Do we only want to be around people who want to be around us? We certainly like people who agree with us, and we love people who buy the same books, or saw the same movies as us. We want to be around people who are like ourselves. It's just more comfortable. It's no different when it comes to spiritual matters. We want people who seem just as motivated as us to follow God. "THAT'S my sister, brother, dude, co-laborer in Christ!" We want to run alongside those who are running after God with a passion. I guess that's probably easier or safer. We're Christians, and we're supposed be drinking the "kool-aid" from the same communion cup. We're supposed to be on the same track.
But, what happens when someone (maybe God?) flips the switch on the track, and the train you're on takes a different route?
We love to fellowship with the like-minded. Heck, some of us even want to be told to, "get in line with the rest of the army if you're truly on board." It gives us the opportunity to show people how "on board" we are. But, the moment we don't march in step, we often get left behind. Turns out, this is not the army we thought it was. When that happens we have questions, and when we say, "Hey, some of the things this guy is saying doesn't make sense.", sometimes, and sadly unsurprisingly, the response is, "If you don't like the direction of the church, you can leave!" Is that really how Christianity is supposed to work? I know personally, I'm difficult. I know there were times in a church, I was the problem. I don't need anyone to tell me that. In fact, I'm probably more sure of how wrong I am (or was) than most think. I know what's going on inside me.
See, you can tell me I'm wrong all day long, and I'll agree with you. You can tell it to me again and again, but trust me, I already know, even if I don't admit it outwardly sometimes. But, sometimes knowing doesn't help. Sometimes a consequence, though maybe deserved, doesn't help. Telling someone if they pray hard enough, their marriage will be restored, even as the divorce papers are being nailed to their door, doesn't help. Telling someone God will remove that addiction while they lay on the floor sweating through the pains of withdrawal, doesn't help. Giving them a scripture to read to overcome the loneliness from a loved one's death, doesn't help.
Once we are saved, we love to tell people, "here's the way to do it", whatever "it" is. I think we take those Christians for granted. The ones that seem to have it together, or don't ask a lot of questions. The ones that don't tell you their problems, or if they tell you, they take the "godly advice" you give, and move along quietly. The Christians that cry at the altar and then leave. Basically, all of them. I've seen Christians disappear from congregations, and show up in my courthouse months later. I have seen Christians walk quietly out of churches with a smile on their face, and never return. I have heard them say, "I was told_______. Why didn't this work then?" Some families walk out of church on Sunday and look like things are running on all cylinders. No one knows that the clutch sticks a little, or the breaks are shot. We're too busy making sure we are saving the lost, and we forget to save the Christians too.
We forget that Christians need the Gospel. Not as a side note, but as the front page headline. I wonder if those people who respond every single week to the altar call do so because it's the closest thing to the gospel they've been given during the whole service. After a week of failing, they'll probably respond to even the smallest hint of, "Jesus loves you and forgives you." I've seen it. I have seen the same people every week run to the altar. They run to the words, "come to Jesus." Wow, talk about transparency. I've also heard the comments from around the sanctuary, and they are not at all very Christ-like. They are pharisaical at best. They are pharisaical because they include things like, "well, he should just...", "she's supposed to...", "they're still not..." As fellow blogger, Chad Bird, once said (with some emphasis added):
"that's not the tender touch of lady grace giving you the gospel. That's nothing more than the law dressed up in drag."
Those people who run up to the altar at the end of a service are maybe getting a morsel of grace in that call. Still, they leap forward, looking to follow the trail to more. It's a beggar looking for a crumb of sustenance for their weary lives. It's a sinner living in the hell of their lives, hoping someone will just put even a drop of water on the tip of their tongue so they might be refreshed.
Christians NEED the Gospel. They don't need a home visit only when they ask for help with a bill. They need calls, and visits, and gospel encouragements. They don't need to be told to get into a small group study, which aren't necessarily bad. They need to be told I'm coming to visit, not to fix the problems, but because they are loved by the God of the universe, and they need to know that. They need to know that as bad as they feel, they're forgiven, it is finished and he calls you righteous, AND STOP! Let them swim in those waters and let it be like their baptism. Let those words wash them clean from the filth of daily sins and struggles of immeasurable obstacles that we sometimes seem unable to overcome. Law has done its job, now let grace do hers. Christians in Church are sinners that have had a taste of the sweet waters of grace. I need people to pursue me with that water. You need people to pursue you with that water. Christians need to be pursued with the message of the Gospel, just as vigorously as those who have never heard it.
Grace is needed. Forgiveness is required. People bound by the truth of Grace are free to love someone without expectations. It doesn't remove the struggle. We still have pain and heartache. We still get divorced, suffer the shakes of withdrawal, lose loved ones. We still ask crazy questions in church, and sometimes do so in the wrong way (finger-pointing directly at me). Grace means you can stay, you are forgiven, you are loved, and my love for you is not dependent on your marital status, your addictions or how many questions you have and if you ask them in the right way.
Church, lovers of Christ, body of believers, can we be honest and say there are times, maybe more than we care to admit, that we DON'T love that way? I know I don't, though I (kind of) want to. It is something I want to strive for.
I am thankful that God is unconditional in his love and forgiveness. I am thankful he is our example to follow in that. But, because I fall short, I am thankful more for the grace he gives than for the grace he gives me to give out. I need it first, I need it greater. I still beat my chest and cry, "forgive me, a sinner." When I slump down in a broken heap from that, he covers me in white and says, "DONE!"
Let us drink in this grace. Let us rest in this grace. Let this grace restore and strengthen us and then let us give people this same grace in response to the grace given to us. Whatever instructions we encourage people in Christ to do, and we know there are instructions, let's make sure that those instructions to "do" exists between the bookends of forgiveness and grace, so they know it's NOT what they do or how well they do it, but that it is what's been done for them that matters more than anything else.
Forgiveness and grace, given to us in Christ Jesus, is what holds the broken Christian together. Let's chase down those broken Christians with the gospel.
A theological misfit landing in the area of Lutheranism, Dominick has come to deeply appreciate the truth of scripture as defined by the distinction between Law and Gospel. He has found freedom in knowing that Christ is his substitute on even his worst days. He has been for the course of his church life everything from chair-stacker to men's ministry leader. He is blessed with a wonderful wife and two great young men, which he can say without a doubt, he doesn't deserve. He counts among his favorite things: Star Trek, classic superhero comics, movies, Yankees and yes, he admits to it, the Knicks. He enjoys a good conversation and good food. Finally, he is grateful for the opportunity to share the message of God's Grace among all these great teachers, pastors and theologians and hopes he doesn't mess up big time. But then again, that's what grace is for, right?