“Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.” (Romans 12: 9-13, ESV)
I can remember walking into Desert Springs Church as an “outsider” as a former Catholic who had not wanted anything to do with church or “organized religion” for the past 5 years or so. I was a college student. I was new to this whole Christian church thing. I was overwhelmed and really confused.
“Why is there screens?”
“Does the priest here wear a robe?”
“Why are we singing so much?”
More than that I was petrified about what people would think. From an outsiders’ perspective Christianity is full of really moral, uptight and right wing people, well at least from this outsider’s perspective. I was petrified about what people would think about my life style. I was not pure. I was not home schooled. I was not Republican. I was not a straight edge kid, I had tattoos, tattoos that represented other religions, tattoos that did not in someway tell a Biblical story or have scripture included. I was usually hungover on Sundays, not singing or listening to a preacher.
What would people think...would I be welcomed or looked down on?
I think it was a kind of in between feeling after that first Sunday. I had a couple people come up to shake my hand, but I sat alone. I am naturally a shy guy, especially in new situations, so this was a totally overwhelming experience. I left the church, a bit confused by all that happened and still felt like an outsider. That feeling would remain for the next year.
It was not until someone at The Well, the new college ministry DSC had started, remembered my name did I begin to feel welcomed. That took a year. A year of Sunday attendance, a year of feeling like a round peg in a square hole.
Why did I keep coming back? Because I kept feeling this is what God wanted me to do, no other reason really.
My whole world changed though when someone remembered my name, when someone took the time to get to know me and my story. I felt part of the church. I felt welcomed. I felt love.
Could I have done more to get involved on my own? Yeah, probably, but honestly as a newcomer it was not my job to do that, nor to be honest did I know how to. It was the community of God who I was surrounded by every Sunday who needed to be the ones who reached out to me. And when that happened I felt love, the kinda love that the church is supposed to be. I just wish it had been faster than a year.
It is 6 years later. I am now on staff at Desert Springs. I am in fact the director of The Well. It is 6 years later and I often have forgotten what it is like to be a visitor, to be someone who does not know lots of people. I have forgotten what it is like to enter the building and be overwhelmed and feel unwelcomed and ignored.
I need to remember what that is like. I need to realize that it is on me as a Desert Springs member to seek out to show love and honor to guests and to all people in the church. This is not an option. This is not a “thing” to put on my to do list, this is a gospel implication type of thing.
We love, we show honor, we abhor evil because that is how we are to respond to the grace we have been given and love that has overwhelmed us from Jesus Christ. Jesus loves the unlovely (us), Jesus died to bring us into the family of God. None of us have any merit to stand on, no pedigree to flaunt over each other. We all have only the blood of Jesus to claim as our means to coming into the family to forever be with Jesus.
We are called to love like we have been loved, we are called to seek to love, to intentionally seek it out. To fail to do this is a fail of understanding the gospel.
If you are one of those who have felt unwelcomed, and unloved, take this as an apology. We are imperfect, we are messy, we will fail at this again. We forget about our mission and our calling to love others. We are in process. We are sinners saved by grace in the daily need of the blood of Jesus too.
For those of us who are members, who are “connected” and part of the family of God. May we repent of our self centered times when we seek comfort and ease over meeting someone new that may be a bit awkward. May we repent of our neglect of loving others and connecting them with the rest of our family cause we are too lazy or ignorant to do so. May we repent of our lack of love and honor to others.