This week, I would simply like to share with you a story from Francis Chan, which has been floating around in my mind since I heard it several weeks ago.
There was a missionary who spoke at our church years ago who had gone to Papua New Guinea and won a tribe to Jesus. It was a beautiful story. At the end, he mentioned the pivotal influence of his youth pastor, a man named Vaughn, who loved him and told him that his life was to be lived for the glory of God.
Then, the next week, we had another man come and talk about sponsoring kids, and when he was at the end of his presentation, he said, “Under God, I owe this all to the influence of my youth pastor Vaughn.” So I asked and found out that these two guys had been in the same youth group.
Then the next week another speaker named Dan told us about his ministry at a rescue mission in the inner city of L.A. After Dan's talk, I casually mentioned, “It was so weird: the last two weeks both of our speakers mentioned how much impact their youth pastor, Vaughn, had on them.” Dan looked surprised and then he told me, “I know Vaughn. He's a pastor in San Diego now, and he takes people into the dumps in Tijuana where kids are picking through the garbage. I was just with Vaughn in Tijuana. We would walk in the city, and these kids would run up to him, and he would show such deep love and affection for them. He'd hug them and have gifts and food for them. He'd figure out how to get them showers. Francis, it was eerie: the whole time I was walking with Vaughn, I kept thinking, If Jesus was on earth, I think this is what it would feel like to walk with him. He just loved everyone he ran into, and he would tell them about God. People were just drawn to his love and affection.” And then Dan said this, “The day I spent with Vaughn was the closest thing I've ever experienced to walking with Jesus.” (Francis Chan, 2010, “Think Hard, Stay Humble”)
Has anyone ever had reason to say that of you? When people leave your presence do they say, “Wow—that was the closest thing I’ve ever had to walking with Jesus”? Do we love so freely, see others so clearly, act so compassionately that the strangers with whom we casually cross paths or the family, friends, and colleagues who interact with us day-by-day see Jesus in us? Does the love of Christ dwell in us so richly that it spills out onto every path our earthly feet may walk?
As we enter into the Advent season, we look to the Christ Child, the God and Creator of the universe who put on human skin. Jesus came, yes, to die for our sins, but first and foremost so that we could see the Father, so we would have a picture, a model of the Invisible God (John 14:9).
In 1 John, we read that our purpose now, as Christ-followers, is to be a picture, a model of Jesus to the world. Just as Jesus came to make the Father known and visible, we as the church are to make Jesus known and visible through our love (1 John 4:12). We should be radiating Christ so fully that the world looks on and sees the irresistible beauty of Jesus and the immeasurable grace of the Gospel.
I heard someone say recently, "Earth is the closest thing to hell that those who accept Christ will ever experience, but it's the closest thing to Heaven that those who reject Christ will ever experience." I have heard others say similarly, "For many, a Christian in their life is the closest they will ever come to meeting Jesus." The answer to these provocative (yet truthful) statements is not to go on a hell-fire evangelistic campaign or to hand out tracts en mass. The answer is to live our lives as Jesus-in-skin to the world, winsomely pulling them to the Gospel through our attention, our compassion, and our love.
So this is my challenge to us, dear friends—let us leave the four walls of our churches and go into our families, our communities, and our workplaces and live in such a way that people can say of us, “If Jesus was on earth, I think this is what it would feel like to walk with him.”