cleaning up for God + a scandalously inclusive Savior

My four big kids are in VBS this week (can I get an Amen for VBS?!) and Monday morning they came filing into the living room. I looked them up and down, saying things like;

“That shirt has a hole in it, go change.”
“Your clothes don’t match. Keep the shorts or keep the shirt, but pick something that actually goes together.”
“Oh geez, you have dread locks growing in the back of your head! When was the last time you brushed your hair?! Have you been using conditioner? What is going on?”

I was cleaning my kids up to send them to church. But I wasn’t just cleaning them up to send them to church, I was cleaning them up to send them to the Church. To church people. God’s people. I was trying to make them presentable for the people of God.

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In the wake of Sunday’s deadly mass shooting, in the tidal wave that is our current presidential election, in the midst of my own family not being ok, it hit me – we Christians do this all the time. We try to clean up our act before coming to God. It’s no wonder then, when people outside the Church see this, they either follow suit into a life of fake smiles and Sunday morning “Fine’s,” or they realize they’ll never measure up and don’t even try.

This is not the freedom Jesus came for friends.

When Jesus called his disciples to follow him, there were no instructions to get it together first. None.

Jesus called Simon (Peter) and Andrew while they were fishing. He says, “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.” I will make you – not go change your shirt you smell like fish, brush your raggedy hair, read this book on discipleship and then we’ll talk.

Follow me, and I will mold you and I will form you and I will grow you into the men I created you to be.

A few chapters later, Jesus, after cleansing a leper, healing a whole bunch of people, calming a storm and casting out some demons – but we’ll get to that in a minute – calls Matthew, the tax collector. (If there were a soundtrack to the Bible, I imagine some sketchy music playing as the camera pans to bring Matthew into frame. Can you hear it?)

Jesus sees Matthew and says, “Hey, come hang with me.” Tax collectors in that day were notoriously corrupt. They were thieves and swindlers who took advantage of those below them on the socio-economic ladder. They were also despised by the Jews, making Jesus’ pick of Matthew both scandalous and offensive.

Jesus didn’t seem to care too much what the religious people thought of his choice of friends. The very next thing he does is sit down with a whole bunch of tax collectors and sinners and eat with them. And back in the day, eating with people was a big deal.

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We follow a Savior who is scandalously inclusive.

He touched lepers, shared meals with tax collectors, hung out with sinners, healed the demon possessed, played with children, loved immigrants and widows and the disabled.

That’s what I’d call a pretty eclectic social circle.

One thing Jesus teaches us is love never looks like judgement. It never does. Love never looks like creating margins, separating “us” from “them” or those “inside” from those “outside.” It never looks like the people of God deciding who gets to sit at the table of God because there is always room at the foot of the cross.

Jesus saves some of us out of our muck and mire, and some of us He saves in it. Some people have a Saul/Paul conversion experience. Others don’t. Frankly, that’s God’s business. And His business can be slow

Here’s something I’ve learned about God’s slow work: changed behavior comes from a changed heart. When Jesus walked the earth he was always always always concerned about a person’s heart.

How are hearts changed? By love. When people who have never belonged and never fit in, people who have been pushed outside, told to clean up, sober up, thin up, and straighten up experience the never stopping never giving up love of God – hearts are changed.

Friends, behavior modification is not freedom. It’s not what Jesus died for. He came to set us free from sin and shame and Church, we have got to stop shaming each other with this idea that we must clean up before coming to God. We must lead the charge because there are millions of people watching us live lives veiled in “fine,” hell-bent on pretending everything is ok.

It starts with us.

Please hear me: It is ok, to not be ok.

What need do we have for a Savior if we are all fine? Jesus came to heal the sick and we have got to own up to the fact that it is us. We are sick, we need a Savior and we need each other. And we do not have to clean ourselves up first.

You do not have to wear the right clothes to come to Jesus.
You don’t have to brush your hair.
You don’t have to know enough about the Bible.
You don’t have to quit smoking.
You don’t have to be “good.”
You don’t have to stop cussing.
You don’t have to volunteer for every dang thing your church does.
You don’t have to get straight.
You don’t have to stop drinking.
You don’t have to be ok.

Just come. Come and follow Him. Trust Him to take care of the rest. Because He will.

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And all God's people said: