Signs of the Times
I recently interviewed leadership expert John Maxwell for a story about one-time pastors who left their pulpits to have greater influence.
One comment in particular he made from his years operating primarily in the business world struck a chord because of the lesson it offers all church members.
“You can’t start a conversation with criticism; it takes credibility to do so,” Mawell told me. “Business people won’t even listen to you unless you first demonstrate your competence. Establish that and they are open to a conversation.”
I thought of Maxwell’s comment during the recent ballyhoo over Kentucky court clerk Kim Davis’ stance against same-sex marriage.
Since we live an hour east of the city where Davis works, the ruckus attracted considerable attention in news media around the region (and nationwide).
The morning after Davis went to jail for refusing to follow a judge’s order, I opened up our local newspaper and saw an unsettling picture, smack dab in the middle of page one.
I could read the lettering on the most prominent lines. It declared: “America: God hates your sin” and listed below such offenders as adulterers, porno-freaks, liars, and thieves. Then, in larger letters at the bottom: “Hell fire!”
I wonder: how long will the Christian community keep shooting itself in the foot like this? Despite Maxwell’s well-considered advice, it seems to me too many church members try to initiate conversations with others with criticism like the kind symbolized by this sign.
The issue is not the wrongness of the world’s practices. If you want to know how to act, the worst barometer is public opinion. What is in vogue today may be frowned on tomorrow, which is why we have the Bible as the standard of truth.
However, when we attempt to use it as a club to smash our enemies over the head, or argue why our particular interpretation is the only game in town—well, I can hear millions clicking the “off” switch.
Filthy Rotten Sinners
It’s been quite a while since I made a decision to follow Christ instead of trying to run my life.
Yet, when I set out to learn more about the Jesus who I had learned a lot about growing up but didn’t really know, the last thing I needed was someone shaking a fist in my face and calling me a filthy, rotten sinner. I already knew that. What I wanted to know was what difference He made in life.
What persuaded me were not lectures, nor those judgmental folks who wore their faith like a badge of superiority. It was the people who showed me love, welcomed me into their midst, and exhibited a joy that was unlike anything I had ever seen.
I especially remember the pastor at the first church we visited after moving to Colorado. He spoke regularly about how we could know God’s “agape” love, the kind that came without conditions or reservations.
At the time struggling with dismay, anger and frustration over my stepson’s drug use and the chaos it caused in our home, I used to think, “I need to know that kind of love because I sure don’t have it.”
In a nutshell, that’s what made the difference. A love that I could count on, a love that could help me cope with immense pressure, and a love that exposed how far I fell short—and still do—of the perfection that got Jesus crucified.
It is this love Paul said we are to speak about “in love,” not in anger, vitriol, and condemnation. That is a policy worth remembering, no matter what the issue involved.