Graciously Disposed Toward All
Recently, I was invited to speak at a men’s ministry event at a church in another city. It was a Wednesday night event with delicious barbecue, lots of friendly joking, and a room full of guys who clearly knew one another well. I loved it.
I got there early and started chatting with the pastor and a few of his best volunteers who had come early to set up. There were probably nine or ten of these guys — the core of the ministry — gathered around a table laughing and teasing one another.
And then something disturbing happened.
A couple of visitors came in. They were dirty, raggedy-looking characters with stained and torn t-shirts. They carried plastic bags. Some of the volunteers had come straight from blue-collar jobs and arrived in dirty work clothes, but these guys were not workers.
They were homeless.
This church is part of a rotation of churches that feed a hot meal to homeless people every week. These guys had come for the meal on Monday night, heard about the men’s ministry event, and come back on Wednesday.
But the disturbing thing wasn’t homeless men attending the event. It was the way they were received.
Only three people — the pastor, me, and one of the volunteers — went over to welcome them. And only one of us — the volunteer — found it in his heart to pull up a chair and sit with them through the event.
I’m not sharing this story to shame anyone — only to point out the common temptation we all face. Just as we are tempted to be selfish with our money and our things, we are also tempted to be selfish with our relationships. I’m guessing there might have been more than three men who extended hospitality if it had been Prince Fielder and Tony Romo who crashed the party instead of two homeless men.
My daughter started middle school next week. She’s our oldest and this is my first visit to middle school since my own awkward, orthodontic journey 30 years ago. I’m nervous for her because I know how immature, insecure middle schoolers select and treat friends. Middle schoolers’ relational need to take outstrips their ability to give, and so they posture and reject rather than welcoming and accepting people from whom they stand to gain nothing.
The application for church is obvious, I think: we shouldn't act like middle schoolers. At my church, we talk about six life marks of a mature disciple, and one of them is that a mature disciple is “graciously disposed toward all.” Our deepest identity is in Christ, not in the caliber of our friends or the hipness of our back-to-school clothes. We can certainly connect more deeply with a few people, but we must never refuse to connect with anyone. This is what it means to be “graciously disposed toward all.” This is what it means to have graduated from middle school. And it’s part of what it means to be the life-giving, grace-extending body of Christ.