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A few years ago we took a winter's train ride on the Blue Ridge Scenic Railway. The train delivered us to a city split at the Georgia/Tennessee state line - McCaysville, Georgia and Copperhill, Tennessee. We stepped of the train to sight see and grab some lunch. We were not prepared for what we encountered - a man standing on the street corner screaming hellfire and damnation to everyone that walked by. I was perplexed how he was so certain that everyone stepping off the train, men, women, children, and elderly were such lowlife sinner scum that we needed to repent or burn in the eternal fires of hell. As we got almost in front of him, he turned towards me and screamed at the top of his lungs, "Do you know Jesus?" I smiled and replied, "As a matter of fact, I do." It did not phase him as he continued screaming from his memorized script. My inner being wanted to grab him and scream back, "Do you realize how much damage you are doing? Do you realize you are pushing lost souls even further with your screaming rant?" But I didn't. We crossed the street heartbroke knowing that anyone hurting and lost who encountered him would not for a moment decide they wanted to learn more about Jesus love and forgiveness for them.
I have a well meaning friend who devotes a great deal of time and effort to denounce Andy Stanley because as he explains, Andy doesn't preach the "truth". I find his claims far from the actual truth as I have listened to Andy for over 17 years and know that Andy preaches that Jesus loves every soul on this planet and yearns to have a personal relationship with them. My friend's frustration is that Andy doesn't week after week preach that if you are a sinner that you are destined to burn in hell. Instead, Andy grew up the son of a Southern Baptist preacher witnessing first hand the throngs of people that have chosen not to seek a relationship with a God the local church has presented as a ominous judge waiting to strike us all dead. Andy set out to create a church where the unchurched would want to walk in the door. A safe place for the person who regularly declined entering the door of the staunch cathedral, because they were certain they were so sinful and bad the building would burn to the ground if they walked in the doorway. Andy realized that Jesus much like any other fisherman didn't try to clean his fish before he caught them. I've set and watched lives changed in front of my very eyes. People who I walked along side of while they listened weekly to messages Andy preached. People whose hearts were softened by a message of love and grace. People who decided to take a faith journey and whose lives have made 180 degree changes and relationships healed and strengthened as a result.
I think the man screaming hell, fire, and brimstone and my friend who wishes to be Andy Stanley's judge and jury would both quickly be able to quote John 3:16 for you:
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
But I have to wonder if either could quote verse 17:
For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.
Yes, the Bible clearly tells us the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23), but God loved us so much knowing we would never be good enough to live without sin, that He sent Jesus to die as the final sacrifice for us that we might have hope and life abundant.
It would seem to me that if the church, the guy screaming at the street corner, and my friend wanted to see lives changed, they would embrace John 3:17, would welcome the sinner, the prostitute, the drunkard, the drug addict, the homeless, the forgotten, the marginalized with open arms and shout "You are loved. The God who created everything values you, and your life has purpose."
In Luke 15:25-32, Jesus tells the parable of the prodigal son who one day walked up to his father and demanded his inheritance. He then burned through it in a short period of time and became desolate and broken. He awoke sleeping in the muck and mire with the pigs and decided the hired help on his father's farm lived better. He set out and made his way home. When his father saw him coming, he didn't stop him at the front gate post and begin to tell him what a terrible son he was and how disappointed he was in his decision making. He didn't condemn him of his sins which were obvious to even the most casual of observers. Instead the father celebrates that he has returned and throws him a feast.
With Jesus sharing this story, shouldn't we follow the example by making a clear path for the prodigal to find a easy rode to the father and restoration instead of preparing a litany of all their sins and failures and telling them how they don't measure up?
Jarrid Wilson has written a book entitled "Love is Oxygen". In it, he tells of the incredible, inexhaustible and boundless love that God has for all people - the broken, the abuser, the forgotten. If you find yourself struggling to want a relationship with an ominous judge, if you find yourself judging and condemning those who sin differently than you do (and we all sin so get over yourself), or if you find yourself frustrated with pastors that aren't condemning people, I recommend reading this book and perhaps contemplating on John 3:16 AND 17. Because if God didn't send Jesus in the world to condemn us all then who are we to condemn?