October 28, 2014 | Steve Vistaunet

Jim and Harold stood chatting on either side of the fence between their adjoining yards. They’d been best friends forever, and this was where small talk occasionally drifted into deeper waters. Today was no exception.

“Remember recess time back in grade school?” said Jim.

“Sure,” replied Harold, “every time Sheri asks me to take out the garbage.”

“I loved it,” continued Jim. “The bell would ring, and we couldn’t get outside fast enough!”

“Yeah, but you were one of the guys that were good at everything,” sighed Harold. “First one picked every time on the team. I was the unlucky one standing until there was no other choice.”

“Didn’t seem to slow you down too much in life,” retorted Jim. In his heyday, Harold had been president of his own high-tech firm, which in turn had been swallowed up by a multinational company for several hundred million smackers. “A lot of us who thought we were big stuff in school ended up working for guys like you. Our muscle cells exceeded our brain cells.”

“Ah,” chuckled Harold, “good buddy, you were smarter than you looked.”

“Kind of sticks with you, though,” he continued. “Being the last one chosen makes you feel like you don’t really belong. ‘You’re on the team, pal, but go sit down there on the end of the bench. Don’t call us, we’ll call you.’ Sure, you’re there with the gang, but no one really wants you there. You’re not an asset; you’re a liability.”

“Yes, but we talked about that at the men’s Bible study last weekend,” said Jim. “Seems to me we’ve got to have clear standards on who gets to claim membership on God's team, or else the quality of our church will suffer. We can’t have people on board that misrepresent Christ or His mission. We can’t just open the gates and say ‘Ollee ollee in come free,’ can we?"

“Well, I’m a walking testimony of those who were once considered to be substandard,” said Harold. “But, given the right environment, things changed. In my opinion, church should be the place where things change, where God is able to move us beyond status quo. I’m not sure it’s up to us to decide who gets to be on God’s team. That’s His work. Paul was a persecutor and murderer. Peter, a loose cannon. David, a philanderer. Would you have chosen them?”

“Okay,” replied Jim. “Touché. But what do you do with someone who wants to define their own terms? You know, 'accept me the way I am, or else.'"

“I hear you,” said Harold. “God's Word has got to be our benchmark. But we humans sometimes forget that God sends the Holy Spirit to everyone, not just those that measure up in our eyes.”

“And, more often than not,” he mused, “the Spirit convicts someone like me. Someone who'd be the last person we'd pick, standing there at the end of the line.”