It was a moment for me to be proud of what God is doing.
Let me set up why…
Several months ago I met a young man who was from Johannesburg. I was talking with Larry, who was at McDonald’s with me for our Life Group. After our morning group we walked outside and there was this young man. He asked if we had some change to spare so he could get some bread. I had R20 on me and gave it to him and Larry gave him some money too. The young man then went inside bought a meal and then apologized to Larry and I for leaving. He walked over to a family, who spent the night next to an abandoned restaurant. He gave the family the remainder of his change. This was so unlike anything I expected. I expected him to pocket the change. But, he didn’t. He was without but gave his excess to someone who was in need. So generous of him. So humbling for me.
Little did I know I would run into this young man every couple of weeks. I didn’t give him money, but he knew I cared for him. I would always invite him to our church. I knew our people would accept him. I wasn’t afraid of what our people would think. He gave me the same answer I get a lot “I’ll be there.”
I invite dozens of people to church every week. I guess I am calloused now as I don’t expect them to be telling me the truth. I spin it thinking to myself that they want to come in the moment but forget on Sunday.
I invited the young man to come hang with us guys at 6am on Wednesday mornings and I’ll buy his breakfast. He never came.
Time went by. I saw him on the road and I’d wave and he’d wave back.
Four weeks ago the young man came and as I expected, our people welcomed him, served him, and treated him with respect—not as someone off the street.
We were in the last part of a series talking about living out what it means to love as Jesus loved us. We were having baptisms that day, and this young man said he needed to get his life straight and he needed to begin with his relationship with Jesus. He talked to Steve—our other pastor here—asking Steve if he could get baptized. Steve made sure he understood what salvation and baptism were. We wanted to make sure he didn’t think a prayer and dunk were a formula to getting his life straight, but it was about our full trust and faith in Jesus by receiving what He’s already done for us.
We baptized this young man that day. He even bought a friend who had been giving him a place to sleep. The friend wasn’t a Jesus follower but cheered the young man along as he, Steve, and I walked into the extremely cold Indian Ocean in the beginning of winter.
I’ll admit, I was skeptical. Sad isn’t it!? But I thought he might be doing this to get the church to help him get back on his feet as others have attempted with us.
However, against my skepticism and in line with Holy Spirit enabled life change, this young man has been following Jesus. He took our “Get Started” scripture reading sheets and has been reading the text on them and writing down how he will apply the truth. He has been coming to our life group and weekend services consistently. He’s following Jesus and even working hard to find a job.
Today, he invited three men who had lost their jobs and were in transit to a town a couple hours away. He told them they need to come to Westside Family Church because it’s a church who accepts you wherever you are in life.
That is what Westside did for him. That is what Jesus did for him. You might think I got the order wrong and Jesus should been mentioned first there, and maybe I did.
But, I think the church is the first experience most people have with Jesus. If the church doesn’t accept them, then why would Jesus. Sad, but it’s true with a lot of people who visit churches on the weekend hoping to find the good news for their life. First starting with the thought that someone accepts me.
That is the first good news I see in the gospel of Jesus. I am accepted. But that isn’t always what our message is by the actions we show. This young man experienced it and he knew if he invited others in the same place of life he was in, the church would accept them too.
That was the gospel and the good news being declared today. It wasn’t in the teaching or song but in the love of one young man who was accepted inviting three other men to come to a community where he knew they would be accepted.
After church, one of our ladies went to the grocery store down the road to buy bread, milk, and a lunch for these three men. Her gift is hospitality. She’s in charge of our first impressions and today she made a lasting impression when she saw their need and met it.
That is our church! That is the Church!
The church should be a place of acceptance. Why? Because Jesus accepted us. It doesn’t matter your class, race, gender, or age, we all need to be accepted and it’s the body of Christ’s charge to accept others.
The church sees a need and, in love, meets the need.
Who wouldn’t want to be a part of a church who accepts you as you are? Who encourages you by loving you sometimes by meeting your need? Who challenges you not to stay the same but to follow Jesus and let His grace, love, and life bring you life? A church like this would be irresistible. I believe we all want this type of church.
I’m privileged to be a part of a church like this.
Thank you Westside Family Church for joining Jesus in His mission of saving people by first accepting them!