“Amazing grace, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.

T’was Grace that taught my heart to fear.
And grace my fears relieved.
How precious did that grace appear,
The hour I first believed.”
by John Newton 1779

How does God see you? I think how we interpret the way God views us determines what OUR relationship is with Him, which in turn determines what kind of God we show the world. He is the same, though our response to His love, His mercy is often based on the relationships we’ve had with other people, especially our earthly fathers.

Unfortunately I have witnessed too many Christians use the dysfunctional aspects of their own relationships to justify the condemnation of others and do it in the name of God. We each seem to regard our relationship with God as the word-perfect gospel truth, the obvious way He meant it to be, then we attribute and assign our ideals to Him rather than to ourselves. The church has pushed so much the idea of a God who looks at us with anger and disdain, waiting quite happily in heaven to punish us, that it has become the complete representation the world has of Him. I think though the reality of our punishment actually breaks God’s heart, in fact I know it does.

Why did Jonah refuse to go to Ninevah? Because he viewed the Ninevites with absolute contempt. Sound familiar? They were dirty and unclean sinners, not worthy of Gods grace and love – according to Jonah. To really grasp a true understanding of why Jonah refused to go one should read the entire account, it’s only four chapters after all, less than two pages in my Bible.

God told Jonah he was to go and proclaim to the Ninevites that they were to repent or be destroyed. One might think Jonah would be elated to deliver to his enemies a message direct from God of their eminent demise. But Jonah knew something of the character of God. He knew a magnanimous God, one of truly abundant grace and mercy.

In the last chapter we see a clear picture of why Jonah was so adamant in his refusal to go – HE DID NOT WANT THEM SAVED! So angry was he at God’s mercy towards the Ninevites after their repentance that he actually begins yelling at God!

Jonah 4:1-3
“But Jonah was greatly displeased and became angry. He prayed to the Lord, ‘Oh Lord, is this not what I said when I was still at home? That is why I was so quick to flee to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. Now O Lord, take away my life for it is better for me to die than to live.’ ”

It seems that quite often we go about witnessing to others with the same attitude as Jonah had, not with love and the hope of their salvation, but with anger, seeking condemnation. Do we think we are fooling God when we do this? Can we honestly go to the lost, indignant, with animosity and bitterness, then say to God, “See, I told them of You and they refused to hear it.”

What of love and compassion. What of acceptance, not of the sin, but of the sinner even while they dwell in sin. The church has placed itself in the position as the oldest son in the Prodigal Son parable. When the prodigal son returns home and is not only accepted with open arms by the father, but also is given everything in the kingdom – do we rejoice? No. We are jealous, angry and resentful and at that moment at least, we look nothing like Christ.

What I have found in the New Testament is a Jesus sitting comfortably with sinners who were still in their sin. It’s God’s inexhaustible unconditional love that draws us to Him, not His condemnation. In your relationships with others do you seek out those who condemn you or those who love you no matter what your failings? If that is our nature then, to seek acceptance, why would anyone ever desire to be in the presence of a God who despises them? But that is exactly the picture of God that the church is giving to the world. When the world looks at Christians, condemnation is what they see. Until we can move beyond our hatred of the sinner, until we can separate the sin from the soul, we have no hope of bringing them to Christ. We are not showing them Christ, we are showing them us, and we are a very pale imitation of grace on our very best day.

My nephew handed me a track last week. He had visited a church youth group with a friend and was asked to pass out these tracks to total strangers on the street. I thought the days of the handing someone a piece of paper which told them they were good-for-nothing excrement that God could not possibly love in their sinful state was over twenty years ago. Unfortunately I was mistaken.

These tracts were made up to look like money. The same size, same color, a picture of a president on the front. It even had the texture of money. Christopher told me how they would hand people walking by these worthless pieces of paper, and watch them at first get a slight thrill, then when they realized it wasn’t real money, see disappointment and disgust wash over them. Should the initial introduction of Jesus to an individual be based on deception? Isn’t a true picture of Christ enough to cause someone to want a relationship with Him?

I was appalled to say the least. But I hadn’t even read the tract yet. I hope that most people who come across these things simply throw them away without reading the fine print. Because what it had to say, is the very reason the church has so miserably failed at having any kind of positive impact on the world.

It read in part: “The million-dollar question. Will you go to Heaven? Have you ever…..” It then proceeded to list some of the favorite sins of the church, the Ten Commandment ones. But the statement that followed the listing of sins so many of us have committed ourselves is what blew my mind. “If you have done any of those things, GOD SEES YOU AS A LYING, THIEVING, BLASPHEMOUS, ADULTERER-AT-HEART.”

I almost threw up.

Is that really the God we want the world to see?

I know I was blessed as a child. My parents are two of the greatest human beings to ever walk the earth, I say this knowing their faults and failings because I see the same failings in myself. But because of what they have shown me of themselves, I have a clear picture of God as a loving and compassionate father.

When my dad would punish us, before the punishment was soled out, he would take us into a room alone, set us down and talk to us one at a time. He was often angry, but always more quietly disappointed than anything. The talking was the worst part of being punished to me. I just wanted the spanking or the grounding or what ever else was going to come to be given out and for him to stop talking already. The reason was not because I felt unloved by him, quite the opposite in fact. I had done something that brought disappointment to my father, and I could always see it in his eyes. But instead of yelling at me, viciously, angrily telling me he could not bear to look at me because of what I had done, he sat there, loving me.

I had disappointed the man who loved me more than anyone on this earth, and knowing that would always be punishment enough. He quite often cried and always told me he didn’t want to punish me but it was necessary. No matter what the punishment, the fact that I was still loved and was always accepted, and given a second, third, fourth chance is what made me strive everyday to do everything in my power not to disappoint this man again. Because of his love I knew then and know now, that no matter what mistakes I have made and continue to make, he will always accept and love me unconditionally.

It I not a requirement to be without sin to come to God. It is not even necessary to clean yourself up to return to Him. Just as the prodigal son returned, smelling of pigs, broken and empty, so are we. Come in your filth, the smell of your transgressions still lingering. He will open His arms and comfort you. He will clothe you in His finest garments and prepare a feast of His best just for you. Because you are NOT seen by God as a lying, thieving, blasphemous, adulterer-at-heart. You are seen as His child, and His love for you overwhelms any sin you could ever have committed. All you have to do, is come.

All who are thirsty
All who are weak,
Come to the fountain
Dip your heart in the stream of life.
Let the pain and the sorrow
Be washed away,
In the waves of his mercy
As deep cries out to deep, we sing.
Come Lord Jesus come
Holy Spirit come
As deep cries out to deep

By Brenton Brown and Glenn Robertson

Psalms 42:7
Luke 15:11-32