On April 10th, I sent out the following tweet:
I'm thinking of doing a long series of blog posts (more than I can tweet thoughts on) entitled "What Christians Get Wrong." No attack or insult. A space of curiosity and learning (which hopefully feels familiar by now). What topic would you include?
There was a good response, and each tweet showed a desire for the church to be better. I especially appreciated the ones who pushed back against the idea of "wrong." Sometimes I choose particular words because I don't give it enough thought. Other times, I realize a few might misunderstand, but the majority will know what I'm asking. Words are tough, even when you're a writer. These tweet responses and this series don't point necessarily to a wrong thinking so much as an incomplete one. Think how much better we could communicate with one another if we kept this in mind. I often say, the highest compliment I can receive is when someone tells me I made them think. Post by post, tweet by tweet, I want us to think through these topics, and consider ways we can show the love of Christ within them. Because for a Christian, that's the bottom line. Our foundation.
I want to share my initial thoughts here, not my well-researched, edited words meant to be published in a book someday. I've learned a lot about Christianity in my years of talking with others on social media, and I want to share what I've learned. In story form, not academic expertise. I'm setting a timer on these posts, so they'll actually be my thoughts, and not turn into a research project. Feel free to teach me about the things I don't have quite right. My inbox, comment sections, and private messages are always open.
That Jesus wants us to be gatekeepers.
I'll start with a story. I was having lunch at a local brew pub with my dear friend. Some might say she's more liberal than me. More of a feminist. Maybe. I've worked hard to erase such labels from my mind as much as I can. She's been a wonderful mentor to me, and is a rich conversationalist. We got to talking about what it looks like to be a witness to other people in our lives. How we can do this naturally, as we share about our days and weeks. How certain people we know might hear and see our witness, but they're not going to darken our church doors. Too much hypocrisy inside. Too much condemning this and allowing that.
We know. Christians know this to be true. We shared stories about people we knew who fit this description. What would Jesus do? Finally, out of exasperation, I blurted out what always comes to mind when my mind walks this path, who should be in our churches and who should be out?
It's not my gospel, I said.
Jesus told stories too. In John 10, he tells one about a shepherd. Here where I live, in rural USA, even I don't hear many stories about sheep or shepherds. In Jesus's day though, chances were good people knew a shepherd. In this story, Jesus tells about people (er, I mean sheep) in a pen. Someone wants at those sheep, and the individual might try climbing over the pen, or whatever, to get to the sheep. In Eugene Peterson's The Message, he calls them a sheep rustler, up to no good.
But the shepherd, Jesus in the story, he goes right up to the gatekeeper, who obviously recognizes him, because right away he opens up the gate. You know who else recognizes the shepherd? The sheep. In this story, each sheep is called by name, and he responds. They follow Jesus.
The Message version goes on to say:
Jesus told this simple story, but they had no idea what he was talking about (John 10:6).
The people of the Bible can make us feel so much better about ourselves, can't they? Not once has anyone had it all figured out. Jesus goes on to call himself the Gate (twice) and the Good Shepherd (three times). He promises those who recognize his voice and follow him a real and eternal life, better than we can imagine. We'll be cared for and we can freely go in and out, and find pasture. If necessary (it was), he's willing to sacrifice himself for us. It's all right there in John 10. Do read it for yourself.
You know who doesn't get much ink in this story? The gatekeeper. He's a very minor player. In fact, scholars don't agree on who the gatekeeper is in the story. We're not here to solve that. In my conversation with my friend, and in this short story about halfway through the gospel of John, the emphasis should be on Jesus, and what he can do in the life of those who follow him. On the gospel of Jesus, and how it saves us through the sacrifice he made for us.
So I focus less on gatekeeping now, and I put Jesus in the center of the story. My story. The church's story. Your story. Does the church have a responsibility to raise up godly disciples who look more and more like Jesus? Absolutely. We did a Bible study on Jude recently, and there's most certainly a holiness and righteousness that's to be found in the body of Christ. You know where we'll find perfect holiness and the utmost righteousness? In the person of Jesus. Again, not the gatekeeper. That's a minor role, hardly worth considering when we're talking about the Good Shepherd.
I leave us with a Bible verse that's been so very precious to me over the years. It's in a sermon Jesus preached, where he taught about how to live a life consumed by him. Here's his advice:
But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you Matthew 6:33 (KJV).
That's my focus.