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What Kind of Church Do You Want to Be?

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If someone decided to visit your church would they feel welcome, comfortable, and accepted? Why should someone decide to attend and what could they expect when they arrived? Do we make them feel like “outsiders” and do they wish they knew the secret handshake? Have you ever thought about how hard it is for someone to come in and participate in something that is like a different culture and language to them? Are you a church that is trying to reach the churched or are you pursuing the unchurched?

Would you welcome them if they did not believe like you do? They may come seeking but they are still unsure about this “born again” thing. They want to be a good person but not sure if they really do believe in God. They want more in their lives but they are pretty sure we think we are better than them. They desire a safe place to seek answers to their questions without fear of being ridiculed or ostracized. All too often we want people to behave right before they have the opportunity to believe right!

Figuring out who the church is isn’t a new struggle. It goes all the way back to the first century when all of the sudden Gentiles were becoming believers and began attending the synagogues. Thousands of Jews had been saved and then they began intentionally reaching out to the Gentiles. This was way out of their comfort zones because in many of their minds, “how could someone be a follower of the Jewish Messiah and not be Jewish?” Many were uneasy about “letting” them in and many were offended!

These Gentiles brought a lot of baggage with them because of their customs, traditions, values, and their eating habits. Not only had they placed their faith in Christ but all of the sudden they showed up in the synagogues and wanted to participate. This was a huge problem because they didn’t know the rules and didn’t have a clue about all of the traditions. What would the Jewish believers do? It seemed that the logical solution would be for them to require the Gentile believers to become Jewish! Case closed!

They gave them “the list!” You know those things they had to do and those things they had to stop doing. This was not just the Ten Commandments but over 600 commandments with commentary that had been added over the years. They needed to know how to dress, when to clap and when not to clap, and what instruments were allowed. They certainly didn’t want them bringing their drums and guitars into the church because everyone knew they were worldly. You see, many churches have always wanted to supply lists of what to do, when to do it, and who is allowed to participate.

The Jewish list (check out Acts 15) took it to a whole new level. If the Gentile men wanted to be a part of the early church they would have to have surgery. They would require them to be circumcised. That must have been a very interesting new member class to attend! The Jewish believers wanted them to submit to the entire Law of Moses. If they refused, they could not be members. Keeping the law was very difficult for the most dedicated of Jews but completely impossible for an outsider to even come close.

James 2:10 says, “For whoever keeps the entire law, yet fails in one point, is guilty of breaking it all.” Peter addresses the problem in Acts 15:10-11 and basically says, “Are you kidding me? We don’t even keep the law very well. Why are you burdening them with these ridiculous requirements?” When Peter gets done, James stands up and declares in verse 19 that they shouldn’t do anything that would make it unnecessarily difficult for people who are turning to God.

Unfortunately, there always seems to be an invisible force that pulls many churches and Christians back into a graceless religion and legalism. It just seems so much easier to produce a list that everybody has to live by. It sure isn’t as messy that way but what happens to grace? Do not our hearts then become hardened to the people who need the message of the gospel the most? If not careful, we then become a church where we are a showcase for the saints instead of a hospital for sinners!

Here is the kind of church we should desire to be:

  1. Where guests and the unchurched are the most important people on campus!
  2. Where broken, imperfect people with every kind of story imaginable are saved a seat!
  3. Where doubters, skeptics, and unbelievers are welcome to come and see if it is genuine, real, and authentic.
  4. Where if you have a question about the Bible, faith, Jesus, or the existence of God you can ask your questions and still be accepted.
  5. Where we value those who are far from God the same way He does! (See Luke 15)

Col. 4:5-6 says, “Act wisely toward outsiders, making the most of the time. Your speech should always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you should answer each person.” If we are not careful, our speech and attitude toward people far from God is full of salt and only seasoned with a little bit of grace!

We must answer the question above honestly and biblically, “What kind of church do we want to be?” Will we be keepers of the aquarium or will we be fishers of men?

DON’T PLAY FAVORITES

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Take a moment and think about the attributes of God. He is loving, forgiving, merciful, holy, just, righteous, and the list could go on and on. Do you ever think about His impartiality? God is absolutely impartial in His dealings with people. He has stated His love for the whole world and is not willing that any should perish. Deut. 10:17 says, “For the Lord your God is the God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, mighty, and awesome God, showing no partiality and taking no bribe.”

We tend to show partiality by ranking and judging people by predetermined categories such as looks, clothes, social status, intelligence, athletic accomplishment, color of skin, and this list could go on and on as well. All of these are of no significance to God. We can all get star struck with the emphasis on celebrity-ism in our culture. It is amazing how much God speaks about not showing favoritism in the scriptures. Prov. 24:23 says, “These sayings also belong to the wise: It is not good to show partiality in judgment.”

Recently, I met a well know rap star in an airport. As we visited she said, “You don’t know who I am, do you?” I had to admit that I did not have a clue who she was and apologized. She responded, “No, actually it is kind of nice!” She was enjoying someone visiting with her as a person of worth not because of her fame or music career. It was kind of funny. She also said to me, “Well, you really don’t look like someone who is into rap anyway!” Then she laughed.

James 2:1 makes it clear, “My brothers, do not show favoritism as you hold on to the faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ.” There are two things here that are incompatible: “My brothers” and “Favoritism.” Those two things are contradictory because favoritsm is when we lift someone up above others; judging them by appearance and on that basis giving them special favor and respect. It is the practice of giving unfair preferential treatment to one person or group at the expense of another!

Favoritism is judging purely on a superficial basis without consideration of a person’s true merits, abilities, or character. In Rom. 2:10 Paul said, “but glory, honor, and peace for everyone who does what is good, first to the Jew, and also to the Greek. There is no favoritism with God.” Then there was the big ah-ha moment for Peter in Acts 10:34-35, “Now I really understand that God doesn’t show favoritism, but in every nation the person who fears Him and does righteousness is acceptable to Him.”

Jesus did not show favoritism! It made no difference to Him whether He spoke to the wealthy or a beggar, the virtuous or a prostitute, educated or ignorant, religious or irreligious, a law-abiding citizen or a criminal. His focus was on the worth of every individual and his over-riding concern was their souls. God’s impartiality is in His family tree as evidenced by Rahab the harlot and in where He was raised. “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”

Grace Hills Church in NW Arkansas has a web page that says, “We don’t care how you’re dressed, how many tattoos you have, or who you’re voting for in 2016. We’re a church full of broken, imperfect people with every kind of story imaginable, and we’re saving a seat for you!” I love it! In Mark 2:17 Jesus said, “Those who are well don’t need a doctor, but the sick do need one. I didn’t come to call the righteous, but sinners.” Is your church saving a seat for the broken and hurting with their habits and hang-ups?

Here is how we must apply these truths:

  • You cannot bribe, buy, or earn your way into heaven! Jesus is the only way, truth, and life! You are saved by grace through faith and whoever calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved. It is by grace alone, faith alone, and in Christ alone!
  • Prejudice has no place in the church of the living God! The old song says it well, “Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in His sight!” If the church doors are not open to receive all then they should be closed for good!
  • Your value does not decrease based on someone’s inability to see your worth! God sees your worth. He gave you life and sent His Son, Jesus, to die on the cross for you so that you could have eternal life.
  • Your talents and giftedness have the potential to take you farther than your character can sustain you! Focus first on who you are and then work on what you do. Remember, what you do does not define you because God looks at the heart.
  • Man was not made to be worshiped! Many have succumbed to listening to the praise of those around them and it causes them to think more highly of themselves than they should think. The celebrity-ism of our culture is bleeding over into churches and we must be very careful.

“The Spirit of the Lord is on Me, because He has anointed Me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim freedom to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Luke 4:18-19