Were you are amazed as I was watching Nik Wallenda cross Niagara Falls on a tightrope?
In addition to listening to his constant stream of praise to our Savior, just the magnitude (or, perhaps idiocy) of what he was doing was shocking. He walked across Niagara Falls on a cable. The pictures and video were nothing short of astonishing.
But, during that entire walk, he was never in danger. He was tethered to a safety line. If he had fallen, he’d have only been embarrassed, not dead. The stunt was still incredible – my heart was beating rapidly as I watched – but Nik Wallenda was never really in danger.
But you and I walk a tightrope every day as Christians in this God-forsaking, Christ-denying world. Each of us has a friend, a family member, a loved one who has embraced sin and unrighteousness, and we are forced to walk a spiritual tightrope which has no safety tether.
We have to walk the fine line between love and acceptance. We must love our children who reject our faith, even though we do not accept that rejection. We must love homosexuals without blessing homosexuality as an acceptable lifestyle. When people we love decide to live together before marriage, we must not say that it is okay, but we must also not communicate personal rejection.
And that is not easy to do, is it?
We have a tendency to fall off the cable to one side or the other. We sometimes let our love for the person overwhelm our convictions. I’ve seen it more than once when a loved one “comes out of the closet.” Suddenly, lifelong biblical convictions are abandoned to maintain the relationship. I’ve also seen people lean to the other side – equally deadly. They withhold love, friendship or any kind of relationship because of the other’s sin.
It is one of our most difficult tasks, walking the tightrope between acceptance of the sin and rejection of the sinner. We ought do neither, but our tendency is to lean off balance one way or another.
And the world we live in rejects that this balance is acceptable. I have ministered to several homosexuals in my 30 years as a pastor. I can honestly tell you that I have not mistreated a single one of them. I stated what the Bible states – sin is sin. But I was respectful, decent and friendly to each. Yet, in this world, I am labeled a homophobe because I continue to preach that same-sex relationships are sin. It is demanded of us that we give not only love and kindness, but also acceptance – that we declare that which we have called sin to be fine and dandy.
Many, and some big names among them, have gone the acceptance route. Not wanting to be rejected by culture, or by sinners in that culture, they have accepted sin and sacrificed biblical convictions to do so. I know “evangelical” churches where people living together outside of marriage are allowed to teach Sunday School classes. “God loves you just like you are, so we accept you as you are and do not ask you to change.” And those who do this pride themselves on their love and acceptance.
Those who care about what the Bible says cannot accept sin so easily. We must always seek to walk the tightrope and keep our balance between loving people and accepting sin.
Love is focused on the person and the relationship. I believe every sinner needs to experience love, grace and kindness from Christians, regardless of how we feel about the sin. We do not call names, or treat people with contempt, or rejoice in peoples’ suffering. We must demonstrate the love that Christ showed us – while we were still sinners – to the world around us. We ought to be relentlessly loving to the worst of sinners.
Acceptance is focused on behavior. We simply cannot accept sin. Sin, by its very nature, is destructive to human beings. We must not accept sin in our lives any more than we would accept a cancer in our bodies. When we are diagnosed with cancer, we do not accept it. We fight. We change our diet. We get chemo and radiation. We do radical surgery. We know that accepting cancer leads to death. To live, we must fight it.
Christians never accept sin because we know it is a spiritual cancer. We fight sin! (Well, to be correct, we accept the fact that Christ defeated sin – but you understand the metaphor, right?) We realize that lust or greed or pride are soul-destroying and we accept the healing of Christ against them. We do not coddle sin or ignore it. We battle it in the power of Christ. And the blood of Christ cleanses us from all sin. It fixes what sin broke and heals all the diseases of the soul that sin creates.
We must walk that tightrope on a daily basis. We are called to love and minister to people whose lifestyles we utterly (and rightly) reject. That might be easy when you are ministering to the homeless or passing out tracts on Bourbon Street. It is a little harder to maintain the balance in a relationship with a family member or friend.
I wish I had four easy steps to share with you on how to maintain the balance. Frankly, I find it hard and perhaps some of you have some wisdom to share. I do have some thoughts.
1) Remember it is about the sinner and his (or her) relationship with Christ, not about how I feel!
It is easy when a friend or loved one sins to make it about my feelings, my hurt, my pain. But, as a blood-bought, redeemed saint, my job is not to be served, but to serve, and to give my life for others, as Christ did. My response needs to be governed by God’s love, not my hurt.
2) I am an ambassador for Christ. I cannot approve what he has condemned.
As a pastor, or as a friend, or a father, or a husband, or a…whatever, my ultimate responsibility is to represent Christ and his truth, not to have people like me. If someone hates me for upholding the standard of truth, they hated my Savior first, and for the same thing. I cannot, by my actions or attitudes, tell a sinner that their sin is no big deal to God.
3) Keep lines of communication open.
Silence, in a time like this, is not golden, it is poison. It breeds anger and bitterness. Keep talking. Keep trying.
4) Go all Yoda on the situation.
Sorry, the line from Star Wars came to mind. Luke looked at the sinking ship and despaired because it was too big a task for him. Yoda, in his Eastern mystic/New Age way said,
“Size matters not. Look at me. Judge me by my size, do you? Hmm? Hmm. And well you should not. For my ally is the Force, and a powerful ally it is.”
We do not trust in an impersonal, mystical and imaginary force; we trust in a living God. But when he works in us and through us, “a powerful ally he is.” He can do mighty works of power in people’s hearts. He can change lives, transform hearts. There is no problem you face that he cannot handle. So trust him!
You are not alone in the pain. He will carry you through. You do not have to fix this on your own. You are the agent of the living God. He will love through you and work in you.
Every one of us who loves God and his Word has to walk this tightrope. You have any wisdom you can share?
Oh, and anyone got one of those long poles Nik Wallenda used to keep his balance?