David and I are running another Youth Alpha course, this time in our home church in Managua. It. is. Awesome! Seriously, like, 50 bazillion times better than the last one. The youth from our church that are running the show are ridiculous (as in, ridiculously AWESOME). We show up at 5:30 on Friday afternoon and everything (seriously, EVERYTHING) is set up and ready to go. They are fulling invested in this program, and in sharing the love of Jesus with their peers. I am so proud!
But, something happened between the first and second week that made me sad, and a bit angry, and slightly dumbfounded. There was a guy who attended the kick off event (which was awesome, by the way) who decided he didn’t want to come back anymore.
Because David has an earring.
Because “how could any man respect God, and stand up in front of people to pray, and talk about Jesus, with an earring?”
Well, actually Dude, FYI, David doesn’t just have an earring. He also has his eyebrow pierced (but he doesn’t wear a piercing in both at the same time…because that would look dumb), AND his lip pierced (ok, that one was a “if you do it, I’ll do it” dare like 8 years ago that just never grew over) AND – oh my gosh, try not to faint from the horror – a TATTOO.
Yep. And somehow he still manages to respect God, and stand up in front of people to pray, and talk about Jesus.
It made me sad because this guy chose not to come back and participate in really fun games and activities, and eat great food, and watch entertaining and insightful videos, and learn about Jesus, because of one guy with an earring.
And it made me angry because how can this guy make such a huge assumption about someone’s relationship with God based on an earring?
I think the first thing that came into my head (and possibly out of my mouth) when I heard about it was, “THAT’S SO DUMB, its just an EARRING!”
Buuuuut, the team got together and we chatted, and David decided to not wear the stupid earring. Because if something you’re doing causes someone else to stumble…blah blah blah…
My point in all this is that there are some pretty messed up ideas in this country about what Christianity is, and what a relationship with God looks like. There are a whack-load of churches that WONT EVEN LET YOU IN THE DOOR with shorts on, or make-up, or a hat, or if you are known to frequent a pool-hall. You can’t dance, sometimes you can’t even clap. Women have to wean knee length skirts. Men have to been clean shaven. If someone spots a beer bottle in your garbage, you might have to have a meeting with the entire elders board to explain why you shouldn’t be kicked out of the church. No joke, I once listened to a pastors wife explain how it is not a sin to go swimming, but it IS a sin to wear a bathing suit (*sigh).
Rules, rules, rules, rules, RULES.
“Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this questions: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
Jesus replied: “Stand at the church door and stop anyone who isn’t cleanly shaven from entering.“
waaaaaait a second…
Jesus replied: “Be the bible police and tell people exactly what sins they are committing.“
nope, that’s not it either…
Jesus replied: “BE PERFECT PEOPLE WHO NEVER SIN MAKE SURE EVERYONE ELSE KNOWS YOU ARE PERFECT.“
Ok, I made all those up. The NIV actually says this:
“Jesus replied: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbour as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” [Canadian spelling mine]
In the hierarchy of commandments, that is the most important – Love God and love others. Simple. If you are doing these two things the other commandments are covered too. Not sure if something is a sin? Ask yourself two questions: 1. Is what I’m doing loving God? and, 2. Is what I’m doing loving my neighbours? Did you answer “no” to one of those things? Then maybe you should rethink what you’re doing.
Jesus came to give us freedom. Freedom from sin, freedom from the pressure of having to prove ourselves worth of God’s love, freedom from the laundry list of rules that people make for us. Honestly, I really don’t think God cares if I wear a skirt or pants to church. I think he likes it when we dance and clap in worship to him (Hello! King David!). I don’t think he cares about your earring, or tattoo (unless you tattoo says something hateful, like, um, “I hate left-handed people” or something. That’s not loving your left-handed neighbour, and so maybe you should cover it up when you’re out in public (and maybe think about getting it covered/removed).
And that’s what we are trying to show these youth in Alpha. God loves you how you are, right now, in this moment – Tattoos, piercings, the whole package. You maybe have been kicked out of churches in the past, but you wont be kicked out of this church. Because we are all sinners trying to figure out how to love our God and our neighbours. We are ALL broken people who need to be washed in Jesus’ grace and mercy. We are not perfect, and we don’t pretend to be.
But we are forgiven, and we are free, because Jesus set us free.
And you can be too, all you have to do is ask.