Sunday, December 22, 2013

the hard way: loving the ducks

Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it.  For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it.
Matthew 7.13-14

Now we enter the next-to-last section of the SOM (7.13-23).  These last bits are really challenging and very, very serious.  Failure to understand these lessons and apply them is a grave mistake with eternal consequences.  Again: eternal consequences.  

Consider the idea of a challenge 

For a task to be a challenge it has to be hard.  It’s the difficulty that makes it both challenging and rewarding.  Lots of things are easy, but they are almost always less rewarding.  People climb mountains and run marathons and master musical instruments and do all sorts of difficult things, while others watch.  Watching is easy – playing is hard.  And even though spectators are happy and applaud at the victory of their favorite person or team … they never know the joy and sense of accomplishment of the player. 

Christianity is a spectator sport for many.  They cheer for Christians and/or their churches or religious groups, and they ‘boo’ the opposition.  Depending on the situation, the opposition may be another church or another preacher or denomination, or it might be another religion or even another culture. 

When Jesus told his audience (Jewish disciples) to choose the road less traveled, to enter the narrow gate instead of the wide one, he was offering a challenge: get in the game, and play to win.  Spectators are those going through the wide gate.  While the Pharisees were good Jews, and among the most observant followers of God on earth at the time, Jesus was challenging his disciples to take it a step further, so that their righteousness would exceed that of the Pharisees (Remember earlier in the SOM? Matthew 5.20)
But how does this play out in the real world for us?  I’ll offer an example here of something that’s being featured in the news these days for your consideration.

Phil Robertson – Duck Dynasty – A&E

As I write this, Duck Dynasty is in the news and people are revealing themselves exactly as one would expect.  The patriarch of the group (Phil Robertson) made some statements about: 1) his personal feelings and his personal observations – and 2) he also quoted some things from the bible. 

The remarks were seen as bigoted by some people, and the network has cut him from a show based on his own family.  And now, people choose sides.  Christians, rednecks and tea-partiers are upset that Phil’s words were taken out of context and that they’re under attack.  Meanwhile gay people and African American groups are upset, and form the other side.  And so the media begins to poll people to find out what they should do (remember: it’s the media’s business to get viewers – not choose the “right” side, or even necessarily to accurately report the news).  The battle lines are drawn.

What’s missing?  Love

Let me remind you what our Lord taught us earlier in the SOM:
In all things, therefore, as you wish others would do to you, do this to them; for this is the Law & the Prophets.  Matthew 7.12 (KV)
Remember that?  It was our last lesson, and it applies here perfectly.  While “spectator Christians” yell about the unfairness of what was done to the multi-millionaire Christian family, Jesus’ true disciples are doing something different: they are considering the other person’s point of view.  Or to put it more simply: we listen. 

We listen most closely to the “sinners,” because we love them. Why did God send His son to earth?  Because He loved us so.  (John 3.16) Why did our Savior come to earth and to the humble go?  Why on the cross be lifted up?  Because he loved us so! And when did he do this?  While we were yet sinners! (Romans 5.8) 

Have you ever listened to a sinner?  They are the people we’re supposed to be rescuing, you know.  When Jesus said, “Go, make disciples…” did you think he was sending us to other Christians?  What do you suppose we are rescuing them from?  Is it our job merely to condemn sinners' sex/love life, and ruin their Sunday mornings?  Is THAT what it means to make a disciple?  

Sinners always act like sinners.  They are part of the kingdom of darkness (whether they know it or not) and we will never get anywhere with them by quoting scripture to them before we even bother considering how it might make them feel! 

Two of Phil’s things the media has trumpeted (so far) come from 1 Corinthians and Romans.  If you know the word, you recognize them as quotes immediately.  But do you think the average person in the world knows that?  So when they play a YouTube clip of Phil preaching they are filled with every kind of wickedness … full of envy, murder, strife, deceit … slanderers, God-haters, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless…”  How would you feel if you heard those words and understood them to be describing you?  We (Christians) think to ourselves that these words are true, and perhaps even recognize them as being from the bible, but we rarely ever think about how it might make the other person feel

Those quotes were from letters by Paul to particular churches - groups of Christians.  He did not write or say those things to outsiders.  And he was writing about specific situations in each case.  But when speaking to outsiders, here’s what Paul did:
For though I am free from all, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I may win more.To the Jews I became as a Jew, so that I might win Jews;
To those who are under the Law, as under the Law … so that I might win those who are under the Law;To those who are without law, as without law … so that I might win those who are without law.
To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak;
I have become all things to all men, so that I may by all means save some.I do all things for the sake of the gospel, so that I may become a fellow partaker of it.
1 Corinthians 9:19-23

Do you see that Paul doesn't speak the same way to all people? 
Do you suppose he might add: “To the gay man, I became as a gay man…"? 
(I can hear some of you gasping right now, all the way over here - and so can God) 

The Duck Dynasty Division is typical, and we've seen it many times and will see it many more.  What’s interesting is that this controversy wouldn't even happen if not for the fact that Phil Robertson developed an unusually great duck call.  Or to put it another way: Phil’s love of duck hunting drove him to learn how to “speak duck.”   And yet, as a hunter for the lost, he has not learned how to speak “lost.” 

None of us will learn how to “speak lost” until we love them as much as Phil loves ducks.  And then we won’t learn it until we learn how to listen – really listen – to people who are lost and without the Lord. 

To be clear: it’s not my intention to criticize the Robertsons.  They are in the game (unlike many of their fans).  They are players, and their efforts have born fruit.  All disciple-makers will make mistakes, though most of us will never have as big an audience as they do.  Rather, I’m hoping to help you - to be a player (not a spectator) and a good one.  Be a wise player, not merely a spectator on the “right” side.

Ask yourself: have I been a spectator, choosing the right side, or am I, like Jesus, Paul, Peter and Phil … actually playing the game?  Am I on the hunt?  And … am I listening to the lost, or merely cheering for them to keep losing?

Our Lord told us plainly: “do it the hard way.”  That means we have to be different.  And not just different from the world, but also different from other Christians (as we will see when we get in a future lesson - Matt. 7.21). 

The broad path is the easy one.  It’s the one where we all go with the majority, we believe “prophets” that are not true, and we wander along like spectators, following the rump of the sheep in front of us. 

But our Lord offers us a challenge: to go the hard way!  He challenges us not to live in the lowlands, but to climb Everest.  His challenge is for us to see how much we can do, how far we can go, how high we can climb in the “adventure-sport” of love.

This “love the hard way” challenge is all around us.  We need to learn how to listen to the very people who hate us, just as Jesus did, remembering that our Lord died for the very people that assassinated him. 

Jesus wasn't martyred for a cause – he was martyred for people
Specifically, he was martyred for sinful people! 
Jesus was murdered for murderers and liars and gossips.  He was killed for so-called Christians who hide behind “truth” and make it an excuse to be stupid and hurtful. He died for gay people, adulterers, murderers and he died for those who condemn and hate sinners.  Jesus died so that even a sinner like me could be forgiven.  How can I look at a gay person with condemnation? 

The point is that knowing right and wrong isn't hard for a disciple of Jesus.  We know that sex is a great gift from God for married people – just as He made food taste good, flowers smell good and music sound so sweet.  And we know that these things are SO good that some people will devote their lives to indulging their senses in gluttony or fornication or other fleshly indulgences. 

But for some reason whereas we usually have enough tact not to call a fat person fat – we bash others for their particular sin, and pretend we’re superior in our gluttony to the poor guy who is attracted to another guy.  Or we who gossip and are unmerciful to sinners … are superior to those we look down upon with righteous indignation. 

We are like the Pharisee in Jesus’ story:
And He also told this parable to some people who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and viewed others with contempt:“Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and was praying this to himself:    ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get.’  But the tax collector, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying,    ‘God, be merciful to me, the sinner!’
I tell you, this man went to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
Luke 18:9-14

Now if you want the full impact of that parable – if you really want to change your life, replace the word “Pharisee” with the word “Christian,” and the words “Tax Collector” with the word “homo.”  Now look at that parable again, and see if Jesus’ words can help YOU be a better person.

Being a disciple, and making disciples the hard way – by entering through the narrow gate – is a wonderful challenge.  But it means learning to love the unlovely, and even learning to speak their language well enough so that they will come to us and ask us.  In this case, ask yourself: do you speak “gay”?  Would a gay person know you’re a follower of Jesus and feel comfortable asking you about this Duck Dynasty mess?  Would you know how to respond?  
Enter the narrow gate.  Bashing sinners is easy.  Loving the lost is hard.  

I quoted Paul from his letter to the Corinth church of Christ above.  Here is the rest of the quote – it’s his version of “entering the narrow gate,” or doing it “the hard way.”  This is how we should accept Jesus’ challenge as participants and not spectators:

I do all things for the sake of the gospel [good news], so that I may become a fellow partaker of it.
Don’t you know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize?
Run in such a way that you may win!  
Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things.  
They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable.
Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim;
I box in such a way, as not beating the air; but…
…I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified. 
1 Corinthians 9:23-27

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