Great Smokey Mountains, October 2006. Picture by Cecil May, 3.
We have two groups of college students here at the moment. On a second visit is Randy Gore and five energetic students from North Carolina State. They arrived this afternoon. Last time he was here was back in May, so things have changed quite a bit. Also here is Charles Schaffer and a good group of students from Tallequah, Oklahoma. They drove all night last night to be here first thing in the morning. Today the students worked in the yard of an elderly woman in very poor health, helping put up a chain link fence around her yard. This is important for her because of her dog that she has a hard time managing without a fence. There is no way this lady could chase her dog if it escaped. Pet owners will testify that these little creatures become important family members….especially for the elderly who live alone and depend on their company. Another part of the crew worked at the church building, tearing down ceiling tiles down both halls and in the foyer. Tomorrow we hope to begin placing sheetrock in their place. Painting continues as we await carpet samples and chair fabric samples.
Among the blessings I enjoyed today was a lunch with Al Sturgeon and Roy Stephenson. Roy is an old friend that I first met when I was a student at Magnolia Bible College. He was preaching in Eupora, Mississippi. His father in law, Wyatt Kirk, was a tract writer and preacher. Roy loaded up a couple of us students with lots of tracts and materials to use. We spent time together at Sardis Lake Christian Camp where I remember once that Roy wrote something like 15 verses to the tune of “Seek Ye First”. He and his wife DJ are both good singers. I was reacquainted with Roy as he was the minister for both the Orange Grove and Ocean Springs churches of Christ on the Coast during the time I have been at Central. Roy is compassionate, kind, and a genuine Christian who does not put on airs. And he is over 7 feet tall! It was a good visit. I neglected to get a picture, if you can believe it! Oh, and it was good to see Al as well….but that is always the case.
Loving the critical and hurtful brother or sister in your church is one of your biggest challenges. An equal challenge is not becoming one of them in response. In fact, a handful of critics (and there are usually only a few) can occupy your mind. Answering them indirectly can consume your time and turn your spirit bitter. Critics want something. However, they do not accomplish what they really want because they make some big mistakes. So, they keep on croaking out their criticisms, see nothing happen because of it, feel overlooked, and then croak some more. So, I have some suggestions for critics that will help them with some skills they missed in the school of life along the way somewhere. Before you criticize…
*Remember That Your Point of View Is Not The Only One. You may be right in your perceptions, but maybe not. Spend some time thinking about the point of view of the person you are criticizing. They are likely not evil people, but they have taken a viewpoint that is different than yours for a reason. That doesn’t automatically mean that they are wrong. If we can at least admit this possibility, then we are curbing our critical spirit already! You do not have to agree with them, but understanding the other person is a real asset toward resolution.
*Have A Friendly Chat With The Person. Perhaps you need to walk a mile in their shoes. You won’t be able to do that until you spend some time with them and get to know them better. Be nice, but feel free to be bold and ask. Open up the discussion at a time when you can both have time to express yourselves and be able to talk things through. There is nothing wrong with DISCUSSION. Talk things out! Be passionate about it, but not mean-spirited. Too often critics just assume they know what the person would say, and thus rob the person of a chance to give an explanation.
*Decide How Important This Issue Really Is. Sometimes people get all in a tear about something ‘down at church’ when the things that they are upset about are things not even found in the Bible. Traditions are not bad in themselves, but they become bad when they divide people from one another. Is this just a preference? Then express it and let it go. We all have preferences, and yours is no more important than anyone else’s. I’ve seen sad cases when people have taken traditions and preferences and attached Bible verses to them in a weak attempt to try to make everyone else conform to their wishes. Let’s hope everyone reading this blog has grown up beyond that kind of childish behavior.
*Ask Yourself If You Have Paid Attention To The Problems In Your Own Life. So many critics I have met seem to be oblivious to the gigantic problems in their own life. Especially those critics who focus on doctrine / theology. Not always, but usually the big struggles in their own life suggest that maybe they need to put the teachings of Jesus into PRACTICE before trying to TELL someone else what they ought to do. Why don’t you become a friend to the person you criticize so harshly, and ask them to pray with you about your own dilemmas. Grace is a great leveler of the playing field of life. In other words, are things so righteous in your own life that you have time to tend to someone else’s problems? Have you been busy winning someone to the Lord? Why not?
*Do You Love The Person You Are Criticizing? Be careful! If this were your son or daughter, would you be a bit more lenient with them? Would you give them a little more time to come around if they were your mother or father? If they were your wife or husband, would you take a long-term view of resolving the conflict and work toward small positive steps? It’s easy to pounce upon a stranger. Who cares if it makes them angry? But someone you love…well…that’s a different story. Love does not mean we withhold a bold conversation if one is needed. But it does change how we speak to someone else, and it does change our willingness to be apart from them.
*Explore What Others Are Saying. We may not realize that we’re the ones operating in the dark. Do some reading. Talk to some other people about subjects that trouble you. Realize that you are not the only one who thinks as you do, and neither is the person you are criticizing. That does not determine right and wrong, it only lets you know that there must be something to discuss on the matter and find out what those things are.
*Pursue Bible Study, Not Just Bible Re-reading. Ask questions as you read through the Scriptures about the subject that’s bothering you. Look at the ‘proof texts’ you would normally use to address this subject. Do they really say what you think they are saying? Are you reading ideas / thoughts / words into the text? Let the Scriptures lead you, not the other way around. And always let the Spirit lead you, which will be evident by His fruit on display in your heart and life.
*Pray Often. Pray for those whom you criticize. Pray for mercy. Pray to use ‘righteous judgment’ – there is such a thing. However we usually misuse that Bible thought and exchange it for something that is often a long way from ‘righteous’. We have the ‘judgment’ part down right! Pray for wisdom. Pray for opportunities to do something better than dissect someone else’s actions or thoughts.
*Love Always. I mentioned it a few times, but love always. Love is not easy. It is not a baby word or a namby pamby cotton candy fluff ball. It is a true reflection of discipleship. It will move you to treat those with whom you disagree with respect and dignity.
*Be Prepared To Experience Something Different. I believe that if you will approach things with these things in mind, you will find a different reception. Complainers will always complain. Everyone learns to ignore them. Step out of the crowd by becoming a loving brother or sister who is an active part of the church, who demonstrates genuine care. Your experience will be much different. Someone will actually listen. And you might get what you want for a change. But if not, you will have been heard, acknowledged, and respected.
If I speak in the tonguesof men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing. Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.