Terminally Casual Relationships

It’s been a crazy bad flu season, and this year they have even referred to it as an epidemic. The threshold for an epidemic is that it causes more than 7.2 percent of deaths, and Reuters reported a few weeks back that influenza had officially reached 7.3 percent of deaths caused by pneumonia and the flu. It’s crazy to me how what feels like a stuffy nose, fuzzy head, and hacking cough, though uncomfortable, can kill people. I mean it’s not cancer or HIV.

It actually has a lot of similarities to another epidemic of even greater proportions. And one every local church must battle – Terminally Casual Relationships. When a marriage disintegrates due to adultery or abuse, usually someone jumps in to confront sin, offer support, and pursue healing. When there is a bully in the class, kids are trained to invite a teacher or administrator to intervene. Those situations make sense, after all that stuff is cancer. But rarely does anyone sound the alarm over too many, “I’m fine thank you’s”. And so no Gospel medicine is applied, no encouragement needed, and certainly no admonitions braved. Just smiles exchanged and the back door after the service eyed with a laser-like focus. This is a nasty flu bug, and can reach epidemic proportions in our spiritual communities. So, what medicine can be applied?

1- Ask a Question

I know that sounds so simplistic, but most fail to do it. They talk, they listen to someone else talk, and then they hope to get out of the conversation without too much delay in getting to lunch. Stop, ask a question: Who are you walking with through what you just shared? What is the hardest part of this circumstance for your heart? Or simply how can I pray for you? I have found that the question, What can I do to help? is rarely helpful because most don’t know what they need or find it hard to ask for what they might really need. It’s much better to be insightful, prayerful, and observant … then offer something

2- Make a Commitment

Salesmen often learn the principle of not ending one meeting with a client before setting up the next meeting, it prevents a potential client from falling off the sales radar. Not a bad principle. Before you say goodbye, commit to a phone call, a coffee meeting, or something you can pursue spiritually together (let’s read through this passage this week, lets go to this Bible Study together). Commit to something that will keep your hearts linked together in the fight against the devices of the enemy.

3- Give Your Heart

It can be a delicate balance between self-protection and self-disclosure, both can be rooted in independence, control, and pride. Some have no problem doing the emotional dump on people, and others guard the details of their own heart with militaristic control. Think to yourself: Have I let this person in? Do they know I need help, and the precious remedies of the Gospel as much as they do? Have I given them anything that they would be able to clearly take to God in prayer on my behalf?

Trust God enough to give your heart away rather than contribute to this spiritual epidemic. We have to be people that don’t wait for someone to be admitted to the hospital to care for each others souls. Guess what? We all need it, nobody is immune from this spiritual flu season … and you can’t sanitize your way around it because you have already been exposed. So just jump in and practice soul care together with your brothers and sisters!

Your Spiritual Pharmacist,
Pastor Mark

The Unintended Consequences of Confronting Sin

I believe that the Word of God clearly calls us to “speak truth”, “confront sin”, and “call one to obedience”. And for years and years I taught and practiced it as a Dean of Students and Discipleship Pastor, believing it was to be done in love, with grace, and for restoration. Some did feel loved and their rebellious spirit was squelched, some did receive grace and indeed repent, and yes, restoration occurred in certain instances. But there is more to the story …

The Dilemma

Part of the human Biblical solution is also part of the dilemma a “caught in sin” or “young in their faith” believer faces. As I lay out Biblical truth before them and try to tenderly call them to repentance, they are faced with a few externally conforming options that most likely will not be recognized by others, or even by themselves until later. Option #1 – They change because they respect (or fear) the person doing the confronting which can lead to a people-pleasing obedience, OR Option #2 – They change their external behavior out of respect (or fear) for God which can lead to a duty-filled obedience. People-pleasing morality vs. God-obliging legalism … Not so different. In our best efforts to help, we can actually turn them down a Gospel-less road that undermines their confidence in the Word, the Spirit … and us.

Confronting Sin or Conforming Behavior

Make no mistake, Biblical change can be manipulated and mis-centered, and we who are the disciplers/counselors must know where our leadership ends, lest we be guilty of setting people up for moralism or legalism. We must know where our laying out of Biblical Gospel truth ends, and trusting the transforming work of the Spirit of God in people’s lives takes over. It is indeed our responsibility to call out sin and humbly plead for repentance … It is NOT out role or power to produce the obedient behavior. What does that mean? It means new believers who are still living together unmarried need to be taught what the Bible teaches, but they don’t need your demand of instant obedience. If they are soft-hearted people, they will do what you say either because they genuinely want to please God or please you … but not necessarily because the abhor their sin, have recognized the idol of their heart, or embrace God’s way as their path to greatest joy. We either trust the Word and the work of the Spirit or we don’t. And that may mean we actually have to step back and quit trying to be the Holy Spirit in people’s lives. How inconsistent it is to preach and teach the sufficiency of Scripture, and then give people the do’s and don’t we expect of them by next week. Is your repentance instantaneous? Do you know the depth of your own heart? Doesn’t the work of the Word often take some marinating in your soul, some prayerful reflection that then leads to genuine spiritual decisions?

The Biblical call to confront sin – separate from – the Spirit’s conviction to change

Don’t back up from being a purposeful discipler in people’s lives, and don’t hedge on Biblical truth, but do separate your role in speaking the truth from the Spirit’s role in changing the heart. If true, lasting, Gospel transformation is what we aim at (and it is), then be as confident of Philippians 1:6 as Paul was. HE who began a good work … HE will bring it to completion! We have far too many “Christians” filling our churches that do what they do because the “mature believer” told them to, or because they think they can earn something from God by their duty-filled obligatory behavior. Can we please stop that? Those of us who most trust the authority of the Word, must also be the ones who most trust the sanctifying work of the Spirit.

Absolutely Confident of the Word and the Spirit,
Pastor Mark