Forming an Inclusive Community

Forming an Inclusive Community

God opens his arms wide and so should we.

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.

God's Inclusion

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.

Have you ever approached a few people talking and felt left out? Is that what people taste when they approach you?

I'm so glad God said "whoever" when he thought of the guest list. I'm thankful that the list of requirements wasn't as long as my arm. It's more like: Are you breathing? Then you're eligible!

God Will Help You

Most of us think, I know God loves everyone. It's easier for him; he's God. But he enables us to do what he expects of us. He doesn't just say, "Love people. And by the way, good luck with that." God empowers us to do what we can't do naturally. And God loves empowering us because then we are aware of our inability and have to trust him completely. We know it isn't us.

Accepting others is God's specialty. I'm not saying he did it easily. It cost a great price, but one he willingly paid. God sees what is in us. He is the God of all time—so he already knows our future but accepts us in our present, which is amazing. He died for even those who will never accept him.

God loved the world, and more importantly he loved us. Where would we be if the disciples had decided their group was strong enough, large enough, and close enough just as it was, and closed their ranks? We'd be outside looking in.

"Father … I pray … that all of them may be one."

I'm so glad that Jesus was secure in his relationship with the Father. So secure he opened up his arms wide and died for us. I'm just so glad.

Anne Peterson is a poet, speaker, and freelance author, and you can visit her at Facebook or at annepeterson.com; copyright 2013 by Christianity Today.

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