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Monday, May 11, 2015

Running is No Solution

You remember the line, I’m sure.

You’re a teenager and you’ve just gotten deeply invested in a relationship that you are convinced is the real deal. Everything is going swimmingly, and then he or she says those dreaded words:

“I think we need to take some time …”

The desire for time and space apart may be framed in all manner of imaginative ways: “I was on the rebound”, “It’s too soon”, “My parents don’t approve” or “I have to concentrate on school right now”. The inexperienced take it at face value, or at least try to. But those of us who have heard it before know exactly what it means.

It means you’re done.

Don’t Forget the T-Shirt

By the time they’re willing to say the words, they’ve already moved on. Their goals and priorities have changed, the plans are laid and the final step in the process is to let you know (in the politest possible way, of course) so you don’t hold them back. And, yes, there is someone else. There is ALWAYS someone else. Don’t kid yourself.

On the bright side, if they’re really nice they might even return that jacket or t-shirt of yours that they borrowed …

Nobody takes a step back, evaluates their situation from a distance, and then returns to a relationship determined to make it work. At least, nobody I’ve ever seen. Those who are committed to fixing a troubled, inferior or unsatisfying relationship dig in and fix it from within. Most often, the plea for time and space is simply the preferred exit strategy of passive-aggressives and those who lack the courage or character to deal with a potentially painful confrontation.

Reading Between the Lines

It happens in churches too, doesn’t it. A step back is nearly always a bad thing. When you are in a position of leadership and someone who has been active in service in the church comes to you to say they need to “step back” for a while, alarm bells go off. If they don’t, they should.

Sometimes it’s absolutely legit: aging parents with needs, trouble with a teenager going through a rough patch, unexpected demands on the job, a health crisis … there are things that happen in our lives that are impossible to predict or plan for, and our commitment to our church responsibilities cannot help but be affected.

But many times it’s sin.

For a Christian in leadership, such a scenario presents difficulties. You don’t want to jump to conclusions. You certainly do not want to level accusations with no evidence. But sometimes you hear an excuse that sounds implausible, or something about a fellow believer’s manner makes it obvious they are not disclosing what’s really going on with them.

Calling One Another to Account

Do we call them on it, or do we respect their privacy only to watch them crash and burn later?

The world always opts for the latter. “Live and let live”, “two consenting adults”, and so on. You know the drill.

But those in the Church who sense there is something wrong in a fellow believer’s life and passively encourage them to keep up the fa├žade must bear a measure of accountability if that person’s public testimony disintegrates. We are to restore fellow believers who are caught in transgressions in a spirit of gentleness, but such restoration requires confession. Confession, we must admit, is not a common feature of most modern Christian relationships and apart from it, nobody may know what’s in the heart of another.

We need to be closer to one another in order to bear one another’s burdens and know one another’s weaknesses. Yet even with all the love and help in the world, some professing Christians determine to move forward (or rather, backward) into sin.

I remember a church meeting years ago when a beautiful young soloist broke down in tears over and over as she tried to keep her platform commitments with what must have been an impossibly heavy heart. I wondered what on earth what was happening — until the following week she left her husband for a man from work, and of course left the church at the same time.

Did anybody know? Was there ever an opportunity to change her mind? Maybe, but either way the Lord knew. Thankfully, it’s impossible to fool the Lord about where we are in our spiritual lives. 

A Bed in Sheol

Sin inclines us to keep our distance from a holy God. Peter confesses, “I am a sinful man”, and his first words are to the Lord are “Depart from me”.

When the church is functioning as it should, God’s presence may be easier to perceive among his people. But he is no less present when we leave the company of believers:
“Where shall I go from your Spirit?
    Or where shall I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there!
    If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!
If I take the wings of the morning
    and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
even there your hand shall lead me,
    and your right hand shall hold me.
If I say, ‘Surely the darkness shall cover me,
    and the light about me be night,’
even the darkness is not dark to you;
    the night is bright as the day,
    for darkness is as light with you.”
If it is only Christians who have trouble with our lifestyle choices, we can easily make ourselves scarce. These days we can probably even find other groups in Christendom that will be happy to have us and our sin of choice too.

But if it is the risen Christ who objects to a public profession of his Lordship followed by a lifetime of doing our own thing, we have got a major problem.

And running is no solution.

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