I knew I had to do something about this thing called exercise when the weighing scale and my waist line kept going up like fuel price. Ever since one kaki shifted and the other suffered an ankle injury, my most rigorous workout has been the daily walks with my faithful companion while my tennis gear sits back and collects dust faithfully. So it happened one day as I was packing for the EP co-worker’s retreat that I found my swimming gear hidden in one of my travel bags. And so I packed it in and left for the retreat. I couldn’t recall when I last swam and so it helped that two elders were eager to swim. So on a lazy afternoon when most of the other participants left for other activities, the three of us went for a nice quiet dip in the pool and I was glad to know that I can still swim and that it is probably the best form of exercise left for me.
But it would take some determination to leave the house and drive the car in order to have a swim, unlike in the resort where you could just walk out of the room and into the pool. And so it helped that my good friend was back in town for a short while and asked me out for a swim. In our younger days, I was the fitter one, always targeting the silver in our IPPTs while he aimed to avoid RT. Now that the army no longer wants us, he runs marathons and climbs mountains while I walk the dog and climb three flights of stairs. So I drove the car, picked him up and headed for the nearest public pool, which was at Pasir Ris. There were only a few people idling by the side of the pool and another few swimming laps after laps. And so we joined the second group.
I was into my sixth lap or so when I began to notice someone trailing me closely by the side and matching me for pace. So I swam faster to shake him off but to no avail. He was like a shark stalking its prey and waiting patiently for it to wear out. And true enough, I was exhausted at the end of the lap and had to stop. He too stopped, took a good look at me and opened his mouth. And no, he wasn’t going to eat me up but was grasping for air before saying to me, “You can really swim fast!” With that, we ended our swim and so there were two more idlers by the pool. Well, I learnt that his name is Nelson and he was a former school teacher. He is in his sixties and has retired and so swims about four times per week. He thought that I was also retired and was pleasantly surprised to learn that I am not as old as I look. So he wondered why I was swimming instead of working out there for my retirement. And so he learnt that I am a pastor and there is this wonderful thing called Sabbath day off. Then he said that he has many questions about the Christian faith and asked if he could lay them before me. Though I was already feeling the chill and would really want to continue swimming, I knew I couldn’t say no.
Nelson asked many good questions that are not easy to deal with and I suppose most average Christians would struggle to answer him. Some might not even know what he was talking about. For example, he knew about the textual variants in scribal manuscripts and asked how I am able to accept the Bible as the infallible Word of God when the original autographs were long lost. He asked about the contradictions in some of the NT writings and why I am able to accept them based on scholars’ explanations of authorial intent and the context behind the text. He talked about how Jesus had seemingly acted against the laws to spite the religious leaders and asked why Christianity insists that he was really fulfilling it while we Christians need not have to. He also talked about difficult teachings like ‘an eye for an eye’ among many others and asked why a good God would institute such a law. But mind you, Nelson is not a critic out to debunk the faith. He is a sincere seeker with lots of genuine questions. He was thankful that I took the time in the midst of the cold to engage him with my views than to confront him for his lack of belief. He was also afraid that I might find his questions nonsensical and would have no time for him. We were both glad to have met.
My friend interrupted our conversation as lunch time was approaching and we had been talking for about an hour and a half. So I asked him to check out my contact from the church website and told him that I would really love to hear from him. It was a good encounter for me to learn how others might see the faith and view the things we accept as truth differently. It is also a timely reminder that evangelism is not only about walking across the room and sharing the gospel plainly as it is or giving our testimonies simply as can be but also dealing with difficult questions that others might have. So are you ready to deal with such questions?
Finally, I began this perspective by talking about exercise and EP retreat instead of going straight into my meeting with Nelson. Why? Well, as I was pondering over it, I believed that I might not have gone for a swim on that eventful morning and would have counter-suggested to my friend that we do something else instead. But because of my conviction that I need some form of exercise and that swimming is a good one, I agreed to my friend’s idea and ended up at that pool with Nelson because my friend stays at Pasir Ris. So one thing led to another and our gracious Lord made something good out of it. It happened to me just as it did with Philip in Acts 8 and surely it can also happen to you. Let us only be faithful and ready to testify for Him when the opportunity presents itself, anywhere, anytime and anyhow.
October 14, 2012