I want to be bold in sharing my faith. Sometimes I am and people are encouraged. Other times I fail miserably by being silent when words should be spoken. And still other times I speak the truth in love which only seems to produce tension and strife.
What if that is enough?
I am results oriented as probably most of us are. I count the cost and determine if said action is worth the effort. But this does not always work when it comes to sharing our faith. There are times we must say what is hard, call people to a higher standard, and keep others accountable with no guarantee of the outcome. In the past few years I have become a little better at doing that in part because of a dear friend who did this for me.
Let me introduce you to Carolyne. She is a beautiful, fun, spiritually grounded woman I am privileged to call my friend. We met about four and a half years ago in Fort Pierce, Florida. Ironically, she had attended a mission program at the church where I grew up. While we didn’t know each other during her time in my hometown, we had an immediate connection in part because of this.
My time in Florida was good in many ways but brought continuous challenges. And Carolyne was a God-send. We would talk at least once if not twice every day. We would go on coffee dates or spend time at the beach on our days off. Carolyne and I traveled many roads together, literally and figuratively, navigated church changes, encouraged each other in our marriages and were each other’s biggest fan. We could spend hours talking and would joke that our time together was much cheaper than counseling.
While all of these events are significant, the affair of greatest significance in our friendship was when Carolyne risked losing all of this for something greater. I had gotten myself into quite a mess with no real end in sight. The details of that battle are not important right now but how she handled the situation is. In short, she basically told me I could either stop living in sin or we could stop being friends. Incidentally, we had this conversation on my baptism birthday. Coincidence? Not even close.
We live in a world that is increasingly intolerant of intolerance. To stand for something is highly offensive. We are told to accept everything and everyone, no questions asked. Having conviction automatically means you are judgmental and have no regard for the situation of others. Accountability is unacceptable because that means you are harsh or egotistical or whatever else you want to define it as.
But I would argue that this is far from the truth.
My understanding from what the Bible says is quite the opposite. To truly love means putting others above yourself. To overcome evil you must do good. Speaking truth often means risking comfort and possibly relationship. And standing for truth is the tougher road than accepting anything and everything.
Carolyne refused to stand by and watch me throw away much of what I had always stood for as Christ follower which ultimately would have discredited my witness. We cannot live as the world does yet claim to be followers of Christ. The church is accused of being full of hypocrites. But in reality hypocrites are the ones who claim to know God yet live like the world.
And that is exactly where I was.
Christianity is not always fun or easy or comfortable. It’s just not. And probably one of the most difficult things we are called to do is to judge those inside the church. Because the world we lives in tells us not to.
I guess “judging” can be a confusing concept to grasp. Jesus tells us in the Sermon on the Mount not to judge. My understanding of this passage in Matthew 7 is to take care of your junk before you try to help others. This doesn’t mean we have it all together before we engage in accountability. It does mean that we are to be real with ourselves about our own shortcomings. In other words, we should not call out a brother for a sin that we are in denial of struggling with ourselves.
Then in 1 Corinthians 5:9-13 Paul writes, “I have written you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people-not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. But now I am writing you that you must not associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or a slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler. With such a man do not even eat. What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside. ‘Expel the wicked man from among you.’”
There is line drawn about who to judge.
I suppose my encouragement or challenge or whatever else you want to take from today’s thoughts in summary is this: If you claim to be a Christian, act like it. If you claim to be a Christian, hold people accountable. If you claim to be a Christian, expect to be held accountable. Be real with people who will do what is hard. If you are giving the verbal rebuke, take the plank out of your own eye so you can remove the speck of dust from your brother or sister’s eye. If you are on the receiving end, fight the urge to immediately throw up walls to defend yourself. Remember that as hard as it is to hear what is being said, it is probably harder for the one who is saying it.
I’m not sure how my battle would have turned out had Carolyne not been there. I hope it would have had the same happy ending but I don’t know. But we will never have to find out because she was brave enough to call me out. She did what was hard. She risked friendship, having no idea how I would receive her words. There were definite periods of tension and strife but she hung in there with me.
It was more than just a choice in friendship.
She was calling me to choose between walking in the light or in darkness. She was calling me to choose between Jesus and the world. If it sounds extreme to draw a line over one sin it’s because it is. And if we have any chance at overcoming sin we must allow our brothers and sisters to be extreme. Even Jesus didn’t walk through this life alone. He had a close group of friends that he opened up with. He called them to a higher standard. He rebuked them at times. And he loved them deeply.
We cannot fall from God’s grace but we can choose to walk away. We always have a choice. And Carolyne gently, and sometimes not so gently, reminded me of this. Because she was fulfilling her calling she challenged me to fulfill mine. And because she cared more for my soul than our friendship I was able to walk away.
Hand in hand, Carolyne helped me to walk away. And because of her boldness, years later I am stronger because she did what was hard.
Do what is hard. Love people enough to say something. Engage in accountability with a friend like Carolyne.
Because souls depend on it.
Sometimes we must risk losing something temporary to gain something eternal.