As I mentioned in Part One of this story, from the very beginning of hearing about Explore God Chicago, my wife, Cathy, and I were excited. But there was no way to know then what we see now after discussing seven critical questions with people who were willing to join in at the Bulldog Alehouse.
Exploring God: Weeks 3-6
After Week 2, when Matt and Carla prayed together in the alehouse, our adventure continued with a morphing group of men and women who were exploring God. A few came off and on as the topics interested them, but three participants were particularly engaged in the 7 Big Questions.
Connor was on a journey out of looking at various religions, specifically Islam, and moving toward exploring whether Jesus really is who he says he is. Our week on the question “Is Jesus Really God?” was an exciting one.
Brad had no church background. He didn’t attend each week, yet he was clearly on a quest to know more.
David, a young millennial, was not sure whether a person could know God “the way some people talk about,” so we were looking forward to the last week’s discussion with him.
Week 7: “Can I Know God Personally?”
That final week of the 7 Big Questions, Connor, David, Brad and several others were there, for a perfect-sized group of thirteen. We could see them listening, waiting, and watching, and we were confident that God was at work in each of their lives, doing thousands of things we could not see and might never know. It was clear that the group was a setting where they actually felt open to talk about the important questions.
“Can I Know God Personally?” was the most pressing question of them all. As usual, the first Explore God video, Pulse of the World, set up the conversation on the week’s topic. By now everyone was comfortable talking with each other, sharing ideas, and expressing opinions. The conversation flowed smoothly. However, it was after the second Explore God video, The Curiosity Collective, that I lobbed out a crucial question that would test the group’s transparency: “What would stop you from turning to Jesus Christ as the Forgiver of your sins and the Leader of your life?”
Cathy and I were amazed at the openness and trust that was evident after the build-up of the last seven weeks. Without hesitation, David led. The barrier for him was the importance of his friends and their activities in his life. He simply felt like he couldn’t walk away from that. I sensed he wanted to say more, but I didn’t press him in that moment.
Brad said he wasn’t ready and needed more time.
Then Connor spoke up and revealed more of his painful story and difficult journey. The plain truth was he couldn’t trust anyone, so how could he trust Jesus!?! All we could do was listen; it made sense that he needed more time to see that Jesus is unlike any other person. Connor expressed his desire to keep pressing into this “Jesus story.”
At the end of the evening, Cathy and I said how much we appreciated that this group had engaged so personally, asking good questions and sharing their spiritual journeys. All agreed it was a great experience. In fact, no one really wanted to leave! Then I said if anyone wanted to meet privately with Cathy and me, we would be open to that.
David spoke up and said that he would like to meet with us—and the friend who had invited him to the group.
So we met up again with David. He had identified that his barrier to Jesus was his friends. But now he had another question: “What would it mean to follow Jesus?”
David wanted a list of “To-do’s.” We talked about this, and then each of us shared how we came to know God personally. Each one of our stories had elements at the heart of David’s question. Then I spoke to David’s request for a list. I said that a list of obligations is not how any healthy relationship works. I said, “Imagine if Cathy and I gave each other lists of how we wanted our marriage to work. It would be a mechanical checklist rather than an authentic, loving relationship.” Then I said that Jesus would show him what he should do about his friends.
We talked a little longer and then David said it was time, he was ready.
I asked, “What would you tell Jesus?”
David then clearly expressed he would tell Jesus that he was sorry for his sin and he wanted forgiveness and someone to be the leader of his life.
I asked, “Do you want to do that right now?”
With uncharacteristic enthusiasm, he said, “Yes!”
Right there at the table in the middle of the restaurant, David closed his eyes and asked for those very things. When he was done, I simply said “Jesus, thank you that you heard David.”
When I looked up, David’s moist eyes and gentle grin said everything.
Where Is All This Going?
So far, three eternal destinies have been changed!
Who really knows what God will do next!! Our excitement continues as Cathy and I see God working in David, Matt, and Carla. And we are looking forward to ongoing conversations with Connor, Brad, and others from our group. Connor stays in touch by text. Brad continues his quest to know Jesus and has come to church with his wife, who is investigating Jesus herself.
And when David came to our worship service, I couldn’t help looking over. If he wasn’t singing, he was at least mouthing the words to the song.
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