Friday, March 18, 2011

Chapter 1: Study

Warning to Reader: Don’t skip the introduction. It is vital to you getting this book. I am an intro skipper too, but go back and read it!

For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.
--From Paul’s letter to the Romans

Chapter 1: Study

I walked into the church frustrated. Seminary weighed on my mind as I thought of all that I had to get done: write an exegetical, study for a quiz, and turn in a late assignment. I had gotten into an argument with my girlfriend, Zoe, so I was not exactly in the best mood. I also felt I needed to show support for the pastor and the church so I took a deep breath to get over it and walked into the church and headed to the loft where the four-week study on James would begin.
I found a seat next to my buddy, Bryan, and surveyed those surrounding me. An older couple I never would have expected to be at a young church like Fellowship sat across from me. I later found out they were the pastor’s parents. To my right, a Hispanic couple whispered to each other. Across from me sat an older guy with a strange look on his face. I wondered at first if he was homeless. He just didn’t look like someone who would be at a Bible study. His T-shirt was old and his jeans ripped. I watched him as his eyes searched for something familiar. He shifted his cell phone from hand to hand trying to figure out its appropriate place. I decided he wasn’t homeless, but rather was going for the “vintage look.” It was like a fifty year old had stolen the clothes off the back of a high school emo kid. He had scrawled “DON” on his sticker nametag.
The Bible study was on the Book of James. It had been just over a month since James, the homeless, HIV+ homosexual I’d tried to help get off the streets, returned to the streets. I knew it hadn’t been a failed endeavor, but I was frustrated all the same. I had to give him over to God to deal with and wondered if the Lord might have someone else in store for me to reach. I participated in the Bible study with enthusiasm. When it came to the discussion questions, Don asked a question that surprised me.
 “What is sin?” He asked. I noticed a slight lisp. “What is sin? I just don’t get it.” Frustration skipped through his teeth.
How can you ask what sin is? I thought. I looked at Don and realized that he not only had a serious look on his face, but he was staring at me. “Sin is doing anything that doesn’t honor God or bring Him glory.” It sounded smart. But my words hit an invisible brick wall. Don’s face remained blank.
“I understand legal and illegal.” Don started. “But I don’t get what you mean by sin.”
“How about this?” I paused, “sin is missing the mark. God has a standard of perfection and if we don’t hit that mark, we are sinning.” I might as well have been speaking Japanese. No response but a blank stare and more questions trying to get me to explain sin. How do you explain sin? I mean seriously, isn’t sin obvious to everyone? Is this guy for real? Clearly this guy was not only a non-believer, but he needed some serious pre-evangelization before he could ever come close to the Gospel. What in the world brought this guy to church?
I shrugged my questions aside, the hour was up and Greek homework called my name.
“Hey Don, I gotta roll. If I gave you a book, would you read it?”
“You want to give me a book? What kind of a book is it?”
“A Christian book that I wrote.”
“You wrote it?”
“Alright, I’ll do it.”
I ran to my Saturn outside and pulled out a copy Faith in the Fog of War. I hoped that I might sell some of these trunk ornaments to put a dent into my seminary bills. I turned from the car and headed back inside. I handed him a copy and he thanked me as if I had given him a hundred dollar bill. I smiled, turned, and left wondering if I would ever see Don again.
I honestly didn’t give much thought to Don over the next week. I did my seminary bit for the week: classes, studying, chapel, sleeping, and eating—in no particular order. I struggled trying to accomplish a Greek paper that was due, and that got all of my attention, but the following Tuesday, I received an email that brought Don back into my mind.

To: Chris Plekenpol
From: Don Dent
Tue 11/6/2007 1:10 PM
Chris, you are difficult to locate, even online. Last week after our interesting discussion, I left Fellowship Church wanting more. All week I have wanted to find another Christian, but I don’t know any I would trust. I’m not sure about you, but I did read your book cover to cover. I know something about your life that I do trust. Your commitment to people is one. Your commitment to your god is another. I trust my friend Chris McGregor. Being cautious with the info I put into my mind keeps me at bay with masses of you people. Small encounters such as last week were a real cool time, although I did feel pounced on. I’m fine, I can pounce back. I’m not into my god/Christianity quest for levity. I’m dead serious, and though my questions may seem juvenile to you as a theologian, they are damn serious to me.
I HOPE YOU’RE THERE TONIGHT. I WAS IN NO HURRY TO LEAVE LAST WEEK  . . . IN YOUR WORLD YOU MAY HAVE ACCESS TO CHRISTIANS, I have tried to be as far away from you people as possible, but I am looking for certain Christians today. I believe we are all connected and all have a purpose. I have no idea if you will cross over into my world/life, it doesn’t matter. What does matter is that I learn. You seem knowledgeable—I’ll leave personal commentary to in-person communication. I APPRECIATE THE CONVERSATION LAST WEEK.[ EVEN WHEN YOU WERE OBSTINATE]
Thank you,

I wrote him back immediately that I was serious and that I looked forward to meeting with him again. I wasn’t sure what crossing over into his life involved, I just knew that I couldn’t leave my seminary work incomplete—it hung over my head like a boulder on a thread.
That night I headed to church wondering what might lie ahead with Don—Mr. Skeptical. Like an eager pupil, he had arrived early and found a seat facing the door. I sat down next to him and admired his bright pink Brooks’ Brothers sweater with a dress shirt and tie underneath. I marveled for a moment at his capacity to wear clothes on opposite ends of the spectrum.
The Bible study went on uneventfully until Don nudged me.
“Hey,” he whispered, trying not to interrupt McGregor’s teaching of James. “What is the Royal Law?”
“Golden Rule,” I whispered back. “Do to others what you want done to you.”
He smiled and nodded.
Question after question started to come my way. I smiled as I could see God working behind the scenes in this man’s life. He didn’t stand a chance. God had him in his sights. It was just a matter of time.
As I watched him listen intently I wondered what his story was. What brought this guy here?
 “Why do I need to believe in your God?” He asked when the study had ended and the room had cleared out leaving only Chris McGregor, Bryan, Don, and me in the loft.
“Well, He is the greatest joy in my life,” I said. “I can’t live without him.”
“I guess I don’t need your God then, because I’m getting along fine without him.”
“That’s just because you don’t understand the state of your soul,” I shot back.
“The state of my what?”
“Your soul. You cannot perceive God if He hasn’t revealed Himself to you. But the fact that you are asking questions is evidence that He is starting to do something.”
“Right,” Don said. “I don’t want your god. I am just here to see if perhaps you guys have something that I don’t. And so far, you guys just want to treat each other well. That’s good, but why do I need a god to treat people well. Shouldn’t we do that because that is the right thing to do? What can your god do that mine can’t?”
“He can save you from Hell.”
“That’s fear-based theology. I don’t want to be scared into believing in God.”
“Well the bottom line, Don, is that He is and He isn’t worried if you believe that He is or not or if you don’t like fear based theology. The fact is that a long time ago Adam sinned and caused the fall of mankind.”
Don’s voice hit a high pitched squeal. “You don’t believe there was actually an Adam and Eve do you?” He lifted his hands in the air as if holding up an invisible prize winning fish. “Aren’t those just metaphors for some lesson 2500 years ago?”
I smiled. “No, it’s not,” I said. “In fact the issue of sin was so bad that God the Father sent His Son Jesus, who was fully God, from heaven to earth as a man. He took the wrath of our sins on the cross and all those who believe in Him will live with Him in heaven.”
Don stared at me as if I had just told him that I owned a set of elephants and had trained them to roller-skate while juggling mice. “You’re kidding.”
The conversation continued until we were all worn out. I had to go do more homework.
“Thanks so much for your time. I have never had a conversation like this,” Don said.
“We can do it again,” I said and smiled.
With that I left and again and marveled that he found this conversation so incredible. I mean we were talking normal church stuff. These were the basics of faith. You know stuff like, we are all sinners; sinners can’t be in the presence of a Holy God. Therefore, sinners go to Hell. But Jesus was God incarnate and became a man, born of a virgin, lived a perfect life, satisfied the wrath of God by dying on the cross as a substitution for man. Then he rose from the dead to show His power over death, and gave proof that there would be a resurrection. Pretty much every Christian radio station in the country preaches some form of this. But sharing the facts of Christ with someone who had no clue made my adrenaline rush.

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