Thursday, April 19, 2007

who are you punishing?

Perhaps you're another pastor...
Or perhaps you're someone who's really involved in a church somewhere...

If so, then you know exactly what I'm talking about.

Who knows? I might even be talking about you.

There seems to be this contingent of people who--although they spend their weeks learning about Jesus, the same one who taught us about peace, love, forgiveness, self-responsibility, and the grace of God--like the thought of retribution. They actually enjoy it. It makes them feel vindicated, or perhaps it worsens their addiction to it.

So something happens in their church that they don't like. Imagine that. You know, according to them, the church would be in such a better position if... And if they'd chosen blue carpet instead of red... And if youth group meetings were at 5 o'clock instead of 6 o'clock... And if the music were different... And the list goes on and on.

And in response to the grievance, no matter how large or small, retribution is necessary. Punishment is necessary. Someone has to pay for the crime.

What's so astonishing to me is the nature of the chosen punishment...because it's almost always the same. If they're mad at someone in the church they won't participate in any activities or programs that involve that person. If they're mad at the church in general they'll withhold their tithe. If they're mad about the children's program or the youth program then their children won't participate. If they're mad about the music program they leave the church and join another one.

But I've got to ask...who is it that's being punished?

If they're mad at someone else refusing to participate in activities that person is a part of doesn't punish the person they're mad at. It punishes they themselves. They are missing out on being a part of the body of Christ. They're missing out on opportunities to worship, fellowship, and minister.
If they're mad about something in the youth or children's program responding by saying, "My kids won't participate" doesn't punish anyone else in the church or even the programs. It only punishes the angry person and their family. Their kids are missing out on ministry geared to them. Their kids are missing out on fun, worship, and fellowship. And what's worse, their kids are taught improper priorities, that will have damaging effects upon the family for generations to come.

If they're mad about something and leave the church...it doesn't punish anyone. It creates a rift between them and others that they will one day regret.

If they're mad and choose to withhold their tithe the truth is that it doesn't punish the church. God will replace that lost income in some way or another. Perhaps someone else will come along who gives an even greater amount...I've actually seen that happen a number of times. Or perhaps the church realizes how they can be more frugal and do without that income. And, as all these other things, it actually punishes the person withholding their tithe. They are keeping themselves separate from the activity of Christ's church. They are missing out on the opportunity to be a partner with the body of Christ.

So when people do these sort of things it blows my mind. I wish they'd listen when I tell them, or when someone else tells them, how it really only punishes they themselves. But for some reason, that need for retribution is too strong. Perhaps if they remembered how much God has forgiven all of us it might help. And perhaps if they actually listened and understood what ill effects this behavior really has they wouldn't do it. Maybe.

May you be those who respond out of a spirit of love and forgiveness...even that same spirit of love and forgiveness that Jesus himself embodied. And may you be those who suffer no addiction to retribution.

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