A young woman named Sarah comes to a church service for the first time. No one knows who she is or why she’s there. She tentatively takes her place in a back pew. Is she looking for something to help her struggling faith? Maybe she needs answers to face turmoil in her life?
The pastor asks for prayer concerns from the congregation. Upon hearing each request a candle is lit to symbolize God’s love and our continuing need for prayer. A young man asks the congregation to pray for him as he starts a new job. A woman names a friend who will undergo surgery the next day. An elderly woman catches Sarah’s attention when she speaks of a granddaughter in another city who is all alone coping with a recent marital separation.
Hearing the Grandmother’s words of love and concern reminds Sarah of her own family who are likely saying prayers for her in a similar church in another state. A wonderful sense of peace begins to ease Sarah’s fears and for the first time in years she offers a silent prayer of thanks to God for showing her this place where she could finally feel the love and grace of God’s people.
For Sarah: this is what it means to be God’s church.
Jesus said “If you love only those who love you, why should you get credit for that? Even sinners love those who love them! And if you do good only to those who do good to you, why should you get credit? Even sinners do that much! And if you lend money only to those who can repay you, why should you get credit? Even sinners will lend to other sinners for a full return. (Luke 6:32-34)
In other words; the church should never be just a social club for members only. The church is you and I with God’s divine help learning to love those who love us and to especially love those who don’t. The church exists to see us through times when life or people’s behavior is simply not fair.
A counselor asked a group: What is a sure-fire way to destroy a relationship? Answers: Be mean, lie, cheat, criticize… all good suggestions. The counselor replied: All you have to do to ruin every relationship is, “Play Fair!” Some may go quickly, others take longer, but in the end, playing fair invites disaster.
In a church, playing fair acts out in a different way. I attend if you give me what I want. If the message is good, or if you have interesting programs for my children, or I like what you are doing in the community then I stay. I might even participate.
But… give me a sermon I don’t like, or someone says something disagreeable, or another ignores me then I leave the church. Fair is fair. I gave you the chance.
Dr. Henry Cloud, author of Nine Things You Simply Must do to Succeed in Love and Life writes: “The problem is that by playing fair, all it takes is for one person not to perform. There is an interlocking dependency: the other person must be good, so I can be good. All it takes to drag a relationship down is one failure or two and deterioration is inevitable.”
- One person feels withdrawn, so the other feels abandoned and gives silent treatment.
- One person is sarcastic, so the other one is sarcastic back.
- One person gets angry, so the other one snaps back.
So, what do we do? When someone fails us, do we just act as if nothing happened? Do we take it and become doormats? Will that help a relationship? Certainly not. They only make things worse. What is the answer?
Jesus said: “Love your enemies! Do good to them. Lend to them without expecting to be repaid. Then your reward from heaven will be very great, and you will truly be acting as children of the Most High, for he is kind to those who are unthankful and wicked. You must be compassionate, just as your Father is compassionate. (Luke 6:35-36)
Do good to your enemies. Our first goal should be to make things better for the other person or group. We should not be interested in settling the score or getting even. Proverbs 24:17-18 says: “Do not gloat when your enemy falls; when he stumbles, do not let your heart rejoice, or the Lord will see and disapprove and turn his wrath away from him.”
Because we are not looking for revenge, we occasionally get the opposite. Good things occur as a result of our love and grace. People are transformed by their pardons. Wrongdoers are deeply affected when we have them on the ropes, but we don’t knock them out. People are won over by underserved love. It allows them to become better people and pass that love on to others.
Suppose our kindness doesn’t work? Suppose they are not transformed or even appreciate our efforts? That may happen and that’s their choice but our choice is to do kindness, to be compassionate.
That’s what undeserved love and grace is all about…
Billy never thought much about God. He was a go-getter with a bright future in sales. Before he turned twenty, Billy was a top producer. At thirty he was manager of a territory covering three states. Now, Billy’s life was spinning out of control because his eight-year-old boy lay in intensive care fighting to stay alive after being struck by a drunk driver while riding his bike.
Billy was feeling angry and guilty at the same time. Anger at the driver who did this to his son. Guilty for all the times, he chose work instead of being the parent he should have been.
In the waiting room, his wife was surrounded by several friends from her church. But Billy never wanted any part of that stuff and usually sat off to himself. At one point, they all stood to pray. A man walked over to Billy and motioned for him to join them.
This time, without any hesitation, Billy stood up and sheepishly took hold of their outstretched hands and listened fervently to the heart-felt words asking for God’s healing mercy. During the prayer, he felt a surge of electricity surge through the room that he could only imagine was the Holy Presence of God.
When Billy needed God, he discovered the true meaning of church.
Churches may not offer sure-fire formulas for a problem-free life but we can and do depend upon the Holy Presence of God to give comfort and hope to people like Sarah and Billy. I know, because I too was lost. I desperately needed and still need God’s holy presence. My passion as a pastor and writer is to help you discover for yourself the same healing comfort of God that goes way beyond simply playing fair. When you need God most, I pray you will find God’s church is there, full of grace and compassion.