Reading today: Psalm 73 and John 8:31-47
Josh was 8. It was the first year of kid pitch baseball. Up to that point the ball was on a T for the kids or the coaches lobbed a slow, easy ball over the plate. But this year, mano a mano, pitcher against hitter, baseball was going to take on a whole, new feel. And of course, Josh wanted to pitch.
We went out in the back yard and I stepped off the requisite distance. I got down in my best Johnny Bench stance. (I was still young enough for my knees to bend that far.) Josh went into the wind up, the pitch, and delivered a perfect strike over the plate. For the next 5 minutes, with excitement building in me, he threw pitch after pitch right through the strike zone. It was amazing. If I called for it low and away, boom, right there. High and tight, bowyow, right where it was supposed to be. He controlled the ball like I couldn’t believe. I was delirious with anticipation. I could see it all. Full baseball scholarship to THE Ohio State University. First round draft pick by the Cincinnati Reds. Huge signing bonus. Cy Young Award winner. Me living on easy street. This is going to be great.
“Wait a minute. Maybe I’m getting a little ahead of myself. He’s only 8. He needs to try this with a batter.” I called Doris to come out in the back yard. She was going to be amazed. I told her, “Just stand up to the plate. He has thrown 20 pitches in exactly the right spot.” So, Doris dutifully dug in. She glared down at Josh and spit tobacco juice on the dirt. (I made that part up.) And Josh uncorked his first ever wild pitch. It hit his mother just below the knee. She went down like a shot. Popped up almost immediately, bat still in hand and came after me. So long signing bonus. So long easy street.
Things can change so fast. In the last part of John 8 there is a change of direction that occurs so quickly it leaves you scratching your head. What happened here? John 8:31-32 says, “To the Jews who had believed Him, Jesus said, ‘If you hold to my teaching you will be my disciples. You will know the truth and the truth will set you free.’” That’s a great passage. We quote that “Truth will set you free” bit all the time. We celebrate the freedom that is ours. We are excited about truth. Who doesn’t love John 8:32?
Well, apparently, the Jews that believe Jesus don’t love it. What follows is an all-out argument. The listeners take real offense at the “need” to be free. They call on their heritage. Jesus says, “That doesn’t count.” And what started as a pleasant conversation turns into an ugly scene. It ends in them yelling names at Him and taking up rocks to stone him. (Sounds like a modern day political rally.) From good to bad in no time. Everything changed on a single pitch.
One of the things that we must realize as Christ followers is that the Gospel is offensive. That doesn’t mean we have to be, by the way, but it is to acknowledge that many will be upset when confronted with what we call the good news. The story of Jesus is a story of redemption and reconciliation. But, in order to have redemption you have to have sin and in order to have reconciliation you have to have separation. We are ALL sinners, saved by grace, but we are all sinners. Sure, the truth will set you free but the other phrase we often quote is accurate as well, the truth hurts. We should not be surprised at the response some people have to the story of the cross.
That means two things. First, I don’t have to judge or condemn. That is not my responsibility, not my job. I just present the Gospel. I don’t even have to pick out the juicy parts, adultery, lying, children disobeying their parents. I present the whole Gospel, a fallen world, and a loving God. The truth will find its way through and the message will take care of itself.
The second thing, I need to never stop applying the whole Gospel to me. Remember those awful people, adulterers, liars, disobeying parents? That’s me. Remember that, “all have sinned” part? Yep, that’s me too. When I present the story of Jesus from the “I have something that you don’t have” angle I miss the point and mess up the impact. When I tell the story out of my own failure, my own lostness, my own need, the truth comes through every time. It is just one beggar telling another beggar where to find bread. Sometimes people will love that. Sometimes they will take offense. The outcome is not my focus. Jesus if my focus. (I hope that doesn’t offend you. ?)
So, tell somebody the good news today. Don’t hold back. Let them have it, the truth that is. If you do it with love and genuine humility, you will get it over the plate and avoid taking them out at the knees.
(Molli has written the latest Branches newsletter. Check it out at www.branchescounselingcenter.com or on Facebook at Branches Counseling Center.)