Reading Through The Bible in 2011, Part 25.

What I Read Today: Luke 15.

What Stood Out Today: Luke 15: 1-2, “Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming to hear him. But the Pharisees and the experts in the law were complaining, ‘This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.’”

Random Thoughts About What I Read:

“As a pastor, you should be more conservative.” The lady was heated, too. Seven years ago and I still remember the look on her face and emotion in her voice.

I couldn’t fathom what she could possibly mean. Here’s the deal. At the time I’d been married well over a decade to the same woman. I owned a home in the suburbs (one named Flower Mound, of all things). Me and the missus owned a minivan. Two lovely daughters of our very own one in softball and one a ballerina. I’d been a pastor at our church for longer than most youth pastors stay in one place and worked in Christian ministry since I’d had a paying career. I’d been involved in evangelical churches since I was 16. Heck, at that time, I’d even voted for the Republican choice for President in every election I’d been able to vote in since I was 18. In my way of thinking, my own version of conservatism was bordering on irritating ME.

“Not that stuff. Your hair.”

Ah.

Now I got it.

I tried to explain that my hair isn’t a statement of any type but rather an opportunity to serve people who’ve lost their hair due to chemotherapy and I happen to have great hair.

I tried to explain the tattoos, too. Mostly they’re representative of times of grief or mourning on my right arm…and a chance to talk about my own personal spiritual journey on my left. I got them after I turned 40 so they’re hardly a youthful indiscretion or thumbing my nose at the establishment. I was entrenched in the establishment before I inked up.

And I get looks, too. The clerk behind the counter at Wal-Mart who were very friendly to the nice lady in front of me turned silent and such when scanning my rice and ingredients for lemon chicken (I guess it’s the food stuff of the revolution). The glances from the other parents at the PTA meeting or at “donuts with dad” in the cafeteria. When the cute little kid asks her dad why that man has long hair and his response is along the lines of “probably a freak or an artist.” When the new parents visiting my church are enthusiastically introduced to me by greeters have their smile vanish when they shake my hand.

My point isn’t to garner pity. I understand my appearance is rougher than the average Joe so I tend to go out of my way to exhibit good manners and courtesy and social graces in each and every situation. I smile at the clerk and ask her how her work day is going, and tell her to have a nice day. I tried to give teachers the respect they deserve and held hands with my daughters and kissed them on the nose when I left after breakfast. I laughed when the dad’s comment was rude. I try to make parents feel at ease with an understanding comment about my appearance and a well-worn explanation of my love for students and 22 year career.

My point is to say that we all have outcasts that we mumble about.

The people that make us uncomfortable. The people we don’t want our kids to be influenced by. The people we secretly don’t want in our church. The outcasts in whatever form they take for us.

And did I tell you that those are usually the people I find most interesting? Billy Joel did, too. Something about he’d rather laugh with the sinners than cry with the saints (I’d suggest to Mr. Joel that both of those groups do a little of each, but that’s neither here nor there), right?

Then why is it that most people, after becoming a follower of Christ, no longer have non-Chrisitan friends usually within 3 years of their conversion?

We forget that we were Luke 15 people at one point in our lives.

We were the one sheep that got away from the shepherd (oh, by the way, likely a teenager who was ceremonially unclean most of the time–his very own version of an outcast).

We were the lost dowry coin of a widow (in that culture, a widow was an outcast).

We were the prodigal son who blew it all and lived in the muck, only to have the father welcome us home (the son would’ve been an outcast, too, a Jewish young man working with pigs, not to mention the talk of the town).

And we all too often turn into the older brother in the prodigal son story, right?

The sinners come in with their rough edges and their lack of understanding of our culture and their different ideas and their ways of thinking and…

…well…

…all the people we used to be, right? And we get all worked up about how we’ve been faithful for all the years they partied and carried on and begin to question the father and demanding our fair share and all that. Sometimes I wonder about the inclusion of the older brother in the story, too. The point could’ve been made without his side of it, right? But I’m pretty sure Jesus wanted the Pharisees to see themselves. Unfortunately, there’s an awful lot of Pharisee in me.

In fact, my biggest concern when I started getting involved in Christian circles, particularly in college, was that I’d turn into someone I didn’t want to be because of their expectations of who I should be. Thankfully, I had some solid folks discipling me who encouraged me to keep hanging around my non-Christian friends. They encouraged me to be precisely who I was supposed to be before God. They encouraged my questioning based in lack of experience/knowledge of the new subculture I was now in.

And it’s interesting that Jesus is having eyebrows raised because he’s with the, ahem, wrong crowd.

But the religious elite seemed to have forgotten that these are the very people that the “good news” would indeed be “good news.”

And it would be easy for me to remind everyone that the easy application today is not to view people as outcasts but to see through the book cover and value their non-Christian friendships (not as evangelistic targets but as people to love even if they never accept our Savior) and not to be the other son when the prodigals come home. To champion the underdogs of our society wherever they are whenever we come across them. All that well-worn path this text has inspired over time.

But it’s a reminder to me, too. One time I was telling a student of mine the joys of living counterculture and all that jazz and trying to expose her to the beauty of punk music and the importance of non-conformity and blah blah blah. Another student who overheard the diatribe pulled me aside afterward and said, “You know, Brent…those things are what make you YOU and it’s great and all, but did it ever occur to you that what you’re telling her to CONFORM to what your idea of COUNTERCULTURE is? Kind of ironic, really. I mean, you can be a suburban housewife and be radically following Christ or a khaki-wearing accountant and be radically following Christ or whatever, right?”

Consider me convicted. Either there’s a place for all of us in The Kingdom or we’re all just living a lie.

I just happen to live in a household where my daughters told one of their teachers that to rebel in our home you WOULD NOT get a tattoo…

But the idea is to love the lost and seek them and find them and welcome them home. And to do that, well, we gotta know some and not mumble and complain about the world and their world. We need as many odd ducks in the Kingdom as we can get…and frankly, you can all use your own definition of odd.

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