An antsy crowd huddled around the crosswalk near the apartments on Asbury University’s campus could have only meant one thing: Campus Ministry USA was back. This group consists of street “preachers” who use antagonistic tactics, such as yelling about how girls are whores damned to hell if they wear yoga pants, as their preferred method of “evangelism”. As I passed by the swarm of students and the angsty instigators of the chaos, I was immediately overcome with harsh, bitter thoughts toward them: “How do they think they have the right to come onto our campus and hurl insults at us? What a miserable life… Going from school to school to demean and belittle students and then trying to bully them into believing a gospel of hellfire and brimstone… These people are the reasons why Christians get such a bad reputation these days.” The longer that I dwelled on these negative feelings, the more intensely the Holy Spirit began to convict me of my attitude towards them. I began to pray that He would wash through my heart and mind even in that moment and help me to view the situation through His eyes. Here are just a few things that He began to bring to my attention:
- One positive thing that I took away from the whole ordeal was those people’s commitment & dedication to their cause & their beliefs, although they were heartbreakingly misguided. I was reminded of the fact that God can change anyone’s heart & use them & the abilities He’s given them for His glory. It made me think of how Paul, one of the greatest human reflections of Christ’s love, started out his life killing Christians & mocking Jesus, but an encounter with the grace & mercy of the Living Jesus literally changed his life. Just think about how powerful those people’s boldness for their beliefs would be if they used it to speak the truth in love. No one is outside of the love & redemption of God, so it’s my prayer that their hearts would be transformed just as Paul’s was.
- When Jesus was on the cross, He did not retaliate against His accusers, rather He had compassion on them & asked God to forgive them because they didn’t know what they were doing. In the same way, even though it goes completely against human nature, we should not act out against those trying to antagonize us. Arguments don’t change hearts, especially for those who don’t really want to listen to reason; only genuine, godly love can do that. We can’t change hearts because that’s the Lord’s job, but we can love people with the same power that raised Jesus from the dead.
- Satan would like nothing more than to tear down our faith-filled campus from the inside out by trying to plant seeds of resentment, doubt, & insecurity in our hearts, but we can be encouraged by the fact that if we truly know Jesus, then we know that He & His character never change, so our identity as His loved & redeemed children & our hope of salvation doesn’t change either, regardless of insults that are thrown our way. Jesus wants to take that offense & criticism from us so that we can move forward today with the freedom to forgive & the grace to love unconditionally because of the way He loves all of us.
Scripture says in John 3:17 that God didn’t send Jesus into the world to condemn it, but to save it. While it’s easy to throw that verse at those people & tell them to stop condemning us, we shouldn’t be so quick to condemn them either. Instead, let’s try to see them through the eyes of Jesus as His children who are not disqualified from His love, no matter what they’ve said or done. Let’s be the set-apart people that we are called to be who love our oppressors so radically that they can’t help but to be drawn into the presence of Jesus. And finally, let’s count this time of suffering as joy, grateful that it gives us a chance to put Jesus’ command to love our enemies into practice.