His face was covered with a full beard. His hair fell almost to his shoulders. When he smiled, his white teeth flashed in contrast to the blanket of brown that concealed his skin. His eyes were blue, clear, and alert. His laughter was strong and familiar to my ears. It reminded me of the times we sat together as friends in seminary, wrestling with reason and trying to unscrew the inscrutable.
He’s now working at a restaurant, playing bluegrass in a four-piece combo. He also has an exciting ministry in a small church where he works with couples. As we had in the old days, we kicked around all sorts of subjects: his marriage, John Denver, the “Body concept” of the local church, banjos and fiddles . . . and the spiritual hunger on university campuses today. That’s what we talked about, but we communicated more, much more.
Despite the separation of the years and the difference in our current lifestyles, we were inseparably linked as one in the bond of love. It seems so stupid to me that fellowship must be limited to the narrow ranks prescribed by a grim-and-narrow mind-set. Just because I prefer a certain style or attire doesn’t mean that it’s best . . . nor that it’s for everyone . . . nor that the opposite taste is any less pleasing to God.
This gross intolerance of those who don’t fit our mold reveals itself in a stoic stare or a caustic comment. Such legalistic and prejudiced reactions will thin the ranks of the local church faster than fire in the basement or flu in the pew.
If you question that, take a serious look at Paul’s letter to the Galatians. His pen flowed with heated ink as he rebuked them for “deserting” Christ (1:6), “nullifying the grace of God” (2:21), becoming “bewitched” by legalism (3:1), and desiring “to be enslaved” by this crippling disease (4:9).
Sure there are limits to our freedom. Grace doesn’t condone license. Love has its biblical restrictions. The opposite of legalism is not “do as you please.” But listen! The limitations of liberty are far broader than most of us realize.
So, the next time you’re in Dallas you might want to look up my friend Larry. He plays great mandolin in a top-notch bluegrass combo. He still loves Christ, but he never forces it on you. If you can get beyond his hairy face, you’ll find a humble heart.
The bonds of love that bind us are greater than the boundaries that separate us.