But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of any works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy, through the water of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit. This Spirit he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. (Titus 3:4-7)
Last night something uniquely wonderful happened - I got the chance to welcome someone to the Kingdom of God.
Lest you think I had anything to do with it, let me dispel any notion of my being an evangelist - at least not in this case. No, it was at the Christmas Eve service where I attend church that I got to witness this miracle.
Our pastor had preached a sermon about the Magi who searched for - and found - Jesus. Often times the Magi (or the three kings) are pictured as being at the manger in Bethlehem when Jesus was born. The Gospel of Matthew does not bear that out. Matthew writes that the Magi from the east appeared about two years after the birth of Jesus . That's why Herod the Great ordered all the boys in Bethlehem under the age of two murdered.
But that's beside the point of my story.
As I said, our pastor preached a message about the visit of the Magi and made an appeal for anyone who would like to invite Jesus to be born in them - the Bible calls it being 'born again' or 'born from above' - to raise their hand. Several people did, though my encounter was with only one of them.
At our church we give what's called a "New Believer's Toolkit" to people who have just come to faith. The kit includes a Bible, a Bible study, a notebook, a pen, and some other resources. I saw a teenager and her mother carrying one of these kits as the crowd - of about 600-700 people - made its way out of the church. I asked "did you just give your heart to the Lord?"
The young girl looked at me shyly and said "yes."
"Congratulations!" I said. "Welcome to the family of God. We are so glad that you are here. We have been waiting for you!" And I gave her a hug.
As I held this girl, I could feel her crying. I don't know her; I don't know why she was crying other than she was feeling the release of some emotion. But when I let her go, I saw her face was pink and a tear was running out of her right eye. I felt blessed to see the newness of life that I believe she was experiencing. Her mother had a great big smile on her face. Her younger brother looked like he just wanted to go home.
But I wanted to greet her and welcome her to faith. Jesus said that there is more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents that over 99 righteous people who don't need repentance (Lk 15:4-7). The word Jesus used for joy includes the idea of rejoicing greatly, of being glad. It's the same word the angelic messenger used when he told the shepherds he brought 'good tidings of great joy'.
So I wanted to make a big deal out of someone coming to faith. I don't know why I did it. I just did. Then I went home and had an argument with my wife over something stupid - like what to have for dessert. Thank God for His grace, huh?