“From the Womb to the Tomb - We Leave Nobody Out!” was the philosophy at Full-Bible Church, where members cared so actively for each other.
Founding pastor Dr Neville Maxwell’s preaching emphasised the security of being in Christ, and every Sunday he led his congregation through the depth and the light of the scriptures. No pop-psychology, decorated with a few texts, from this preacher!
However this Sunday; while finishing Matthew 25’s parable of the sheep and the goats “…there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth;” his tone began to falter, as his eyes welled up with tears.
The sanctuary echoed with the thud of his collapse.
Hushed uneasiness skittered through the pews. Deacons rushed forward to offer any help they could, for they heard struggling sounds coming from behind the podium’s impressive facade. However, he was quickly back on his feet.
Some deacons looked flushed: some from unexpected exertion; some from sudden embarrassment.
No dignified robe now; but a tattered blanket on his shoulder, over a grubby sweater and jeans, topped by an old baseball cap and dark glasses.
“My dear friends,” he whispered. “I have failed you! No, I haven’t fallen into sin; or lost my passion for people’s salvation; but by a huge gap in my teaching.
“This morning I obeyed a unique prompting from God: to arrive very early; wrap myself in this blanket; and lie at the front door like I was homeless. I was not expecting to be called a lazy bum; or to be told that ‘my kind wasn’t welcome here’…
“To be addressed this way has opened my heart to a deeper truth in this parable.” He raised his carefully-typed manuscript; screwed it into a ball and dropped it to the floor before continuing.
“I always thought Christians were the sheep; while the goats were bad people, or those outside the church. But Jesus defined the goats as blind more than bad: blind to his presence among destitute, unclothed, imprisoned, sick and hungry people; so they withheld their help!
“The sheep did not see Jesus either, but they still went out of their way with compassion.
“John Wesley’s cry was: ‘The world is my parish!’ but I have subverted this to ‘My world is the parish!’ And just like the priest and the Levite who ignored the mugging victim in the parable of the Good Samaritan, my teaching has effectively hardened the hearts of those who ordered me away from here earlier today!
"My exhorting you to personal security and holiness has tragically blinded you to the fact that Jesus’ presence is not always accompanied by Christian labels, Christian signs, or a Christian atmosphere. These are not prerequisites to check before we help anyone, for God desires us to become outgoing, spontaneous people who spread his grace without any conscious preparation!
“I have failed you by filling you with Christian answers to questions that people aren’t asking; and by skilling you in turning conversations to where you can push your bible facts before anyone is ready for them. Please forgive me for making you less like Jesus; who worked more with his heart and his hands than with his mouth when he was serving among those with no religious pedigree!”
“It’s time for us to balance our desire to enjoy God’s blessings and his lessons for us; with outgoing compassion and new respect for those around us whose needs may not be immediately obvious. For God loves them, and he wants us to discover his presence among them as they tap into his power to change them from within, by his acceptance and forgiveness through Jesus Christ.
“Could I invite you to please list five people whom you see regularly see - but easily ignore – in your daily routine. Share your list with people on either side of you and pray together for those on your lists. Pray for God’s anointing on your daily routine, that he will release his love through whatever contacts you have with them; keeping you in tune with the patience and priorities of his grace as he draws them to himself.”
He stepped down from the pulpit, to sit and to pray with his own family.
Silence around the pews melted in a swelling murmur of conversation and prayer clusters. For God’s grace was beginning to release Full-Bible Church members into his desire for them to go out and nourish their world with respect, hope and healing.
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