Mark Gubins is an artist. He works out of an art studio near the airport. He’s so close that as the jumbo jets start their final approach for landing, they fly right over his studio. Wanting to be a good neighbor, Gubins climbed up onto his roof and in big, bold white lettering he wrote – WELCOME TO CLEVELAND.
The only problem is: Gubins doesn’t live anywhere near Cleveland. Both he and his studio are in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Since he painted the sign, a number of airline passengers have done a double take, suddenly believing that they got on the wrong flight.
I’ve heard of non-Christians expressing a similar reaction when they show up to a church service expecting to hear about grace, hope and love, only to suffer through a sermon about rules and regulations for living a better life. What they were expecting didn’t correlate with what they got. As a life-long Christian, I can say I understand. It seems like here in America we like to emphasize a version of God that feels more like an old man in the sky with a checklist who’s waiting for us to screw up instead of the Triune God who is with us and for us.
At GCI churches, we try to introduce anyone who joins us to the God of the Bible – a God whose very nature is love. It is this nature that reveals to us that he has already forgiven us for our mistakes and, like the Father in the parable of the Prodigal Son, he is waiting for us to return to his arms.
Because we know that we are included in Christ, we are free to receive from him forgiveness and a new life under his direction. We can then share that love and new life we receive by his Spirit in relationship with those around us. We want someone who attends our churches to feel welcomed just as they are. We want to also extend this feeling of welcome and belonging into the streets of our communities, welcoming the rest of the world into a redeeming and renewing relationship with our Lord.
So the next time you see someone new attending one of our worshipping groups, make sure you don’t “Welcome them to Cleveland.” Instead, tell them that they’re welcomed just as they are into a new and transforming life of communion with our Triune God.
I’m Joseph Tkach, Speaking of LIFE.