12/26/12 Pastor about 40
At the table next to me, at Dunkin’ Donuts, a contractor was enjoying his morning coffee before beginning his work day. “Excuse me, I have a question” I said. “Sure, what is it?” “I go to a church nearby, and I’m just wondering if I could ask about your beliefs about eternal life”. He began to explain that he makes it a rule not to talk about religion or politics with anyone. Half an hour later, we were well into a good discussion about the Gospel. I had begun by asking good questions, and then being a good listener and really responding to his answers. His name is Pastor and he grew up Catholic in Mexico, but now as an adult he looks with scorn upon churchgoers. He feels that most of them act holy on Sunday, but live sinfully the rest of the week. Instead, he told me how he likes to do random acts of kindness – “pay it forward” style. I could tell he has simply replaced a church-works based religion with an anonymous-works based religion. Either way he bases his relationship with God on what he can do to earn His favor and forgiveness. It makes me wonder about the message we give when our attempts at sharing our faith are based on acts of service or charity alone without really sharing the gospel verbally. We may hope that we are inspiring nonbelievers to ask questions about our faith and about why we are so different. But are we really that different? Can we really out-give the masses of people who are so extremely kind and generous in their misguided hopes to win God’s favor and secure salvation? Pastor, too, was misguided about religion. He hasn’t read the Bible and has made up his own ideas about God. He believes his anonymous good deeds will, in effect, bribe God to overlook the just punishment for his sins. Nevertheless, I didn’t condemn his beliefs. Instead, I praised the good I could find in them. It’s part of being a good listener. I encouraged his belief that God sees beyond outward appearances, that we can’t fool God by appearing holy at church, and that God requires and deserves of our best efforts at helping others. From there I had earned the right to go on, telling him about how God’s justice has been satisfied on the cross, and how we can be forgiven as a result. Acts of kindness are not usually enough to share the Gospel. Our ministry of generosity needs to include the ministry of conversation. I am a believer today because people verbally shared the Gospel with me, and I intend to pay it forward.