The characteristic of holiness, which is the outcome of the indwelling of God, is blazing truthfulness with regard to God’s word and an amazing tenderness in personal dealings. –Oswald Chambers
It happened yesterday. I was doing some last minute Christmas shopping against my better judgment. Amidst the clinging and clanging of the Santas with their bells and the singing of carols as I pulled out of the parking lot, I heard a semi-robotic voice screaming at the top of his lungs through a huge megaphone. I looked to my right and saw sandwich boards graffitied with apocalyptic proclamations like “The End is Near, the Day of Judgment is now, women shouldn’t wear pants, etc.”
The young man (who couldn’t have been a lot older than me) was shouting in the best angry preacher voice he could muster. He spit out doctrinal statements faster and with more gusto than even Eminem could attempt. Most of his statements, at their core, I agreed with. But the whole mess just sat wrong with me. I sat at the red light for a good while listening to him as he ran up and down the street like a wild man, screeching as if he were an animal. He claimed that nothing could save you except Jesus. Agreed. That we as humans are inherently flawed and sinful. Agreed. That church tradition is not the final authority on Jesus. Agreed. But for all of his systematic theology, he was missing something. And I pulled into a nearby parking lot to listen and see if he would say it.
Not once was the love of God mentioned. In his eyes, God was a raging beast, poised to strike and throw whatever was left of you into the furnace as a punishment for looking at him the wrong way. Jesus was the only way to tame the beast.
This is not the God I serve.
This is not the God that scripture declares is the only true God.
No, the Bible portrays God as something much better and much more than we can perceive through our darkened glasses. It was love that compelled the Father to send his Son to us to die in our place and bear all of our sin away. It was in love that God turned away while Jesus died. It was in love that Jesus, who knew all of the wars we would wage and the death we would bathe ourselves in said “Father, not my will, but yours.”
See, I hate seeing this picture of God presented on the street corners to people who are just going to shut it out or get angry. I hate that the Church has reduced the Gospel to a list of doctrinal statements and propositions. I hate that instead of seeing the love of God patiently displayed through the lives of the people closest to them, unbelievers are faced with people who couldn’t care less about them and don’t love them unconditionally. People who will say, Jesus is the only way to God, but…you may want to try agreeing with my legalistic list of do’s and don’ts that have nothing to do with the Gospel.
Christians are truly in a culture war, but we will not win it this way. We will not win the culture war by waving signs and screaming through megaphones and compromising the glorious Gospel that God, in his love, sent his son to die for the sins of the world and trading it for the lie that God hates you.
Even if your message is, “Jesus loves you,” it’s not going to be received well if the person is shouting at you (unless of course, you’re at a For Today concert.)
Culture isn’t changed by legislation or a million angry street preachers with fists raised in defiance. Culture is changed by the tough work of discipleship, Christian people loving the non-Christians many segments of Christendom have long neglected. Building relationships and trust and speaking truth in love in the context of that relationship. Witnessing is not a proposition and it is not a screaming match. It is a patient love and an honest life. People respect honesty, and they respect you if you respect them, no matter what.
As the Church, we must be better. We must love people enough that when we present them with the Gospel, there can be no denying that we are doing it out of love. No more screaming from the sidelines in a culture war we cannot win. Show God’s love like Jesus did, by personal connections and by sacrifice. Do not shy away from speaking the truth, but be assured that the truth is a person, not a thing. And let that realization color how you see everything. That is the Gospel.
I pray that the men on the street corner know that. Most importantly, I pray that they show it. I pray that we will not fight to win the culture war by sweeping generalizations and ugly caricatures of God, wholly devoid of any scriptural truth. God’s love is not a condemning love, but a patient one. Surely, he’s been so patient with me, and his kindness leads me to repentance for sin, not his rage.
By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before him; for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything. Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God; and whatever we ask we receive from him, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him. And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. Whoever keeps his commandments abides in God, and God in him. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us. (1 John 3:19-24)