Accept the Mess

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How the Church Connects People
Before we can lead others to Jesus, we must first to recognize our own mess. All of us are a mess in our own way, and it's only by God's grace that we are cleaned up and are used by him. You come from a long line of mess makers though, and the truth is that the messiest people are the people who walk around thinking they're not a mess, but the stench of their self-righteous pride fills the room. We must remember that Jesus delights in turning messes into masterpieces; that's what he does. That's what the Gospel is about. That's what grace does for us. Ephesians says that each of us are God's handwork. That word handiwork could be translated as masterpiece. He turns messes into masterpieces, and that's what we want the story of the Church to be.  We see this throughout the book of Acts how the church grows and expands, but it's a little bit messy. This is how our church and communities grow today too. This is how our church expands. But it's a little bit messy. It's how Jesus has loved us. It's how you've been called to love other people, and our ability to do this as a church is really dependent on how each one of us do this personally. It is only by the grace of Jesus that we are saved, so we want to reflect his mercy, kindness, gentleness, and tenderness towards messy people in our lives and messy people in this world. As Christ followers, we want to be a picture of broken but chosen instruments. Together, we're making music that will draw people into the Kingdom. Reflection/Discussion Question: What steps might you take today to embrace the messiness of other people?
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Church Hurt
There's a growing number of people who have experienced what is often called “church hurt”. Church hurt happens when somebody comes to church at a time in their life when they really need grace, but instead they're made to feel guilty for their sin or current situation. It happens when somebody really needs another person to walk towards them but others see them coming and go in the other direction. It can happen in a myriad of different circumstances, but it is always damaging because it’s not a reflection of the Gospel. It's not what the church is supposed to be like from what we are taught by Jesus and the example of the early Church.  Church hurt oftentimes happens when believers begin to classify sins, and they inevitably start thinking whatever sins they don't struggle with are the more serious and significant sins that need to be dealt with. We, as believers, should strive and desire to be different in these ways than the rest of the world; to set ourselves apart. If you have put your trust in Christ and asked for forgiveness of your sins, then Jesus has washed away your sins. He has made you whole, and he sees you without any blemish or defect. You're not just welcome in the body of Christ, but you are wanted and needed. We want to grow in righteousness together as a community. We want to encourage each other in the grace of Jesus. We want to be on that journey together, and we want to do it as a family who is united, even if it's a little bit messy sometimes. Reflection/Discussion Questions: Have you personally experienced church hurt in your life? How has it affected your view of the Church?
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Receiving Someone Different
In Acts 9, we read that the Holy Spirit often led the Church to people who were outside the comfort zone of these early believers.  This would've been tough, especially because it would've been natural for the early church to take a more tribal approach to their faith and only include those who have similar perspectives, similar beliefs, similar politics, and similar preferences. But the Church was going to be really challenged with embracing messy outsiders when they reluctantly welcomed a man named Paul. Paul first shows up two chapters earlier, and his name at that point wasn't Paul – it was Saul. In Acts 7, we read about a follower of Jesus named Stephen, who's dragged out of town by a mob to be stoned to death for preaching about Jesus. Verse 58 tells us that it was Saul’s job to make the stone throwers feel comfortable with their throwing arms so he holds their coats while they're stoning. Then in Acts 8:3, we read that Saul has become the leader of this movement to destroy the church. He dragged off both men and women, and he put them in prison. The best word to describe Saul, in our culture, would be a terrorist to these early believers and to the early Church.  Acts 9 begins by telling us that Saul is breathing out murderous threats to the Christians. Saul hears that Christianity continues to spread despite his efforts and it's spreading to a town called Damascus. What happens on that road to Demascus would change the course of Saul's life and really change the course of history. He is blinded by a bright light then brought into the city, where the early believers would have likely been both terrified and angry at him for what he has done to fellow believers. But they respond in an unlikely way that would have shocked the rest of the world.  How do you respond when a person with a bad reputation or the person who wounded you shows up? How do you respond to that when it's somebody who said something they can't take back or did something they can't undo, but is now asking you to forgive them? Reflection/Discussion Question: How would Jesus want you to respond to a person like Paul?