Category: Community

Liking Has Limits

When we connect with someone we often click or say that we like them. This connection is typically because of a shared interest or value, and because we “connect” we prefer the company of that kind of person. We do the same with food and clothes. We like particular foods more than others, so include them in our weekly diet. We are drawn to particular fashion, so we buy certain clothes that express who we are. We tend to like people who resonate with our self-expression, but biblical community is based on love, not likes.

Community is based on love not likes.

Love pushes us beyond the boundaries of like. Love melts social boundaries. It compels me to spend time with people who are different, to see the world from their viewpoint. Love puts a face on those we don’t agree with and says I care about you. Love does not equal liking, though it may include it.

Love is commitment, service, sacrifice, putting others first, whether we like a person or not. Love is hard, deep, true. And it’s easy to mistake the people we like for the height of love in our lives. But Jesus said love is expressed in our attitude toward our enemies, toward those who have different ideologies, ethnicities, incomes, and personalities. Jesus could have easily said, “Love your neighbor ask you like your friend.”

Because love can be demanding, we often daydream of seasons in our lives when “everyone got me.” College friendships become the standard by which we judge other relationships. Or we compare our community in one church against another, concluding that our present church is deficient and “not meeting our needs.” But this is mistaking loving for liking.

When nostalgia creeps in, what we often want is to wind back the clock to a time before we had to love people who were hard to love, who rubbed us wrong, who required very little effort to love, which is to say we love an idea of them, a fragment of them but not the whole them, not the true them, not all of them. In other words, liking has limits, restrictions, and boundaries. Liking is not love, though it certainly can be part of it. Liking accepts based on preference; love welcomes even difference.

It is possible to like someone so much that you don’t actually love them.

In fact, it is possible to like someone so much that you don’t actually love them. If we mainly like someone, we may not be willing to be honest with them, to tell them the truth about the ugly parts of their character. Why? Because it risks the relational comfort we feel when we are around them. But love risks the loss of being liked for the gain of being true. Love is truthful, not just tolerant. My wife likes me and she loves me. How do I know? She loved me enough to tell me once, “You are great at serving our family, except when it is inconvenient.” Gut punch. When we mainly like someone, we are unwilling to say hard things to them.

St. Paul took it a step further to say, “Love rejoices in the truth.” Sometimes we chicken out from saying what’s true about someone’s character, faulty beliefs, or poor decisions. And we will say to ourselves, I love them too much. It would crush them. I don’t want to hurt them. But often the truth is, we don’t want to be hurt. We don’t want to risk being un-liked. We love ourselves but only like others. Others have become a means to the end of my self-love.

When my wife dediced to tell the truth about my love of convenience and how it was impacting her, she had to push through just liking. She had to confront the very real possibility that her honesty would jeopardize my liking her, a least for a moment. She braced herself for temporary rejection in order to love me sincerely, to tell me the truth.

Love that Never Fails

If we like someone, we will find it much easier to love them, but it will also be harder to increase our ability to love. People who rub us wrong, have opposing personalities, or are entirely different require love. They increase our reliance on an outside source of love. They drive us to find a strength of love that can’t be found elsewhere.

That love, of course, is found in God himself: Lover (Father), Beloved (Son), and Love (Spirit). Apart from immersing ourselves in intimate communion with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, we will opt for liking and grow weary and cynical about those he’s called us to love.

Liking has limits, but love is limitless. If flows from the intra-trinitarian fountain of divine love, where different persons of the Godhead love and serve one another continually, spilling out to love the other (you and me) in limitless love. As I depend on that source of love, I keep discovering  people I love become people I like, and those friendships tend to be stronger, deeper, and more sacrificial than people I have merely liked.

Hope for Those On the Brink

As I read On the Brink: Grace for Burned Out Pastors I felt Clay’s understanding arm wrapped around my shoulder, h9781596388987is words carrying heartfelt empathy, something that can be hard for pastors to find. As I collapsed on my bed in the mountains, I read and silently wept. My Heavenly Father was tenderly pulling the pain out.

I’ve peered over the fence of burnout a couple times. The first time was due to a mix of traveling too much, demands of ministry, and not enough intimacy with Christ. The second time I saw into the land of waylaid pastors from the vantage point of suffering. From either direction, I’ve found the Lord to be a great Comforter and Instructor. Both are necessary. If we receive only comfort, we will simply withdraw. If we only receive instruction, we with wither away on the vine.

I have organized some insights from this book under four important headings: Empathy, Idolatry, Suffering, & Hope.

EMPATHY IN THE DIFFICULTY OF MINISTRY

It doesn’t take long, after experiencing a major storm in leadership, of you to being to wonder if you need to and on ship. Whether it’s a seventy foot waves or just an extremely slow lead in the nice weather, there are times when walking way form the community to which God has called you to minister seems to be safer than staying put.

It is rare that all these things happen at once, but any pastor can attest that there are periods in ministry when one thing comes right after the next, leaving him exhausted and needing significant rest and renewal. Yet such rest is rare when a leader has to create yet another sermon for Sunday and get ready for yet another committee meeting…and still have time to be with and minister to his own family.

IDOLATRY IN OUR SUFFERING

Here is the danger of every pastor, church planter, and even church member: “The church we want becomes the enemy of the church we have.”

“If we demand, in any of our relationships, either perfection or nothing, we will get nothing.”

“He made a point that changed my life and left me in tears. He said that too often pastors only see areas of deficiency in their people and not evidences of grace, and therefore they become bitter and joyless…Maybe the church as we have it provides the very conditions and proper company congenial for growing up in Christ for becoming mature, for arrive at the measure of the stature of Christ. Maybe God knows what he is doing, giving us church, this church.”

HOW TO SUFFER WELL

Werner freely admits that the joy that should come from knowing Christ and being saved by him, trusting in his good promises in the midst of trials, doesnt require a cheerfulness “as to remove all feeling of bitterness and pain.”

It is necessary and essential for patient endurance in ministry, that the “bitterness of the cross be tempered by spiritual joy.”

“Patience is not about waiting for the doctor or for the cars to move in the drive-through so I can finally gey my long-awaited double cheeseburger. Patience is perseverance under provocation.”

“With whatever you have gone through or are going through, is your heart filled with compassion, humility, and meekness?”

“Are your interactions with fellow sinners marked by kindness, patience, and forgiveness? If we let these questions penetrate deep enough, we’ll find that stew need grace just as much as, if not more than, the people we are pointing our fingers at.”

HOPE FOR THE PASTOR (and everyone else)

“A vital walk with Christ is the first priority.”

Don’t just prepare meals for others; feast for yourself.

“When I couldn’t or didn’t want to pray anymore, I took a measure of comfort in the biblical claim that if all this was really true, the Spirit was interceding within me and for me with groans too deep for words.”

The resurrection, then, is good news for pastors who are exhausted and crushed by life, ministry, and their own sins. It means the resurrected Shepherd of the sheep will find you to strengthen you once again with his resurrection power (Isa. 40:11, 27-31). The King of life will breathe life into you once again by the Spirit and grant you new repentance, strengthened faith, and a refreshed heart.”

“It is the repentant heart that has the most room for the rivers of living water flowing from the heart of our King.”

“There is a deeper joy that can’t be touched by circumstances.

“If God can raise Jesus from the dead, he is powerful enough to pour life back into a hardened and cold heart.”

 

Clay’s book is just $7 at WTS Books right now.

Competing Visions of Church

People’s visions of church differ. When I first moved to Austin I asked people what they thought about church and if Austin needed another one. Some said, “Only if it does good.” Others said, “No way; we’ve got enough bigots.”

A Massive Vision of Church

Christians are also divided on their visions of church: “more community, better music, less preaching, more social justice” Paul trifles with our visions of church when he says: “Do you not know that you (plural) are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple” (1 Co 3:16). God’s vision of the church is holy community, a distinct, interdependent people that stick out in the culture. This distinct flavor is the result of being holy, “set apart” to God, as opposed to being set apart to our own vision of church or set apart to our personal freedoms. God has a collective holiness at the center of his vision. The implications of this vision are huge.

Individuals Apart vs. Saints Together

Paul can’t conceive of a disembodied Christ, of stray Christians disconnected from one another. Which means loving Jesus but not the church severs the head from the body. Christians who complain about the church, gossip, judge, and quarrel are like cutters, who cause self-injury to the Body. So if your vision of church doesn’t include being holy together, which builds up the body, then it’s not God’s church you’re day dreaming about.

We all possess alternate, broken views of church. If you have church background, you can name off the things you don’t like about your church experience, probably more than the benefits. Why? It’s highly likely that you care more about your views on the church than embodying God’s view of the church—holy temple, where his Spirit dwells, where people live who are just as deserving of forgiveness and grace as you are because of Christ. Even if you’re part of a Christ-centered, missional church, you would be naive to think that your old, individualistic, default visions have dissipated.

Gut Check Your Church Vision

We often act like individuals apart instead of saints together when divide the church by:

  • Attending church gatherings only when our preferred preacher is speaking
  • Just “catching the podcast at home” (as if church is mere information)
  • Refusing to pursue the holy joy of others in your community, especially different or difficult people
  • Forming judgmental opinions on the style of music, personality of a leader, or philosophy of ministry.

When we dwell on minors instead of majoring on Christ crucified we act like “Individuals Apart” not saints together. We build a vision of church around ourselves, not Jesus. We miss out on Jesus’ grand, temple-vision of church and diminish its witness to the world.