I see my role in this book as a compiler of people’s stories. My job is relating those stories to Jesus Christ, so that His name, His love, His forgiveness is glorified. At this time I am working with only a few stories, but my goal is to ‘fill out the picture’ with as many stories as people will tell me. With all that in mind this is my first attempt at a chapter. It will not be the first chapter in the book, but it is the first one, that seemed to come together in my mind.
Bringing People from the Outside, In
Luke 15:1,2 “Now all the tax collectors and the sinners were coming near Him to listen to Him. Both the Pharisees and the scribes began to grumble, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.”
1 Samuel 22:2 “Everyone who was in distress, and everyone who was in debt, and everyone who was discontented gathered to him; and he became captain over them. Now there were about four hundred men with him.”
Matthew 11:19 “The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Behold, a gluttonous man and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.”
Jesus only did what He saw the Father doing. Jesus loved those that the religious system said he should have disdained. After all, they disdained them. They loaded them into their grading machine and found that they failed all the tests to be loved by God.
Turns out, their thoughts were not the thoughts of God.
Turns out the section of Isaiah that speaks of God’s thoughts not being our thoughts, is a section dedicated to the incomprehensible compassion of God.
Turns out, “Jesus, Friend of Sinners” was not a song title back in His day, it was an accusation from the religious system.
Turns out Jesus knew that eventually, ultimately, the wisdom of how He was living would be vindicated.
Vindicated is a delightful word; to be cleared from an accusation, justified. Would Jesus being a friend to you, draw you to the Father? Oh my yes! These sinners were going to come to God, which means they would be saved. Jesus would then be friends of the saved and wisdom would be vindicated. I think God smiles quite often at our silliness, our low opinion of Him and His mercy.
Why did the people come “near to Him to listen to Him”? His was a message of salvation to all who would call upon the Name of the Lord. (Joel 2:32)
His life and death on the cross were about to remove the curse of the law, and the ‘sinners’ recognized that it was also removing the curse of the self righteous judges who acted as if God was just like them.
Kathy Steele was a fisher of men. One man exemplifies how Kathy lived the truth of being a person who invited those on the outside, in.
Brad said that the first time he met Kathy he felt close to her, even though “they had very little in common”. He said, “I knew when she said she was praying for me, that she was.” He spoke of the fact that Kathy was “always looking for me, to talk to me.” Even when she was sick Brad noted how “there was no cloud over her, only the sun.”
He spoke of how Kathy always made him feel welcome in church. It is one thing for people to put up with your presence in the building, it is quite another for them to make the effort to seek you out and say with their eyes, their words and their heart that they are glad that you are there. One time when prayer was being offered at the front of the sanctuary, and she sensed that Brad would not/ could not come forward, she went to the back row and prayed with him at his seat. “To seek and save that which is lost.” Her heart was inclusive, filled with love and that love had to flow outward.
Brad also stated that something about knowing that Kathy was praying for you, made you “accountable” kept you from doing bad things. Love has that kind of power. When you know that you are loved, your heart is drawn to want to please the one who loves you. Some of Brad’s other thoughts were; “I didn’t know her for a long time, but she was a friend of mine.” “She helped me through addiction.” “I always felt comfortable going to her, no matter what.”
Kathy’s penchant for inviting those who were on the outside in, showed in the way she treated her now daughter-in-law’s who at one time were just dating her boys.
Both of them expressed how there was no “waiting period” or gauntlet to win her acceptance. As soon as they were dating her boys Kathy made them a part of the family. They were accepted in the beloved. They were shown this by being her assistants in decorating the Christmas tree, being her companion when the boys went out for a ‘golf day’, bringing both of them along on vacation, and when she had the family sit down to talk to them about the cancer, she included them. Other comments that her daughter-in-law’s had; She “always had an open door”, “even though we were young she respected and valued what we thought.” They were not held at arms length or made to feel second class, they were in the family 100%. The blessing of a loving family was shared without reservation.
When your heart is aware of the abundance of God, you do not circle the wagons and try to preserve a tiny amount of goodness, protecting it and clutching it close to you like Gollum’s ring. God has an abundant supply. He encourages us to invite all in. He is not afraid of running low on baked beans, invite them to the table and He will see to it that there is an abundant supply.
Almost 2000 years after Jesus fulfilled the laws of Moses, new walls have been erected. Many feel they are not going to be loved or accepted at ‘church’, the message they are hearing is, ‘You are not good enough’.
Where is the first place you should go if you are struggling with an addiction?
Where is the first place you should go if a deadly disease is overtaking you?
Where should you go if guilt and shame for your past are keeping you from God?
The local body of Christ should be the answer to these questions, but we have fallen short of our call to lay down our lives in love. It is costly to put aside time to pray, to reach out, to keep hoping and trusting in the face of disappointments. It is a hard narrow way.
Unconditional love, the ultimate drawing card, Jesus lived it. Jesus, in Kathy, lived it too. The message came through loud and clear, you are not outside of or beyond His love. Come in, your pardon has been purchased, your guilt has been absolved. Your salvation has come, rejoice! Jesus is the only explanation for that kind of love. People know when your motives are false, their antennae are up for those who are out to use them or who are only giving them lip service. Those who are hurting the most will push away the hardest as a test of your love.
The reality of God’s love had so captured Kathy’s heart that she reflected His heart. She went out to find the lost sheep, laying down her life in countless ways to proclaim, ‘You are not beyond the reach of His nail scarred hand.’ Those who were very aware of being outside looking in found a place in her heart that was warm and welcoming. Acceptance and love had touched their lives and they were changed as a result of that. They walked away from such a touch, softer, more open to the possibility that God was not finished and still had hope for them.
Despair and darkness have an enemy. Hope and light infiltrate their kingdoms and do untold damage to their plans and strategies. Kathy’s life was used by God to spear head the charge in many lives and situations. She carried hope with her. Light was shining through her and that light was magnified even more to the people who knew what she was walking through.
Another rough draft of another chapter, not sure how they will all fit together, I am just working on the ones that “write themselves.”
Love Prepares the Heart
Matthew 16:21 “From that time Jesus began to show His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised up on the third day.”
Mark 8:31 “And He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.
1 Corinthians 2:6-8 “ Yet we do speak wisdom among those who are mature; a wisdom, however, not of this age nor of the rulers of this age, who are passing away; 7 but we speak God’s wisdom in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God predestined before the ages to our glory; 8 the wisdom which none of the rulers of this age has understood; for if they had understood it they would not have crucified the Lord of glory;”
Jesus was merciful to the disciples in giving them plenty of warnings about the cross that was to come. This wisdom had to stay veiled to their minds and hidden from the ‘rulers of this age’ to fulfill the plan of God, but the Holy Spirit allowed these words to return to the disciples and comfort them. It is a precious gift of love to do your best to prepare those you love for difficult situations. Jesus took time out from the moments of great popularity, healings and crowds following to pull the disciples in close and have the “hard conversation” about His future death and subsequent resurrection.
Both Ken and Chris spoke of the time when Kathy would gather the family around and have the hard conversation. She loved them enough to go to this area that would have been forbidding in its depth of emotion and pain. She loved them enough to speak of specific scenario’s that might happen after she died. She spoke of finances and accounts and of relationships and events that could happen after her passing. Both boys spoke of how her words helped them after her death to deal with events and actions that followed her death. They were honest to say that without those talks they would have been ‘rocked’ by things that transpired, but since Kathy had sat them down and addressed different ways people would cope with her death, when events started to play out they were able to calmly respond with, “Mom said this might happen. It will be okay.”
This is a part of the hard, narrow way, choosing to have conversations that make everyone in the room uncomfortable. Seeing that others will benefit in the future if you ‘force the issue’ now is love. Sacrificial, joyful giving of oneself that allows people to work through some of their emotions and reactions before the event even happens. Kathy did not ‘duck’ these types of discussions even though it would have been easier to do so. She rose above the protests of “Let’s not talk about this” to make the transition of life without her, easier on those she loved. She had absolutely nothing to gain in doing this, it was an act of selfless love. These are the acts that the kingdom of God is built upon. These acts flow out of a heart so taken up, taken over, by His love that they can pour out expecting nothing in return. It is a “going before”, a “preparing the way” that tears the veil of time and plants of seed of helpfulness in a moment that goes out into eternity. Oh for a gathering of believers who push aside the uncomfortable feelings and express love that gives grace to the hearer. To be a vessel of grace, is there any higher call?