Almost two years ago I volunteered at a Franklin Graham festival held in the tsunami-ravaged city of Sendai. I was on the security team (I know, not sure how I pulled that one off either), standing at the doors right at the front of the stage as Franklin Graham gave the altar call after sharing the Gospel with the packed auditorium. I’ll never forget the face of the first woman who came to the front. Because she ran. She ran to the front like someone going home, and when she got there, she looked back at the crowd, and I could see her face when she realized no one had run with her. She looked back at those still sitting or walking forward, and she was shocked. Her face said, “Didn’t you hear what he said? Why aren’t you running up here too?! How can you stay sitting there?!” I will never forget that face.
On Wednesday it was a normal day at the café. I didn’t even notice the rhythmic clapping sound and the accompanying chanting, it just sort of faded into the background. In a quiet moment I looked out a back window and saw a family gathered around the large black memorial stone set up in one of the many empty foundations surrounding the café. They had been clapping and chanting for hours. I asked my Japanese co-worker what they were doing, and she told me they were praying to the dead, asking them to please leave earth and move on to the afterlife. I looked out at them, bowing and chanting and clapping in front of that black rock. I thought about my own prayers that morning over a cup of coffee, the warmth and beauty of meeting with God. “Christianity is so different,” I commented to my co-worker, “They’re carrying such a heavy burden, but our God takes our burdens away.”
Today (Saturday) we held a Christmas concert at the café. A volunteer with an incredible singing voice came, and interspersed with the Christmas songs we explained the story of Christmas. At the end the pastor stood up and gave a Christmas message. It was a beautiful message; he talked about the meaning of God coming to us as a baby, not wrathful and powerful, but humble and small, kneeling down to sit with us in the dust. “God, the true God, is love,” he said, “Please remember that; God is love.” Across from me I watched the face of an old woman in a pink sweater. She hung on his words, hope and tears breaking softly across her face. She looked the same as that woman two years ago.
We forget sometimes how incredible the truth is. Worse, sometimes we get the truth mixed up with lies, and we start trying to earn what Jesus already died to give us freely. We fall into the worldy, hell-spawned pattern of religiousness, and we forgo the very thing that sets the truth apart from every lie. The truth is that God is love, and love gives. God gave us His Son, and in His Son is salvation-- freedom from sin, from being trapped in a place away from God. It is a gift, and as soon as we start trying to earn it, it is no longer a gift and we have lost the truth. I do this so often. I stop living in grace, I start striving, I inevitably fail, and when I do, I turn my face away from God in shame. And then God comes after me. He turns my face back to him and he says, “Christina, why are you hiding?”
“Because I was ashamed, Lord,” I say.
“Because I failed” (because I was naked, and the leaves aren’t covering anything)
“What are you talking about?” he says, “What leaves? None of that mattes anymore,” and he straightens the collar of the white clothes he dressed me in a long time ago, “It’s already done.” And it’s then that I see again the holes in His hands, “All you have to do, is stay here with me.”
It’s true, what he said; His yoke is easy, His burden is light. It’s His arm, tucked around my shoulders, as I choose to trust in His love and stay there with Him. When I remember to look at Him, I know there’s nothing else I’d rather do anyway. This is what Christianity is, and there is nothing like it. Sometimes I have to see it on the face of someone hearing it for the first time to remember, and then I remember why I want so much for everyone to know.