Three Strikes… And They’re Out…
Based on Three True Stories That Sadly Represent So Many Thousands More….
Scenario/Strike One: It is Sunday, just prior to the beginning of morning worship service, and into the foyer she and her young child walk… She is a stranger from down the street whom no one knows and whom no one knew was coming. Almost instantly, she and her three year old daughter are lovingly surrounded and warmly welcomed by the loving Christian saints and servants who comprise this local congregation of the Lord’s church.
She is invited to sit with several couples and singles and eventually chooses a lovingly offered seat next to a faithful Christian woman and her husband. When it is noticed that she doesn’t have a bible, one is instantly provided for her to follow along in as the preacher delivers the morning sermon. After services she is noticed and welcomed by even more of the congregation. Her visitor’s card with its much-coveted contact information is immediately sought out by several, and subsequently, later that week she receives both a few calls and “Thank You For Visiting” cards from caring and concerned members.
A few weeks pass… She is invited into homes, to personal bible study, and to other events of the church. Her daughter is doted upon by the church members. Her husband is lovingly approached and always included in the invitations. When it is learned that she is expecting, a lavish showering of gifts and outpouring of love are planned, purposed, and provided by the members of the congregation. They outdo themselves in showing her true, genuine, sacrificial Christian love… and then, just as suddenly as she came, without warning she is just as suddenly, simply, and inexplicably… gone. No one said anything untoward towards her or her family; mistreated her in any way whatsoever; or ever showed her anything less than pure and simple, Christ-like love. Repeated attempts by the membership to reach her are thwarted; phone calls are not returned, letters and cards remain unnoted and unanswered. And now, whenever congregants see her at local events, in the stores or at school functions with her family, all they get is a baleful glare, a purposed headshake, and a strict avoidance. So, what happened? Hold that thought…
Scenario/Strike Two: A teen member of the church invites a newly arrived at school classmate to Wednesday evening services. It is soon learned that the young man’s family has recently relocated to the area and is looking for a “home congregation.” The following Sunday his entire family shows up to “check us out.” And once again, as always, the church surrounds and engulfs the entire family with the love of Christ. They start attending on a regular basis. Even when his dad has to work, his mom and he and the rest of the family attend. He decides to get involved in the activities of the youth group; his dad says to please place their contact information in the new directory and lets everyone know that he “grew up in the church,” even though his wife did not. The preacher sees and seeks to seize the opportunity to set down and study with them. All is set, and then, after one particularly powerful Sunday morning sermon, they simply “vanish away into thin air,” never to be seen or heard from in the building ever again. And once again, despite repeated attempts by the kind and compassionate congregants, nothing… except the utter avoidance and repugnant looks that any church member receives who dares to merely say “hello” to them when they perchance encounter them at some local community event.
Scenario/Strike Three: And then there is the young lady who is the now adult, fourth generation Christian. She, like her parents and grandparents before her, grew up “in the church.” But she has been “out of service” ever since she married a non-believer who wants nothing to do with the church; this action on her part despite the many biblically-sound sermons and lessons, sternly warning of the dangers of just such unions when she was a teen. But she didn’t listen. She knew better. And now here she is, three kids and eight long years later, with nothing but contempt for her godly parents, grandparents, and any other church member whom she encounters for any reason, anywhere and on any occasion – and she is not the least bit timid or intimidated about showing it; in fact, she seems to almost be proud of it.
Three strikes. On any and every one of these occasions, the church has done nothing wrong. In fact, they have done nothing but love, care, reach out, and teach the Lord’s word… and therein lies the problem. You see, it would be – and let’s face it, very often is – very tempting for us to just want to quit, to throw in the towel, to get “out” of the reaching out business after three or four or countless such “strikes.” We love, we care, we give, we sacrifice, and what do we get for it? Glares. Venom. Disgust. And in some cases, even hatred. So why bother?
If and when we are ever tempted to feel that way, the very first thing we need to do is to remember Jesus: “For consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls” (Hebrews 12:3).
And we have to understand exactly why it is that the vast majority of these people – despite the overwhelming love and support we seek to share with them – so often wind up acting in the described manner. Jesus said it best in John 15:18-22:
If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will keep yours also. But all these things they will do to you for My name’s sake, because they do not know Him who sent Me. If I had not come and spoken to them, they would have no sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin (NKJV).
Bottom line? Despite the best and most loving and benevolent attempts we can humanly, humbly make, sooner or later, if we are faithfully teaching and preaching and presenting God’s word – which we must do if we want to go to heaven – then everyone we present God’s word to in any way, is going to run up against something that they are either going to have to change in order to get in line with God’s word and thus get to heaven, or, are going to have to decide is important enough to them to have to try to justify denying His word and deliberately disobeying God for, while at the same time determinedly deceiving themselves into thinking they can still get into heaven in spite of continuing in said disobedience – a most fatal mistake, and one that takes a lot of effort.
And so as you can surely understand, the last thing those folks can tolerate having anywhere around them, is a constant reminder of the truth of Scripture they seek to avoid at all cost; in other words, the conscience-pricking presence of a truth-loving and trusting Christian – which is exactly the type of presence Jesus was to those who rejected God’s word in His day: a living, breathing, truth-toting and completely committed reminder that they really and truly have absolutely no excuse for their sin! (Do you also remember the Council’s complete inability to deal with the truth of Jesus’ power as evidenced in the presence of the healed man in Acts 4:14?) And that’s why those of us who faithfully follow in Jesus’ footsteps should expect to encounter exactly the same thing time and again! Not simply three times, but “seventy times seven!”
Like the fairy tale about the always angry lion whose anger was simply the result of the proverbial thorn in their paw – we are that thorn. Like the step-children in some second marriages are subject to much abuse by the second spouse because they serve as a daily reminder of the former relationship – we serve as that constant and unwanted reminder whenever and wherever we are encountered by those who are either too offended or too challenged by God’s truth to make changes they do not want to make; thus, the abuse. It’s that simple. And only through really understanding this will we be able to continue to maintain the proper attitude of Christ-like compassion towards the erring in the face of such abuse, scorn, and ridicule…
Remember, God knows that we are but dust (Psalm 103:14). He knows our weaknesses as humans. Let us be likewise in remembering theirs. Instead of getting discouraged or returning their attitude back on them, let us continue to pray for those who thus persecute us, understanding it is due to their pain that they do thus. (Please see Matthew 5:38-48.)
And secondly, it is imperative that we understand and expect the following; that as the apostle Paul would rhetorically ask, “Have I therefore become your enemy because I tell you the truth” (Galatians 4:16), that the answer unfortunately but routinely is YES! The truth of God’s word will always inevitably do that! It will always divide! How often do we see something very similar to what happened with the divided crowd that occurred when Jesus’ raised dead Lazarus according to John 11:45-46? The answer is, all the time. Re-read Hebrews 4:12 again and again! Truth divides! Remember what Jesus said in Matthew 10:34-37?
And so, what do we do when we strike out time and again with people despite the best and most loving of Christian intentions and actions? When they hate and use and misuse and abuse us? Simple. We keep loving and trying and reaching out. Why? Because that’s what our master did to be sure, but also because we understand and accept the inevitable. We have come to regularly accept and routinely expect that those who will not love God enough to keep His commandments at all cost, are never going to love or see His people as anything less than a major annoyance; as a living symbol highlighting their unbiblical lifestyle.
And so, we continue on unabated because Jesus both forewarned and encouraged us within His truth, that not only would that regularly happen, but exactly how to handle it when it inevitably did. And these are the words we must remember when we are tempted to give out and give up because those we sought to love and encourage and reach with the word, decide to fight, bite, and ultimately be rid of us…
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men. You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven (Matt 5:10-16; NKJV).
To God be the glory! Always and in all ways! Preach on children! Preach, teach and reach out, because no matter how many strikes against us, we are never “out” with the Lord!