Last week I did a wedding for a couple I don't personally know at the Moose Lodge on the south side of Chicago. It felt like I had gone back in time 40 years. Everyone had a stereotypical Chicago accent. I lost count of how many firefighters and cops I met out of the couple dozen people present. Everyone was Catholic, and they couldn't believe I was married. The no smoking rule in IL clearly did not apply. I half expected Mayor Daley to walk through the door.
The wedding started a full 50 minutes late. As we were waiting, (not so patiently) people one by one started up conversations with me, clearly curious as to what I really do. And one by one, people felt this strange permission to air their spiritual grievances and questions. Nothing they said surprised me or shocked me. The only thing I was taken back by how how willing people were to share and to listen to spiritual matters, why they left the church, why they still pray, a priest that had an impact on them at a young age, and what it might take for them to take faith seriously again. I walked away wondering how long these people had been wanting to talk about God. I was bothered that the wedding started so late, but I was grateful that God had arranged those conversations.
People are more open than we realize to talk, question, share, and learn about faith. A life without faith is a saturated with feelings of separation, isolation, and despair - many of you have lived that and know it. People want another way. Jesus is that other way - offering meaning, purpose, love, and value. Even in the least likely of situations, we can see that God is providing an opportunity for us to share Jesus with those around us. So the next time you feel like your time is being wasted (as I felt last Saturday) be prepared. It might just be an opportunity for you to share Jesus, and that might not be as difficult as you think:
1) Listen. Listen. Listen. Most people want to be heard more than they want to be corrected.
2) Simply share what God has done in your life. Do not worry about getting caught with a question you do not feel equipped to answer - your story is yours. People almost always love hearing a good personal story - and will respect it and you for the authenticity. Just tell the story of what God has done and is doing in your life.
3) Offer a simple invitation to worship. At Big Life C.C., we have done the hard part. We have wrestled with the theology, distilled the Biblical mandates of Jesus, and built a church that is simple and accessible. All you have to do is offer them an invitation to the experience that has made a difference to you. We will trust God to do God's part, and the church will do its part!
I am not a 'runner' ... BUT...
I ran track in middle school. It might be hard to believe, but I was a sprinter. Unfortunately, I had a very short stint as a competitive runner, not because of my lack of speed, but my inability to pass the baton in the relay! It made little difference how fast I could run, because I would inevitablydrop the baton in the exchange to another sprinter. While others were racing down the track, our team was disqualified because I could not find a way hand off what was given to me.
Faith functions much the same way. The goal of following Christ is not simply to receive faith in Jesus but to hand it off. We can exert all kinds of energy running the race of faith: worshipping with passion, praying with intensity, studying God's Word daily; but unless we find a way to hand off that faith through the simple acts of invitation and generosity, we are in danger of becoming like my track team. Going through the motions, exerting effort, but not able to extend our faith to include others.
This week you have already had multiple opportunities to hand off your faith. God places people in front of us for a reason each day, and that reason is for you to show and share the love of Jesus. Something as simple as inviting someone to worship this week could reroute the course of their life, their family, and their eternity. It's pretty easy to say, "I think you'd really like my church; it's really made a difference for me. Would you like to come with me Sunday?" So why wait?
This Sunday we kickoff a new series on suffering we are calling, "Very Bad Things." Over the next month we will squarely confront the issue of suffering, evil, and where we find God in the midst of pain. Do you have any friends who have kept faith at arms length because of the suffering of their lives or someone they love? I know I have. Why not pass along an invitation to worship this weekend? You may never know the difference it will make in their life!