Monday, August 24, 2009

Finding the "Jesus" balance

On the way to drop the boys off at school the other morning we were listening to WAY-FM and the topic of discussion was one of their staff member’s dealing with their young daughter’s unexpected pregnancy. The topic surrounded the issue of how the Christian community is unfeeling and sometimes insensitive to people going through stuff like this. On the one hand I’m impressed that they were willing to address these tough issues. On the other hand the discussion went into the tougher area of the mix between taking a stand and doing so with love and compassion.

What concerns me when the latter topic comes up is that Christian’s have found themselves in the “extremes” of the possible responses; from the extreme of taking a stand with little or no compassion (and the “world” loves it when we do that because it totally fits the stereotype they have come to expect and delight in) to the other of extreme of ultimate compassion that leads to an acceptance of pretty much anything (and we then are prey to fall into the relativism of the world as well).

I’ve always wondered what it took for us to get to that point. My contention, after probably incomplete thought and due diligence, is that part of the issue is external – i.e. the cultural pluralism, postmodernism, and issue of tolerance becoming the “ultra-value” for our culture. I believe that part of it is internal – i.e. we have lived out the modernistic view that there is shame in sin and we ultimately hide it. In fact we’ve gotten really good at playing the part of “everything is fine” even when it is not.

Whatever re-building that authentic community looks like (and Francis Schaeffer has a great article about a few aspects of it called, The Mark of a Christian – www?) much it comes down to the problems the WAY-FM on-air staff was somewhat addressing; how we communicate our standards and compassion. This is the extremely challenging view of how one communicates Truth in Love. A former colleague of mine once told the story of a graduate student from east Texas who said, “It appears to me that love without truth is sappy romanticism, and truth without love is a mighty bloody sword.” Simple but profound. So that leads me to ask, what are some ways in which we can better address this tough balance when we are dealing with real people with real issues?

One perspective has to do with knowing who are audience is. Jesus did this not only intuitively but also through recognizing where people were at. We need to do more of that. Before we lay down the law have we realized where the person hearing that message is coming from? In the case of most of us, when a particular sin is mentioned and we have had that issue in our lives, then we are in one of three places; (1) we’re being tempted by it, (2) we are in the midst of it, or (3) or we have felt the redemptive power of being delivered from it. The way we address the Truth related to “it” depends somewhat on understanding that our hearers are coming from different perspectives.

The next perspective to understand the power of the words we use. In Matthew, as Jesus tells about the fruit and tree (i.e. a tree is known by its fruit, remember) he makes the comment, that we will be judged for every careless word we have spoken. Compassion is partially about understanding the words we use. My wife contends that sometimes I have “gumball’ communication – i.e. I let a thought come out of my brain, onto my tongue and out of my mouth like a gumball. This type of communication allows for some of the careless talk to get us in trouble. In the WAY-FM discussion they talked about Christian artists, preachers, speakers, etc. who publicly take a stand on an issue and put their foot down. People cheer the fact that they are taking a stand. I disagree with a comment that was made, however, that taking a stand is easy. Nope – more Christians need to take a stand – but to learn how to do it with words that understand the reality of some people’s circumstance. The acceptance or use of language can be key to finding that balance. Let’s suppose I am a young, good looking, spiritually filled Christian rock star – work with me here! J I stand up in my concert and I have been convicted to really stand up against abortion and to speak out on sanctity of life issues. In my audience, research tells us, that probably over half of the teens in that audience are sexually active and because of that probably about ten percent (or more) are dealing with or have dealt with the abortion issue personally. I need to be able to say that God is a God of life and abortion is wrong. That is a true statement but I need to also be able to acknowledge those that are dealing or have dealt with it. The audience needs to hear the message of life, but also of redemption. I can foresee the strong stance on life being followed immediately by a softer tone delivering the words of redemption from the hurt and reality of experiencing abortion. It removes the shame (since they more than likely already feel plenty of this) but demonstrates a community of love and support – not necessarily condoning the actions that led to the situation.

The final perspective is that of reading other people’s feedback. In a concert that is tough to do… in an email or post on a social networking site, a bit easier… in person, so much easier. That leads me to better understand that our best demonstration of love and truth comes in personal relationship and interpersonal conversation with others. So if I am the Christian speaker or musician, I need to try to move the members of the audience to find a time, place and person to talk more deeply about this; if I am the writer of a completely awesome blog, then I also encourage you to either write to me, comment to me or others or sit down over a cup of coffee with someone to talk through the issues; or if I am already in conversation with them to practice good listening habits, kind responses, and the ability to speak truthful but understanding things into their lives.

There is so much more we can take from this simple yet challenging discussion… maybe more posts, discussion or books need to be written… ?

Doc Leland


Jonathan said...

I feel that many pastors need to understand their position within a church is more important than that of a rock star. For this reason they must be even more cautious in how they speak the truth. Thanks for a great read.

Anonymous said...

This is a great word that can relate to many, many topics we face each and every day. Thanks for the reminder... :)

Kalford said...

Dr. Leland, being in the counseling field, I am beginning to learn that more and more we have to meet people needs where they are at and how JEsus continually did that in his ministry. I, standing by one personlity theory and drilling into my counselees, am not going to be so effective. Because God creates us each as inidviduals with different struggles and thoughts, ministering to these people takes a lot fo time and effort. However, like you said, it is being firm in truth and overflowing in compassion and love, that we want to guide someone back to truth, not cut them off because they failed. If I am a pregnant teenage girl looking at abortion and a rock star says its wrong, I might not listen to their music. If my pastor of 15yr yeard that has love and supported my family in rough times says its wrong, it hits deeper.

BV Test said...

I can definitely relate to gumball communication. Some very wise words as always my friend.

Kariss said...

Hey Dr. Leland,
Thanks for the insight. We just left the Institute and four of us encountered the abortion issue with a curious skeptic (the roommate of a summer alum). It was very difficult to be honest with what the Bible says but do it in a way that was sympathetic, compassionate, and uncondemnatory. Your insight really helps with understanding how to do this, so thanks!