This one prompted me to remember an incident I had with a "charismatic" man in a Wal-Mart several years ago. I went there to get some trimmer line, since I was in the middle of doing yard work and had run out. My goal was to run in, get some trimmer line, and run out. Five minutes, tops. In and out. The only time I make a trip to Wal-Mart is in such an "in-and-out" situation; if I'm in there for longer than ten minutes, I get itchy. On this particular trip, I got real itchy, since my five minute "in-and-out" trip turned into about a half hour.
It was my fault, though. I made the mistake of wearing a t-shirt that had "John 3:16" printed across the front in big, black, bold font. It was this t-shirt that prompted the man in the lawncare supplies aisle to say to me, upon my arrival to that aisle, "Yeah, but do you know what it says?" Having no clue what he was talking about, I said, "Excuse me?" "The Bible verse on your shirt," he said, "do you know what it says?" I looked down and noticed I was wearing my "John 3:16" shirt. "John 3:16?" I responded. "Absolutely I know what it says." As soon as those words exited my mouth, he said, "Well, let's hear it. What does it say?" Ready for the challenge, I spoke the verse clearly and quickly. He was impressed and told me so. We smiled at each other, and I looked back to the shelf, trying to locate the trimmer line I needed. Little did I know . . .
"But, do you know what it means?" he asked. I was a bit surprised by his follow-up; I thought we were done. Nevertheless, I was game. "I sure do," I said, and then proceeded to explain to him that God so loved the world that He sent His Son, Jesus the Christ, to live the perfect life in our place, die on the cross to pay the price for all of our sins, and to rise again from the tomb to open the way to everlasting life to all who believe.
"But, do you believe it?" he asked. "Absolutely!" I said. "Do you?"
Ignoring my question, he asked, "When were you saved?" (Poor guy. He thought he was going to save a lost soul, but ran into a stubborn Lutheran - and one who was attending seminary and studying to be a pastor, to boot - oops! :)
I responded, "I was saved when my Savior bled and died on that hill outside of Jerusalem. I received this salvation personally when I was born again from above in Holy Baptism. What about you? Do you believe? When were you saved?"
Again, ignoring my questions, he asked, "But, have you accepted Jesus into your heart as your personal Lord and Savior?"
Knowing exactly where this was going, I responded, "Jesus chose me by leading me to the baptismal font, where I was washed clean, filled with the Holy Spirit, covered in Jesus' perfect holiness and righteousness, and welcomed into His kingdom, which has no end."
This caught him off guard. He wasn't ready for it. He delayed. So, I asked, "Now, what about you?
Do you believe in Christ? When were you saved?"
He still looked a little taken aback; it was obvious that he was thinking hard about what to say next. For a moment, I thought he might turn tail and walk away. But, he didn't. Instead, he finally obliged me with an answer: "I was saved on November 15, 1982 (the only reason I remember the date is because November 15 is one of the greatest National Holidays of the year for me - Opening Day of rifle season for deer hunting). It was on that day that I finally made the transaction and accepted Jesus as my personal Lord and Savior. And it was all due to the Prophet So-and-So (he told me a name, but can't remember) at the Church of God of Prophecy. I learned from him how to make that transaction with Jesus and how to be baptized in the Holy Spirit, and my life has never been the same. I received the water baptism you're talking about three times in my life, but it wasn't until I was baptized in the Holy Spirit that I became a true believer. I owe my life to Prophet So-and-So. He showed me the way. I'd love to introduce you to him . . ."
He pulled out a business card and reached it out to me.
I didn't take the card. Instead, I said, "You began our conversation by asking me if I knew what John 3:16 meant. It sounds to me like you're a little confused by it yourself, because it seems like you attribute your salvation more to Prophet So-and-So than to Jesus. So, what does John 3:16 mean to you?"
This led into a very interesting exchange, which took me well over my 10-minute Wal-Mart limit. He quoted Scripture passages and I took my time to explain what those passages actually meant. He quoted more; I explained. More; explained. He wasn't liking it at all, but, to his credit, he kept at it. He spent 25 minutes trying to save me, but he wasn't getting very far, since, well, I had done already been saved. He kept trying to get me to focus on what I must do, and I kept telling Him what Jesus had done and continues to do for me. In the process, I kept trying to get him to understand that he was a sinner, so that he would realize His need for Jesus, but he kept responding, "I have rebuked and conquered sin in my life." This so-called "Prophet" had really done some damage to this poor soul. He believed he could "speak in tongues" and told me that he had just recently been blessed with the power to heal. I know I gave him a lot to think about, but, alas, he was too deep into the muck of the false "charismatic" theology to be pulled out. I stood firm and did my best to confess the faith and point him to Jesus. And, I'm happy to report that he was the one to finally cry "uncle." I would have stood there in that aisle for as long as he wanted to talk, but, really, he was just hearing too darned much about sin and grace, Law and Gospel, and especially about Jesus and His Cross. It was a passionate, but pleasant, conversation, but, eventually he had just had enough. He said, "I'll pray that you experience the 'believer's baptism' someday." "Please don't," I said, "I already have Jesus. He's all I need." Then, he walked away.
All this because I made the mistake of wearing that "John 3:16" t-shirt.
Or, maybe it wasn't a mistake at all . . . :)