So California is wonderful to me because I am with Maranatha. A few nights ago, she took me to see the lights at Mission Inn in Riverside. It had that creepy-Christmas feel, with lots of moving mechanical elves and carolers with their faces frozen in rather menacing expressions. I think I would have been terrified if I were a child.
We milled around for a while amidst the throng of happy holiday-ers. Maranatha bought some toasted pecans from the Nutty Bavarian, and we stopped to listen to a hellfire and brimstone preacher wearing a leather jacket with a big American flag on the back. He had his own PA system set up on the corner, and someone (it appeared to be one of his friends) was videoing the "sermon." Another preacher was sitting nearby, flipping restlessly through his Bible, waiting to tag team when his parter ran out of fire.
"The FEAR of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom!" the preacher barked into the mic. "I don't mind telling you to be afraid! Fear can be a GOOD thing! Fear can keep you from jumping off a cliff!"
I looked at the poster next to his sound system. Would you trade your eyes for a million dollars? it asked. I didn't get the connection.
As the preacher continued attempting to scare his meager audience into repentance, we turned away. It hurt to watch for too long. "What if people just had a really cool magic show, and at the end said 'Jesus loves you!' ?" Maranatha asked.
The words were still entering my ears when we were approached by a guy who looked about our age, maybe a little younger. He was holding up two crescent shaped cards, one red and one blue. "Which one is bigger?" he asked.
"The one on the right," we both answered.
He clumsily switched the cards and then asked again.
"It's still the one on the right."
"Pretty cool, huh?" He handed us the cards and started to walk away. Maranatha turned them over, and noticed that there was text printed on the back. It looked like it was about Jesus. Crazy!
She caught the guy walking away, and told him that we were just talking about how someone should do something like that. He called over his friend to apparently show us another trick. It was a "good person test." I put my thumb on a silver square, and followed their instructions to hold it for exactly 15 seconds. If I was a good person, it was supposed to turn green. Well apparently, neither Maranatha or I are good people. I didn't understand the magic in this trick, and asked what the point was.
"What would you do if you had to stand before the throne of judgment today?" Magic Boy #1 asked me. "Think about the ten commandments. Have you ever told a lie?"
"What does that make you?"
He seemed to think that was the correct response, and moved on. "Have you ever stolen something, even a paper clip?"
"Yes." (I said this because I knew I was supposed to for this game to work, although I can't ever remembering stealing anything. But I'm sure I've taken a paper clip. A post-it note for sure.)
"What does that make you?"
"The Bible says that looking at someone lustfully is the same as the act of committing adultery. Have you ever looked at someone lustfully?"
"What does that make you?"
"So we have established that you are a liar, a thief, and an adulterer." He looked down at me with a gaze as menacing as the creepy elves. "How does that make you feel?"
"Thankful for the gift of grace!" I said.
"But how does that work?" he asked. The tone in his voice told me he wanted to trap me.
"Well, I've sinned for sure, but I've also been forgiven. I believe that Jesus paid the price for my sins through his death on the cross." I assumed he was a Christian, and I thought this idea was pretty basic to Christianity. But somehow we didn't seem to be connecting.
"But you have to repent!"
"But it's not my repentance that saves me, it's Jesus!" I felt like he had memorized a script, but I wasn't saying the lines I was supposed to.
Magic Boy #2 seemed nervous with how this conversation was going. "Are you guys from around here?" he asked and effectively diverted us into small talk. When they found out I was from Michigan, they asked how we knew each other. Maranatha said we had met in academy, and #1 asked what that was.
Hallelujah, at least they're not Adventists.
"It's school," Maranatha replied rather curtly. I think she didn't appreciate being the victim of this witnessing crusade, and we left soon after.
I think the goal of both the preacher and the Magic Boys was to call people to repentance. Now that's not all bad. John the Baptist sure did it. Sometimes Jesus made people pretty uncomfortable too. I don't think the Christian message to the world always needs to be warm and fuzzy. I don't believe in preaching cheap grace; genuine repentance is necessary.
BUT... I felt like the understanding of repentance these people had was so twisted. Instead of the fear-based repentance of the hellfire preacher or the guilt-motivated repentance of the Magic Boys, I believe that true repentance happens when the Holy Spirit helps us realize that sin is awful because it creates distance between us and God. I ask forgiveness not so I can avoid hell and not because I feel guilty for breaking a rule, but because I want desperately to have a real close relationship with God.
This whole experience was particularly unnerving to me because I could see the sincerity in their attempts to proselytize, and I've been on their side of the fence before. This is the first time a perfect stranger has tried to witness to me, and even though I probably believe many of the same things as he does, I was offended. What would this experience do to someone who had not yet made up their mind about Christianity? I am more and more convinced that witnessing is about sharing my relationship with God with people I also have relationships with. They will known we are Christians by our love.
When Satan comes to tell you that you are a great sinner, look up to your Redeemer and talk of His merits. That which will help you is to look to His light. Acknowledge your sin, but tell the enemy that 'Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners' and that you may be saved by His matchless love. 1 Timothy 1:15 ...We have been great sinners, but Christ died that we might be forgiven. The merits of His sacrifice are sufficient to present to the Father in our behalf. Those to whom He has forgiven most will love Him most, and will stand nearest to His throne to praise Him for His great love and infinite sacrifice. It is when we most fully comprehend the love of God that we best realized the sinfulness of sin. When we see the length of the chain that was let down for us, when we understand something of the infinite sacrifice that Christ has made in our behalf, the heart is melted with tenderness and contrition.
- Steps to Christ, 36.