Wednesday, April 13, 2011

My Mentor - Pt. 3 The Most Threatening Virtue

One of the huge missed opportunities in our churches is intergenerational connection. So many of our churches spread five generations, yet we only seem to experience the pain of those differences rather than the joy.

In fact, I've argued in the past that the church's current struggles are the fault of modern medical science with its increased life expectancy. Paul likely never had to deal with bringing a congregation of 5 generations together. Yet, I wonder if there are hidden benefits we miss.

Which leads me to a story...

In 8th grade, my family began attending the Highland Oaks Church of Christ in Dallas, Texas. I was a leader in the youth group and after leaving for college, I served as a summer preaching intern there as well. My dad serves as an elder there. It's my home church when I return home.

However, I never met my mentor who shared the same church home with me all of those years until about three years ago. We'll call him Jim (I changed his name to protect the guilty.) After I entered ministry, Jim pursued me and invited me to lunch.

Now, Jim was a preacher in Churches of Christ until he was divorced, which was the end of his professional ministry career. But since then, he has served as a beloved teacher and mentor of other young ministers. I've been blessed to receive his love, prayers, and advice. Every time I've returned to Dallas since then, we've caught up over lunch and I've shared my musings from ministry. Unfortunately, in the last few months, the doctors told them he only had a few months left due to an aggressive form of cancer. He has handled this announcement with so much grace and love.

I remember our first encounter over lunch vividly three years ago. With a stomach full of excellent pizza, we returned back to his house for hours of swapping stories about ministry. He listened as I (the young, naive minister) shared my struggles, concerns, and questions.

Finally, I shared with him my struggle over how to deal with judging people in their sin. I shared with him my desire to love people while acknowledging the need to judge them "so as not to let sin get a stranglehold" or some bizarre reason I can't currently recall.

Jim smiled and asked me a piercing question that will roll through my head for years to come. He said, "And what role do you feel God has called you play in this matter?"

I told him, "I'm called to love the person."

He responded, "Is there any other role you play?"

And I thought and responded, "Well, as the preacher, it must also be my role to judge the person. I can't allow sin to go unchecked. I must let them know the truth."

He said, "Is that your role?"

Our continuing discussion that day changed me forever. What is our role as Christians when it comes to judging others?

Well, in the past, as one with the truth, I've been confident in my ability to judge others. When you know you're right, it's easy to commence with the judging. Having colonized God and knowing he's on our side,it's an easy and inevitable next step to arrogantly judge others who struggle with greater sins, which often brings alienation rather than restoration. Interestingly enough, I even judged non-Christians by a standard they had not themselves committed to living out (bizarre really).

But today, I sit in my office with Jim's question still rattling around my brain. What is my role? What is the role of a Christian in bringing about the restoration of God's prodigal children?

First, I think of Jesus' statement in Matthew 7:1-2. He says, "Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you." And then he goes on in a humorous way about planks and specks in people's eyes. Interesting!

Second, I think about Paul's words in Galatians 6:1. He says, "Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently." I don't recall too many attempted interventions with sinners that could be described best by the word "gentle." Important distinction.

Third, I think about Paul's words to the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 3. Guess who brings growth in people's lives. Not us; it's God! We plant the seeds and water them, but God brings the growth.

Which allows us to define our role a bit better. God brings the growth. The Holy Spirit's role is to convict.

Our job is simple. Guess what it is? I bet you could guess.

Our Job: Love.

We are called to love. Love sums up Torah. Love shows that we are connected to the father. Love brings the possibility of restoration.

Shane Claiborne says it well, "I've learned that people can be right and still be mean!"

What we believe is important. But just as important is how we believe what we believe.

Because love wins.

I appreciate my mentor's words. They'll remain with me for a long time.

I'll preach the truth (at least the truth as I perceive it), but no amount of truth that I preach will make up for a unloving Spirit.

But know this: "Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins." - 1 Peter 4:8


Sunday, April 03, 2011

Cranky Church Members - Pt. 2 The Most Threatening Virtue

"Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love." 1 John 4:7-8

It's that simple! If you love, you know God. If you don't love, you don't know God.

So, the world should know the church by what characteristic most? Well, I'll throw a suggestion out there. Perhaps, love.

But surveys show that the first thing unbelievers say about us isn't "You know what bothers me most about Christians? They're just too loving!"

Now, I know, I know. I can just hear some Christians begging me to define love before this gets out of hand. I can just hear some saying, "But love means loving people enough to tell them the truth! It's not loving to let someone perish without letting them know they are in error."

True, but can we just admit that's not exactly the gospel's best definition of love? 1 Corinthians 13 doesn't harp on love being a trait of judging people's eternal destiny. It's more about patience, kindness, and humility...words that rarely get thrown out in discussions about truth. (Save your breath. I know some of you want me to point out that love rejoices in the truth...I'm way ahead of you.)

I'm concerned about the church. But not for our lack of truth...for our lack of love.

Let's face it: In some churches, the longer you go to church, the crankier you get. Ask any of your preachers. I don't have a desk full of angry letters from people under the age of fifty (now I've created more hate because I've defined what it means to be old).

It seems to me that if our churches are spiritually forming people into the image of Jesus, then people who had been in church longest would be the most loving. Let me be honest, that's not always the case.

And I'm not really pointing the finger at our members. I think it's the fault of our leaders. Christians certainly bear some responsibility. But our churches must not exactly be love factories partly because our focus has been on perfect doctrine to the detriment of our loving lives.

The moment one is baptized ought to be the moment a Christian loved least. The love chart ought to be a quick upward trend following that moment.

Perhaps we ought to check the water for more than its temperature because it's not bring the desired outcome when it comes to love.

In the past three weeks, I've had three conversations with people who are upset because of my recent preaching and blogging. All three of those conversations have to do with the dialectic between love and truth.

I get it, we need to pursue truth. But not at the cost of love.

They will know we are Christians by our love. Love is the name on our jersey. It's the name we go by.

I'm just not so sure the world knows it yet?