I must start this post off with a disclaimer. I don’t meet or talk with atheists often, meaning, once a week would be a lot, once a day would be substantial. So having two proactively come after me in one day is, in my little world, monumental.
As I was approaching our church in Watertown, looking forward to setting up my new office, I saw a young Asian couple trying their hardest to push their car out of the snow. Seeing they were clearly not from the area, and therefore had no real idea how to unlodge a car from a ditch of snow, I felt moved to turn around and assist them. Mind you, this was a bit more than a simple conviction to help someone in need…there was clearly a God-uttered “go” in my spirit. God had something more in mind.
Within thirty seconds of helping this cool Chinese guy, Fung, shovel snow out from around his Honda, a young guy about 20-years-old showed up and started helping, too. Allow me to introduce Avery. Bearded, earrings, glasses, and strong. He was eager to push and didn’t mind his hands getting cold. After we got a third guy to help us, we finally got the car out and sent this little Asian man and his wife on their way, all of us feeling good for having done a good deed.
As Avery and I ran back to our cars, I mentioned that our church was right down the street and if he ever needed anything to let me know.
“Church?” he asked.
“Yeah, I’m actually one of the pastors there,” I replied.
He stopped. “You’re a pastor?”
“Sure am,” I said.
“I’m an atheist.”
At that I started laughing out loud (which probably freaked him out a bit). Standing by our cars he began with a short version of his life’s story. Turns out Avery was in seminary, then dropped out, started studying Buddhism, Islam, and Hinduism. Eventually he lost his faith in God and joined the Navy.
“Avery,” I said, “you may have lost your faith in God, but God still believes in you. And you are worth dying for everyday on the week. Jesus loves you, man.”
Avery didn’t say much, but thanked me and we jumped in our cars. Needless to say I drove the next two hundred yards to church praying for Avery’s heart. If that was the end of the story, I would have been stoked; Avery seemed touched by my feeble words…but touched by God, too. But there’s more…
About twenty minutes later while I was cleaning my office to Kim Walker blasting on my iMac, I heard voices in the hallway outside my office. I poke my head out and there was one of our staff, Joel, talking with…you guessed it…Avery.
“Dude!” I exclaimed. “What are you doing here?” (Probably a dumb question for a man of faith…but a better suited one for a man of little faith).
“Well, I was going to go home and do nothing like I always do, but I thought I’d come by and volunteer here today.”
Of course he would. What else should I expect?
I proceeded to press into this guy, speaking truth into his life and going after his heart. “You’ve filled your head with so much stuff, Avery, but God cares about your heart. What in the world hurt you so bad that you’d turn your heart on Jesus?” He was clearly a young man who had been deeply wounded. We talked for a while and I felt the compassion and love of the Holy Spirit just pouring over this guy. “You think that was coincidence meeting out there?”
“There’s no such thing as coincidences,” he replied.
“Exactly! God is after your heart, drawing you back!”
Avery served at the church with our staff the rest of the day, and before I left I got to pray with him…a very poignant moment as I could feel the Spirit of the Lord infiltrating his hardened and broken heart. I’m writing him an email tonight and would ask you to please pray for Avery and his imminent return to the Lord!
Then this evening as we were finishing up dinner, my phone rang. It was my Jewish friend, Kurt. Lives in Manhattan, age 65, AIDS, practicing homosexual, by far the most well traveled man I have ever met, having seen most of the known (and unknown) world, and one of the most interesting human beings alive. I met Kurt two years ago on a flight from Brussels to JFK and haven’t talked to him in almost as much time. He was calling just to catch up and get my address for a Christmas card. And as we were closing our conversion he reminded me of an unusual statement he made when I first met him: “Although I’m an antsiest, I still accept prayers.”
Obviously this was my green light from the Lord to share Avery’s story. Kurt was audibly moved as I shared my own one-liner again: “You may have lost your faith in God, but God still believes in you. And you are worth dying for everyday on the week. Jesus loves you, man.”
We said our goodbyes after that I prayed for Kurt’s heart just as I was Avery’s, realizing this atheist-centric day was far more than a coincidence. This was the Holy Ghost.
Once while I was in South Africa evangelizing in a bar, a man confronted me and said “belief in God was merely a crutch for weak minded people.” I couldn’t have agreed more. I am weak and in desperate need of something…or someone…to keep me alive. I suppose that’s why I love talking to atheists so much, and perhaps why the Lord brought me two in the same day. They are, in my observation, people of tremendous faith. It’s far easier to believe God created everything than it is to believe a billion years of evolution did. But with my atheist friends, who are most likely far more intelligent than me, I do not go after their heads. We could wrestle theology and secular humanism all day (which is often times what it takes!), but ultimately, I’m after their hearts. Just as God is.
So please say a prayer for Avery and Kurt tonight, my two beloved atheists.
From your weak-minded, crutch-needing Christian,