When it comes to God, an agnostic is neither committed to believing in God nor to believing that He doesn’t exist. He simply has no opinion. A staunch atheist, on the other hand, firmly declares, “There is no God!” and will challenge anyone who challenges him. While I’ve talked with many agnostics who don’t give a hoot about God, I’ve encountered very few outright atheists. Maybe it’s because I live among Southerners who say they believe in God – whether they actually do or not. That’s why a recent podcast from the Oak Hills Church in San Antonio, Texas got my attention. Max Lucado and Randy Frazee are the ministers there. A couple of weeks ago Randy invited an atheist to join him on stage for an open and honest conversation. Their discussion sparked my interest.
It seems Randy’s atheist friend, Hemant Mehta, decided to sell his soul on eBay. Hemant, an Indian, DePaulUniversity graduate and current high school math teacher said that for every $10 paid he would go to the church of someone’s choice. So, if the highest bid was $100, he would go to church 10 times. The challenge went viral and eventually landed in the lap of a minister who won the bidding with $500. With such a large sum paid, Hemant spoke to the minister about attending church 50 times. The minister said he didn’t want him to go to the same church 50 times, but rather he would pick 10 different churches for Hemant to attend. Then, he wanted him to write about his visits on their church’s website. Hemant agreed and the minister chose mega-churches, modest-sized churches, small congregations and even those who met in homes. Each had various beliefs and worship styles. I would love to be able to say that one of those churches made enough of an impact that Hemant became a believer, but that never happened. What Hemant did learn should cause Christians to sit up and take notice.
On the positive side of his visits, he was impressed by:
1) Christians’ generosity and the many vehicles available to them to donate time and money to truly worthy causes,
2) their desire to be a part of their community by meeting the needs of their neighbors, and
3) well-prepared sermons that inspired “good” living.
But then, the outsider pointed out several things we should pay attention to:
1) Christians come at non-believers as though they are targets who need fixing instead of developing a relationship with them.
2) Only one church provided a room for people to go after worship with questions or specific needs. Most churches were one-sided in their communication – all talking and not enough listening.
3) Perhaps the most glaring fault was unfriendliness. While most churches had official greeters, not many others would introduce themselves or sit with visitors. Many times it seemed the church members didn’t even know each other.
Hemant also offered three more tidbits of perspective:
1) Treat people as friends, not projects.
2) Realize that stereotypes are most often wrong.
3) Be willing to have non-threatening conversations about beliefs, not only with non-believers, but also with your children!
Doubt is a normal developmental process for young teens. Our homes and churches should be safe places to discuss doubts about God. Parents and church leaders should encourage questions and be honest and wise enough to help investigate the questions they can’t answer.
However, most importantly, when asked what Christians could say to possibly change Hemant’s mind about God, he replied, “Nothing!” He has heard all the arguments and, like most atheists, probably knows more about the Bible than most Christians. He’s read all the books and done his research. He said the only thing that could change him would be for him to experience something amazing on his own.
So, Friends, let’s all stop and pray that God would do something amazing in the life of Hemant Mehta and he would know without a doubt who Jesus is and what He is all about. While we’re at it, let’s all pray God continues to do amazing things in our lives and that we recognize them as coming from His power and not our own. May we all be inspired to tell our stories of God’s redeeming love and live lives that astound our neighbors, instill faith in our children and cause unbelievers to ask questions.
If you would like to see this interview for yourself, just click on this link or copy and paste it into your browser: http://vimeo.com/69753974. Happy Tuesday!