On Friday afternoon, after vbs, I went to a park with our picnic lunch with my nine year old, and he played in the children’s sprinkler fountain with lots of other kids while I wrote out bills at a picnic table. There was a man my age setting up things for a big family barbecue. Pretty soon we were chatting about the birthday party they were going to have for his little boy. He was working and waiting for his family to arrive, and he was very chatty. He talked on the cellphone and I asked him later if he was speaking Arabic (I always have to ask.)
So he told me his story of how his family had to leave Palestine when he was a teen, because they could not live there anymore; there was too much rejection and danger from their own people in their own homeland, so they came here to America, along with thousands of other Palestinians. I was waiting for him to give a hint of his background, and pretty soon he said that they were Greek Orthodox Christians, and they were not accepted by the majority of Palestinians where they were (since they were not Muslim) so they moved. He is now a computer engineer in Silicon Valley. I identified myself to him as a Christian.
So I started wondering to myself if he was a born-from-above Christian, or a cultural Christian. He let me know eventually, just because he talked so much. His name is not really Jack; he said his real name is hard to pronounce and Jack is his American name.
He had a lot on his mind: such as the price of housing in the Bay Area (he explained how he can provide a home much more affordably for his family by renting a condo). He was concerned about cultural moral standards and expressed some consternation over “born again” Christians who profess Christianity but then live immorally or with hypocrisy. Still not sure where he was coming from I told him that there are people who profess Christianity but it is just a name- they are not really following Christ, it is just a cultural label.
Then he went on to say that he was upset about Evangelical Christians who think that Christianity is synonymous with American patriotism or political party, or thinking the government is doing no evil. I assured him that the two things are separate, and that true Christianity has nothing to do with nationalism at all, since our citizenship is in heaven, and true Christians follow Christ, not the government.
In a related concern, He then went on to say he was upset that “born again” Christians think that the Jews are the “chosen ones”, (as if everyone else are not). Trust me, I understand (enough) the extreme controversy these issues are, politically and theologically, and I treaded very carefully, because my desire was to be a witness to the gospel.
So I assured him that the “chosen ones” are everybody who puts their faith and trust in the Lord Jesus Christ to save them from the judgment of God against their sin and rebellion. I told him that God revealed himself to the world through the Jewish prophets, so we can know who the true God is, and God sent Jesus our Savior through the Jews, as a Jew, and without Him we would have no hope. He acknowledged and accepted that. I told him that just like everybody else in the world, the Jews need to trust in Jesus, or else they will remain in their sins.
We were chatting here and there as I worked and he set up for the picnic, talking on his cell phone. Later on while we were talking he said something about him being a “good person” so that is how he was going to be “ok” with God. Then I knew where he was coming from: he was a very “high moral standards” , “good person” Greek Orthodox man who was trusting in cultural tradition and his own efforts. This gave way to the opportunity to casually share the whole gospel with him, emphasizing our sin, the law, the work of Christ on our behalf, repentance and faith in Christ and His goodness. Then his wife, child and extended family arrived. When I needed to leave, he was in the parking lot getting barbeque stuff so I went over to his young wife (we had not talked because she was talking to family),and told her she has a beautiful family, and God bless you. There are a lot of people out there who are trusting in their goodness to be right with God.