1 John 4:7-8 – Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.
So I work for a large grocery chain. This chain has a very strong “promote from within” culture. This can be a very good thing, except for one issue: those who come in from the outside in leadership roles have a tougher time becoming one of the family. Even after almost 8 years of being there, my opinion on matters is held in lesser regard because I was not born and bred in the company.
Let me share a true life story. A few years ago, in an “innovation discussion” I proposed the idea of a tea bar. The customer could come up, order any loose leaf tea, get it blended with any other loose leaf tea, and we would charge the customer accordingly. At the time, I was thought of as foolish and my idea was actually laughed at. That only someone from the outside could have such a crazy idea! I must not know about the company very well because I certainly don’t embrace what it is we are trying to accomplish.
A few weeks ago, my boss came to me with the same idea that I had proposed a few years ago with her name on the bottom of it as a new innovation for a new store opening next February. Great idea! Small problem, Teavana is already doing it, and very well. An opportunity for innovation missed.
But how about our spiritual lives?
John 13:34-35 – A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
Tell me if you have heard this one before. A person goes into the church because they feel the Holy Spirit prompting them to do so. Their life is messed up. They have lost all hope. But someone told them to go to your church because of the message of hope. The message of love. The message of community.
When they get there, no one even comes up to greet them. There might be an official greeter at the front door, but he or she was too busy talking with someone about last Saturday’s catch on the boat. They sit down, thinking to themselves that they may have gone into the wrong church because they heard how inviting this church was.
Later, when the pastor gives people the opportunity to greet others, the newcomer doesn’t feel the handshakes of his neighbors or the warm hugs of the elders. He only feels the cold stares of the congregation, wondering why this person is in THEIR church.
Finally, when the pastor gets up to speak the Word of God, words like sanctification, communion, and salvation are used alongside of Greek and Hebrew words that most likely the entire congregation has not heard before and the pastor is pronouncing completely incorrectly (especially if I am preaching the Word because I have trouble enough with English!). The newcomer now feels alienated. He tries to ask his neighbor for some help in understanding the words, but all he gets are the “mama stares.” You the mama stare. That is the one that speaks with the look in the eye. It is the one that says, “If you do this again, I will send you out back to cut a tree branch and have you come back so I can smack you with it.”
The newcomer not only leaves thinking that the church he attended is stupid, but he leaves thinking that Christianity is filled with unloving people who are too sanctimonious and proud to allow anyone else in their little club. It must be a God thing, I guess I would never understand.
He begins to consider that he doesn’t need God after all. He should just go out and get drunk or high or laid. What does it matter? If these so-called Christians aren’t going to show love, certainly someone out there will.
Colossians 3:12-15 – Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.
But there is another kind of church. This church not only has greeters in the doorway and people assigned to making sure they look for newcomers so they can shake their hand, but they have bred a culture of compassion. This church embodies Colossians 3 above. People come in expecting to find Christ and everywhere they turn, Christ is radiating from the lives of everyone in the church. Rather than not being able to understand the “God thing” that is happening, they realize that this “God thing” is all about them! They realize this is about the church, and God, seeking them out where they currently are and all they had to do was make the first step inside the door.
This is a church that has the power of the Holy Spirit alive and well inside of it. Through the Spirit’s power, the lost will be reached. The blind will truly see what is needed. Communities will be transformed. And people’s lives will be changed forever. This is the TRUE church of the Living God. This is the one place that anyone can come and hear from the Word of God…the life-changing, live giving everlasting well of the Spirit.
It is in these churches that newcomers say, “It is a God thing, and I TRULY understand!”