When Michael was 12 years old he went to summer camp with a friend from another church. At the end of the week Michael's mom picked him up.
It turned out that his camp counselor for the week had been another boy's dad. When Michael's mom asked the man how her son had done at camp, he told her (in front of the little boy and anyone within earshot) that he'd spent quite a bit of time in trouble. His crime? He was throwing rocks at trees.
Well, isn't that what 12-year-old boys do? I understand not wanting others to get hurt, but I'm willing to bet Michael wasn't alone in his rock-throwing.
The volunteer camp counselor then turned his attention to the boy's skateboard shirt. "Look at this shirt", he said to Mom. "Why would you allow your kid to wear something with this message?" Mom was shocked and Michael was embarrassed by the man's judgmental finger-pointing. He couldn't find one positive or nice thing to say about the little boy or the week they'd just spent together at a Christian camp.
Michael is now 16 and a junior in high school. This past summer he went back to camp. Once again, his mom dropped him off. The same dad was there - ready to be a volunteer counselor for the week. As soon as Michael spotted the man, he pointed him out to his mom and told her how glad he was that he'd been assigned to a different leader's group.
Like it or not, kids are learning about who Jesus is from us. I don't know whether or not Jesus would've approved of the skateboarder shirt, but I do know that he would've responded lovingly and gently. Jesus doesn't leave us with feelings of dread or condemnation, and he doesn't embarrass us by exposing our faults in public.
Kids often feel that Christian adults don't even like them. I'm willing to bet that in some cases - they're right. Jesus loved the little kids and wanted them close to him - no matter what they were wearing.
In Matthew 18 Jesus lays out for us the way we should deal with sin in the church among believers.
Step 1: Take out a Facebook page detailing why you hate that person. Oh wait, that would be my human way of taking care of the problem. Oh come on, don't act like you haven't thought about doing that very thing so everyone can share the pain inflicted on you by haters and abusers.
Step 1 (for real): "...go and point out their fault, just between the two of you."JUST BETWEEN THE TWO OF YOU. Tell me, what part of "just between the two of you" do most Christians seem to not understand?
Step 2: If they do not listen, take a couple of trusted believers along with you so that there will be witnesses. Don't take the gossiping church ladies with you to do this. Take along someone who shows discernment, compassion, and who knows how to keep his or her mouth shut.
Step 3: If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church. I think this is a very misused scripture. I've known many Christians who've made some very human mistakes and were made to stand up in front of the entire congregation to confess and ask forgiveness. People who had no idea that a sin had been committed were given information they didn't need to have.
If you really take time to study the original writings, I think you'd find that "tell it to the church" actually means a bigger group than just two or three, but NOT the whole congregation. In today's context it would be more likely that Jesus would say, Tell your small group so that more of you can pray for, love on, and encourage the one who's gone astray.
Step 4: If they don't listen to the church, treat them like a pagan or tax collector.
Hmmm.... Treat them like a pagan or tax collector. So, shun them, tell everyone you know they wronged you, and ensure their rightful place outside the church doors. Right?
But wait, what kind of relationship did Jesus have with pagans and tax collectors? Guess what - he pursued them! He had dinner with them! In Mark we read how Jesus called out Levi from the tax collector's booth and said, "Follow me". Jesus then attended a dinner party with all of Levi's friends and there he dined with, laughed with, and shared conversation with "sinners and tax collectors".
Zacchaeus was not only a tax collector, but was the CHIEF tax collector - a really bad guy. Jesus went to his house for dinner. Read the story yourself in Luke 19.
Jesus pursued the sinners and tax collectors. He hung out with them. I promise you that if Jesus were here today, we'd see him at Starbucks having a cup of coffee with sex offenders, thieves, addicts, embezzlers, and every sinner imaginable. He'd be having coffee with me - with you!
We might be able to help reconcile one of God's prodigal kids back to the Lord over a burger, or a cup of coffee. What greater joy could there be? Why do we shun and isolate?
Get off the shunning pew and back into relationship. Get off the pew!
"Martha" is 73 years old and has been a faithful member of the same church for over 40 years. After her husband died she began volunteering her time at the church she loved.
Recently the young and fairly new pastor was teaching a series on Biblical principles for sex.
Once a week Martha came in to help prepare for the Sunday services. She would often stuff the bulletins with weekly announcements. A few weeks ago, as she was stuffing, she told another volunteer that she was old, widowed, and that her sexual days were behind her. Therefore, she said, she didn't feel the need to attend any of the services during the "Biblical Sex" series.
A couple of days later Martha was called into the office by the pastor. She was called on the carpet for "gossiping" and was told she was no longer welcome at the church.
Martha wasn't gossiping - she was merely stating her opinion in a (supposedly) safe place and to a friend. The "friend", by the way, is a tattle-tail gossip. What was her purpose in going to the pastor with the contents of a private conversation? As I understand it, that woman is still a welcomed parishioner.
Okay Pastor, get off your pew of self-love and wild insecurity. Not everyone is going to think every word that comes from your mouth is a gold nugget. Get over yourself!
Over the past year there has been a lot of controversy surrounding Mars Hill Church in Seattle, Washington. There was a public brouhaha surrounding the dismissal of a church member named Andrew.
The facts of the case have been made public. Andrew admitted to his fiancé that he cheated on her. As one would expect, she was devastated. Realizing that he needed to be held accountable, he sought out his "community group" leader, confessed to him, and asked for prayer. Oh, and Andrew admitted to having sex with his fiancé.
From there, all hell broke loose. The community leader told other leaders and the pastor eventually learned about Andrew's indiscretion. The entire church body was informed that there was a "wolf" in the flock and that he was under official church discipline. The members were told to shun Andrew - do not eat with him, do not talk with him, and walk away when you see him in public.
I realize that this is old news to many of you, but I want to address how Mars Hill Church defends its actions in a blog post:
In talking about the difference between confession and repentance, we should first distinguish true confession from various false forms of confession. True confession is agreeing with God that we’ve sinned and naming the sin as God would name it. An example of false confession might be to give partial details in a way that glosses over the severity of the sin. In that case, one’s hidden intention is actually not to bring the sin out into the light, but rather to offer true words as a decoy that keeps the underlying sin in the dark. In any case, confession amounts to bringing sin out into the light by telling the truth about it. To confess is to only to speak of a sin; to repent is to follow up a confession with change.
Mars Hill clearly makes a practice of judging a man's heart, intentions, and truth telling. How dare they claim spiritual authority equal to or above that of God. What happened to "judge not, lest you be judged"?
I know EXACTLY how Andrew feels. I was accused of having nefarious intentions behind completely innocent actions. One accusation made against me was this goody, "You saw me walking toward you in the hall at church and you turned and walked the other way. I have no choice but to assume you're jealous of me." Crazy? Well, judging the intentions of another person is not only crazy, but also wrong on every level.
I have no patience for pompous Pharisees who practice public humiliation. Jesus went to the woman at the well when she was completely alone. In another instance, men were ready to stone a prostitute, but Jesus silently began writing in the dirt and one by one, the men dropped their stones. It has been surmised that Jesus was writing the sins of the men in the sand. He didn't publicly humiliate or call people out - he just gently reminded them of their own past weaknesses.
Get off the pew of public humiliation. Stop shunning, and get back to some good old fashioned relationship building. Get off the pew (and away from Mars Hill).
P.S. Andrew, wherever you are, I hope you're doing well and that you know how very much God loves you.
Brenda and Eric are 28 years old and have been friends since kindergarten. Eric is gay.
The other day Eric said to me, "Brenda's mom is crazy." He told his story.
Whenever Eric goes to visit Brenda, her mom greets him at the door and then slips into a nearby room where he can hear her pray. She prays for Eric's salvation and for the spirit of homosexuality to flee his body. She prays loudly enough for him to hear her!
How sad it is that Eric uses the word, "crazy" to describe this Christian mom. There are so many other words that seem a bit more Christ-like. Loving. Kind. Warm. Authentic. Accepting. Hospitable. Those are a few that come to mind immediately.
I don't begrudge Brenda's mom for praying, but instead of loving Eric unconditionally, she's driving him away and perpetuating the ugly stereotyping of all Christians as gay-bashers and homophobes.
Get off the pew and recognize that we should be known by our love. Get off the pew.
Mark Driscoll's comments are disgusting and shameful.
If people don't agree with his vision, he has no trouble running them over. He goes so far as to say that "by God's grace" there will be a "mountain" of dead bodies behind the Driscoll/Mars Hill Church bus.
I've been brought to my knees as I've been reading the powerful book, "The Hole In Our Gospel" by Richard Stearns (president of World Vision).
Martin Luther King Jr. said, "In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends." He was referring to the white pastors and the white Christian church. Surely, they would stand with him and defend him as the black/white issues of the day were issues of mercy and justice - things Jesus stood for.
But the white church was largely silent. In fact, some pastors called Dr. King a "tool of the devil". Of course, some white believers stood for and with Dr. King, but the silence of his "friends" was deafening.
When the AIDS crisis first began making headlines, the Church stayed silent for way to long. Those not silent were largely critical. Some said AIDS was God's curse on the homosexual community, and the disease was what they deserved. Where was the compassion, the love, the mercy?
I'm happy to report that more and more believers are rising up to meet the physical, spiritual, and emotional needs of AIDS patients, but we are still falling so short. We fall short in taking care of the hungry, the poor, the uneducated, and the broken.
There are hungry and homeless Christ-followers living in abject poverty all over the world. They are our brothers and sisters - they are God's kids. We sit here in America on our fat wallets and in our comfortable homes and we do little.
Here are some startling statistics as outlined in "The Hole In Our Gospel":
$168 billion - The extra money available if all American churchgoers tithed.
$705 billion - Amount Americans spend on entertainment and recreation.
$179 billion - Amount spent by teenagers ages 12-17 (2006).
$65 billion - Amount we spend on jewelry.
$58 billion - Amount spent on state lottery tickets (2007).
$39.5 billion - Total U.S.-government foreign assistance budget for the world.
$31 billion - Amount sent on pets (2003).
$13 billion - Amount spent by Americans on cosmetic surgery (2007).
$5 billion - Total overseas ministries income to 700 Protestant mission agencies, including denominational, interdenominational, and independent agencies (2005).
Further, "Universal primary education for children would cost just $6 billion; the cost to bring clean water to most of the world's poor, an estimated $9 billion; and basic health and nutrition for everyone in the world, $13 billion." - A Hole In Our Gospel
We've got to get off the pew and stop sitting silently in our big fancy churches. We complain about music and preaching styles. We gossip about the people whose kids are rebelling. We do all this while our brothers and sisters in Christ who happen to live on the other side of the world (or maybe next door) are dying at an alarming rate - from preventable diseases like MALNUTRITION!! It is shameful.
Communion (or The Lord's Supper), as most of you know, is a time during the church service when we are reminded of Christ's sacrifice for us. We drink some wine (or grape juice) to represent Jesus' spilt blood, and we eat a tiny bland, dry cracker to represent his broken body. I confess that I have always wished for a better tasting cracker.
But I digress.
Several years ago, one of the "church ladies" gossiped and judged me right out of the church. She shook her little finger of spiritual condemnation my way and convinced one of the leaders that I was not worthy to play a tiny servant role in ministry. The job went to her.
Time has gone on. She no longer has the position of authority that she once held, and I've come back to the congregation - much to her chagrin. Oh well.
When the communion elements were being passed, I saw immediately that the church lady's husband was serving the people in my section of seats. I've got to say that I was pleased and amazed at how God was working things out. This man was going to serve me. What better way for reconciliation and love, then to be served by someone who had once opposed me?
When the man got to me - grape juice and crackers in hand - he went past me to the other end of the pew. He ignored me, and refused to serve me.
A server from the other side of the aisle crossed over and gave me the wine and bread.
It made me sad to know that years have gone by, and this man still (apparently) harbors...I don't know...something toward me. Is it anger? Bitterness? Guilt? Judgment? Pride? I can't possibly know what motivated him to pass me by, but I know it wasn't right.
The Church uses 1 Corinthians, chapter 11 as an admonishment to believers about the condition one's heart must be in to be worthy to take communion. I suppose the plate passer might justify not serving me if he holds anything against me. I say that NONE of us are TRULY worthy to take or to serve communion, and he missed an opportunity for heart restoration.
Look, Jesus washed Peter's feet, even knowing that Peter would betray him. Jesus set the example for us. We serve - even those with whom we disagree. We serve.
I'm very disappointed that the church lady's husband missed the opportunity to smile, make eye contact, and take a baby step toward reconciliation. I think God was trying to do a great thing on Sunday, and the man missed out.
Get off the pew and quit holding on to past junk. Let God do the good stuff. He wants so much good stuff for us. Why won't we let him?
My friend was going through a very difficult divorce - not that every divorce isn't difficult. It certainly wasn't something she desired, and the breakdown of her marriage was devastating.
My friend had raised her kids in the church, and the whole family had been members of a particular congregation for many years.
One day she got a call from her long-time pastor. He said, "Now that you and your husband are getting a divorce, we think it's better that one of you leave. We think it should be you."
Divorcing couples go to court to decide who gets custody of kids, dogs, furniture, goldfish - even friends. Shouldn't the decision to stay or leave a church family be left up to the husband and wife as well?
What are pastors thinking when they do this? Seriously. I'd love to know. What Biblical truth or standard do they use when they do this kind of thing? It's bad enough that children have to walk through the dissolution of their family, but now they have to choose whether to stay at Dad's church, or go someplace new with mom?
Kids are watching you pastors. They're watching and listening. How can you preach grace from the pulpit, but fail to show grace to a hurting part of the body? I'm guessing my friend needed her church family to put their arms around her and hold her hand during the rough waters of divorce. Why would you push her out of the boat without so much as a flotation device?
I think we should keep the broken and hurting as close to us as possible. They need us to pray for them, love them, and be intimately aware of their needs. We need to be part of the healing - not part of the pain.
Get off the pew of judgment, and extend the hand of grace and love.