Some people are bitter. Some people are hurting. Some people are stressed. Some people are hardened. Some people are lonely. Some people are overwhelmed. Some people are directionless. Some people are entangled in sin. Some people are desperate. Some people are confused. Some people are fed up. Some people are running on empty. And all of these people need love. May the church be a people who loves them. All of them.
An actor admitted the story about his September 11 escape from the World Trade Center was untrue. For 14 years he has been repeating this lie. Doesn’t it make you wonder why people pull stunts like this? While I don’t positively know his motives, I do know that many people are desperate for acceptance. The church can make a difference when we accept others as Christ has accepted us.
Donald Miller writes, “What if the whole idea you were in competition with everybody around you was a lie? What if you were just supposed to connect and enjoy?” We live in a hyper-competitive world. We want to compete and win in sports, academics, the corporate world, politics, and I’m afraid, even in church. What would happen in church if we were to just relax and connect?
“Dear brothers and sisters, if another believer is overcome by some sin, you who are godly should gently and humbly help that person back onto the right path” (Galatians 6:1 NLT).
Following Jesus means getting involved with people. Sometimes this means seeing people at their best, in their happiest moments. So, like Jesus, we find ourselves celebrating at a wedding. Other times this means seeing people at their worst, in their broken moments. So, like Jesus, we find ourselves with a person caught red-handed in sin.
Years ago in a church far away I found myself with a church leader whose extramarital affair had just been revealed. This brother had worked hard to present himself as a sincere follower of Christ. He was a master of disguise who could create the illusion of an honest and morally upright family man. When his mask was pulled off, he was revealed to be something very different.
Sometimes having your sins revealed, especially in a public way, can provide a much needed opportunity to come clean and have a fresh start. As ministers, elders, and other church friends responded to this unmasked adulterer, we had hopes the situation could somehow result in repentance and bring glory to God. We met with “Billy” – praying for him, listening to him, and providing counsel for him. We reached out to his wife and children. We cried out to God for healing. We discreetly did all we could, without broadcasting details of this restoration process.
What happened next surprised me. Billy stopped taking our phone calls, refused lunch invitations, declined prayer opportunities, and began missing church gatherings. But while he stopped talking to church leaders and friends who were reaching out to him, he began talking to others in the church. In fact, he would talk to anyone who would listen, even reluctantly, to his complaints.
- “Nobody has reached out to me to help me.”
- “The elders are hypocrites; they haven’t even tried to call me.”
- “None of my so-called friends care enough to reach out.”
- “I guess the minister doesn’t have time for a sinner like me.”
And so he left the church, but not before trying to do as much damage as he could on the way out. After we began hearing these accusations of neglect, church leaders and friends continued to reach out to him. After all, we knew he was hurting and his life was reeling in the wake of his scandalous behavior.
What happened next surprised me even more. People from the church began calling me, the elders, and friends of Billy. They had been getting the phone calls from Billy in which he lashed out against the ones who lovingly and graciously helped him get a fresh start. One family was so disgusted by the lack of response to Billy that they left the church and wrote an angry letter on their way out. The letter didn’t ask questions to verify the stuff Billy was saying. The letter assumed Billy’s stuff was true and blasted the church leadership for not reaching out to him.
What’s an elder, minister, or friend to do? Do we broadcast to the church (especially to the family who left) all that had been done to help Billy? Do we try to defend ourselves against the charges? Do we grow bitter and decide to never get involved in another situation like this? I think the answer to each of these questions is, no. We do what God has called us to do – gently restore the person caught in sin. We cannot control how people react, but we can control how we act.
On a recent morning I stopped at a QuikTrip convenience store to fill up the car with gas. The temperature was in the single digits. The wind chill was even lower. There I stood — coat zipped tight, hat and gloves on, yet still freezing – as I refilled my tank. You know the gauge had to be below empty for me to choose to refill in that weather.
As I stood there shivering, huddled over the nozzle, I noticed another car coming in for fuel at the pump next to where I was standing. The condition of this car made me momentarily forget how cold it was. The car windows were covered with ice. I am not talking about frost, I am talking about ice. When I say “ice,” I mean “a thick layer of ice.” I wondered how the driver could possibly see to drive safely.
Then I noticed on the driver’s side of the windshield there was a small section, perhaps 10 inches wide by 8 inches tall, which had been scraped clean. Before I drove away I walked around all sides of this vehicle to make sure I was seeing it correctly. Every window was coated with a thick layer of ice except that very small section of the windshield. The driver had just enough room to peek out through the windshield and see the road right in front of the car.
At first I laughed as I drove away, thinking how the driver had probably prevented frostbite on a finger or two. But the more I thought about it the laughter stopped. It began to dawn on me how dangerous it was to drive with the windows in that condition. As I drove toward my destination, my thoughts turned to living in community.
Truth is, many people go through life like that driver that morning – looking only at what is right in front of them.
They do not look back to learn from their mistakes and failures. They cannot see people in their rear-view mirror who have been affected (positively or negatively) by their interaction. They cannot see people they have encouraged by recent conversation. They cannot see people they have built up and helped through a difficult time. Neither can they see people left reeling after a recent encounter. They don’t see people left hurting and discouraged by careless words.
They cannot see the people to their left and right. They don’t see people who are on the journey with them. The people with whom they might need to merge. The people to whom they might should yield. The people who have a similar destination and might need some help along the way. They are unaware of people who might make a mistake by swerving to the right or left and entering space that should be theirs.
They cannot see all those out in front of them. They are unable to have a clear vision of those who may be moving forward in the same direction but in a different lane. They have no idea whether the people in the next lane are making progress and whether a lane change would be appropriate. They can see only the person who might be directly in front of them. They cannot see road signs ahead that communicate directions, warnings, safety rules, and even location.
The call of God is the call to live in community. That means we need to see more than what is directly in front of us. We are on a journey together. We are not lone rangers or solitary travelers. We live in community. Community means that when we make a decision we do so with the community in mind. Do we realize that our choices and decisions might affect people in front of us, behind us, and beside us? Do we realize that failing to consider the people all around us might lead to a disastrous crash?
So when we are tempted to scrape only a peep hole in the windshield ice, we need to stop, put on some gloves, and take the time to clear all of our windows before hitting the road. The choice is between living in community or living selfishly, which is really a choice between living or not living.
In her article Why Is It Hard to Be Broken in Church? in Relevant Magazine, Anne Jackson says, “Sometimes it’s hard to be honest about yourself in church, but we can change that.”
Sex addiction divides mental health experts by Shari Roan was published in the Los Angeles Times in March of this year. She writes: “Is extreme sexual acting out an obsessive-compulsive disorder, a sign of depression or just bad behavior? ‘If we are looking at a disorder, it’s not clear what that disorder is,’ one expert says.”
“Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2).
Compared to many people I know, my life has been relatively uneventful. However, throughout the course of my life I have had some difficult days.
I have had burdens to bear.
Sometimes my burdens have resulted from my being caught up in sin. At different times my burdens have been the result of others being caught up in sin.
Sometimes the burdens have been easy enough to manage. At different times the burdens have been heavy, almost unbearable.
At all times God has been faithful.
At all times Christian brothers and sisters have been right there with me to help carry the load.
As I remember those who have walked beside me and helped carry my burdens, I am reminded that others have burdens, too.
Sometimes their burdens are easy to manage. At different times their burdens are heavy, almost unbearable.
Sometimes their burdens are the result of their sin. At different times their burdens are the result of my sin.
At all times God is faithful to them. The question is, am I?
Am I willing to walk alongside someone who is hurting?
Am I willing to help carry their burdens?
As I ponder this passage I realize I have much for which to be thankful. And I regularly have burden carrying opportunities.
What I need to remember, what we all need to remember, is that carrying burdens for each other is exactly how God wants us to live our lives.
Thank you for providing burden bearers for me.
Forgive me when I burden others by sinning against them.
Forgive me when I am too tired or disinterested to carry burdens not my own.
Empower me to live out your law by bearing burdens.
Your kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven.
In the name of Jesus,