I Don’t Want People That My Friends Don’t Want
A six-year-old girl was telling her neighbor the story of Cinderella and when she got to the end, she said, "Do you know what happened next?" Her neighbor said, "They lived happily ever after." The little girl said, "No, they didn't. They got married!"
Apparently that little girl did not equate marriage and living happily ever after as the same thing. This might shock to you, but every couple experiences some conflict. But it’s not just marriages where we find conflict, it’s found in every type of relationship. Conflict, disagreement, and arguments are inevitable in a world where diversity is the norm. You and I look at the world differently. We're not carbon copies of each other. My needs, my ideas, my vocabulary, my interests and my style are not the same as yours. And the longer and deeper you and I communicate, the closer we get, the more those differences will show up and disagreements will arise. And that's what happens to husbands and wives, to friends and neighbors, and even to Church Families.
Over the past few weeks we have been talking about the desire to be comfortable verse the desire to be what God wants us to be. I have tried to be honest about the mess that I have made when I chose being comfortable over be accepting of the people that God wants in His church. And that has to be more than just something we say; remember it’s His Church, not my church and not your church but His church. This church was bought by the Blood of Christ, so He get’s to decide who get’s to called.
Very quickly let me remind you what we have talked about over the past three weeks. We started by saying that sometimes in the name of comfort we put out our no vacancy sign to keep out folks I am afraid of, just like Ananias tried to do with Saul of Tarsus. Then we talked about the fact that sometimes I try to keep out folks who have a different culture, just like the early church tried to do with the Gentiles. Last week we talked about the struggle we have with folks who have been raised with different traditions and patterns of growth like the church did in Acts 15.
Every time the church struggled, God was able to bring them back to the idea that His desire is for His church to grow. And when the church was willing to get uncomfortable, God blessed them tremendously. We need to understand that church growth is normal.
From the very creation of the universe, growth has been imprinted into the earth and everything on the earth. In the very beginning, as we read in Genesis chapter 1, we see that God designed growth to be normal.
Then God said, "Let the earth produce plants -- some to make grain for seeds and others to make fruits with seeds in them. Every seed will produce more of its own kind of plant." And it happened. The earth produced plants with grain for seeds and trees that made fruits with seeds in them. Each seed grew its own kind of plant. God saw that all this was good Genesis 1:11-12
As long as there is health, there is growth. It is a truth that we are seeing in our home on a daily basis. This past week, Trafton realized that his hand has gotten bigger than mine. I still remember when I could hold him in my hand. He is healthy and he is growing bigger and bigger stronger and stronger. It’s not just people who grow when they are healthy; animals, plants, and churches grow when health is present. It is the way that we were created. Healthy plants produce fruit and seeds, healthy animals produce muscle and offspring, and healthy churches produce discipleship and conversions. It is a universal rule, that health produces growth.
But there are times that the church is not as healthy as God designed for it to be. One of the struggles the church faces is when we allow our sickness to hang out the No Vacancy sign. As we have noticed over the last few weeks there has always been a struggle with folks we are afraid of, or folks with a different culture, and those with a different path of growth than we have had. And according to the scriptures there are times when we say no vacancy to folks who my friends don’t want.
Now I imagine some of you just scoffed at this idea because we think that this is a High School struggle, but the truth is that just because we are older doesn’t mean that we struggle less with the desire to be liked and accepted. About a year after I transitioned from Youth Ministry to Pulpit work I was talking with a friend of mine who was struggling about whether or not he should make the same transition. He asked me what I noticed and I told him that adult ministry is just like youth ministry, you have the same basic struggles the only differenced is the size of the debt.
Let me show you what I mean; in our text this morning we see Peter struggling with this desire to be around folks that his friends accepted. I hope you remember that Peter was used by God to bring about the first Gentile convert. As a matter of fact, as long as Peter was in Caesarea he didn’t mind eating, studying, and visiting with the Gentiles but when he got back among his Jewish friends the story was a little different.
In Galatians 2, the Apostle Paul gives us a little insight to the struggle. But when Peter came to Antioch, I had to oppose him to his face, for what he did was very wrong. When he first arrived, he ate with the Gentile Christians, who were not circumcised. But afterward, when some friends of James came, Peter wouldn’t eat with the Gentiles anymore. He was afraid of criticism from these people who insisted on the necessity of circumcision. As a result, other Jewish Christians followed Peter’s hypocrisy, and even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy Galatians 2:11-13.
At first, there was no problem because we see Peter was eating and fellowshipping with the Christian Gentiles. He was enjoying the freedom of the gospel. I love the fact that at first Peter not only refused to require that the Gentile Christians become Jewish, but it seems that he even felt free enough to become like the Gentiles. What I mean is that Peter was doing so much more than just eating with the Gentile believers; he was standing in freedom and walking in love.
This was not a one time event; he was doing it continually. He ate with who ever showed up and he ate whatever they put on the table, all those things he would have never eaten as a devout Jew, like crawfish gumbo and fried catfish. Peter was experiencing what it means to live in the scandalous grace of God.
And then we get to the BUT. A group of Jewish Christians show up in the city and Peter begins to withdraw from his associations with the Gentile believers. I doubt it happened right away, it was probably gradual. At first he started to make excuses about why he couldn’t show up for certain meals and times of fellowship. Then he stopped accepting their invitations and eventually he has separated himself all together.
This is the same Peter who preached with boldness on the day of Pentecost. This is the same Peter who went to the house of Cornelius and shared the gospel, and then told of his experience to the church in Jerusalem. Now we see him retreating because he was fearful of what other folks would say about him if they knew he was hanging out with those Gentiles.
To make matters worse, Peter’s actions had deeper consequences; you see when Peter drew back, so did other Jews. It seems that Peter’s influence was so great that when he went in one direction a lot of people went with him, including Barnabas.
You remember Barnabas don’t you? He was the one who stood against the crowd back in Acts 9. He stood up for Paul when the church was still living in fear of what Paul would do. Because of his action the church found it’s greatest missionary and theologian. But now following the lead of Peter, even Barnabas was more worried about what his friends would think over what God wanted.
It seems to be a universal desire to try and distance ourselves from folks that my friends, or people I want as friends, don't want. And this struggle is as old as mankind. Did you know that there were folks who refused to associate with Jesus because of what other people would think. John writes in John 12:42-43: Nevertheless many even of the rulers believed in Him, but because of the Pharisees they were not confessing Him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the approval of men rather than the approval of God.
There were some people who wanted to be associated with Jesus but they kept their distance because they were afraid of what the Pharisee's would think. Even Jesus was criticized for the people He associated with, but He readily admitted that He came to accept and love, and associate with the folks we could consider sick.
Jesus would associate with Tax collectors and sinners. Mark 2:13-17
Jesus went out again beside the sea; the whole crowd gathered around him and he taught them. As he was walking along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, "Follow me." And he got up and followed him. And as he sat at dinner in Levi's house, many tax collectors and sinners were also sitting with Jesus and his disciples--for there were many who followed him. When the scribes of the Pharisees saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, they said to his disciples, "Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?" When Jesus heard this, he said to them, "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners."
A woman who was a notorious sinner. Luke 7:36-39
One of the Pharisees asked Jesus to eat with him, so Jesus went into the Pharisee's house and sat at the table. A sinful woman in the town learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee's house. So she brought an alabaster jar of perfume and stood behind Jesus at his feet, crying. She began to wash his feet with her tears, and she dried them with her hair, kissing them many times and rubbing them with the perfume. When the Pharisee who asked Jesus to come to his house saw this, he thought to himself, "If Jesus were a prophet, he would know that the woman touching him is a sinner!"
Our problem we face today is unless we can figure out a better and easier way to carry out the will of God than Jesus did, we will have to face the ridicule and criticism of good people.
Jesus faced persecution for loving the unlovable. There was not a God fearing Jew in the first century that wanted God’s love to be extended to the Gentiles, and because of that, Jesus was persecuted. If we are truly to be about the Fathers business of sharing the good news and loving the unlovable as Christ did then we need to take His words to heart: “Remember the words I spoke to you. I said, 'A servant is not more important than his master.' If people hated me and tried to hurt me, they will do the same to you. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also.(John 15:20) Christ’s promise is just as true today as it was 2,000 years ago. If we are truly trying to walk in the steps of the Savior then we will also feel the persecution that He felt.
Here is a simplistic reason that I think we have this struggle; someone, somewhere told you that you were better, smarter, faster, or better looking that someone else. It might have been your wife, first boyfriend, your dog, or it might have been your grandmother but you heard it and believed it. Then someone, somewhere told you that you were not as good, or pretty, or smart as someone else and you believed them as well. Whether you want to or not those voices helped shape who you are. And while I am not here to tell you that I’m OK and you’re OK, I am here to be totally honest with you. We tend to value people by what we can gain from them, if we can gain some attention, or joy, or help, or excitement, or satisfaction, or anything else we deem them normal. But if we see little to no value in that person, we label them as worthless.
The truth is that we all want to be liked and we think that we can be liked if we are normal. Let me remind you this morning that the writers of the scripture insist that no one is normal, at least not as God describes normal. God says “All we like sheep have gone astray.” And it is that going astray that makes us the broken people that Christ died for. You see our worth does not come from what I have done, but what was done for me.
I like what John Haddington said, "I have been comforted for more than 20 years by the thought that Jesus welcomes, not only sensible sinners, but stupid ones as well."
Jesus came into the world and saw sin as it really is, with all of its heartache and filthiness. He died because of the sin but He always had great love and compassion for those who sinned. He was the great community builder. He understood what it was to see people with their weirdness and accept them anyway. And in His acceptance, He made us what we want to be.
So let’s end this morning by asking the same question that Paul used to began his letter to the Galatians: Am I saying this now to win the approval of people or God? Am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be Christ’s servant.
It all boils down to this one question: Do you want to please people or do you want to please God? If we really want to please God then we will want the type of people in this church family that God wants.
Remember what God wants
All who are burdened with sin.
"Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light" Matthew 11:28-30.
And all who want to be saved.
And the Spirit and the bride say, "Come" And let him who hears say, "Come!" And let him who thirsts come. Whoever desires, let him take the water of life freely Revelation 22:17