For those who missed class last week, here's the audio of the lecture. (Click on the link below the image.) The notes are here as well. Enjoy!
Sunday we wrapped up our series “The Welcome Initiative” with a call to a financial and prayerful commitment to improve our church in ways to become more welcoming. I think it’s been clear from the beginning of our series that this isn’t simply about money, but truly about the heart of First Baptist—a church with a rich history of being a friendly church, and the mission that we’ve all been given to be a light in a world that can be exceedingly dark.
Over this last month, I’ve had to ask myself some tough questions about my own life, and the ways my own attitudes and pre-conceived notions about people, hinder me from being someone actively welcoming people into my story of God’s redeeming grace and love. I definitely struggle with my own judgements, and often view myself as being on the “right side” of this whole Christianity thing—as if any hopeful testimony of my life is truly of my own power. Just last week I was having judgy thoughts about someone in my life that is struggling with a consequence of sin. God did like God does to those that dabble in pride, and used a book I’ve been reading for my devotion time to smack me around a bit. The day’s mediation just happened to be about how God’s goodness is reflected in His choice to love us despite our sin, and used scripture about adoption to drive home the point of our imperfection.
“But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.” Galatians 4:4-5
Being adopted by Christ means that despite our circumstances, failures, and backgrounds, that he chooses us anyway. I think the Bible uses the word “adoption” to highlight that God didn’t have to love us. The earth he created was perfect. Over and over through the creation story, you hear God describe it as good. That day in the garden, humanity ruined what God called Good. He could’ve abandoned humanity right then and there. We could’ve be orphaned by our own sin. He could’ve washed His hands of all of us.
But He didn’t.
Instead, he sent his son Jesus to tell us how to be better—not for His sake, but for ours. Then he let Jesus die so we wouldn’t have to face the consequences of our sin. God chooses to welcome us into His kingdom of goodness even though we’re not good. He didn’t abandon us when we didn’t fit into His itinerary, He made a way for us to join Him anyway. Because Christ has a heart of welcoming to all people, we must emulate that same heart. We must love people as their authentically imperfect selves, because we ourselves aren't perfect. That is hard work because some people at their “true selves” are difficult and messy. Sometimes they struggle with things we just don’t understand. We might know that we’re supposed to love people, and be welcoming to them, but their lives are so outside of our comfort zones that we just don’t know how to.
Authenticity is a double-edged sword. We want to be honest, and want others to be honest about their lives, their struggles, their fears etc.. But we’re not meant to dwell in those things. We’re meant to have a life that is transformed. As Christians, we believe that transformation comes from Christ alone. We’re not only messengers of that transformation, but examples of it.
One of my favorite passages that touches on this is Ezekiel 36:26:
“Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.”
This is why our welcome is so important. Expecting someone’s behavior to change before knowing the love and freedom of Christ, is having an expectation in the wrong order. We want people to be authentically seeking new life. God’s love for us is proof that what really changes the heart of people is being loved. It’s extending understanding before judgement, it’s not just forgiving someone that has hurt you, but blessing them. It’s seeing everyone as imperfect, but beloved children. It’s changing the lenses of our hearts from what we see in people, to what He sees in people. This is hard work, but the hard, painstaking, all-in, risky work of being a people welcoming others into the kingdom of God, and the transforming power of His love, is our highest calling.
We have a responsibility to be a welcoming people. We have a responsibility to deconstruct imaginary church walls to allow more people in. That doesn’t mean agreeing or condoning behavior that is unbiblical or destructive, but it does mean not letting those things hinder you from loving people anyway--just like God hasn't let our sin hinder us from His love.
As we end our “Welcome Initiative” series, let’s keep praying for and actively pursuing God’s will for our church as a place of refuge for the weary. Of hope in a world of so much pain, confusion and brokenness. May we be different in all the best ways.
This week is "Commitment Sunday" for the FBC Welcome initiative. But where we may have thought that was all about committing to give financially, our focus this time around is a bit different: What does it look like for a church to be "radically welcoming?"
By Guest Blogger Jani Barnes
I don’t write blogs. But a dear friend of mine asked if I would consider writing the FBC blog for the week of Mother’s Day. The very first words out of my mouth were, “Oh how sweet! No, thank you, but I can help you brainstorm a few other moms who I bet would love to and that and who would do a great job!” Yet as I continued to visit with her, I felt a gentle nudging from the Lord that encouraged me toward saying, “I will think about it,” and not because I am an expert in parenting, or am confident in having something valuable to share, but because some of my journey could possibly be an encouragement to some of you. I ultimately agreed and here we are!
My daughter Grace returned home last week from being away for her first year of college. I have been preparing for this moment for weeks now—expressing my excitement to everyone, cleaning the house, organizing her room, closet and drawers, making room for all her things. It is important to me is that she would feel welcomed, and loved and “cozy” as she enters back in to her home here, even if it is just for the summer.
Yes, there is going to be some mess when she comes home…boxes, clothes, an entire dorm room full of things to find places for…but for at least a few days I won’t mind the mess, because she’s home, and I get to just be with her, enjoy her presence, hear her laughter, and talk with her face to face.
I can’t help but wonder if God feels that way towards me. Waiting eagerly for me to come home to Him. To relax and find comfort in His presence—even after a time when I have been distant from Him, when I have been “too busy” to find time to spend with Him. And I wonder if He doesn't even mind my mess, for a while, he’s just happy to have me home.
One of the ongoing struggles I have when I am in one of my more distant places from God is that I find myself more controlled by fear and lack of faith. No where is this more true than in my role as a mom. My worst mom moments tend to be the moments I parent out of fear and never-ending “what-ifs.” I realize that my parenting is not at its best when fear becomes my default mode. Through the years I have discovered the best antidote for this is prayer.
My better mom moments are when I parent from that place of prayer. Through prayer, I can bring my children before God, on behalf of the many things they face each day. Through prayer I bring my cares and concerns for them, my hopes and my dreams for them, and all of the things that feel out of my control. I am slowly learning the freedom that comes by bringing those fears before the Lord and trusting Him with those that are closest to my heart.
Regardless of where I am—my best, worst, or somewhere in between, I think God feels about me like I felt about Grace coming home last week. ”Welcome home, I’m so glad you’re here!”
This week, Pastor Tim Nielsen talks with us about what it means to build an environment within our homes and church that has staying power, and about what it means to welcome those who have wandered. Study guide for community groups below.
For more information on FBC At-Home, visit www.fbcathome.com.
This week, we're talking with Glen, Steve, and Dane about The Welcome Initiative. Specifically, our question is how does this set of projects contribute to the mission and purpose of our church? Watch the video, then take some time with your group and work through the scriptures in the sheet provided below.
I have a good friend named Sherry. Sherry is a Veterinarian that I have worked with over the past several years. A Taiwanese immigrant, Sherry was raised as a Buddhist, but considers herself non-religious. She and I meet often for meals, and we have an unspoken rule that no topic is off-limits. We talk about politics, culture, racial tension, and both religious and nonreligious belief systems, and how to reconcile these very different worlds in meaningful ways. I treasure the time we spend together because even though we come from different places, we respect one another so much.
A couple of weeks ago, Sherry and I were going to meet for lunch, and I remembered I had a meeting at church and couldn't make it. She was going to pick something up from me when we met, so I told her she could swing by the church to pick it up. She said “no” before I even finished my sentence. Not just a regular “no” but such a strong “no” that I could feel the physical revolt behind her words. Now from previous conversations, I knew that Sherry didn’t have the greatest impression of Christians or church, but her reaction still shocked me a bit. After I made an ill-timed joke about God no longer being in the smiting business, I pushed her to tell me why she had such a strong reaction. She had a general list of the usual grievances, but then she said “I’ve just had way more negative experiences with Christians than positive experiences.” My heart sunk down into the pit of my stomach and spilled out onto the floor. Even though she knows me and considers me a friend, it wasn’t enough for her to feel welcome to walk through the door of the church I attend.
If you know me in real life, you know that I’m passionate about identifying what imaginary walls we build, not just around our churches, but around Christianity in general, that make people feel like they aren’t welcome in. Because of this, The Church and I have had a somewhat complicated relationship. I went from loving The Church, to being cynical and critical of all her flaws, to falling back in love with what I know she can be-- a holy, redemptive, compassionate, functioning body that wants people to meet and fall in love with Jesus Christ. I have seen her function in all her Jesus-emulating glory, but I have also seen her hurt people, alienate unbelievers, become moralistic instead of grace-dwelling, and wrongly label cultural issues and political parties as “Christian and Non-Christian.” I don’t point this out in anger, but out of knowing that The Church can’t be what it was meant to be if we don’t recognize the ways that have been destructive to our calling.
I know this can be hard to hear. Maybe you’re feeling a little defensive. I totally get it. However Just like any healthy relationship, sometimes the healthiest way to love is to “tough-love.” Many people view churches as unapproachable places and Christians as unapproachable people. This is a tough pill to swallow, but even just acknowledging that the Christian Church isn't considered a "safe" place by everyone, tears down walls and builds bridges. Think of a time you've been deeply hurt. Now think of a time someone acknowledged that pain in a sincere, non-dismissive way. Did it soften you? Did it bring comfort to you in knowing that someone tried to extend understanding to you? We have an opportunity to soften others by listening to their stories, acknowledging their pain, and reflecting the true love of Christ. In practicing forgivingness and in being forgiven. In taking a chance and planting seeds on rocky soil and praying they sprout.
When I heard about “The Welcome Initiative” I got excited. It would be naive to believe that a remodel alone is going to cause people to be more comfortable walking through our doors. What a huge opportunity though, to use this time to be purposeful in finding points of connection with people that maybe wouldn’t come to church outside of a special event or Upwards sports. Putting our best foot forward not just in aesthetics, but in an attitude of love for a whole community of people that God has charged us to reach, reflects the overflow of abundant blessing and resources He has given us. We each have a circle of influence, and it’s good to be intentional about how we can use that influence to introduce people to Christ. Our church should be a resource, and place where we feel good about inviting people to walk through the doors.
In the sermon on the Mount, Jesus says “Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called Children of God.” There is a good reason Jesus didn’t say “blessed are the peacekeepers...” You can’t “keep” what hasn’t been attained. We must act and make peace with those around us. Like Pastor Glen said on Sunday, going first is tough, but maybe we need to initiate the handshake across the aisle to the people around us that maybe haven't seen the best The Church has to offer. After all, we have all been created by the same God, so there is no them there is only us. There is no set demographic, just children of God. I hope that during this next month (and onward), our hearts would be greater burdened for the people in our community that need the love of a good God, and support of an imperfect, but compassionate community of Jesus-loving people.
Let’s let our “welcome” become a multifaceted attempt to be everything we’re called to be and who we say we are.
Steve Steele, Pastor of Community Life