And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. (Luke 2:8–11 NIV)
This year we had the privilege of publishing Mental Health and the Gospel Community (Singapore: Graceworks, 2019) a book that explores the relationship between the church and those who struggle with mental illness. Since one in seven Singaporeans struggles with some type of mental illness, it was a book long overdue. As I helped work on the book, it dawned on me that the gospel is inclusive but the church often is not. As we draw near to Christmas, we remember that the gospel is good news for all men, for all humanity, but the way we structure our churches and how we do evangelism does not reflect this.
For example, de facto, our gospel is not for those who are struggling with mental illness. It’s not for the homeless. It’s not for those who struggle with certain issues, like same-sex attraction. (But the greedy and the proud are welcomed.) It is not for those who have criminal records. It is not for the poor. In truth, it is not for all sorts of people, not really.
It seems we have forgotten that the gospel is a dance of two movements. The first movement is to welcome. Here Jesus is clear that the gospel is for those who know they need to be healed.
Jesus answered them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” (Luke 5:31–32 NIV)
As we look out into society, who are those who really need to hear:
• Do not be afraid
• I have good news
• There will be crazy joy
Packed into the above will be the offers:
• You will be forgiven
• You will be healed
• You will be accepted
• You will be loved
• You will no longer walk alone
Jesus wants to do all this for us. He invites us to come to Him so that He can bless us. Yes, we do need to repent. We need to stop walking on the “I don’t need God” road and choose to walk on the “Trust and Obey God” road, knowing that Christ is waiting for us as we turn to Him.
Sometimes I think we have become a community for the well and no longer a community for those who most need God and His gospel. The first movement in the gospel dance is the call to welcome people and to accept people as God has accepted us. (None of us deserved God’s love. Remember?)
There is a second movement of course. As people accept God’s offer of unconditional love, they will discover that God loves them so much He wants to help them be truly human, to be all He had in mind when He first created humanity and now to be all He has in mind as He raises the new humanity. That means that in this second movement, we are on a journey to be all that God wants us to be: spiritually, ethically, mentally, physically, vocationally and relationally. We help each other on this journey to wholeness with the resources that God has given for this journey — His Spirit (Himself), His Word, and the community itself. It is a journey that ends when we see Christ face to face, either when we leave this life and go to Him, or when He returns to usher in the new heaven and the new earth.
I feel that we have gotten the two movements of the gospel confused or try to do the two movements at the same time. We seem to be insisting that people get their act together before we welcome them to the church community. We have moved on to the second movement before we get the first movement right. As a result we welcome only certain types of people to the feast that Jesus has laid out and exclude those who need it the most.
It is not easy to learn this dance of two movements. We may trip or get the steps wrong. But, with God’s help, we need to get this dance right. It is the gospel. To whom will you be extending the welcome of Jesus this Advent?