" to condemn and judge others. It reminds me of the preacher at college who stood outside our dining hall proclaiming that we were all going to hell for our "liberal" education. It reminds me of religious tracts disguised as dollar bills and scattered around the community in hopes that these shallow tactics might convince someone to be a Jesus follower. Even worse, I am reminded of those smarmy TV evangelists who used cheap sales tricks to convince people to send in money for a better life and surefire way into heaven.
As you can imagine, I had no desire to be an evangelist for Jesus. Not me! Nope! As an elementary teacher, I respected the separation of church and state, and I learned to compartmentalize my life. Church talk is for church, and that is that. When out with people who were not from my church, I avoided any of this talk so as not to offend someone or worse, be mistaken as one of the loud, crazy Ameri-Christians. Let's just take a minute to recognize that these people exist, and their chatter is constanton blogs and social media, at family reunions and work. There are a large number of people claiming to be Christian who are spouting out messages of judgment, bigotry, intolerance and downright terrible theology. This group is damaging our religion by cherry-picking verses and using them to push their own agendas into the world under the guise of God's will. So, no thank you. I'd rather not be evangelical if it means I'll be seen as one of those Christians
However, then I started hearing people whom I respected in the Christian community urging us to be more evangelical. The Greek root of this word means "good news," they assured us. Meh. Still not for me. I decided that was for someone else. Instead, I chose to dig deeper into my own faith by joining a Disciple small group and increasing spiritual practices of prayer and devotion. Nevertheless, over time, I noticed that the questions in Disciple were really forcing me to examine my spiritual journey in ways I had not explored before, and the more I talked with this group, the more I began to feel comfortable articulating my own faith story. I'm not sure when it happened, but this "church talk" began to leak out into my daily walkout at happy hour with friends, getting a haircut or meeting new people on vacation. Somehow God began to sneak into every conversation I had. It finally started to click when I had two non-religious friends tell me in the same week that they appreciated the way I talked about my religion. They said I wasn't pushy; it was just a part of me. God tapped me on the shoulder and said, "This. This is evangelism."
A-ha! Perhaps evangelism is not about clubbing strangers over the head and forcing them to see that their way is wrong. It is about building real, honest relationships with people. It's listening to your friend's struggles and offering a shoulder to cry on. Evangelism might be inviting a family in need of community to volunteer with you or attend your church's discussion on suicide and depression after their neighbor took his or her life. It's about letting others know about the people who have been placed in your life at just the right time to speak truth to a problem they didn't even know you had. Perhaps it is even sharing the story of the time when life got too hard and you said, "I can't do this anymore," but God whispered, "Yes, you can." God was there, and God is always there. It's a miracle worth sharing.
Recently our country was faced with yet another tragedy as a shooter took the lives of nearly 50 people in a nightclub in Florida. Sadly, someone performed this carnage in the name of religion by targeting those that he felt should be judged or condemned. Although this was not a Christian terrorist and not condoned by those sharing this man's faith, all religions are brought into question when lives are taken in the name of God. Not only that, as I read the news in anguish, I began to see comments on social media from a few supposed Christians actually stating that these people deserved to die because of their sexual orientation. At that moment, something snapped in me. I realized that we absolutely cannot afford to ignore our responsibility as evangelists in a world with such loud hatred. I can assure you that Jesus, the ultimate evangelist, would not have stood for this. He would have flipped every table he could find if he saw someone using his name to spew hatred. We desperately need to stop worrying about what others think and start speaking up. Our voices must unite to drown out the noise of those polluting Christianity with irresponsible rhetoric. Educated, rational Christians need to stop fearing the word "evangelism" and start spreading the actual good newsthat our God, the creator of the universe, loves us deeply and wants us to love one another. He loves us so much that he sent his son to Earth to experience the complexities of humanity fully. He was willing to sacrifice himself so that everyone could experience grace, mercy, peace and compassion.
So please, I beg of you. For the sake of our world and the true gospel of Christianity, let's all become evangelists. Share a scripture or song with someone who could use it. Invite a friend to your small group. Define and articulate your own faith journey so you can share it with others. Learn to truly listen to others to identify ways in which God and the Church can help them. Align your lives with the principles of love taught by Christ so that others can see and feel your palpable transformation. If nothing else, just speak up against hatred. Let's make love be the new face of evangelism.