Sunday, February 15, 2009

Crossing the line

(Something appears to have gone wrong with the first attempt. This is a resend. Sorry if you've already gotten it!)
Sometimes we find ourselves sitting on a fine line between the need to be sensitive to culture and maintaining the integrity of God's revealed desire for us as a church. Sometimes the cultural norms kind of get in the way of God's word and I would even go as far as to say are sinful, going against what God's desire is for his people.
Here in Mibu culture, you don't dare step on someone's toes and indicate to them that you think something is wrong with their actions or worse, their heart. Even if done gently and lovingly, you run a high risk of the recipient of your exhortations 'rightfully' getting angry and even charging you a large amount of money to settle the issue. But a few years back, when the gospel was first presented, God's word did that very thing. It pointed to every single person and revealed to them that God himself thinks they are sinners and that there's nothing they themselves can do to take themselves out of that horrible condition. Many people responded in a way that gave the type of weight and honor that is due to such a revelation from our Creator. Many also moved on to hear and believe the provided way by which they could be restored in their relationship to God; an alien righteousness.
One of my friends here, whose way of life has never really seemed to steer any closer to accordance with that truth, recently became angry with me because I've repeatedly turned down his frequent requests for material help; something we're VERY cautious with here because of the expectations that giving handouts creates. He wasn't just a little bit angry or bothered by it. He actually was making a big deal about it and slandering the church and the work that God's Spirit is doing here. I've questioned for quite some time whether this guy had ever really understood the fact that he is a sinner whose only hope was something totally outside of himself. His recent actions and the things he was saying confirmed quite firmly my previous suspicions and so it was time to express my concerns to him, now that I had some concrete outworkings of his heart that I could refer to. I talked to some of our teachers who were also seeing the same things and we decided that we needed to meet together with him.
In that meeting I shared with him where Jesus says, in Luke, essentially that our actions are resultant from what is really in our heart, so that our actions are kind of a window, though blurry, into our hearts. I told him that based on his actions, I wonder if he might be in danger of turning out like the many examples in scripture where people turned away from God because of their desire for the easy life and the acquisition and maintenance of material wealth. His response was very angry, and much more of his heart in matters poured forth into the open.
He left in a rage, threatening to come back with his axe and chop our house down and bring all kinds of heavies upon us. He also said that only a large amount of money being paid to him would fix this situation and restore peace between us. Soon after, he sent a middleman (another interesting cultural story for another time) to inform us of what he's upset about and to work out the details of restoring peace with him; something we were desperately interested in, but not in a way that would be communicating to others that our having approached this man about his blatant wrongdoings was improper. We were able to stand strong on this point because we've seen the power of God's word to convict here. There are many who have responded to similar exhortations in exactly the opposite way and have continued to be faithful to what God's word has revealed to them. It's not impossible to work around this cultural hurdle!
Just a warning; this story doesn't resolve itself in a way that most would probably hope.
Long story short; this man, for some reason, changed his mind about demanding money for peace and we were able to restore the peace and maintain a civil relationship (signified by a handshake with the mediators and sometimes others present). This man expressed that he was basically intending to stay on the course he's on and that he is now officially reverting back to the old system (under which he was the recipient of material benefit). I fought the urge there to remind him of the infinitely more precious provision that Jesus provides, but was reminded that he's shown himself to be of such state right now that such words would only fall on deaf ears. So I remained silent and only nodded in agreement with him, that this was indeed probably the best move for him at the time.
While it's sad that this man has heard and chosen something other than what God offers, it's not unseen in history. Not a surprise to see it happen. In fact we're desirous of keeping the integrity of Jesus's precious bride, the church. Fakers like this gentleman are said in the bible to be as wolves among a flock of sheep; dissentious and leading people away from the truth. Very dangerous, and we're given every indication that their presence and participation within the church congregation is extremely undesired. It's not until they have the Holy Spirit within them and are recipients of God's promises that they receive any benefit from, or themselves become a benefit to the other members of Christ's body. So in that regard this thing happening was positive. Even more so because we seem to maintain a peaceful standing with him for the time being. We certainly hope that over time and the influence of the church here this man will eventually see what is infinitely more precious.

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