Thursday, December 17, 2009

Meeting Jesus

What happens when we meet Jesus?

At its simplest, I think the answer to this question is, two things.

1. We are welcomed with open arms.
2. We are transformed beyond what we thought possible.

We see this over and over in the gospels. Someone encounters Jesus. Often it is a person from the margins -- a prostitute, a tax collector, a fisherman, a leper, someone who is demon-possessed. These are people who have been pushed out to the fringes, people without power, people who are in one commentator's words, "lost, little, broken, and dead." Jesus welcomes them -- and us -- with open arms. This welcome is so surprising precisely because we know we are the lost, little, broken, and dead ones. Who are we to be recognized by Jesus, let alone welcomed? Yet he throws open his arms to the lepers, goes to eat at Zacchaeus' house, parties with the tax collectors and sinners and prostitutes, and sets his table for us to dine. Jesus shows his character in this radical welcome. He is willing to offend the powerful ones in order to welcome you. He is willing to let them call him names -- "a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners" -- because he wants nothing more than to share time with you.

There are churches out there who get this radical hospitality thing right. They are full of welcome for the sinners, the lost, the little, the broken, the dead. Everyone is welcome, bar none. Come on in! There is a grace, a lightness about these churches. They have received enough of Jesus that they know his radical welcome and they strive to imitate him in opening their doors and their hearts to all.

But Jesus isn't done.

When he welcomes us, when we come into his presence, we begin to be changed. The eyes of the blind man are opened. Zacchaeus gives away half his possessions. The fishermen begin to talk about catching people up into the kingdom of God. The adulteress straightens her clothes and resolves to sin no more. The demon possessed man in Gerasa sits at Jesus' feet in his right mind, his broken chains scattered among the gravestones of his former life. We cannot come into the presence of Jesus and remain as we were.

Welcome is a good beginning, but transformation is the next step. There are some churches out there who get the whole transformation piece. They talk about discipleship, and discipline, and obedience, and they stand against the tides of culture. They see the holiness of God and they long to be filled with his presence whatever the cost. There is an intensity, a focus about these churches. They have received enough of Jesus that they know the truth of his words that the gate is narrow and there are few who find the way. They strive to throw off every weight to follow him.

What is exceedingly rare today is churches that know both pieces of this encounter with Jesus -- churches that are radically welcoming and help people experience the transformation that happens in an authentic encounter with Jesus. Sadly, too often the welcoming churches look down their noses at the transformation churches, saying they are "exclusive" or "legalistic." The transforming churches look down their noses at the welcoming churches, saying they are diluting the gospel or preaching cheap grace.

Mostly the churches that understand both elements of following Jesus are so consumed by Jesus, so caught up in following him, that they have little time to criticize anyone. They are busy with the work of taking down every barrier to welcome people into worshipping Jesus, and they are intensely striving to lead people more and more into what it means to follow him. These are good places to be.

1 comment:

  1. And I am so blessed to know a place like this!!
    Thanks, Bob.