In my last post, I began to talk about this thing called salvation and how we expect the good news of God’s saving grace to affect people. You can catch it here.
Here goes the next thoughts with a story to illustrate my question.
Why has the church or large portions of the Christian community in the Western world gone to a place of almost enticing people into salvation? It is as though we are saying, pretty, pretty please just accept this guy Jesus into your life. C’mon, it will make me happy, and maybe you too. Yeah, yeah, smile, ‘cause Jesus loves you.
He certainly does, and his love compels us to a new life. His love drove him to great lengths that he could take our old life, the sin, the darkness, the bitter misery, the blasted state of our being and exchanges that sorryness for joy, beauty, hope, newness, and far more than a few words could even say. His love wants to reach into our soul and make it alive, make it sing like never before of the glorious things he will fill our life with.
Some talk about faith being a journey, both a journey to faith and a journey to growing in the Lord. I don’t see this as mutually exclusive with the distinct conversion experience.
I am all in on the journey analogy and finding milestones or markers along the way that draw us closer to God, but I also know there have been far too many examples of an instantaneous conversion moment like Zacchaes had. A moment that says, he got “saved”.
Why don’t we expect this anymore as we witness of Jesus’ goodness in our life. Why do we feel a need to make it almost wimpy. I remember a student in one of my Bible classes in Thailand asking if we bait and switch people when we take them from a decision to the story of the Cost of Discipleship. Do we tell them how wonderful this decision will be, so they will say yes, and then give them all the gory details later? Why not tell them how wonderful life with Jesus is and expect the depth of our conviction, joy and authenticity to pull them into a place of conversion. Why not expect the grace of God to be at work as it calls people to a place of repentance. Why not believe that people can be touched by God in a powerful way. Why not from our vantage point, decidedly hope for people to get “saved” from the old, dead self into a new, alive self. I don’t know. Maybe our faith in what God can do for a person is too low, and we feel the need to help him out a little in this business of salvation.
I am not saying, we need to beat salvation over people’s heads. I am not saying we should move back to the Bible-thumping, fundamentalist days. What I am saying, we need to take a posture of confident expectation of what God can do in a person.
At the same time, we should still be keenly sensitive to where people are coming from, and work hard to insure the only offense people receive from us is the offense of the cross. It is not easy, mind you. I get that there is a delicate balance of how we communicate with care and believe with fervor for God to work in people’s lives.
I recently read a short story that reinstilled this conviction in my heart. This story comes from the mid-point of the last century in a small, Dutch town. A young man who believed God had the missionary call on his life decided to make his workplace his mission. First, he needed a job, so this uneducated, son of a black-smith and veteran of an unpopular war to defend his nation’s interests in Indonesia started working at a chocolate factory. The environment of his workplace was as foul of a place to work with crude language, abusive co-workers (girls who treated him hostilely), and simply poor conditions. But this was his mission field. He was sure that God had him here for a reason.
This missionary in training, Andrew, connected with another Christian, a teenage girl working behind a booth in another part of the factory. Together, they began witnessing, starting prayer meetings and taking people to evangelistic meetings.
The workplace did not change immediately though. One girl, Amy, blind and working the conveyor belt with Braille, routinely made mistakes. Her situation was such an invitation to mocking to the point where the ringleader of these nasty girls who worked the factory floor, Gretchen, laid into Amy for dropping her materials. She picked on her ruthlessly and routinely.
At this point, Andrew, a shy Christian trying not to receive the brunt of the cut downs piped up felt the voice of God prompting him to speak. But he was not sure he should say what he heard, yet he did.
He spoke up with boldness saying, “Shut up!”, and I mean shut up for good. Stop putting everyone down. Stop being so cruel to everyone. And not only that. I want you to go with us to our meeting Saturday. The bus leaves at 9 am; be there. I want you to be there with us. And she listened. She showed up for the bus to the meeting.
She went along with the Christians, less than excited, but she was there. After sitting through the meeting nonplussed and partially checked out, they returned to the factory where the bus let them off. Now, everyone would go their separate directions. However, Andrew wanted an opportunity to follow up with Gretchen in the moment.
A thought came to him. He invited Gretchen to go home with him on his bicycle. He could easily take her on his way. She hesitated but acquiesced after some gentle urging. On their ride, he thought he might give her the final push into salvation, but again he heard that voice prompt to do something, something that again seemed like nonsense. However, he began to know this voice was the Lord’s and he should listen and follow what He says.
He felt urged to say nothing, nothing about the gospel of Jesus, but only to talk about the scenery. He did, and they enjoyed small talk on the way home.
The next morning at the factory, Andrew’s Christian friend asked him what he said to Gretchen on the way home. He said, nothing… why, nothing at all?
Then he looked across the warehouse floor to see Gretchen beaming with joy, and even helping Amy pick something up off the floor. He went to investigate and ask Gretchen what gives.
Gretchen explained how the previous day went in her mind and her apprehension to get a ride home from him. She feared that Andrew would push the Bible on her. She had her walls up, her barriers, but he simply showed care and consideration for her. She began to think about the whole day and the joy that exuded from the people at the meeting, the testimonies, the story of Jesus. She reflected and thought what if God is real. What if she was wrong. She prayed to God and thought if he is real, he could come and give her that joy too.
She explained how God came and flooded her heart and changed her bitterness for goodness, and complaining for mercy and kindness. God came into her life and completely transformed her from one night to the next day. Not to say the sanctification process was complete, but the conversion was sudden and distinct.
I read this story in God’s Smuggler, the story of Brother Andrew who smuggled millions of Bibles behind the communist’s Iron curtain. His story was incredible, but this story of a girl in the factory caught my attention. She got “saved”. And I thought, why don’t we expect the good news to do this in people today? What changed in our approach, our posture before God, our desire to see people changed?
There is not an easy answer, but it makes me think. Does it make you think?