Early in my pastoral career, I felt I had a corner on what it meant to be a Christian. My views were set, or so I thought! As an evangelical Christian, I always found it difficult to listen to opposing views; perhaps more accurately, different views, and I would do my best, to keep “my people” away from those who saw Christianity through a different lens than mine.
Annually, in our small rural community, through the season of Lent, area churches would come together in a show of Christian unity and share pulpits.
We would invite guest speakers from the local ministerial association to speak in our home churches each week, as the Lenten season progressed.
It was great; a Baptist preacher would share the message at the Catholic Church one week, then a Pentecostal preacher would share a message in the Baptist church the next week. The Christian community traveled to different churches, meeting new friends and sharing times of fellowship following the services.
Some of the more evangelical pastors were skeptical of having a “non-evangelical” pastor preach in their church, so they would quietly ask evangelical pastors if they would speak in their church the week the community came to their place of worship. I was one of those pastors.
On one particular week of the Lenten services, a “non-evangelical” pastor, known for occasionally shooting down claims made by the more evangelical pastors, would soon preach at one of the churches.
As the week for him to speak approached, I purposefully “forgot” to announce the location of that week’s Lenten meeting; secretly hoping many of my people would “forget” too.
The night of the Lenten service arrived, and I felt obligated to go to the service. I went prepared for a message that would be high and lofty, with very little, if any mention of Jesus Name; I was not disappointed.
I found myself analyzing every word; glad in my heart that few of “my” people attended!
Following his message, a fellowship gathering in an adjacent room, separated by a narrow hallway was getting underway. As people began to make their way to the fellowship gathering, I decided I would join them for a moment and headed in that direction.
As I moved into the narrowing hallway, and kindly old woman, with a crown of white hair, came toward me, gently grabbing my arms, pulling me in. She looked at me, her eyes looking larger than life, through glasses with thick lens, fogged up as tears streamed down her cheeks.
As she drew me in, she said to me; “Pastor Rock, was that not the most moving message you ever heard?”
I was speechless; I mean . . . I had nothing, not a word! The best I could do was gently form a smile; she smiled too, then released her grip and ambled down the hallway.
I stood motionless for a moment, stunned by her words, and I distinctly heard the voice of God; “Rock, you missed it; you missed Me, I was there, where were you?”
I focused entirely on my own narrow view and my own self-righteousness; so much so, that I never noticed God’s Holy Spirit moving in that place. I Left quietly and went out to my car and sat there sobbing, sorry for my ignorance and pride.
God taught me, one of the most valuable lessons I ever learned, and that is He has far more grace than I ever will have.
He taught me that I do not have a corner on Christianity; others have a place at the table too. I have heard it said; “someone does not have to be wrong, for me to be right.”
A Scripture in the Gospel of Mark reveals an important truth . . .
“Teacher,” said John, “we saw someone driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us.”
“Do not stop him,” Jesus said. “For no one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, for whoever is not against us is for us. Truly I tell you, anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to the Messiah will certainly not lose their reward.
I think the point Jesus was making to John was a simple one; just because they do not belong to your group, does not mean they do not belong to Me.
I have seen Jesus work miracles in ways I never dreamed of and He uses people that I never would! His grace is indeed great, and I for one am very glad; He even has space for someone like me!