Friday, February 17, 2006

Meeting Brad Almighty
by Andrew Hamilton

Two years ago at the birth of our first child my wife became part of a local “mother’s group”, a regular weekly social group where new mums could come together and share the experiences that go with the first baby. Since meeting, the four girls have formed some really close friendships and travelled a great journey together, so when one of them decided she was going to get married Danelle was an obvious invite – along with me…

Now I don’t know about you, but I really enjoy weddings – of people I know, however when it comes to those I don’t know – and more particularly when it comes to spending a whole day with those people, then I’m not so keen. As a natural introvert it takes a lot of energy to engage with people I have never met before and may never see again. I have also had too many experiences of being stuck on a table in the corner next to the most boring man in the universe.

However, we were going to this wedding… that much was certain! In fact I even got asked to say ‘grace’ (I am a professional after all.) Given that no one in the families was even remotely connected with church, God or any kind of religion it seemed an unusual request, but I agreed to do it.

The ceremony was over in a matter of minutes – as most civil marriages are – and despite the syrupy sweet celebrant it was quite a pleasant affair.

When the reception came we took our seats and introduced ourselves to everyone around the table. There was a good vibe – and some good wine. I even started to enjoy myself! Then time came for me to do my thing. I was announced and strolled up to the platform feeling a little out of place, but polite guests bowed their heads and played along. As with most of my ‘graces’ it was a fairly laid back affair and all over and done with in a matter of seconds.

With the initial formalities complete we hoed into the food and wine and became part of the dinner time conversation. By 9.15 pm – very early for a wedding – the meal and speeches were both completed. From here until midnight it was dance time… Oh yeh baby!… Now I have nothing against people who dance – I just don’t happen to be one of them. As the music thumped I slouched in my chair and began to feel like it was going to be a very long two and a half hours.

Then Brad, one of the other unfortunate non-dancing husbands sidled up and asked if he could pose a question to me.

“Sure…” I said, wondering what lay ahead, but figuring anything was better than 2 ½ hours of 80’s music.

“How did you feel saying grace tonight?” he asked boldly as he sat down next to me.

Where is this heading?... I thought. What’s he asking that for? The honest answer was that I felt fine, if a little curious at the ‘why?’ of it all, so I told him that. He pushed a bit harder and asked me if I felt out of place performing a religious act in the middle of a group of people who couldn’t have cared less. (I did, but maybe years of preaching in churches have hardened me!)

“Did you feel like it was a sham?” he asked.

“Well, maybe it was… for some.” I agreed. “But it was still a meaningful thing for me and it may have encouraged some people to think about the bigger picture of life”

Then Brad cut to the chase… “You see… a few months back two groups of friends asked me to be a godparent to their kids. I said ‘yes’… I mean what else could you say? But all along I have felt like a fake and I can’t understand how they could do it either? We all took vows we are not going to keep and for what? What has it really achieved?”

These were good questions and I could tell that they came from someone who was concerned to live with integrity. These questions were disturbing Brad and my short prayer before the meal brought them back to him.

We began to talk… a simple conversation really… We spoke about life, kids, working hard, helping others… Brad was one of those ‘salt of the earth’ types – a really good guy, a caring husband and father and someone who was concerned to make the most of his life. We spoke about faith and he told me that he couldn’t see why he would need to be religious as he was a decent bloke and did the right thing by other people.

The conversation lasted nearly an hour and a half but it was just two sentences halfway thru that left an indelible impression on me.

After we had shared the basics of our lives and discovered that we both wanted to be men who made a contribution to the world and who thought of others, Brad said to me “You know… you and me are very similar people. We both care for others and we both want to do good. We are very similar”

Now as a person gifted in the whole area of evangelism this was my opportunity to dive in and present the gospel. True?...

I believe it was an opportunity to share the gospel – a great opportunity, but I also found myself doing it in a way different to what I have so many times before. In a past life Brad’s statement ‘You and I are very similar people’ was my cue to say ‘Oh no we’re not! Let me show you why’ and to then start explaining his fallenness and my redeemedness with a view to helping him turn from his life of sin.

However this time I found myself saying ‘You know… I think you’re right there. We are very similar people’. As the words tumbled out, completely unplanned, they felt right, but sounded wrong. Years of practice seemed to tell me I had blown it. But I continued… “Maybe where we differ is that I orient my life around Jesus Christ and seek to live like him. How about you?”

“I don’t know” Brad said “That’s what I’m trying to figure out.”

In case you missed it…

The difference between my old evangelistic script and the spontaneous (I believe ‘spirit led’) response of this time was simply the starting point. In my old script I began with people as sinners in need of forgiveness and destined for eternity separated from God (all true). And while the Christian story was hard-wired into the psyche we could sometimes get away with it.

But in a post-christian age those approaches just won’t cut it. Try telling most people today that they are sinners in need of repentance and forgiveness and see how long the conversation lasts.

“I might do some stuff wrong, but I’m not a sinner!!”

“Basically I’m a good person.”

If we are to engage in real meaningful dialogue with people who are not Christians then we will need to recognize that they do not perceive themselves as sinful. So our attempts to convince them of their depravity will of course be met with resistance if not anger and accusations of judgement.

As I spoke with Brad I felt God was asking me to recognize our common humanity. To see that rather than being very different from those who do not follow Jesus I actually have a lot in common. The image of the creator is in both of us. It's this image that leads us to live good lives, to be decent citizens to ask questions about life.

It's just a starting point, but maybe it’s a significant key to ongoing conversation with good-living people who need to know Jesus.


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