I’m currently reading A Glimpse of Jesus – Stranger to Self-Hatred, by Brennan Manning. One chapter entitled “Healing through meal-sharing” provides a beautiful confirmation of the whole concept of “inclusion.” According to Manning, the cultural implications of a first century Jew, (let alone the Jewish MESSIAH!), eating with common sinners was seismic. Meal-sharing was a sign of identification and friendship, and to sit down to dinner with the “riff-raff” of society was a one-way ticket to social disgrace.
For Jesus to share a meal with such people could mean only one of two things: Either he himself was a “sinner”, or sinners were being welcomed into fellowship with God. (And all of this before they even “went to the alter” or prayed a “sinner’s prayer!” “The inclusion of sinners in the community of salvation, achieved in a table-fellowship, is the most dramatic expression of the message of the redeeming love of the merciful God.” That’s what these past months in Sarajevo have been about: including “sinners” in the fellowship of God.
And of course this means I’ve got to stop sorting: Good fish / bad fish…. good seed / bad seed… sheep / goats… I’ve been quite a pharisee over the years, judging who’s on the inside and who’s on the outside of God’s salvation. But obviously that’s not my call to make. All I can do is welcome people to the table and love them as if Jesus himself had included them on the guest list.
Today I did some long-overdue updating on my webpage. (There’s a link to it on the sidebar). Had a wonderful dinner with my Muslim buddy, Nazim, last night. Tonight we’ve got our weekly men’s discipleship group. Clay’s gonna talk about humility.
Just had two days of 24/7 fellowship with a little group of Bosnian, Swedish, and American friends who came to my apartment for an evening and stayed for two days. Others came and went, sharing meals, playing games, conversing, praying and watching films until the wee hours of the morning. It was a diverse group. Not all of my them professed to know and follow Jesus. But all were included. And this living lesson highlighted my growing awareness that inclusion is the essence of the gospel and the most fundamental thing about God himself.
As near as I can see, the kingdom Jesus spoke of was open to all except two types of people:
- Those who rejected Him. (Jesus never, never forced himself on those who didn’t want to be around him).
- Those who rejected others. (Like the Pharisees, who couldn’t deal with a God who hung out with tax-collectors and prostitutes as if they were on the inside track of his love.)
“Love one another… by this shall all men know that you are my disciples.” I used to read this command almost as a postscript to all the real stuff, “Oh… and incidentally, don’t forget to love each other. It’s good advertisement for the kingdom, you know.” But in these past months I’m seeing with new eyes that the most fundamental thing about the Father, Son & Spirit is the love that courses through the Trinity itself. And the only way we can truly reveal who HE is, is to live in that rich inclusive love, first receiving the love of the Godhead into ourselves and then pouring it out indiscriminately to others.
My life is being changed by this idea. “Ministry,” (whatever that really is), just happens effortlessly as I receive the love of the Trinity and then allow it splash out onto others.
I wish I could introduce you to my new friend, Amer, who came into our lives in just that way. He was serving drinks to several of us at a coffee bar when the love of Jesus spontaneously embraced him. He just knew intuitively that he was included, and found himself on the inside of the love of God without having to do anything to get there. “Is he a believer yet?” I’ve almost stopped asking those sorts of questions. What I can tell you is that Amer has caught a glimpse of Jesus, and he’s been following the love that he’s experienced. That same Love will sort out his theology.
I knew camp was going to be a powerful experience when I got on the bus, choked down a lump in my throat and felt tears forming in my eyes. God so wants these precious people to know that they are loved and included in His life. And although I’d been asked to speak on “Identity,” the word that resonated in my heart was “inclusion.” Can there be any other Biblical context for understanding who we are apart from being the “beloved of God”?
Their hearts were far more open than I’m used to, and by the end of the message not a few were quietly (and tearfully) receiving the truth that God not only loves them, but He likes them.
Last night I chanced upon a article that opened up the whole idea:
Can you imagine what it must have been like for Jesus the first moment he sat around with the circle of his disciples after they had finally become friends?
We all know what it is to get acquainted with new people, the awkward pauses and measured words as people get to know each other. Certainly the disciples went through that with Jesus. Just who was this Teacher and Miracle-worker and who were these other men who decided to follow him?
It might have happened during a conversation after a meal, or walking together on a road, but at some point they found themselves safe enough with him and each other to let down their guard. No longer measuring words or trying to impress each other, they slipped into the fruits of their burgeoning friendship—the freedom to be honest, to laugh, to ask the seemingly stupid question, and to relax in each other’s presence.
What must that have felt like to Jesus? Had this been what he had always wanted?
For the first time since that cruel day in Eden, God was sitting down with people he loved and they were not cowering in fear. For centuries men and women had stood at a great distance from God, shamed by their sin and intimidated by his holiness. With only a few notable exceptions, people wanted nothing to do with the immediacy of God’s presence. When Mt. Sinai shook with thunder and earthquakes, the people begged Moses to go to God for them. God was a terrifying figure and feeling safe with him was unthinkable.
But God had never thought so. His plan to restore the fellowship with humanity that Adam and Eve had lost in their fall was unfolding. In Jesus, he was able to sit down in the company of those he loved and they were comfortable enough to engage him in a real conversation. What an incredible moment that must have been for Jesus, to be with people who were not so awed by him, that they could not enjoy his presence. (He Loves Me, by Wayne Jacobsen)
Here are a few of those Jesus loves. It’s not a campfire, but a coffee bar. (I’m taking the picture).
Just time for a short post this morning, and then hopefully something longer in a few days.
I’m still pondering this idea of inclusion and hospitality as an overlooked aspect of God’s character. This past week I’ve been noticing how good it feels to be included when friends come together. Whether it’s a party, an invitation to lunch, or simply a cup of coffee, there’s something in our hearts – even for introverts like me – that yearns for inclusion.
The culture here is inclusive. Check out the picture below. I snapped it last night (Sunday) at 10:00 pm on the “walking street.” Nothing special happening. This is just a typical night in Sarajevo. And this is one of the things I miss when I come home to the states.
This week I’ve been spending time with Ahmed, George, Alen, and Mirela, all of whom have trusted Jesus in the past year. They bolster my hope for the younger generation. Already Ahmed has seen God come through in some powerful and miraculous ways. In one situation all hope was clearly gone until – after prayer – he received a phone call that turned everything around in a moment’s time. I love the way God pampers the young.
This week I’ve been reading Athanasius, “On the Incarnation of the Son of God.” He’s the fourth century brother who was most responsible for giving the us the Nicean Creed. The thing that grips me most deeply in his writing is the shocking hospitality of the Fathers heart towards mankind after the fall. I’ve grown up with a clear idea of a God who’s been “ticked off” with us ever since Eden. But what a tender picture Athanasius paints of a Father refusing to give up on his creation. It so perfectly fits Jesus’ story of a wayward son who’s heartbroken Father scanned the horizon in hope of his return.
Most people, I believe, are innately attuned to the concept of a God who has set himself against us in our sin. But Athanasius paints a God who is FOR us, who declares a resounding “NO!” to all that separates us from his love. I believe if people were able to grasp such a Father, there would be few who would reject him.
The Prodigal Son, by Liz Lemon Swindle