I was sitting at a stoplight lost in the silence of our car when the solitary, melancholy piano took me away. In an instant there was a loneliness–an isolation conveyed on the ivory that made me think of him. The Walgreen’s sign flashed its specials and traffic raced through the intersection. People consumed by their own destinations, adrift in their own worlds. What would it be like…to feel imposed on the world but not a part of it? Things falling apart—dispair, anger, disbelief, confusion—and all the while hundreds of others, each living their own existences, brush past him not knowing or caring about what he isn’t going home to.
How many hurting people are passing through this life feeling that kind of isolation? Is it the man in the next cubicle? The woman staring at her grocery cart next to you? Sometimes when I’m in places like airports and malls I marvel at all the stories and journeys taking place before me. That cute little girl with the pigtails–is she loved? The woman who I never see smile; is her marriage ok? The guy who seems so tough at the driving range–is he there to practice his swing? Or to escape?
As a Jesus follower, I’ll be the first to acknowledge that generally speaking, His church isn’t doing enough to help the hurting. Sadly, when many hear the word “Christian,” the first thoughts that come to mind are: judgmental, unloving, exclusive. How ironic it is, really, that Jesus did not exhibit exclusivity when it came to those he talked to, ate with, … died for. So why do we grow hedges and hang drapery to keep ourselves in? Why do we isolate ourselves, often times, from the hurts of those living on the other side of our walls?
This past Sunday at church I found myself in the midst of something so big and wonderful that my heart is still expanding to contain it. Our pastor taught with a guest teacher on Acts 2, in which Luke, the author, paints in broad strokes a clear picture of what life was like in the early church. While the sermon referenced texts in both the Old and New Testaments, we landed on these words from verses 42-48:
42They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. 44All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. 46Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. [highlighting mine]
“What would it look like,” our pastors postulated, “if we really did this. If we gave to anyone as he had need…” They took us through the original Greek and expanded the meanings and challenged us. They seemed to be saying, “If we, as Jesus Followers, actually took care of each other, might we enjoy anew the favor of all people?” Might the lost be won over with our love? Might they look at our generosity and outpouring of glad and sincere hearts decide that if that’s what Jesus is about, then I want it, too.
Rob bent over and collected a four-foot stack of white buckets. “If you are here today, and you have plenty…think about giving away your plenty for those who have a need. If you are here today and have nothing–except stacks of bills at home–come and share in our plenty. Take what you need.”
The guitars started strumming and the tears began to roll. I had a few one’s and a five in my pocket and I lept for joy to give this paltry offering, glad to do it and wishing that I had more to share. As I returned to my gray chair, my thoughts immediately went to him. I yearned for him to be there; yearned for him to be sharing in this bounty and generosity. My friend came and grabbed my hand and hugged me. “Let’s go get some money for him. For Todd*.” My heart beat with love to know that she could read my thoughts and feel my pain, and that she still chose to walk with me through it.
Today I had the new and strange joy of delivering this gift. Crumpled and stained with tears so they no longer lay flat, I tucked the bills in a card I’ve been saving for him for months, and drove to his house. And stopped at a red light and watched the Walgreen’s sign flicker. And listed to Adele and cried. I walked into his garage and saw the remnants of a once-happy home. Notes from the kids in marker on the inside walls. The blue rectangular bike license plates nailed to the wall by the back door proclaiming the names of each family member; or at least, the family that used to live there.
I set the envelope down against the door and looked at those names and sobbed. I stood in the darkness of his garage and sobbed and felt it all. Helplessness. Dispairing. Disbelief. Loneliness. I looked again and again at that wall and realized that as far as we know, things in this home will never be quite the same.
And then God knocked the wind out of me, quite literally. This same man with big questions and big problems and no church–this same man surprised me. On the cupboard door next to the stack of names was a small black sticker. One that I know very well. One you may have seen around town if you live near Grand Rapids. Next to an amalgamation of kids’ artwork, record album covers and band stickers was one proclaiming two simple, yet profound words: LOVE WINS.
LOVE WINS. That’s from my church–that’s from Mars Hill. That’s our “thing.” I could *not* believe it. Somewhere buried beneath all the questions and all the frustration and prayers that seem to rise to an empty sky, he still chooses to believe it. He still chooses to slap it across his workbench cupboard and read it everyday.
I know that this doesn’t mean that he loves Jesus. I know that this doesn’t even mean he’s ready to come back to church. But I have concluded, in this world of confusion and religion, that it’s not about hosting a debate or having a list of answers. It’s about Acts 2. It’s about small steps. It’s about love. I have concluded that showing love…wins.