What Would Jesus Do?
In fact, I marvel at the example of Christ and His approach to sinners. Obviously He did not condone the lifestyles and actions of many who surrounded Him.
Yet He seemed drawn to the spiritually needy--and they to Him. Prostitutes, lepers and tax collectors all felt the need to hear what Jesus had to say.
It seems that the people most uncomfortable around Jesus were the religious folks, the churchgoers as it were. Those who are most ill need the physician's time, and Jesus gravitated to the emergency-room cases.
He had little patience with those who failed to recognize their true spiritual symptoms (the Pharisees and other religious folk). But He was always willing to see the spiritually ill.
The church should be in the business of addressing spiritual illness. When you are deathly ill, you don't start thinking of going to the health club: "Well, this will be a good time to get in shape. I feel horrible, and I think I'm going to die."
Yet many churches have somehow communicated that only the spiritually healthy are truly welcome at church. Many people think their lives are too far gone to be accepted at church, when in fact that brokenness makes them ready to receive God's amazing grace.
But too many people feel that going to church would make them too uncomfortable or heighten their guilt. They sense they would be judged and treated with condescension.
Yes, some of these feelings are self-inflicted wounds. But more are not. We must examine the possibility that we are doing things that make hurting people stay away from the church.
Most of us don't much like to be around the truly spiritually ill. It tends to make us uncomfortable. Treating the spiritually ill is draining, and it comes with no guarantees for success. We would rather hire someone to clean up the mess and report back to us at a praise service.
Yet how can we preach Christ's love and not care about the AIDS epidemic? How can we talk about God's grace but ignore other people's physical needs and bow to the idols of success and money and power?
How can we talk about the importance of giving and then spend money on things we don't need, often to curry the approval of people we don't really care about? How can we minister to others when we don't first meet the spiritual needs of our own families? How can we win the respect of the world when we cruise around in luxury sports cars and turn our faces away from homeless people?
Do we think that if we ignore the problems perhaps God will not hold us accountable?
Governed by Grace
Philip Yancey has written a wonderful book about grace titled What's So Amazing About Grace? that I would put on anyone's must-read list. One of his most compelling illustrations comes from an alcoholic friend who attends Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meetings.
His friend says: "When I'm late to church, people turn around and stare at me with frowns of disapproval. When I'm late to AA, the meeting comes to a halt, and everyone jumps up to hug me. They realize my lateness may be a sign that I almost didn't make it."
Wouldn't you love to see this scenario play out at a local church: I walk in as a visitor and stride to the front of the sanctuary during the multimedia drama presentation about accepting others' differences. I turn to the congregation and announce: "Hi! My name is Dave. And I'm a sinner."
"Hi, Dave!" the congregation responds. "We love you and are here to help."
More likely an associate pastor would gently take me by the arm and try to lead me quietly away while a deacon called the straitjacket express. Today's successful 12-step support groups have become what the body of Christ could and in fact should have become.
And though the roots of AA are firmly planted in Christian grace, why did it even have to be developed? Shouldn't the church be the place to which such hurting men and women would instinctively be drawn to receive the help they need?
Even a quick study of the life of Christ would reveal that any of us could have quite comfortably walked into His "12 guy" program and announced our status as sinners. In fact, that little confession would have moved us right to the head of the class and could very well have made us the teacher's pet.
So why has the local church repelled so many of those who have the very needs we are equipped, through Christ, to address? I realize that it is not entirely the fault of the church that the spiritually ill stay away. But it seems to me that we had better examine what part of the problem is our responsibility.
The church should be the most level playing field on earth. After all, in Jesus' eyes, the soul of the Fortune 500 CEO is no more valuable than the soul of the crackhead down the alley.
That sort of thinking is uncomfortable and even scandalous for most of us because it contradicts our culture's values. We honor looks, money, power and fame. Jesus cared about none of those.
In Luke 16:14-15 the gospel writer talked about "the Pharisees, who were lovers of money, also heard these things [Jesus talking about the parable of the shrewd manager], and they derided Him." And He said to them: 'You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is highly esteemed among men is an abomination in the sight of God'" (NKJV).
The popular saying What Would Jesus Do? can be a bit trite, but on the other hand it can pose a great spiritual question. Christians, like physicians, should vow to do no harm. But forgive us, Lord.
Because, in trying to keep people out of the "club," we do.
Dave Burchett is an Emmy Award-winning TV sports director for Fox Sports, ESPN and NBC. He and his wife, Joni, live in Garland, Texas, and are former staff members of Campus Crusade for Christ.
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