Thirty years ago, my brother used to get me to go with him to the elementary school’s playground to play basketball with the gang. I was terrible at basketball and didn’t like anyone knowing it, but I was often bored enough to play anyway.

The game was open to all, and when one day a group of kids we didn’t know came to play, we cut them in. They played well enough. When the game ended, stacks of religious tracts appeared in their hands. They said they were from the Community Baptist Church and they told us that we had to accept Jesus Christ today or risk a tortured eternity.

At the cross

“If you haven’t accepted Jesus into your heart, if you died today you’d go to hell, which the Bible calls the lake of fire! You would be in the lake of fire for all eternity! Can you imagine how awful that would be? Won’t you pray with me right now to accept Jesus into your heart so you can be in heaven?”

I was not going to be pressured; I said no. But they persisted, trying to draw me into logical arguments, pushing hard to close the deal. I finally had to walk away from them.

A few years later, a friend of mine asked me to visit her church with her. She said her youth group was a lot of fun and I’d enjoy it. Happy to be asked, I said yes. She said she’d arrange to have the church bus come pick me up on Sunday. I didn’t know where she went to church, but I had not forgotten my past experience with Community Baptist Church when their bus pulled up. I felt on my guard, but everybody was friendly.

The next Sunday afternoon, three high school boys rang our doorbell and asked for me. They wanted to know why I hadn’t been to church the day before. I said that I just visited that one time with my friend. They said, “God wants us to worship him every Sunday. Don’t you want to worship the Lord?” I thought I had just gone to visit with my friend one time, but they acted like they expected me to come back every week. I don’t remember how I got them to go away. But they were back the next Sunday, pressuring me to return. When they came a third Sunday with the youth leader, my father told them that if they ever returned, he’d get a lawyer and sue them for harassment. We didn’t see them again.

I didn’t want anything to do with Christians after that.

Angel lighting the way

Mark was an upperclassman who lived in my dorm my freshman year of college. He always said hello when we passed by. We chitchatted sometimes. And then he said it: “Hey, I’m a Christian. I like to talk about it with people. Would you be willing?”

Fear stabbed at me. “I don’t know,” I said. “I don’t want to be pressured about God.”

“Whoa, don’t worry,” he said. “I’m not going to try to push you into anything you don’t want. It’s just that I’ve found that following Jesus is pretty good. It’s made a big difference in my life. I think it can make a big difference in everyone’s lives.”

I’m not sure why I agreed to talk with him. He told me how it was for him to start on God’s path, how he still messed it up a lot, but how God had been patient with him. He told me that God would be just as patient with me, and that he wanted me just as I was. He asked me about what fears I had about starting on that path. We talked at length about them, and he was patient and kind. But my fears were considerable, and I was not ready to give them up. And so our talks came to an end.

But Mark made me feel welcome and accepted at the edge of surrender. When I was ready to take that step years later, Mark had given me a good idea of how to find the path God had prepared for me. Because of Mark, I knew that I should look for simple acceptance, because it was evidence that God’s love was present.

Wherever you are, Mark, thanks, man. I hope to live up to your example.

I’ve told this story twice before, in 2008 and 2010. But I rewrote it this time, to be spare and direct.

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9 responses to “Love paves the way”

  1. davidvanilla Avatar

    An example of the unintended consequences of well-intentioned evangelizing efforts AND the persistence of God’s love.

    Eyeball peeping from the sky: Cool. :-)

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Eyeball? What eyeball?

      1. davidvanilla Avatar

        The one mostly obscured by the eyelid. Peeping.

  2. pesoto74 Avatar

    I guess that hard-sell approach must work with some people or they probably would be using it. I remember hearing “attraction rather than promotion” somewhere. I think that works better for most people. I’m not sure I would want to be in a church where everyone was scared not to be there.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I’m not so sure. When I was in the Church of Christ, we used to have these semiannual “gospel meetings,” which were kind of like revivals: seven nights of preaching. They were frequently aimed at saving the lost, and employed some fear and some weak logic to prove to people that getting baptized that night was the only possible choice. We were supposed to bring our unsaved friends along. Funny how nobody was ever baptized. Church leaders would wring their hands and double down on the next gospel meeting. “If you do what you always did, you get what you always got” was not in their vocabulary.

      The Church of Christ, at least when I was a part of it, very much could be a place where people were scared not to be there.

  3. Bernie Kasper Avatar

    I always thought of God as a friend who I could hike thru the mountains with and he could explain everything to me, not as a lightning bolt throwing figure who would burn me every time I had a impure thought about Kate Upton, Then again I just did have a heart attack !!!!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I like the friend in the woods thought. I’m so glad God quit sending lightning bolts back in Old Testament times.

  4. Lone Primate Avatar

    I’m reminded of the story about the sun and the wind having a bet about who could get a man to take his coat off. Everyone knows it. The wind blows hard and the man just holds his coat tighter. The sun shines warmly and the man happily takes off his coat.

    I’m not religious myself (brought up nominally Catholic), but I have a lot more empathy with invitations than threats. I often wonder about the sincerity of people whose motivation for belief seems to be fear of eternal punishment. Pascal’s Wager always seemed like a bad idea. If God exists, do these people really believe He would fail to be aware of their hypocrisy? On the other hand, if people come together in fellowship to focus on what’s fine about humanity and encourage it, how could that fail to please a God who is our moral superior? Even I sometimes cast an eye to the United Church parish across the street, the same Protestant denomination my dad’s dad was, and wonder what it would be like. The main reason I don’t swing by is that I’m not a believer and misrepresenting myself would be disrespectful of their beliefs; it’s one of the reasons I stopped going to Mass after a year and half of giving it a try about 10 years back. But I certainly do see the attraction of what you have, Jim, and your gratitude to Mark for his ways.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Thanks for the sun and wind metaphor – I like it. I may steal it. As you know, I wasn’t raised in a church; I came to God as an adult. I think sometimes that this actually eased my passage as I came with no baggage.

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