Do they like having you around?

Do you know what the number one criticism of Jesus was? Jesus was criticized for being a friend of sinners. Sinners loved being around Jesus. Do unbelievers today love to be around believers? Or do they feel like we think we’re better than they are? – Robert Morris

A friend of mine posted this quote on fb today. I really like it and it got me thinking… I think we can even take this one step further. You see, Jesus didn’t just befriend sinners and make them come to him for friendship. He didn’t throw parties and send out an evite for the “Sinners Mixer at my Pad.” He went to them. He hung out with them on their turf. He was cool enough that he could be the stinkin’ Son of GOD and hang out at a dude’s house who has a bunch of prostitutes and drunks around – and none of them were uncomfortable. In fact, they liked having him around.

What does that say about believers today? I grew up in the church so I think it’s safe to say that I have an “insider’s” perspective. I’ve seen firsthand how believers get in a safe little box of preconceived notions and refuse to see outside of it. And I got a double-whammy because I also grew up in a private Christian school. I remember being taught not to socialize with sinners – that they were a bad influence. I was told that I needed to witness to them so they could see the err of their ways. But I was never told where. For the longest time I just assumed I would witness at church. You know, the sinner-haven.

Don’t get me wrong – I know the church has more people who need to be witnessed to than not, but my point is that if that’s the only place I’m going to reach out to people who need Jesus, I’m pretty narrow-minded and self-centered.

This paradox reached its pinnacle when I was twenty-two and I boastfully pointed out to a friend of mine that I had never been drunk. He asked if I had ever had a drink before and I said no. He pointed out that he was much more influenced by someone who can drink and control themselves than by someone who claims they have amazing self-control because they’ve never gotten drunk even though they’ve never had a drink.

This hit me like a ton of bricks.

I realized I was claiming I had accomplished something that I had never even been challenged by. It would be like saying that I had never broken my neck from bungee jumping when I had never bungee jumped in the first place. Stupid.

I know some of you are reading this saying, “Well, it’s better to protect your purity than to put it to the test just to say you can control yourself.” And you would be right – to a point. But if you’re using what you have or haven’t done as a badge of honor, you’ve missed the point of what being an influence is all about. And if you’re expecting the world to come to you and marvel at your brilliance just because you claim to have hope from your faith, you’re only going to be disappointed. I honestly believe the best influence we can have is when we get out there and hang out with real people in real places and real situations. Nothing forced or contrived. No pretenses. No, “Please meet me at Starbucks today. I need to talk to you about your lack of faith” meetings. Just real, honest relationships with real people talking about real things.

Which brings me to my point. Why were Matthew and his prostitute friends cool around Jesus? Why did they invite him to their parties and talk to him about their lives so openly and comfortably? Shouldn’t they have been nervous and embarrassed around him? He was perfect. They may not have known that at the time, but they knew there was something different about him. But they still hung out. Why? After all these years of being around the Christian culture and watching them get it wrong, I’m convinced it’s because Jesus was just a real guy. No pretenses. No expectations. No facades. He was who he was and he made no bones about it. And he found a way to challenge everyone he was around to be a better person without judging them for it.

What a guy. What an influence. I think about it all the time as I interact with the world – at a show, with my family, with friends, with casual acquaintances. I find myself asking if what I’m doing is making them run away from the faith in me or towards it. Because I’m not here to make anyone do anything. I’m just hoping that my actions might influence someone along the way to investigate why I have the hope I have. And maybe, just maybe, they’ll find they can have it too. That’s all…