We experience community when we are with others who think like us, believe what we believe, and maybe even like what we like. Community is good, right? We form groups without being aware of it. Mention a sports team and in seconds you will know who is a fan or a rival. Talk about a movie and you will quickly learn who loved it and who can't believe you wasted your time seeing it.
Larry Crabb, in his book Becoming a True Spiritual Community, says, "We are human beings, the unique creation of a divine community of three Persons who enjoy being together more than they enjoy anything else, Persons who want to share their joy with other people. We long to rediscover true community, to know it in our experience; we were built for it."
Community is good. But community can get us into trouble when the boundary lines around our group are solid, opaque, and meant to keep others out.
All of us have felt excluded at one time or another. We find ourselves sitting outside the circle. Even if we were once in it, it feels like someone moved the boundary line.
One thing that strikes me about Jesus is how he prayed in John 17. He actually prayed that all of us would be one as he and the Father are one. Now, I don't know about you, but as a child I wanted my parents' exclusive attention; I didn't want to share. Maybe that's a childish thing, maybe downright selfish, but that's how it was. To think that Jesus enjoys intimacy with God the Father and the Holy Spirit, and wants us to be included, baffles me.
God is all about relationship.
I love that in John 3:16, God uses the word "whoever." There are no conditions to that word. I don't have to be "this tall" to ride the roller coaster. I don't have to speak a certain language or look a certain way. "Whoever" means even me. But once we've experienced that relationship, we sometimes forget what it's like to be on the outside looking in, wanting to be part of something but afraid to enter.
Enlarge Your Circle
We don't know what people have gone through—what baggage they carry, so to speak. And yet, the desire to belong lies at each person's core. We sadly think we're not good enough, smart enough, or ________ enough to make it. Then God writes Jesus into our story.
Jesus spent time with everyone and never excluded others. He sat with those considered outsiders and befriended any who were interested. Even little children, who some thought were too young, fit perfectly in his lap. Jesus was radical. He hung around the unpopular, the sick, the sinners—not to improve his political image, but because he cared about them.
God the Father is conforming us into Jesus' image. One day we will look like him, but until then he has left us with his open journal. We know where he went, how he acted, and what he did. We get to read it and then follow him.
Maybe our circles need to be enlarged. Maybe we should erase the chalk lines for good. God said "whoever," and he meant everyone.
Right now as I type this I am asking God to show me where I need to stretch in this area. If the people I hang with are all like me, how will my circle get larger?
We are not the selection committee that decides who will be on God's team. God never asked us to do that. He wants us to share his Son with anyone. And in doing so, we see his redemptive work—how he can enter a person's life and change them. And little by little, seeing him, they will want to be part of that family.