Loving with Confidence

As part of normal life maintenance, I often ponder what sort of church I want to call home for me and my family.  This is by no means an indictment against our current congregation!  Instead, I classify this as a regular maintenance activity to determine if our faith routines have drifted off course or out of specification – a kicking of the tires and reading of the oil dipstick, if you will.

Some of the attributes are obvious: our church must be Christ-centered and Bible-based.  No argument there!  The characteristics to which I am referring may seem equally concrete at first but are in fact much more difficult to pin-down to specifics beyond a handful of broad brush statements – some positive and others negative – supported by healthy doses of explanation and outright preference.  This is much deeper than the style of worship music (or lack thereof), the frequency with which communion is celebrated or even the question of whether blue jeans are acceptable Sunday morning attire.  In a nutshell, I’m seeking a church that loves with confidence.

As it should be, love is a primary ingredient in any healthy church.  Paul summarizes this absolute truth in 1 Corinthians 13, but due to the world’s uncanny ability to muddy what should be crystal clear, the apostle also weaves a series of clarifying caveats into this seminal chapter.  What I seek follows a similar pattern.  I want to attend a church that demonstrates godly love to such a degree that its members are inspired to be everything God created them to be, other congregations cite as an example of what they aspire to become and non-believers cannot help but be curious about what’s going on.  While correction is appropriate at some points in time, fire and brimstone should not be the norm.  We serve a God who loves us, has our best interests in mind and wants us to willingly approach Him.  Proper, heavenly love will also never paper over sin or characterize knowledge as an acceptable substitute for faith, and it refuses to advance a worldly lifestyle of health, wealth and stealth.  As Paul instructs, love is patient and kind, but it is not self-serving and should never be used to induce trauma or incite a war.

Love is indeed supreme, but the means by which that love is exchanged between believers and carried to the outside world is of critical importance, too.  If love is what believers are to do, then with confidence is how we are to do it.  Here is a trustworthy saying: Jesus already won the ultimate contest between life and death, and we’re on His side!  So why don’t we act like winners – not smug or cocky, as is vogue today; but confident, as Jesus modeled.  He could have condemned the woman caught in adultery and put her accusers to public shame, but instead He patiently taught His adversaries a powerful lesson and gently instructed the woman to sin no more (John 8:1-11).  In the garden of Gethsemane, more than twelve legions of angels were at His disposal to vanquish those who intended to do Him harm (Matthew 26:53-54), but He willingly went like a sheep to the slaughter.  Soon after, He was cruelly challenged to come down from the cross (Matthew 27:39-43), but He gave up His spirit and died for our sins.  Jesus had complete confidence in His Father’s plan and refused to be lured into petty debates and self-righteous “I win, you lose” demonstrations.  Has this lesson been lost on modern believers?  Do we win converts to Christ with angry political rhetoric, back-biting comments and a lust for personal revenge?  Indeed, we are specifically instructed to be subject to our leaders (Romans 13:1-7), abstain from gossip (multiple references in Proverbs) and yield to God for the administration of vengeance (Deuteronomy 32:35).  Does God need our help to defend Him?  If we truly believe He knows all and is in control of all, then it may be wise to consider diverting a good portion of the resources we currently expend on air-tight apologetics and fiery blog comments toward the practice of placing our confidence in the simple fulfillment of the greatest commandment (Matthew 22:36-40).  In today’s world, it is so easy – convenient even – to lash out in frustration at sin and ungodly attitudes.  As Christians we must resist this urge and follow the example Christ laid-out for us.

Older married couples are a prime example of loving with confidence.  They implicitly know that each has the other’s best interests in mind and understand completely that there is no need to defend who or what they are to others.  They love with confidence.  A church modeled in the same fashion would be one that anyone would be proud to call their home.


My Saul

When did the world become so unabashedly personalized?  The computing industry is a good example of this wide-spread reality.  Computers began their existence as a shared resource, mysteriously winking and whirring behind glass windows in climate controlled luxury until IBM introduced the “Personal Computer” in the early 1980s.  Then the Internet, which was originally created for the Department of Defense, became available to the common person and eventually allowed each of us to have our own “home page.”  The “My” revolution quickly followed suit.  We were introduced to “My Favorites”, “My Documents”, “My Site”, “My Computer” and “My Network Places.”  It is now common to hear, “I need to check my e-mail,” or “Have you read my blog?” or “Check-out my pictures on my website.”  (My humblest apologies to my readers if my terminology doesn’t fit the particular technology of your own my-world.)  I wonder then, if any of this personalization could be put to better use – or, more precisely, a godly use.

You see, I have a friend for whom I feel the need to pray about a lot.  He is a tireless and vocal advocate of the causes he sees as worthy of his considerable talents, and I could absolutely picture him as a modern day Paul if only he could be turned to God.  I am sure of it.  So, what’s the stumbling block?  He is gay.  Therefore, instead of seeing him as Paul, it is probably more accurate to compare him to Saul – a lot of promise pointed in the wrong direction.  And because God has placed this concern for him on my heart, I consider him My Saul – the personal project God has assigned to me.

Like Saul, my friend is intelligent, articulate and passionate.  Acts 22:3 provides a glimpse into the background of the future apostle and up-and-coming Pharisee who was thoroughly trained in the law by Gamaliel, a highly respected Jewish leader and scholar.  Similarly, my friend graduated with honors from a well-known and respected university.  No one would mistake either man for an uneducated hack.

Although the Bible does not provide direct evidence of Saul’s speaking abilities before his conversion, it is probably safe to assume that the considerable talent he displayed afterwards at several points in the book of Acts (9:22, 14:1, 17:1-4 and 19:8) in arguing Jesus is the Christ so persuasively that the Jews could not refute him were recognized early in life.  Perhaps this ability is one of the primary reasons God chose him for ministry.  Likewise, in my many conversations with my friend, I am always amazed at his command of the English language.  He is well read and converses easily on a wide-range of topics and current events.  Interestingly, his knowledge of the Bible is exceedingly poor – full of common misunderstandings that many Sunday school children could refute.  As far as I know, he has never been banished or incarcerated like Paul was, but I could very easily believe that he could arrive at a similar outcome due to his uncanny ability to put most opponents on their heels in frustration.

Finally, Saul demonstrates his enormous passion by vocalizing his approval of Stephen’s death by stoning (Acts 8:1) and asking for letters from the high priest to imprison followers of the Way in Damascus (Acts 9:1-2).  Post-conversion, this same zeal drives Paul ever onward despite repeated encounters with exposure, mistreatment and peril (2 Cor 11:24-28) for a cause he deems worthy.  Unfortunately, my friend is also passionately motivated – a personally involved voice for medical and workplace rights and against perceived discrimination and hate crimes.  What if Christ could be shouted from the same platform with as much vigor?

Despite all of these similar qualities, my friend remains unconverted, a blatant sinner.  So why do I still hold out hope for him?  Paul, speaking of his prior self, provides the answer I hope for in 1 Tim 1:13-16:

Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief.  The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.  Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners – of whom I am the worst.  But for that very reason, I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life.

Did anyone bother to pray for Saul?  Or did early believers write him off as a hopeless cause, perhaps calling down God’s judgment on their enemy?  During Stephen’s execution, we are never told that anyone in the crowd uttered a word of redemption for him.  At the outset of Acts 9, the Bible says that Saul continued to breath out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples.  Within a few sentences, though, he was given a new life in Christ, and by the chapter’s conclusion, he is an ardent supporter of the Way!  Did someone feel led to make Saul his or her personal project and ask God for this miracle to happen?

All of this brings me back to my friend.  Who am I to doubt that arguably the greatest conversion of all time could happen again if only I took the time to invest in My Saul?