Last week I was hanging out at one of our local cigar shops. I've been a patron at this particular tobacconist for 10 years. It is the kind of place you want to hang out at with exposed brick, leather chairs, a great selection of cigars and pipe tobacco, and amazing staff. I have found it to be a fantastic place to meet other men, have great conversations, and of course it's one of those rare places in Chicagoland where you can actually enjoy a cigar or pipe. I was in there with another member of Redeemer and four other people I had never met. They were twentysomethings who were having a lively conversation filled with hard opinions and passionate convictions. I thought to myself, "This crowd would probably be up for some God-talk." But I didn't even have to bring it up. One of them asked if I was a DJ (Don't ask me why). Of course I replied with surprised sincerity, "I am a DJ!" They said, "No way!" And I said, "No, I'm actually a pastor of a church here in town."
Then, one of the young men jumped right into theology, asking something like this,
Explain this to me. You have two men. One man is a good man who pays his taxes, is kind to his neighbors, good to his family, works hard, and doesn't cheat. But he doesn't believe in Jesus. Another man is a bad man who lies, cheats, steals, and is all around horrible to everyone. But this last guy asks God to forgive him at the end of his life. So, the bad guy goes to heaven for accepting Jesus, and the good guy to hell because he isn't Christian?
It was a great conversation that allowed me to unpack the gospel by explaining (seriously summarized here) that civil righteousness does not commend us to God, since even if we are better in conduct than another man, we all worship idols, put ourselves before God and others, and are all guilty before God for our sins. All of us are justly condemned for sin and unbelief, but all are offered forgiveness, life and restoration in Jesus. We must believe in him to find it. I explained that a person will go to hell on account of his own sin, or will have peace with God on account of the righteousness of Christ.
Such conversations do not typically set themselves up like that, but I am praying and looking for more opportunities this week.
[This is not a post to debate the issue of tobacco, so please stay on topic in the comments. Thanks.]