7/23/09 Ray, 60
I’ve known Ray, my neighbor, for 20 years, and I am ashamed to say that I have never asked him about his spiritual beliefs or shared mine until yesterday. While unloading firewood from my pickup Ray walked over and we talked for a while about the economy. I told him I had an interesting conversation with his son a few weeks back and wanted to ask him the same question – what do you believe happens after we die? Ray stated “I believe I’m already in hell here on earth so it will just be more of the same. I’ve been too bad for heaven and I’m not going to make any changes so if I go to hell, so be it.” He told me he grew up Lutheran and I asked when he stopped going to church. “After I got divorced” was his answer. I suspected his statements about hell were just a show of bravado, so I asked him “Would you sell one eye for a million dollars?” “No” “How about both eyes for 10 million?” “No way” Then I told him “You care so much about your eyes, and your soul is infinitely worth more – don’t you think its worth thinking about where it will spend eternity?” He joked that he would be willing to sell his soul for a million. We parted on friendly terms, but I just pray that this conversation would help him to take eternity more seriously.
7/24/09 Tony, about 70
Today I walked down the sidewalk a few blocks from our church and came upon an older gentleman sitting on his front steps, so I stuck out my hand and introduced myself and he returned the greeting and said his name was Tony. After some small talk about our church and the neighborhood I asked about his spiritual beliefs. He is a “non-practicing Catholic” but said “I never talk religion or politics”. I could tell he intended to stick to this policy so I just reminded him as kindly as I could that eternity is too long of a time to be left to chance and I asked him to think seriously about it, and he told me he would. Then I wished him well, we shook hands, and I went on my way. No, I didn’t share the Gospel in its entirety but I really feel I was able to plant a seed that with our prayers and whatever else the Holy Spirit orchestrates might grow to produce repentance and faith in Jesus. In some conversations I feel I need to challenge people a little more than this, but in this case I felt at peace about it. Was this the Holy Spirit telling me that I had said enough? I hope so.
7/25/09 Tim, about 40
Tim is another neighbor I’ve known for years but never had more than a superficial conversation with, so at their garage sale today I said “Tim, I’m sorry I haven’t asked you about this before but I’m just wondering what your spiritual beliefs are.” This has been a good way to start a spiritual conversation because most people like to talk about themselves, and Tim was no exception. He smiled at the question and told me he is a “fair weather” Catholic (Christmas and Easter) and that his wife is the religious one. It turned out that she is heavily involved in a nearby Bible-based church, and she really seemed to welcome my spiritual conversation with her husband. Tim said “I just don’t think we can know what will happen after we die. It’s all in God’s hands, and I find great freedom in that.” After hearing him explain this I could tell what he really meant was that his “freedom” came in not having to think about God at all, and just living as he pleases. We talked for some time, and a good point our conversation brought out was that instead of the guilt and bondage that comes from constantly wondering how many good deeds one must do to make it to heaven, true freedom comes from doing good in order to express our love and gratitude for what Jesus has already done for us on the cross. Pray that Tim can know true freedom in Christ.
7/27/09 John, about 30
Despite being out in public all day, I hadn’t engaged anyone in a spiritual conversation and I was about to give up when at about 11 PM I saw a heavily tattooed neighbor sitting out on his front steps for a smoke. I went over and introduced myself, and found out his name is John and he had recently moved in our neighborhood with his girlfriend. He was just laid off of his sales job, and works part-time as a bartender. I asked about his spiritual beliefs and he told me his father is a physics scientist and his mother is a Catholic theologian, and he now views Christianity as a “nice story” that “works for some people”. As we talked I could tell that John clearly has devoted a great deal of time and energy trying to discredit any sort of organized religion. He avidly believes in a wide variety of far-fetched explanations and conspiracy theories that rationalize away the divine inspiration of the Bible. For example, he said the cross and resurrection of Jesus was an ancient story made up to explain the rising of the sun through a constellation of stars in the form of a cross. By claiming religion to be nothing more than an invention of man, he sees no need to be held accountable to its precepts and in his mind this allows him to justify living any way he chooses. John appreciated my willingness to hear his views as I shared mine, and told me he’d like to talk further.
7/28/09 Nick, 34
On my way home after running some errands I realized I had a full evening scheduled and probably would not have an opportunity to share my faith later on, so I stopped at a park to see who I could talk to. I didn’t feel quite up to it though, so instead I decided to walk around the pond and hand out million dollar tracts to all the people fishing there just to see what would come of it. I didn’t get very far when I gave one to Nick, who was very interested to talk about spiritual things. He had long since stopped going to church regularly because of the hypocrisy he felt there. He wasn’t using this as an excuse but was truly offended that people would bring their worldly attitudes and activities to the house of God. I sensed in Nick a heart that loves God but has not been exposed to truthful teaching to develop that relationship. At the same time I pointed out to him that ignorance of God’s law does not give us an excuse to break it. If he was serious about following God, he would seek Him out on his own, and he readily admitted his failure to do so as he thought of some of the people he had hurt in his past. We talked a long time about how he can have a right relationship with God through repentance and faith in Jesus, and how he can nurture that faith through reading His word. Nick was very thankful for the conversation and additional info I gave him.
7/30/09 Robert, 50
I was on my bike on the shadowy outskirts of the White Sox parking lots during the late innings of a night game, and a thin and nervous looking black traffic controller named Robert flagged me down. He asked what the neighborhood was like, wanting to know if he was safe there, and I assured him he was. We began to talk and I soon realized that he seemed to worry about everything. I asked him what he believed happens after we die. He said all he could do was to wait and see. I was surprised because he had shown his anxiety over everyday problems, yet was very nonchalant about eternity, and I pointed this out to him. I went over some of the 10 commandments and he quickly realized he had broken God’s laws and began to be concerned when he realized he wasn’t as good of a person as he thought. I explained the good news of salvation through Jesus very clearly, I thought, and he responded very positively, until he began to get distracted once again with all of his current worries in life. He truly fit Jesus’ description of the seed sown among thorns, “choked by life’s worries, riches, and pleasures” (Luke 8) so that it did not mature. I left him with some good literature and just pray that he will read it and come to know the “peace that passes all understanding” that people have when they know they will spend eternity with Jesus.
7/31/09 Lori, about 30
After visiting my friend and Christian brother Paul in the hospital I happened upon an African-American lady reading a book in a waiting area. I said “Excuse me, I don’t mean to bother you but I have a question for you.” She said it was no problem and after making sure she wasn’t there at the hospital in some crisis situation – her 12 year old son was undergoing minor surgery – I asked what her beliefs were about what comes after this life. Like the majority of people I’ve talked to lately, that question put a smile on her face as she tried to formulate her response. She talked about giving up on going to church because she had met so many hypocritical people there, and how she wanted to determine for herself what the Bible had to say. I asked if she had been reading her Bible on her own and she somewhat sheepishly said she had not. I told her that church is a kind of spiritual hospital – that it’s meant for people who need spiritual healing but that the problem too often is that people think it automatically makes them better. I asked what would happen if today were her judgment day, and we talked about the various ways people believe they are justified before God. She was interested to hear about both God’s judgment based on His law and salvation through Jesus. Before leaving I prayed with her for her son Jonathan’s surgery and recovery, and she thankfully took more info to read.