I am extraordinarily blessed to have vacationed with some wonderful people. One of them was wearing a Georgia Bulldogs hat while standing in line at Florida’s Magic Kingdom. Waiting for the doors to open, I heard a “Go Dawgs” from a lady in front of us. They then proceeded to discuss where they were from until Mickey gave us the all clear to enter… the conversation abruptly ended and the mad rush to the first and only ride where the line wouldn’t be over an hour long took over.
This is a part of our psychology that we can’t seem to escape from. We pair up in our common interests. Notice the “in”. That was on purpose. I had a man walk up to me and started talking about his favorite online website. It happened to be one of mine too, but I had no idea why he was telling me about it until later when I realized I was wearing one of their free t-shirts. Movies, music, bumper stickers, social media, pins, hats, shoes, politics… we find so many ways to identify ourselves so we can find each other.
What happens, whether intentional or not, is that we become part of that ideology. To the world, I’m not Barry, I’m the guy who firmly believes they canceled Go On too soon. I’m the Taco Bell fanatic. I’m the Braves fan. I’m the one searching for rugby shirts because I don’t care what is in or out of style.
There are two things that stand out in Jesus’ ministry to me. First, he hung out with sinners. If you believe we are to separate ourselves from the world, I’d highly encourage you to read through your Bible again without the aid of others guiding your path. The words could not be more clear. Jesus ate with sinners. The worst of them. He didn’t just eat with them… He was caught. How do we know that He did this? The religious ‘Bible bangers’ (term from my youth) saw Him and let everyone know that He was lowering Himself to their levels. I think that is important too. He didn’t just hang out them. This was in public. For all to see. He was not ashamed to befriend and love on the very people He was here to save.
Imagine the arrogance it would take to come down from heaven, separate yourself from God, endure torture, and you didn’t even bother to try and win even more people over while you were here. We don’t serve an arrogant God. We serve a loving God… one who is STILL trying to teach us how to love as He loved. The sinners… the very people He had to die for, were who He chose to hang out with. And guess what… we are all sinners. He just knew it was a waste of time to try and help those who positioned themselves above His help. The very people who thought Jesus was wrong to eat with sinners are the very same people who will find themselves exempt from the salvation He provides. (and that is solely by their choice).
The second thing that stands out is that His prayer to God is that we be united. But the caveat is that we find the same type of unity that He enjoyed with God. The sad part is that the very things that unite us also tear us apart. My Georgia hat is appalling to your Alabama shirt. Your GOP sticker is rude compared to someone else’s DNC flag. Even as Christians, we can’t find common ground… at least, not for long. Your instruments will offend those who like acapella. Someone’s favorite author will be banned by another movement. We all like different praise songs. Some stand when they shouldn’t, some sit when they shouldn’t, some spend too much on missionaries while others don’t spend enough. Is the pulpit too big? Praise teams? Baptism? one cuppers? Jesus knew what was coming.
A great many of us aren’t “IN” Christ. We are found by all manner of other labels, but the Savior just isn’t front and center. We are in Nike, or we are in grape juice rather than real wine. We are in firmly in our stance against those who worship different than us. That ‘IN’ is a division. Jesus prayed for unity because He knew, first hand, how easy it would be to divide us. Allow me to release you from the illustration. There is nothing wrong, on any level, with wearing or supporting what makes you you. Support your team, be proud of who you are. The point, however, is twofold. How do you ultimately identify yourself? Can people see past that hat and know that you are a person of Christ first and foremost? But more importantly…
Can you (YOU) see past the labels, the choices, and the very world that drips from other people around you? Can you see past those guises and see the person underneath? Can you see the sinner? Can you see the redeemed? Can you see the broken? Can you feel their pain? Can you walk in their shoes? Can you cast off all of your preconceived notions and join with them in a meal? Can you invite them to your home? Can you love on them? This is what Jesus did. He did not see the men and women that chose various cliques. He saw the people He wanted to save and did what needed to be done… but not before He shared a meal. Showed them what love is… and gave them some dignity.
If you want to put on the world’s view of Christ… take a stand on something that doesn’t matter. Argue publically over trivial issues. Share condemnation and point out sin. If you want to show people Christ… we have to be Him. We have to be “IN” Him. I’ve written about this in various forms before and I can’t seem to stop. I can’t help but feel that we desperately need to revisit these 2 Christian principles (straight from the life of Jesus). Engage the sinners with love (that means everyone, we are all sinners) and unite in the only thing that could ever matter… Christ.