I remember as a child at our front door at home was a mat on which was printed in large letters: Welcome. As a youngster I didn’t fully understand what all that meant, but the older I got the more I realized my folks were the kind of hospitable people that whoever came to the door would be welcomed. You do not see as many welcome mats as you used to. It seems to me that we’ve kind of lost that expression of life toward whoever might come to the door. We live in the Hospitality State. Honestly, it seems to me that we still have a gracious, open heart to people to get to know them, to help them, just to be with them. I see that from time to time and always see positive things happening around that kind of experience.
I recently met a lady who had been transferred by her company to Mississippi, and I was asking her about her experience in coming here. She was actually born in a U.S. territory and, having been raised outside the boundaries of the United States proper, she decided after graduation from high school that she would join the United States military. She not only joined the military, she served and served honorably and with great distinction. After over twenty years serving in our U.S. military, she retired as a colonel and continued working with a defense company. She had lived all over the United States and traveled around the world but had never lived in Mississippi. Of course she had heard about Mississippi, most of the time in an unfavorable light and sometimes just in a demeaning or despicable manner. Her company assigned her to come and live in Mississippi and work with an extension of the company located in our state.
She began to tell me of her experiences. She had never met so many friendly people at work, away from work, at the grocery store, or just somewhere she might need to buy something. People were friendly, open, and gracious. Receiving her assignment to come to Mississippi she was somewhat stunned by the fact that she was going to have to move here thinking, You’ve got to be kidding… Mississippi? …Surely not. Here she was, however, and immersed in an atmosphere of care and kindness and friendliness like she had never seen. It was not long until she made her way to one of our Baptist churches and there found the same kind of welcome, except it was heightened from what she had already experienced. In fact, she had not had one bad experience in the entire time of moving here. Is that always the norm? Probably not, but the very positive atmosphere of welcome is the norm for so many people. You and I may get used to it; in fact, we may even get to the place where we see the deficiencies we have and think things are not good, but there is still a wonderful welcome in Mississippi.
God challenges all of us to be involved in being a part of the welcome committee to His family, His work, His saving power. He closes out His Book by laying down a welcome mat involving all He came to do for us and the salvation He purchased for us. In Revelation 22:17 (KJV), we read, “And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely.” Welcome to anyone and everyone. Oh, that every one of us would allow God to use us to be a part of the welcoming committee for whoever is searching for new life in Christ, even some who stumble onto our paths and into our churches who do not know that they’re even looking and that they actually are lost.
Who is welcome in God’s family? Maybe the best known verse in the Bible gives us the best picture. It can stay in the forefronts of our minds when it says, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16 KJV) The people who are welcome are everyone — sinners. That’s you and me: people who are in the deep grip of sin and others who do not even know they are separated from God. They’re still welcome to come, hear, and experience the amazing love of God in the midst of His people.
Maybe it’s worth most of us thinking about who is unwelcome. This becomes a more difficult thing to think about because it’s hard to find anyone who is not welcome although sometimes we make a pretty good list of such people. Jesus said, “All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out.” (John 6:37 KJV) You are welcome. The people of Jesus’ day, especially the religious elite, had a pretty good list of people who were really not welcome. There were people who for the most part were different from them. Maybe they had a different background or skin color or theological perspective, but Jesus said He was not going to refuse anyone. All I can do is stop and praise God or else He may have said that I was unwelcome or you were unwelcome, but He didn’t and He doesn’t and the welcome mat of God is open to free salvation and transformation of life and eternity because of Jesus.
A thief dying on the cross saw the welcome mat of God. A blind man on the side of the road heard the wonder of the welcome. A woman who had been abused and used and misused coming to draw water discovered she was welcome. A fallen disciple who messed up big time realized that the grace of God laid down the welcome mat for him. You are welcome because of God’s grace and I am so thankful that I am welcome, but who is on your unwelcome list? Sometimes it seems that we are more passionate about the people we don’t want in our church than we are about the people we need to be reaching. Revelation 22:17 is so clear that God seems to be turning His head around to everyone and with love in His eyes and a nod from His heart, He says, “You are welcome. Come. Let the Spirit and the Bride say, come.” You and me get involved in saying, “Come.” Why? Not just to be hospitable but so everyone everywhere might receive the saving, life-giving work of Jesus in their lives.The door is open. The welcome mat is out. Come and experience Jesus. Enjoy Jesus, and then turn and welcome others.
Part one of a two-part series. The author can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.