Archive for March, 2014|Monthly archive page

“Disputatious” Christians

Last Sunday, our pastor talked about famous Christians who are dropping out of church.

One of them, author Anne Rice, became a believer 10 years ago and recently announced she was leaving the church while remaining a Christian.

She said: “It’s simply impossible for me to ‘belong’ to this quarrelsome, hostile, disputatious, and deservedly infamous group.”

Quite a damning statement.

Our pastor’s main point in his sermon was that the church is vital to Christian growth and the Christian life. I agree with him.

Yet, I am troubled by the truth of Anne Rice’s statement. It is hard to find a church where there is not a dispute of some kind.

As Christians, we are called to love one another. Not necessarily to be “best buddies” with everyone, although that would be great. But certainly to care for each other and want the best for one another.

Like most Christians, I have differences of view and opinion with other Christians. Yet, over the years, I have come to realize that forcing my view on someone else never works.

In the end, what is more important – building loving, Christ-like relations with others, or winning my point?

Of course, there are cases where churches make serious theological mistakes or other spiritually-damaging errors. These have to be opposed by believers.

But, my reading of the Bible is that I should not demean the person I disagree with. Instead, I should go to the limit and pray God’s blessing on him or her. I should seek his good in prayer and in my dealings with him.

I confess to having wrong feelings about some people who don’t see things my way. God wants me to deal with these feelings by asking him for forgiveness and for praying God’s peace and blessing on those people.

I have to always keep in mind that I could be wrong about my cherished viewpoint. Or, it is possible God is moving in our church in a way that I had not anticipated. Perhaps he wants to use the person I disagree with to advance his kingdom.

I will continue to seek what I believe is right for our church. But I am also convinced I must love those I disagree with and pursue godly relations with them.

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Honesty is the best policy?

Should we be “nice Christians” or “honest Christians”? Is it possible to be both?

A group of us from our church attended a seminar this week where the presenters argued that we believers need to be honest with each other. In fact, one presenter said the Canadian tendency to be nice to each other can sometimes lead to failed churches.

The seminar was put on by the Canadian branch of the Willow Creek Association, a group affiliated to the Willow Creek Community Church in Chicago which promotes good leadership.

Bill Hybels, lead pastor of Willow Creek Church, said in a video interview that he has practiced honesty with his staff, his leadership team, and the church for many years. He said leaders tend to avoid talking about 10 per cent of the things they see in each other – out of fear of offending or for other reasons.

But that can lead to problems. Issues that are swept under the carpet have a tendency to reappear at awkward moments. Or, people leave.

Yet if people are brutally honest, they can create just as serious problems. No one likes to be attacked and denigrated.

So, Hybels repeatedly tells people in his congregation that they must ask permission before sharing difficult things. And they must couch their statements as positively as possible – looking to help others improve and grow as individuals.

There are some things, he said, that need to be shared – no matter how hard. But you can give the other person time to prepare himself or herself by asking permission and saying that you will share it with them at a later date.

A key to dealing with these difficult problems is a “culture of honesty” in the church. If the pastor and leaders constantly talk about this and practice it, the idea of loving honesty will take roots in the church as a whole.

Practicing honesty in the church takes skill. But I believe it is possible to be honest and loving at the same time.

Father

Years ago, a friend told me he had a hard time thinking of God as “father” because his own father had been so abusive.

I have no such problem. I loved and greatly admired my father. Over time, I came to see his weaknesses; but these flaws could not obscure the fact that we loved each other.

Yet there are many people who were hurt by their fathers and have a hard time loving God for that reason.

As I write those words, I think of another friend whose father abandoned his family when my friend was in his early teens. It seems to have coloured his view of God whom he sees as a judge but not as a loving father. He cannot grasp the fact that Jesus died for him because God loves him so much he wants an eternal relationship with him.

These views are so widespread in society today that whole ministries have been created to help people understand the “father-heart” of God.

I have been meditating on God as my father recently. What does it mean to be a son of the Most High God?

For one thing, it means that my heavenly father sacrificed everything that was most precious to him so that I might become his son. He sent Jesus to die for me and my sins. He did this so that the great obstacle to becoming his son would be cleared away.

That shows how keen God the Father was to have me as his son.

It means, too, that I will never be fatherless. God will not abandon me. He will always be with me – even after my physical death. As the apostle Paul says in Romans 8:38, nothing can separate me from the love of God.

Also, as my father, God is there to guide me when I need guidance – and I need it daily. Like an earthly father counseling a small child, he knows my needs better than I do.

And he is my provider, arranging things so that I have enough to keep alive.

Of course, many people do not see this.

You have to live as a child of God to understand.