I recently listened to a portion of a sermon by Andy Stanley. In it he begins with this line, "People who were nothing like Jesus liked Him. And Jesus liked people who were nothing like Him." In it he refers to Matthew's first encounter with Jesus (Matthew 9:9) where Jesus simply comes up to him as he was busy collecting taxes and says, "follow Me". This simple invitation is the same today as it was 2000 years ago on that dusty street in Judea--Jesus is still calling sinful men and women to come and "follow Me".
What is the attraction of the gospel? It is the attraction of Jesus. It is His interest in us that peaks our interest in Him. It is His earnest concern for the lost, for the worst of sinners that shines in a bleak and worn spiritual landscape. It is the attraction of Jesus--the fact that He loves the unlovable, the broken and worn that stands like a light on a hill in a dark world. It is the fact that He would deign to love even a "tax collector" (the worst of all sinners in first century Jewish eyes) and command him to "follow Me" that gives hope to the most hopeless.
I know that many people who reject Christ do so solely because of a sinful heart. But how many reject Christ because they are influenced by a less than authentic witness of who Christ is? How many reject Christ because they believe that Christians don't really "like" them all that much? The church should be the most attractive institution in the world because it has the greatest "draw" of all--the heart of God. Sadly, however, the focus of many Christian's hearts is not not centered upon the heart of God. This is evidenced by the spirit in many churches and the attitudes of many Christians. The sad truth is, we often don't even like one another, so how can we really love the world? Expressing God's heart means following Jesus' example. And that takes personal risk. How did the religious people view His associations? With spurious contempt. How did His own disciples react to Jesus' openness to the lost? With confusion and discomfort. Don't think that it will be any different today. If you want to express the heart of God, your actions will be misrepresented and your motives will be questioned. But we have a higher calling: a call to obey God and to truly follow Jesus. When we truly love God, His love for others flows out of us--not with words but in attitude and action.
There was a time where I have to admit that I wasn't that concerned about being known for exemplifying "the attraction of Jesus" to the world. I was more concerned about finding a corner of truth and raising the flag high about how "discerning" I was. As evidence of this I have to admit that there was a time that I wouldn't even entertain learning from someone like Andy Stanley [sorry Andy Stanley fans! ;)]. I would say that his theology is too "man centered" and avoids "repentance" (I would say that I know this because I heard other people say this about him and they must be right of course), so how could he have anything good to say--it must be tainted somehow. But now I see things differently. I don't defend Andy Stanley, and perhaps his ministry and theology aren't all up to snuff (I haven't read or listened to him enough to have an informed opinion), but I am discerning enough to recognize when God says something that touches my heart even if it is through an imperfect vessel. I am discerning enough to recognize that it's not enough to be "right", I must be even more concerned to be "love". Ephesians 4:15 has to be more than a cute platitude I learn--I want to truly speak the truth in love. I want to be attractive for Jesus. I want my church to be attractive for Jesus. The world needs Him.