When I lived in New York, I had a few really good girlfriends who are vegetarians. I am a passionate meat eater. Whenever we sat for a meal, as many groups of friends do, we ordered family style — which meant much more veggies on the table than I would have ordered if it was just for myself.
Imagine being the jerk who wouldn’t order a vegetarian option and left her vegetarian friends feeling isolated and alienated at the dinner table. Though it may not be your choice to give up eating meat, wouldn’t you find it in your heart to keep an open mind and try some vegetarian options?
You would because you are a decent person. And because, if you’re sitting in with friends, vegetarian or not, you want to make sure that they are taken care of, enjoying themselves, and not uncomfortable.
Many Christians struggle with choosing the comfort of others over our own. Throughout history, we’ve found ways to alienate people because of our differences.
The gift of Jesus, access to the gospel, was given to everyone — to God’s chosen, the Jew, but also the Gentile, who had to brave a whole new world of rules and regulations that Jews had been living with for generations.
One of those rules was circumcision — a practice beginning with Abraham, a forefather of the faith — representing God’s everlasting covenant with his chosen people (Gen. 17:10-14). Being circumcised meant you were physically marked as one of God’s chosen people, and the Jews had continued this tradition for centuries.
In Acts 15:1-21, Paul and Barnabas were confronted with Gentiles experiencing the discomfort of head-on alienation over the matter of Gentile circumcision. Since the church was so new, they were learning new things about the new way of living as followers of Jesus. Paul and Barnabas stood as the Gentiles’ delegates to discuss this question among the leaders in Jerusalem.
If you grew up in the church, I doubt if you ever had a delegate bringing your questions and concerns to the leaders of the church. I doubt that you were given space to wrestle with your doubt. You were probably condemned for your ‘unorthodox’ opinion.
God was constantly flipping the script on the early church believers. He was rewriting the narrative, changing their perspective — doing a new work in them.
Today’s church should know this — God can keep doing new things. He can keep revealing newness to the story. He can actually make you change your mind about things.
When it came to the topic of Gentile circumcision, Paul stood and addressed the leaders in Jerusalem:
8 “God knows people’s hearts, and he confirmed that he accepts Gentiles by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as he did to us. 9 He made no distinction between us and them, for he cleansed their hearts through faith. 10 So why are you now challenging God by burdening the Gentile believers with a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors were able to bear? 11 We believe that we are all saved the same way, by the undeserved grace of the Lord Jesus.” (Acts 15)
We can keep being open to the idea that God can change the way we see ourselves, our witness, and the communities we live in.
Do you know someone who hasn’t changed?
I have loved someone my entire life who struggles with change. It made it impossible for him to have meaningful relationships without pain. It isolated him. It’s kept him from people connecting with the incredible generosity and kindness that is in his heart.
I don’t want to wake up when I’m 70 and realize I never let God change me — rewrite my story, make me more like someone with the characteristics that He wants others to see in me.
We have to start making space for the change that God can work. He makes it possible for us to be made entirely new. So new that sometimes it’s hard to recognize yourself in the mirror — in the best possible way.
I think if the church could make space for change, we may learn that we might not be prioritizing the things God wants us to. If we can listen, make space, and be open to the possibility that we don’t have it right, maybe it’s possible for us to continue to align ourselves to the plan God has — one that will continue to bring Him glory.
6 And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns. (Philippians 1)