A man asked to be removed from our mailing list.

He criticized my friendship with a well-known Christian leader. Very upset, this man wanted absolutely nothing to do with anybody who had anything to do with that Christian leader.

We did as he asked and then I wrote to him: “You must live a lonely life if you remove yourself from all the places, people and ministries with which you disagree. I haven’t found anybody except Jesus (and I have trouble with him sometimes (:) with whom I agree all the time…and certainly he [this Christian leader] is someone with whom I disagree about a bunch of stuff. Sometimes my pastor drives me nuts and my wife too. Then I have children with whom I disagree. And I certainly have serious problems with the nation’s politicians. But where am I going to go? It’s hard to be an outsider of the human race.”

Do you know what “secondary separation” is?

Primary separation is not having anything to do with the bad folks. Secondary separation is not having anything to do with the folks who have anything to do with the bad folks. One could, I suppose, even refuse to have anything to do with the folks who have anything to do with the folks who have anything to do with the folks who have anything to do with the bad folks.

Pretty soon it’s just you and Jesus…and when Jesus leaves the building, it can be a lonely place.

Do you remember when John came to Jesus reporting that a man was casting out demons in his name? John said that he had told the man to “cease and desist” because he was not “following us.”

Our enemies aren’t necessarily Jesus’ enemies.

Jesus’ reply is interesting: “Do not stop him, for no one who does a mighty work in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. For the one who is not against us is for us. For truly, I say to you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ will by no means lose his reward” (Mark 9:39-41).

How are Christians called to deal with people? In his reply, Jesus gives us three instructive truths.

Our enemies aren’t necessarily Jesus’ enemies.

The people on my theological, ecclesiastical and political “hit list” may not be on his. While that irritates me, it gives me pause.

I don’t know about you, but I have people I love to hate. And frankly, I don’t want to know them…because if I did, I just might like them.

There was once a leader in our denomination that made me angry every time I even thought about him. I heard the stories of people he had condemned and hurt. I knew about his arrogance and pride. I knew of a church he almost destroyed with his poor judgment. So when I was called to give some advice to a denominational committee on which he served, I could hardly wait. In my heart, I dared him to say anything. I planned to “speak truth to power” (and the angrier I get, the better I talk).

He was sent to bring me from the hotel lobby to the meeting room. This was shortly after my brother’s death, one of the major tragedies in my life. This man led me to the door and said, “Steve, before we go in, let me say something. I’m so very sorry about your brother’s death.” Then to my amazement, tears welled up in his eyes. “I just want you to know,” he continued, “that my wife and I have been praying for you daily that God would show you great love and comfort in this time.”

Spit!!!!

We’re called to be unconditional.

It is not my job description and way above my pay grade to be too conditional.

God has said to me numerous times, “Steve, you are mine and you have a great heart for following me, but you lack the holiness, goodness and purity to pull it off. So stay close to me and I’ll love you, but be careful and remember that I love you not because you are lovable, but just because I do. It will help you in dealing with others.”

God isn’t finished with us.

God isn’t finished with me, with you or with our enemies yet.

I’m constantly surprised. One of the good things about being old (and there aren’t many) is that I’ve watched children become men and women. I can’t tell you how often I’ve been surprised when the “evil to the bone” kid became a preacher, the most rebellious teenagers became influential leaders in the church and community, and the worst kids I knew got married and became incredible, loving parents. I’ve seen so much change in people’s lives that it’s almost (but not quite) fixed my cynicism.

But do you know who has surprised me the most?

Me.

I’m kinder when I remember that.

There is one other thing I feel constrained to say. None of this should be considered a call for us to become “Christian wimps.” Sometimes we’re the enemy and sometimes it’s “them.” There is evil. Truth isn’t relative. And it’s not always the case that if we’re nice, others will be nice to us.

The problem is that I have only so many “bullets in my gun” and Jesus wants me to be very careful where I shoot.

Time to Draw Away

Read Matthew 5:43-47 & John 15:12-17

Who is on your “hit list”? How can you love that person (or those people!) unconditionally? God loves us, as sinners, without condition, hesitation or end. Let that sink in…deeply. It tends to put everything in perspective. “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19).