"White Washed Tombs". That's what Jesus called a group of religious elites in his day. Jesus, the Son of God, who was sent to bring life to the dead, healing to the sick and to bind up the brokenhearted had had enough. The Pharisees had pushed, prodded and "prouded" themselves throughout Jesus ministry and God was done. Jesus, God in human flesh, calls out these religious elites with seven woes, each one more damning than the previous one. And then he gets to the 6th time and he calls them a grave that has been painted over to look pretty on the outside while a dead heart lurks within.
We are going through a couple of challenging message series over the past two months "Jesus Friend of All" and our current series "Me, Friend of All?" (Just click on the links if you'd like to view them). The challenge has been to examine how Jesus was a Friend to us and then to challenge God's people and ask the question, "Do I follow Jesus example?" This message series is based in part on an incredible book called "Gay and God" written by Pastor Mike Novotony and it's an examination of what it means to love ALL people ... AND ... love ALL the passages God wrote. And I have a confession to make.
I grew up in the church. Christian education. I knew the Gospel, passed the tests, served in the church and have tried to lead. Yet there has been a nagging in my heart when it comes to loving people who aren't Christians, or Christians who say they are, but don't live like it. You see, it's in humility that we see and admit our sin. Only the repentant sinner receives forgiveness and that means you have to show people their sins, right? How can they know they need a Savior if they don't know they are a sinner. It's good math - and yet I missed something until a couple weeks ago and it has bothered me much of my adult life.
Loving people who don't believe in Jesus is hard and my default heart position is to point out people's sin. My overwhelming desire is to point out their failure to live up to the LAW. The driver that cut me off... LAW ON YOU!!! The thief who steals and gets caught... THE LAW ON YOU!!! The person who doesn't believe like me... Yep, THE LAW ON YOU!!! Oh I might not say it that way, but I am surprised and disappointed to see that this is almost always my knee jerk response. And I can see now that it is the Pharisee in me. I know Jesus, I am saved and yet my instinct is to point out the failure of people first, rather than the love of our Savior.
In Mike's book, he does an excellent job of helping us see how Jesus loved those who were not at all like him. The Good Samaritan is Jesus, I am the wounded man on the side of the road, so completely different from him and yet he helps and heals me. You see, God's example starts with an unconditional LOVE.
In the story of the Prodigal Son, the Father waits with patience after the younger son crashes and burns, while the indignant older son despises the foolishness of the loving Father. For the one who ran away, the Father waits patiently. For the son "slaving away" he goes out to get him. The Father extends and restores relationship to those who have destroyed it. That is the heart of the GOSPEL.
As I went through the book about loving LGBTQ people AND the Passages that God wrote I found that, while others may find their identity in their gender, sexuality, skin color, financial status and religion among other things - perhaps my identity is far more rooted in the Law, than it is in the unconditional Love of God. It is the reason I am quick to say "But we need to show them how they are sinning... how they are wrong". The Law does not inspire life, it only confronts people with Death. If there is no hope for forgiveness extended first, the law is a hammer that will crush without mercy and that's why the order Pastor Novotony lays out is to Love, Gospel, Bible, Trust. LGBT if we are going to be Jesus to people who do not know Jesus.
While I am disappointed to realize that there is a lot of Pharisee in me, I also take comfort in who Jesus eats with. Remember how several times the Bible talks about Jesus going to eat with Sinners and Tax Collectors? Remember how he said he came to SEEK and SAVE the lost? Well he also ate with Pharisees and yes, even some of them came to experience the power of the Gospel he preached. It is comforting to know, that God's gift of Grace and forgiveness and unconditional love is also a gift that he extends to the Pharisee in me.
Let's keep praying for each other that we might serve those who have no relationship with Jesus with the LOVE of Christ, the unimaginable gift of the GOSPEL, the undeniable TRUTH of the Bible and then let's live in absolute TRUST that God will work all things to his good, in his time, for his glory and our eternity!