I’ve been reading the late Mike Yaconelli’s book, Messy Spirituality. In it, he talked about some of the people who kind of wandered into his church – messy people like Rene.
After 30 years of marriage, her husband walked out on her, right after she’d been diagnosed with breast cancer. She was devastated and alone. Her former church made her feel guilty because her marriage fell apart. Her faith didn’t heal her cancer. Her children were not in a good place. She had bouts of depression, and her spiritual friends told her if she were really a Christian, she wouldn’t feel that way. Rene was a mess.
Darrell struggled with a long history of abuse and drugs. He found his way to church after a night of drinking. He sat in the last row in a seat close to the door because he didn’t want people to see his swollen face, red eyes and unshaven beard. He’d been told by Christians that if he were totally committed to having a spiritual life, then drinking wouldn’t be a problem. He was just a mess. He kept showing up and sitting in the back, but he was a mess.
What do churches do with people like this? Instead, we should be asking, “What did Jesus do with people like this?” Because, remember, Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever. If he indwells believers, that means he will express himself through us the same way he did when he was on earth.
Jesus did not come to make messy people into tidy people. That’s not what the church is about, and that’s not what Jesus came to do. In Luke 5:27, Jesus met Levi the tax collector and said, “Follow me,” and Levi dropped everything to follow him.
Tax collectors were underhanded and greedy. They were shunned by practically everyone in ancient Israel. They were messy.
But Jesus didn’t tell Levi to clean up his act. In fact, Jesus never did that to anyone in any of the Gospels. He didn’t come to turn messy people into tidy people.
Well-known pastor Andy Stanley tweeted recently, “If Jesus is worried about guilt by association, he never would have left Heaven.” Jesus has this irresponsible habit of throwing open the doors of love to messy people.
When Levi threw a banquet for Jesus at his home, the Pharisees and teachers of the law wanted to know why he and his disciples ate and drank with “tax collectors and sinners.”
Tidy people like the Pharisees couldn’t imagine why Jesus, a rabbi, would hang with messy people. In verse 31, Jesus explained why: “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but the sinners to repentance.”
The righteous here are not truly righteous people, because Scripture is very clear that no one is righteous in their own strength. What Jesus meant was, “There are some of you who think you’re righteous. You are so convinced of your self-righteousness that you have no need for me.”
In Messy Spirituality, Yaconelli wrote, “Some of us actually believe that until we choose the correct way to live, we aren’t choosable, that until we clean up the mess, Jesus won’t have anything to do with us. The opposite is true. Until we admit we’re a mess, Jesus won’t have anything to do with us.”
The problem with the Pharisees, the problem with the tidy people, was they didn’t think they needed Jesus. He said, “It’s not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.” The Pharisees didn’t realize that they were sick, that they needed help.
In 2 Corinthians 5, the Apostle Paul said, “If anyone is in Christ, he or she is a new creation. The old has gone. The new has come.” Paul said that Jesus didn’t come to make messy people tidy. He said Jesus came to make messy people new.
As Jesus pours new life into us, he fills us. He starts to push the messiness out, because he does such work in us.
Becoming a Christian is not a messy person becoming tidy; it’s messy and tidy people becoming new.
Pete Briscoe is the senior pastor of Bent Tree Bible Fellowship in Carrollton, Texas, and President of “Telling the Truth” media ministry. Sign up for his Crosswalk daily devotion Experiencing LIFE Today.