I saw them talking to my neighbor as I drove by, and knew they’d be coming for me next.
No, not the mafia.
And not the IRS.
Sure enough, an hour in to staining my deck, their sedan pulled in my driveway.
“Looking sharp,” I said to the twenty-something man stepping out of the driver’s seat.
“I hope it works,” he said with a genuine smile.
Michael introduced his mother and himself as coming from New Jersey to support the local church in my area. After the stock “Have you ever met missionaries like us before?” and “We’re not trying to convert anybody, we’re just giving away a free Bible study guide,” I had to hold him up as I do to every one of these wonderful people.
“Michael,” I said, “let me just level with you.”
“OK, great,” he replied. “I’d rather someone be honest than just take our stuff and throw it in the trash.”
“Here’s the deal,” I said. “First off, I’m inspired by your dedication. I have nothing but the highest respect for your willingness to drive all the way up here at your own expense for something you so deeply believe in. It’s incredible, really, and I wish more people would follow your lead.
“But for this conversation to continue, it’s going to have to be at my office, because today is my day off, and I guard my family time very carefully. See, this whole pursuit of faith is not only my life, it’s also part of my vocation. I’m a Christian Pastor down at New Life.”
His eyes suddenly grew a little wider.
“Don’t worry, bro,” I continued, “I’m not hear to slam you. But whatever conversation we’re going to have will eventually come around to one major issue that we’re not going to agree on, and that’s the divinity of Jesus.”
Michael jumped in here. “But sir, we believe in Christ’s sacrifice, and that he was a prophet, and—”
“But you don’t believe he was God, do you?”
Michael smiled. “No, we don’t.”
“See, Michael, to me, that’s the whole point. While it might be nobel for someone to lay their life down for me—certainly an act that deserves my upmost respect—if they’re just a man, then it’s an inferior sacrifice. But if God Himself surrenders his life for me, it deserves my entire allegiance.”
“Then may I ask a question?” said the mom.
“By all means,” I replied.
“Who raised Jesus from the dead then?”
“He did,” I replied. “Which I guess proves my point: Jesus’ ability to ‘raise himself up’ is evidence of his divine omnipotence.”
(For a great, fast study on this, read here. If you’re a new Christian, this core doctrine should be a part of you).
“That makes sense,” said Michael. “I can see that.”
“Michael,” I started to plead with him, “unlike what you said earlier, I am trying to convert people, and you are so close to really getting this whole thing.”
“And I’d say the same to you,” he replied.
“Except you’re asking me to come down from a superior perspective of Jesus as God!”
“I’d like to think of it as a lateral move,” he said.
“Michael, it’s the Creator making atonement with His own life for His creation. Denying that is not a lateral move.”
The mom had a hard time making eye contact with me, which made me so sad, as she seemed like a really kind woman. But Michael was looking at me, engaged. And I could feel the Holy Spirit moving.
“Well—” he fumbled a little bit, and then the mask came back up— “if you want more information about what we believe, it’s all on our website.”
He reached out to shake my hand.
Then he added what was probably the most crushing blow yet.
“You know, getting a preacher or a pastor on the other side of the door is one if the worst things for us,” Michael said. “They are so unkind. Angry. Belligerent. Thank you for speaking with us, and being kind. You’re just so polite, it’s really refreshing.”
“Michael,” I replied, shaking his hand, “I’m so sorry that’s what you encountered. That is not Jesus, and that is not Christian. Bro, if I can have grace for the drunk on the street but I can’t for you, how much of a hypocrite am I?”
“That’s so true,” he said. “Thank you, really.”
I thanked them for their time, complimented his mom on her floral blouse, and told them (with not an ounce of the irony being lost on me) that they know where to find me if they’re ever up this way again.
The challenge with any situation like this is never to see it as a competition. That kind of thinking got me in trouble long ago, and I behaved just like those preachers Michael described. Remember, Jesus already won it all; He has the tightest non-compete clause in the universe! He doesn’t need you or me to defend Him. The challenge—and the best evidence of His existence and divinity—is to love unconditionally. And that’s where so many of us miss it.
Michael may not accept the theology of Christ’s divinity yet, but he did drive away knowing that this crazy bald white guy was kind to him. That I loved him when he was on my property. And that matters more to my Christian witness than any point of doctrine, because Jesus is perfect doctrine, and without love, I’m nothing like Jesus.