Sunday, March 22, 2009

Twenty-one?


Excerpt from "I became a Christian and all I got was this lousy t-shirt: Replacing Souvenir Religion with Authentic Spiritual Passion" by Vince Antonucci

Staff members at my church take one day each month to fast and pray. It's a day designed to get away and get close to God, to focus on him and pray for the church. I decided to spend one prayer and fasting day at Burger King. I know this sounds bizzare, but I wasn't going to eat. Normally, I go to a park or the beach on my prayer day, but it was cold outside, so I wanted a place where I could be inside but by myself. When I do my fasting day I don't eat, but I do drink, so I thought, I'll go to Burger King, get a Coke, sit there for a couple hours, read my Bible, and write in my journal. So I went in, got my Coke, sat down, and started reading.

Two minutes later a dirty, smelly guy came walking up. He was obviously extremely poor, probably homeless. He started pacing in front of my table. I glanced up several times but tried not to make eye contact because I wanted to keep reading my bible. After all, this was a day for me. My goal was to get me closer to God. Finally, I felt guilty and thought, This isn't right. Vince, you need to take some time, die to yourself, and love this guy. So I asked, "Hey, can I help you with anything?"

Turns out the guy was from India. He started talking, but I could barely decipher his words. Finally, he handed me a piece of paper. It was a job application for Burger King. I said, "Oh, you want to apply here. Do you need help filling this out?" He nodded yes, so we got to work. It was difficult. One question asked about experience. I think he said he used to be a cook. In Florida? India? Indiana? Another requested his home address, but he didn't have one. It took nearly an hour. Finally, we were done and he walked to the counter to turn it in. I thought, It's good that I helped him, but I'm glad that's over. I went back to reading.

One minute later he was sitting back at my table. I said, "Oh, Hi." He sat and stared at me. I thought, Maybe he's hungry. "Do you need something to eat?" I asked. He said yes, so I gave him a few dollars. And he appreciated it. He really appreciated it. He grabbed both my hands and started rubbing them all over his face and neck. I thought, Oh...my...goodness! This is so weird! Finally, after the thirty most awkward seconds of my life, he grabbed my money and disappeared. I thought, Wow. Well, it's a good thing that I helped him. But I am so glad that's over. I went back to reading.

Two minutes later he was sitting back at my table. This time he had a burger and fries. I thought, Maybe he just needs someone to talk to. I started a conversation, and then he asked me about the Bible I was reading. I started to explain that I believed in Jesus. A smile erupted on his face and he pulled his wallet out. He proudly showed me a picture of Jesus. I said, "Yeah, that's who I'm telling you about!" Then he proceeded to show me pictures of Buddha, Muhammad, a goat, Reggie Jackson, there may have been some pictures of Regis Philbin, the Dali Lama, and Bea Arthur in there as well. He became very serious and asked, "Do you know what God's name is?"

I said, "Yes, I'm trying to explain to you --I believe his name is Jesus. Jesus is God's Son."

He said, "No! God's name is twenty-one!"
"Huh?"
"God's name is twenty-one. Do you understand?" he demanded.
"Yeah, you just said God's name is Twenty-one."
His voice was rising, "No. No! God's name is twenty-one."
I repeated, "God's name is Twenty-one."
"No! God's name is Twenty-one!"
"Got it. God's name is Twenty-one."
"No! God's name is Twenty-one!"

Finally, I put an end to our Abbot and Costello routine and asked him to please explain what he meant. He tried. I think what he was struggling to say was that he believed that all religions worship the same God and that God is called by twenty-one different names in the various religions of the world, and so he has twenty-one names.

"Okay, I understand now," I said. "But I believe there is only one God, and Jesus was his Son."

"He asked, "Do you know who is God today?"
I answered, "Twenty-one?"
"No," he said. "Today, you are God to me."
"No, I'm not God," I responded.
"Yes, you are," he countered.
"No," I explained. "I'm trying to show you the love of God, but I'm not God."
"No. Today you love me," he said. "You help me. You feed me. Who is God? He loves, he helps, he feeds. Today, you are God to me."

In one sense he was theologically wrong, because I'm certainly not God. But in another sense, he was right. Because God has asked me to represent him, to be his ambassador.

We need to be the good news before we share the good news so that our gospel has integrity. We need to make the gospel beautiful again. We need to lose all the trappings so people can experience the natural beauty of God's good news. We need to show people what life in God's kingdom is like before we invite them into it.

14 comments:

Nick the Geek said...

So two things.

That is a really awesome story that does illustrate a very important Biblical truth and the ignorance of most people all at the same time.

Also you have proven to me that I need to read this book, which is kind of annoying since I already have a ton of book I want to read before I start my grad classes and end up with a huge list of book I must read.

Right now I'm reading "Godology" which is the book Jon gave away a month or so ago. I didn't win a copy but was intrigued by the description. So far I'm very happy with the book. The 2nd chapter title is Jesus Ninja. This is something that should be well advertised because the book is for people like me, well sorta, and knowing there is a chapter called Jesus Ninja would have forced me to buy this book. Honestly I couldn't have resisted this book had I known. I'm tempted to buy more copies.

Steph at The Red Clay Diaries said...

Great post. Thanks for sharing the excerpt.

But because I'm me, I have to point out something that made me laugh:

Scrolling down in my reader after finishing that post, only to see the next-oldest one: Skanktacular Saturday.

Yeah, that was a whiplash moment.

katdish said...

Steph,
I prefer booty God booty.

sherri said...

Sounds like a good book, and that picture makes me really hungry.

I'm obviously NOT fasting, but I agree with this author on his actions after feeling God's nudge to
Die to yourself and go love on people.

Can you imagine how quickly the Kingdom would multiply if we were all practicing this?

JML said...

That's a wonderful story! A pastor friend of mine once explained that we ARE Jesus to some people because we're the closest they're ever going to get if nobody else shares the gospel with them. Your friend's sentiment had some truth to it! We're His hands and His feet to fulfill His purpose!!! We aren't anyone's savior though, and we literally aren't God, but in a figurative sense. . . Anyways, you flippin' rock!

Tony C said...

I love this story, but it also makes me a bit sad because you are probably the 1 out of every 8 or so 'Christians' who would have taken the time to help this man.

We pass opportunities daily to minister for Christ (including yours truly) because it makes us uncomfortable or is inconvenient.

You have inspired me to look for those opportunities today. God bless.

Helen said...

This was very moving. How many people miss out on knowing a personal and loving God because they want to be all inclusive? My friend's brother once said to me that it isn't fair that some people would go to hell for believing the wrong religion, so he doesn't believe it is true. I tried to explain to him that fair would be if I went to hell, because I sinned. Unfair (to Jesus) is for Jesus to be tortured and killed so that I can go to Heaven. Selfish creature that I am, I choose the unfairness, and embrace the fact that Jesus chose to suffer injustice so I don't have to face justice for my sins. He just shook his head at me like I was daft. Great New Year's party! Obviously I really know how to liven a party up, huh? ;-)

Marni said...

"We need to show people what life in God's kingdom is like before we invite them into it."---That sentence right there is how I've chosen to live my life the last few years...because God convicted me that how I tried to witness before simply wasn't working.

The jumping off point for me was working with the homeless. I was out working with the homeless for weeks and weeks before the subject of God ever came up. Then suddenly, all the men and women I forged relationships with, started asking me about this God I serve. I was blown away! I didn't wave a Bible around, I didn't flash my James Avery cross necklace, I didn't use my "christian-ese" language--I just brought them iced down water bottles, cookies and crackers and visited with them each week. When they saw my actions, they assumed they were of God and they wanted to know more about Him. It still blows me away and I can't stress enough how living what we believe is the most effective way for people to want what we have.

I'm going to go find this book...like Nick, I've got several stacked up to read, but I think I'll put this one on the top of the pile :)

Nick the Geek said...

I went to Amazon to buy the book and was interested in what the critic at publishers weekly said.

**********************************
From Publishers Weekly
In this ultimately disappointing book, Antonucci, a Virginia-based pastor, criticizes the superficial subculture of American Christianity. Antonucci's working assumption is that many Christians are actually disenchanted by their spiritual lives and wonder why they don't have the abundant life Jesus promised. The solution to this deadening state of affairs? Christians need to shake loose the trite trappings of Christian-speak and get back to the adventure of faith. Antonucci takes aim at some of the beloved shibboleths of evangelicalism, suggesting, for example, that instead of talking about having a relationship with Jesus, Christians should worry about whether (as per John 15) they abide in Jesus. Some of his turns of phrase are thought provoking, as when he urges readers to be the good news before they worry about sharing it. But his autobiographical vignettes go on too long, and his message—that the Bible asks us not to behave well or even to believe in Jesus, but to follow him—is not greatly different from many Christian-living books. Too often, Antonucci replaces the clich├ęs he disdains with more platitudes. On prayer: spending large quantities of quality time with God—face-to-face will make believers glow. In short, this book promises more than it delivers.

**********************************

I tend to think that they should have a Christian review a Christian book instead of someone that thinks the suggestion to spend "large quantities of quality time with God-face-to-face" is a waste of time.

Some people just don't get it and I think this review proves it.

Stacy from Louisville said...

That is a stroy like none I have ever heard. That story needs a bigger forum. Have you shared it at your church? I'm making this story my FB status. What an awesome lesson from the heart of God.

katdish said...

Marni - Wow. That's pretty much exactly how things playing out with our ministry. Thanks. Your story only reinforces my committment.

Nick - The reason I bought this book in the first place is because I sat in a workshop at Exponential lead by Vince. He was raised by his Jewish mother and never stepped inside a church until he was in college. He read a bible that his girlfriend at the time had. She told him he could have it since she never read it. He set out to disprove what the bible said, but after reading it, was so convicted and excited about the church described therein that he decided to go. What he found, not surprisingly, was not even close to what he had expected. He has a rather unconventional approach -- he discourages Christians from joining churches that he pastors because he feels that they bring too much baggage. I don't know if you've ever seen him, but picture Joe Pesci from "My Cousin Vinnie". That's pretty much him in a nutshell...

He recently left Virginia Beach to plant a church in Las Vegas. He has a blog that is primarily for pastors: vinceanonucci.com

katdish said...

Stacy,

I bought a case of these books and gave them to everyone at our church. It is an awesome book.

katdish said...

Okay, let's try that again...

If anyone is interested, I posted another excerpt from this book awhile back:

The Teddy Bear

Koffijah said...

So, you know Vinny, eh?