One challenge I’ve always come up against as a pastor – and just as a regular Christian – is how much blatant “sin” should I allow myself to be party to before I say something or excuse myself. Be it a blessing or a curse, I would say that there are more people comfortable “sinning” in my presence than most other pastors I know. Maybe it’s because I’m young, maybe it’s because I don’t wear ties often, maybe it’s because I’m morally reprehensible – I’m not sure.
But I hang out with a lot of seekers and Christians alike who feel very free to cuss, imbibe, inhale, shoot up, talk about sexual encounters, etc. in my presence.
I’ve had enough of those relationships now that I’ve started to notice a pattern:
- Person covers up bad habit/”sin” or outright lies about it to me if they notice that I’ve seen or heard something [lasts a few weeks]
- Person starts doing bad habit/”sin” in my presence, but apologizes profusely each time it occurs [lasts weeks-years]
- Person continues doing bad habit/”sin” in my presence, but shares with me whatever justification they use in their own head – sometimes sadly, sometimes in-your-face-ly
- Person continues doing bad habit/”sin” in my presence and it simply becomes part of who they are [and they begin to share other hidden parts of themselves]
- Person starts to eradicate bad habit/”sin” from their life and asks for help [happens sometimes]
Do you ever wonder how many of the people Jesus told to “go & sin no more” actually went and sinned no more?
I mean, obviously they weren’t perfect, but I wonder how many of them eradicated the thing Jesus asked them to give up. At our church, we’ve tried to take a page out of Jesus’ book by making one of our core values “serving people where they are” and I always try to point out to people that those are two very different levels of commitment. Getting Christians to serve others is embarassingly hard to start with, but getting people to serve other people where they are at – physically (probably somewhere other than your church property), mentally (probably not at a Seminary-level intellectually), psychologically (psych problems are SO prevalent in today’s world) and morally. That last one might be the most difficult because
I think, somewhere deep down, we all have a line we don’t cross with non-believers.
That line could be some word, some neighborhood location, some degree of inebriation, some level of smell, some degree of comprehension, some attitude posture, some sexual orientation, some level of honesty, etc. I think for almost all of us, including most pastors, that line is unconscious. And, while I won’t say you need to move your line, I think you should at least know where it is.
Do you ever notice how logical the Old Testament is and how illogical the New Testament is?
Maybe nowhere is this more obvious than what kind of company God-fearers should keep. I mean, sinners are bad – even your mother knew that and told you not to hang out with certain people. And Christians, all throughout history, have taken steps to keep themselves from being corrupted by sinful culture, which is to say, sinful people. And the Old Testament is consumed with staying away from sinful people and sinful nations – not sullying one’s self by association, intermarriage or even presence. Psalm 1 famously identifies the “blessed man” as him who does not even let sinful people into his “bubble”.
But Matthew, Mark and Luke all take the time, specifically to point out that Jesus had a bad reputation as a friend of sinners.
I think we should probably have that same reputation. Do you?