Writer, editor, stumbler after Jesus

The proving ground of faith

INSTEAD OF SIMPLY inviting non-Christians to our Sunday services, I think we should start welcoming them to our midweek committee meetings. Because that’s where they are going to see what this “you can be part of God’s family” message is really about.

Being all “Jesusy” is one thing when you’re singing songs together and listening to a stirring sermon. But it’s quite another when disagreements flare over who should be allowed in church leadership and what color to paint the fellowship hall. In such times, personal preferences and power struggles are prone to creep (sometimes leap) to the surface.

Of course, nonbelievers can encounter God in a service—Day of Pentecost, anyone?—but maybe we need to spend less time focused on how we present that weekly event and more on how we get along the rest of the time. After all, the latter is the real proving ground of faith—not when we’re sitting round the Last Supper table with Jesus, but when we are sitting round a committee table with a bunch of His other followers.

In his final address to His disciples, shortly before His betrayal, Jesus didn’t say that everyone would know they were His followers by their Bible knowledge, their branding, or their bumper stickers. He said, “Everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35, emphasis added).

Looking good for God is easier when you don’t have to interact with anyone else. Adding someone is when it starts to get tricky. That’s when the true measure of what we say we believe gets tested. That’s probably why Jesus commanded His followers to love one another (implying that they may not always feel like doing so).

Before you collapse in despair at that prospect, thinking, Yeah, but you don’t know Brother Blowhard and Sister Sourface at my church, take a deep breath. Jesus didn’t leave that injunction as an airy idea, all kumbaya and group hugs. He got specific. He said they were to love one another “just as I have loved you” (John 13:34).

So we can look to His life and learn from His example. In what ways did He love His disciples? Some thoughts:

He called them in. Some of them were on the edges, maybe feeling they didn’t really belong: Exhibit A: Matthew was a despised tax collector. But Jesus didn’t let the frowny faces around keep Him from reaching out and pursuing people others had written off.

He called them up. He saw more in them than they saw in themselves. Though he had a big mouth and a big heart, Peter felt inadequate when faced with Jesus’s holiness (“Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord”—Luke 5:8). Yet Jesus spoke a bigger future to Simon, giving him a name (Peter, the rock) to aspire to.

He called them on. He affirmed the good He saw in them, inspiring them. Of Nathaniel He said, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!” (John 1:47).

He called them out. For all His positivity—no, probably because of it—He also wasn’t afraid to challenge them when He knew they were falling short. On more than one occasion, He rebuked them for their lack of faith.

All of those calls require a measure of commitment to meaningful relationships—the time they take to develop, and the tenacity to hang in there when they get bumpy, as they inevitably will. Tragically, that seems missing in many of our present-day churches.

Photo: clagnut on Trendhype/CC BY

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