Now that election season is over, I am excited to be able to move on, begin to like my friends again, and engage in conversations of less political nature. And there are few things I enjoy talking about more than Jesus at work in the lives of people through his church.
I met Elliot for the first about a year ago. It was on a chilly fall day last October-ish that I received a Facebook message from a name I didn’t recognize. “Hey, I hear you’re the pastor who hangs out with atheists.” I laughed out loud, spraying coffee all over my desk. (To date, I count it one of the greatest compliments I’ve ever received as a pastor.) He said, “My name is Elliot. I’m an atheist. Can we get coffee?”
When we got together, Elliot shared some of his story with me. From the get-go, I loved his candor and unwillingness to pretend. It’s the kind of “no-B.S.” honesty that is so hard to find in church circles. In the course of our conversation, he shared that he was coming to the realization that some of the atheists in his life were some of the most miserable people he knew. At the same time, a few of his friends that he had met in recent months were a some of the coolest, kindest people he’d ever met.
He said, “They’re Christians. And this is kind of messing with me.”
Elliot went on to make it abundantly clear that he still didn’t believe God existed and he wasn’t buying anything I was peddling. (Naturally, I really liked him.) He just wanted to know if there were other people like his new friends. He wanted to know if there was some kind of community of people like them that maybe he could be a part of.
I smiled, told him about Mosaic, and invited him to come check it out sometime.
He did. Despite having some very legitimate hesitations and not really knowing what to expect, he came. That took courage. (I think sometimes we underestimate how intimidating visiting a church can be to someone who isn’t a “church person.”) Elliot took the risk. He came and found himself embraced by the community of Mosaic.
Before long, Elliot began serving on the Setup Team alongside a couple of the friends who had invited him. In fact, he was often the first one there. When the trailer arrived, Elliot was ready and waiting for us. Despite not believing in God as many of us did, Elliot served relentlessly.
He regularly went out of his way to thank me for letting him be a part of Mosaic. He would say, “I love this place. Everyone knows I don’t believe in God and they don’t treat me any different. They simply love me and value me for who I am.” (Man, just writing that overwhelms me with how much I love my church!)
That is when I knew Elliot was in trouble in the best of ways. He was being ambushed by God’s love. He wasn’t being sold a bag of goods. Instead, he was seeing the truth with his own eyes and beginning to experience it with his own five senses. The seed of God’s grace was beginning to take root in his heart. God was up to something big.
Then just a couple months ago, Elliot called me up and asked if we could get coffee again. We met at the same crowded coffee shop where we had first met just several months earlier. We talked about life. We talked about Jesus. We opened up the scriptures. And an hour or so later, through many tears, Elliot prayed to receive God’s forgiveness through Jesus and to surrender his life into His hands.
It was one of the coolest moments of my life. This Sunday I get to baptize Elliot at Mosaic. He has become a dear friend and brother in Christ. And I am so thankful for him and that God has let us be a part of his story.
“God doesn’t want you for who you could be. God doesn’t want you for the mask you can wear. God doesn’t want you for how well you can act like you’re doing okay. He wants you for who you are. He wants to love you for who you are. Just like he loves me for who I am.”