A MOST TRAGIC MISUNDERSTANDING...
I'll never forget the conversation I had a few years ago with a lady who came into my office in a previous appointment looking for assistance with her utility bill. This is a lady whom I had gotten to know as she is what is referred to in our business as 'a regular.'
On this particular occasion as we started talking she dived into what I called the, "Preacher, I know I need to be in church..." routine. I've heard it before from her, but this time she added a new twist - she noticed I was wearing blue jeans and a blazer in the office, and she said, "Well, I never knew someone could wear blue jeans to church, much less the pastor to their office." We talked further about this and I said to her, "Mary (not her real name), what's really going on here?" She then went on to tell me that she would be coming to church, "As soon as I put myself together and get right with God."
It was at this point I had many conflicting emotions - rage about her excuse-making, sadness about her perception of what it meant to be welcomed in the church - but the primary thing I ket thinking about was my broken-heartedness about her complete misunderstanding of what it meant to be accepted by God. It is the idea of Prevenient Grace that guides us in our belief that God is always ready for us, and God's always ready for us because the way has been prepared by Divine grace.
This poor lady has been walking around for who knows how long with this misguided notion that she had to prepare herself to get right with God, when in truth it is God who prepares us to enter into relationship with him, not the other way around.
I was reminded of this story earlier this week when visiting with one of my dearest friends and colleagues about the future of Christianity and the role of the church in that future, specifically as it relates to answering the question of why it is that it seems so hard at times for people to want to come and be part of this faith community.
One answer my friend had heard from a member of their family was that they didn't feel welcome on Sundays because of how they live the rest of the week. Talk about bringing up a well of emotion within me...we are called to be people who walk alongside any and all, for there's not a one of us who lives a completely spotless life. By walking with each other in love, we can point one another to the tremendous joy that is life in Christ. The challenge for all of us within the body of Christ is not to point to each other, but point each other to Christ, trusting that Christ will, through the Holy Spirit, work in whatever way is needed for someone to dwell richly in God's presence.
As we move forward into the last quarter of 2014 and into the rest of our future ministry, we must be vigilant about how we embody and project the message of God's gracious and redemptive love to those who feel they have to 'get themselves together' to come to church or those who don't feel welcome because of how they live their lives the rest of the week.
Grace and Peace, Lamar