If you've ever been in leadership with a student ministry then you have no doubt heard comments like these, usually from parents of other teenagers:
- "Why are you letting that girl go on the mission trip? She has all of those tattoos and piercings, and every thing she owns is black. She's scary..."
- "I heard that the boy with the blue hair smokes dope. He shouldn't be here. His parents don't even go to this church!"
- "Why is that pregnant girl singing a solo with the youth choir when my good little girl Angela- who's never done a thing wrong in her life- has never had a solo?"
- "You need to quit paying so much attention to all of the scum that are coming to youth group and concentrate on the kids of church members. It's church members that pay your salary, not these rejects you seem to like so much."
If our churches were really full of people who understand the teachings of Christ, those people would be bending over backwards to serve the lost and the hurting. Here's what I think. I think that our churches are full of people who have a knowledge of Jesus, but not a relationship with Him. We know how to act like a Christian, and so we do- forgetting that "all sin and fall short of the glory of God." We spend so much time pretending to have it all together- denying the sin in our lives by pointing out the sin in the lives of others. And when we come face to face with others who are openly struggling with sin and temptation, with others who are lost and seeking the answer, it scares us. We are afraid because they are different, and because their lives are real and ours are not. We are afraid that someone might discover our sin and blow our cover as "Super Christian!" Think back to the examples I gave from youth ministry. Have we truly given our hearts and minds to Jesus if we have attitudes like that? Of course not. There is no love or grace in that kind of language. There is only judgement and condemnation. It reduces Christianity to a performance based love, and here's how it works- if you'll look, sound, dress and behave like I think a Christian should, THEN you are welcome in my church. Max Lucado wrote that God doesn't say: "Change your life and I will accept you." He says "I accept you- now let's change your life." We want people to have religion before they ever show up. Jesus told the Pharisees he didn't want them to have religion at all. He wanted them to have mercy. He wanted them to welcome the tax collectors and the lepers and the outcasts of society. He wants us to do the same- but not with an attitude of superiority or by acting holier-than -thou. It's a slippery slope to travel, because if you spend too much time thinking, "Thank God I am not like the Pharisees," then guess what? You are becoming one. Jesus saved us all with an amazing unconditional love that has nothing to with our performance. It has everything to do with surrendering our hearts to Him and sharing His love and grace with our world.
I have been a Christian for a very long time, seeking to follow Jesus in every aspect of my life. I have failed in more ways than I can recount here. But that's not the worst part- we all fail. The worst part is that I became convinced that as a pastor I was to never let anyone know I had struggles. When my sin exploded into public view, I suddenly became one of the outcasts. There were many brothers and sister in Christ who never quit loving on me, and that grace carried me through a couple of very hard years. But a couple of pastors and the institution of the church just saw me as damaged goods. They felt it sent the wrong message to have a sinner involved in church (think about that line for a moment...). One church told me and my family to stay away. I had become the riffraff. We keep getting the story wrong. The Good News is not that because of Jesus I no longer sin and therefore am better than you. The Good News is that Jesus came for you, and me, and the girl with the tattoos, and the guy with blue hair and the pregnant girl. Jesus even came for Charlie Sheen. He came for the riffraff. And to paraphrase the great Pogo, "we have seen the riffraff- and it is us!" We all "need a doctor." Until we learn to love people not because they are like us, but because Jesus loves them, we are missing the boat. And the Church is missing its calling.
So today I offer you my own Beatitude. Blessed are the riffraff, for they will be called friends of Jesus. Welcome to the club...