Monday, January 27, 2014

Little foxes

This is something I wrote a few years ago, but never got around to publishing on my blog. 

Catch for us the foxes
the little foxes 
that ruin the vineyards, 
our vineyards that are in bloom.

Song of Solomon 2:15

     Irritations. They can run rampant, especially on the mission field. Living in close quarters means living, eating, working together all the time make opportunities for little irritations to grow into big problems. This is especially true when we don't always feel comfortable enough with each other to address these problems face to face. This may be because we have a fear of confronting others, or worried about either how the person will react or how we will be perceived. As Christians, I think we get caught up in the idea that we need to be nice to everyone all the time, never saying a bad word and never offending anyone. 
     But is that what Christ really wants? A bunch of people being outwardly nice to each other while seething with irritations and anger inside? Being too afraid to confront someone when they are obviously doing wrong? If a person is doing wrong or actions are hurtful and doesn't realize it, how are they to change unless someone points it out to them? 
     Matthew 18:15 says "If your brother sings against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens, you have won your brother over. But if he doesn't listen, take 1 or 2 others along, so that every matter may be established by the test of 2-3 witnesses.
     And again in Mathew 5:23-24 "If you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember your brother has done something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift." (emphasis mine). He wants us to have right relationships with others before offering our gifts to him.
     But it's not just when others have wronged us that we should confront others, but also when we have wronged others. One should not be so foolish or arrogant to think one does not do wrong or harm others. Jesus says in Matthew 5:3-5 "Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother "Let me take the speck out of your eye", when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye." So when we confront others, it should be done with a humble and contrite heart. One should examine one's own motives first-is the problem with me or with them, have I contributed to the problem? What can I do differently to improve the situation? 
    I recognize most people have a fear of confrontation. Christians in particular seem timid to confront others because:
-they don't want to seem 'unloving' or 'non Christ-like'
-they fear people's perception of them if they do
-a false perception that we have to be 'nice' all the time and can't disagree

     But I ask: Is it really Christ-like NOT to address problems within the family of Christ? Is it loving for a parent to never rebuke his or her children? No! It is a loving parent who confronts the child with what they've done wrong, discusses what they should have done differently, and helps them to change their behavior. 
     In addition, Christ wasn't always 'nicey-nice' to everyone. Sometimes he was really harsh if the situation needed it. Look at what he says to the Pharisees: Matthew 12:34 You brood of vipers! How can you who are evil say anything good? For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks. Matthew 23:13-34-The seven woes. Here he calls the Pharisees hypocrites, blind guides, blind fools, blind men, full of hypocrisy and wickedness, snakes and vipers. He also tells them "How will you escape being condemned to hell? Upon you will come all the righteous blood that has been shed on earth." Pretty harsh stuff, huh? Not very 'nice'. But certainly said with love-with the intention of correcting them, of giving them the chance to see their wrongs and repent. I'm not saying we should go around calling each other slithery snakes, but pointing out that there are times for confronting others. Sometimes with love and grace (as He did to the woman caught in adultery in Mark 16), but sometimes with blunt and direct words of rebuke. I believe it is wrong for us to let someone continue in wrong, harmful, or sinful behavior because we are afraid to address the problem and might be considered 'not nice'. 
     How many of us have been around a child who is banging some sticks together to make music, or play a toy drum, but find the noise just too much for the moment. Is it wrong for him to make music? No. Is it sinful? No. (unless he was told to stop and didn't). Do you let him continue to play despite your irritation? Maybe yes, maybe no. But unless you address the problem either with yourself "he's just being a boy and it's not wrong for him to play. I choose to tolerate it", or with him "your drum playing is a good thing, but now is not the best time, you can play later", then it is only your fault if you should lose your temper and yell at him. It is the same way for us with adults. 
     So, let us not be hypocrites, let us not simply be 'nice' people, but loving. We should rebuke one other appropriately, addressing the problems between us quickly and frankly. In so doing we become much less 'nice-like'and much more 'Christ-like'
     I feel that on the mission field, this is even more important, as the biggest cause of missionaries leaving the field is not difficulty with nationals, or with culture, but difficulty in getting along with other missionaries. How are we to display the unity of Christ (as Jesus speaks of in John 17) if we are so consistently divided? If we let little irritations become big problems because we don't address them when the problems are small? Therefore, catch the foxes, the little foxes that ruin the vineyards, the vineyards that are in bloom.