Quick Note: Yesterday was the first full day of our water crisis in Corpus Christi and my mind just couldn’t wrap around writing a thoughtful, intelligent piece. So, I didn’t write yesterday. I apologize. This is for yesterday.
Jake Arrieta was a run of the mill pitcher for the Baltimore Orioles. He started a couple of openers, but his record wasn’t very good. He was sent to the minors and brought back to the majors a couple of times. Then he was traded to the Cubs. In the last half of the 2015 season, he went on a tear and had one of the best half seasons ever with a pitching performance that included a no-hit performance against the Los Angeles Dodgers and culminated in a Cy Young award. He was an integral part of the Cubs World Series championship team this year. All he needed was a change of scenery and the chance to prove himself.
As Paul preached the gospel in the towns and villages he visited on his missionary journeys he made it a habit to preach to the Jews first, who should have understood about the coming Messiah (or, in fact, Jesus who had already come.) They rejected his message and he would go to the Gentiles where people would commit to following Jesus. After Paul was arrested and taken to Rome, he followed the same procedure and spoke to the Jews who lived in that city who didn’t know all that was going on. Some followed, others didn’t and there was a bit of a dispute. So Paul responded, reminding them of how God has worked in the past and then added, “Therefore I want you to know that God’s salvation has been sent to the Gentiles, and they will listen!” (Acts 28:28)
Sometimes a change of scenery is what we need to be effective in sharing the gospel. Perhaps it’s just a change in perspective that we need. Recently a friend noted that the Atheist organization was promoting their annual “stay away from church this Christmas” ad campaign. While others bemoaned and attacked the atheists, my friend pointed out that the atheists are relatively harmless when compared to people who claim to follow Christ, but don’t go to church, atheist ads or not; they are harmless compared to people who claim to follow Christ whose lives don’t exhibit His grace; they are harmless compared to legalistic, authoritarian, joyless followers of Christ. Perhaps we need to change our perspective when we look at the problems in our churches. We always need to be evangelistic, of course, but when we look at why there are so many empty seats, let’s not blame the atheists, or any other distraction; let’s look at those who have claimed the name of Christ and yet don’t live for Him.
Before we look at them, though, perhaps we ought to look at ourselves. How are we treating those Christians who have made other choices than worshiping with God’s people? Are we judgmental as we talk with them, or are we extending grace? Do we take the time to listen to their concerns, or are we too busy preaching at them about what they need to do? My pastor reminds us that when we talk with others who should be in church but are out for one reason or another, the only two questions we should ask are a) “How are you doing? and b) “How can I pray for you?” We don’t need to make Christians feel guilty when they are out of fellowship, I’m sure the guilt is already there. We can make them feel welcome in our hearts and indicate that they are always welcome in the fellowship when they are ready as the situation may allow. Sometimes our welcoming attitude is all that is necessary to open the door.
Oh Lord, how easy it is to look down on those who have strayed away from fellowshipping with Your people. Remind me that sometimes Your people may have been the reason they strayed away. Let me love them, let me listen to them, let me welcome them back with joy.