“That whoever believes in Him should not perish.”
—Jesus, John 3:16
“One of the biggest problems in our families, churches, and missions is that we often insist that others think and judge in the same way we do.”
—Lingenfelter and Mayers, Ministering Cross-Culturally, p. 64
I enjoy this picture because we see different birds of different kinds and sizes all hanging out together on the same log. There’s no bickering, no pushing and shoving, just hanging out in the neighborhood. They’re not comparing the size of their beaks, the color of their feathers or what they consider to be their favorite dinners. They’re just hanging out together.
What about us? Are we like the birds? Are our churches like this log, where all who come feel welcome? Would Jesus even feel welcome or would we expect Him to be like us? Do we expect people to fit in our box or do we accept them as they come? Didn’t Jesus accept you and me as we once were? What if Jesus said instead, “Whoever is right-handed with blue eyes and a Southern accent will not perish?” Clearly implying everyone else is doomed in spite of their faith in Him.
But He didn’t say that then and He doesn’t say that now, but do we? Are we as accepting as Jesus? Are our arms as wide open as His?
Sure, it is often challenging to get to know someone that is different than us; most cultures gravitate to those like them because there’s a commonality and a shared heritage that we draw comfort from. We like what is familiar. But Jesus encourages us to expand our comfort zones. No, we don’t all have to go on a foreign mission, but we can introduce ourselves to the new person in the lobby, or the homeless person in rags at the food bank or to our neighbor that flies a flag of a rival sports team.
The ‘whoever’ Jesus is speaking about may be thousands of miles across the globe or may only be across the room; all you have to do is approach them in love and let the Holy Spirit guide your words. Who knows, you may be able to touch their heart, or…they may be able to touch yours.
I glanced off to my right on one of my early morning rides. The sun had been up for about five minutes so when I looked right, I looked right into the sun (I totally forgot that right was also east). This two-lane country road was vacant except for a lone cyclist in a bright red jersey (that’d be me; I wanted to make sure bleary-eyed, under caffeinated drivers saw me). On each side of the road are large cow pastures. In the field on the right was a gigantic sprinkler with big earth-mover wheels. I think it runs off a big water pump in the center of one those round fields you usually only see from the air.
Anyway, standing in the misty spray was a lone and large Blue Heron. Or so I thought. I had to look again, because I love viewing wild life (the natural kind, I had enough of the other wild life as an undergrad—and what little I actually remember is more about mysterious bruises and pounding headaches). I’m fascinated by the bird’s long, slender neck and needle-like beak. Then I saw another one, then another and then…a whole bunch of them! About 20 were gathering in rather loose proximity to each other, apparently all of them basking in the swirling mist of the sprinkler heads. I always thought they were solitary birds. I would have stopped to take a picture but I didn’t want to slow the awesome momentum I had in my blistering pace of 18 mph (all right, I heard that snicker…so I’m not Jens Voight, but I do ride a Trek).
Later on, I told two of my colleagues about this as we were waiting for one of those dreary, late afternoon meetings. Neither of them believed me so they whipped out their smart phones in a race to ascertain the truth. It was sorta like a phone-on-phone High Noon scenario, I can just see Gary Cooper jangling in spinning spurs, whipping out his Android and….oops, I digress. Anyway, Susan won the race and found out that Herons occasionally flock in an effort to round up prey in a Heron-induced circle of breakfast. Apparently they eat rodents from time to time as well. Who knew (except early morning cyclists, and, of course, Google)?
Every now and then I run into one of these fascinating nuggets of discovery. This was something I would have never known had I not been cycling early in the morning. And as a person of faith I could only smile at God’s creativity with all the varieties and oddities of life right here in my own proverbial backyard.