Many years ago, while visiting my sister-in-law, I suddenly saw a look of terror in her eyes. There was an element of fear in her voice as she quietly, but with urgency, instructed me to "Hide!" She grabbed me by the arm, almost ripping it from the socket, and pulled me into another room away from the front door as the doorbell rang. Her index finger was at her lips, and I understood that I was supposed to be silent.
The doorbell rang again. I still did not know what had frightened her to this degree. After several minutes of silence, she gathered the courage to peek out the window. Seeing that no one was on the front porch, she let out a huge sigh and said, "That was close."
At this point, I have to admit that both my imagination and curiosity were running out of control. Had there been a killer at the door? Were our lives in danger? What caused her to panic? When I asked her what this was all about, her response relieved me and made me laugh harder than I had in a long time. The reason for her extreme actions was the always-terrifying Jehovah's Witnesses!
I hope no Jehovah's Witnesses are reading this and need to defend themselves. That is probably a long shot, but history has shown that if you write about religion, people often need to vehemently defend or tear down religion or the idea that God exists. Let's not go there again, as those debates are individual issues, and no one's mind will be changed by going there. Please just put this in the "for what it's worth" column, and move on.
I recently read a quotation by a minister, Jan Linn, that brought my "Hide, they're coming" episode from my memory archives. Jan said, "In all my years of ministry, I have never once been asked by those concerned about my salvation if I fed the hungry, clothed the naked, cared for the sick, or visited the imprisoned. Rather, their sole concern has been what I believed . . . ."
That quotation got my attention, but Jan added to that with, "But Jesus apparently thought talk was cheap. He said that what he wanted from his followers was a way of life." Jan Linn's words helped me see what bothered me about many people who preach about being saved. I wholeheartedly agree that talk is cheap, but more important, as Jan points out, "salvationists" are asking the wrong questions.
As I rode through town a few weeks ago, I passed two young men wearing short-sleeved white dress shirts, ties, and black pants. They carried what seemed Bibles in their hands. It didn't take a Rhodes Scholar to see what their mission was. For some reason, my car decided that I needed to make a U-turn and visit these young men. Who am I to question my car's judgment in a situation like this?
When I got out of my car and approached them they seemed a bit surprised and maybe even nervous. I guess I might have been a bit startled as well if a 6'2" and 260 lbs green-eyed guy got out of a car and approached me on the street. However, it didn't take them long to gather themselves and proceed with their efforts to save me. I stopped them and told them that I wanted to turn the tables here. I opened with, "Instead of your preaching to me and giving me a book, I want to give you a book today." They now appeared to be a bit confused and decided to silently allow me to proceed.
I handed these young men a copy of a book I carry everywhere. The book is Insights From Inside, a collection of letters from inmates talking about the bad decisions they made. I have to disclose that I helped compile and publish this book with a few friends as a proactive attempt to reach out to young people and help them think twice about some decisions they are making.
I talked a bit about the book with these young men, and then I challenged them to start asking different questions. I challenged them to spend some time reaching to people before preaching to people. I challenged them to give more than words.
Did they hear anything I said? I will never know. Will they check out the book, and give it some thought? I will never know that, either. My only hope is that one day they might remember the encounter with this oversized, green-eyed guy. With a little luck, they might give some thought, as we all should, to whether they are asking the right questions . . . and the ultimate question -- does our way of life provide the answers to those questions?