I run in church nearly every Sunday. Not out of joy or because the Spirit moves me. No, I run from and not towards a very dear saint who worships with us on a regular basis. Why do I run? Her favorite fragrance overwhelms me, nauseates me and triggers an excruciating headache. I am unable to embrace her fully because I know this fragrance will stick to me for hours and have a toxic effect on the remainder of my day. My running routine has gone on now for months. I began running the very day the perfume made its debut and I’ve been running ever since.
I realize that I have been running from other people as well with very good reason. It seems I am allergic to the stake in the ground opinions that people wear like an overbearing perfume. Oh, we all have them and you know it’s true. I am wondering this very moment about who is running from me and why. We own our pet opinions about what is right, what is wrong, what is fair and what is approved by God. Christians are able to cite chapter and verse to prove our point and we do so with great passion. We seize every conversational moment as an opportunity to pull out the soap box and begin preaching to the captive audience. We will not surrender our opinions to the possibility that we might not know it all quite yet. Instead, we wear them like we wear our favorite fragrance…too much and too often. As one of my coaching friends puts it, “Our opinions smell good to us, and we think everyone should smell just like us”.
The problem with soap-boxing our one size fits all opinions is that the only audience we effectively reach is the one that already agrees with us. Everyone else dashes to freedom at the earliest opportunity.
The Truth is what sets captives free. My opinion is simply the way I have come to think about a thing. It has been formed and molded by experience, people, situations and preferences. It may even have come from my interpretation of God's Word on the matter. Even so, I dare not preach my opinion with the same fervor as I preach the gospel of Christ.
I find a great reminder of what and how I am called to preach in 1 Corinthians 1:17. Paul writes that he was sent “to preach the gospel-not with words of human wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power”. Human words and opinions are empty wisdom at best – they sound good but have no real power to effect change. The cross of Christ is living Truth and brings with it the power for transformation.
I wonder what difference it would make if we all went private for a season with our opinions. Instead of public forums we could relegate them to journals or offer them up only to trusted friends who would lovingly and truthfully challenge our thinking. If we opened our mouths at all it would be to speak only of the cross of Christ and how it is transforming us with its power. Of course, it occurs to me that if we are being transformed by the cross of Christ, we probably need not announce it. It is clearly visible to those around us that we are both changed and changing.
This line of thought brings me back to my current habit of running in church. If perfume can make me run, how much more so an opinion that is different from my own? Is it possible to overcome my distaste for the thing so I can get to the person? If I am truly a Christ follower then I have no choice but to follow His example and just do it. Here was a man who spent a lifetime reaching for and embracing smelly fishermen, leprous outcasts and perfumed prostitutes. Come to think of it, He did a lot of running in church Himself. The difference is that He chose to run towards and not from.
And now I must face the real issue at hand. What will I do about this problem of running in church? Is it possible for me to embrace the person without having her perfume rub me in the wrong way? It is doubtful. But a little bit of understanding goes a long way. I recently discovered that right before her husband’s death, he presented her with a gift. You guessed it-her new favorite fragrance. It is most likely the thing that connects her to the one she loved the most. She might even hate this fragrance herself…yet she is compelled to wear it faithfully.
And here is the grace of God-the embrace of One who loves us enough to suffer the consequences of loving fragrant (or stinky) people.
Whether it is opinions or lifestyles or perfume that makes us run, I think it is time to change directions. I am not saying that in turning to embrace the person we must embrace the thing that makes us run and take it for our own. After all, the smell of the embrace will fade with time and a few hot showers. What I am saying is that running doesn’t do anything but create more distance.
No more excuses. Today I will choose to embrace with grace. It will cost me to do so. But it can’t cost any more than what I’ve had to pay for running shoes.
Pass the Advil. I’m headed for a headache. But my heart feels better already.
The Hard Questions
· Who makes you run in church (or anywhere else)?
· What causes you to run?
· What risk(s) are you willing to take in changing direction?
· If this person never changes, how committed are you to loving them anyway?
· How does it help to know you that you do not have to become like them to love them?
· What price are you willing to pay to allow the grace of God to flow through your life and embrace the un-embraceable?