There seems to be a great deal of debate amongst Christians as to what loving others means. To me, it means understanding a tattoo. Crazy, right? But give me a second to explain:
Loving Others Fail:
I walk into a biker bar with the intent of telling the people inside about Jesus. I'm sporting a thick bible under one arm, a smile on my face, and my shirt buttoned up to my chin. As soon as the bar door closes behind me, everyone slowly turns and looks at me. Some of them jostle one another and point, laughing at the sight of me. Yet, right in front of me, tucked into the bar with a cold, long neck clenched in his fist, is the biggest dude I've ever seen. I walk up to him and stick my hand out to shake, "Hey there, I'm ______(insert name here), do you know about Jesus?"
The man shakes his head and turns back to his beer. This is when I spy a giant red tattoo on his bicep. It reads 'Sweatheart'...and I point to it. "Hey, do you know that isn't spelled right? It should be s-w-e-E-t for 'sweet'. That says 'sweat'. It isn't right."
Next thing I know, I'm laying on my back staring through twinkling stars at the bar ceiling. It'll take a week for the shiner to fade to a nice, pale green...
Loving Others Win:
I walk into the bar in my blue jeans and rock n roll t-shirt with nothing but a smile and God's word hidden in my heart. When the door shuts behind me, everyone gives me a disinterested glance. I walk up to the bar and sit down beside one of the biggest, most intimidating men I've ever seen. The bartender asks me what I'll have and I ask for coffee. The man beside me cuts his eyes to mine, suspicious. I give a shrug. "Never been able to handle my alcohol very well." He snorts with amusement and drains the last of his beer.
As I sit there drinking my coffee, I'm asking the Lord what I should say to engage this man in conversation. I'm in this place to show whomever has an eye to see, the love of my Savior in Christ Jesus. But as I sit, waiting, the man turns to me and asks, "Why the heck are you in here for anyways? You don't look like--" he cuts off, a smile tugging the corner of his lips. "Well, let's just say you don't look like this is your sort of place. Ya hear me?"
I laugh, nodding my head. "I'm in here because I was thirsty. Why are you in here?"
He shrugs. "...it's quiet."
At this, it is my turn to laugh. The small bar is blasting with honky tonk music. The shot glasses practically bounce with the bass beat. "You think this place is quiet? You're kidding right?"
He fiddles with his empty beer bottle. "It's pretty quiet."
I sit, searching my heart for the words of the Lord. Finally, "Got a lot on your plate, huh? I know what that's like?"
His eyes cut back to mine, a light in them now. I think his eyes are filled with hope that someone else might understand his pain. "You do?"
I nod. "Life can suck sometimes."
"A couple years back, I lost my job and almost lost everything I have."
His eyes widen. He turns his body ever-so-slightly, as if to give me a bit more of his attention. "Hey, me too! Wife left me not too soon after."
"I'm sorry to hear about that. That's not cool, man."
"You married?" he asks.
"Yep. Nearly thirteen years."
"And she stuck with you?" He asks incredibly.
I nod, taking another swig of my coffee. "Yep. But it wasn't easy. But you know what....?" He raises his eyebrows in expectation. "I'm glad that the wife and I had to go through that dark time."
The man turns away, shaking his head. "Not me. I could have gone on without any of it ever happening. I'm a good guy, you know? You might not think it because...well, I'm a little rough looking...and I'm sitting in a bar, and whatnot. But I'm a good guy. I've never been able to understand why God lets bad things happen to decent people." He clears his throat and says a bit softer, "I do believe in God, ya know? I just don't think I like him much."
And my heart jolts within my chest. This is my door. I lean in and smile. "Good people are like gold...they go through fire and are made stronger, refined. God only refines the good ones because He loves them so much. He needs them to be stronger than the rest, to stand apart."
I don't say anything. I just let those words wash over him. I can see him blinking, staring down at the bar top, his eyebrows knit together as he considers what I've just said. After several long moments, he turns his eyes back to me. "Gold, huh?" He asks, and I nod. "You think a man like me has worth like gold? You don't even know me. You don't have a clue what you're talking about."
I point to the tattoo on his bicep. "Never mind that. Tell me the story about that ink right there."
He snarls down at the 'sweatheart' tattoo and snorts again as laughter bubbles up in his thick chest. "It's supposed to say 'sweetheart'," he chuckles, motioning at the bartender for a coffee. "Got that when I got into the service. I was on a forty-eight hour liberty, drunk out of my mind, and my buddies and I thought we should get our first tattoo. Dang parlor was a shady little place."
I laugh with him. "Service man, huh? What branch?"
I nod. "Marines. Five years."
At this, the man with the sweatheart tattoo begins to open up and share his story with me. I learn all about the ups and downs of his life. His wounds started as a child, but don't they all? I share a bit about myself, the struggles I've conquered. In the process, I am able to bring Jesus into the conversation. He never bats an eye. By this time, he is so open, so honest, so willing to listen to the funny guy next to him, that he listens to me...and most importantly, he listens to me.
I don't leave that bar having led this man to Christ, but I started a friendship. We will meet again, outside the bar...and I will continue to plow the fields and labor in this relationship. I know that in time, his heart will be ready.
Sweatheart Tats and Bondage:
I love tattoos. I have them. I will probably have another before I die. But what I have learned is that tattoos and the sins that keep us in bondage are kind of like the same thing. People think that we can simply tell someone they need Jesus and they need to walk away from their sinful lives in order to have eternal life. But here's the thing...
If that's your viewpoint, you're cheating and trying to get out of the actual work of plowing the fields and waiting for the harvest.
Our sins aren't simply laying on the surface for someone with a bible to kindly wipe away with a bit of spit and a hanky. Our sins might be visible on the outside, but they go far deeper than the skin. Our sins become like tattoos that scar the outside, but go deep, staining and forever changing us. To remove a tattoo, you need a series of painful treatments. Most people don't ever undergo these treatments because of the sheer amount of money it costs...
Your spit and hanky, your bible, your words coming out of your mouth with good intentions, will not turn someone away from their sins. It just won't happen. If anything, you will press them further into the lifestyle they are already a slave to.
It takes the true love of Jesus to wash away our sins. He is the only one that paid the price to not only wash away our sins, but to do the internal healing it takes to remove all traces of our bondage.
You want to effectively go out into the world and show the captives the love of Jesus? Then simply love on them FIRST. Show them friendship and compassion. Build up trust and relationship. Plow the fields. Work and toil for them. Then sit back and wait on Jesus to bring the harvest in. Don't cheat. Don't cut corners. Do the hard work. That's the only way you will ever see the captives set free.