By Vince Antonucci
One time after a church service a lady bounced up to me and said, “Hey!”
I said, “Hey!”
“My name’s Sandy,” she said very quickly, “but not for long it isn’t. I’m changing it! It’s been a bad year for Sandys—Hurricane Sandy, Sandy Hook Elementary.”
I nodded, a bit confused.
“So, hey!” Sandy continued, “I just wanted to thank you for keeping it positive.”
I asked what she meant.
“I went to church a few times growing up, and I’ve gone a couple times as an adult, and I hate it. Hate it!” Sandy said. “You always feel like you’re being judged. People look down on you. It’s all negative. It’s all about their rules. Don’t do this. Don’t do that. They tell me I have to dress appropriately. I’ve always hated church, but I’ve always wanted to know Jesus. So, when I heard about this church, I decided I would check it out one time, and it was great! Thanks for keeping it positive. I’ll be back next week!”
It was so interesting to hear. I know the churches she had visited had good intentions. They wanted her to live a better life. But telling Sandy she wasn’t living up to the standards didn’t help her want to live up to the standards.
Sandy (whom I later discovered was a Britney Spears impersonator who sang and danced provocatively in a casino on the Las Vegas Strip) kept coming back to our church, week after week. She never changed her name and never missed a service.
Several months later, I preached a message on having purity in your marriage. I spent half the sermon talking to our single people. I explained that they could have purity in their marriages later by having purity before marriage now. So, I taught them not to sleep with anyone until they got married.
In the middle of the message, I noticed Sandy sitting in the second row. I thought, She is never coming back after hearing me tell her she can’t have sex until she’s married. She’s gonna say we’re another one of those negative churches. I wonder . . . is she the type to just storm out, or is she the type to come up and let me have it, then storm out?
After the service, Sandy immediately walked toward me. I thought, She’s the type to let me have it and then storm out.
I greeted her, “Hey, Sandy.”
“Vince,” she paused, “I’m getting baptized!”
“Huh?” was all I could get out.
“Yes!” she nearly shouted. “Since coming here, my life has completely changed. If I explained it to you, I would start crying.” She started crying. “The way I think about everything has changed. The way I think about God, about myself, life. So, I am giving my life to God, and I am getting baptized!”
Sandy got baptized, and soon began to change everything about her life. Without anyone telling her to. She broke up with her boyfriend. She quit her job.
Every time I heard a new report from Sandy on the new and better decisions she was making, I thought about Titus 2:11, 12, which says God’s grace teaches us to say no to ungodliness and to choose to live godly lives. I always thought it was a bit confusing. God’s grace means we are loved despite our behavior and can be forgiven of our sins. God’s grace means we don’t have to live a perfect life. But Titus says God’s grace teaches us to change our behavior, stop sinning, and live holy. Sandy helped me to understand why.
In fact, later, someone asked Sandy how it all happened. She said, “I heard Vince say, ‘God has so much love for you.’ And I just remember thinking, I never knew that. And I felt it for the first time, and it just opened up a whole new life for me.”
Vince Antonucci serves as lead pastor at Verve, “a church for people who don’t like church,” in Las Vegas. He is the author of I Became a Christian and All I Got Was This Lousy T-Shirt, Guerrilla Lovers, Renegade: Your Faith Isn’t Meant to Be Safe, and God for the Rest of Us. He regularly speaks at and consults with churches and blogs at http://vinceantonucci.com.