Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Embrace the Mess

I wanted to say a few words directed at the growing opportunities many of us have with people in our churches with little to no church background. A couple years ago, I remember thinking at one point that we must be doing something wrong because of how messy everything was: custody battles, drunkenness, drugs, uncontrollable children, and so on. These baby Christians bring with them many years of sin and pain and ugliness, and even after they are converted and baptized, there is not usually an overnight transformation in every area of life. It’s only the beginning.

But I wanted to give three brief exhortations in this regard: first, our job is to love them, to befriend them, seek them out, invite them into our homes, eat with them, laugh with them, sing with them, and disciple them. And so the first encouragement is to continue in hospitality and love, despite their circumstances, despite the mess, despite the craziness.

Second, I referred previously to these families and individuals as baby Christians, and that really is what they are. Paul pastored Christians who sued each other, were neck deep in sexual sins, and frequently didn’t seem to know the first thing about what it meant to be a Christian. And that wasn’t a sign of his failure. On the contrary, it was a sign of the gospel’s success. The fact that we have a growing number of people in our community in need of lots of attention means God is blessing us with more children. But they are children, they are young, they need what all children need: love, attention, lots of patience, and joyful leading.

But lest you think I’m saying we’re mostly a bunch of grown ups and now we have a few children in our midst, remember that one of the ways God ministers to every parent through children is by showing us our sins. Children are little mirrors. And they are blunt and painfully honest. And if God is kind and we are faithful, we must learn to see ourselves and the sin remaining in our lives in our children. And this is no different with baby Christians who may be the same age as us, older or younger. The reason God brings baby Christians into the church is not just to save them (although it is that), but it’s because we need them to remind us of all the dirt still staining our hands. It is far too perilously easy to settle into a semi-respectable Christian existence. But God hates that kind of apathy. And so he sends us mirrors. Families who can’t hold it together in public, marriages that are so openly on the rocks, children that blissfully tell their parents where to stick it, and God does this not so that we can feel self righteous and thankful that at least we’re not as bad as that, but so that we might see ourselves for what we are: sinners saved by grace. And if we can’t see ourselves in baby Christians than we will not inherit the kingdom of God. If we do not see ourselves in these children, we cannot be His children.

But this last point is meant to be an encouragement and not hard words. God is blessing us. God is growing us up by surrounding us with children. I for one am very excited about all of this. Dealing with parole officers and attorneys and psychiatrists is not at all a sign of failure. It’s the very opposite. It’s proof that we are exactly where we’re supposed to be. So invite them over, embrace the mess, and pray expectantly.

1 comment:

Signe said...

Well said Toby. I think this is a good reminder that we are all still sinners, and that big sins still happen even among those of us that have been walking with God for some time. We get comfortable far too easily.

Thanks for the encouragement.