Engaging the Other

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Over the past few years, I’ve been searching for a church home. A dear friend and partner in ministry recommended I check out a local church. A couple weeks later I did. Most of what happened that day is unclear but for general feelings, but one moment stands out with complete clarity.

I entered the church, grabbed a bulletin from the greeter at the entrance and took up a seat nearer to the back. I suppose I intended to remain inconspicuous. Just ahead on the right I noticed two familiar faces, a gay couple I’d known for years as a barista as Starbucks. They are both wonderful people. I made a note to say hello after the service. When it came time to celebrate communion, I rose to join the line funneling its way forward and noticed these same friends in the next line over. My gut clenched. At this time, I hold the belief that homosexuality is a sin. Nothing in my study has persuaded me otherwise. To say the moment challenged me is probably an understatement. But, at the same time, I realized something very important. I needed that tension in my life and in my walk with Christ.

Yesterday’s sermon spoke to this need, and as I listened and reflected I knew today’s post needed to change.

The core of the sermon can probably be summed up in a single word – “We.” Rather than unpack everything, I want to focus on a single point. The common ground, the 99.5%, better known as the DNA we all share as human beings. In our study of the human genome, only 0.5% varies from person to person. And yet we tend to focus our attention on that 0.5%. I realize this is a physiological statement, but I believe the concept goes beyond that to the psychological and philosophical. As humans, we gravitate to people who share our views, our ideas, our goals, our likes and dislikes – in short, people like us. And the church has been no exception.

In fact, I was taught embracing and engaging those who did not believe like me placed me in danger. By doing so, I risked tainting my faith. I believe this is one of the most destructive trends in modern local churches and in society at large. We’re taught to fear the other. So we sit in judgment, in ignorance, and often in hatred. Fear is toxic.

But fear is not from God.

Fear is not ever from God!

In saying this, do I mean to do away with fear of God. I cannot go so far. Scripture rebuts such a statement. We have statements like “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Prov. 9:10) or “work out your own salvation in fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12). These do not always mean merely an awe of God either. For those under judgment it should be a terrifying thing.

But it is not fear of God I am speaking of here, but fear of everything else. Fear that does not know the God who drives out all fear. For those of us who know Him, His power, and His love, there is no fear. (1 John 4:18) God is bigger than all our fears. And God is bigger than anything that waits across the aisle. I’ve mentioned before that the point at which we refuse further revelation is the point at which we cease to grow. By standing in the shadow of fear and refusing to engage the things that make us uncomfortable and challenge us, we are closing ourselves off from growth. Most heartbreaking, we are closing ourselves off from the blessing of God’s deeper revelation of Himself.

I get it. It’s scary. In fact, it can be downright terrifying. But we desperately need it. Engaging the other leads to transformation as we engage more deeply with God. And God is bigger than any fear we can imagine.

Maybe it’s time to trust Him, to be courageous and step across the aisle, across denominations, across political lines, across divides of sexuality, across the tracks, and engage the other. Not to win them over or change them, though that may happen, but instead to listen and learn. And in so doing, to change. Yes, it will change us. Taking us from caterpillar to butterfly. Drawing us more into the image and likeness of God himself.

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