ARE YOU A CHRISTIAN?
Two days ago on a flight back home to Chicago from New York the young man sitting next to me on the plane was a science mathematician. His job is to help scientists develop the mathematical formulae for their research. For someone who struggles with any number beyond that which can be calculated on my fingers, this young scientist, in my mind, dwells in the realm of those with superpowers.
My young seatmate is an atheist by choice. He was not particularly angry, or arrogant towards Jesus or the concept of God and faith; but early on in the conversation he did express his scorn towards those Christians who wear more than one face, depending on the group in which they find themselves at the moment. As someone who does not smoke, drink, watch porn, or do drugs and who does not cheat on his wife, he was more than a little disgusted with the Christians on his campus who invite him to their Friday evening activities and their Sunday church services but who the rest of the week engage in the very same practices they publicly condemn others for doing.
He asked me if I was a Christian. I didn’t want to deny that I am one, but somehow the word Christian seemed like something I had to describe more in terms of what it is not than what it is. Something is out of whack when I have to spend more time undoing the negatives associated with who I am than I do extolling the positives of what I am striving to become. So, to his question “Are you a Christian?” I responded with, “I am a follower of Jesus.” Very few people are opposed to the real Jesus and his real teachings. People’s ire is directed at Christian attitudes inconsistent with the behavior taught and modeled by Jesus. Rather than fleeing from a negative, by saying I am a follower of Jesus I get to build on a positive – I get to say what I am striving to be, not what I am not.
The conversation continued throughout the flight. “Why do some Christians still believe in a 6,000-year-old earth when we can prove through direct, observable, measurable evidence that it is billions of years old?” “How can you be so sure of things when other religions use the same Bible but come up with totally different interpretations?” “Why don’t Christians care about habitat loss and the extinction of species?” “What convinced you to believe this Christian stuff?” “Religion doesn’t even begin to relate to all the issues young people face today.”
At one point in the flight the young atheist (whose wife goes to church) asked me, “If I were to go to a church, how would I know which one to choose?” Was this a test? Was he trying to determine if I am an honest Christian or a proselytizer for my brand? I could have spouted off the answers I have memorized over the years; but instead the words which seemed to flow from nowhere were, “Go to a church that is living in accordance with those things for which Jesus will hold it accountable. Jesus will hold his followers accountable for at least four things, and these are the things to look for when searching for a church. Look for a church which is trying to measure itself by the metrics Jesus uses.”
Jesus said, “Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your Father which is in Heaven.” “So,” I told him, “look for a church that does good things for people in the community.”
Secondly, I told him that Jesus says, “By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, that you love one another.” “This means,” I told him, “that you need to find a church where they love each other.”
Next Jesus says, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” I encouraged him to seek out a church which intentionally seeks to do what Jesus tells his followers to do.
And lastly, I told him, “One of the very last things Jesus did, just before he died, was to pray that we would be one, just as he and the Father are one.” I urged my new friend to seek out a church where unity was the norm.
The pleasant conversation flowed uninterrupted, covering a whole variety of topics till the flight ended. There we sat, side by side, a Christian Jesus follower–and an atheist, enjoying each other’s company, learning from each other, each being made a bit better by the experience.