O love the LORD, all you His godly ones!
The LORD preserves the faithful
And fully recompenses the proud doer.
Psalm 31:23 NASB
Years ago, when I was a very young minister, I went back to Pennsylvania where I was born and where I grew up for part of my childhood. I held some evangelistic meetings in my hometown for 3 days and started to reconnect with some folks that I knew. On the last day of the meeting, one of my childhood pastors came to hear me preach. Afterwards, as we were visiting over some coffee I asked him why in the world was he still there, in the middle of nowhere, dealing with the same 16 welfare people that he had been dealing with for years. His answer made me ashamed of myself and my ambition. He said, “Son, God called me to be faithful”.
Faithful. Just that. He didn’t say that God had called him to be successful, rich, well known. He didn’t say that God had called him to make tons of money through offerings or to grow a big church. Just be faithful.
That lesson has stuck with me through all of these years. And while the temptation is always there to water things down for the sake of notoriety or worldly success, I can’t help but wonder if maybe on the Judgment Day, I will only be asked about my faithfulness and not my success. That has been what has kept us where we are for the last few years. Our church is still small (people have stayed away by the thousands) and we still struggle to make ends meet most of the time. I look at some of the big churches within driving distance, mostly seeker-sensitive drip pans, and the temptation is always there to get mad at God or frustrated due to a lack of big success in my recent service to god. And most times when I am ready to get despondent, I remember that I am called to be faithful, no matter where I am or what I perceive as the high cost that I am currently having to pay.
Faithfulness is a rare thing in the modern church. I have not found it very much over the last twenty years. While I was in the world, I had tons of friends. And those friends were my friends no matter what. Shoot, most times they would defend me even when what I was doing was wrong. And so I learned about the idea of fealty, devotion, loyalty and faithfulness from the world. Your friends had faults but then again, everyone did. And while they had genuine weaknesses and faults, you chose to look past those and glean the good things from them, things that were enjoyable to you about them while you were together. If a friend was in trouble, you helped, period. And if a friend was in danger, you went into it with them because that’s what friends did.
I came into the church after losing all of my friends due to my conversion. But I came with those same street values that I had my whole life. And man, was I in for a surprise.
In the church we do not know what the term loyalty means. We give no grace for growth. So many times, we bolt from churches and relationships because someone reveals (intentionally or unintentionally) their humanity. And while none of us are perfect, we are only too happy to end a relationship when someone else is imperfect in some way. We do not go into danger with one another, we do not share the burdens of life, loss or ministry. For all intents and purposes, we are just simple mercenaries, out for ourselves and willing to team up for brief periods but never forming lifelong relationships with others.
What makes it all worse is the stinking self righteousness that blankets us as Christians. We are more than happy to begin a relationship with someone but once we spot flaws, we immediately begin to distance ourselves. Eventually, when the person comes to be seen as a real, genuine, flawed human being (*gasp*), we decide to destroy them and all that they are doing as well. Because we simply can not believe that God would use a vessel of clay to act as a recipient of his spirit. And we do this with the full knowledge of how flawed we are ourselves, yet we consider this act of fratricide to be safe because our flaws are still hidden away. You know, shoot them before they can shoot you. And this is why so many leave the church and why countless more refuse to even darken the door. It’s not our singing, lights, greeters or programs that is keeping people away, it is our hypocrisy.
One of the most valuable things in life is the fellowship of a true friend. And some of the least important things are the flaws that everyone shares in common. But we will never be the people that God wants us to be so long as we continue to shoot our wounded and defend ourselves from anyone stupid enough to try and be our friend. So for me, I must leave the church yet again. And instead of patterning my behavior on the bad examples of the Christians that I have known over the course of my life, I will go back to the education that I received on the streets and just be a faithful friend, no matter how jacked up the person is.