Christmas is the greatest most perfectly complete rescue mission of all time in any time!
This week I met a pastor from Glendale, Arizona who really believes this. Stuart Smith started a church three years ago called Higher Praise that has grown considerably.
Let me quote a card that Pastor Stuart gives out inviting people in Glendale to Higher Praise below.
The language is direct but that is what is needed for the people the church wants to connect with.
Hey… Addicts/Agnostics/Alcoholics/Adulterers/Atheists/Backsliders/Back Stabbers/Bitter Housewives/Bitter Ex-wives/Corrupt CEO’s/Control Freaks/Drug Dealers/Ego Maniacs/Fornicators/Gang Bangers/Gossipers/Gluttens/Idolaters/Liars/Narcissists/Pimps/Porn Addicts/Prostitutes/Self Haters/Self- Righteous/Sinners/Stoners/Strippers/Thieves/Tweakers…
Whoever you are and whatever you have been through…You are welcome at Higher Praise.
A rescue mission!
I have been a pastor for a long time and spoken in thousands of churches but have never seen an invite card like that card. That is what I call a rescue mission.
When Jesus overheard the religious leaders of that time asking his disciples why he ate with tax-gatherers and sinners, he interrupted and replied to them saying, ‘It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are ill. But go and learn what this means in the Old Testament, “I desire compassion, and not sacrifice,” for I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
In other words, people in distress require grace first, then truth.
You see that in John 1:14-17. People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. Why could Jesus have contact and communication without contamination to spiritually, emotionally and physically damaged people? Because he was ‘Life or Death first, Right or Wrong second.’
What does that mean?
It means Jesus was more concerned about where those people on the card above were going to spend eternity first and then their present behaviour second.
Jesus was a fisher of men, not sin. He knew you had to catch the fish first and then clean it. That’s what churches like Higher Praise are all about. They believe church should be a ‘lost and found’ department, not just a ‘found’ department. Jesus and his leaders understood the church is the only organisation in the world that exists primarily for its non-members.
The religious leaders of Jesus’ time had been trained to be ‘Right and Wrong’ first, ‘Life and Death’ second. The leaders and then the people became behaviour driven rather than essence driven. They …
• Couldn’t see the tax-gathers or sinners spiritual, emotional and physical needs.
• Weren’t concerned with where the sinners were going to spend eternity.
• Could only see was their bad behaviour.
• Ended up judging everything and everyone.
• Became fruit inspectors rather than fruit bearers.
• In essence was saying, ‘Change first and then we might embrace you.’
Now don’t get me wrong. Behaviour is important but not at the expense of someone’s need to redemption. Behaviour is a fruit. Redemption is the root. Godly behaviour is birthed from redemption.
That’s what Christmas is all about
Earth wasn’t going to heaven so heaven came to earth. Jesus came from heaven to earth to show the way, not just preach or teach the way like the religious leaders of that time did.
The greatest miracle of Christmas was not the birth of Jesus. It was a normal child birth. The greatest miracle of Christmas was the conception of Jesus by the Holy Spirit and the life that flowed out of that conception.
The Son of God became the Son of Man because men needed a more accurate description of God than what was given to the people by the religious leaders of that time. Jesus was a new concept. God redefined himself to the world in Jesus.
I’m hoping the ‘concept’ of Higher Praise Church – and other churches like Stuart Smith’s – is conceived in you this Christmas.
What’s that concept? Seeing people through grace-healed eyes.
Dr Ed Delph is president of Nationstrategy, an organisation with the strategy of envisioning and empowering today’s leaders in the church to be some of tomorrow’s leaders in the community. Links: firstname.lastname@example.org / http://www.nationstrategy.com