I'm one of them.
Both, I mean.
I've been let down... and I've let people down.
Which is why I have been chewing on a phrase lately that I think sums up what most of us miss out on relationally.
And it's what separates the Christians from truly being the Church...
or what helps us lay the foundation for significant growth, both numerical and spiritual.
Remember the "Pinky Swear?" You'd be hanging out with your friends and someone would make a commitment - some sort of inclination that he/she would do something. Maybe it was an actual task like, "I'll give you my old bike when I get a new bike." Or maybe it was something more relational like, "We're going to be best friends forever."
And someone would say out loud "Pinky swear." And you'd do it.
Kind of silly, isn't it? Now we're older and we know better. We're extra careful not to Pinky Swear too much because we want to keep our options open.
The Pinky Swear is our first hint at "Covenant relationships."
I know that word "covenant" seems like an ancient word, and it is... it underscores something we've forgotten - namely, "What can we do for this relationship?"
In contrast, we tend to live more "contractually." In other words, "What can you do for me?"
Do you see a problem with that trend?
(Of course you do.)
But where do you see a problem with it - be it inside your friends (the easy place to spot it) and/or inside of you (the harder place to spot it)?
Today I dropped a couple of neighbors off at the airport because they needed a ride. As I was about to pull away, one of them knocked on the van door and asked, "What do we owe you?" I appreciated the question, but have to admit it caught me off guard... because to love my neighbor doesn't have strings attached to it.
Should it? Because the world seems to tell me I need to.
For some time it had frustrated me to no end that we have exchanged "covenant relationships" for "feelings-based relationships." We stay in connection as long as we feel good about it, lacking a covenant that involves an "ahead of time commitment" we've formed to be pursuers of one another and builders of something worth building... even when it isn't easy.
Doesn't a covenant sound better? Yeah, I know it sounds harder...
but... doesn't it sound... better?
In any relationship, it is inevitable for disagreements to arise, even among the closest of friends. At times one person will anger another because of allegiances they maintain (or don't maintain) to other people, interests, political parties, churches, and so on. Controversial decisions must be made, especially when one person is engaged in something counterproductive - perhaps even destructive - to themselves and others.
When all of this occurs, a "covenant relationship" is the glue that holds us together... especially when it has been formed in the example of Christ. It's what helps the other person to get where you're coming from.
Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses. (Proverbs 27:6)And dare I say it? Covenant relationships are sadly missing in many churches. Which sort of dishonors the name of Jesus who is eternally committed to trying to reconcile with us.
Let me say this even more clearly - if you are a Christian...
Meaning, not that you "go to church" but have embraced the reality of your sin, confessed it before God, received the gift of eternal life He paid for you through His death and resurrection as Jesus Christ, and started on the path of following His guidance each day...If you are a Christian...
you have no excuse -
for not attempting to seek out reconciliation in your relationships...
and not giving up.
(That last part is especially important.)
Will that be difficult? Yes. Feel impossible at times? Without a doubt.
But don't give up. Even if it's one-sided, form a covenant on your end that loves that person "no matter what." This doesn't mean you don't speak redemptive truth into their lives, but that you do so with the resolve that you will work hard to make that relationship healthier and vibrant.
Now... if you disagree on that point, I don't think you understand what happened to you on the day of your salvation. And - please forgive the bluntness of this - but you need to grow up in how serious a deal that is to God.
We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, "I love God," yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother. (1 John 4:19-21)I have this crazy sense that if we can't live that out that people outside of the church have every right to laugh at us. We've become our own punchline - and that's something that just isn't funny anymore.
Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many (Hebrews 12:14-15)
Otherwise, we can settle for "What can you do more me?" Or as Janet Jackson once put it (and Eddie Murphy underscored), "What have you done for me lately?"
- We're not always going to perfectly "be there" for each other, even in a covenant relationship.
- Sometimes we will run out of steam and overlook something we should have been at for the other person or make the phone call that is needed on their end.
- One of us may get ticked off and step back to create some space from the other... which is find it if it only in order to come back to the other in a short amount of time so things can move forward again.
Otherwise, we can keep opting for the feel-good approach. If "everyone" makes "me" happy, then I am for everyone; if someone makes "me" mad, I am not for "everyone." And then "everyone" can go his or her own way, seeking new relationships, new churches where they can feel good.
Again, it's sad... but when a Church becomes this way - when we take an "everyone" idea and turn it into a "me" idea - we cease to actually be a Church any longer.
Yeah, I said it.
So... why am I writing this?
Is it because this is a problem in the congregation I'm a part of? Or is it because things are actually quite amazing and different and redemptive and we need to commit to each other now before the tension his and we all go running to our corners of the room.
I do believe it's time we answer that question.
Personally, I'm opting for my household being one that is always attempting to invite versus lock the door; and for our church being a community where we speak redemptive, challenging words and live out radical commitment into each others' lives. It's really a remarkable thing and it gives me a hopeful feeling to see what happens when my love for another person represents Jesus to them... and their life gets changed forever.
That's what I'm committed to. But again... that's just me. I'm not abandoning our relationship, even if you tick me off. Or if that guy does... or that gal... or all of them. I'm not ceasing my commitment to you... I'm not going anywhere.
How about you?