Monday, October 26, 2009

Disdain disdain

disdain. to look upon or treat with contempt; despise; scorn

In the book Workers for the Harvest Field, David Jackman recounts an interview with a ministry candidate. This person had been going on and on about how much he loved to teach the Bible when Jackman's colleague interrupted him: "Yes, but do you the people you'll teach it to?"

I've often thought about this question - do I love people, especially those whom I encounter as someone in "ministry"? If in my eyes, people simply become projects to moan and fret over, then I might as well quit. Any ministry of the Word that I do, excepting God's grace to work through jars of clay, might as well be a yodelling performance for all they care. That's what John Wesley apparently told one of his proteges: "Your temper is uneven; you lack love for your neighbours. You grow angry too easily; your tongue is too sharp - thus, the people will not hear you".

I have struggled with this. I think of the person I've been reading the Bible one-to-one with this year. I think there are times when, after going through the same thing for the umpteenth time, I have thought to myself: 'Why don't you just get it (and become a 'better Christian'?...and show what a brilliant discipler I am...and on it goes)". I think of a recent cell group Bible study I was in - if you think it's you I'm talking about, it isn't :) - and how frustrating it was. It was so easy to heap scorn onto them, to flash my inductive Bible study credentials, spit out a tonnage of verbiage and leave the room with gold dust on the floor and stars in their eyes. But these are Christians, people who are trying to follow Jesus in their imperfect ways, people who carry baggage around with them, in other words, people like me. I think too of how easy it is to disdain those who seem to have so reductionistic, so shallow an understanding of the gospel. Can't they see it's about the kingdom of God? Why aren't they at the forefront of political activism? Or why are they always taking verses out of context? Or why are they always protesting against Harry and his Da Vinci Materials?

But when I look at the Bible, I see something different. God in the Old Testament is portrayed as a warrior, and the Exodus can be seen as a great victory of a great king. Yet in Psalm 78 God is described as leading his people like sheep through the desert. In Hosea, I see God despairing of his hard-hearted people, but telling them, how can I give you up? I look at Jesus, looking over the crowd, and having great compassion on them because they were lost. I look at the way he treats the rich young man, with that beautiful line: "Jesus looked at him and loved him" (Mark 10:21). He is the good shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep. To be sure, we see Jesus getting exasperated with his disciples and even more antsy with the Pharisees. And I don't think I'm saying that there is no place for criticism or even a bit of a kick up the you know where. That evangelicalism is in need of a shot in the arm is not in question. It's just not the point of this post.

I'm part of a messy community. A community that's slow to learn. That includes myself. I long to see it become more conformed to how God wants it to be, but sometimes it seems as if we're heading the opposite direction! But God says his Word does not return to him empty (Isaiah 55:10); it is effective. And so I am committed to a ministry of the Word, however it might look like, from formal teaching to informal encouraging, allowing the gospel to be applied specifically to our lives. That means there are battles to be fought, because such a commitment is not going to be unopposed, not least by the devil. But when I become self-righteous, when I start looking at disdain at others, that's when I've forgotten the gospel of Jesus myself. When I become impatient, I've forgotten how patient God has been with me in calling me to himself.

I don't want that to happen. Oh Lord, how we need to know your grace again!

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