The kids and I were in the car driving to I-can't-remember-where, and conversation turned to the topic of our little body of believers at Grace. A very diverse group. Beautiful people, beautiful because of the beauty of Christ. Yet maybe not exactly the kinds of people you might expect to hang out together, to genuinely enjoy fellowship with each other.....
Factory workers, college professors, businessmen, students. Smokers, rockers, and a dude with a ground-pounding Harley. Athletes and artists, beauties and wall-flowers, rednecks and philosophers. The kids and I were discussing in amazement the diversity of people who gather week after week, eager to study and pray and talk and laugh together.
I asked, "What about Ray? How do you think Ray would feel if he walked in the door at Grace one Sunday morning? Do you think he'd feel welcomed, or would he feel like folks at Grace were looking at him sideways?"
One of my older kids introduced me to Ray just over a year ago. Ray....he's a little different. Spiked hair, dyed an electric blue. Dress that is, well, let's just say not typical. If I'd first encountered Ray on my own, walking down a sidewalk in town, I'd have nervously quickened my pace and been careful to avoid eye contact. Thankfully, Ray and I had a mediator, someone to initiate contact between this frumpy, middle-aged homeschool mom and the bizarre-looking young man.
Thanks to this mediator, I can tell you a few other things about Ray besides his unusual appearance. He has a fantastic smile and dark eyes that sparkle beneath his blue mane. He also has a wicked sense of humor and a laugh like sunshine. And a brilliant mind. Ray is an amazing, fascinating person.
Still, how would the folks at Grace react to someone like Ray?
"Well, he'd probably get some funny looks," one of the kids responded. "And he might feel a little out-of-place, just because he's not quite like the people at Grace."
"Mrs. Kay wouldn't have any problem with Ray," Martha asserted confidently. "She'd walk right up to him and say 'Hi!'"
I laughed. Yes, indeed she would! High-heeled and dressed to the nines, salty, straight-shooting Mrs. Kay. I could just picture her walking up to Ray and shaking his hand enthusiastically. She'd no doubt say something like, "You're new here, aren't you? My, you sure are one weird-looking dude! We are so glad to have you here - come on in and have a cup of coffee. Let me introduce you to...." Martha was right. Mrs. Kay would be glad to see Ray, and she'd tell him so, too.
In our women's study last month, we looked at the group of women who traveled with Jesus during His earthly ministry. Who were these women who served Christ and his disciples as they went from village to village? In the words of Dr. Bryan Chapell, these sisters who walked closely with our Lord included the "troubled" and the "terrible."
Mary Magdalene - a woman long-possessed by demons. Immoral, deeply-troubled, an outcast among outcasts. As Dr. Chapell wrote, "Her past, her reputation, her social status, her spiritual record were all reasons for even these rejected women to reject her." But Jesus loved Mary and drew her into His inner circle...and others around Him did the same.
Then there was Joanna, the wife of Cuza, the manager of Herod's household. Again, Dr. Chapell: "This was a household known for cruelty, immorality and the betrayal of the Jewish nation, and Jesus allowed the wife of the manager of that household to know His love." Jesus welcomed such a woman into fellowship? Yes, He did, and His disciples and the other women did, too.
And what about Susanna? Susanna was not troubled, like Mary Magdalene, or terrible, like Joanna. Susanna was....well, Susanna was just nobody. Kind of like me. And Jesus welcomed her into fellowship, too.
If you met Ray on the street today, you might think, "That is obviously one troubled young man." You might even assume he is terrible. If we could find our tongues, many of us would confront such a person: "Fellow, you are a mess! You need to straighten up your act, pull yourself together, grow up!"
Oh, that like Christ we could love the troubled and the terrible and the invisible, and instead say, "Welcome! I am so glad you're here!"
1 month ago