“Dorothy Day used to say that we should live in such a way that our lives wouldn’t make much sense if the gospel were not true. Not everyone feels called to radical service, of course. Yet ordinary Christians must live a way that differs from the surrounding culture or our message will never get a hearing.
Herein lies the most solemn challenge facing Christians who want to communicate their faith: if we do not live in a way that draws others to the faith rather than repels them, none of our words will matter” Philip Yancey, Vanishing Grace p. 83
Barbara Brown Taylor a former Episcopal priest wrote, “One thing that had always troubled me was the way people disappeared from church when their lives were breaking down. Separation and divorce were the most common explanations for long absences, but so were depression, alcoholism, job loss, and mortal illness. One new widow told me that she could not come to church because she started crying the moment she sat down in a pew. A young man freshly diagnosed with AIDS said that he stayed away because he was too frightened to answer questions and too angry to sing hymns. I understand their reasoning, but I am sorry that church did not strike these wounded souls as a place they could bring the dark fruits of their equally dark night.” Quoted – Yancey p. 106
Doesn’t that make your heart break? When the going becomes tough and life becomes harsh many Christians don’t rush to the church for comfort and support but instead run away from it. Saturday, afternoon I was sitting around with some friends talking about this topic of people not finding comfort or solace when they look to God, my friend Dave commented, “the problem is that people haven’t rejected God, but they have the rejected the God that we have shown them.”
“12 Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13 But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. 14 If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you.” 1 Peter 4:12-14
As Christians we become surprised when problems come our way and the result is often we don’t handle the situation any different than the non-Christian. The perception to anyone looking on is, Christians say they believe in a God but when troubles come they don’t handle them any better than we do, and the result is they turn away and keep doing what they have always done when in trouble.
Jim Cymbala, in his book Storm points out that, “the unanimous conclusion was that the actual number of evangelical Christians is shockingly between 7 to 8.9 percent of the United States population, not 40 percent and certainly not 70 percent.” p. 11 Maybe the problem lies in the results of a 2012 Barna Group study that showed, “that 40 percent of churchgoers said, ‘their life had not changed at all as a result of church going,’” Cymbala p. 12
If our lives are not significantly different from that of the culture around us, then what do we really have to offer? We can know all the right theology and teachings but they don’t do much to comfort a woman who has just had her husband leave or a man who has lost his son. It is at times like these that people need community and love. As I read the New Testament I can’t help but come to the conclusion that this is the role of the church. We are to invite lost people to come home again.
It is the role of the Holy Spirit to convict and direct people back to Jesus. We are simply the hands, feet and eyes of Jesus reaching out to our neighbors and friends with love, compassion and support. Our witness is to be there for people when they hurt, suffer and struggle under the weight of sin and guilt. As Christians we are good at talking the talk but are we any good at walking the walk?
Let me tell you a story. Years ago I owned a natural food store and over time I became friends with my customers and in a few cases began to study the Bible with them. Years later I was sitting in a restaurant in Boston when a girl at the table said to me, “I know you.” I assured her she didn’t because I was from Canada. She replied, “I know. My husband and I use to buy our food from you.”
As she was talking I remembered her and her husband. They lived outside of the city and I would go once a week to their home and study with them. I would park my car on the side of the road and walk down a very long lane through the woods to their home that was nestled up against the beach.
I had often wondered why they had stopped studying with me. One day I showed up at their house as usual and they just said they were finished, thanked me for coming and that was it.
After all these years I had to know what had happened so I asked her. She looked at me as if she didn’t really want to answer but then did. What she said went something like this, “Well, my husband and I were going through troubles in our marriage and we thought that if someone who was a Christian could come and meet with us maybe they could give us advice and we could save the marriage. You knew your Bible, and were willing to come so we invited you. But it didn’t work out.”
“Why,” I asked her. “Well to be honest it seemed all you wanted to do was study a series of studies with us, and every time we tried to talk about our problems you just wanted to get back to the lessons. We eventually realized it wasn’t working and you were more interested in the studies than in hearing us.”
What do you say to something like that? You apologize but it’s too late, way too late. The people in our communities that are hurting need to know Jesus and not just about Jesus. They need to know we love them unconditionally because Jesus loves them unconditionally. They need to know someone will sit and listen and pray and encourage them through their pain and struggles.
I look at it this way, if God loves me enough to die for me, why can’t I love the people Jesus loves enough to cry with them? Someone might be saying right now, “well that’s nice Ladd but we are sent into the world to preach the gospel and make disciples.” That’s right.
* Please remember to pray for the Christians who are suffering persecution for their faith in many countries around the world. There is a great evil settling on this earth and we must be vigilant in our prayers and stay close to Christ. Our hope is in Christ and he is faithful to his people. Please take the time to read about what is taking place in the world around us at http://thebeggardanced.com/nine-oclock-club/ there is much more on the internet…