Last time we said that it’s not our responsibility to cause growth in the lives of messy people, all we can do is create the right conditions that allow growth to happen. God causes growth in people (in people who are open to His work). Our role is to simply to create conditions that are most conducive to people allowing God to do His work so they can experience growth.
What are those conditions?
It’s a culture of grace. People need to know that they will be loved for who they are and not judged for what they’ve done. We need to lead with love, and then be patient as growth starts to happen. But, for some reason, it is much easier for most Christians to judge than to love. In fact, many seem to think that it’s our responsibility to judge, and that we don’t love until the person has cleaned up their act. But that is ridiculous.
Did you hear about the story a few years ago of a boy named Shawn Hornbeck, who had been kidnapped when he was 11 years old? After his disappearance, his parents quit their jobs, depleted their savings and borrowed heavily as they devoted their lives to searching for him. After four years the parents had given up hope, until one day they received a phone call. It was the phone call they had been dreaming of since Hornbeck disappeared on October 6, 2002. Shawn’s parents were driving home from work when the cell phone rang. The voice on the other end was that of a local prosecutor. He asked them to pull over. Shawn’s father later said when he heard that his heart went through his chest. The voice then said, “We think we’ve found Shawn. We’re 95 percent sure.” Shawn’s father says, “Those were the sweetest words that we have heard in our lives. I think it will probably be the phone call I will remember for the rest of my life.” Soon Shawn, now 15 years old, was reunited with his parents. At his first sight dad yelled, “Oh my God! That’s my son!” The family embraced in a group hug they said they hoped would go on forever.
Now imagine this: Let’s say that when Shawn’s parents received that initial phone call, it went just a bit different. Let’s pretend they were informed, “We think we’ve found Shawn. We’re 95 percent sure. There’s only one problem. It turns out that while Shawn was living with his kidnapper he developed the habit of shoplifting.” How do you think Shawn’s parents would respond? Do you think they’d say, “Well then, we don’t want him back?” Or perhaps, “Well, please tell Shawn that he can come back home, but only after he cleans up his act. There will be no shoplifters in our home!” I doubt it. Okay, I more than doubt it, there is no way that’s what they’d say. Instead, they’d say, “Bring him home! We need him home! We want to hold him! We’ll talk to him about shoplifting later. In fact, we’re confident that once he’s back home and experiences our love and provision, he won’t feel the need to shoplift anymore. But we’re not worried about that right now. We just want him home.”
So why is it okay for us to create a culture of grace? Well, that’s why. All the time people ask me if they can come to our church because they’re gay or divorced. Or people tell me they could never be accepted by God because of some sin they’ve committed and, in most cases, are still committing. And I tell them all the time that of course they can come, and of course God can accept them. And I tell them that God’s primary concern is not for them to stop sinning, but instead to experience His love. What they need to focus on is experiencing His love. And if they really experience His love, and His provision, maybe they won’t feel the need to do some of the things they’ve done and are doing.
That’s a culture of grace. A culture of grace based on the unconditional love of God and a trust in the saving power of His Son Jesus and the sanctifying work of His Holy Spirit. And that’s exactly what we need.