Last week my article was entitled ‘Christmas is the greatest most perfectly complete rescue mission of all time in any time.’ This week I met a pastor from Glendale, Arizona who really believes this. His name is Stuart Smith. He started a church three years ago called Higher Praise that has grown considerably. Let me quote a card that Pastor Stuart gives out inviting people in Glendale to Higher Praise below. The language is direct but that is what is needed for the people the church wants to connect with.
‘Hey…Addicts/Agnostics/Alcoholics/Adulterers/Atheists/Backsliders/Back Stabbers/Bitter Housewives/Bitter Ex-wives/Corrupt CEO’s/Control Freaks/Drug Dealers/Ego Maniacs/Fornicators/Gang Bangers/Gossipers/Gluttens/Idolaters/Liars/Narcissists/Pimps/Porn Addicts/Prostitutes/Self Haters/Self Righteous/Sinners/Stoners/Strippers/Thieves/Tweakers…Whoever you are and whatever you have been through…You are welcome at Higher Praise.’
I have been a pastor for a long time and spoken in thousands of churches but have never seen an invite card like that card. That is what I call a rescue mission. When Jesus overheard the religious leaders of that time asking His disciples why He ate with tax-gatherers and sinners, Jesus interrupted and replied to them saying, “It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are ill. But go and learn what this means in the Old Testament, ‘I desire compassion, and not sacrifice,’ for I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
In other words, people in distress require grace first, then truth. You see that in John 1:14-17. People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. Why could Jesus have contact and communication without contamination to spiritually, emotionally and physically damaged people? Because He was ‘Life or Death first, Right or Wrong second.’
What does that mean? It means Jesus was more concerned about where those people on the card above were going to spend eternity first and then their present behavior second. Jesus was a fisher of men, not sin. He knew you had to catch the fish first and then clean it. That’s what churches like Higher Praise are all about. They believe church should be a ‘lost and found’ department, not just a ‘found’ department. Jesus and his leaders understood the church is the only organization in the world that exists primarily for its non-members.
The religious leaders of Jesus’ time had been trained to be ‘Right and Wrong’ first, ‘Life and Death’ second. The leaders and then the people became behavior driven rather than essence driven. They couldn’t see the tax-gathers or sinners spiritual, emotional and physical needs. They weren’t concerned with where the sinners were going to spend eternity. All they could see was their bad behavior. They ended up judging everything and everyone. They became fruit inspectors rather than fruit bearers. In essence they were saying, “Change first and then we might embrace you.”
Now don’t get me wrong. Behavior is important but not at the expense of someone’s need to redemption. Behavior is a fruit. Redemption is the root. Godly behavior is birthed from redemption.
That’s what Christmas is all about. Earth wasn’t going to heaven so heaven came to earth. Jesus came from heaven to earth to show the way, not just preach or teach the way like the religious leaders of that time did.
The greatest miracle of Christmas was not the birth of Jesus. It was a normal child birth. The greatest miracle of Christmas it was the conception of Jesus by the Holy Spirit and the Life that flowed out of that conception. The Son of God became the Son of Man because men needed a more accurate description of God than what was given to the people by the religious leaders of that time. Jesus was a new concept. God redefined Himself to the world in Jesus.
I’m hoping the ‘concept’ of Higher Praise Church and other churches like Higher Praise is conceived in us this Christmas. What’s that concept? Seeing people through grace-healed eyes. Then you see what Stuart and Jesus see.
Church-Community Connection is published weekly in 10 newspapers all over the world. Most of these newspapers are local paid subscription newspapers. The goal of these 450 word articles is to build a bridge to the community through humor, wisdom and changing mental perceptions that the community has of the church.