Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Redeeming the Image

My prayer lately has been that God would begin to break my heart more and more for those who don’t know Christ—that it would be something real and something deep, something that really impacts the way that I love people and live on a daily basis; and I believe that it is happening. I believe that God is hearing and answering. This past Sunday I sat in church and, near tears, realized that God was not only breaking my heart for the lost, but that He was breaking my heart for the church—His Body.

This week I returned to the States after a brief jaunt to visit my fiancĂ©e, Mark, in Europe; I arrived at the coffee shop/bar that I work in several nights a week, only to find myself faced with the heart-breaking reality of Christian evangelism at its worst. As I sat and listened to a man talk for an hour about why he’s not a Christian and about all the bad examples he’s run into over the course of his lifetime, I began to realize the depth of scarring and pain that hypocrisy can have on those in our circle of influence. I began to realize that the way we live our lives as followers of Christ really does impact the lives around us and I began to understand that our lives really are on display. We proclaim to follow Christ, and people are watching to find out if we really mean it. They want to see if our actions match our words, and when they don’t, all it does is reinforce the picture they have of God as a distant and disconnected “Someone” who really doesn’t change us, and it ends up pushing them to a self-made morality—pulling Truth from various religions and philosophers, and denying God of the glory that belongs only to Him.

This man told me about a group of guys that had come into the bar while I was gone and who were, as a “tag-team,” trying to “save” those working and relaxing in the bar. They would huddle in the corner and strategize, then come back to see how their plan played out. I can only imagine their surprise, when, *gasp*, their efforts were met with bitterness and resentment, instead of interest and acceptance. I get frustrated every time I think about it. What makes us think that by going some place, whether it’s a bar or another country, and throwing the gospel in someone’s face without first building a relationship and establishing trust, that it will make them want to change the way they’ve always lived their lives? What makes us think that the gospel is more than just empty words without a life of love and grace to back it up? 1 Corinthians 13 says “if we speak God’s Word with power, revealing all his mysteries and making everything plain as day, and if I have faith that says to a mountain, ‘Jump!’ and it jumps, but I don’t love, I’m nothing.” (vs. 2—The Message). It says that love is patient, kind, and not arrogant—that it doesn’t act unbecomingly (vs. 4-8). Jesus’ second greatest commandment was to love others, and I’m ashamed to say it, but our lives don’t always bear that image.

We have the chance to give love and grace as freely and wholly as it is offered to us. It is given in abundance to us, and yet we hoard it like there’s going to be a famine. What would happen if we allowed ourselves to be generous with our grace, with our love? If we truly believe that the Holy Spirit dwells in us—the Spirit of a God that IS love, then why, as His followers, wouldn’t we want to embody that as well? I feel like we have taken a faith that God intended to be relational and have turned it into a formula—bullet points of “do’s and don’ts.” Somewhere along the line, Satan has been able to take these bullet points and has made us believe that this is what it means to be Christ’s disciple. That it’s more about the doing than the being. When we point out the “sins” in peoples’ lives—the things they are doing “wrong”—they begin to associate Christianity with doing rather than allowing it to be a change agent in their lives that works from the inside out. Somewhere along the line, we’ve missed the point, and it has cost us.

I know that God is bigger than our lives and can and has worked through broken and misguided individuals all throughout history. I know that ultimately it is His Spirit that changes people and that He can speak, even when we fail to speak words of healing and love and grace. I also know that there are many individuals out there who are living lives that clearly and passionately bear the image of Christ. I believe that God is doing dynamic things in and through those lives, and that He will build His Kingdom through many more like them who are willing to surrender to His call to follow Him.

I believe He is doing something in His church right now—deepening the desire in His people for a community that reflects His glory as He has always intended. My prayer is that we would embrace that call and allow the world to see a people whose lives reflect a God who is jealous for our hearts, yet loves unconditionally those who aren’t quite there yet. I pray that we would redeem the image of Christ that has been painted for so many and let our lives speak as loudly and boldly as our voices.