Friday, February 17, 2012

give me a bigger heart.

"I think one of the most powerful apologetics in the gospel is when a group of people love one another and live in unity together in the midst of a broken, dark, and depraved world."

- Jeff Vanderstelt, Soma Communities

A few years ago, a fairly prominent minister came to our congregation for an evangelism workshop. On three separate occasions, he spoke to church members on the power of the gospel and how to bring people to Christ.

Do you know the only thing I remember from that weekend?

He never mentioned love.

I know that I'm a fairly critical listener, and I hope I'm not being too harsh, but I will never forget that out of all the lessons and the pointers and the acronyms and the lists, he never talked about love.

When we talk about evangelizing, when we talk about missionaries and "winning" people for the gospel, I think we forget that really, just like with everything else, it's all about love.

And I don't say that because love is easy, or because I've got evangelism and this "spreading the Word" thing down. In fact, I kind of stink at it. And I'd wager to say that it might actually be easier to pass out tracts and stand on street corners than it is to invite someone over for a meal or to go out of your way to be helpful, kind, and courteous to your coworkers and your neighbors.

Loving people is hard work. 

I wonder if that's why we go to evangelism workshops and write down three names of people we'd like to bring to Christ before we die. Because it's easier to make lists than it is to be a friend.

A few nights ago, Jordan and I were talking with a couple of our friends, and the subject of being a missionary came up. Our friends talked about their passion for going to Africa, about what it could look like if we just decided to do it and go.

I loved that conversation, loved seeing Jordan's eyes light up with the possibility.

But there was another part of me that hesitated.

I'm not a very good missionary right here in Tallahassee, Florida. Moving to Africa to spread God's word? I don't even remember to speak to my neighbor when we run into each other at the mailbox.

That night, I mentioned the possibility of instead, moving to a home in a not-so-great part of town. I talked about living as neighbors -- true neighbors, neighbors that speak and trade sugar and invite each other over to watch TV -- in a community.

You know what?

The four of us weren't so excited about that possibility. My husband (who I love, and who I've asked permission to tell this story) talked about the safety precautions we'd have to take, about the efforts we'd have to make for something like that to be possible.

Not a few minutes earlier, he'd been talking about learning French and moving to Africa.

Loving people is hard work.

This idea has been bombarding me lately, in all kinds of forms. (My brain works in the funniest of ways.)

First, I saw this video and website about a group of 20-somethings who spent an entire summer living and working together on an Arkansas farm. (I got so excited after I watched that I literally brainstormed who of our friends would join me on our own similar summer. I love my friends, but I'm pretty sure that's not happening.)

Then, our Bible class watched a Francis Chan video about fellowship and the church. The entire video stuck with me, but there was this one idea I keep coming back to. In the video, Chan says he cringes when people talk about how they love Jesus, but they just can't understand the church. They just can't get behind the institution that is church. It's too hateful; it's too divided; it's too religious. Look, I get that. I've had my own battle with church for the past few months, but something with Chan really stuck with me. He said that perhaps the best way we can lead others to Christ is by being part of a church, because church takes work. Love and forgiveness and unity take work. And the best way to tell someone about the love and forgiveness offered by the Father isn't by telling them at all.

It's by loving the people at church who you just can't stand.

It's the forgiving people who stomp on your heart.

It's uniting with people who you may not have much in common with, save for the blood of Christ.

When people see that, they just won't get it. And then, you can tell them that you didn't get it either. But Christ does. Christ did. And so we keep on loving and forgiving and uniting, because that's what he did.

So I watched that Francis Chan video. We talked with our friends about mission work. And then, kindred spirit and blogging buddy Kara posted this tear-jerker of a video along with a blog post about the community dinners she takes part in every Monday night.

And every time I read an article or have a conversation or watch a video, I get these chills, because I want that. I want community. I want to love my neighbor. I want to be brave enough to open up my home to friends and strangers alike. I want to be the hands and the feet of Jesus, and I don't want to do it by handing out tracts or even by moving to Africa.

I want to do it right here. Right now.

Because that's where I am.

Too often -- and in all different kinds of circumstances -- we wait. We wait to act until we're married or until we have kids or until we have a house or until we're out of debt or until our church situation gets better or until our family situation gets better or until we move to somewhere new and exciting. 

What if the will of God starts now?

There are a lot of thoughts floating around this head of mine, and I'm not quite sure what to do with them just yet.

For now, I'll keep hosting small groups in my home every Sunday night. I'll keep preparing food even when people complain. I'll keep opening my doors even when people have not-nice things to say. (Sidenote: Opening your doors to people -- even fellow believers -- takes some seriously thick skin. That's not how it should be, but that's how it is.) I'll continue to love and to forgive and to show kindness. I will smile at my neighbor when I'm at the mailbox. I will be kind to my waiter and waitress. I will take food to the sick and to those who've just had babies. I will write sympathy cards and send flowers.

I will do my best to be Jesus right where I am.

"His love is worth me doing everything." That's what minister Jeff Vanderstelt said in the video I linked to above. You know what else he said? If I don't have passion or love for the people around me, for the people I come in contact with on a daily basis, I need to ask for a bigger heart. This isn't about whether I have the "gift" of evangelism or not. In fact, none of this is about me. "This is about God's glory and lost people who don't know the love of the Father."

His love is worth me doing everything, and that everything encompasses even the smallest, most menial of tasks. 

Maybe we'll move to Africa one day. Maybe we'll move into the inner city of Tallahassee, Florida.

But until either of those things happen, I've got a calling right here that I'm not fulfilling. 

It's not about me. It's about so many people who are lost and sad and lonely and hurting. 

It's about love. 

 *photo by Luisa Brimble


Denise K said...

One of your best blogs. I also struggle with being kind to a couple of people whom I have uncomfortable relationships with. I look into my own inner heart and I realize that I love all people and truly wish peace for them--but it gets lost in translation and I end up being snarky.

This is something to ponder--i need to let my heart do the talking for me. Thanks.

annie said...

@ Denise - Thank you so much. I, too, struggle sometimes with being snarky and making snap judgments about people. I want to remember that sometimes the best way to show non-believers Christ's love is by showing love to everyone I come in contact with: even those who are difficult to love.

Kara Gehret said...

Annie, this is so great. This is the bread and butter of the Christian Life, and it's hard -really hard. You are doing exactly what you are called to do. I loved reading this. LOVED it. I'm going to email you some more resources :)

Hannah said...

I love that y'all are so proactively having these conversations. It's so encouraging to see. I would suggest maybe taking a short-term trip, to Africa or anywhere. My stint in Tanzania this past summer stripped me of all inhibitions in sharing the Gospel. I had cared about lost people before, but after? After I was desperate for them to know and accept the Lord.

Cara said...

WOW. SO challenged and convicted by this, but also SO encouraged!!! I love this quote,

"If I don't have passion or love for the people around me, for the people I come in contact with on a daily basis, I need to ask for a bigger heart. This isn't about whether I have the "gift" of evangelism or not. In fact, none of this is about me. "This is about God's glory and lost people who don't know the love of the Father."

So good. I need a bigger heart. I'm not so good at evangelizing, but God is the master of it, and He lives in me, so if I take full advantage of the oppportunities He clearly is giving me, He will speak through ME, and He will bless that obedience. It doesn't matter that it feels awkward, uncomfortable, or foolish, because that's how Satan WANTS us to feel. But God is bigger.

Thank you so much for writing this.
Thank you, sister.

monster cakes said...

Chills! I have chills! Great post Annie. Very moving and exactly what I needed to hear. Love you!

chet said...

I loved this Annie. Also, I would drop everything to work on a farm in Arkansas...even if it is Arkansas.

TefMarie said...

That video is so powerful. I love those stories. I first heard about people moving to the inner city in Tuscaloosa with the Blue House and the Brown House. I thought, I may not be able to make it in Africa, but I could do that. I, like you, struggle with being a missionary in my own backyard sometimes. It all starts with a little love.

Thanks for this post.

Annie said...

Oh, amen. I've struggled with community a lot lately, since I go to a church of 5000 and still balk at joining the college group {and even if I didn't, it doesn't fit well with my schedule}. So I joined a small group, of couples who have kids my age or older. It's stretching. And in the most stretching yet, I offered to host next week.

I don't always like to clean, and I almost never like to cook. But it's not about that. It's not even about the fact that everyone else has hosted at least once and so it's past my turn. It's about the fact that serving is what we're called to do, even when it's uncomfortable. And it's about having open hearts in just the manner He opened His, and part of opening our hearts is opening our front doors. I have a tiny little apartment I haven't done much decorating in - or, frankly, lighting - but I will do what I can with what I have.

It's just about putting our two mites in the offering plate, giving up everything so we can be filled with and make more of Him.

Erin said...

I love this post! Right on. I am inspired.
maybe God's will for your life has already started. :) I sometimes think, "when the kids get older". And I know there are seasons for different ministries & some things really will be when the kids get older. But one that I know I need to leap out on, right now, is reaching out to the neighbor kids, whose mom is a prostitute & drug addict. I CANNOT wait for my kids to be older, cuz then those sweet kids will be older, too.
It is scary to step out where we are. God is with me, though. And He is love.