"You suck, Burns!"
"Yeah, just pitch it. I'm taking you over the fence again."
I squinted towards Dan, who I'd been hammering for the last hour. Twilight had set in, and the blue summer sky had turned dim. Our catcalls echoed across the empty schoolyard. Box ball, baseball with tennis ball, was something of a tradition for the boys and me, and every week we got together at least twice to play. I was twenty years old.
The past week I'd just been accepted into Eastern, a Bible College about three hours away, and I was excited about my future in ministry. The guys had found out, but they hadn't said much. Not yet, at least.
Finally, Dan straightened, and the ball flashed towards the wall. I flicked my bat out and poked it off the fence for another double.
"Ohhh, Baby! Almost another one!" I said, laughing as I gave Josh, my teammate, a high five.
Dan got the ball back from the outfield, still unhappy.
"Heard you got the call from God. Going to spread the good news."
I ignored his sarcasm.
"Yeah, start in September. Should be great." I said.
"I'll bet, religious boy." He made a couple of rough jokes to the others, who started laughing.
"Hey, Steve. Why do you want to be in heaven if the party is in hell!?"
"No, you got it all wrong-"
"Yeah, stupid pretty boy. We're all gonna be laughing it up in hell while you're alone in heaven"
The laughter rang out across the parking lot, and a slow burn worked its way across my face. For the next twenty minutes, the tirade was endless. They'd gotten to me and they knew it. Finally, I'd had enough. I picked up my bat and walked away.
"Where ya going, Christian boy, to heaven?
"Well, I know where you guys are going!" I yelled over my shoulder.
At the time, I thought it was typical for North American Christians, especially jocks. But it wasn't. It was something else altogether...
...I looked down at the congregation and forced a smile on my face. Three years had passed since that day on the school yard. I was twenty-two, and pastoring at a small church in Southern Ontario. My first few years as a Christian had been exciting and fast paced, but the past few months I'd hit a wall. Discouraged and worn down by the demands of the people inside and outside the church, my faith had slowly begun to shrivel up.
"Tonight I want to talk about the joy of the Lord, folks!"
I heard a few scattered 'Amen's' in the congregation, as I bent to my notes. For the next thirty minutes I gave a well-prepared, exegetically correct sermon on how serving God brings joy into your life. The problem though, was that I no longer felt that way. When I'd finished, I looked down at the congregation.
Please, God, give them this joy I do not feel.
I didn't understand it then, but that was the beginning of the end for me in ministry for many years. I would hold on for another year, but finally I left. I could no longer reconcile my experience from what I believed. I could talk about Jesus and the Bible, because I knew it well, and sometimes I would enter fierce debate about it, defending Christianity as if my life depended on it. But I'd stopped going to church. Stopped praying. Stopped reading my Bible. If people asked, I was a Christian, but Jesus... well, I was tired of selling Jesus. I 'knew' he was true, and what I should be doing, but witnessing was impossible. I can't tell you how many arguments I had with people about the validity of His claims.
And yet, Jesus meant nothing in my life. He gave me no joy. I claimed to know Him, but mostly it was memories of better times, of what should have happened. Finally I gave it up altogether and stopped talking about God.
It wasn't until I became honest about what I believed that God began to move in my life.
Today I see many Christians selling Jesus. They might have felt like a follower years ago, but it's been a long time since they experienced God's love. And it's scary, because we start to think that there is really something wrong with us. But it's natural, because the nature of humanity is religion, and the nature of God is relationship.
Even now, I'm tempted to talk about God's love. Not what it means to me, but what it should mean. I'm tempted to talk about God. Not because of what He means to me, but what He should mean.
And every time we do that we push the real, living God further away. We feel that somehow we should be living in a certain way, reached a certain goal, and that if we haven't reached it, we are spiritually immature.
Many Christians don't like to talk about their faith and feel guilty about it. I'll tell you this, I talk more about God than I ever have in my life, and I am less concerned about it than I've ever been.
"Out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks."
If God is in you, and you're in an authentic, all guts, relationship, you will talk about Him. But don't force it. Don't 'try' and evangelize. That's phony, and it will burn your heart. Instead, be honest with God. So you've made mistakes. So you sin. So what?! God knows. He loves you anyway! Be honest!
We are all works in progress, and the sooner we realize that, the sooner we realize that God gives grace to the humble, the sooner we'll stop selling Jesus and start proclaiming His great Name. Not because we "should", but because our experience with Him is real...