Sometimes, God puts little phrases in my mind. I then spend that chapter of the book of my life figuring out what He’s actually trying to tell me. Eventually, His light spills over the page and I begin to glean some understanding. A few weeks ago, I heard something a little weird in my spirit, something I’m still not sure I’m comfortable with, something that could scare me just a little if I let it.
WE INTERRUPT THIS PROGRAM WITH A DISCLAIMER: I know this probably seems weird, this whole God-speaks-to-my-spirit stuff, especially to those of you who don’t share my faith. I promise it’s not like I’m seeing heavenly hosts or hearing voices. No need to send in the white-coats. I’m no saner than you, so we’re even.
It’s funny, because the message He gave me was so interestingly strange that I don’t really remember the circumstances in which He shared it. And I still don’t know exactly what He wants me to do with the information. I’m still prayerfully expecting clarification. Orders from headquarters. The honey-do list.
He called me a sheep-gatherer.
Now, that can’t be right, was my initial response. Aside from the Ultimate Sheep Gatherer, who, incidently, was also known as The Lamb of God, most other refereces to shepherds mean pastors of some sort. I don’t think God’s asking me to formally become a pastor. (But of course, I can’t discount that, can I?)
I’m still waiting on clarification, but as my mind is swirling around this one, another strain of thought is being answered, being brought back to the forefront. This is when I always find things get interesting — when God intertwines two or three trains of my own thoughts together that I figured were completely different things. As is usually the case, it makes me frightenly uncomfortable.
A few months ago, I read a book called On The Verge. I should say I read some of it — it’s dense reading — but it was good. Sooooo good. I read it as part of my work when I was on staff part-time at my church, and it excited me. I’ve written — or at least said on Facebook — how tired I am of the way some of my Christian breathen (as portrayed in the media, I should say. Most of my friends are NOT like this) share their faith with an in-your-face defiance of sorts. “I dare you to not love Jesus — you’ll find out I’m right when you’re burning in Hell!” Even if they’re not shaking a placard in someone’s face, there seems to be an air of superiority that quite frankly turns most people off — including me. We have nothing to feel superior about. Only God is superior. All we’ve done is recognized our unquenchable, deep need for Him. In fact, the more I explore my need for Jesus, the less superior I become.
What I love about this book is its attempt to change the way Christians think about our mission to tell the world about Jesus. It should not come from an ethnocentric, totally Western, morally superior postition but rather one of true witness. Look! Look what He did in my life, in their lives, in this world! Isn’t it amazing? On page 87, the author is listing some of the deeply entrenched myths that are inhibiting true Acts-like sharing of the Gospel. My favorite myth: “The church is the guardian of society’s morals.”
There is, according to the writers, the “assumption that we’re the central religious institution of society, that we have the inherent right to speak with authority into the moral situation. In a post-Christiandom, post-church, secular culture, the church no longer has that kind of status, legitimacy, and permission. (Shouting louder isn’t going to help!) Besides, this kind of myth can tend to make Pharisees of us all. Rather than trying to resolve this, we must return to the image of witness and not presume we have the cultural right to correct other people’s morals. We point to Jesus through faithful witness, not prescribed behaviors,” (87).
This has long been a question of mine, a point of contention for me with most organized religion. Why should a non-Christian care what Jesus says about something? First, they have to fall in love with Jesus. And if I am denegrating them for whatever sin I perceive them to be involved in, if I am othering them and disallowing them fundamental rights and telling them that they are different in some horrible way and messing in their personal lives through attempted legislations and political maneuvers, how will they ever know the love of Christ? They won’t. They will only know my own hatred for them.
Who are your lepers?
When I think of the “lepers” of today, I think of those people who have been completely ostracized by today’s society — those people who don’t fit into a nice, clean, American life except perhaps in the form of entertainment. But within the Church? Oh no. No sex workers, please. No transvestites, transexuals, or otherwise gender-bending personalities. That’s too messy, it doesn’t fit into our picture of what church should look like. But do we dare say that these people are too far gone for Christ? How dare we? Do we dare insinuate that these people are not loved immensely by God, right where they are, right as they are? Will we wait for them to conform to our idea of morality (which we’ve lost the right to claim as superior — see above) before we choose to minister to them? Are we asking the “non-believer to do all the cross-cultural work in coming to church?” (Ferguson, 73). Who is ministering to these people?
I am currently doing a Bible study on the life of Jesus by Beth Moore (LOVE her!) called JESUS: The One and Only. In one of the weekly videos, she retold a story originally told by Jim Cybala of Brooklyn Tabernacle. The story was of one of their pastors who regularly went to minister to a group of transvestite prostitutes near their church. He invited, they declined. He invited, they declined. On and on, over and over. Finally, one of them came to church — in full female attire, he came just as he was. Just as Jesus wanted him to come. And eventually he did enter into a personal relationship with Jesus, but he did so because first, he was allowed to come to church in a dress.
When I heard this story, Oh! How it hit me!!! Yes! I thought. This is what we are missing! We are only ministering to ourselves as long as we refuse to let men in dresses come to church.
How pretty are our churches?
Pretty is as pretty does.
So where does this leave me?
I dunno. Am I to be a sheep gatherer of transvestites? Who knows? All I can do is what God puts before me. But I know that whatever I do to serve Him has to come from a heart that first recognizes the huge plank in my own eye before I look at the speck in my brother’s. I have to look at other people through the eyes of God, which holds incredible love, furious mercy, and unfathomable jealousy for their attention. YES! He is JEALOUS for your ATTENTION! God set us free to choose Him — yes, even the transgender community! — and He desperately wants us to feel the Love He sent down. And it’s my job to be a tool for God. To show that love. To gather the sheep so He can love them.
No matter who they are.