They Live Here Too

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Something has been bothering me lately. It is something about the way that Christians tend to approach the world around us. Or the way we don't. We close ourselves off to anything that isn't "safe" or "godly." (I'm realizing I may step on some toes with this post, so please bear with me; I don't mean to offend.) We do spend a lot of time talking about evangelizing, about being a light to the world, about spreading the Gospel - but we either don't really know what the "good news" is, or we're totally missing the boat.

I was never really good with the "plan of salvation." The five or ten or fifty-two steps to getting saved to escape eternal hellfire obviously turned people off, and I was too real not to know that no matter how you couch it to someone who has no concept of the "Christian culture," it sounds ludicrous. I think too often, we make the unsaved our project to win over to our point of view about God, instead of waiting on the Spirit to lead us to the hearts He is already drawing to Himself.

During my first year of Bible college, I participated in street evangelism in downtown Des Moines, Iowa. I was too naive at eighteen to be conscious of any personal danger, so I wasn't afraid to approach people to talk about God. I remember one conversation in particular with a girl whose heart was hurting so much. I could see the pain in her eyes, the aching longing to know that if there was a God, He actually cared about her. I remember how deeply I felt that I needed to tell her of His love.

By the end of my time at this college, however, "evangelism" had been reduced to a program, and I wasn't even sure God existed because of the way I had been treated by my cream-of-the-crop Christian schoolmates. (I should note that I went back for a visit a few years ago, and I found that the friends I had there were the friends who knew and loved the Lord - they weren't the popular people I wanted to love me, but they had loved me. I just couldn't see it at the time.) I transferred to a new school that had an honor code about God that I had to believe Him to sign.

Here, He began to revolutionize my perspective on the Gospel. The good news of the Gospel is life. The good news is that in all of the crap and death and dying and sickness and evil that surrounds us, we actually have a chance at abundant life because Jesus took on flesh and lived and took our place as a sacrifice to appease the God who loved us too much to leave us without hope.

What bothers me is that those of us who claim to have this hope are so busy nit-picking each other to make ourselves "more like Christ" that we are unable to admit and connect with our own humanity when we interact with others. The Gospel of life becomes a program to which everyone must adhere with accountability, and the reality of the death and pain that surrounds us is written off in spiritual terms. We should be groaning with the Spirit inside us and with all of creation for the happy ending we were all meant to live every day with Him.

I've been following a blog lately from a woman who has just completed a divorce. (I will caution about this link; she gets pretty raw sometimes. If you're offended by language, please don't click.) Yesterday, she found out her father has cancer. The comments on her post were so real, so intense. There are no words for the non-Christian to say to someone confronting death. They can only offer their presence, their rage, their empathy. Their "prayers on the smoke."

My heart is very, very burdened for this woman, but not because she's a non-Christian who cusses and is "probably going to hell." She is hurting. Really, really hurting. I want so, so much to tell her that even though her life is absolute crap, there is hope that it's not always going to be this way. I want to tell her how deeply God loves her, how she isn't alone, how He lived this and felt this and bore her sorrows already. I want to tell her how He brings life and quiet peace in the midst of all the crap, how He really is real, how His Spirit comforts and changes us right here. I want to tell her how He wants to make her life, marred by the death that surrounds us all, even more beautiful, more full, more abundant. I want to tell her how He wants her to know Him.

I want to tell her that I love her and I am praying for her.

Because I do and I am.

Sometimes, I think we only pray for our fellow Christians, or for non-Christians to get saved. We don't often invest ourselves and our love in them. We don't often bear their burdens or allow them to share ours. But you see, they are just people. We are just people. And we all live here, surrounded by death and pain and separation from God that is our own fault. We who know Him need to "un-step" the Gospel and start living life abundantly, letting go of our condemnation and fear and definition and triteness. It's okay to love people here, to admit to them that we think life is horrible sometimes too. The only thing that makes us different from them is His Spirit in us.

What about you? If I haven't totally offended you with this post, leave me a comment or a story about something you've thought or experienced in your interactions with people who don't know God. Tell me how you met Him, why He is real to you. I'd love to hear!

"But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His. And if Christ is in you, the body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit is life because of righteousness. But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you."
(Romans 8:9-11)


Jessica said...

SO true!! I hate how we Christians have given ourselves a reputation of being a hypocritical, preach-in-your-face kind of people. We are supposed to be known for our love, not our judgment. I am a member of a forum where people occasionally post about "changing their religion," usually because whatever Christian (or Christian-like) church they used to attend was filled with so many people who were just not real. It saddens me to think that so often we judge instead of loving. We forget that we are no better. I am and have been guilty of this attitude myself, but God helping me, I hope that is changing for the better.

Esther said...

That's a lot to ask from a comment..hehe, but something I feel so strongly about. To see people as He did...does, to respond as He does, even to love as He does; we are all his children.
ah, too many thoughts...i need to organize a bit first..thanks for the post and the spirit it which it was offered.

Sue said...

SO true!! I think if Christians were more real when witnessing and even just living, people could see that it's real.

Alison said...

LOVE this. Amen.

emily said...

Preach. It. I also went to a Bible College where, at 18 we got extra credit for going into the city to street witness. Sometimes I felt guilty because I had nothing to say. I knew I was going to heaven, I knew God was good..but I was missing so much back then. Eternal life isn't something we get when we die. Eternal life is Jesus and I have him now. So different. So much better. Life. Thank you for writing this.

Naomi said...

...yeah, pretty much.

Since gradually and unceremoniously leaving the "bubble" of conservative Christian inundation, I have been overwhelmed with the fact that...people are, well, PEOPLE. If you don't know God, you still have feelings. Weird, huh? For so long, I lived life as if the rebirth experienced by Christians meant that they had license to live at all, not just live in eternity. It's hard to explain without sounding as though I'm downplaying the importance of knowing Christ sometimes, but....learning that it's ok to love those who don't know Him is teaching me a ton about Him.

gina said...

The world of blogging has given me glimpses of the "realness" of people out there, outside of my comfortable little circle of "like-minded" Christian friends...the questions, uncertainties, longings for something more....Reading the stories, seeing the's given me a new compassion and love for the stranger on the street. My life is not without struggles, but oh what a difference Christ makes...the joy & peace he brings no matter the circumstance! I wish everyone had Him and I wish were more gracious as Christians in sharing him! Nothing makes me more angry than when I see comments by "Christians" that are filled with bitterness and animosity and condemnation...That's not what people need...they need to know about a God who loves them with a crazy, never-ending love...
Sorry about the long comment, I usually don't leave comments, but I just came across your site the other day and really appreciate what you have to say!

Angela Fehr said...

It's okay to love people here, to admit to them that we think life is horrible sometimes too. The only thing that makes us different from them is His Spirit in us.
Life changed for me when I realized this. It was important for me to stop categorizing Christian/non-Christian and just love people. I don't have anything to offer except Jesus, and my knowledge of Him is so murky sometimes that I don't even know if I can give what I have.
This is a lovely post.

Post a Comment

Talk to me, if you like.