Saturday, August 25, 2012

My Encounter With A German Atheist

I met him while ministering in Berlin. He was only 17 years old, but looked much older.  His story, I will never forget. When asked if he believed in God, he said no.  From his response, you could tell there was a bit of anger and bitterness behind his reasoning.  He wasn't ugly or mean, just firm in what he believed.  He went on to explain why he was certain there wasn't a God.  He hadn't been indoctrinated, or convinced of his atheistic beliefs by another, but had come to that conclusion through his own human reasoning and attempt at explaining his life's journey.  A journey full of hurt, heartache, and abandonment.  When he was younger he, and his siblings, were abandoned by his parents.  They just left one day.  He had an older brother that died in an accident somewhat recently, leaving him pretty much on his own.  I think he mentioned that he had a younger brother or sister, but other than that he has absolutely no family.  He's 17 years old, all alone and has no home.

Looking at the hand that's been dealt him, he has reasoned that there is no way God could exist, because if He did, He would never let this kind of stuff happen to him or anyone else.  As I stood looking into his eyes, I realized my theology couldn't reach this kid.  I couldn't convince him through argument or debate.  I couldn't pull out a 5 point sermon on why bad things happen.  While I know his anger and bitterness is misplaced, I couldn't convince him of that in the few minutes we were able to talk.  There were huge walls of hurt that couldn't be broken down with a simple "Jesus loves you."  I felt in that moment that anything I said would be much like trying to put a Band-Aid on a severed artery. I knew that this young man would never be reached by only hearing about Jesus; he had to see Jesus with skin on.  He had to see the love of God in a tangible way.

What I wanted to do was take this kid into my arms and hug him.  I wanted to fix everything in his life for him.  I wanted to convince Him that God hurts when he hurts.  I wanted to take him home and attempt to be a father to this fatherless boy, and to show him the love of God.  I wanted to make things right.  Instead I stood there with no real answers.  I couldn't bring him home.  I couldn't fix his life for him. I couldn't convince him that God hurts when he hurts.  I felt inept.  I felt powerless.  Here, was a kid, hurting and I couldn't stop the hurt.  Here, was a kid with a broken heart and I couldn't put the pieces back together.  If I had a few months, or a few years, perhaps I could help him, but I only had a few minutes.  The ministry we work with in Germany, European Initiative, strives to reach people and connect them with local churches and ministries that can follow up on them.  However, as is the case here in America, many churches struggle to engage in reaching the lost and discipling them. Ministries like EI, need the church. What am I saying?  God needs the church.  He needs believers who aren't afraid of getting their hands dirty.  He needs believers who are willing to engage in meaningful relationships with people who are hurting. I'm not taking a prideful position here and I don't want to imply that I'm out there doing my part while the rest of the church sleeps.  I'm part of the problem to be completely honest.  I get so busy living life for myself that I lose sight of those around me who are hurting and are in desperate need. God needs the church, me included, to wake up and to determine to be who He created us to be.  This young man needs the church.  He's not going to simply walk into the doors of the church.  I knew when I was talking to him he wasn't going to open up to the Gospel over the course of a 15 or 20 minute conversation.  It was going to require much more than that. His heart was hard and the walls that surrounded him where thick.  He wasn't going to come to church because someone handed him an invite card.  He needed to be pursued.  Pursued by someone who sincerely loved him.      

When I walked away from the conversation, I broke.  I had to get away for a moment and just compose myself. I wish I could have found a place where I could be alone for a moment, but everywhere I turned there were crowds of people. I quickly wiped the tears and tried not to get too emotional. I think maybe I got a glimpse of what caused Jesus to weep for Jerusalem. He wanted so desperately to reach them,  heal them, free them, and save them, yet He couldn't.  Jesus, the Son of God, couldn't help them because they rejected Him, so He just sat there weeping for them.  Like Jesus, I wept for this boy.  I connected with his pain and my heart was broken.

It’s been several days since then and I can't get this boy off my mind.  He's there constantly, haunting me in a sense.  Maybe, that's the wrong word, as I don't mean to imply that it’s a bad thing. Yet, it’s like an old LP that is stuck and replaying over and over in my mind.  It's as if the Holy Spirit is pricking my heart, and doing a bit of surgery on me. It's a little painful, yet it’s good.  I keep asking the question, why did this guy's story send me over the edge?  What is it about him that stirred up such emotions in me?  I've heard stories like this before and some even worse, yet there I was literally about to lose it.

The truth is that I've been asking God to help me see others through His eyes.  I've been determined to get out of the judgment seat and leave that to Him.  I want so desperately to see others through the eyes of love and compassion rather than the self-righteous glasses that are often my default lenses.  I'm convinced that's exactly what happened that day in Berlin.  I didn't see a dirty, homeless boy that day.  I saw a hurt, wounded, young man who needed so desperately to have his eyes opened to the reality of who God is.  The hurt and the brokenness I felt, was God allowing me to capture a glimpse of His heart for people.  And to be honest, I never want to forget what my eyes saw and what my heart felt that day.  I didn't simply feel sorry for this young man, I hurt for him.  And although, I admit I can be brought to tears by a simple Hallmark commercial, this was different.  This stirred up something much deeper than some superficial surface emotions. I have truly been moved with compassion concerning this young man.  

This boy's story isn't unique.  And one doesn't need to travel halfway around the world to find people like him.  They are everywhere.  They are our neighbors.  They're our co-workers, classmates, and fellow church members.  They are those who wait on us at restaurants and check us out at the grocery store.  They're our doctors, hair stylists, and bank tellers.  They're our friends, family, and loved ones. They are the people who we love to be around as well as the ones we can't stand.  They are all around us, but if we choose to look through our tainted lenses of self-righteousness and judgment we'll never truly see them.  We'll encounter them but we'll never truly see them. However, I believe if we'll ask God to show us what He sees, He'll do just that.  But, I warn you, don't ask that if you don't want to be challenged to take on the responsibility of doing something to meet the needs, and heal the hurts.  When God begins to show you the depths of hurt and pain that people are dealing with, you'll be compelled to engage. 

That's exactly where I find myself today.  I'm desperate to engage like never before. Not because I feel a sense of obligation but because there's a world of hurting people.  I'm part of the church, and as such I'm the light of the world.  I have the answer for the world and if I, along with my fellow members of the Body of Christ, fail to engage, then those who are hurting will never meet their Healer. What an absolute tragedy that would be.  While I have to trust God to reach this young man in Berlin, there are people here in my community that need me to be God's hands and feet.  They don't need to simply hear my Christian jargon.  They need to see in me a reflection of God's unconditional, unlimited love. I can't reach them all, but perhaps I can reach one or maybe a few.  I really don't think God is expecting us as individuals to reach the masses.  He just wants us to reach our neighbor.

I know full well that there are many who want nothing to do with God and there is not much I can do about that but pray and trust God to somehow, someway reach them.  It's imperative though that I never allow the fear of rejection to keep me from reaching those who are desperate to be reached.  When I begin to see others the way God sees them, I'll see the value in them that He sees.  I'll understand the truth that they are worth it. They are worth my time, energy, and sacrifice.  They are worth reaching.  They are worth me stepping out of the comfort zone formed by the four walls of the church building. They are worth loving.

I don't know how well this BLOG is communicating what I so desperately want to communicate.  Perhaps, you just had to be there that day I encountered this 17 year old German atheist.  Maybe, you needed to see the look on his face when he boldly declared his disbelief in God.  Maybe, you needed to look into his eyes as he shared all the hurt and pain his life has endured.  I was there though, and what I witnessed broke my heart.  God used that 17 year old German atheist to get access to my heart and speak clearly to me.  Why did this young man's story break my heart the way it did?  I've figured it out.  It's because this young man's story breaks the heart of God.  

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