Friday, December 28, 2018

Discernment Required

Of course, when we talk about engaging the culture and going into the world to make the Gospel known (without sacrificing what it is that is special and sacred about the church, even in the fallen world), we do not mean that we should go out and do anything and everything that the world is doing in the hopes that we might be able to turn it around and make it into good for them. 

For example, when we talk about being the church in a bar, we do not mean that we should go out and sit at the bar and drink all day. Or even that we must drink at all. But our choosing not to drink does not mean that we should not go into a bar in the first place; there is plenty of great ministry that can be done there. And in fact, we may even find one of our brothers and sisters there, struggling with an addiction that we never could have seen on Sunday morning. Thus, going into the bar puts us in the place to help him or her.

If we can't go into a whorehouse without our eyes being tempted, we shouldn't go into the whorehouse at all.

We should not go into a drug house and start shooting up or snorting or whatever kind of drugs the people are doing these days. We should not involve ourselves in that kind of behavior. But that does not mean that we do not go into the drug house at all, ever, for any reason. In fact, there is plenty of good that we can do in a place like that.

When I was a young teenager, I was serving on a mission trip in north-central Ohio when a little boy, six years old, would show up at my work site every day. All he wanted was a bite of our food, so we started packing a little extra in the morning and giving up each a little bit of our allotment to make sure this young boy had food. One day, a man we assumed to be his dad rode by on a bike and cursed at him for being there, but told him not to go home because his "mom was shooting up." One day, we followed him home and found a house that didn't even look like a child lived there - no front door, just an open hole; beer bottles and needles everywhere outside and in; trash covering the floors. Not a single toy in sight. 

So we bought the kid a ball. And a real sandwich. And we cleaned up his yard and whatever part of the house the adults present would allow us. 

Not once did any of us actually take a drug. 

See, we can go into the broken places of the world and do incredible, amazing, sacred, simple things without getting ourselves caught in the trappings of sin.

But it takes discernment. It takes wisdom. It takes knowing what we're getting into and how we're going about it and our own strengths and weaknesses. 

We should not, for example, put ourselves in danger, either physically or socially. We should not be part of things that could get us arrested, injured, killed, or the like. If you know you have an addictive personality and could be tempted by a drink, you probably shouldn't go into the bar at all. But that kind of temptation is few and far between; most of us would be okay in the bar if we could get past our self-righteousness to pull the door open. 

If you know that someone you're trying to minister to is about to make a major mistake or commit a violent crime, don't get in the car this time. If you're even in the car when they pull the trigger, you're just as guilty as they are of murder in many states. That doesn't mean you don't ever get in the car with them - or that you don't get out of the car if you get wind of something - but it means you pay attention and are able to discriminate when is a good time for outreach and when you're putting yourself at undue risk. 

Discernment is actually our biggest problem when it comes to engaging the world. It's why we set ourselves apart and refuse to engage in any of it. It's why we draw our lines so high and refuse to step down. Most of us just don't exert the energy necessary to develop the wisdom to know how the world works so that we can work in it; we'd rather just be saints and leave the sinners to it. We'd rather pretend that we're so far above all that that it doesn't even make sense to us. 

But really, we just don't know. We don't care enough to know. We don't love God's children enough to know. So we're missing our chance. 

Yes, we ought to go into the world, but not blindly and not foolishly. We go as messengers, sent by God to the dark places to bring light. After all, what good is your fire if there's no darkness? 

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