Matthew 9:10-13 (the message)
Later when Jesus was eating supper at Matthew’s house with his close followers, a lot of disreputable characters came and joined them. When the Pharisees saw him keeping this kind of company, they had a fit, and lit into Jesus’ followers. “What kind of example is this from your Teacher, acting cozy with crooks and riffraff?”
Jesus, overhearing, shot back, “Who needs a doctor: the healthy or the sick? Go figure out what this Scripture means: ‘I’m after mercy, not religion.’ I’m here to invite the outsiders, not coddle insiders.”
Have you, as a believer, ever felt judged by another believer for the church you attend or your faith? Have you ever judged someone else, or a group or denomination, that was different from yours? Check out these phrases and see if they are familiar to you, on the receiving or sending end…or perhaps both…
goes too far
Saturday night my Pastor made reference to the scripture above (in the New Living Translation) as he spoke. Ever since I keep thinking about the guy with the green beer shirt.
When we first began attending our church, nearly six years ago, I volunteered to be a greeter. I opened doors and gave directions and welcomed folks with a genuine, heart-felt smile. I felt anticipation for what God was going to do! I loved being a greeter! I would notice the countenance, the expressions, of those coming through the doors. Some would barely make eye contact as I greeted them…I could sense in my heart perhaps they were afraid, very sad, angry or felt really nervous. My heart would go out to them, but again I was anticipating what God might do in their hearts if they would but let Him. I remember one Sunday seeing a guy come through the lobby with a green “Guinness” shirt on (this is a brand of beer). Of course it caught my attention because you don’t see a beer shirt in church every week…smile. But within seconds I remember the joy I felt inside. You know why? Because I knew that guy was welcome just as he was, beer shirt and all. I knew that it was just a shirt and God cared immensely more about the heart of the man wearing the shirt. And I believe whole-heartedly God is pleased when we make it easy for beer-shirt-to-church wearing people to enter His house. Jesus wants to get close to people…wants a chance to speak to their hearts. We can speak the truth of God’s Word without making it really hard for people to get close enough to hear. I think He might be asking us to get out of His way sometimes…
Yes, I am going somewhere with this because my heart has been stirring for days. I bit my nails off Sunday reading my Bible on the front porch! I long to say it the right way…to communicate with the right heart. So let me keep going…smile…Sunday my family attended the church of some dear friends so we could see their oldest son be baptized. Guess what? Their church is not the same as mine in as far as the labels we like to apply…denomiation, size, style. But it was great. The songs we sang stirred my heart in worship. The Pastor’s message was filled with the truth of God’s love and His Word. What touched my heart the most was at the beginning when the Associate Pastor opened the service in prayer. In that prayer he lifted up before God other area churches holding service that morning also…that God would touch hearts all over. I so appreciated the heart of his prayer.
Yesterday afternoon the girls and I went for a walk and sat at the park with a friend. She and I got to talking about church and a bit of our personal journey in our faith. Again, different but the same. Her church is not the same as mine in labels nor the same as the church we visited Sunday. But still, she talked about her growing desire to understand the Bible…how much she appreciated her Pastor making the Bible and his messages relevant to life. How finding her church showed her why people actually want to go to church on the weekend.
In my desire to be real I want to share I have now been on both the sending and receiving ends of the label-assigning and judgment among Christians. There was a time I absolutely used some of those phrases above as I condescendingly spoke about other churches and denominations. Except I knew personally one or two folks who worshipped in “those” kinds of churches and they didn’t neatly fit inside the label. Their faith was not dry or watered down. Their character was deep and love for God and people sparkled…deeper and brighter than mine did, really. So, I’ve been there. Easily spouted off my opinions and what I just knew must be true of people and churches not exactly like mine, though I never heard their Pastors speak or attended their services.
Now I find myself on the receiving end sometimes. See, my come just as you are church gets a couple of those labels tossed its way on a regular basis. Most of the time it doesn’t rattle me, it just makes me sad in a way. Sad for all of us who so easily judge another person’s faith and personal relationship with Creator because of how the church’s sign reads. Sad because God loves all people…all…and He wants to reach them and touch their hearts and I just don’t believe anymore that if you aren’t going to attend my specific church then its just too sad and too bad. You get the “lesser” version of Jesus.
Not long ago, a woman in her twenties shared with our church on a Wednesday night how she hadn’t even been sure if she believed in God but she decided to give it one last try. So she snuck into the back of our church and hated it! People worshipping God with hands lifted and all that. But, she said smilingly, she came back the next week. And the next. She shared how she sat on the back row for nine months, barely hearing what Pastor said, but then one day He said just take the next step…whatever that is, take the next step. And she did. Now she is loving Jesus with all her heart, serving with the teenagers at our church and full of joy. She was indeed a seeker. For a long time. But she found Jesus because He’s not impatient. He sees the end from the beginning.
My oldest daughter is in second grade and apparently this is the age when little kids have clubs at recess and the drama tilts to a new level. For a few weeks she would get into the car in the afternoons and talk about her friend’s club and what happened and who got mad. She decided to start her own club but then someone got mad at her. (Geez) One day I just asked, Rivers, do you guys need all these clubs? Can you not all just play together? She didn’t really answer but within a few days she announced instead of a club she had church that day at recess. A laugh escaped my lips and I asked what do you mean? She explained there were two services and she preached. She mentioned how one little girl wouldn’t stop interrupting and she told her if she didn’t stop she would be disqualified from coming. I cautioned her…no Rivers, God never, ever disqualifies anyone from coming to church and hearing about Him. Remember that, honey.
It turns out my daughter is still having church at recess and kids actually come to one of her “services.” This morning at breakfast she told me that today she was gong to talk about the “rocky road” at church. I smiled and asked what that would be about. Rivers, my seven-year-old, said the following: The rocks in the road are like questions and obstacles in life you have to overcome. I asked gently, and how do we do that? She answered by praying and then together we agreed reading the Bible and obeying God is another way. Rivers also shared with me how they sing during church at recess…she sang to me these lines…Savior, He can move the mountains, My God is mighty to save, He is mighty to save…
Even as I type those words I know the only explanation is God’s hand on my child’s life. But I also believe she is giving out something she lives and sees all around her…Jesus loves people all the time, everywhere. Some of the kids coming to sit at her “church” at recess don’t go to church. In time they will most likely move on to something else, but in the mean time maybe my little daughter can use this recess church time to encourage her friends to know Jesus or at least hear He loves them. I don’t think they have a sign to identify the doctrinal flavor. She has never counted and told me how many do or don’t attend. And hopefully if one of her friends decides to have church at the same time as her and it’s not exactly the same, she will still cheer them on cause they are in it together. Reaching out to hurting people…beer shirts and all.
I think that’s the kind of church Jesus would attend.