The recent sermon series at my church was titled The Power of Everybody. It is no surprise to me that I loved it (I love all the series my church does), but this one particularly spoke to me, and not that there was a doubt, showed me once again why God moved the way He did to get me to a church in a tiny north Texas town.
The concept is simple, Jesus came for everybody & we are all better when we are together in real community. Again, Jesus came for everyone, not just for good people, not just for people who follow all the rules, not just for people who have life figured out. He came for all people. It seems that so often in western Christianity this is too easily forgotten, where church becomes a country club to separate “us from them”. That sickens me on so many levels, first because it is just wrong, read the gospels and that is clear. Secondly, if Christianity was about the “good” people, then I would still be lost in a directionless life of sin. I would not sit here typing as a spirit filled baptized believer, forgiven, healed, and walking in freedom. My life and my destiny have been completely changed over the last ten years and my heart cries out for those who are where I was. It is my great desire to help, even in some small way, people to find the gift of grace that I found. One thing is for sure, if God loves me enough to do what He has done for me, then he certainly loves you enough.
Too much of Christianity over the last 2000 years has been manipulated into rules to control people, the work of satan, in order that the message of the gospel is watered down. This is how we have come to the place we are at today where there is so much religion & yet so little real relationship with Christ & so few walking in the freedom of redemption. There are millions of saved believers who do not know the freedom of being released from the bonds of sin. There are even more people who do not know Christ & will not because too many people draw lines through hypocrisy based on the sins of others – breaking news, we all sin & no sin is greater than another, they are all acts against the will of God.
I have met people who quite proudly have told me that they choose not to build relationships with no-Christians, based on flawed logic like “how could you trust them”. Each to their own I supposed, but I have some fundamental issues with this way of thinking. First and foremost, it is about as opposite to the way Jesus lived as you can get, just look at the disciples, a motley crew of people that society had no real use for.
Secondly, if you choose to live this way, you are missing out on relationships with some of the best people you will ever meet. Many of my friends are non-believers, that does not & should not ever get in the way of building a relationship. If you truly want to lead people to Christ, so sow seed etc, then you need to be spending time with people who do not know Christ. The most effective method for leading people to Christ is not to tell them they are wrong! It is to love them through relationships, let them see the light of Christ in your life, be available & if the time ever arises, be ready to share the gospel. Pray about it, when and if the time is right, it will happen, it is not your place to force it, it is your place to be ready to be used when God chooses to use you.
Enter into these relationships with a gentle caution though. You must first be deeply rooted in relationship with your brothers and sisters in Christ. Be transparent but deliberate, Christ in your life must be clear, especially when disclosing how he helps with your struggles. Enjoy these friendships for what they are, but when you need counsel in life, make sure you are getting it from spirit filled people. Go to experts on your situation. If your marriage is struggling, the best person to guide you is probably not someone who is on their third or fourth marriage; it is much more likely to be the person who has been married 30 or 50 years. This is simple wisdom & available to all from God by simply asking for it.
Where do people get the idea from then that it is a good and Christian thing to do to not associate with non-believers? Much of it is caused by fear, unaddressed brokenness that makes people not want to put themselves in a position to be rejected, I get that, I have been there. I pray that people can see that they need help though and that they are not being righteous hiding in their defense mechanisms.
There is another common thing that I have seen though, and that is a small part of the bible used to look like it is instructing exactly the actions that are being used, yet the text is completely out of context. The same way televangelists trick people into giving them money.
Take a look at 2 Timothy 3:1
But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God—having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people.
Wow, that sums up the early 21st century pretty completely. Of course, it sums up the history of the world pretty well too if you look at it through negative eyes. If you read just this text then you could easily use it as a defense to stay away from people who do not love God.
Now I’m not going to lie to you, Pauline theology gives me tired head, yes he gave us some of the greatest written words in history, but sometimes his overly educated lawyer talk is just over my simple head. So rather than trying to figure this out myself (which would make this an article for 2015) I did a little research. I found an interesting website & the text addressing this specific part of scripture is here http://preceptaustin.org/2_timothy_31-5.htm . There is a lot to it, it seems like a very interesting website, I plan on visiting more.
So back on track, the main part of their research that jumped out at me was this:
Remember the context — Paul is speaking to Timothy who is most likely the pastor of the church at Ephesus and he is instructing him about how to guard the treasure and exhorting him to pass it on to faithful men. In short, the description in 2Ti 3:1-8 is not that of men outside the church but of those inside the church (cp Paul’s warning to the Ephesian elders in Acts 20:28 29 30 3132 – Note especially Paul’s emphasis on the importance of the church leaders in Acts 20:32. If you are an elder or pastor, are you imbibing, eating, saturating yourself with and in the Word of His grace that you might recognize and counter wolves in sheep’s clothing in your flock, men who have a form of godliness but lack the power thereof? see Titus 1:9–note cp Mt 7:15 16–note Mt 7:17 18 19 20–note)
So when we understand the scripture in this context, then clearly it is not telling Aunt Edith (made up character) to stay away from the bad people at the bingo hall (do they still have them?). Here we have an example of what I believe is deriving a completely literal account from the bible, completely out of context and then allowing it to provide a warped view of how we as Christians are to behave in the world.
Do I believe the bible is completely true and accurate? Yes. However I believe it must be viewed in context. Some of the context of the bible is in the form of poetry, or word pictures to explain how things happened or will happen, the bible is not Gods diary recounting step by step all that happened. It is the user manual for life, Gods living and breathing word, His guideline for how life is designed to work. It is Him speaking directly to you and if you allow Him, He will changed your life through His word, but only when you accept it as His living word, not just a book to be read because you were told that is what “good people” do.
How would Jesus have us deal with people who are not the same as us? Let’s visit the Sermon on the Mount, The Beatitudes, if you want the Cliff Notes for how to make life work you need to go no further than Matthew 5. If we look at this particular piece of the scripture:
Matthew 5: 43-44
“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.
Then clearly we are not to avoid people, how can you love someone if you are avoiding them for not being just like you?
So what can we do about this divisive, exclusive culture that has grown? Good question, I believe like all good things in the Kingdom, it starts small. It starts with building a strong foundation. It starts by Gods people saying enough, we will not draw lines. If Christ can save the murderer on the cross next to him whilst He is being killed for my sins, then I can certainly extend a welcome to those who need it most. Instead of drawing lines of exclusion, we need to draw circles of inclusion. Jesus paid the price for ALL our sins, not just some of them, not just for the nice folks at church, all of them.
To receive his gift of forgiveness through grace, we have to acknowledge our sins, give our lives to Him as God. And then get ready for a new life, one centered in love & one that like it or not will result in life change. The sin that was once so appealing will over time become detestable to you, not because some goody two shoes said you were bad, but because you have been loved through your faults. The result of receiving this kind of love is a changed heart.
Friends, we need to quit trying to fix people, that is God’s work, what we need to do is get people to Jesus & then get the heck out of the way. We are not called to be God, we are called to be one of the folks holding the mat of the paralytic, those four great men whose names are unknown, yet they set the perfect example of how to live a Christ centered life.
The life change offered by the gospel of Christ & relationship with the Holy Trinity is not one that says get it together first, it is one that says come as you are.
You are loved and accepted as you are, once you realize that be prepare to receive it and then get ready to change, because it is inevitable and wonderful. Will everyone be saved? No. Can everyone be saved? Yes. What we need to do is not play a role in deciding who is saved; we need to play a role in making sure everyone knows that the gift of eternal salvation is theirs for the taking, if they will only accept it. So let’s all stop drawing lines that say do not cross & start drawing circles that say come on in, you are included and you are welcome.
May the peace of God rest upon you.