Church Write-Up: People Are Lions (and Other Items)

Last Sunday, I went to the evangelical “pen church,” where I get a free blue pen every time that I visit.  Here are some points that the pastor made in his sermon:

A.  The overarching theme of the sermon was unity.  The pastor said that the world tends towards negativity and fragmentation.  The church, however, can show people the validity of faith through its unity.  The pastor alluded to John 13:35, in which Jesus said that people will recognize Jesus’ disciples when they love one another.  Next Sunday, this church will be doing service projects in the community, and the pastor expressed hope that this can show people an example of the church being unified around a common cause, a positive cause, a cause that shows what Christ is about.

B.  The pastor said that a contributing factor towards disunity in church is that people are jealous that someone has something that they lack.  When we realize, though, that God’s table is super-abundant and there is a lot to go around, we will not be afraid to let others go before us, or to give credit to others when credit is due.  Someone else being blessed does not detract from us being blessed.

C.  The pastor mentioned a person in the church who has become a supervisor at a bank.  Her boss offered her advice on how to relate to those she would be supervising: see them as kittens.  The pastor contrasted this with how many of us see people: as lions.  We approach them with our table and whip, at odds with them from the get go.  I certainly identified with him there.  I have been treated like a lion, and I have seen people as lions.

D.  The pastor said that, when we are at odds with someone in the church, we should not gossip about him or her.  Rather, we should go to that person directly to work things out.  This is intimidating, the pastor acknowledged, but we can ask God for wisdom about the appropriate words to say.  If that does not work, bring someone the person respects.  And, if that does not work, inform the church.  The pastor, of course, was drawing from Matthew 18:15-20.

E.  The pastor was saying that bragging repels people from us, whereas humility draws people to us.  He also suggested that we should own up to our mistakes when we make them, rather than telling people we hurt, “I’m sorry that you feel that way, but that was not what I meant.”

F.  The pastor said something that a therapist once told me.  When we are 18, we are obsessed about what people think of us.  When we are 40, we do not care so much.  When we are 65, we realize that people are not thinking about us but about their own problems.

Here are some of my responses:

—-When I hear these sorts of sermons, I wonder: “Why exactly do I have to be friends with everyone?  A lot of Christians don’t want to be friends with me!”  Some people just do not like each other.  I think there is wisdom in what the pastor is saying.  Just because someone hurts my feelings, that is no reason for me for gossip about that person and turn others against him or her.  And, if I hurt someone, I hope that I would apologize, assuming that I think the person’s criticism is fair.  But Christians being friends with everyone, particularly Christians?  That strikes me as idealistic.  I fall vastly short of practicing that, and so do other Christians.

—-(B.) may sound prosperity-Gospel-ish to some.  One can sarcastically ask, “Where is God’s ‘abundant table’ for people suffering from poverty in (such-and-such a place)?”  Some may see what the pastor says as practically unrealistic.  “Let others go first or take credit?  I can’t do that!  If I don’t advocate for myself, nobody else will!”  Part of me is cynical.  On the other hand, there is a part of myself that identifies with what the pastor is saying.  I am limited, so I do depend on God rather than my own ability to pull myself up by my bootstraps.  The possibility that God can provide, therefore, resonates with me.

—-Bringing (C.), (D.), and (E.) together, one reason I would be hesitant to go directly to a person who hurt me to communicate my hurt is that I fear that he or she will throw my vulnerability in my face.  People ARE lions!

—-Humility can draw people.  Confidence does too, though.  People like humility in others because others are making them feel important or valued, and because people can identify with those who share similar vulnerabilities.  At the same time, people are drawn to leaders, to people who seem like they have answers.

—-(F.) gets me thinking.  Part of me, of course, cares about what people think.  I feel better when people like me than when they do not (though, nowadays, I think when that happens, “This is too good to be true”).  Part of me realizes, though, that I have responsibilities to do in life, and things to enjoy in life, even when people do not like me.  I had these thoughts, in some way, shape, or form, when I was 18, and now.

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About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. I study the History of Biblical Interpretation at Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio, as part of its Ph.D. program. I have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting.
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