November 9, 2016

Church, This is a Call for Familial Friendship

In all of the controversy over Jen Hatmaker's statements on same-sex marriage, the phrase that continually rings in my ears is Rosario Butterfield's: "The cross is ruthless." She referred first to the ruthlessness between the cross and an unconverted person and then described how the cross is equally relentless toward the converted. This latter relentlessness--how the cross requires me daily to come and die to self and live to God--is something I've not always understood. Nonetheless, the cross has been relentless in my life, pursuing and crucifying my claims on self-rule and self-glory. The gospel, because it is by nature sacrificial, requires my self-sacrifice.
Church, the gospel lays claim to us all. Christ lays claim to our ambitions, our money, our minds, our work, our children, and, yes, even our sexual activity. We cannot lay out for the unconverted a Christianity that will "make life better," when in fact faith in Jesus often makes life more difficult, because the priceless value of knowing Him comes at a cost to self. We become no longer our own; everything we are and do must be submitted to someone else--namely Christ.

We certainly can't lay out the benefits without the costs for the unconverted, but perhaps even more so we must be careful about this within the church. We must be talking about the costs of following Christ with one another. What does the gospel cost you, unmarried Christian? What does the gospel cost you, Christian businessman? What does the gospel cost you, Christian mother pregnant with a baby the doctors tell you to abort? What does the gospel cost you, faithful pastor? What about you, college student studying at a public university antagonistic to faith? What does the gospel cost you, widow or widower? What does it cost you, dear reader?

The costs and demands of the gospel are some of the most vulnerable stories we hold, because they are sensitive and they are difficult and we're not always sure we're getting it right. These are the stories where our doubt and wrestling reside.

I can tell you what the gospel has demanded of me. Even typing that sentence brings tears to my eyes. I live where I live, write what I write, parent the way I parent, spend my money and my time the way I do because of the gospel. I've said goodbye to people and places I didn't want to say goodbye to, I've struggled with loneliness, I've overlooked offenses, I've had to place others before myself in ways that has made me feel invisible at times--all for the sake of the gospel. The cost of following Christ has seemed unbearable at times, especially when self rises up, bucking for a fight.

The truth is that there is beauty in self-sacrifice. I look back at all my wrestling against the claims of the cross and I'm beyond grateful that the cross has won. I'm still here. I'm still walking forward. The benefits of submission to Christ are becoming more and more joy-filled to me. And I also see the goodness of God to work on me slowly, otherwise I'd be crushed.

Do you know what encourages me when I'm faced with the call of the cross in a newly exposed area of my life? It's when I look around at the beloved people in my church and see that the cross is just as relentless in their lives. My single friends who want to be married could be traipsing around the city dating and sleeping with anyone and everyone. They could be taking their future into their own hands rather than waiting on the Lord and entrusting themselves to Him. My married friends who have experienced difficulties in their marriages could be taking their husbands to divorce court. My same-sex attracted friends could be succumbing to their desires. They hold steady in truth and grace for the sake of the gospel, and their stories not only compel me to do the same, but they also solidify our bonds of unity and friendship and show me anew the surpassing worth of the gospel.

We're in a new day, Church. We can no longer think of church as something we do, as if its a social club or somewhere we go to get a shot of "feel better." We must instead help create a culture within our churches of familial friendship. Kevin DeYoung says that friendship is the most important-least talked about relationship in the church, and I tend to agree. We must be actively pursuing deep relationships with others within our churches in which we bravely share how the gospel is laying claim to our lives. Of course, this requires vulnerability, and not vulnerability simply for its own sake, but so that we can know and be known in a way that helps us endure in truth and grace. If we don't do this, everyone stands apart as individuals, either not realizing how the gospel lays claim to them or believing they're the only ones having to give something up and, therefore, counting the cost as too great.

Church, this is a call to pursue and value familial friendship. We cannot call, for example, same-sex attracted people to submit their desires to Christ, quite possibly abandoning a dream for marriage, without offering the safe haven and deep companionship of lifelong family. We cannot call for singles to submit their sexual desires and hopes for marriage and children to Christ without also offering ourselves as their family. Church, listen to the words of our Christ:

"Peter began to say to [Jesus], 'See, we have left everything and followed you.' Jesus said, 'Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life.'" (Mark 10:28-30)

The call of the gospel is to walk away and never come back. We belong now to Jesus. But He says that those who leave everything behind will be enveloped into family--the Church. He describes the benefits of the Christian family as far outweighing the costs of submitting ourselves to Christ.

This is our way forward in these times. This is how we hold both grace and truth together rather than simply condemning or, on the other hand, loving without truth attached. We share our stories--because we all have them--of how Christ has laid claim to us and how we're wrestling to submit to Him. We continually call our friends to die to self and live to God. (I believe this willingness to address sin is what makes friendship distinctly Christian.) We allow our friends to do the same for us. And as we call each other to walk away from who we once were, never to return, we invite them into a Church that looks like family more than anything else.