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Jesus Speaking, "But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you,bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you." - Luke 6:28I was perusing Facebook this morning and came upon an entry responding to the recent antics of Kathy Griffin. The post stated that Kathy Griffin, at an Emmy Award banquet, referred to the Emmy and reportedly said, "Suck it, Jesus. This is my god now!" The person who posted this meme declared that as a Christian-American (an interesting way to identify oneself as a Jesus-follower) this individual has the right to "refuse to watch any show that she may be on or purchase tickets to any event at which she would perform."
Okay, I suppose such an action is this person's "right." However, it was what was called for next that got my attention. This person wrote, "If you pass this on, you will truly have stood up for Jesus Christ."
I guess this is what "standing up for Jesus Christ" looks like in a social media age in America. Passing along a meme and boycotting a person or organization has taken its place of honor alongside such heinous experienced as being stoned, ridiculed and martyred rather than renouncing one's faith and allegiance in Jesus. This just didn't sit well with me.
Why you might ask (then again, maybe you don't)? I have two reasons for my reaction. First, Jesus told His disciples, "Love your enemies! Do good to those who hate you. Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who hurt you” (Luke 6:27.) Whoever originated the Kathy Griffin post said nothing about loving, benefiting, profiting or blessing her. It was all about giving Kathy what this person believes she deserves, punishment for daring to defame the name of Jesus.
Why shouldn't Kathy Griffin say what she did? She's not a believer (before you judge me, check out 1 Corinthians 12:3). Kathy Griffin does not live her life in obedience to the One True God. She lives her life in pursuit of her god, fame, recognition and notoriety. She declared that herself when she said, "This [the Emmy] is my god now!" Kathy Griffin's statement reveals her heart. She has no place for God. Nor does she have knowledge of God. Had she, Kathy griffin would not have said what she did.
But, what do the actions called for the post's author reveal of that person's heart? Rather than calling on "Christians" to be obedient to their Master and pray for Kathy Griffin, instead of asking that Jesus-followers who surround Kathy Griffin (undoubtedly there are some) to show her God's love, this person asks those who profess to believe in Jesus and His Kingdom to punish Ms. Griffin. This is as wrong an action as what Kathy Griffin is being castigated for! Kathy Griffin's actions do not honor God. Neither does behaving in a manner Jesus has clearly told His followers not to do.
Which brings me to my second point, how those who claim to live after the pattern and teachings of Jesus behave in this world. In Paul's second letter to the Corinthians he writes, "Though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh, for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses" (2 Corinthians 10:3-4). As born-again from above creatures, ones who experience daily the new life God offers, we need to conduct ourselves by the standards of God's Kingdom and not by those of this fiefdom. For a time, we live on this plane, the experience of the body. But, the Spirit that lives inside every disciple lives by the nature of God Himself. The Spirit of God seeks to lead us according to the statues and commands of The Kingdom, not the whims and values of this realm.
As a child of God, the laws of this land and the dictates of my human experience are not the guiding factors of my behavior. At least, they are not supposed to be. It is not acceptable for me to respond in kind to a lost society or unredeemed individuals. If I do, how are they to know the reality of God? Whenever I drink to relax my anxiety, spend to satisfy my yearnings, bully to get my way or any number of other behaviors we label "normal," I tell those who see me, "God is not real. He is not a life altering force." It is only when I live a life that is contrary to the majority, but consistent with The One that people are confronted with truth.
Yes, as I live in the nature of God, like Paul, I will be ridiculed. Like James, I will face opposition. Like countless others who have tied their lives to Jesus, I will endure loss. Like Jesus, I may even face death. But, I will do so revealing the very nature of God to people who do not know Him. I will show those individuals who live after their own desires and appetites that God is worth considering and is not to be discarded. If they don't? Then I live faithfully before The One who judges the living and the dead (1 Peter 4:1-8) and it is He whose opinion matters.
Keep in mind, this world is coming to judgment. So are the majority of people who have, are or will live in it. People like Kathy Griffin will have their delight and joy, only to find that an Emmy doesn't impress the real God. With suffering and sadness, they will have to declare the authority of God and endure His rejection.
But, let it not be the people who say they love God who likewise must endure sorrow and grief. When we recount to Him how we have lived, let it bring a smile to God's face and warm His heart. Let our words, relationships and daily interactions with people be seasoned with His grace and nature. For it is not our theology, piety, church buildings or morality that declares to others the reality of God. It is His very person living in us!
It seems there is an ever-growing expectation that achieving success in ministry is the result of finding the right methodology or formula that will ensure congregational growth. I have colleagues in ministry who repeatedly, it seems, look for the next article, blog post, social media thread or conference opportunity that will provide the quickest and most straight-forward strategy, guaranteed to generate success.
My response? There is no such thing as a magic bullet. “Magic Bullet” is a term often used in the field of medicine. It describes the action of a medication which, when administered properly, attacks a specific concern on a cellular level to bring about the desired effect.
In local church life, there is no such thing. Each congregation is different than the next – different people, different history, different community, and different needs. What works well in one place, may or may not work in another.
In addition to those who look for a magic bullet, some of those same colleagues seem to have very little patience. Many conclude that if certain thresholds in such things as attendance, baptisms, and offerings are not met by a specific time, then something is wrong – either with their leadership, or more likely, with the congregation.
A few months ago, another colleague in ministry said something that has stuck with me. He said, “We tend to over-estimate what we can accomplish in one year, and under-estimate what we can accomplish in five years.”
This phrase reminded me of God’s affirmation of His commitment to give Moses and the people the land that was promised to Abraham. In Exodus chapter 23, the angel recounts how God would go before them and drive out the enemies, but he was not going to do it all at once. “But I will not drive them out in a single year,” verse 29 begins, “because the land would become desolate and the wild animals will be too numerous for you.” “Little by little,” the angel said on behalf of God, “I will drive them out before you, until you have increased enough to take possession of the land.” (Exodus 23:29-30)
Success in ministry is not about finding a “magic bullet.” It’s about developing relationships, engendering trust and building consensus. Pay attention to these, and see what God can accomplish through you in five years.
A young-ish pastor complained to the leaders in his church. They had told him there were not any problems in the church, but in fact, there were problems. There were folks in the church who did not like one another and some who wanted to leave because of the behavior of one of the people in leadership. The young pastor’s ultimate response was to resign his position as senior pastor. This pastor should have been skeptical at best and considered them liars at worst, if in fact the leaders had told him there were no problems in the church.
In spite of the fact that I found a church in Atlanta, Georgia that called itself “The Perfect Church”, I would contend that there is no such thing as “the perfect church”. Because churches are made up of people and, at this side of heaven, there are no perfect people. It seems logical to conclude that there are no perfect, problem free churches. Some churches are riddled with problems; they even seem to be filled with nothing but contentious people, while others are relatively peaceful. The fact remains that every church is either going through conflict, has just gone through conflict or is about to go through conflict. I’m sorry to say it, but that’s the truth. I recently heard a mega-church pastor say to a brother in the ministry that you are in a top tier church, if there only ten percent of the people want to get rid of you.
What is the number one skill every pastor needs to help him deal with conflict? Is it the skill of negotiation? Perhaps he needs to learn to look people in the eye and say, “You’re fired.” I would contend that the number one skill is the skill of good communication. Believe it or not, the number one communication skill is not how to be persuasive; it is the skill of listening, really listening. The Apostle James puts it this way: “This you know, my beloved brethren. But let everyone be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger;” (James 1:19 NAS.) The book of Proverbs also extols the virtue of listening as a means of gaining wisdom.
Most people only listen to others in order to make a response. We don’t listen to truly understand what the speaker is saying and more than that how the speaker is feeling. Non-Christians accuse Christians of never listening to them. They say we only want to give our message to them and never really listen to their problems or views. They may be right.
A top sales executive once said that 90% of his job is to listen to the needs of his customers. Ministers of the gospel are not God’s divine sales force, but we can learn from that sales executive. If we are going to help people as individuals and a church as a group, we need to become good listeners.
In the old book, How to Win Friends and Influence People, Dale Carnegie says, “The chronic kicker, even the most violent critic, will frequently soften and be subdued in the presence of a patient, sympathetic listener—a listener who will be silent while the irate fault-finder dilates like a king cobra and spews the poison out of his system.” (copyright 1936, 98th printing 1973, page 88)
There is no guarantee that the person you are in conflict with will back down just because you are a good listener, but they will have to admit that you showed them the respect they felt they were due if you gave them a fair hearing.
Listening to people in conflict will help us know if we are a part of the problem. It will help us understand how people feel when things are being said to them. It will help us understand how to apply the Bible to the situation we are faced with. Everyone would be listening to others, if listening was easy. It’s not, but what skill in ministry is easy to learn and apply?
A lot has been written on the subject of active and empathic listening. These are two different levels of listening. Active listening helps the listener understand “what” is being said and empathic listening helps us understand the “emotions” behind what is being said. We do not have space here to deal with these skills in this article, but we would certainly recommend that everyone in ministry learn and practice these skills.
The other night I was reading 1 Corinthians (I love these letters. They deal with the practicality of incorporating Jesus into life). As Paul turns to address the issue of eating meat sacrificed to idols, he says the following,“…We know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge makes arrogant, but love edifies. If anyone supposes that he knows anything, he has not yet known as he ought to know; but if anyone loves God, he is known by Him.” 1 Corinthians 8:1-3
Paul makes clear that our understanding of an issue, even though it may be right, does not vacant the importance of love for and between the parties involved. We may be right and the other party wrong, as was obviously the case with Paul and the Corinthian. But, our rightness is not more important than love for the other person or love reigning supreme in our relationship.
To reinforce his point he states plainly, “Knowledge makes [us] arrogant, but love edifies.” If a person is going to take the stand that being correct, even in regards to doctrinal purity, expect that arrogance will follow. If, it is not already an issue.
This struck a nerve in me. Because I tend to view proper understanding as important, even essential. For it is from the foundation of our understanding that all life’s issue emanate. My desire is that people have a correct theology about life and God so they would live in concert with God and experience the “abundant life” He promises. It would seem that Paul is talking to me.
No one, Paul emphasizes NO ONE, has full understanding in what it is he or she knows. There will come a day, when what we view “through a mirror darkly” now, will be seen in all its clarity. Until then, as sincere as we are in our beliefs, we do not have full knowledge. Therefore, it is arrogant to make our finite understanding of some issue the litmus test for orthodoxy.
Even if we are right, love must be the foundation of our person, actions, deeds of righteousness and interactions with all people. When we speak the “truth,” it must be in love (Eph. 4:15). When confronting a brother or sister, it must stem from love. Recognizing that doing so “covers a multitude of sins,” even our own (1 Peter 4:8).
One reason to build our lives on love stands supreme, “If anyone loves God, this one is known by Him” (1 Corinthians 8:3). The very nature of God is love (1 John 4:8). Love is not one of his attributes. Love is God’s foundational nature. God demonstrates love, because God is love. It is because of this that Paul says those who love God are known by Him. Jesus affirmed this when he stated, “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).
It is not that we should not rebuke a brother or sister who is in error, we are repeatedly commanded by God to do so. Nor should believers stand silent in the midst of the opposing opinions shared today. Paul’s point is, don’t let the notion that you believe you are correct on a subject be your motivating force for acting. Instead, let it be love. Love for God and love for the other person.
So, the issue is, when people consider you, as a student of Jesus, is God’s love what fills their vision?