Steve Stone, the pastor at Heartsong Church in Cordova, Tennessee learned that the lot next to him had been purchased by the Memphis Islamic Center. Unlike the well-intentioned yet misguided Christians who have taken to protesting against Muslims, Stone placed a sign out where the lots meet that said, "Heartsong Church Welcomes Memphis Islamic Center to the Neighborhood." Stone’s church even invited the Muslims over to the church to share a meal. In a touching moment, the Muslim women brought flowers for their Christians hostesses.
Instead of protesting against the Muslims, Heartsong Church lived out the life of Christ and started the process of reaching the unreached. Because of this approach, relationships are being built, bridges that Jesus can walk over rather than walls that would obscure the view of Jesus.
Somewhere along the road to where we are, many churches have become confused and started to think that being filled with slander, wrath, malice, and anger – characteristics of the old self (Colossians 3:8) – is how we should respond to those different than us. In many circles it has become improper to even dialogue with those that disagree with you because you wouldn't want to appear accepting of them; that might cause people to think that you are like those you disagree with. We don’t just do this with other religions, we do it with other denominations and even churches within our own brotherhood. And on a personal level, we do it with other people.
But the new self is different than that old, hostile self. Gone is the slander, wrath, malice, and anger. The new self opens doors rather than closes them. When we live in the new self, we will be used to build a better world rather than quickening the deterioration of the world around us.
Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. Col 3:12-17 (ESV)
The key is love, a love that leads to a compassionate heart that is kind, humble, meek and patient. This love will cause us to not count wrongs but to forgive. This love will cause us to live differently than the grudge holders around us. Instead of breaking the lines of communication when things get difficult, as much as it depends on us, we will keep the dialogue going. I have experienced people who no longer want to talk with me because of things I have done to try and further the kingdom, but I need to always leave the door open to further communicating with them. The same is true in every situation, as much as it depends on us, we live in peace with everyone. It takes two to have a healthy conversation, but we should never be the person to stop it.
The story of Heartsong Church didn’t just end with a church being Jesus in their community, welcoming their unreached neighbors into the neighborhood. Across the world in Kashmir, the contested and violent religion between India and Pakistan, the story of Heartsong welcoming the Islamic Center was covered on the news.
Jim Wallis shared the following story:
Stone also told me that he got a call from a group of Muslims in a small town in Kashmir. They said they had been watching CNN when the segment on Heartsong Church aired. Afterward, one of the community's leaders said to those who were gathered, "God just spoke to us through this man." Another said, "How can we kill these people?" A third man went straight to the local Christian church and proceeded to clean it, inside and out.All of this in Kashmir because a church in Tennessee put on the new self.
Stone says he is just trying to love his neighbors, as he says Jesus instructs him to do. For their part, the residents of that small town in Kashmir told him: "We are now trying to be good neighbors, too. Tell your congregation we do not hate them, we love them, and for the rest of our lives we are going to take care of that little church."
Now, if you're like me, chances of a mosque being built in your neighborhood isn't all that likely. The way we treat Muslims is just a mental exercise that influences the way we converse about world issues. However, we have people around us who we want to give up on. People who behave in such a way that we want to put on the old self of malice, anger, and slander. We know a friend who drinks to much, and we want to give up on her. We know someone who is lazy causing him to lose job after job, and we want to give up on him. We know another who just makes bad decision after bad decision, and we want to give up on her. But if we are living in the new self, we will be compassionate, forgiving, kind, and filled with love. If we keep them at a difference while we live in the old self, we will never be of any help.
Jesus came to seek and save the lost. We need to be about His work. It might not have an impact like Heartsong had. In the end, the Christian life is not about effectiveness; it's about faithfulness. And without a phone call from Kashmir, Steve Stone would not have known what his living in the new self did to impact the world. And often, we will not see what living in the new self has done to help improve the world around us. But that's not the point, being faithful, no matter what the cost, is what following Jesus is all about. Compasssion. Kindness. Humility. Meekness. Patience. Forgiveness. Love. Thankfulness. The New Self. A new life. Our life.