Several years ago I was traveling for work. I had been working in this town back to back for a few weeks when I remembered that one of my friends said he would often visit different churches on Wednesday nights when he traveled. I had heard a pastor on the radio and decided to visit his church that Wednesday. I pulled into the parking lot and parked in the visitor space. For some reason, I was a bit nervous, but I got out of the car and started following where people were headed. I chickened out at the doors. I stood there for about ten minutes watching people walk past, but none greeted me. After no one else was coming, I slipped into the empty lobby and looked into the sanctuary. Everyone was seated at round tables of eight. As I debated whether to go in, more people opened the doors and went in without acknowledging me. After a few minutes, I got back in my car and went to my hotel.
If you know me, this doesn’t sound like me at all. I’ve never met a stranger, but that night I felt invisible and unwelcome. For 15-20 minutes people walked past me, saw me and ignored me. It was clear to my mind that they weren’t ready to receive me or any other visitors. It bothers me when people aren’t acknowledged or welcome at a church. If there is anywhere in the world where anyone should feel comfortable, it’s at church. Anyone who attends church is a representative of God and who He is. When people feel invisible to us, they feel invisible to God. When they feel unwelcomed by us, they feel unwelcomed by God. How many people walk in and out of our church each week feeling unwelcomed, unloved and invisible? It’s not just the usher’s and greeter’s responsibility. It’s all of ours.
Psalm 100:5 in The Passion Translation says, “For Yahweh is always good and ready to receive you. He’s so loving that it will amaze you— so kind that it will astound you!” If God is ready to receive us, we should be ready to receive others. There are people who come to church with the fear that if they go inside, the walls are going to cave in because of the life they live. The truth is, the Church was built to rescue them. It’s God’s kindness that leads people to repentance, and each week, we have the opportunity to show that kindness to people who attend our churches. It may not feel comfortable to you to show that kindness, or to show them we’re ready to receive them, but as people who bear His name, it’s each of our responsibility to do it. Do something different this Sunday. Look for someone who feels out of place and nervous, say hello and welcome them in. Your kindness could make an eternal difference. You are God’s welcome committee.
When I was around seven or eight, I did something that upset my mom. She told me that when my dad came home from work he was going to punish me. She then sent me to my room to wait. After I got in there, I began to think of the punishment I was going to get. I thought about hiding. It seemed like the best plan until I thought about escaping through the window. I then realized that would make it worse. Finally, I decided to put on every pair of underwear I had and some baggy pants. As I waited, all I could think about was the punishment. To be honest, I don’t remember the punishment that day. I just remember the build up and fear.
When you and I sin, we often act like that. It’s the Adam and Eve approach to sin. We feel bad for what we’ve done, and more than anything, we’re embarrassed. It’s obvious God knows about it, but for whatever reason, going to Him seems like a far fetched idea. To be forgiven freely doesn’t feel right, so we wallow in our shame for a bit. It’s like we feel the need to punish ourselves over our sins. The truth is that God doesn’t want us to hide from Him in those moments. He wants us to come to Him right away for the grace He gives.
Hebrews 4:16 says, “Let us have confidence, then, and approach God’s throne, where there is grace. There we will receive mercy and find grace to help us just when we need it” (GNT). The verse before says that Jesus understands our weaknesses and sympathizes with us. He didn’t come into the world to condemn us, but that through Him we would find grace when we need it most. He is merciful, and too often we forget that. There’s no reason to hide from Him because of what you’ve done. He knows about it and loves you still. Approach His throne today, get the grace you need and lose your shame.
Next to Black Friday, the day after Christmas is one of the busiest shopping days of the year. Why? Because it’s the day people take back the gifts someone else gave them, and exchange them for what they want. It doesn’t matter that someone else looked high and low for the perfect gift. We want what we want, and now we can take what was given to us and use it to get something else. It’s a day full of long lines and enticing sales.
Mankind has been doing something like this since God gave us the gift of His Son. We have tried to exchange His gift for something that doesn’t make us change. We want the benefits of Him sending His Son without the cost to our lives. Paul said it best in Romans 1:25, “They exchange the truth about God for a lie” (GNT). People like certain parts of the Bible, but they don’t like others so they exchange them for things they want to believe.
We can’t get caught up in doing this ourselves. It’s easier to want to exchange God’s truths for things we want to believe, but that isn’t how God operates. The good news is that Paul goes on to tell us that God is patient with us. Romans 2:4 says, “Don’t you see how wonderfully kind, tolerant, and patient God is with you? Does this mean nothing to you? Can’t you see that his kindness is intended to turn you from your sin?” (NLT). Even when we try to exchange God’s truths, He is patient.
What ways have you tried to exchange God’s truths? We’ve all done it. I believe we can pray, and ask God to open our eyes to His truths. We can ask for help from the Holy Spirit to help us live the lives we were called to live. God Loves each one of us and is patient with us. We are capable of living the life He called us to through the power of the Holy Spirit (see Romans 8). Our lives are the most fruitful and fulfilled when we accept His truths instead of exchanging them.