Atheist Activism, Christian Compassion, and the Power of God

Patrick Greene had a history of atheist activism.

Recently Nancy French highlighted a story about Christians in Texas who raised money for atheist activist Patrick Greene, to help cover expenses while he was going through extensive eye treatment.

You may remember that earlier this year, Greene was part of a fight against a Nativity scene that had been set up outside the courthouse in the town of Athens, Texas, and he had even threatened to file a lawsuit over it.  Malakoff News reported in February that:

Greene has a history of activism going back to at least 1998, when he challenged – and changed – the way the city of Ontario, California stored and cared for a series of nativity scenes. He has also twice filed lawsuits against the San Antonio mayor’s office for prayer-related reasons, and has pursued legal action against other entities.

Shortly thereafter, Green’s eyesight began to rapidly deteriorate, and he stopped protesting the Nativity scene to focus on his health.  And get this: Christians in the community stepped up to help him, raising money to help cover his expenses.  The Tyler Morning Telegraph reported on this in March:

“I knew of his lawsuit and threats and thought how sad it was for him to be so bitter toward Christians,” Jessica Crye, of Athens, said. “I thought he must have never felt the love of God through Christians. I also thought about how scary that must be.”  Upon hearing about Greene’s plight with his eyes, Ms. Crye spearheaded a movement for a collection to send Greene…

“Why not turn this into something else? This is a great opportunity to turn the other cheek and show God’s love,” she said.  Ms. Crye contacted her pastor, the Rev. Erick Graham, of Sand Springs Baptist Church, and the drive for a collection for Greene gained momentum.

As a result of Crye’s idea and the kindness of many believers, thousands of dollars in donations were raised and have gone toward helping Greene.

Did you hear the latest in this ongoing story?  Green reconsidered his view of God, and has become a Christian!  He’s even encouraging others to read the Bible for themselves… and yes, he now fully supports the Nativity scene.  The Christian Post reported last week:

A few months ago Patrick Greene was an atheist who was threatening to sue Henderson County, Texas, if the county didn’t remove a Nativity scene from its courthouse lawn. Today he is a believer in Christ who underwent a radical change of heart that was catalyzed by the compassion of one Christian woman…

As a symbol of his appreciation to the Christian community both in and around Athens, Greene has purchased a star for the top of the tree that is part of the Christmas display he once railed against. He has also written a letter to the Freedom From Religion Foundation, an organization that said the Nativity display was unconstitutional, to explain why their legal arguments against the Nativity are not valid.

Read the entire Christian Post article here.

So what can we take away from this story?  I am reminded of 3 powerful principles from scripture:

1) Never forget that God’s story is continually unfolding. God is constantly at work in our lives as well as in the lives of others… and that includes people we hear about in the news!  So often, I’ll read a newspaper article or see a TV clip and it sounds like the story is so final. Yet it’s important to remember that we are all “works in progress,” and just because someone is a self-described “atheist activist” or “anti-Christian” does not mean they will always be so and it certainly doesn’t mean they are beyond the reach of God’s grace.  As a child, my mom taught me to pray for people we heard about on the news… whether they faced physical troubles or were antagonistic to our values.  This was a great reminder of that, and such an encouragement to view life through the lens of eternity!

“So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”  — 2 Corinthians 4:18

2) Don’t underestimate the impact of compassionate deeds. We live in a world that is hurting and hungry for meaning and purpose.  So many people are suffering physically and spiritually, and often those who appear the angriest or most antagonistic are the ones who feel weak and insecure on the inside.  People try to fill that God-shaped hole with one thing after another, even choosing to define themselves as being against Christianity or denying God’s very existence.  Jesus commands us to “love your enemies” and “pray for those who persecute you,” yet how often do we actively seek out opportunities to help those who are diametrically opposed to our beliefs and values?  Good deeds — when guided by the Holy Spirit and fueled by a genuine love for God and those made in His image — can go a long way in touching the lives of others.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.”  — Matthew 5:43-45a

3) Always rely on the power of God to change hearts and minds. I think it’s very important to recognize that ultimately God is the one who draws people to Himself, and we must not fall into the trap of thinking that, “If only we show them loving kindness, they will see the truth.”  This type of thinking can lead to both arrogance and self-reliance (thinking that we have the power to change people), as well as compromise (thinking that as Christians we should simply be charitable towards our opponents without confronting their erroneous claims and standing up for our own Biblical beliefs).  No amount good deeds on our part can open the eyes of someone who denies the existence of God, and no matter how compassionate our actions may be, we are ultimately powerless to change one’s heart.  When God does move in a person’s life and we see a conversion such as this, we can rejoice that God has used us to be a part of His plan.

God still does miracles!

“For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” 1 Corinthians 1:18

Living in the awareness of these three things should motivate us to view current events with an eternal perspective, to further engage with an unbelieving world, and to trust God to use us in His never-ending story!

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