Tuesday, March 8, 2011

GREAT COMMISSION at 30,000'--theory or practice?

After a snowy, bouncy ride in one of those turboprop airplanes that were designed by a sardine cannery from Sheridan to Denver, I was ready to relax. I had a wonderful time with the brothers at Camp Bethel, Wyoming, had taught four sessions (1 1/2 hours each) through the book of Job, then preached Sunday morning at First Baptist Church, Sheridan. It was a blessed time of fellowship for me, but after two flight delays from snow, I was tired and ready to sleep or read on the flight from Denver to Seattle.

I pulled out my MODERN REFORMATION issue on the Great Commission, and was readying myself for some catch-up reading and then a good nap so I could get home to my darling wife and family sort of rested. God had other plans.

Chico Gonzales, a chatty BP construction worker from Colorado Springs, sat down next to me and asked, "Business or pleasure?" To my shame, I thought I had the sure way to silence the fellow. "I suppose you'd call it business. I was speaking at a men's conference and I just preached this morning at First Baptist Church in Sheridan, Wyoming."

He wanted to know what I preached and taught on. So I began giving him a summary of 42 chapters of Job, then started explaining to him how the sufferings and testing of Job pointed to Christ and the gospel of grace.

But he had had a near-death experience and wanted to tell me all about the theological ideas he had developed and had come to have an intractable faith in. I thumbed my magazine full of stimulating articles on the Great Commission, and almost laughed out loud at the irony of this even being a dilemma. Here I was with an opportunity to be used as an instrument of the Holy Spirit, to actually participate in the Great Commission, and I had sinfully prefered to bury my face in the theory of sharing the good news--or just sleep.

What followed was a good hour and half of listening to his sincere but deeply befuddled experiential theory of death and meeting God. "It's all about free will," said Chico. "We each of us are going to be faced with a choice, and we have to be ready to choose love and not hate, good and not evil, God and not Satan." After listening and praying, I began probing about how he defined all those terms he used, especially good and evil, God and Satan. "It's up to each of us to define them according to our own feelings and experience."

So I proceeded to share with him what Jesus said about it all. "I am the way the truth and the life, no man comes unto the Father but by me."

Chico replied, "Oh, I agree with that totally."

I probed further. How can he agree with Jesus' declaration and with it all being up to the free will and individual ideas about what path? "I believe in a very open God, that there are many ways to him."

"But Chico, how can you agree with Jesus' words, then, when he declares by the authority of God himself, that Jesus is alone the way, the truth, and the life, and that no one comes to the Father but through Jesus?"

I then asked him if his theory about good and evil and finding God's love worked in the real world, for example in the world of aeronautical engineering. If the designer of the AirBus jet we were suspended 30,000 feet above ground had designed this jet the way Chico had designed his theology--based on his free will, his feelings about flight, about gravity, about thrust, etc--we'd be doomed. He constantly returned to man's free will, and that finally it came down to man choosing the right way.

"But Chico, how can you define choosing 'the right way' when, according to you, there are many ways to God? the Jihadist believes his way is the right way. Who's to say it is or it isn't? In your theory, his way is just as valid as your way, right?"

I then attempted to show him how every religion in the world is like what he has described to me: man doing something (choosing the right way), earning the favor of a deity, performing to receive a reward in turn for the good works done to win the favor of the god.

From there I attempted to show him the beauty of the Christian gospel, that instead of God requiring us to sacrifice ourselves to win his favor, he stooped down in Christ and sacrificed himself to redeem us, ransom us, rescue us from the clutches of death, a death we have coming to us for our sin and rebellion against the true and living God who made us.

His parting words were, "I feel like we may meet each other on the other side someday."

"I will be praying to that end," I said. "Which means that I'll be praying that the Spirit of God graciously transforms your heart and mind by the power of the gospel of grace so that you know and believe that Jesus is the only way to be right with God."

1 comment:

  1. Sounds like you almost needed that cowboy hat to grab this bull by the horns. I'll pray along with you for Chico.