I’m not much for television or movies. We live in a rural area where there is no cable service, and we don’t subscribe to satellite. Our television is mostly a delivery mechanism for the occasional rental from Redbox or Netflix. My husband and I have been to the theater three times in the last 5 years, and one of those trips was taking our daughters to see Frozen. Our choice of entertainment runs more toward the literary spectrum–there’s nothing better than settling in with a good book on a quiet evening at home.
But I am a child of the ’80s, and I still remember with great fondness many of the shows I grew up watching–some as first runs and some in reruns. I cheered every time Laura Ingalls bested Nellie Olsen. I wished for a brother like John-Boy Walton. The Fonz was alright, but I had a major crush on Chachi, although no one held a candle to Bo Duke. Wonder Woman was my girl, although I didn’t envy her the outfit. And I used to jump off anything I could find while imitating the Bionic Woman sound effects. They are running through my head right now as I write.
The fabric of all that ’80s nostalgia includes a goofball in rainbow suspenders doing headstands on a couch. Back then, he was just Mork from Ork. But Mork became more than just a kooky, offbeat alien. He was the character that introduced the world to the incredible talent of Robin Williams. Given Robin Williams’ subsequent success, even someone like me, whose forays into pop culture are few and far between, would have to live on another planet to not have experienced at least one of his many memorable movie roles.
In the wake of his death, I have read lots of articles about his success, his warmth and likeability, and his struggles with addictions and depression. Clearly, Robin Williams was loved and admired by those who knew him personally, and his passing will rend more than a few hearts. However, as is often the case when someone dies in such a tragic way, people’s thoughts immediately turn to asking why and trying to find meaning in the heartbreak. To that end, many people are using his death as an opportunity to speak out about mental illness and suicide prevention. While these are certainly worthy messages to take from his tragic death, there is a much greater message for those of us who are Christ-followers.
Since I heard of Robin Willliams’ death, I haven’t found myself wondering so much why he chose to take his own life as I have wondering where he is spending eternity. I don’t know where Robin Williams was at with the Lord or what decision he made about Christ. Only God knows. But we all make a decision about Jesus, and what we decide matters forever.
I’m not thinking these thoughts because Robin Williams was a celebrity. I ponder these same things any time I hear of someone dying. And it’s not because I’m morbid or bothered by the idea of mortality. It’s because in the last few years, God has been awakening in my heart an urgency for the Gospel. I can no longer look at people and see them only in the here and now. I look at them and wonder about the eternity that lies ahead. I look at them and feel desperate for their salvation.
Evangelism. Too often as Christ-followers, we like to talk about it, but we don’t like to do it. Awkward, nervous, pushy, crazy, weird. Those are all words that come to mind when most of us think about sharing our faith in Christ with those who are not believers. Yes, it feels like all of those things at times, but what is that to the fate of someone’s soul? I mean, do we get this or not? Do we really get that the Great Commission is the reason Christ has left us in this world? Can we surrender to being briefly uncomfortable so that another person has the chance to escape eternal torment?
Would we still hold onto our discomfort as an excuse if we knew we were someone’s last chance to hear of Christ’s salvation before they died? When we fail to share Christ, we tend to think, “Well, God will give me another opportunity.” But the urgency isn’t about us. It’s about the lost. What if they don’t get another opportunity to respond to the message of Jesus?
Recently, I was reading a book with my oldest daughter that talked about the great diversity among people in this world–the places we live, the way we dress, the languages we speak, the religions we practice, the homes we build, and the holidays we celebrate. This was not a book by a Christian publisher, so I was completely struck as I turned to a page near the end and saw an illustration of a lonely hilltop, gravestones scattered across its rounded hump and a lone shovel planted in the ground. The book pointed out that even though we are so very different as people, there is one way in which we are all alike–we all die. Mortality unites us all. Some people die after long bouts with horrific illnesses, some drift away in a gradual decline, some people pass abruptly in tragic accidents, some fall prey to criminal violence, and some people die by their own hand. But we all die. And no matter how good or bad we are, no matter how much we are loved or hated, no matter what we have done on this earth or failed to do–none of us are prepared for what waits on the other side without Christ. The Gospel matters desperately.
In Dead Poets Society, Robin Williams’ character John Keating says, “No matter what anybody tells you, words and ideas can change the world.” That’s a true enough statement–words and ideas do have the power to change things in this world. But there is only One whose words and ideas have the power to change things for eternity.
And He is Jesus, the Living Word of God to man. And we, His followers, are the way He has chosen to reveal Himself to a world in need of eternal change. Christ has not made evangelism an option. It is the heartbeat, the very breath of His plan for rescuing lost people.
Our duty to the Gospel matters, and it matters now. Eternity is just around the corner.
And God has given us this task of reconciling people to him. For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation. So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, “Come back to God!” For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ. — II Corinthians 5:18b-21