Within the community of believers, we can easily be exclusive without realizing it. Garrett reminds us that to accurately reflect Jesus and what He calls His Church to be, we should intentionally seek to include others. He teaches from Acts 15, sharing how the first Christians encouraged each other to avoid exclusive rules, not making it difficult for those coming to faith. We as followers of Christ, as "insiders", should intentionally seek "outsiders" as to not make it difficult for them to come to faith.
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Good morning. It's so good to get a chance to be with you this morning. I'm normally in this room at nighttime (Tuesday night, specifically), so it's fun to get to spend a morning with you. If we've never met before, my name is Garrett. I serve on the young adults staff here at Watermark. Just by way of getting to know each other, I grew up in Texas. I am a Texan. This is the place where I was born (well, almost) and raised.
I was born actually in Shreveport, Louisiana, because it was close to the border and we had to go over there. That was the closest hospital. I went to a certain university that usually generates a pretty vocal response, so I'm just going to pass over that, but I did go to that university and then wound up here in Fort Worth. I'm also a third of the way through an engagement that has taken way too long. So that's a little bit about where I'm at right now.
It's so good to be with you this morning. I'd love to start here. When I was a kid, my mother did something before we went to church that she never did anywhere else we ever went. She only did this when we went to church. That was she decided to cover up her tattoo. This was a pretty benign tattoo. It is a couple of hearts the size of a coin on her ankle, but for some reason, she felt the need to cover up that tattoo when she went to church.
As a kid, I'm trying to process this, and it's a little bit mysterious, because she doesn't do it when she takes me to the ballpark, and she doesn't do it when she goes to work, and she doesn't do it when we're around town. She never covers up that tattoo. I have no idea why when we go to church she has to cover up this tattoo. It did enough, just that one small action repeated over time, which, by the way, wasn't very often…
We were like Christmas and Easter and, I guess, when our conscience got guilty enough. That's when we'd show up to church, just every once in a while. Single mom, living in Deep East Texas, really conservative culture, so she felt the need to do that. Well, even as a kid, that spoke really loudly to me that at church I was an outsider. That's the way church felt to me. No one ever told me that. No one had to tell me that.
For some reason, it just felt like I was an outsider. That tattoo being covered, that little covering, told me, "Hey, when we come into this place, we are not us; we are them." The little pep talk before you get out of the car… "Hey, can you please just pretend to be normal for the next hour?" By normal what she meant was, "Can you please pretend to be them for the next hour?"
My relationships with the kids who were there didn't help a ton, because I'd know how to interact with them at school. I'd know how to interact with them anywhere else, but for some reason, the rules at church that governed interaction seemed to be a little bit different. Nobody had to tell me I was an outsider, but it just resulted in this feeling.
It was like, "Okay, you guys all know where to sit. You know where to stand. You know when to sing. You know all of the people, but as for me, I'm going to sit here in my little outsider spot with my outsider mom with her outsider tattoo, and we're just going to hang out right here and assume everybody else knows everything they're supposed to do." I didn't know.
It's not because anyone did anything on purpose. I think it's because of what they didn't do on purpose. I just felt like an outsider. That's the way it went. I don't know if you've ever felt this, if you've ever felt excluded a little bit, like there's them and then there's you. Nobody has defined that relationship for you on purpose, but for some reason, the message has come through business as usual means you are not part of the business.
That circle of friends who share experiences together or leaders… It seems like the bosses sometimes will go away together and make the decisions. It just seems like you're looking at a group of backs, because they are gathered around in a circle, and you are not in it. That's the feeling of being an outsider. It's not because they came to you, necessarily, and said, "You are outside," but they didn't have to. You just knew. It was understood.
Now that doesn't just happen when we're kids, unfortunately, and it is particularly dangerous in a church context, particularly divisive, particularly injuring in a gathering called the community of faith, people who follow Jesus Christ. In fact, so painful can this be that some of you even had to work up courage today… In a room this size, there are bound to be a couple of us who even today had to work up the courage to even come into this room.
After all, this room looks like, feels like, and makes you feel reminded of a place where you were not included, where you were outside the circle, where there was something about you that wasn't quite enough them for them to make you one of them, so consequently, you felt like you were excluded. Just by drift. Not because anyone told you but because of what they didn't do.
That's the danger of exclusivity, of insiders not feeling a sense of care and wrapping their arms around those who are on the outside. But here's where the tension comes in for me. You think, "Okay, great. Well, the insiders should just never pay attention to each other," but in reality, hasn't Jesus said, "As I have loved you, so you must love one another"? "A new command I give you: love one another."
Doesn't Jesus tell us right there that the people who follow him should be constantly in the business of building their relationships closer and closer and tighter and tighter so that the bonds between the people who follow Jesus are tighter and tighter and tighter? But how can that not negatively affect a watching world?
This is the question for this morning…How is it that those who follow Jesus can intentionally get closer and closer and closer without alienating a watching world who desperately need access to the faith, who desperately need someone to love them, to make room for them, and to care for them? That is where we're starting tonight.
We happen to have a Scripture that answers that via narrative. Go to the book of Acts. We are not in the series Acts that we've been in over the past couple of weeks. We're going to take a break from that, but we're still in the book of Acts, coincidentally, you might say. Acts, chapter 15, is where we'll be. This is the very first church council meeting in all of history. The stakes are high for this question, and the book of Acts answers it well for us.
Now before we answer that question via this story, I want to just pass some facts to you. These aren't big, profound takeaways this morning. This is more like just stuff you want to know before you dive into this story. First, when you see the word Jews in the Scripture, particularly in the New Testament, it means Israelites, Hebrews, people of the nation of Israel. When you see the word Gentile or even the word Greek, that's an umbrella term for every other people group on the face of the planet.
In Bible terms, there's Jew and not Jew. That's the way the Bible sees it. You're like, "Oh, I thought my family was German heritage." No, that's just another expression of your "Gentileness." The Bible would call you a Gentile squarely. That's the language the Bible uses: Jews equals Israelites, Gentiles means everybody else.
Secondly, God's plan was to start (by start I mean save) with a few and then finish with many. What I mean by that is God's plan has always had stages. God's plan of saving humanity, God's plan of bringing people from hell to heaven, from a lack of relationship with him to relationship with him… God has always decided that this thing is going to unfold in stages, and they're stages much longer than a normal lifetime. In fact, longer than a generation's lifetime.
We're talking about on a scale of thousands of years. Era by era, God's plan finally unfolds. If you're familiar with your Bible at all, you know the Old Testament covers a long period of time, where everything God was doing was about a particular people. Everything God seemed to be focused on was about a particular people. That would be called the nation ofIsrael. God decided he would start very small.
He went to a man named Abraham and began to proliferate his offspring until there was finally a nation called Israel. Thirdly, Acts begins the new phase of God's plan. Acts is a transitional point. Right here in the book of Acts, we're situated in history… After 2,000 years and longer of Old Testament history and all of God's focus being on a particular people, a particular ethnicity, a particular people group, all of a sudden, we have come into the age of the church when anybody can come to God, irrespective of religious custom.
It doesn't matter where you're from, what you look like, what your skin tone is, or what your tax bracket is. None of that matters. This is a non-elitist, non-particularist movement called the church, and God's focus has now changed from a particular people all the way to where anyone, any person, can come to be in fellowship with him and with his people. Acts marks the beginning of that transitional phase.
There are only a handful of Christians in the world at this particular moment we're going to in history, but they pour into the streets and give their lives away. They literally gave their lives away…not just their time but their very lives…so others could hear the message. God is doing a new thing. God is not just in the business of saving a particular people group. God is in the business of inviting all people to connect with him by grace through faith, no add-ons. New news. Big news.
This group of Christians floods into the street and goes on dangerous journeys to make sure that message would reach future generations and the existing ones that did not know. We're going to start at the end of chapter 14, where a group of believers are just getting back from one of these journeys. It's a rather famous group of believers in this case. It's Paul and Barnabas and a team, and they've just finished Paul's first journey.
They're coming back from traveling around the Mediterranean Rim to a place called Antioch. Antioch is worth remembering, because it was the launch pad of Christian missions in the first century. That's kind of where it started. If NASA has Houston, the first-century missions movement has Antioch. Paul and Barnabas and their team are moving back to base. That's what's about to happen.
It says in verse 27 of chapter 14, "And when they [Paul and Barnabas and team] arrived [at Antioch] and gathered the church together, they declared all that God had done with them, and how he had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles." If you read your New Testament, there is nothing revolutionary there. You're like, "Oh yeah. It has been that way for a long time." But that is not the reaction that's happening here. This is brand new. This is huge. This is "Have you heard?" This is "Hey listen, did this memo reach you?
God has opened a door of faith… Not a door of regulation, not a door of external conformity, not a door of ritualism. God has opened a door of faith to people who are nothing like us." It's revolutionary. God has decided to include the categorically excludable. People who have no reason, no merit in themselves, to be included in the family of God… God has decided to open a door to them by faith.
Verse 28: "And they remained no little time with the disciples." Because it's time to celebrate. Unfortunately, while this celebration is going on… I want you to picture literally a group of pagans. They did not know God. They had false religious practices. They didn't walk like Christians, talk like Christians. They had no idea.
Then all of a sudden, they came into contact with a gracious, free, and loving God and realized, "God has opened a new door that has never been opened in the history of the world, and we just walked through it by faith. It is a one-way trip, so we are with God." So there is a celebration happening because God has opened this door, but unfortunately, no good news comes without naysayers. Here's where the tension arrives in the story.
Chapter 15, verse 1: "Certain people came down from Judea to Antioch and were teaching the believers: 'Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved.'" That's a little awkward. If you know your Bible well (we're about to find out who went to Sunday school and who didn't), you know there's a key little surgical difference between Jewish men and Gentile men, and it was a source of great pride to a Jewish man to follow the law of Moses. That was an external mark of being God's man. That's what God's people did.
It was just understood that that's what God's people did. It was given knowledge. The law of Moses was something you followed. If you belonged to the community of God, even if you were a Gentile who wanted to become part of the community of God, for the entire previous 1,500 years of Jewish history it was just understood if you're going to follow God and are of the male gender you're going to be circumcised and follow the law of Moses, and if you are female you're going to do the latter only. That was just understood.
So before we're too hard on these guys who came in and interrupted, they were just letting momentum carry them. That's the way it had always been. It was just assumed. There are just some things you know. Right? Water is wet, the sky is blue, two plus two is four, the Rangers will never win the World Series, and if you follow God you are circumcised and follow the law of Moses. The end. You just know that.
Saying that you're going to follow God without being circumcised is like saying you're going to jump out of a boat and not get wet. That is just not going to happen. It's not going to be the way it goes. So these guys bring that message, and it is an incredibly awkward interruption, I'm sure. Just picture the celebration going on. There are people who are free in their relationship with God for the first time. They're excited to follow Christ.
They have never had an outside chance at even knowing the God of the Scriptures, and then the message comes that they can, so this celebration comes out. Then these people walk in and say, "Hey, unless you guys follow the first five books of the Bible and circumcise yourselves, you're going to go to hell." That's a pretty awkward party interruption. It gets really quiet, I presume. Paul and Barnabas are not likely to receive that well, and they don't.
It says, "This brought Paul and Barnabas into sharp dispute and debate with them." I guess so. They just risked their lives… If you're there and you're Paul and Barnabas or you're part of that team, you're going, "Hey, I understand that's the way it has always been, but we just risked our lives. We got whipped out there. We got stoned out there, and I'm not talking about the kind where you get loose at a party when you're in college.
I'm talking about they threw rocks at us, so that we could bring the message to them. That's what we endured to make sure they knew that what you just said is not true, that they do not have to do anything except trust in Christ to belong to God. That's it. You bringing that message is a bit of a problem." So they have this disagreement, and it's so fierce they have to appeal to get help. You know that moment in a conflict where you're like, "Hey, we're not going to get this figured out on our own" and call for help? This is that moment.
"So Paul and Barnabas were appointed, along with some other believers, to go up to Jerusalem…" Jerusalem would be like the religious Washington, DC. Jerusalem was the place where these things would be resolved. "…to see the apostles and elders about this question." I want us to all know exactly what this question is before we move on, because it is a huge question, not just for them but for all of world history.
This meeting they're about to have in Jerusalem is a meeting that will literally decide what message the Christian church is going to promote. This is a very pivotal moment in history. This meeting is actually going to decide… "We need to get together on this, because there's a little conflict. Are we doing grace and faith plus other regulations and external conformity and religiosity or are we doing grace and faith and that's it? We have to get on the same page about this." So they decide to go down to have this meeting.
Here's the question they were asking. "How much are we going to make them be like us before we will let them be one of us? How many extra things, how many add-ons…? What all are we going to make them do? Are we going to make them change the way they dress? Are we going to make them stop cursing? Are we going to make them change their music? What are we going to do exactly?
What all is included whenever we try to bring people into the family of God, into the community of faith? What is it that we have to ask them to do? How much are we going to demand that they be like us before we'll let them be one of us?" This is a meeting that will literally change history. It's called the Jerusalem Council, a very famous meeting. Your Bible probably even calls it that in the margin. So they move down to Jerusalem to have this meeting and discuss this huge issue.
Verse 4: "When they came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and elders…" Almost entirely Jewish, by the way. It's worth noting. This is an insider meeting. All of these guys have the inside track to God. Virtually all of them are Jewish. "…they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and elders, to whom they reported everything God had done through them." Namely, opened a door of faith to the Gentiles.
"Then some of the believers…" It doesn't take long for that same old thing to come up again. "…who belonged to the party of the Pharisees stood up…" I want you to know who these people are. It says some of the believers who are of the party of the Pharisees. From the first four books of the New Testament, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, the four gospels, you're going to remember that the Pharisees are kind of the agitators of Jesus. In fact, they're the men who conspired to put him on the cross.
So when you see that, you might be thinking, "Hey, these are infiltrators. These are people who are out to stop the message." But it says some of the believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees. In other words, after Jesus had died and resurrected, there was a group of these very men who came to God, who came to believe in Christ. So don't think people who are evilly infiltrating the church. More like think of sincerely wrong and sincerely confused church staff people.
That's who these people are, and they stand up and say, "The Gentiles must be circumcised and required to keep the law of Moses." The in order to is not there in that sentence, but it's the same in order to. "In order to be saved, in order to go to heaven, in order to be of the family of God, in order to be accepted here as an equal."
Now this is a huge meeting, and it was a long, long time ago, and there was a lot different culturally then than it is now, but some things don't change, and that's called human behavior in a meeting. This is a meeting, and there are normal human behaviors going on in this meeting. I don't know how much time you spend in meetings, by the way.
I spend about half my work week in meetings by default before any other ones get put in, so, a lot of meetings. If you spend a lot of time around a lot of meetings, you understand this moment. This is the moment where someone…sincere or not, it doesn't matter…says a very bad idea, and you kind of shift in your seat awkwardly.
You're like, "Oh man. I just don't know. I don't think that's a good idea, but should I say something? If I say something, they're going to think I'm coming at them, and then our relationship is going to be bad and it's going to be even more awkward. So should I say something or should I just let it pass? I know if I let this idea pass, it's just going to get really bad down the road, but at least I won't be the one receiving the bad end of that. Maybe I can just let this thing play out and hurt other people, so maybe I should just be quiet."
Some of you have been in that meeting. In that moment, what you want more than anything is for somebody… Please, somebody say something to set this right. It's not that we don't like the person who said the bad idea. It's not that we don't love them. They're going to be in heaven with us forever and ever, but sometimes they just have some bad ideas and somebody has to help them. So someone please say something. It just so happens that somebody did in this moment.
I don't want you to miss the stakes. If nobody says anything, the message that comes out of the Christian church in the first century is one of grace and faith plus outward ritual, and the message that reached you, Christian of grace and faith alone, would never get to you. So all that has to happen in order for the Christian message, the true gospel of God that is not from man but from God, to be snuffed out from the entire earth is for a few people to let some awkward moments pass quietly. "The awkwardness will be over soon."
Thankfully, somebody speaks up and does not allow that to happen, and it's Peter. That doesn't give you confidence a lot if you've read a lot of Bible, because Peter is a guy who says things before he thinks and can't back up his big boasts. That's who Peter is. We make fun of him a little bit.
He's the kind of guy who when he clears his throat you kind of get a little nervous. You're like, "Oh man. I don't know what this guy is going to say." Peter stands up, and he gets it right. This is the reason Peter is a biblical hero. It's because the Peter of Acts is way different than the Peter of the Gospels.
"After much discussion, Peter got up and addressed them…" This is where he gets it right. "Brothers…""You're still brothers, even though you have a terrible idea." "Brothers, you know that some time ago God made a choice…" This is from God. "…among you that the Gentiles might hear from my lips the message of the gospel…" That's the "free grace and faith" message to come to God. "…and believe." That means trust.
"God…" This is about God, remember. "…who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us. He did not discriminate between us and them…""I know you're used to discrimination, because after all, it has been Israel and everybody else for a very long time, but we want to tell you what we saw. God is done discriminating between us and them because he purified their hearts by faith. We saw it. We saw names, and we saw lifestyles change. We saw all of it. I know that makes you uncomfortable if you're a religious person.
After all, these people don't walk like God, don't talk like God. They have piercings and tattoos and weird religious customs. They listen to the wrong music. They say weird things. They tried to kill us before we even got off the boat to give them this life-saving message. But guess what? Once they heard it, they trusted God to the saving of their souls, just like we have. God is done making distinctions." "Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of Gentiles a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors have been able to bear?"
In other words, "Why would you try to tack on all of these rules that you can't even follow? You aren't even good at this. Our grandparents weren't good at this. Read the Old Testament. They were terrible at following God. You are wanting to demand from them what you yourselves have not even been able to do. These people don't know God. This is an insider meeting. They have no idea. God gave us Nikes, and we could not finish the race. These people are barefoot."
"No!" Final answer. Peter's conclusion. "No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are." In other words, instead of giving religious custom to some, he's choosing to give grace and faith to everyone. A hush fell over the crowd. I know that, because it says, "The whole assembly became silent as they listened to Barnabas and Paul telling about the signs and wonders God had done among the Gentiles through them."
Story after story and name after name of people who had come to know God, people who had been lost. They didn't know God, and they didn't act like it. They didn't even feel the need to pretend, but then the message came to them that God was doing something new. God was opening a door to those farthest from him, and the only way to walk through it is by grace through faith, reliance, trust, dependence.
They did that, and they started to hear the names and stories of those people, not unlike the names and stories you're going to hear anywhere God's people are gathered, not unlike the ones you see in your Watermark News every time it's handed out. That's not Watermark news; that's just church news. That's just "what has been going on for 2,000 years" news, when someone walks through the door that God has opened for all people.
Then it says, "When they finished, James spoke up." This is James, the brother of Jesus. This is one of the best apologetics in the entire Bible, by the way, that James is a believer in Christ. Let me ask you a question. What would your half-brother have to do to convince you that he was God? There's your answer right there. James believes in Jesus. This is a huge defense for the faith. James spoke up, the guy who is not afraid of discipline. He's not afraid to follow a rule. You can read his book in the New Testament, cleverly titled James.
He says, "Brothers…listen to me. Simon [Peter] has described to us how God first intervened to choose a people for his name from the Gentiles.""Peter just told us how God chose to do this for the first time." James is right. It's easy for us to look back and go, "Oh yeah; Acts is a transitional period," because we have 66 books and we stand outside of them. We can see what God was doing over time, but James is in the moment.
He goes, "Wait. Time out. This is when God first intervened to choose a people who are nothing like him for his name." People who are outside, far away, and have no idea how to even imitate somebody who follows Jesus, but this is that moment when it happened for the first time. "And…" He's a Bible guy. "…the words of the prophets agree with this," and he starts to quote some Old Testament Scripture that would make a lot of sense to them but wouldn't make very much to us this morning, so I'm going to pass over that.
Listen to his conclusion in verse 19. "It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God.""We should not make it hard on these people. We should not make it difficult for those who are turning to God." Listen to his reasoning a little bit. Think about this. Can't you just picture him saying, "Hey, guys. Doesn't Jesus already kind of ask for everything? Doesn't Jesus already say things like, 'Whoever would follow me must take up his cross daily'?
Is that not enough for us? Are we going to make them dress like us too? Does Jesus not already say, 'Whoever wants to save their life is going to lose it, but if you want to follow me and you want to find it, you're going to have to give your life away'? Doesn't Jesus already say things like that? Why do we need to try to make them like us? Isn't this about making them like him and not about making them like us? Isn't this whole thing about their good and not our comfort? So I don't think we should make it hard on them."
I want you to see the two things in that text that could have made it very difficult. The first is to distort the message. Thankfully, there's clarity here around the message. "Hey, we're talking about grace and faith plus nothing. That's where we're landing." They clarify the message. If they don't do that, it is going to be very hard for people to come to God, because they're going to be confused about the basis they come on.
Secondly, it would have been to say not one thing, for the people who knew better to let that moment in the meeting pass and just say, "Well, it's clear in my mind; I have good doctrine," and not interrupt the meeting awkwardly in order to include some other people. Do you want to know what makes it difficult for people to come to God? First, when all we do is clarify the message and never share it, and second, when we let it get unclear. Both of those make it very difficult for people to come to God.
Instead, they did clarify the message and somebody did speak up. They did break the awkward silence in order to include other people. They did leverage their influence in the room for the sake of other people. When it dawned on them that they were an insider making decisions that affect a lot of people, it dawned on them they needed to clarify this message and they needed to die to preach it, so that's exactly what they did.
They broke that meeting and poured into boats and towns and roads and every way they could get around. Some of them took wives and husbands; some of them didn't. Their lives were about sharing the gospel, that good news that anybody can come to God on the basis of his grace and their faith. The end. That can happen. It literally changed history, people to people to people, and soon we're talking about pastors and leaders and heads of state and regular Joes alike, all the way until today.
Today, there are a billion people on the planet earth who think Jesus has at least something to do with God. I think biblical saving faith is more than acknowledging that Jesus had something to do with God, but I know that because these guys got the message right and decided to give their lives up for the sake of including other people… They left and shared that message faithfully.
They practiced what they preached, and consequently, today there are a billion people who claim the name of Jesus. That is why you name your kids Peter, James, and John, not Caiaphas: because some men clarified the message. When they had a chance to be silent, they spoke up for the sake of the people who were not in the room. They decided that they were not going to make it difficult anymore for people to come to God.
Now if you're not a Christian, you should love this. If you're not a person who follows God, not really a Bible person, not really sure what you think about all that (after all, the church hasn't been so loving to you), well, I would tell you this: this is very clarifying for you, because it tells you that if you had any experience…
I don't know what that experience might be or what kind of real pain that could have caused, but I know this: if you saw anything from the local church or from people who claim the name of Jesus that wasn't intentional inclusion and care and pursuit, it was not Jesus, because that is what Jesus' followers do. They leverage their influence for the sake of those who are still outside the fold, just like those men did.
If someone who is a Christian has hurt you or didn't include you the way you thought they should… There are inaccuracies in the way we represent him all the time, but if you have ever wondered if a group of Christians has ever thought about you, it's right here in Acts 15. If you are a Christian, if you do claim the name of Christ, you should love this too. Maybe more. What this means is that there is a chain of people… You don't know their names, but there is a chain of people who connect you all the way back to Acts 15.
Somebody got out of that meeting and decided, "We are going to give our lives to share this message. We are not going to be silent, and we're not going to make it difficult. We're going to make it difficult on ourselves so that it's easy for you." Somebody came out of that meeting and told somebody and another person and another person and another person until, half a world away, 2,000 years later, somebody took time to not make it difficult for you.
Somebody cared for you enough to clarify the message of the gospel, maybe a parent or a friend or whoever it was. Somebody clarified for you this idea of grace and faith, because you weren't going to figure it out on your own. Someone came and did that for you. They laid aside their own comfort, their own security, and came and loved you, even you. The only reason Christians exist on this earth today is because while they were still insiders, they thought of outsiders.
This is where responsibility comes in for us. If we claim the name of Jesus, we have a responsibility not to misrepresent him. If you're a person who says, "I am a Christian; that's me," then you have a biblical responsibility to follow the example of these men who spoke up and spoke out, to follow them as they follow Christ, which is what they asked you to do in the Scripture. This is what people who follow Jesus do.
There's a moment that dawns on them, and they realize, "Hey, this is a circle where we…" I'm not talking about just social interactions; I'm talking about in the depth of how you think. This is a circle where we are entirely comfortable, and there are people outside of this circle who really need access to God. If you follow Jesus, you do have a responsibility to do that, and you really only have two options.
If you're not a Christian, you get a free pass, but if you do claim the name of Christ, then you really have two options. You can either include others intentionally or exclude others by default, accidentally. You can be about the business of bringing other people into the faith, of pursuing people the way Jesus does and thus paving the way for them, or you can, by default, be in the way of them because you're not pursuing them in the same way Christ does.
You can either clear the way for others or you can be in the way of others. Those are really the only two options you have, because if you aren't clearing a way for others on purpose, building relationships, sharing the faith, what that means is you're painting a picture of an apathetic, lackadaisical Christ who does not pursue people, which is nothing like the Jesus of the Bible. Apathy and silence from Christians confuse people who need to know God.
That's why these men spoke up. They weren't angry about it. They just said, "Brothers, listen. You're still brothers, but if we don't do this, we're going to make it hard for them. We're going to confuse these people, because we're going to paint a picture of a Jesus who does not exist; namely, one who's detached, one who does not intentionally pursue, one who does not leave 99 and look for one, and that's exactly what Jesus said his followers should do."
I have a question for you by way of application. This is not a "should do," because I don't know where you work, and I don't know who the outsiders are in your life, and I don't know where you're going to spend this whole week. I have no idea what life looks like day to day for you, so I'll just pose this as a question for you…What are you going to do when it dawns on you that you are an insider?
There's a moment of realization, where you look up and go, "Okay, in this moment I am relationally secure. I know God, and I have a Bible I can read, and sometimes I even understand it. Right now, in this moment, there are others who are outside of that existence." You realize their name, and you realize all of a sudden that you're not missing anything, but they are. I don't know what that moment looks like for you.
I don't know if it's in a break room, where you have an opportunity to take a conversation deeper and you feel the temptation of fear. I don't know if it is another kid's parents, so, your kid's friend's parents who maybe are new to town. You haven't pursued them. You haven't spent any time with them. You haven't let them know that there's a community that's longing for them to know their Savior.
Maybe you haven't done that because it just feels like your relational plate is so full and you're so busy. I have no idea what that moment will look like for you, but my bet is you do. So what will you do when it dawns on you that you are an insider, that you have everything you need and there is somebody else who doesn't?
This happened for me in a significant way when I was about a senior in college. When I was a junior in college, I found myself in a bad spot spiritually. My dad had led me to Christ when I was a kid, but I don't think my heart was in a place to really do anything with that, so I lived like I did not know God for about 10 years.
When I began college, I began it as a believer, but I was the believer who was alone. I didn't know anyone who was really following Christ and out of an overflow of their hearts and my heart we could experience the thing called community that God's people are designed to live in. So I lived for the first three years of my college existence lost, functionally, even though I knew God. I was porn addicted. I was partying. I had a guilty conscience.
I was just the lone Christian, and the lone Christian never wins. I've never met the lone Christian who's like, "I'm killing it out here." I'm like, "I don't even know you, but I know that's not true." If you're the lone Christian, it does not work. That's where I was living. At the end of my junior year, I realized, "Okay, I know a couple of guys who are actually following this Jesus they say they believe in," and they both happened to go to the same school.
I didn't know a lot of people who were following Jesus in that way. I knew some parents and some families and some pastors, but of people who were my age, which at that time was college, I only knew a couple who were actually following Jesus. They both happened to go to the same school, so I transferred into that school, hoping to get some time around God's people or I knew my walk with God was basically going to be done.
A guy I met there… He was not one of the guys I knew prior to transferring there. Being 22 years old and starting college over as a senior is not recommended. I'm there and I'm doing that, and a guy comes up to me. I'd met him a couple of times before. We had somewhat socially interacted, but I didn't know him well.
He said, "Hey, I'm going to start this thing, and it's not going to be great or huge. It's just going to be for a couple of us as we start. What this is going to be is not a chance for us to get together for a Bible study. This is just six or eight guys. This is not going to be a chance for us to have a Bible study where we become smarter sinners and learn facts and trivia. What we're going to do is tell each other how following Jesus is going, and we're going to celebrate where it's good and expose where it's not.
When you do that, I'm going to respond to you with Scripture, and when I do that, you're going to respond to me with Scripture. That's the way this is going to go. I know this is a strong statement," he said, "but I think God actually is leading me, actually telling me, if I can use that word, that you should be in it." I said, "I transferred to this university to be in it. You tell me where to show up, because I need it. I need to be there."
We were so different. I had just tumbled out of a locker room that I'd been in for the previous decade, basically. I had no idea how to interact. I knew I claimed the name of Jesus, but I didn't talk like it, didn't walk like it. Here he was… His dad was a pastor. I mean, he had it figured out. He had the social scene of this college figured out. He knew everybody in all of the organizations. I didn't know anybody. I'm just the new kid.
It would have been so easy for him… "Oh, I'm full. I don't have time. No interest in the new guy. He'll have to make his own way" kind of thing. He just looked at me and thought, "Hey, I'm going to invite this guy to follow Jesus with me. Even though he's sitting over there and he has his hat turned around backwards, he makes off-color jokes, he eats cereal all day, and sleeps way too much, I'm going to invite that guy to follow Jesus with me."
He was like five-seven and an artist, by the way, just so you get a visual. If you're five-seven and an artist, fabulous, but that's not where I was hanging out for the previous few years in locker rooms. This was not the guy I was going to naturally be drawn to for a friendship, but that's exactly what happened. He baptized me. He helped me through tons of things personally. There is a difference in my walk with Christ just because… That's the power of inclusion.
There is a difference just because he decided, "Hey, I'm not going to make it difficult for that guy by ignoring him. I'm going to call him. It is not based on our commonality. He might not join the organizations I join or be about the things I'm about, and we might look very different, but God has asked me not to make it difficult on this guy." It changed my life.
You look at that Watermark News. That story is from some people right here who God worked through in order to include him. You ask him who the hero of his story is and he will tell you Christ, but I'll bet you there are some Christians he can name who love him. I don't know where you go this week, but what will you do when it dawns on you that you're an insider and you have a chance to include some people in the God who changed your life? Let's pray together.
Thank you, God, that when we were nothing like you, when we were addicted and self-obsessed and hurting and would bite the hand off anybody who came near, you loved us, that you included us, that you let us know about a love we could not have invented, that you sent your people to represent you, and we knew something was different about them when they came. Thank you, God, that such is your pleasing and perfect plan to wait so long for such a time as this for us to know that we are loved by you, pursued by you.
Forgive us, God, for painting a picture of you as someone who is detached and disinterested. God, I pray that because of the encouraging love of the believers who have gone before us and those who have included us we would be full of your love that's transmitted through your Word and your Spirit and your people and out of that overflow we would not make it difficult for those who are turning to God, those who are in this city, in our workplaces, in our friendship circles, in our areas that you've entrusted to us.
Help us, God, to not make it difficult on them but, instead, to clarify a message that just gets convoluted over time somehow. Would you help us speak the truth to them, not worrying about their response but, instead, leaving that to you and reaching out in trust and in faith? Thank you, God, that you don't chastise us for the ways we haven't done this well. Thank you, God, that you're all encouragement and that somehow, even as you pursue outsiders, you haven't neglected the people who have been around you for decades. God, help us to follow you and reflect back to you through song and word. I pray you give us your love so we can give it to others.