Eric Clapton & Lessons in Evangelism
I almost met legendary guitarist and rock icon Eric Clapton last week. I say "almost" because I didn't have the guts to approach him and say hello to him. He was sitting in front of us on a Saturday night showing the musical "Charlie and The Chocolate Factory" in London.
It took me a few moments, but I finally decided that I was almost 100% sure it was Eric Clapton. But I still didn't want to say anything to him. My wife Merideth did, however. She walked over to him, leaned down and asked, "Does anyone ever tell you that you look just like Eric Clapton?" To which Eric Clapton answered, "All of the time," and then he added, "but I don't pay it any mind."
We did, in fact confirm through the venue staff that the guy I was almost 100% sure was Eric Clapton was, in fact, really Eric Clapton. I walked behind him as we exited the theater, resisting the urge to reach out and touch his jean jacket in a creepy way. He kept looking back at me with a wary gaze. I don't blame him.
I learned a bit later that he'd just caught a record-breaking salmon while on vacation in Iceland. I could have led with that odd fact."Mr. Clapton, could I get a photo with the Icelandic salmon record holder, if you please?"
I bet that would have disarmed him, and we would have become friends after that. He might have invited me to dinner while I was in London. We could be hanging out even now. Yeah. Probably not.
All of this got me thinking about all of the "brushes with greatness" I've experienced over the years--all of the movie stars, musical artists, TV actors and athletes I've met. There was the time I literally ran into Bono from U2. There was the day I held back screaming fans from Michael Jackson, who was literally inches away from me. Or the time I helped Mean Joe Greene pick out jazz CDs.
I could go on and on--for some dumb reason I have stumbled into scores of those kinds of moments over the course of my life. I don't have any problem talking about them to anyone. But what does get kind of tough at times is to share the most important brush with greatness story in my repertoire--when I discovered who Jesus was to me, and me to him.
Even with a built-in excuse to testify to people wherever I go (Q: What do you do for a living? A: I'm a pastor), I sometimes struggle to get real with people about what my relationship with Jesus means, what it has done for me.
I was taught to be aggressive with my witness to people--to not be afraid to ask the hard questions about whether people believed in Jesus or not, and if not why? I was taught to pop the question, "If you died right now, would you go to heaven or to hell?" I always felt like a jerk doing it. And so now I have some baggage when it comes to sharing my faith.
In 1 Peter 3:15 we read this encouraging and life-giving word:
"But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect..."
The truth of the matter is, my encounter with Jesus transformed my life in ways that I can't even begin to explain fully. I am a new person because of my relationship with Jesus. Because of Jesus, I have purpose, meaning, and I have the kind of hope that gets me through the trials of this day, and prepares me for what might come tomorrow.
The difference between the hard core witnessing of my past and the approach outlined in 1 Peter is in the relationships involved. True, I have to be prepared to "give an answer," but only after I have built a relationship or established a connection and always with gentleness and respect. And what I am "bearing witness" to is not an abstract truth, but the very concrete way that the Truth has changed me.
May you find courage to tell the story of your brush with greatness when it comes to Jesus. May you find openings in your conversations, moments when you find connection with others to share your story. May you do so gently, full of grace and peace. And may that same grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you now and always. Amen.