Why we can’t expect people in the church to be ready for church.

No one should ever, under any circumstance, feel too unworthy to go through church doors.  The church is a place for anyone to go who decides they want to know a bit about God.  They could be drunk, high, hung-over, texting, wearing too few clothes, or donning a plumed hat complete with a Styrofoam bird.  They could have just left from a board meeting, parole hearing, divorce court, local casino, the nearest fast food restaurant, off the last bus for the day, or been kicked out of the nearest bar.  They could be coming from a shift at the local diner, a season of selling popcorn at a stadium, ten years of factory work, a six-week stay at a resort, a year of wondering what they are going to do with their life, or a fifty-year career as the CEO of one of the best run companies in the world.

They could have come from a house or an apartment or a hotel or a homeless shelter or the nearest tattoo parlor.  They could have a Bible or a copy of the newspaper or an iPhone or a comic book or a screaming child or a golf bag with broken clubs or a wallet full of fifties or a chihuahua in their purse.

They might be swearing, or they might be correcting everyone’s grammar.  They might have holes in their jeans, or they might be wearing way-too-expensive shoes.  Their phone might ring in the middle of church; they might chew tobacco in the parking lot; they might cough without covering their mouth; they might have no sense of personal space; they might slouch over in their seat.

They might criticize everything & everyone.  They might be prime examples of hypocrites.  They might be uneducated, or they might have too many doctorates.  They might be prejudiced, or they might be way too tolerant.  They might be better-than-thou, or they might be quite sure they are a nobody.

We can expect them, because God is open to taking them all.

When we try to get people to follow God’s rules before they are saved, it’s like expecting a homeless child to follow the rules of somebody else’s parent.

It’s not happening.

And if we try to make it happen, people will get mad, startled, disappointed, hurt, furious, confused, outraged, depressed, indignant, and frightened.

Division of Family Services doesn’t tell Robert the teenager, who is waiting in juvenile hall for a home, that he has to start following all of George and Teresa’s rules.

Can’t you just hear the response?  “Who is George and Teresa?  Why should I follow their rules?!?”

It’s obvious to us that Robert needs to live with George and Teresa before he is going to want to–or even understand why he should–follow their rules.

We can’t expect people to come into church and want to follow God’s rules.  You have to be adopted by God before you want to follow what He says.

When Robert moves in with George and Teresa, and they show him his new room and buy him clothes and enroll him in the local high school and drive him to football practice every Monday and Thursday night, it will be very natural for them to tell him he can’t smoke cigarettes or download pirated DVD’s or leave the house in the middle of the night with a spray paint can.

Whether Robert agrees or disagrees with the rules, there is a relationship they are built on.  Does Robert live in the house? Yep.  Do George and Teresa now drive him to football practice every Monday and Thursday night?  Yep.

Now–here is something very important to notice.  Before Robert ever knew George and Teresa, it was still wrong to smoke cigarettes, download pirated DVD’s, or go gallivanting around at midnight.  But now he is motivated to do what they say.  He lives with them.  They take care of him.  He relies on them.

We all have a relationship with God as our Creator, but only believers have a relationship with Him as our Father and Savior.  So, while everyone will be held to the same standards under God’s perfect Law, only those who know Him will want to obey Him.

“If you love me, you will obey what I command. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever— the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. (Jesus, quoted in John 14:15-18, NIV)

We can’t expect people in church to be ready for church.  But we can expect believers to be.  If we have been saved by Christ, then we are going in His house much like a child running into the arms of a parent.  Church for us needs to be all about out-and-out worship, total outreach, and an imitation of the same patience for others in the church that God had for us when He chose to stay around for us . . even when we broke all the rules.

After all, we are the ones living in the Father’s house.  When visitors come in, our goal isn’t to critique them, or make them less embarrassing looking to God–oh my!  I would hate to think how embarrassing I have been to God over the years!  It also isn’t our job to make them feel good about their sins–just like we aren’t to feel good about our sins.

Our goal is to bring visitors in our home to our brother Jesus, not to keep them waiting at the door until they make themselves ‘more presentable’.  Jesus is the only way any of us will ever be presentable to God.  He is the only one who can bring us for adoption to the Father.

When Jesus pays for someone’s sins, they are adopted into the family of God  . . just the way we were.  So we should look at every person who walks through our church doors as a potential new member of our family.

Rescue others by snatching them from the flames of judgment. Show mercy to still others, but do so with great caution, hating the sins that contaminate their lives. (Jude 1:23, NLT)

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