Outer Circle Christians (Part 1 of 6)

 “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” Luke 15:2

When I was a kid I had a semi-harmless addiction to merry-go-rounds. It was always the first thing I ran to when unleashed on a playground. “Faster!” I shouted to whoever was willing to push as my face turned blue and my stomach queased. For me the game was resisting the increasing centrifugal force pushing outward by fighting my way to the center. I found it surreal that in the middle I could no longer feel the force pushing me outward. I’m sure there’s some science to it – something about Newton and a law he made up – but all I knew at the time was I had won the battle against the merry-go-round, usually at the price of near vomit.

The Spirit of Jesus compels us toward the outer edge of our spinning earth and away from the center of our own little world. He invites us to join him on his quest to heal a sick world. But we tend to isolate and insulate ourselves by moving closer to the center – into suburbs and other safe communities. As we fight his push outward, eventually the centrifugal force becomes imperceptible. In our cozy churches we tend to lose touch with the reality of the wider world and our sense of God’s compelling call outward. It leaves us deaf to the voice of God, insensitive to his impetus, and feeling sick to our stomachs.

The adventure is out on the edge where we’re supposed to engage with world around us. Sure, it’s dangerous out there and you might fall off and get hurt. But if you’re “sick” of Christianity and Church, maybe it’s because you’re sequestered in the middle instead of on the outer edge.

I have these fantastic friends that call themselves “The Outer Circle.” They’re urban missionaries among homeless hippie travellers in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. They intentionally seek out and befriend people on society’s ragged edge. Their motto is to “invite the lonely, the outcast, and the wanderer into restoration of their entire beings by drawing them to Christ, giving them what they have, bringing them into community, and being their friends.” Most of their friends are drug addicts, slightly-to-severely mentally ill people, and socially awkward individuals that most church goers wouldn’t want to sit next to in their sterile pews. On Mondays I go with them to the park where we bring coffee and make pancakes on a camp stove in order to share our friendship with those who come out of the bushes, thus their name “Outer Circle.”

The “Inner Circle” is a common phrase people use to describe an elite few in a larger organization. Sometimes we use it for those closest to Jesus, the three disciples (Peter, James, and John) who were given special opportunities to be in the room when Jesus did extraordinary miracles. Evidently, he brought them into certain privileged circumstances because later he would call upon them for unique tasks.

On the other hand, it seems that Jesus spent a lot of energy trying to teach his “Inner Circle” to care about the “Outer Circle.” He wanted their circle to have a porous and penetrable perimeter in order to include castoffs. He didn’t want their inside sphere to become a barrier that would keep them away from those who needed him – and them – the most.

Where are you on the not-so-merry-go-round, sequestered in the center or out where the adventure is?

Calling all Outer Circlers. Share this post and its sequels with all your Inner Circle friends.

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