Sunday, October 16, 2011

04.05.11 I Will Not Be Silent

Sometimes, it is extremely difficult to be part of the church.  We all know that people are messy; we all know that we are messy.  And Jesus plainly said that he came for the messiest, ugliest, suckiest people.  But for some reason, once we become part of the church, we start to hide our mess.  And we start to expect, or assume, that the other church people around us aren't messy, either.  Which makes it tough, sometimes, to address our real issues (the ones we all still have) and even tougher to accept, or forgive, those other church people when their issues affect us.

One of the most dangerous enemies of the church is silence.  All too often, we are silent in our suffering.  Silent in our loneliness, our hurt, or our disappointment.  Silent about our fears, failures, temptations, doubts, and struggles.  We don't ask questions.  Or we don't challenge the answers.  We let our anger burn against one another rather than confront someone who has wronged us.  And in addition to all these things, we are silent when we see a brother or sister falling into sin.

This last offense is my particular concern here.  For some reason, I've been blessed (?) to have many personal confrontations with people who are obviously in sin but failing to do anything about it.  All of these conversations had different results, but, by God's grace, none of the people I have confronted have ended up hating me (as far as I know).  So I thought I should share a few thoughts on how I generally approach this issue, in the hope that I can encourage you to not be silent about sin, so that none of us will fall away.

First, I accept responsibility for my part in their journey.  When I plan to dig into a potentially sensitive or controversial area of a person's life, I like to start by acknowledging the role that I've played in the situation. Sometimes, I simply reiterate our relationship and give the person freedom to not hide the truth from me.  But more often, I apologize about some way that I've failed them.  I've found that if I know someone well enough to be having a conversation about her sin, then I am also close enough to her to have made a mistake somewhere along the way.

Honestly, confronting people forces me to confront myself.  It is extremely humbling to see someone making bad choices and to look back and realize that I have some level of influence in that.  Some things I've apologized for:

  • not speaking up sooner when I had previous, but smaller, concerns
  • not listening enough or being available when she expressed some area of disappointment or hurt
  • making assumptions about her, her walk with Christ, or any other area of her life
After I've asked for forgiveness, I ask specific, direct questions related to my concern.  I want to fully understand the person's perspective on the situation, so I give her the opportunity to tell her story. But I don't beat around the bush.  Here are some questions I've posed:
  • would you say that you are moving closer to Jesus or further away from him?  how long have you been going in that direction?
  • do you believe that the Bible is authored by God?  if so, why does it not have full authority over your life?   
  • why are you choosing to do something that you know displeases God?  what is going on at the heart of these choices?
Questions like this force people to define their beliefs and contextualize their decisions.  It is easy to make a poor choice when we compartmentalize our faith and allow ourselves to be short-sighted about the consequences of sin.  So I find it helpful to speak in terms of the big picture reality. 

Once the issue has been clearly framed, I tell the truth.  The Bible calls Christians to admonish and exhort one another, and this means that we must continually call each other back to Christ. Sometimes, we sin because we feel defeated, discouraged, or afraid. Sometimes, we don't believe we are sinning because we no longer have the mind of Christ.  And sometimes, I discover that the person I've confronted is not actually following Jesus.  In all these circumstances, I end the conversation by reminding the person who Christ is and what our hope and calling is in him.  And then I pray.

Because in the end, each person is responsible for how she will respond to the gospel.  And that is a Holy Spirit work, not mine.           

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