I read with interest and, I have to admit, a little amusement, Scott’s story about the strip club and the church. What intrigues me about the said story of the club and the church is that it’s more than likely that in some church circles this pastor will get criticised for even knowing the man who runs the bar. Sad, especially when we’re supposed to be followers of the one who was known as “friend of sinners”.
And then there was a thread of comments on another blog about Christians and political parties that was in danger of becoming a little over-heated. It made me realise how easily we can misunderstand each other.
So how do these two things connect and what do they have to do with outward focused living? Well, I guess what’s been going through my mind, as I’ve thought about these two apparently disconnected stories, is the nature of relationships. They’re complex things, relationships. You think you know what you meant to say and said it, only to discover later that what was heard was not what you meant to say. A slight shift in perspective can make all the difference. A strip club owner is either the worst of sinners, or just another sinner in need of God’s forgiveness.
So what helps us shift perspective without losing sight of the gospel imperative? I think the answer is grace.
Grace is the most incredible gift that God has given us. Because of grace sin is not ignored, it’s dealt with. Grace opens our eyes, judgement closes them. Grace says it’s okay to make mistakes because there is always the hope that someone might just get a glimpse of the glorious God, even in the middle of our greatest mistakes. Grace allows the sin to be challenged while all the time the sinner remains loved.
I’m grateful for grace. Because of grace I can love those around me unconditionally, I can reach out to them, I can meet their needs, listen to their stories, and all without the need to worry about whether I’m condoning their lifestyle, which seems to be the preoccupation of many an evangelical mind. Because of grace I can live outwardly focused. I have nothing to protect. No reputation, no fortress of faith.
Perhaps with grace we could find the humour in the strip club story rather than the theological incongruities. On the other hand, with grace at the top of the agenda, maybe there are no incongruities to worry about anyway.
There is no doubt in my mind that the one Biblical concept that we must get our heads around is grace. Until we grasp this as fully as we possibly can, I think much of what we do will remain conditional. And grace, by its very nature, is unconditional.