I hope you were as challenged as I was with the idea of showing partiality and favoritism from last week's message. God's Word challenges us to peer deeply into ourselves and display love in the way God shows love, not the way the world does.
However, after this past week, I realized that there is a type of partiality and favoritism that all of us show that is not as apparent. Even if, in fact, you are making efforts to show everyone possible in your life an impartial care and love, it is very possible that there is one person you are showing way more favoritism to: yourself.
As a pastor whose job it is to try and engage our folks in caring for people outside of our church, I cannot tell you how difficult it has been at times to persuade people to make time for others. Not structured time, mind you. Appointments are fine in advance. Strict times are fine. But free, open-ended time? "Seeing what happens"? This is more rare.
People in our church more often than not have plans. Endless hobbies, weekend trips, errands, meetings, and exercise seem to always be on the agenda. Last-minute get-togethers are often difficult. A spontaneous invite to a meal after church is frequently turned down.
Isn't this normal, though? People have stuff to do, right? We all do, right? You have to make sure you do X, Y, and Z. You have to keep to your regimen, and achieve all of these reasonable personal goals, and see these exact people. That's normal.
Let me just be bold for a moment and say that I don't think it is. There are churches and communities that many of us grew up in which the default mindset was to think about the group as a priority to the individual. I grew up more in that mindset. We didn't make lots of individual plans, because that would mean we were excluding any potential plans of the group. There are people in our own town who don't know the gospel who function this way.
Some of you know this in part because you have, at least at some point in your life, had a close-knit group of friends or family that always did things together. Someone can't make it? You switch what the group is doing or where you're going. Everyone going to an event? You cancel what you were gonna do and just go with the group.
Does this experience sound unfamiliar? If it does, then let me suggest that this is a blind-spot in your life that, left unchecked, will result a sinful favoritism that places yourself above others and only allows for others who display similar patterns of life to have the opportunity to receive any love from you.
Note, I'm not advocating for a wild swing into a solely "group-centric" church, or one in which everything that we do revolves around the church community and events. I've seen that go in an unhealthy direction too. But what I am asking us to consider is whether our highly individualized lifestyles are getting in the way of our ability to grow in love for God and for others. How, brothers and sisters, are we going to reach and love people in our neighborhood who don't schedule things in advance, but more casually "see what happens" on a day-to-day basis?
If you're schedule is packed out, you'll never be able to.
Reaching our neighborhood means entering into other peoples' routines and other peoples' daily lives. You can't do that if you will never compromise your own routines or lifestyle. In fact, when Jesus says we must die to ourselves, that must in some way mean that you're called to start sacrificing your own agenda for the sake of loving God and making Him known to others.
I've more than once mentioned to our church the concept of being "around and available". Here are some diagnostic questions and next steps if you think these words prevent a challenge for you. When is the last time...
- You/your CG "hung out" in a place in the neighborhood on a regular basis with no agenda? Or hung out with each other?
- You had people over to your house spontaneously?
- You accepted a spontaneous invitation to hang out?
- You actually stayed at a birthday party or function for longer than 2 hours?
- You decided to have "no plans" following an event just in case something else happened?
If this has rarely or never happened, let me urge you to invite others into your life and see how this can change.
If you find yourself resistant to this idea altogether, carefully consider this idea: the person you're "around and available" for most...is that yourself?
Pastor Mike Hong