Nearly 135 years ago, British missionary C.T. Studd traveled to China to share the gospel message with those who had never heard. His spirit was both a reflection of the fervor of God’s people for millennia and also a forerunner for us today as we rediscover anew what the gospel looks like in today’s ever-evolving culture.
Studd was onto a critical mindset when he explained, “Some want to live within the sound of church or chapel bell, but I want to run a rescue shop within a yard of hell.” This, I am convinced, must be our heart cry if we are to show and share the love of Jesus with any kind of authenticity, integrity, and humility today.
As editor of The Exchange, I confess I have laid my head in my hands more often than I can count as I have scanned news reports of church failings. So too I have shed tears over the atrocities such as pornography, child exploitation and bullying that have casted a very long shadow over a land that is covered by the beauty of God.
Why does it seem the church is unable to be who she is called to be—to rise above the horrors around us and to proclaim goodness and presence to any and all who will hear? Why do we remain silent, too often so affixed to our own selves that we have lost the awe of our mission, of our God?
This is not new. For as long as humanity has existed, we have failed God. We have stumbled in our mission and led people astray. We have clutched our fists so tightly around our beliefs that we’ve become impotent in loving those unlike us. For this, we always and continually lament.
But for as long as humanity has existed, we have also pleased God. We have stumbled our way to seeking after him and following him. We have openly loved and sacrificially given such that our world, and countless generations, have been changed forever.
We are rather like Jekyll and Hyde. And it’s frustrating and discouraging. When so many of us want to let go of our faith because of what we see in the church, we can’t. Because then good comes. When we are bolstered by an act of love so grand we want to fall to our knees, we are stunned with the next revelation of sin from our pulpits.
Within the church, we struggle.
Without the church, however, we are completely lost. Peter had it right: “So Jesus asked the Twelve, ‘Do you want to leave too?’ Simon Peter replied, ‘Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words of eternal life’” (John 6:67-68).
Our struggle to understand both the church and our world continues, but it continues with Jesus as our guide. This is what Studd understood, and what I believe we need to grasp ahold of today: When we have Jesus, we have it all, and can go into even the most difficult places because we must. Confident of our foundation (like Peter was), we hold a high view of God and Scripture in one hand, and a high view of humanity and the world God loves in the other.
We are a people on mission, and yet, have we lost our way?
Impassioned by the endless love of God
When I was in the 7th grade, I was sexually exploited. It changed the trajectory of my life. I made lots of mistakes and faced lots of addiction. For years. It led me down a path so dark and deep that I nearly died. And yet in all of my lostness, I found something, nay, Someone: I found God. Not a God who was unapproachable or critical; not a God who was uncaring or unwise. The nearness of God and his compassion on my bleeding heart captivated me like nothing ever had, and Lord willing, like nothing ever will.
What I discovered then, and what I have seen over and over in Scripture, is this: God’s compassion upon his people is boundless, endless, some might even say “reckless”. And “his people” aren’t just the church; it’s humanity. It’s the woman who doesn’t believe in God. It’s the teenager who is addicted to drugs and sex. It’s the man who finds his identity in his work and his power.
God’s imago Dei is not limited to those we define. God’s love and his beauty covers all. All—from those who seem to have it all together to those who have suffered the most. His reflection and impression is on all. The question is, Do we, as the church, have the eyes to see the beauty around us and to call that out? Rather, is our belief of Jesus so solid that we are able to see the beauty in each person we meet?
When Josh and I decided to do a podcast called Living in the Land of Oz, we talked at length about “Oz”, convinced that only when the church begins to see our culture and the people in it as beautiful and amazing and worth investing in can we live as though our lives depended on what God calls us to.
Sure, the struggle in our churches is real. But even more so is the struggle we have in being who God made us to be—a people who show and share the love of Jesus with others because we must. Eyes turned outward, we live with a conviction that all really are equally loved by God. William Booth once said,
While women weep, as they do now, I’ll fight; while children go hungry, as they do now, I’ll fight; while men go to prison, in and out, in and out, as they go now, I’ll fight; while there is a drunkard left, while there is a poor lost girl upon the streets, while there remains one dark soul without the light of God, I’ll fight—I’ll fight to the very end!
A beautiful world, filled with beautiful people who think differently and love differently and live differently, is waiting for a message that can actually penetrate their darkness. May we be a people who live with such love and passion into the hard places of life that they can’t help but see that it was Jesus loving them all along.
Laurie Nichols is Director of Communications and Marketing for the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College, creator of the Our Gospel Story curriculum, and co-host of the new podcast, Living in the Land of Oz. She formerly served as Managing Editor for Evangelical Missions Quarterly. Laurie is involved in anti-exploitation efforts when she is not spending time with her husband and two kids.