Last week, I was with a client for coffee. We were having a great time discussing this, that, and the other thing. But two things happened when he spoke with me. First, he interrupted our stream of conversation to apologize for something that he felt convicted to address. This was not a problem by any means. It was a little surprising perhaps because I didn't give the offense much thought, but it did weigh on his heart and I forgave him all the same. The other thing that emerged was his deep concern that I would not like him, that I would reject him because of his past. You see, right now, some of the people I work with are part of the disenfranchised population; those may include men coming out of the penal system, drug addicts, those with mental health problems...you know, those who the church is suppose to reach out to, but instead (and unfortunately), the church runs screaming the other way, or rather, tiptoes as quietly as possible back to the comfort and "security" of their pew so as not to alert the disenfranchised that they had even seen them.*
I work mainly with men. And some of the crimes these men have committed are more than many people would care to deal with, understandably so. The crime this man had committed had completely destroyed his known world, leaving him all alone, except for the transition network of support in place to help him and keep him accountable while reintegrating into society. This man was absolutely broken to think that I would reject him because of his past. It is a heavy burden that he carries with him. My heart broke for him.
Perhaps you can relate. How many times have you engaged in a relationship where you were elated to know a person - you have fun together or you have a deep respect for the person, but the deeper into the relationship you go, the more guarded you become. Perhaps you begin to distance yourself from that person because you are afraid that if they find out about some dark deed of your past and they will reject you because of it. You would rather sabotage the relationship yourself than expose your past, potentially leaving you vulnerable and rejected...or so you assume. Ironically, it is your past that has been a part of shaping the person who you are today. We all make mistakes, wrong choices, and act foolishly, but as a part of growing and maturing, we learn from our errors. This is not to say that the hurt caused as of a consequence of these errors is to be overlooked. It is the fact that we all do this at some point in our relationships...hide the past, tuck that life and person away never to be found by anybody on this planet...
Your deepest, darkest secrets hidden away forever...
God was there though. He was watching you while you engaged in whatever act you engaged in. He didn't close His eyes and turn His head, He didn't walk the other way in disgust, He may have tried to get your attention and prevent you from continuing, but you didn't listen, perhaps you didn't want to listen...He was there though. He watched your every move, He heard your heart, He knew your thoughts...He was there.
Yet, God still calls out to you with love.
Yes, He was there, but He still wants to have a relationship with you. He longs for you to turn to Him, not sabotage the relationship by making excuses and turning away from Him. He wants you to come to Him just as you are and together with Him, you can be forgiven, healed, and set free from your past. It is between you and Him.
And though getting to know God usually involves Him sending people into your life to help you...such as Pastors, neighbours, friends, counsellors, strangers...(God does work in mysterious ways at times.) He will not give up in pursuing you. He is relentless in drawing you closer to Him, to know Him, to know forgiveness, to know freedom, to know love...His unconditional love.
And we, as the Body of Christ, are called to reach out to the disenfranchised, along with everybody else, with the Love of Jesus. We are not called to judge, He is the judge, we are called to love. I take this seriously. The wrongs that we commit will be judged by God, make no mistake. Yet, when I come across another whose heart is broken and repentant for the sins of their past, who am I to continue to treat them with contempt and condemnation? My personal mission in life is to walk with God, to encourage others, and to glorify God...and the only way I can do that is to do as Jesus did. What about you?
*I fully recognize that there are some churches that do reach out without apology, unfortunately there are some that don't...pray that they would reach out with the Love and Truth of Christ Jesus.