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Discomfort Zones

Written by: Bill Sparks Posted on: January 25, 2021 Blog: Devotions

This is Chapter 8 from the book "How Happiness Happens" by Max Lucado.

I hope you enjoy it...I did...

“Accept one another, then, just as Christ has accepted you.” Romans 15:7

Once upon a time in a land not far from our own, there was a tidy, well-manicured neighborhood. Its residents kept the streets clean, lawns trimmed, and standards high. Each household had two kids, two parents, a dog or cat, and the goldfish. They walk their dogs and waved at the mail carrier and turned out their lights by 10 PM. They enjoyed their quiet lives. But then their tranquility was turned upside down. A man bought the brick house on the corner of Oak and Elm. A single man. Not a family. Not a couple. A single man by the name of Levi.

Levi, as it turned out, drove a Corvette, souped-up and top-down. Levi, as it turned out, mowed his lawn bare-chested. Levi, as it turned out, installed the pool and the deck and the grill and an outdoor sound system. While the rest of the neighbors were winding down from the evening, Levi was cranking it up.

He had parties. His friends came from the seedy side of town. They drove jacked-up pickups and low riding Chevys. The men wore dingo boots and tattoos. The women wore tight tank tops. Some men had six-packs for apps, others arrived was six-packs in their hands. They all talk too loud, drank too much, and partied too late into the night.

On Sunday mornings when the fine people of the fine neighborhood drove to church, they look at the beer cans strewn on the front lawn and said to their kids, "That man needs Jesus"

He walked into the neighborhood and onto the street. He went from house to house asking if anyone had time to talk, play dominoes, or grill burgers.

But who had time for such folly? They had their work and curfews and chores. No one had time for Jesus. No one, that is, except the guy on the corner of Oak and Elm. The guy with a loud car and loud friends. He had time. Jesus knocked on Levi's door, and Levi invited him in for supper. The two hit it off. They hung out, told jokes, and discussed life. Eventually Levi told Jesus about his sordid past. Jesus told Levi about forgiveness and the future. Levi asked, "even for me? " Jesus smiled. "Yes, especially for someone like you."

One day Jesus paid him a special visit gave him this offer: "'Follow me!" So Levi got up, left everything, and followed him (Luke 5:27-28).

. Better known as Matthew: Matthew the apostle, the gospel writer, the first-generation follower of Jesus. But before he was Matthew, he was Levi. Before he was stained-glass, he was stained merchandise. Before he helped write the Bible, he helped himself to the pockets and purses of his countrymen.

Matthew was a public cash collector, a Jew who worked for the Roman IRS. The Emperor allowed tax collectors to collect a duty on anything and everything. As long as Rome got its part, the revenue is could take as much as they wanted. They did. They got rich by making people poor. On their walls was a framed mission statement: "get all you can and can all you get."

That's how Matthew could afford the Corvette and the parties. That's why he was brash and wild. He'd long since slopped his dignity and his self-respect for a fat wallet and a fast car. He was never

invited to neighborhood cookouts, never included in the high school reunions. People whispered as he walked past, "That's Levi the leach." He was a scoundrel, a hustler, slicker than the belly of a snake. He was a tax collector.

Jesus, however, saw potential in Matthew. Matthew saw redemption in Jesus. So when Jesus made the offer, Matthew took it. He joined Jesus' ragtag band of disciples.

But even though Matthew had a new life, he couldn't forget his old friends. He missed the gang. For sure their language was salty and morals were loose. They hung out at gentlemen's clubs and spent weekends at the casinos. They dressed slick, drank too much, and live too fast, but Matthew had a hard for them. One day he told Jesus, "I like your crew. I like Peter, John, and the others, but I really miss Billy Bob and Bubba Joe and Betty Sue."

Jesus said, "Let me tell you something. To be my friend doesn't mean you can't be their friend. I'd love to meet them."

Matthew perked up. "You would?" They aren't the churchgoing type. They aren't welcome in the synagogues."

"No problem. Neither am I. How about throwing a party? Will hit both groups together - Peter and Thomas and Billy Bob and Bubba Sue."

"Actually, his name is Bubba Joe. But that's a great idea."

Matthew calls the caterer and made a guest list. "Then Levi held a great banquet for Jesus at his house, and a large crowd of tax collectors and others were eating with them (Luke 5:29).

This wasn't a simple backyard barbecue. It was a great banquet with a large crowd. Fancy wine. Matron D's. Food on every table, guests in every corner. And not just any guests but a curious confluence of bikers and beauties and Bible toners. The apostles intermingled with the rabble-rousers. It was the happy hour crowd and the Sunday school class at the same party.

Jesus was thrilled.

The religious leaders, however, were riled.

They were called the Pharisees. Their moniker came from an Aramaic word meaning one who is separate. They were all about separating themselves from sinners. Holiness, by their definition, men cloisters, quarantines, and isolation. Good people – God's people – circle of their wagons. They don't chum with bad people.

When the Pharisees got wind of the party, they crashed it. They marched into Matthew's house wearing scowls and growls and holding extra-thick copies of the Bible. They pointed fingers and demanded an explanation from Jesus. "Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?" (Luke 5:30)

Matthew's friends groaned. They know the drill. They knew they didn't fit in. All their lives they had been told, "You aren't good enough for God." They began to gather their things so they could leave. The party was over.

"Not so fast," Jesus said in so many words. He stood up – if not literally, at least symbolically. He stood up for Matthew and his friends. "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance (Luke 5:31-32).

Jesus peppered the sentence with irony. Pharisees consider themselves spiritually "healthy" and "righteous." In actuality, they were unhealthy and self-righteous. But since they did not think they were sick, they saw no need for Jesus.

Matthew and the game, on the other hand, made room for Jesus. As a result, Jesus made room for them.

Do we?

One of the most difficult relationship questions is "What do we do with the Levi?"

Your Levi is the person with whom you fundamentally disagree. You follow different value systems. You embrace different philosophies. You adhere to different codes of behavior, dress, and faith.

You drive a hybrid; he chose around in a gas-guzzling, air-polluting truck.

You've all read and she likes donkeys.

You love your husband, and she lives with her wife.

Your Levi is your "opposite you."

"Opposite yous" can drain your joy tank. There is a tension, and awkwardness. Anger – low grade or high flame – can flare. Inability to manage the relationship can lead to isolation, prejudice, and bigotry.

What if your "opposite you" is your boss? Your next-door neighbor? Your coworker? What if your "opposite you" is your parent or child?

How does God want us to respond to the Levi's of the world? Ignore them? Share a meal with them? Leave the room when they enter crest to Mark ask him to leave so we can stay? Discuss our differences? Dismiss our differences? Argue? Avoid them?

"I wonder if the best answer might be found in the short admonition: "Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God."

This passage summarizes a 30 verse appeal to the Roman church for unity (Romans 15:7}. Paul began and ended the treatise with the same verb: accept. This verb, proslambano, "It means to welcome them into one's fellowship and into one's heart. It implies the warmth and kindness of genuine love."

Paul employed the verb when he urged Philemon to welcome this Onesimus us the same way he would welcome Paul himself (Philemon vs. 17). Look selected to describe the hospitality of the Maltese to the people who were shipwrecked (Acts 28:2) And, most notably, Jesus used it to describe the manner in which he receives us (John 14:3).

How does he receive us? I know how he treated me.

I was a 20-year-old troublemaker on a downhill path. Though I made a commitment to Christ a decade earlier, you wouldn't have known it by the way I lived. I'd spent five years claiming to be God's child on Sunday mornings and butting with the devil on Saturday nights. I was a hypocrite. Two-faced, too fast, and self-centered.

I was lost. Lost as Levi.

When I finally grew weary of sitting in pig slop, I got wind of God's grace. I came to Jesus, and he welcomed me back.

Please note: Jesus didn't accept my behavior. He didn't endorse my brawling and troublemaking. He wasn't keen on my self-indulgence or prejudice. My proclivity to boast, manipulate, and exaggerate? The chauvinistic attitude? All that had to go. Jesus didn't gloss over the self-centered Max I had manufactured. He didn't accept my sinful behavior.

But he accepted me, his wayward child. He accepted what he could do with me. He didn't tell me to clean up and then come back. He said come back and I'll clean you up. He was full of grace and truth (John 1:14). Not just grace, but also truth. Not just truth, but also grace. Grace and truth.

Grace told the adulterous woman, "I do not condemn you" (John 1:14). Truth told her, "Go and sin no more" (John 8:11)

Grace invited the swindler named Zacchaeus to host Jesus for lunch. Truth prompted him to sell half of his belongings and give to the poor (Luke 19:1-8).

Grace washed the feet of the disciples. Truth told them, "Do as I have done to you" (John 13:15).

Grace invited Peter to climb out of the boat and walk on water. Truth upbraided him for his lack of faith (Matthew 14:28-31).

Grace invited the woman at the well to during everlasting water. Truth tactfully reminder her that she has gone through five husbands and was shacking up with a boyfriend (John 4:4-18).

Jesus was gracious enough to meet Nicodemus at night. He was truthful enough to tell him, "Unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God" (John 3:3)

Jesus shared truth graciously.

Jesus offered grace but truthfully.

Grace and truth. Acceptance seeks to offer both.

If we offer only grace, then we gloss over the truth. if we offer only truth, then we dismiss the joy of grace. Our goal is to strike a balance. Oh, if only the balance were easy to strike. I have tilted in both directions. I have been so zealous for truth that I have forgotten grace. I've been a crusader for tolerance and omitted the truth.

I recall one occasion in which I was attempting to encourage a woman whose marriage was in shambles. She was considering a divorce. Her husband had been verbally abusive, possibly adulterous. "Go ahead and leave him," I urged. Several months passed, and I heard nothing from her. When I finally saw her again, she said, "I am back on my feet, strong in my faith, and it is with no thanks to you."


she said, "You gave me a way out. I needed to be challenged to stay in."

The catchphrase "hate the sin and love the sinner" fits nicely on a bumper sticker, but how do we embed the principle in our hearts?

Maybe these ideas will help.

Reserve Judgment. Let every person you meet be a new person in your mind. None of this labeling or preconceived notions. Pigeonholes work for pigeons, not for people.

During the season I was preparing these chapters, I happened to be walking through the downtown area of a major city on a Saturday afternoon. I spotted a haggard-looking man sitting on the concrete steps of a building. He wore a stocking cap, dirty clothes, and a full beard. A can of his favorite beverage sat at his feet.

In some ways the man was a Levi in my world. I might have walked past him. But, well...I was in the middle of preaching a series on making happiness happen by living out the "one another" passages, so I set aside my discomfort and sat down beside him. I had taken him for a homeless, unemployed drifter. I was wrong.

Turns out he was gainfully employed as a stagehand. He had gotten off work from an all-night shift. We talked for a few moments about his career - several decades of setting it up and tearing it down for the best of country music. He told me about some of the singers he had met. He also told me that God had blessed his life and that he felt the favor of the Lord. I'd misjudged him. I walked away a bit embarrassed.

Raleigh Washington was an African American minister who has dedicated much of his life to racial reconciliation. He says that the most important statement to bridge building is this: "Help me understand what it's like for you."

Help me understand what it's like to be a teenager in this day and age.

Help me understand what it's like to be born into affluence.

Help me understand the challenges you face as an immigrant.

Help me understand what it's like to be a female in a gray flannel corporation.

Then sit back and listen. Listening is a healing balm for raw emotions. (A friend admitted to me, "I often appear to be listening when I am actually reloading.)

"Be in agreement (be like-minded; live in harmony) understanding each other (sympathetic), loving each other as family (showing brotherly love), being kind (tender; compassionate) and humble" (I Peter 3:8)

Abraham Lincoln modeled this type of acceptance. During the Civil War when his wife criticized people from the South, he told her, "Don't criticize them Mary; they are just what we would be under similar circumstances."

We are never called to redeem the world. "Savior of humanity" is not on your job description or mine. Encourage, correct, applaud, and admonish? By all means. But save the world? In no way. There is only one Messiah and one throne. He isn't you, and the throne isn't yours.

Resign from the role. To do otherwise is to sentence yourself to a life of misery. The weight of the world will crush you. Recall the party of Levi. Who missed out on the fun? The stern-faced Pharisees.

Happiness happens, not by fixing people but by accepting people and entrusting them into the care of God. Jesus did this. Otherwise, how could he have endured? No one knew humankind's hypocrisy and failing more than he. Christ knew exactly what people needed, yet he gave them time and space to grow. Aren't we wise to do likewise?

Resist the urge to shout. We did a lot of shouting on our elementary playground. All the boys in Mrs. Amburgey's first-grade class bonded together to express our male superiority. We met daily at recess and, with arms interlocked, marched around the playground shouting, "Boys are better than girls! Boys are better than girls!" Frankly, I didn't agree, but I enjoyed the fraternity.

The girls in response formed their own club. They paraded around the school announcing their disdain for boys: "Girls are better than boys." We were a happy campus.

Shouting at Levi feels good. But does it do any good?

It seems to me there is a lot of shouting going on.

On the airwaves, shouting.

On the new broadcasts, shouting.

On the social media, shouting.

All sides shouting.

"We are better than you. We are smarter than you. We are holier than you." Is it possible to have an opinion without having a fit? The apostle Paul was critical of the person who is "full of pride and understands nothing, but is sick with the love for arguing and fighting about words. This brings jealousy, fighting, speaking against each other" (I Timothy 6:4).

"Do not argue about opinions" (Romans 14:1). It is the one thing to have an opinion; it's something else to have a fight. When you sense the volume increasing and the heat rising, close your mouth. It's better to keep quiet and keep a friend than to be loud and lose one. Besides, "they are God's servants, not yours. They are responsible to him, not to you. Let him tell them whether they are right or wrong. And God is able to make them do as they should" (Romans 14:4).

Let's reason together. Let's work together. And if discussion fails, let love succeed. "Above all things have fervent love among yourselves; for love shall cover a multitude of sins" (I Peter 4:8) If love covers a multitude of sins, can it not cover a multitude of opinions? We need intermezzi of calm in this cacophony of opinions.

Brian Reed served in a military unit in Baghdad, Iraq, in the fall of 2003. He and his unit went on regular street patrols to protect neighborhoods and build peace. It was often a thankless, fruitless assignment. Citizens seemed more interested in receiving a handout than a hand up. Brain said his unit battle low morale daily.

An exception came in the form of a church service his men stumbled upon. The soldiers got out of their military vehicles, intrigued by the sight of a wrought iron nativity: three wise men from the East advertising to all who passed by that this was a Christian gathering in a Christian church.

Brian and his men, armed and armored to the teeth, entered the facility. It was filled with Arabic-speaking Coptic Christians singing and praising God with a worship team and PowerPoint slides. The Americans did not understand a word, but they recognized the image on the screen, a depiction of Jesus. The language was foreign, but the observances were no: fellowship, prayer, the teaching, and the breaking of bread.

When they saw the American soldiers, the Coptic Christians invited them to partake of the Lord's Supper with them. The soldiers removed their helmets and received the sacraments. They then joined the Iraqis on a processional as they made their way out of the sanctuary into a courtyard that ended at the foot of a wooden cross.

Afterward they smiled, laughed and shook hands, and prayed again.

It was peace in the Middle East.

Brain wrote, "Jesus was there. He showed up in the very place some of us were ready for our air force brethren to blow off the face of the earth. God spoke to me that evening...Celebrating the Lord's Supper and remembering Jesus' sacrifice for our sins was the most important bridge builder and wall destroyer we could have experienced."

"Opposite yous" brought together by the cross of Christ.

In his book Streams of Mercy, Mark Rutland refers to a survey in which Americans were asked which words they would most like to hear. He says that he guessed the first answer but never imagined the second and third. Number one: "I love you." Number two: "I forgive you." but the real surprise was number three: "Supper's ready."

Those three phrases summarize the message of Jesus. He came with love, grace, and a dinner invitation. For Matthew and his friends, the dinner happened in ancient Israel. For you, me, and all the other Levis of the world? Heaven's banquet will exceed our fondest dreams.

And we'll be surprised when we see at the table.

(From "How Happiness Happens", Chapter 8, pages 105-116)

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