Using Love as the Launch Pad
A friend changed jobs last summer. Though not as frequently in contact with the public as before, he has much more quality time with coworkers.
Keeping the idea of evangelism in mind, he has struck up conversations with several of them.
One particularly friendly exchange ended with my friend inviting the coworker to church.
“You’re a Christian?” he said with a tinge of surprise in his voice.
“Yes,” my friend replied before mentioning where he attends church.
“But you’re so nice,” the guy replied.
An Image Problem
While I wouldn’t want to turn one conversation into a universal pattern, I think it makes a point: “the church” has an image problem.
It seems that many who profess to speak for God—or maybe it’s just those who get the lion’s share of the attention—are anything but winsome and attractive representatives of the one who John 3:16 says loved the world.
Over the years, I have gotten the impression from a number of church members that their starting point is wanting to lecture everyone outside the church about what they’re doing wrong.
Add to that is a touch of condemnation for their actions, and winding up with a stern: “Change or you’ll burn in hell!”
While that may be true, the delivery is a bit lacking.
So are pronouncements of eternal fire for: reading the wrong version of the Bible, dressing the wrong way, listening to the wrong music, or watching the wrong films.
All those are surface issues that have little to do with the state of one’s heart or the decision to accept the gift of eternal life.
It’s what we believe and who we are in Christ that matters, not what we do. If we could earn our way to heaven, then Jesus didn’t come to come and die on the cross.
A friend I worked with on a book project recently explained how she sees the difference between judgmentalism and loving correction.
Before she made a decision to follow Christ, she had had a child out of wedlock.
Instead of condemning her, some church members came alongside to explain why that wasn’t God’s best for her and offer alternatives for a better way of living.
You might say they loved her into God’s kingdom.
In a world that seems ever more determined to erase all moral boundaries, it can be easy to lose your temper, shake a condemning finger, and consign all those sinners to damnation.
I think we can draw encouragement from a comment from Carl Lentz, cofounder of Hillsong Church in New York.
In an interview with Charisma magazine, Lentz talked about how progressive and postmodern culture has swung to extremes, where everything is tolerated with the exception of those who love Jesus.
“I’ve never looked at that as a problem,” Lentz said. “In fact, I say, ‘Thank you. Please keep doing that. Please keep that way, culture, because that is such an empty, hollow, broken way to live that it actually highlights who we are even more.”
Love is Tough
No matter what happens, we have to keep in mind what Jesus said in his apocryphal “Sermon on the Mount.”
“I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you” (Matthew 5:44 MEV).
Love. It is indeed tough. Yet that is what the Savior requires of his followers.