It happened again. I went into one of our bookstores today to fill in for a few hours and God set me up. I was only supposed to helping customers find what they needed and I certainly did not expect another divine appointment. After doing this for so many years, I should know better. Stepping into our stores is like stepping on sacred ground. God knows what he is doing even when I don’t.
Cynthia came up to the counter looking nervous and asked me in a soft voice if I could help her. She proceeded to tell me that she needed help finding a Bible and that she was just starting to get serious about going to church again. A couple of friends had made some recommendations and she did not know what Bible to get. I quickly stepped from behind the counter and went to the Bible section with her.
After discerning that she wanted a modern English, Large Print Study Bible, we looked at several options and finally settled on the NIV Life Application Bible. This was a beautiful, but expensive Bible that seemed to meet all her needs. I was a little nervous to tell her the price and mentioned that it would be a little more expensive than other Bibles because of the binding and the size of the print. When I told her the price, she smiled and said, “I thought you were going to say $250, but that price is not a problem.” We talked some more and I learned that she was going to be attending a Bible Study at a nearby local church and she wanted to be prepared.
We spent a few more moments together finding the perfect Bible case and her smiles got bigger. As we walked back to the counter, she said, “I am so glad you were here today. I feel so stupid asking all these questions and now I know I found what I needed.” I told her that there were no stupid questions when it came to finding the right Bible and that she could come in anytime and ask more questions about how to use the Bible she had just purchased.
As we finished the transaction at the computer, it dawned on me that this was not just her first Bible in a while. She was returning to Christianity after a sojourn somewhere else and we were one of her first stops along the way. She asked me about what else we sold in the store and her eyes kept getting bigger as she realized the breadth of the resources that were available to her. Finally, she said (and I paraphrase), “Thanks for helping me today; you really made me feel comfortable asking all those questions.”
As she left, I couldn’t help wondering how many people really feel comfortable around us evangelical Christians these days. So often the media has portrayed us as hate speech spewing, narrow minded bigots with an agenda. Unfortunately, every now and then, we reinforce that stereotype with our behavior. According to some recent polls, we are now the only group that broadly opposes gay marriage and abortion rights in America. How did we become so well known for what we are against rather than for what we are for?
Growing up around other evangelicals all my life, I have not always been real comfortable myself. At times, I did not always know who to discuss my doubts and fears with without being condemned or made to feel guilty for even asking. I am so blessed that this was not a problem for long. At almost every step in my own faith journey, God has placed a “comfortable” person in my path that I could be authentic with without fear. Not only did they not condemn me, they pointed me to books that had answers to the questions that gnawed at me and authors that had experienced the same doubts that I had. Philip Yancey and C.S. Lewis were authors that were pivotal in this process and I am so glad someone told me about their books.
While I am certainly in favor of being bold in our faith, I also think there is something to be said about being just a tad less scary to the average non-Christian that we interact with. There is nothing wrong with admitting that we are not perfect, do not always have all the answers and actually get it wrong every now and then. A more vulnerable and empathic evangelical church is desperately needed these days when so many people are no longer considering the church as even necessary for their faith journey. As I read the gospels, Jesus was far more threatening and scary to the religious establishment of his day that he was to the average tax collector or prostitute. Maybe we need to have more holy fear of who God is and who He wants us to be. As we see His face, may we be melted in our spirits and learn to demonstrate a compassion, for a lost and lonely world, that is simply irresistible.