10/14/16 Derrick about 30
As part of my effort to be faithful to “Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season” I am learning to make gospel outreach a part of my everyday lifestyle. This takes a mix of just going about my everyday chores but also taking the initiative daily to reach out to one or a few people I run into along the way. So today I was getting into my car after shopping at a hardware store when I noticed a young man out for a smoke way over on the other side of the parking lot, and he most likely had some time to talk. The opportunity was there but I needed to take the initiative or a witnessing conversation would never happen. So I made the long walk over to see what the Lord might do in talking with him.
As I came nearer I could see he was dressed and adorned in a very effeminate manner, and as I explained my intentions to ask about his spiritual beliefs I could tell that he was very guarded and skeptical. If I could engage him in conversation at all it would take some time to win his trust enough for him to hear some of the hard truths of the Gospel which are so necessary to truly understand its good news. He began by saying that he believes he will go to heaven and that life on this earth is his purgatory with all the suffering he must endure. Over the course of the next half hour I found out that he – Derrick – spends time every morning attending a Catholic mass. He is also a ballet dancer and views both his daily mass and his time dancing as places he recharges spiritually. He said he has suffered a lot of bullying growing up, and given his effeminate demeanor, and as a teacher what I know about high school kids, I believe him.
In sharing the Gospel I usually take the approach of “law to the proud, grace to the humble”, which means that we need to share the hard truths of the law, such as our sin, judgment, and God’s righteous wrath before people can understand and begin to appreciate the good news of God’s grace and forgiveness in Jesus. Derrick may have seemed humble because of the difficult experiences he has endured and his sensitive nature. But he is also very proud in some ways because, though he does try to be fed and energized spiritually, he does it in his own way and on his own terms rather than as God commands in Scripture. He sees himself as a good person, though often mistreated and misunderstood by others, so he doesn’t really see himself as a sinner needing salvation.
I needed to explain the whole Gospel, including the bad news of our condemnation, without misrepresenting God as legalistic and judgmental, just waiting to punish us like some cosmic bully. For Derrick, what seemed to resonate is that God’s justice is not arbitrary. It is constant, as much a part of His nature as gravity is a part of the earth. For me to warn him about the end result of his sin is no less loving than warning him about what would happen if he were to jump out of an airplane. After I explained our condemnation in these terms I saw Derrick light up with understanding and/or relief when I presented Jesus as our savior from the “law of sin and death”, much like a parachute saves us from the law of gravity. God is no bully. The Bible says “He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” And, “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” That’s not something that bullies do.