Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Belonging Births Belief

Having grown up in an ultra-conservative, fundamental church and family, I somehow had the idea that attending church was only for believers. The legalistic bondage in which I was trapped also led me to be quite judgmental of others. I also viewed God as an angry kill-joy, looking for those who were having fun and growling, "Now you cut that out."

I’m grateful that God has opened my eyes to the reality of how Jesus camein love and sacrificenot for the righteous, but for sinners. Not for those who clean themselves up first, but for each of us, just as we are. Our churches should reflect this. Each of us should foster an environment that allows anyone to feel like they belong BEFORE they believe. For it is in community that we first begin to see and share the love of Christ.

Jesus' parable about the Prodigal addressed the rebel (younger son) and the religious Pharisee (older brother). One was an out and out reckless sinner who squandered his inheritance in blatant sin and the other was a hard working, do-good, dutiful, self-righteous, stay-at-home guy. The sad irony is, BOTH sons were alienated from the father’s heart. In my life, there have been times when I have been the younger son and there have been times that I have been the older son.

Over time, thanks to an in-depth study of the book of John (have you really seen how RADICAL the statements of Jesus were?), reading Tim Keller’s “Prodigal God” and almost anything written by Brennan Manning (especially Abba’s Child and Ragamuffin Gospel) have helped me see that my duty is NEVER to judge but rather to love, trust and obey and help others to know they can come... just as they are. God is a God of Love. His judgment was satisfied by the death of Jesus on the cross. "Whosoever will may come."

Yet isn’t it interesting how Satan, the accuser, the destroyer, keeps trying to convince us as believers that our worth is based on works of righteousness. Even my dear father, who was a pastor his entire life and loved God with his whole heart, said on his deathbed, “If I can’t preach any more, what good am I?” How sad. I’m glad he knows now in heaven that “what good” we are is a gift from the father of lights, and has nothing to do with our spiritual performance. We believe in Christ first and then we work out our salvation but neither our salvation nor our worth is based on our works.
At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.
Titus 3:3-7 (New International Version)

This is a daily reminder we must give ourselves. It is only by God’s mercy that we are not consumed, and this is mercy which God asks us to exhibit to everyone else, no matter their religion or non-religion, regardless of how they treat us.

Preachin’ is easy, practicin’ is hard. God give me strength to be consistent in letting the spirit of Christ live this out through me.

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