Atheists Are People, Too

Do you believe Jesus has made a difference in your life?

I’m totally going to leave that hanging out there while I tell you this story.  When I first moved to Atlanta, I was desperate to find Rosarita refried beans.  They were by far the best canned refried beans I ever ate, but I looked everywhere and could not find them.  I went to stores all over Atlanta and nobody seemed to carry that brand.  Finally, at this out of the way store called Cub Foods that was about 45 minutes away from my apartment they kept some in stock.  I drove down there, picked up a case of these precious refried beans.  After Cassie and I started dating, I would routinely make dinner for all of us and on this one particular night, I decided to make chicken fajitas and wanted refried beans to go with it.  My stock was depleted so Cassie volunteered to go with me to Cub Foods to get some more.  I don’t think she realized how far away it was because she said to me, “What’s the big deal? Why don’t you just buy some other kind?  They’re all the same.”  I tried to convince her otherwise but it wasn’t until she tasted them that she was convinced.  “These are the best tasting refried beans I’ve ever had. What kind are these?”  I smiled.  I’m sure Cassie meant the best tasting ones she’d had out of a can, but it still made me happy.  I had opened Cassie’s world up to Rosarita refried beans.

2015-07-04 - Cassie eating teriyaki squid
On our trip to Japan in 2015, Cassie eating teriyaki squid

It’s not that Cassie was opposed to new things.

In fact, those of you who know Cassie are aware she likes to try all sorts of stuff.  In fact, I tell people she’s more Japanese than I am.  She likes sushi, sashimi, takuan, and even natto.  And if you know what natto is, you know how big of a stretch that would be for a lot of people.  When we went to Japan, Cassie was the only one willing to try teriyaki squid on a stick!  I’m proud of her for always being open to new things.  So her opinion on refried beans wasn’t because she tried every single one in existence and found them all to be the same.  It was because in her experience, she had never tried anything worthwhile. She had never experienced the difference.  But once she had, it changed her mind.  Now, of course, having moved to California, Cassie REALLY knows the difference and pretty much doesn’t even go for Rosarita unless she’s desperate.  There are just too many good refried beans around.  Cassie was limited by her experience as are most of us.  You form opinions based on your life experience and if you haven’t experienced something, you don’t know the difference.  You don’t know the things you don’t know.

who are we_
Percentage of outsiders who had these views of Christianity. They either responded “a lot” or “some” to these traits

When I think about people who don’t know Christ, it’s this that comes to mind.

Whether they are atheist, agnostic, belong to some other religion, or just plain never have thought about it, it’s not because they are so different from those of us who believe.  It’s that they don’t know what they don’t know.  For them the reality of Christ doesn’t exist.  Even for some of us who call ourselves Christian, the reality of Christ does not exist.  And sometimes that’s what drives people away – the hypocrisy of those who call themselves Christian but don’t act like it.  Sometimes it’s because they’ve been hurt by the church or by judgmental church members.  Sometimes it’s because it doesn’t make sense to them that God exists with so much pain and horror on Earth.  And sometimes they believe in some kind of higher being, but just don’t buy that Christ was really the savior of the world.  All of those are legitimate reasons to question the existence of God.  So how are we able to overcome these reasonable objections to faith?

The apostle Paul has some sound advice in that department.

This section of Paul’s letter to the church at Colossae is Paul trying to teach the church about what it means to live a Christ-like life.  He talks about family and kindness and loving one another, but then he adds this one last bit of advice.

Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should. Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.

hidden-3d.com-gallery_3Dimka_gymnast
Can you see the 3D image? Thanks to hidden-3d.com

Careful and considerate.

That is Paul’s magic formula for helping people come to faith in Christ.  Be careful and considerate.  And he accomplishes this through prayer, gratitude, and by looking for opportunities to share “the mystery of Christ.”  Prayer keeps us focused on Jesus.  It helps us to remember why it’s important to share our love of Christ, and it  keeps Christ foremost on our minds.  The human brain purposely lets go of those thoughts that are not a priority for us and so being in prayer keeps Christ at the top.  Gratitude reminds us that we are looking to share Christ’s love because of the amazing promise Jesus made to us.  Not only to bring us home after we die, but to give us peace and grace and love while we are alive.  Being grateful for those promises puts us in the right frame of mind as we look for opportunities to share our faith.  And because we’ve been engaged in prayer and because we are grateful, we are more prone to find those opportunities to share our faith than we would have otherwise.  It’s like those Magic Eye images that used to be super popular, the ones where there is a hidden 3D image within the picture?  Once you find the image, it’s so much easier to see it again and again, but until you do it can be pretty tough.  At least if you’re me.  Finding opportunities to share your faith is like that.  Once you train your mind to look for those opportunities, it becomes easier and easier for us to do.

UJCC Family Day 2011
Opportunities like our Faith and Family Trip are a great way to invite people to “church” in a non-threatening way

Paul also cautions us to “be wise in the way you act toward outsiders.”

And by outsiders he meant those who were not Christian.  Given all the objections to Christianity then and now, you can understand why he would say this.  The way we act to those on the outside is representative of what they can expect on the inside.  And if they don’t like what they see, why would they give it a chance?  Again, this goes back to being careful and considerate.  Paul doesn’t expect us to go out on a street corner with a sign that says, “Repent or go to Hell.”  He expects us to be measured in our response.  He expects us to know the people we are talking with so the opportunities to share our faith are natural and part of our growing relationship with them.  And that’s how we are able to “make the most of every opportunity,” by being ourselves.  Not trying to be something we’re not or to force a conversation where it doesn’t feel right.  But by being truly authentic.

Authenticity is what works and what is needed most today.

We live in a very skeptical world, one that struggles with accepting facts let alone something as intangible as God.  And the church hasn’t done much to help its own cause.  We are in the news far more for what’s not good about us than for what we are doing well.  Stories about scandal, abuse, and hypocrisy are in the public eye much more than stories about disaster relief, helping the homeless, or funding college education.  It’s no wonder people have doubts about what the church promises.  To them it could be just another scam to get their money.  So if we have any hope of reaching into the hearts and minds of people who don’t believe in Christ, it has to be with an air of truth and integrity. We have to be our most authentic self and trust in Christ that being “you” is enough.  We don’t need to know all the answers.  We don’t need to be perfect, and the world honestly isn’t expecting us to be.  We just need to point to the one who is.  We don’t need to be perfect, we just need to point to the one who is. 

The world around us is growing increasingly non-Christian.

Spirituality seems to be as strong as ever, but there is a growing trend away from faith in Christ.  The number of people who don’t belong to a church or any religion keeps growing.  In a study done in the US from 2007 to 2014, the number of those people went from 16% of the population to 23%.  At the same time, the number of people who identified as Christian went down the same percentage – from 78% to 71%.[1]  And while the vast majority of people still identify as Christian, it would be wise to assume many of them do not actively practice their faith.  More likely they identify as Christian in name only.  But more and more it is increasingly important to BE Christian in the world today.  The world needs the radical love of Jesus Christ.  The world needs the peace that a life in Christ can bring.  And the world desperate needs the grace, mercy, and forgiveness that Christ offers – not only to us, but the love, grace, mercy and forgiveness we can offer one another.  So this week as we continue our time of waiting, pray for those who don’t know Christ, who have drifted away, or who don’t see the importance of focusing on their faith.  Think of at least one person who needs that prayer and focus on them.  Be watchful for an opportunity to share your faith or invite them into our community.  And be thankful that Christ is in your life.  When we have an attitude of gratitude we become more inviting to those around us.  So pray, be watchful, be thankful.  Do you believe Jesus has made a difference in your life?  Then make sure you let it show.  In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

[1] http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2015/05/13/a-closer-look-at-americas-rapidly-growing-religious-nones/

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