I was in San Francisco this last week with my good friend Matt Will. We were meeting with several different groups of people from the city and local ministries to talk about what's being done in the city and what unmet needs still exist. The highlight of our time there was the day we spent with a couple guys who are living in community down there, wrestling with the question of what it means to be followers of Jesus, a question I am continually wrestling with myself. I've felt for sometime that I am going through the adolescent developmental stage of developing my own identity as a follower of Christ and an important part of that is questioning and in some ways rejecting the beliefs and identity of my parent's generation. I've been trying to approach the teachings of Jesus without the presuppositions of sunday school answers and life experience that have for so long tainted my perception. I want to see Jesus for who he is in a new and fresh way.
Anyway, we were talking with these guys about the perception that Christians often have of big cities like San Francisco, actually San Francisco in particular. I've heard this city several times sarcastically referred to as "the city of brotherly love" by Christians with whom I have to bite my tongue when I am engaged in conversation. We all know that San Francisco is the liberal and homosexual epicenter of the movement that is trying to destroy our nation and brainwash our children. Forgive the abrasive sarcasm, I suppose I have some frustration to work through. Anyway, these two refreshing young souls were telling us how they have interacted with so many youth groups who come into the city with the mentality that they are entering the darkest place on earth and they have all the answers to save it. Inevitably, this mentality always leads to causing abrasive misunderstanding amongst the residents of the city and elicits what I often refer to as "deserved persecution".
One of the guys we were talking to said something that has been replaying in my mind ever since. He said that to truly have an impact on the city, you have to truly love the city, every part of it, and be able to see the beauty in every part of it. He said that God has not left the city like everyone seems to think. The church has left the city and vacated into affluent suburbs, but God has not left. He is still very much at work, even in what people consider the darkest parts of the darkest city. He said that coming into the city with a self-righteous chip on your shoulder and sharing the "good news" without taking the time to learn the language, learn the culture, and see where God is at work causes nothing but further damage and driving a further wedge between people, the church, and God. Perhaps this is close to what Jesus meant when he talked about walking in another person's shoes.
People say that we go into the city and do street evangelism becuase we love people, but do we really? To truly love someone, you must take the time to get to know them. You learn their passions, their dreams, their struggles, and their dark little secrets. You take the time to sit with them when they're down and to celebrate with them when they're up. You are willing to die for them. You're not interested in them for the added notch you can put on your belt for another soul saved, you are interested in them for who they are, for their beauty as a human being and a child of God. As I continue to interact more and more with people who are diffferent from me, I think I'm beginning to learn what this means. I'm beginning to know what it is to become burdened because you love someone and want to help them stop their self-destructive pattern of life but realize they must learn that for themselves. I'm beginning to learn what it's like to love someone enough to die for them. I'm beginning to see how amazing it is that Christ loved the world so much that he suffered the consequences of their condemnation so they would not have to, knowing full well that some would still not chose to follow his teachings. And then I ask myself, do I love enough to take another's condemnation upon my shoulder's?