by John Crilly
(Editor’s note: This is the 5th in a 10-part series on how our evangelistic witness looks different than it did a generation ago.)
After a busy weekday during the holiday season, I picked up my wife and headed on a 30+ minute drive in traffic to attend the funeral service of my neighbor’s brother. The sudden death of this relatively young man had taken the family by surprise.
We have lived in our neighborhood for over a decade, and have lived with intentionality on a day-to-day basis to share the love of Jesus in words and concrete actions. Our neighbor, Diane (not her real name), had experiences with Christianity as a youth but was turned off by the church and its leadership. Life has been hard on her, and her choices are consistent with someone who is keeping God at a distance.
As we shuffled into the small chapel, we quickly made eye contact with Diane. She made her way back to us, her eyes red and moist. She hugged us with words full of gratitude for our presence. The service was short and respectful and at one point allowed for people to share stories about the deceased. Diane went to the podium and thanked everyone for being there. She started by saying, “Most of life is about showing up. Thanks for showing up.”
Her words churned in my head for days.
After all, isn’t this what Jesus did?
Yes, He is Jesus, “the one who saves.” But He is also Emmanuel, “God with us.” Jesus showed up. He knocked down the wall that existed between us and God, brick by brick (Eph. 2:14-18).
A growing number of people, especially under the age of 35, have no common Christian memory. They don’t know or value the Bible. Jesus is not relevant in their daily life. Their thought life is void of God, and their actions do not give Jesus any consideration, consciously or subconsciously. Whether we like it or not, we are a pluralistic society. As Gabe Lyons states, “Followers of Christ in a pluralistic society must be willing and able to engage those they disagree with in constructive conversations.” After all, “How can we love someone we don’t know or understand?”
Are you willing and able to engage someone who believes differently than you? If you are, its important to recognize that people aren’t looking for answers first; instead, they are seeking connection—to be known and understood. True connectivity, the ability to link to and connect with another, is scarce. People don’t need an expert to tell them what they should believe, feel, or know—the Internet allows everyone to feel like an expert on any topic, with just a few clicks and a little time.
Knowledge is not the differentiator, love is. And to love someone with action and to have the opportunity to speak words of God’s love, you have to show up.
When the Communists took over Russia in 1917, they vigorously persecuted the Church but did not make Christianity illegal. In the Constitution of 1918, Article 13 guaranteed freedom of religion. But Article 16 established that only the Soviet Republic would render “material and all other assistance to the workers and poorest peasants,” effectively making it illegal for Christians to do any good works. Because the Church in Russia could no longer “show up”—to feed the hungry or take care of the sick or the orphans—within 70 years it became irrelevant.
If we, as followers of Jesus, do not show up, we lose our influence and evangelistic effectiveness. In Romans 15:17-19, the Apostle Paul was full of enthusiasm about all that Christ Jesus had done through him, “bringing the Gentiles to God by my message and by the way I worked among them” (emphasis added). The Spirit of God worked through Paul’s words and actions as he “fully presented the good news of Christ.” Paul showed up. The gospel is spoken and modeled. Our actions give substance, meaning, and credibility to our words.
So how can we as followers of Jesus, have an opportunity to share His love, grace, and awesome message of forgiveness, restoration, and hope?
Show up for them again and again and again. The power of the cross, of sacrificial love, still knocks down walls, brick by brick.
If you don’t show up, they will never know you care. “Love never gives up”—it shows up. “Love never loses faith”—it gives faith. “Love is always hopeful and endures through every circumstance” (1 Cor 13:7).
Love by going to the funeral home and sitting quietly in support. BOOM! One brick down. Love by listening and asking meaningful questions. BOOM! another brick falls. Love by visiting the hospital and offering a prayer. BOOM! and another brick falls. Love by stopping by the house and providing a meal or offering to watch the kids. BOOM! and another. Love by dropping by the dorm room or office and giving a word of encouragement. BOOM! another. Love by including them in something you are already doing. BOOM! another.
And when the opportunity opens, as it always will, love by sharing your story and God’s story. BOOM! the wall comes down.
By showing up in physical and practical ways, we can incarnate Christ’s love, expressing tangible compassion, demonstrating their value, healing their pain or easing their burden in Christ’s name.
Will you show up for someone?
John Crilly is a marketplace leader and the former national field director at Q Place, a ministry empowering Christians to engage in meaningful conversations about God with people who believe differently. He is also co-author of The 9 Arts of Spiritual Conversations available in Spring 2016.