Wow, what a day this has been. It has been at the same time thoroughly wonderful, and heartbreaking.
The day started with a wonderful walk in a park along the Hudson River, with a couple of my favorite people. It was one of those cool, misty mornings that is so refreshing. We walked on a beautiful estate that is now a historical site, and marveled at the architecture, the manicured lawns, the great variety of trees and flowers. It was a wonderful start to the day.
The wonderfulness increased when we went to worship with believers in Harlem (as in, the Harlem in New York City) for church. It was my first time in Harlem, and I loved the whole experience, although I did feel rather like a country mouse in the city. J The noise of traffic filled the air as we walked along the sidewalk to the church door, which was set in a stone building that extended the whole length of the block. I couldn’t help but compare it with the previous Sunday, when I was worshipping back home, in a silo that has been converted into a house, and we had to drive through all sorts of woods, on muddy dirt roads, to get there. The contrasts continued as we went into the church; pretty much everything was different except for the God we were worshipping, and when we all turned our eyes to the simple bread and cup which we use to remember Him, all the extraneous details disappeared. I marveled at the accessibility of God, how that as Jesus taught, the place of worship does not matter, only that we worship in Spirit and truth. (John 4)
After church, we went out onto the streets to do a survey of the people in that area, seeking to find out their beliefs about the Bible and Jesus Christ, in preparation for a gospel teaching workshop that will be held there this summer. And that was when my heart began to break. We talked with nearly a hundred people, some old, some young, some pleasant, some rude, some male, some female, some prosperous, some poor—yet not one of them knew the way of salvation by faith in Jesus Christ. Most of them had been taught some vague concepts about Jesus and His sacrifice, but none of them seemed to clearly understand why He had to die for their sins. Some of them had never heard John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.”
And as I stood there on the sidewalk, a bit dazed by the constant flood of humanity, I realized that God was answering my prayer, that my heart would break over the things that grieve His heart. As I intercepted dozens of people, asking them to complete the survey and trying to bring truth to any who would listen, I understood a little bit more the heart of the Lord Jesus. When He took His disciples away to a lonely place for a little bit of respite, and found a great multitude waiting for Him there, He could only feel compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. (Mark 6:34)
Yes, sheep without a shepherd. But the beautiful part is that the Shepherd is still seeking the sheep. And for all those who will listen, there is His message of unspeakable love and perfect forgiveness, beauty sprung out of the horror of the cross.