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JOHN PEARRELL: Christians should reflect the compassion of the Heavenly Father

A number of years ago I attended a funeral where, I am quite sure, the minister had more in his audience than he ever had before.

This got him going; he wasn't about to lose this opportunity. His voice began to rise, his face turned red, he began ending each sentence with the "and-ah." He was on a roll.

Having grown up with such preaching, I knew what was coming, and, forgive me if I sound judgmental here, but I began to pray, "Oh, Lord, please don't let this man do anything stupid."

Unfortunately that prayer was not answered. Shortly after I prayed it, the minister pronounced, "And some of you are going to hell, Hallelujah!" My heart sank. I am pretty sure this minister didn't mean to give the impression that he was rejoicing over people being lost for eternity, but that is exactly what he ended up doing.

A few columns back, we looked at the subject of the prodigal son. Check it out in Luke 15. Rebellious son, disses his father, wishing him to be dead, takes his inheritance prematurely, and gets as far away from dad as was humanly possible in that day -- both geographically and in his heart. He blows his money on wild living, ends up feeding and eating with pigs (that was as low as any Jewish boy could sink), and finally "comes to his senses" and heads home where he plans to hire on as a farm hand, knowing that any chance of being welcomed as a son was gone.

Doesn't turn out the way he thinks however, and his dad, instead of meeting him with anger, embraces him with compassion, restores him as a son and throws a party for him.

Older brother, Mr. Goody Two-sandals, is coming in from a hard day's work for his father, hears the commotion, discovers the occasion for it and Jesus said, "The older brother became angry and refused to go in." (Luke 15:28).

Do you know what the problem was? This older brother is like a lot of Christians today, he was afraid that he wasn't going to get something from the Father that he thought was rightfully his. In fact, that is exactly what he expresses to explain his anger: "'But he answered his father, 'Look! All these years I've been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!'" (Luke 15:29 30, NIV84).

Can I summarize that statement for you? He said, "No fair!" In his self-righteousness, he thought he deserved certain things -- he stayed home, he worked, and the "better" he became the angrier he became at the younger brother who wasn't pulling his fair share.

Like the minister I started with, there are a lot of angry Christians out there. They prefer to call it "righteous indignation" but it's anger and we show it and express it, and frankly, by our self-righteous anger we drive people away from the Father rather than drawing them to the Father. It's sad.

Sadder still, a lot of those who fall into this category are now angry with me for expressing it, and worse, you think you can justify it by saying, "Well, we need to express our anger with sin, boycott companies who don't agree with our beliefs, otherwise they'll think we're soft on sin; that sin doesn't matter."

Really? You really expect me to believe that somehow we have developed in our holiness and righteousness so much that we are now the example for Jesus rather than He for us? Do you really want to try to go there? Oh, I hope not.

We as Christians need to reflect the compassion of our Heavenly Father; His love and forgiveness, not the anger of our own self-righteousness. The Pharisees did that; our Lord never did.

Dr. John Pearrell is pastor of Gateway Community Church in Covington. For more information, visit the Gateway website at www.gatewaycommunity.org.