When I was in college I watched a young man I love self-destruct. He didn’t apply himself in school. He grew his hair out and colored it green. He rejected mainstream anything, including Jesus. He questioned authority and became defiant. He got involved with drugs and headlined a punk rock band. He had a whatever-makes-me –happy-even-at-the-expense-of-others attitude and pushed his family away. As a teenager I remember wondering why his mom and dad put up with him. I was critical of their parenting. As a parent now, I can’t imagine how difficult this time was for them.
Exasperated, I would argue with him and write him letters to try to prove the case for Christ. I watched as his dad tried earnestly to connect with him in some way. While others looked on in disbelief, his dad would attend his punk rock gigs like you might a child’s spelling bee. His mom saw past his outward rebellion to his kind heart, while friends and family shook their head, amazed at their apparent lack of furor over his choices. They never dismissed his feelings. They lovingly redirected him to Jesus at every opportunity. They loved him; kept on forgiving him. Seventy times seven. Although they made it clear they didn’t agree with some of his choices, he always knew they loved him. As an agnostic, as a Buddhist, they loved him. As a broke 19 year old following the musical group Phish, they loved him. Through his twenty-something-moving-to-California-to-find-himself they loved him. As a successful entrepreneur in his 30’s they loved him. When he was lost and broken, they loved him. They walked with him, even when he didn’t want them too. They offered mercy and grace even when it was hard and they didn’t feel like it. They loved when they didn’t understand or agree with any of it.
Don’t speak evil against each other, dear brothers and sisters. If you criticize and judge each other, then you are criticizing and judging God’s law. But your job is to obey the law, not to judge whether it applies to you. God alone, who gave the law, is the Judge. He alone has the power to save or to destroy. So what right do you have to judge your neighbor?
That boy’s parents recognized what I didn’t; we all need a Savior. Each of us. When you lose site of your need for a Savior, it’s easy to point out the sin of others. I’m not talking about losing site of God’s goodness or His love. That’s comfortable to think about. I’m talking about recognizing your own stink. Your muck, failings, flaws, your sin. Your bad attitude. Your gossip. Your infidelity. Your coveting the vacation your neighbor has or the new car parked in their drive. Your little white lie. That movie you watched and the feelings you had. Those words that came spilling out of your mouth in anger and frustration. That hate & bitterness you harbor in your heart because that one time that one person did that one thing. That night you set out to drink your issues away. Your sin. We all need a Savior. We, in all of our humanity, did nothing to deserve God’s grace, mercy and acceptance. But he gave it anyway.
Despite ourselves, despite our sin, He loves us. Took the nails for us. Hung on a cross for us. The road to the cross was paved with our sins. Yours and mine. And theirs. Our need for a Savior is universal. His blood covers everyone.
We should absolutely be able to have hard conversations with one another and keep each other accountable but that can only take place in relationship. Living amongst one another. Criticism and accountability in the absence of relationship breeds contempt. It creates an environment for the heart to build a wall to protect itself and with each interaction another brick is added. God meets us right where we are. We need to love others in that same place. Let’s not add any bricks to the walls. Let’s create an environment where the bricks come tumbling down so the Holy Spirit can move.
That boy’s folks realized something else, God did not send us to save. That’s Jesus’ job. Jesus chose to live among the sinners. He could have stayed in heaven and pointed out the errors of our ways. He could have separated himself from us. He could have forced us to believe in Him. Instead, he chose relationship with us. In the midst of our muck. He didn’t force himself upon us, he offered. He showed us a new way of living, of loving. He accepted us and watched His holy spirit change our hearts. As we learn more about Him, as our hearts grow closer to His, our life begins to bear fruit. Our life begins to reflect His.
That is the example He gave us. It’s that example my parent’s gave me. That boy is a man now. A man seeking after God’s plan for his life. It was our parent’s example, that Jesus kind of love, that brought my brother home. It was that place of safety and acceptance that allowed my brother to find his way to Jesus. It wasn’t any argument I had with him. It wasn’t my letters pointing out all he was doing wrong. It wasn’t my cries of frustration with him. It wasn’t the heads shaking or finger pointing. It was the love of Jesus given through my parents and countless sleepless nights in prayer. It was the Holy Spirit. God alone. He alone is the judge. He alone is the Savior. Our instructions are to love. Big, vulnerable, in the muck love. That is where we plant the seeds. God is responsible for the fruit.