“Can I tell you something really heavy? With dark, pleading eyes, Kayshon asked, “You remember the boy who was killed two weeks ago? You remember the kid who shot him…well, he was in my face the day before.” His voice trailed off as he mumbled, “It could have been me.”
Such stark confrontations with mortality seldom penetrate my comfortable, middle-class world. I don’t know how it feels to be shot or live with the fear that the next guy who walks by me might use the gun tucked in his waistband. My young students understand all to well. “I can’t think. I’ve got a lot going on,” is a common story for my kids. They live in a war-zone they do not know how to escape.
It humbles me when hearts are shared and eyes allowed to connect. In their world, looking another in the face is a challenge. No one is readily trusted. In theory I am there to teach academics and help these folks get on a better road. The answers are easy in my living room; but walking those answers out takes greater courage than I have ever known. The realities of the street challenge my comfortable Christianity and right answers. I learn much about living honest and real from my street kids.
Our conversation continued.
“My heart breaks for the families of both boys, Kayshon–and for the shooter. But I know it didn’t happen without the knowledge of God. We have to seek His face and walk forward to bring His Kingdom to the broken lives around us. He has work for us to do,” I quietly responded.
Kayshon lifted his eyes, “I know God has a call on my life. I am to be a preacher…but I’m not ready. Too many preachers get in the pulpit and then do whatever they want. I don’t want to be one of them.”
He was not the first young gang member to speak to me of the disparity between what religious folks say and what they do. A lack of integrity–not being on the inside what we present on the outside–kills. It destroys us and others. As clay containers of the very glory of God, purity begins inside and works its way out.
My young friend went on to tell me that he would heed the call of God just as soon as he got his life together. What he doesn’t understand is that his plan parallels the path those pastors probably walk on…the path too many Christians stumble upon. Do better, try harder. Cleaning up our outside simply feeds our personal pride. Either we live blind to our failures or excuse them. The ‘sins’ we conquer become our badge of success. We dress in the filthy rags Isaiah speaks of and think we look amazing. Unless the inside changes, the yuck will eventually ooze to the outside. The solution is not to change ourselves; in fact, it isn’t even possible!
Our hopeless state moved the heart of God to act. It is His mercy and grace that give us the courage to admit our need. Our humble admittance opens our hearts for life to life! As we bow in awe at the incredible love displayed by our Savior on the Cross, He begins transforming us from inside out. Focusing on cleaning up the outside first actually derails us from bowing in humble desperation. Pretending we are fine when dis-ease lurks within derails others too.
Integrity is built into our very design. God has no shadows in Him and wants to fully light our lives as well. The transforming power of Christ is real, but God waits until we accept His help. As we go to church and walk the streets, may the Life of Christ flood the world with hope in Christ–not in doing better. May we be transparent about our need for mercy and grace instead of presenting false perfection. Lives depend on it!