I have an awful memory so it’s not uncommon for me to have zero recall about a church I’ve visited in the past. But I remembered East Side Baptist the moment I walked in this morning. I remembered the pastor – a young guy with a thin build, a short hair cut, warm demeanor, slight lisp and incredible speaking voice. I remembered his love for the have-nots and marginalized in Paragould, Arkansas.
I’ll remember this morning for a long time too.
The sermon was on Jonah – the prophet who ran from God to Spain, was swallowed by a big fish on the way, but was spit out and eventually told the brutes in Nineveh about God as He’d commanded.
“Justice wrapped in love,” the pastor summarized.
There are two extremes to avoid, he said. On the one hand there’s that church we all hear about in the news – the one that pickets the funerals of soldiers and says Katrina was God’s wrath against New Orleans. The pastor this morning said “fundamentalists” sat around talking about God’s wrath when Katrina hit but Christians prayed for the people of New Orleans, took up offerings, took in displaced families, went to Louisiana to help out. Beautiful.
On the other hand, he said, we sometimes so major on God’s love that we forget He is also just. A day will come when God will pour out justice on the world. There will be a time of judgment for all mankind and to deny that is to say God is not just – only love.
“Justice wrapped in love,” he said. God is just but has “opened a window of grace” for us. Justice is coming for sure but at this time God is lovingly pursuing us, wooing us with kindness, allowing the world to exchange loyalty to Him for life with Him.
If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. (Romans 10:9-10)
His conclusion was convicting. I’m doing my best to relay it to you word for word. “It is ludicrous to say we believe in God’s love and coming justice and not show love to others and tell them about Jesus.” He said it’s time to stop yelling at homosexuals and start loving them, to stop picketing abortion doctors and find ways to love them and the women they see. “I’m not saying we shouldn’t have convictions or take a stand,” he said,” but we have to love those who don’t take the same stands we do.”
He reminded me to love those who hurt me too – if I believe in God’s love and that justice is His to dispense and not mine.
He renewed my passion for touring around speaking for Compassion. Five hundred children come to faith in Jesus every day around the world through the ministry of Compassion. This is one way to show and tell the world of God’s love.
I hit a wall yesterday. I miss my kids and my wife. Those old pestering feelings of inadequacy started whispering again. I prayed that God would give me greater gratitude and joy and excitement about singing and playing just one more night before heading home for a few days. And God answered my prayer at East Side Baptist. Because He loves me. I don’t deserve it – none of us do – but He does.