..."and a highway shall be there, and it shall be called the way of holiness; evil minded people shall not travel on it, but it shall be for those wayfarers who are traveling toward God. (Isaiah 35:8, adapted)

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Hearts for Each Other: Bringing Salvation Instead Of Stumbling

Hearts for Each Other: Bringing Salvation
Instead Of Stumbling

Fourth in a series on Stumblingblocks

Well, after writing three articles about
stumblingblocks,now I am going to encourage
you not to be one!

I have to admit that this is not an easy
subject. Our God is a Stumblingblock but
we are admonished by scripture not to be
one! We can read the gospels and see people
stumbling over Jesus left and right. We even
can say that we see Jesus positioning Himself
directly in the path of some: the Pharisees,
the Sadducee's, and the religious rulers.

Was He deliberately trying to cause them
to stumble? In a way, I think you could say
yes, but it was more that He was trying to
trip up their pride and error so that from
a lower place, they might, if possible, see
the Truth. He was able to do that without
pride or ill-intent.

These things are too great for me. He could
see perfectly into the thoughts, intent,
and hearts of men. He knew what they needed.
He knew what was destroying them. He was able
to provoke them perfectly because of His
perfect purity. We are not so pure and do a
lot of provoking in the flesh. Often we enjoy
it. This is what we want to stay clear of.

I must say that I am not thrilled about the
apostle Paul’s writing and admonitions
to not be a stumblingblock. In the early
church, as well as now, people had different
understandings about what was right and wrong.
In Christ we are totally free, free from
the Law and all its constraints, free from
human rules and agendas, free unto God.
All things are lawful for the Christian
(I Corinthians 10:23). It is a terrifying
truth. One that I don't think I have leaned
my full weight into, still perhaps needing
the comfort and albeit rigid tutoring of
the Law to bring me fully to Christ.

All things are lawful to me, but I am now
the love slave of Christ and that is the
other part of the truth, and the more
challenging and substantial part, I might
add. Paul goes on to say that he is also
free from all men, but has made himself a
servant to them all that he might win them to
Jesus (I Cor. 9:19). Not only is he a slave
to Christ, he is a servant to all men. That,
to me, is hard.

At the center of this is the problem of the
weaker brother or sister’s conscience. Paul
knew that he was technically free to eat meat
offered to idols because really, there is only
One God, and those idols don’t exist. The problem
is that others do not know that, and if they see
him eating meat offered to idols then they are
tempted to judge him for doing something they
think is wrong. and they may be tempted to also
eat and fall into sin.

It is like the fallout that happens
when a leader falls into sin. People then say,
“Well, if he did this, then why can’t I?
or if she sinned, being such an allegedly great
Christian, then Christianity must not be real.”
Thus, people turn away from God and stumble over
the acts of fellow Christians. The thing is,
why should we care? Is it our responsibility?
Am I my brother’s keeper?

What we might miss in a cursory reading of the
gospels, and in seeing how Jesus caused people
to stumble, could make us think that Jesus
didn’t care about who stumbled over
Him. There is something “in your face” and
macho American in that perception. We could
not be more wrong. Jesus is not James Dean.
Nor is He James Bond.

The Father’s heart is that none should perish.
Jesus always reflected the Father’s heart in
thought, deed, and truth. He did not just go
around doing what He wanted to do, letting the
glass chips fly without a care. He humbled
Himself way past where He could have been
expected to. He overturned the moneychangers
but took care for the doves. He obeyed the
Father completely.

I, however, am not to proud to say that there
have been times that I have felt “put upon” to
accommodate my actions for the sake of a weaker
brother or sister. Read I Cor. 10:23-33. Paul
says, “Let no one seek his own, but each one
the other’s well being (vs 24). Even if your
conscience permits you to do something, don’t
do it if causes another brother or sister to
stumble. This is hard. This is something that
I would prefer not to hear.

The difference between Jesus and I in
this matter is substantial. Jesus ALWAYS acted
for the good of the person. If their hearts
were hardened as an inevitable result then,
God, in allowing human choice, could do
nothing more. All the grace God had to give
was poured out to make a way. Some did not,
and some will not, accept that grace because
it can seem like a hard grace when it
approaches us. The poured out grace remains
even if it is wasted. This presses against me.

I have to get down and ask myself: “Am I as
much for others as God is for them?” “Am I
willing to sacrifice as much as God has for
the sake of others?” “Am I willing to lay
down pleasurable though lawful things because
others are offended by them?” The fast balls
are whizzing by me and I am swinging and missing.

All around me is great, great need. People are
entangled in their own misery, sin, and
waywardness. They find the road back to God
fraught with obstacles. I can either be another
obstacle or an agent of grace. Wouldn’t it be
great if my job was to disentangle those things
which keep people from surrendering to Jesus?
The thing is, that this is what Jesus has
told me my job is! Why is it pleasurable to
disentangle some knots and troublesome and
vexing to entangle others? The answer is simple:
sometimes I am going to have to bend over way
too far, go far too many nights without
sleep, travel to God-forsaken parts of the
world, or God-forsaken parts of the human soul,
to be the hands of God in aiding another. My
flesh is far too much in the way and balks at
the thought of undue self-denial on behalf of another.

For many years I cared for abandoned and
abused dogs, some in conditions akin to
a concentration camp. I subjected myself to
stink, filth, sickness, disease, bodily trauma
and great emotional distress because it came
with the job. I do not laud myself for this.
I did it because I cared and because it was the
right thing to do. Are you seeing where I am
going with this? In one of Jesus’ teachings
He says this:

But which of you, having a
servant plowing or feeding cattle, will say
unto him by and by, when he is come from the
field, Go and sit down to eat? And will not
rather say unto him, Make ready my supper,
and gird thyself, and serve me, till I have
eaten and drunken; and afterward you shalt
eat and drink? Doth he thank that servant
because he did the things that were commanded
him? I think not. So likewise you, when you
shall have done all those things which are
commanded you, say, We are unprofitable
servants: we have done that which was our
duty to do (Luke 17:7-10).

After we obeyed Jesus unto death, we
have done nothing special other than
our duty! The biggest stumblingblock
we need to get out of the way is not
the weakness of others and how it impinges
on us, but the sense that we do not need
to give everything for the sake of
rescuing the Lord’s lost sheep.

When we see others struggling, a
frightening process occurs in our hearts:
we are faced with the possibility of
being able to help them toward God or
of further blocking their ability to
surrender to God. I see you struggling
with this, as do I: why should this
concern me? shouldn’t people go on with
God no matter what I do? Yes, well they
should and they will have to answer, but
so will you.

In Matthew 18 Jesus talks about the great
danger of causing little ones to stumble.
He said it would be better if a millstone
were tied around your neck and you drowned
rather than to cause a child to stumble.
There is an extra liability with children.
But then He says,“Woe to the world because
of offenses! For offense must come, but woe
to that man by whom the offense comes!”
(Matthew 18:7)

The sad truth is that, no matter how hard
you try not to be, you will be a stumblingblock
to someone. If Jesus was a Stumblingblock,
Jesus who was perfect and innocent and good,
even God come in the flesh, then you will cause
others to stumble. We will be held liable only for
stumbling that we cause that is not born out of
our obedience to God.

We should not desire to cause others to fall,
but it is absolutely likely, even inevitable.
Knowing that I caused another to stumble because
I obeyed God is a sobering thought. Yet may I
can never be the cause, because of my flesh,
of another's stumbling. We cannot be resigned
to that fact, or try to justify ourselves with
the kind of attitude that says, “I don’t care
how my actions affects others.”

Jesus did not have that attitude. He simply
obeyed the Father. He also had the Father’s
heart toward others and that is the most
important consideration. We can err by either
being too unwilling to offend others, or way
too unconcerned about offending others. It
has become culturally popular to not want to
offend others, but where does this come from?
Does it come from true care about anothers’s
feelings or about making myself a
people-pleaser? Our job is to evermore please
God and not man.

If there was someone asleep in a burning
building would it be incorrect to wake
them to get them out? Couldn’t we say,
“They must be sleeping, they need their
rest,it is not my place to get involved
or to bother them.” How will that help
the person if they burn to death? You
had the awareness of their great need,
they did not. You had the resources at
hand to help, did you find a way to get
the person in need to accept what God was
holding out?

We all have needs. Some we do not want to
acknowledge. How do I help others
acknowledge their need and receive the help
that God so lovingly offers? How do I help
others accept the help that Jesus holds out
to them? How do I not be the stone of
offence that stands between someone and Jesus?

All these things are deep matters
of the heart. I think we know
more about making a way for others
than we want to admit. There are
many times when we know what will
help another person, or what will
break them. It is then that we must
deny ourselves, no matter what. When
I see another struggling may I be
quick to ask God, “What will help
them decide for You?” “What
stumblingblock can I take out of the
way so that they might walk freely
toward God?

Dear Lord, help us love others and
give ourselves for others, with as
much love and passion as You did
for us. “Keep yourselves in the
love of God looking for the mercy
of our Lord Jesus Christ unto
eternal life. And on some have
compassion as on those who doubt,
but others save with fear, pulling
them out of the fire, hating even
the garment defiled by the flesh”
(Jude 1:21-23). Jesus, give us hearts
for each other.

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