Thoughts on life, leadership and the movement called the church by Brian C. Hughes, Senior Pastor

by Brian C. Hughes, Senior Pastor

Sunday, October 7, 2012

So, How Do We Tell Right from Wrong?

Today at PCC was the last day in the series about surprising moments in Jesus' life. I have really enjoyed this series because it gave us a chance to take a fresh look at some long-standing assumptions about Jesus.

But today's topic is the hardest, in my opinion.  (You can watch the message online at  Jesus did judge actions and behaviors.  He categorized them as right or wrong; good or evil; acceptable in the Kingdom of God or not, and other ways.

This creates a problem for the Christ follower.  On the one hand, we are loathe to judge people.  Sincere Christ followers feel under-qualified for the behavioral assessment of someone else based on two primary truths:
1) We are not God.  He knows things we don't.
2) We are guilty, too.  "Who am I to judge?" we say.
So, if you came to PCC today - either online or at either of our physical campuses - you saw that Jesus addressed sin, but you might have left wondering what, exactly, you can do with this truth.  I'm glad you asked!

Here are 9 guidelines that I use when confronting someone about their lifestyle, behavior or choices:

1) Relationship.  Jesus' model is one of relationship.  He knew a person on some level and they knew him.  In the context of that relationship, Jesus would speak truth into someone's life.  Calling strangers names and getting in their face about their sin - even if you are right - is counterproductive.  Instead of helping them, it hurts them.  You earn the right to speak truth to someone when you have a mutual relationship with them.

2) Permission.  I don't confront anyone without their permission.  I will usually say, "I love you and I care about you.  And because of that, I was wondering if you would allow me to share something I see that could be helpful to you about your life (or the way you live)."  I never make an observation about someone's choices where I don't gain their permission.  With very close friends, the permission is implied.  We've explicitly asked permission of each other more than once, and we're beyond having to ask permission now.  But I always need to be sure I have permission.

3) Differentiation.  It's their life, not mine.  I almost always say, "You get to choose.  I'm not telling you that you have to do anything.  You can live your life however you want to."

4) Support.  Almost always, I say something like, "Whether you decide to make a change or not, I want you to know that I'm with you.  I support you, no matter what.  Even if you don't agree with me."  This ensures that they don't wonder if you are laying your friendship on the line.  That would be threatening, and people don't usually change because of a relational threat.

5) Self-Awareness.  Acknowledge that you know you are also imperfect.  "Look, the truth is that I have some things I need to correct, too.  I know that I'm imperfect.  Nothing I say is meant to imply that I think I'm more right or better than you in any way."

6) Community.  Remind them that we are better together.  That's why you're talking with them!  The Bible says "Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work...Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken." (Ecc 4:9,12, NIV1984)

7) Language.  When I get to the actual lifestyle or behavior to discuss, I recast the language.  I don't mind using 'right' and 'wrong' or the word 'sin'.  But often the conversation gets sidetracked since these words can come across as judgmental.  The discussion can end before it ever gets started.  Instead, I talk about the best life that God has for a person.  God wants us to have the best life possible. God's best for us comes when we live the way he wants us to live.  I say, "I think you can experience a life that is even better than then one you have now..."

8) I could be wrong.  Some folks have expressed their discomfort with me when I say this, but I believe it to my core:  I can always be wrong.  I am sure I know about Jesus Christ, and everything else is at least slightly less certain.  I have to acknowledge that God is God and I am not.  As a human, it's possible I could be wrong about something, including a particular perspective on right and wrong.  I can stand on my feelings and make a strong case from the Bible, but I have to acknowledge, in sincere humility, that I will stand before God one day and He's going to tell me where I hit the mark and where I missed it.  To refuse to acknowledge my own fallibility is to be arrogant, in my opinion, and makes this conversation far less potent.

9) Reciprocate.  If there is not a person or a small group of people to whom you have given permission to speak truth about your lifestyle, behavior and choices, you should make this a priority.  I have these people in my life.  Jeff Boggess, my good friend who is also the Senior Pastor of Atlee Community Church, is one of those.  We've given each other this kind of permission, and it's made us both better - better husbands, dads, pastors, Christ followers, leaders, teachers, etc.  To not have someone like this in your life risks you being seen as good enough to tell others what to do but too good to have someone  do the same for you.  You don't have room for a bunch of these people, but you need a few.

So, you have some tools now.  Use them.  And let's help each other live the best life God has for us!

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