“Hi, Deepa! My dad runs an Apple retail store and it’s the end of the month. He has some sales targets to meet. Since I help him run the store I’m trying to sell some of the products for him. Would you like any?”
A couple of months back I got this call from one of my newcomer friends at church. We were actually looking for a laptop at that time and were considering taking that deal. But for some reason, we didn’t buy the laptop at that time. My husband needed some more time to research the product and so we decided not to buy it. I forgot about the phone call. We continued to meet this person at church. And then X got busy with work, I travelled during our summer holidays, and X slowly became irregular to church. After a point, X stopped coming.
A few days back, one of our close friends, texted me asking me about X’s whereabouts, and when was the last time I had met them. As we talked, Y started getting more and more agitated and finally, Y blurted out saying that they had been scammed by X. Y had just lost their life’s savings to X. They had called Y with the same electronics deal and Y had taken the deal and transferred the money. Even after a couple of months, Y hadn’t gotten the products or their money back. I remember that day being a long one, with many phone calls back and forth between church members and lawyers. Few more had been approached with the same deal. By the end of the day, our friend got back the money, thankfully. But this incident left us with heart-wrenching sadness. We had welcomed X, but X had misused us and broken our trust.
Another incident took place last Christmas. We had invited a few of the young people over for Christmas lunch. It was a lovely time of singing, eating, laughing and genuine fun. But one of the newcomers who had enjoyed our hospitality that day came back the next day and called us an immature church in need of some mature leadership. Again this incident also had left me feeling sad and confused. I remember that when I had prayed about it I had thought, "But I welcomed them, I showed them genuine hospitality, I didn’t want them to be alone in a large city like Delhi. Why did they reject my hospitality and my welcome?"
The last few days as I have been trying to process these two incidents, one particular sermon comes to mind. Recently at a conference, where Dr. Ray Ortlund preached, he spoke from Romans about how ‘Gospel Culture Welcomes One Another’.
Romans 15:7 says, “Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God”. This is gospel doctrine and gospel doctrine creates gospel culture. What then is this gospel doctrine? It is good news for bad people(me included), through the finished work of Christ on the cross, through the power of the Holy spirit. Christ welcomes me to himself, because of his finished work on the cross. What is the gospel culture it creates? It creates a shared experience of divine grace for the undeserving. I don’t deserve this grace, yet it is something that I experience on a day to day basis.
As Dr. Ortlund asked and answered these questions it took some time for it to sink into my heart. I needed some more time to chew on this. He then said how the gospel destroys aloofness. And as I looked inward I realised that I could be aloof with a lot of people. I could keep them at arm’s length. I would think to myself, “Oh I have been hurt before, I’d better not be too welcoming, I’d better maintain my distance. I don’t want to be hurt again. I don’t want the trust to be broken again.” The word ‘welcome’, in greek means to receive to oneself. It is a very personal thing. And I didn’t want to get personal.
In conclusion, he summed up the doctrine of Romans in four simple words. He said, “Christ has welcomed you." He mentioned a horizontal aspect and a vertical aspect to processing theology. He said that horizontally all theology creates a welcoming culture. While vertically it creates a value of hope.
This week I have been considering the horizontal aspect. Just because someone has misused my friendship or shunned my hospitality do I shun them and turn my back on them? Have I been building defensive walls in my relationships so I don’t get hurt again? As I struggle with these thoughts, I’m reminded that Christ has welcomed me despite knowing my sinful nature, while I was still an enemy of God. As my mind races with judgmental verdicts toward the other person, I’m reminded that I scam people with my pretending and performing all the time. I bring my pretentious heart, masquerading in an epic performance before God himself and yet Christ who is all knowing welcomes me again and again and again.
And so I preach the gospel to myself one more time: “Christ has welcomed you." With that reminder, I choose to open my heart again, I choose to open my arms in welcome again. I remember that working with people is like stepping on broken glass. We live in a broken world and we deal with broken people and we are dealing with all this in our own brokenness. With that humility I consider the horizontal aspect of a welcoming gospel culture. When I realise that I don’t have the power to be this welcoming in the wake of broken trust then I consider the vertical aspect of a God who gives me hope in this situation.
The phone rings, “Hello Deepa, I’ve transferred the money back to Y’s account, I’d like to meet you someday again soon. Let me know when”.