It’s Monday Grace!
I have been a pastor for over forty years. I wish I could say that betrayal by those who consider themselves Christians was just an acceptable part of the job. But it isn’t. It hurts every time.
For those who have been through marriage problems, financial problems, and other personal struggles in full view of the church, betrayal by Christian friends is almost unavoidable. People who stood by you while things were good want nothing to do with you when trouble comes. They seemed to love you before, but now they judge and criticize. And those who have dared to disagree with a teaching or a project in the church, who have called attention to a scandal, or who have challenged the leadership have found the same kind of rejection or betrayal.
No, it isn’t only pastors who suffer betrayal from Christian “friends.” Christians have been turning against fellow church members, close personal friends, and even family for many centuries. People who were trusted became enemies and shared secrets and told lies. David understood.
Even my own familiar friend in whom I trusted, who ate my bread, has lifted up his heel against me.
Suddenly the church you and your family enjoyed becomes a toxic place. You dared to speak up, and now you are outcast. Even your kids suffer the rejection. It hurts.
Why? Of all the connections we have in life, why would the people of the church turn against us? Was there any reality to the relationship we thought we had? Was it all just for show, nice Christians getting together to be nice then showing the true colors when the trouble comes? We ask these questions, don’t we?
The performance system, the religious system that says we will be judged by our works, produces a culture of fear. Fear of not measuring up, fear of rejection, fear of judgment, fear of discovery, all kinds of fear. Because we cannot perform perfectly as we are commanded to, we worry about the consequences. If people knew the truth… When we have to stand before God… In that system, people worry.
And when people are afraid, they pull whatever protection they can around themselves. They cover themselves. They don’t open up. They don’t want transparency or closeness. They can only allow a certain amount of connection. Friendship can only go so far.
What if your failure were to somehow connect to me? If you disagree with the leadership, and we are friends, will I suffer consequences? If your marriage is in trouble, and I am your support, will others turn against me? In the performance system, “guilt by association” is a real thing.
In some churches a subtle message is sent out that those who disagree or who have failed are to be shunned. Few of us talk about that these days, but the effect is the same. Those who are shunned know it and feel it. Their friends don’t want to spend time with them. Their support fades away. The love they shared before has disappeared. And it feels like betrayal.
But as for me, when they were sick, my clothing was sackcloth; I humbled myself with fasting; and my prayer would return to my own heart. I paced about as though he were my friend or brother; I bowed down heavily, as one who mourns for his mother. But in my adversity they rejoiced and gathered together; attackers gathered against me, and I did not know it; they tore at me and did not cease
I believe this is the natural result of performance spirituality. This problem transcends denominations, even cultures. The fear of association with the troubled or the wicked drives people away. Because they lack confidence in their relationship with the Lord, they fear anything that might defile them.
Under grace, nothing can defile us. Think about that. We belong to the Lord. He has washed us and made us His. He has made us acceptable. That will never be taken away, not by Him and not by anything less than Him.
Remember the story of the Good Samaritan? The point of the story was not that we should help the downtrodden (although we should). The point of the story was that the “good” Jews walked past the hurting man. They were afraid of defiling themselves. Maybe he suffered because of something he did. Maybe his trouble would become theirs. Maybe they would end up like him. His own countrymen, comrades in faith and community, betrayed him because of their fear. It took someone outside their system to help the man. The Samaritan, whom they would also reject, reached out to help.
Under grace, we are outside that system. The struggles of the hurting will not defile us. Even if others label us with the label they give to the offender, it does not stick to us. The one who dares to call out the scandal, the one with exposed family problems, the one who struggles with addictions or behaviors—cannot defile us. We can be that friend. We can love because we know we are loved.
Because we are secure, we can walk into those situations that make others afraid. Because we are forgiven, we can love those who struggle with wrong behavior. Because we are strong, we can reach out in love to the weak.
Grace changes everything. The grace for your heart is Jesus!