Friday, November 17, 2006

Tony the Vegan

I sometimes wonder which one is harder: whether working in a secular place of business or working in a church or para-church organization. One thing that I am pretty sure about is that, most likely, the grass always seems greener on the other side.

Many people have nicknames, and almost no one picked it for themselves. Some are inside jokes, some are abbreviations (i.e. EJ), and some are just random. Well, the name Tony the Vegan came about in a very different way, I guess. You see, when I come home from my job, I like to tell my wife about the day’s goings on: what certain people said or did, who got fired or promoted, and other various things. Well, for some reason, whenever I’d talk about a really nice co-worker named Tony, my wife (or other people) would look puzzled and weren’t sure exactly who I was referring to even though there were various stories that included or focused on my interactions with Tony in the past. So, I decided during one of my re-explanations of who Tony was to call him “Tony the Vegan” because his name is Tony and he is a Vegan. Since then, whenever I tell a story that includes Tony in it, people know exactly who I am referring to and they can call to their memory various things about him that I have relayed in the past.

Tony and I have worked together for around 2 years, and Tony is one of those guys that just doesn’t seem to fit into any specific paradigm of people. In the past I had tried to communicate the message of the gospel to him, and I don’t know if I ever did it effectively. I tried so many times to steer a conversation to eternity and to Christ, but it always fell short, mostly because we were working with limited amounts of time. Also I felt that he was simply humoring me (which he may have been, and I’m not upset about that). On one such occasion where I was trying to use anything, any window that would allow me to angle a conversation to Christ and spiritual things was when Tony was getting ready to make some popcorn. I noticed that the plastic wrapping had a curious sticker on it, and I wanted to have it. I asked if I could have it and he, looking puzzled, agreed. I then opened up my bible that I had with me and told him that he had just given me a profound bookmark to use in my bible. Humorous? Yes. Did we have a small conversation about the bible and eternity? Yes. But it still didn’t get too far.

Tony took a different job soon after and I tried to salvage my failed attempts by letting Lee Strobel do some talking for me when I lent him A Case for Christ and A Case for Faith. He, being a book guy, seemed genuinely interested to learn a little about Christianity from a biblical, protestant, and fundamental standpoint. Before I lost contact with him for a while, he gave me the books back and thanked me for letting him borrow them.

After that, I didn’t have any contact with Tony for almost a year. In the interim time, I had learned better ways to bring up and articulate the message of the gospel than I practiced before (thank you Ray, Kirk, and Todd). I always had the right ingredients (repentance, faith, Christ alone, etc), but it was the revelation of how to use the Law in normal conversation that really opened some doors for me. Now that we’re working in the same office again, I have tried two different approaches with him, but both have had the lack of clarity that I was aiming for, and that was due to the lack of time and my faulty articualtion of the gospel in that time.

The first thing I tried was related to some conversation about a fire (we may have had a fire drill or something, I don’t know). I asked him what characteristics he thinks that a fireman would need in order to allow him do do his job well. He said that the fireman should be strong, fit, and brave (not afraid of the fire). I then asked him that if a person was unaware that the building was on fire or that person was in denial of the severity of the situation, should the fireman be a little more aggressive in trying to convince the individual of the danger? Should the fireman try to persuade him or her to see the solution (i.e. get out of the building)? He agreed that the fireman should make all attempts to save the person from the fire. Having run out of time, I then told Tony that I’d be back to tell him why I asked those questions. Well, I dropped the ball and never made the opportunity to bring it up again soon enough.

The next time that I made an opportunity occurred was when I was on break (bible in hand) and I stopped by his desk to say something (totally unrelated to evangelism, actually) and he asked if I was carrying “the Book” or something to that effect. He then said something about how nice it is (or something), and I saw an opening and took it. I said that it is a great book, and it is good to know that I have peace with God. “But,” I said, “the bible calls you a child of wrath, and God isn’t happy with children of wrath – nor will judgment day be favorable to them.” He then looked a little perturbed, nervous, concerned, or something, and I told him that I’d show him what Bible verse I was referring to when I came back (he was busy and I had to do something quick). But before I could show him the passage, he had already found it (Ephesians 2:3) and he was concerned at the severity of the statement.

So, to my dear friend Tony (or anyone else for that matter):

The bible is clear that God is angry, and that all liars (not to mention murderers, drunkards, fornicators, etc) will have their part in the lake of fire (Revelation 21:8). The just punishment of sin committed against a holy God is the torment in the lake of “unquenchable fire” and where the “worm does not die” (Mark 9:43,48) where it is eternal and “the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever; they have no rest day and night,” (Revelation 14:10). This is a place reserved for all of those people “name was not found written in the book of life” (Revelation 20:15).

That is why the good news of the gospel (gospel means “good news”) is such good news. Tony talked about the qualifications for a fire fighter, and one of them was that a good fire fighter would do all that he could to get the people out of a burning building, even if the people inside didn’t know or believe that it was on fire. That is what I am trying to do. It is not because I delight in making people feel uncomfortable, uneasy, or that I like to make people dislike me because of what I believe. I do it because God has chosen this, the foolishness of preaching His message of salvation, as the means by which people can know (a) that they are terribly guilty before Almighty God, (b) that God must punish them, and (c) that if they trust in the perfect life, sacrificial death, and supernatural resurrection of Jesus Christ and repent (turn away or forsake) of their sins, then Christ’s perfect righteousness will be credited to them before God, and you will inherit eternal life with your Savior.

My bookmark says “Follow Directions to avoid SCORCHING” and it is true that if we obey what God has said in the Bible, we will not endure eternal punishment. However, don’t look to God to avoid hell (some sarcastically call it “fire insurance”), but turn to God because He is so kind that He will save you from hell. The difference is huge. One person will believe God until the fear wears off and never appreciate the grace of God whereas the other one will bask in the grace of a forgiving God and be amazed that God would save a sinful wretch.

He saved this sinful wretch. He saved a murdering blasphemer named Paul. He can save you.

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