Tonight, I walked into a cigar lounge in Boiling Springs where I had never visited before. I grabbed a few sticks, sat down in a big, comfy chair and started reading quietly in Genesis from my phone.
But fairly quickly, conversations struck up and I was making new acquaintances. And no one batted an eye at my answer that I missed an old gathering of guys where we got together for cigars and Bible study — nor was anyone surprised as we discussed everything from man caves, shooting pool, playing poker, singing karaoke, sports, politics, raising kids, or whatever anyone wanted to talk about.
As people came and left, everyone interacted as if we had all been friends. People from completely different races, political backgrounds, economic levels, careers, ages and sexes were not only walking through the doors — they were all on equal ground as we talked and shared, laughed, etc. Even as a man from a different race and religion that I had never met mentioned his father’s recent eye surgery, and I asked about how he was recovering, and even as I asked for his father’s name so that I could pray for him — there was no offense, there was no opposition, there was no pretense.
I couldn’t help but think of Jesus and why he preferred “eating with sinners” to eating with the religious leaders of the day. And I wasn’t looking at these men and assuming they were hellbound and needed me to save them — I was seeing the same need for relationship, the same need for interaction, the same need for hope, love and truth as the people I will sit beside tomorrow morning in church.
These men weren’t shocked or repulsed by the natural, honest references to Jesus or the Bible that came out in my conversation any more than they were shocked by my talking about my job or my hobbies — because I wasn’t trying to force them to convert to my career or hobby any more than I was trying to force them to convert to my religion. Jesus is just as big a part of my life as anything else (actually bigger), so it was natural for Him to come up in conversation without trying to force or manipulate the conversation in that direction.
I neither had to hide who I am in Christ Jesus, nor did I have to fit in to their conversations. When the topic of conversation was something I didn’t know anything about, I admitted as much and they didn’t think me less of a man, etc. In this, I saw how I will share my faith openly and genuinely when it is a valued, core part of who I am, and I was not hated, shunned, or rejected — because they respected how I respected them as well.
It also reminded me of the times when I have been able to share my faith naturally in the workplace, in the streets, inside the jail, inside bars, inside strip clubs, in my home, in singing groups, in the presence of drug dealers, prostitutes, criminals, pornographers, convicted murders, rapists and child molesters — and even with people who think themselves to be “quite honorable and religious”.
I understand that many people won’t understand why I more often sit at tables “with those people” instead of at tables with leaders, politicians, and honorable folks that I also know personally. I understand that some would be afraid to be close to the dangers of the dark world that surrounds many of these people and places. I’m not judging you. You go where you are called. I’ll go where I am called.
These are “my people”. I walked with these people when I was still one of them, and the Lord protected me even when I was walking deeper into the darkness with them. Now that I am walking with Him, I carry Him with me. I walk as an Ambassador of Christ — naked and unashamed of my faith, my God, my weaknesses, my conviction, my salvation by grace through faith, and the new creation that I am in Christ Jesus.
I say this to encourage you. Look past what you “think ministry looks like”. Know your own testimony. Know Him so close and personal that His Word is on your lips even more than your greatest hobby or interest. If He is not truly first in our life, we need to fix that. If we are not excited about Him as much as that new purchase, we need to fix that. And when He truly is our first love — there is no fear in our excitement about Him. And genuine excitement is peculiar, is even so curious to others that it is contagious.
We do not live in a place where people haven’t heard the name of Jesus. People who are in the bushes and the brambles and the shadows around here — many have heard the name of Jesus and seen it blasphemed time and time again by people who neither love them nor truly love the Lord. I know many people who have never turned their back on the Lord, but they have turned their back on the organizations that are loud and proud of their self-righteousness and their expecting people to meet their expectations of holiness — when they are far from guilt beneath all the whitewash. I know children who are abandoning “the church of their youth” because they must in order to not depart from the Word — because they feel Jesus is nowhere to be found in those places. WE MUST REPENT!
I love the Church. I love the Saints. I love the Lord. I love you. I love these new people that I am meeting.
I will not delay in sharing my faith as it is part of me and is clearly and naturally on display as a huge part of who I am — nor do I need to manufacture a pretense in order to walk them through a Roman road tract before they leave my presence each time we meet. I look forward to each time that I get to lift up the name of Jesus in their presence, and I trust that He continues to draw men to himself. I look forward to those moments the Holy Spirit stirs me to press in deeper and share my testimony and this hope that I have in Christ Jesus — and I’m eager to make disciples and baptize whoever will believe with their heart that Jesus is Lord and Savior and confess with their mouth that God raised Him from the dead to life, just as we have been raised to newness of life.
I want to encourage you to not just be religious, and to definitely not be complacent about your faith. I encourage you to examine your own testimony and to see who might be “where you were”. If (like the elder brother of the prodigal) you were called out of decades of sitting in a church pew and going through the motions to a real, alive, Holy Spirit empowered walk with God — that testimony needs to be shared with the religious and the complacent to know the love of God that stirs us into truly loving and serving others. If (like the prodigal) you ran into the darkness only to turn back to run home to the Lord — that testimony needs to be shared with those in need of the love of God that stirs us to truly loving and serving others. If you don’t have a testimony, you need to spend some time with God and get that right while there is still time.
Lord, let our love be genuine. Let our lives lift a pleasing aroma to you. Amen.
But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and through us spreads and makes evident everywhere the sweet fragrance of the knowledge of Him. For we are the sweet fragrance of Christ [which ascends] to God, [discernible both] among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing; to the latter one an aroma from death to death [a fatal, offensive odor], but to the other an aroma from life to life [a vital fragrance, living and fresh]. And who is adequate and sufficiently qualified for these things? For we are not like many, [acting like merchants] peddling God’s word [shortchanging and adulterating God’s message]; but from pure [uncompromised] motives, as [commissioned and sent] from God, we speak [His message] in Christ in the sight of God.
2 Corinthians 2:14-17 AMP
You [believers], like living stones, are being built up into a spiritual house for a holy and dedicated priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices [that are] acceptable and pleasing to God through Jesus Christ.
1 Peter 2:5 AMP
Therefore become imitators of God [copy Him and follow His example], as well-beloved children [imitate their father]; and walk continually in love [that is, value one another—practice empathy and compassion, unselfishly seeking the best for others], just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and sacrifice to God [slain for you, so that it became] a sweet fragrance.
Ephesians 5:1-2 AMP