So what happens when you're hanging out with a friend or an acquaintance that you've been praying for, and the person brings up his plan to move in with his girlfriend? Or maybe it's his substance abuse over the weekend? What do you do? Do you confront it, following the philosophy that you confront the sin but love the sinner? Do you ignore it because you're not ready to have the conversation? Do you start to avoid the person because you're not sure what to do?
Sometimes I think we get the message at our churches that our job is to be the moral police of the world. Sometimes the Christian culture encourages to do just this - to make sure that, as much as possible, we keep the community and the culture on the straight and narrow. But I'm sure it's not news to you that this is one of the biggest complaints that people who aren't followers of Jesus have against the church. It's actually also one of the reasons that our young people are leaving the church in droves.
I can't tell you how often I've been in this situation, where my friends are about to embark on some course of action that I don't think is God's ideal for us. And as I've wrestled with these questions and tried to figure out how to respond, I've searched the Scripture to see what guidance is there. And I have to be honest, I don't think that there's support for me to condemn those around me, whatever they may be doing.
When I look at the way Jesus dealt with people, I note that it is the religious people he condemned. He confronted and challenged the people who claimed they were walking with God and he asked them to look at their hearts and get their attitudes right with God rather than walking in their self-sufficient righteousness. But for those who were not, he had a different approach.
Yes, he invited them to walk away from their sin and follow him. But it seems to me that it was so much more about what he was inviting people to than what he was inviting them to leave behind. For the woman at the well, for example, he painted a picture of abundant and verdant life with God.
And as I've watched a number of friends move from hostility or apathy toward God to what has become a relationship of surrender and commitment toward him, I've noticed some things. It seems like the only thing that really makes a person change on the inside is a desire to know and follow Jesus. What I mean is, the process of conversion or sanctification starts in the heart--it doesn't start with external changes. It starts when someone meets and is captivated by Jesus. And as they learn who he is, learn to trust him, and begin to offer more and more of themselves to him, he is the one who calls them to walk away from their sin and follow him. He is the one who captivates them and challenges them and invites them to follow.
So I've begun to see my job as a kind of storyteller. I'm here to tell God's story and the stories I have of how he's impacted my life. Not so that people can be challenged to change their behavior, but so that people can meet Jesus. That's it. I am called to love God with all my heart, soul, mind and spirit, to love my neighbor and even my enemy, and to tell the stories of God.
Have you ever been in a situation where you weren't sure whether to communicate disagreement with someone's decisions? What did you do? What happened within your relationship after that? What story might you have told instead that might have been appropriate and would have served as an invitation to deeper relationship--both with you and with Jesus?