You can't make decisions for other people. I know. These words are both true and very depressing. Don't you think everyone would live a lot happier lives if they just listened to you? Lots of people feel this way and you know what? I think they are right. Others can often see the truth in a situation that you can not see in your own life. But in the end each of us lives our own lives and we are each responsible for our own messes. I have this friend who continually makes bad choices concerning his marriage. He is caught in a terrible mess. He married a girl for the wrong reasons and has ended up paying for it big time. So, what is my role now? How do I confront his past mistakes? How do I confront his present sins? How do I advise his future decisions? How do I relate to him in all the mess that is his life? Whenever we think about these questions over tea in a safe place the answers come easily but when we get out into real life we have a lot of trouble negotiating the rough waters of sin and judgment, of love and rejection.
I have two more pages of introduction but I think I will cut it all out and get straight to the story. My friend was in this terrible marriage as I said. His wife left him a couple of times a year. He deserved it, but then again she deserved him! She would badger and bait him repeatedly with the meanest mouth you have ever heard until finally he would haul off and hit her. Then she would cry about how abused she was and he would feel weak and powerless. He dealt with feelings of being weak and powerless by sleeping with prostitutes. Yeah- the good news is they are both professing Christians. I know, any sane person trying to find someone to disciple would run for their lives. But as you may have guessed I am not always sane and more importantly God asked me to disciple this guy. After a few years of ups and downs- some of which I have already written about on this blog though I am too tired and lazy to go look up the references- she left him seemingly for good and they went through divorce proceedings. His parents were delighted that he was finally free of her and immediately went out to find someone else for him to marry. They are not believers and don't think much of his faith. So, they set him up with a divorced Muslim girl. He asked me what I thought. I know. What would you say? The divorce papers were not even completely processed yet and his family had already set his next wedding date. He was completely passive. If his parents wanted this then who was he to fight it? Well, I had an answer for that but he was not up to it. So, he got married again. A national pastor friend of mine and I went to the small wedding. My pastor friend said, 'We can not support this terrible mistake but we must support our friend.' Well said I thought.
Four days later it was over. He left her and walked away. His first wife came back with their three kids and they all moved in together into the apartment while his second wife went back to her family in disgrace. I was sick at what he had done to this second woman. She already had a ruined reputation from the first divorce, this second marriage being dissolved before it began would destroy her whole family's reputation in their community. After all the bad decisions he had made I still couldn't believe he would make this bad of a decision and hurt this many people. A week later he came to see me. I couldn't let his decision stand uncondemned. I told him that he should never have done that to this poor woman. I was harsh. He was really ashamed and left. Many people to whom I have told this story have said I did the right thing. But I didn't. I did not do what Jesus would have done and I did not do what Jesus wanted me to do.
But you say, ' Hey Strider, sin is sin. We have to tell it like it is. Telling the truth is the loving thing to do.' Ok, but you need to be very careful here. We like to say that the devil is a liar and he is. But how the devil lies is important to understand. He lies to us most often by pointing out the truth. The devil tells us the truth about a lot of things. He loves to tell me how often I screw up. He loves to tell others how difficult, how tough, how hopeless life can be. It's true. But Jesus brings the truth in love and that makes all the difference. In the parable of the prodigal son the younger son has rebelled against his father and done lots of immoral things. The Father's response to this is to invite him back into the home as a son. The older brother's response is to condemn him and remind him of his sin. Both are speaking the truth but only one is representing God in the story. Jesus says that God is like the forgiving father in the story. Many times I play the younger brother, seeking my fulfillment in the world instead of at the hand of my father. Many times I am the older brother, unthankful, bitter, and judgmental. The father invites me in in any case. But you know what? God wants his children to grow up. We come to him as little children but we don't stay that way. We are to grow up and become like the father.
A year later I saw my friend on the street and I invited him in. I asked him to come to my house so we could sit and drink tea as friends. I saw my friend again just a few weeks ago. He and his wife came by to tell me about the ministry opportunities God was giving them and how blessed they were. I don't think all their problems have magically gone away but I do believe that God is working in their lives. He is working on those nasty sin problems but he does not do it with a sledge hammer. He does it with love. Love is the most powerful weapon in our arsenal. The next time I see a brother in sin I hope I will be honest with him about it but more than that, I hope I will invite him in. Only love will transform him. Do you believe that? I can hear your objections from here. The religious leaders did not believe Jesus either but in the end His love changed the world. My good advice will never change anything but loving others and inviting them in regardless of their sin will change everything.
Taste and see.