Thursday, February 23, 2006

I Overheard Over Breakfast

I was having breakfast and reading (Addictions: Banquet in a Grave by Ed Welch for the second time) this morning in a local diner (as I make it a practice to do). Over the several years I have done this, I have gotten to know a few people by sight and name and people know me and who I am in the community. Because of their long standing acquaintance and chatty personality, they often talk amongst themselves, and I overhear their conversations. It is a great window into the minds of people, a window I love as a pastor trying to reach this community. I love to know how people think and what goes on in their minds.

This morning, the conversation turned from women, to politics, to church, with a few other things thrown in along the way. The conversation about women was mostly lighthearted, a few barbs about having money and not needing a woman, and the like. The conversation about politics was mostly about the evil Republicans, how Bush doesn’t love the country, how Tricky Dick was the worst president this country ever had and was responsible for the assassination of Robert Kennedy. It reminded me again that a pastor needs to stay out of political issues when they are not moral issues. If I am going to take a contrary stand and marginalize myself, I am going to take that stand about Jesus, not about George Bush, the Republicans, the Democrats, the UAE taking over port security, taxes, or any other political issue. Jesus must be the dividing line for us Christians. (Don’t misunderstand … Jesus has implications for politics, but those make sense only in a certain context of understanding who Jesus is. The church needs to be exceeding careful about making political pronouncements. After all, how many people are turned off to the gospel because of Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson? I do not want me, or this church, to be confused with them.)

Over the past few years, a few people have encouraged me to run for office in the city, as a council member, or a school board member. This past year, my wife was encouraged to run for the least political office in the city (City Clerk). I have always said no, because politics, especially here, is marginalizing. I do not want the gospel of Christ confused with my political or economic views. Perhaps others have a different view. That is fine. But to this point in my ministry, I have concluded that it is best for the life of the pastor to be about Jesus. If I take a public and dogmatic position on a non-biblical issue, I may damage the hearing of the gospel to all who disagree. Is it worth that? Not for me.

The conversation about church was most interesting to me, since I have a vested interest in the church. The people involved have not yet attended my church, and so I was quite certain they were not talking about my church. I pray that one day they will come. However, I was greatly concerned that the things they were talking about were true in every church, mine included. It was about gossip. One commented that he, with two others, picked up a woman to take her to church this past week. He said she walked in with someone else and walked out with someone else. But within several days, word had gotten around that he was involved with this woman. Another commented that the “gospel church” should be renamed the “gossip church.” Another commented about Easter Sunday being the time when everyone went to church to see what everyone else was wearing. It all hit close to home. I just listened. The waitress, who I know and who has visited the church a time or two, came up and put her arm on my shoulder and said something about me being the pastor and these folks talking about the church. They laughed and I laughed. It was all good-natured and I was not offended in the least.

Why? Because it’s too often true. Church is about appearance … what someone is wearing, who they are with, and the like. It’s about the appearance of perfection and the reality of hypocrisy. Brothers and sisters, these things ought not to be this way (to quote James about another topic).

On the way out, I commented to the waitress that I wondered why people expected the church to be perfect. We aren’t. We are just broken people, trying to follow Jesus in a sin-cursed world. Not all churches are about that. Some simply don’t preach Jesus.

The reality is that there will be clothes horses in church, veritable mannequins to model their fashions. There will be loud-mouthed gossips (men too), who can’t wait to get home after church to burn up the phone lines about who is with whom. There will be hypocrites who show up in church, hung over from the weekend, having rolled out of bed with their girlfriend or boyfriend to make it to church. There will be the “holier than thous” who have been in church for umpteen year who look down their snout at people hoping that these “lesser people” will “figure out we don’t do it like that around here” (an almost exact quote I heard from someone).

Let’s repent of that. Let’s acknowledge to the world that we don’t have room for perfect people, and if that’s what you’re expecting, you best try elsewhere. We are all broken by sin, healed by Jesus alone, trying to follow God in this fallen world. God forbid that the world see us as anything else.


Wendy said...

Larry, this is such a timely post. I have been really burdened for both of these issues in the church. Growing up in southern churches, I got caught up in "comparing themselves among themselves", which Paul says "is not wise." It's a devastating mental path to travel. Moving to Seattle was a blessing, because compared to the south, people just don't care. But the longer I'm here, I realize that we aren't immune to the comparisons either. They just take a slightly different form.

As for gossip, we studied passages last night in proverbs and romans in which God links it with murder and lying. I wish we could get a vision for how much God HATES this sin in our churches. Even recently in the fundamentalist blogging community, gossip and slander have seemed the ONE sin you can get away with impunity. I'm afraid that until fundamentalist pastors and leaders get a vision for how much God HATES it (and stop trying to redefine the terms), it won't be trickling down into our church members anytime soon. I know your church will be blessed by your leadership on the subject.

sally apokedak said...

On the one hand I agree with you. Obviously we are not perfect.

And I do think we need to repent of the attitude that lesser people need to do things our way.

But we also need to repent of the gossip, the fashion show and all the sin. It is no more OK for a person to gossip and never repent, never turn from that sin, than for the person to be a homsexual. Neither party will inherit the kingdom.

So we will, rightly, deny membership to a homosexual offender and yet we let the gossips in and say, "we're not perfect, we're forgiven!"

It is true that we don't see gossips marching down the street in gossip pride parades and we don't hear them saying that God made them this way and he loves their gossip as it is an expression of their love.

So I understand why there is a different way of treating on than the other. And still I think we to call gossips to repent and we need to even discipline them when they refuse.

Do you think many churches are doing that.

I sat across from one elder once who told me his wife had told him something, I said.

I answered, "I never spoke to your wife. How could she know that."

He answered, "You told so and so and she immediately called my wife and talked to her on the phone for two hours about it."

This was an elder telling me his wife was gossiping with another elder's wife. Yikes!