“Shut up! God loves all those people!”
My friend was normally quiet, but when she spoke on this day I appreciated it. Her words revealed many things going on in her heart.
She said this to a well intentioned, but overzealous person who had come to visit. This person was talking about their work to help a certain people group hear God’s message. That’s a good thing, but he/she was also expressing the opinion that this particular people group was the most worthy of anyone’s efforts in sharing the good news of Jesus.
The sighs and eye rolls this person used when referring to “other” people groups and the workers who wanted to help them, were offensive to everyone listening. It seemed the visitor intended to be offensive. Whether intentionally or not, the person communicated that anyone who was truly “on the in” with God would know his/her organization’s work was the golden standard worth striving for. That while other people were at least trying to do good things, their work was substandard to the “masters.” This is how most people listening seemed to perceive the words of the new “friend.” It was icy water, discouragement, and rejection thrown onto people who had been laboring in difficult places for years. The tension was palpable.
My friend, a woman who had come with me that day, was from the people group the visitor labeled as “other.” She had given her life to sharing God’s message of love and redemption with her people. So when she interrupted and told the visitor to shut up, I was thankful. The situation made me feel disgusted, but I had no idea how to respond. So I didn’t.
It is good and right to stand up for the people you love and serve. It was also good that my friend, after her initial comment, used gentle instruction to try to help the visitor see how a judgmental attitude was harmful. A wonderful response.
I, however, needed a little longer to get on the same page. I wanted to take the anger I felt and write this person off forever for hurting someone I love. Feeling angry was okay. Anger is a normal, healthy emotion when people attack the ones we love. This person had said something truly offensive and rude. It was inappropriate to insult my friends’ work. They had given their lives to serve their people. They suffered so much in doing so, and the visitor had no idea what they had been through.
But it was wrong to want to pile rejection on this person and dole out harsh judgment without looking any deeper. That’s what I really wanted to do with my anger because I felt I could never offer love to someone like this.
But Jesus did. He loved his enemies. While He definitely was not a doormat, He chose to offer grace and mercy to everyone. He even loved the misguided, religious overzealous.
I desperately needed Jesus to show me how to offer grace to the person we were talking with, because I didn’t have any to give. Nor was I interested in having any, or learning if perhaps there was more to this person’s story. I wanted to walk away and burn the bridge forever with anyone even remotely associated with this visitor, but instead God changed me. While none of us had to develop a close relationship with that person, we could stop bitterness and hate from growing. On that day I learned from my friends a little of what a healthy balance of grace and truth looks like in real life.
In this story, there are people who needed to hear the good news of Jesus, there are defenders, and there are the well intentioned overzealous who do not realize the harm they leave in their wake. As I continue to serve internationally, I see that I have been all of these people. I probably will be again.
I want to remember what I have learned during such times because I know I will always be in need of it. So next week I will explore these character types a little more. It will be a celebration of God’s grace—how He offers the acceptance and love I could never earn. How He reveals difficult truths about me while forgiving sin, creating hope, and conforming me to the beautiful image of His Son.
Thanks for reading!
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