Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Imitate Me

This is a story that D. A. Carson tells. I’ve heard him include it in a sermon of his, and it’s now part of his new book, From the Resurrection to His Return: Living Faithfully in the Last Days. I found it at Justin Taylor’s blog in a post called ‘Imitate Me’.

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As a chemistry undergraduate at McGill University, with another chap I started a Bible study for unbelievers. That fellow was godly but very quiet and a bit withdrawn.

I had the mouth, I fear, so by default it fell on me to lead the study. The two of us did not want to be outnumbered, so initially we invited only three people, hoping that not more than two would come. Unfortunately, the first night all three showed up, so we were outnumbered from the beginning.

By week five we had sixteen people attending, and still only the initial two of us were Christians. I soon found myself out of my depth in trying to work through John’s Gospel with this nest of students. On many occasions the participants asked questions I had no idea how to answer.

But in the grace of God there was a graduate student on campus called Dave Ward. He had been converted quite spectacularly as a young man. He was, I suppose, what you might call a rough jewel. He was slapdash, in your face, with no tact and little polish, but he was aggressively evangelistic, powerful in his apologetics, and winningly bold. He allowed people like me to bring people to him every once in a while so that he could answer their questions. Get them there and Dave would sort them out!

So it was that one night I brought two from my Bible study down to Dave. He bulldozed his way around the room, as he always did. He gave us instant coffee then, turning to the first student, asked, ‘Why have you come?’ The student replied, ‘Well, you know, I think that university is a great time for finding out about different points of view, including different religions. So I’ve been reading some material on Buddhism, I’ve got a Hindu friend I want to question, and I should also study some Islam. When this Bible study started I thought I’d get to know a little more about Christianity—that’s why I’ve come.’

Dave looked at him for a few moments and then said, ‘Sorry, but I don’t have time for you.’

‘I beg your pardon?’ said the student.

‘Look,’ Dave replied, ‘I’ll loan you some books on world religions; I can show you how I understand Christianity to fit into all this, and why I think biblical Christianity is true—but you’re just playing around. You’re a dilettante. You don’t really care about these things; you’re just goofing off. I’m a graduate student myself, and I don’t have time—I do not have the hours at my disposal to engage in endless discussions with people who are just playing around.’

He turned to the second student: ‘Why did you come?’

‘I come from a home that you people call liberal,’ he said. ‘We go to the United Church and we don’t believe in things like the literal resurrection of Jesus—I mean, give me a break. The deity of Christ, that’s a bit much. But my home is a good home. My parents love my sister and me, we are a really close family, we worship God, we do good in the community. What do you think you’ve got that we don’t have?’

For what seemed like two or three minutes, Dave looked at him.

Then he said, ‘Watch me.’

As it happened, this student’s name was also Dave. This Dave said, ‘I beg your pardon?’

Dave Ward repeated what he had just said, and then expanded: ‘Watch me. I’ve got an extra bed; move in with me, be my guest—I’ll pay for the food. You go to your classes, do whatever you have to do, but watch me. You watch me when I get up, when I interact with people, what I say, what moves me, what I live for, what I want in life. You watch me for the rest of the semester, and then you tell me at the end of it whether or not there’s a difference.’

This Dave did not take up Dave Ward on the offer literally. But he did begin to watch him and to meet with him, and the Lord drew him. Today he is serving as a medical missionary.

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How many of us would feel comfortable offering ourselves as models of what it means to be a Christian? I think that there are two reasons why many shy away from this. The first is simply that we aren’t very good models. That is, there isn’t a lot of difference (that can be seen) between our lives and the lives of most nice religious folk. We say grace before meals and don’t curse, but who would be impressed with that? The difference is not obvious. Watching Dave Ward’s life convinced someone because the difference was obvious enough. But the other reason for this reluctance comes from forgetting that part of what some person would see is us repenting a lot. Our modeling what it means to be a disciple is not that we are perfect. A key part of the model that we are to present is that we are people who sin and who are fighting against that sin by repentance and faith and then who rejoice in the forgiveness of that sin. That is something that needs to be seen by the people of our day. But it is also something that too many Christians cannot model because they just don’t understand it.

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