What would it look like for us to live so compellingly and lovingly in our neighborhoods, cities and nations, that if suddenly we were removed from the world, our non-believing neighbors would miss us terribly?
What would it look like for Christians to become the first place where people go for comfort when a life-altering diagnosis comes, when anxiety and depression hit, when a child goes astray, when a job is lost, or when a spouse files for divorce?
What would it look like for a woman with a crisis pregnancy to see the local church, not the local clinic, as her trustworthy source for love, non-judgment, practical support, wise counsel, and much needed encouragement?
What would it look like for the local church to become the most diverse and welcoming, rather than the most homogeneous and inhospitable, community on earth?
What would it look like for “Christian” to become the first thing, rather than the last thing, that employers and search firms hope to see on a resume?
What would it look like for Christians to become not only the best kinds of friends, but the best kinds of enemies, returning insults with kindness and persecution with prayers?
What would it look like for the Lord to add to our number day by day those who are being saved, not in spite of Christians but because of Christians?
What would it look like for Christians, en masse, to start loving and following the whole Jesus and the whole Scripture, the whole time, into the whole world?
In short, what would it look like for Gandhi sympathizers to start saying, “Your Christians are so like your Christ,” for Herb Caen to say that being born again makes people better, not worse, and for Anne Rice to want to live out her Christianity alongside other Christians?
Jesus declared that Christians would be his aroma to the world, the carriers of the divine imprint, partnering with God as his servants to bring foretastes of heaven down. He declared that we would leave the world, as far as it depended on us, better than we found it. He declared that we would be a sign and shadow of a better world, a world that all have imagined but none has yet fully seen. He declared that over time our movement—rather, His movement through us—would become irresistible to people from every nation, tribe and tongue.
Madeleine L’Engle wrote:
“We draw people to Christ not by loudly discrediting what they believe, by telling them how wrong they are and how right we are, but by showing them a light that is so lovely that they want with all their hearts to know the source of it.”
Despite a checkered past and present for the Christian family, I write as an optimist. I am optimistic because Jesus still intends to renew and love the world through his people. I am optimistic because the negative stories, as concerning as they are, don’t tell the full story and, therefore, shouldn’t be allowed to completely own the narrative. The negative stories aren’t the whole story because for every poor representation of Christ, there are a thousand compelling and contagiously beautiful ones. For history is also illuminated by L’Engle’s “light so lovely” and by a Christian way of life that is truly stunning.
There are many such illuminating examples from history. For example, Christians have shown groundbreaking leadership in science (Pascal, Copernicus, Newton, Galileo, Koop, Collins), the arts and literature (Rembrandt, Beethoven, Dostoevsky, TS Eliot, Tolkein, Fujimura, Cash, Bono), the academy (all but one of the Ivy League Universities were founded by Christians), and mercy and justice (Wilberforce with abolition, Mueller with orphan care, MLK with civil rights).
The identifying mark of the City of God is when citizens of the heavenly city become the very best citizens of the earthly one. As CS Lewis has said, history shows that the people who did the most for the present world were the ones who thought the most of the next one. To be heavenly minded, then, is to be more earthly good, not less. It is to be contagious contributors, not contemptible contrarians, to the world around us. It is to be neither holier-than-thou enemies of the culture on the one hand, nor lawless and licentious products of the culture on the other. Rather, it is to be counter-culture for the good and flourishing of all. It is to resist every urge to lobby and position ourselves to become a power- and privilege-hungry “moral majority.” Rather, it is to pursue our God-given and biblically sanctioned calling to be a fiercely love-driven, self-donating, prophetic minority.
I think it’s time to embrace that vision, don’t you?
It is heartening to see contemporary observers take note of how Christian belief, in its purest form, produces beautiful lives. New York Times writer Nicholas Kristof, a self-proclaimed agnostic, has often noted how today’s Christians far outnumber the rest of the world in volunteer hours and dollars given toward the alleviation of poverty and human suffering. The openly gay mayor of Portland, Oregon, Sam Adams, has spoken publicly about how positive his experience was partnering with local Christian churches to serve the vulnerable communities of Portland. Here in our Nashville community, an abortion provider who is beginning to engage with the claims and ways of Christ recently told a member of our church, “I want your God, whoever he or she is, to be my God”—which appears to be his way of saying, “I like your Christ, not in spite of your Christians, but because of them.”
This is the true Christianity that I want to be part of, and this is the true Christianity that I am committed to pursue. It is the beautiful way of Christ that shines a light that is so lovely. It is Christianity that mirrors the whole Christ, offering a tired and sometimes cynical world a reason to pause and consider…and to start wishing it could be true.
How about you? Are you ready to begin a journey toward Jesus, a better you, a better community, and a better world?
If so, Jesus says, “Come, follow me” (Matthew 4:19).
Let’s follow him together, shall we?
This article originally appeared here.