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“Let Me Tell You Something”: Do we have a listening problem or an obedience problem?

Growing up, my siblings and I would all agree that my father’s favorite line when he was upset was the following: “Let me tell you something!” Which was then followed by a historical story (fiction or non-fiction, we are still not sure) related to our current situation. 

Here is an example to help you relate.  

Me“Dad, I need a ride to school.” 

Dad“Let me tell you something…when I was your age (which was every age), I walked to school through 10-foot-high snow drifts in shoes with holes in them and no money for lunch through x number of miles, etc.”

As a matter of fact, we got that story a lot when needing to be driven to many different locations, even in the summer. Ok, you get the picture. 

However, I will add this: if my dad’s head started to move slowly and methodically from side to side when he said, “Let me tell you something,” it also meant that what he said was not only to be heard but to be obeyed!!! 

And I must be honest, when I was younger, my obedience was rooted a little in fear. Yet, as I got older and became a parent, I began to understand that my dad’s motive in “telling me something” was not to produce fear but that his wisdom and experience were expressed in passion and his best interests for me as his son. Whether the story was a parable or not, I have to believe, knowing my dad, that it was a sincere attempt to help me grow.

The key to my obedience was not that I couldn’t hear what he was saying but how I would interpret it.  And that takes a different kind of listening.

My obedience was connected to how I interpreted the message and the messenger’s character. And when I didn’t listen to the “Let me tell you something,” it usually led to a poor choice and outcome on my part. 

I can’t help but think that, like all of us, I don’t think the Church (Body of Christ) has a listening problem as much as it has an obedience problem with what they hear or have already heard from Jesus and how they are interpreting it.   

I don’t recall ever reading in the Greek or Aramaic the phrase, “Let me tell you something,” from the mouth of Jesus…but He did tell us something, didn’t He?

After all, Jesus did say…

“If you love me, you will obey my commandments. – John 14:15

And then one of his closest disciples, who turned out much better than he started (like all of us)..said 

1 Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the father loves his child as well. 2 This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. 3 In fact, this is love for God: to keep his commandsAnd his commands are not burdensome, 4 for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. 5 Who is it that overcomes the world? Only the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.

– 1 John 5:1-5

So, I don’t think we have a listening problem but rather an obedience problem. When I shared this idea with my beloved (JoAnne), she clarified it by saying, “Fraser, it’s not just an obedience problem. When you read these passages, it is a love problem?”

C’mon, preach girl!

And then, when we compound it with our interpretation and application problems, we really start seeing Jesus’ head go side to side. (smile)

In other words, we will obey as we interpret it (not prayerfully or communally discern it together) but interpret it to suit our timing, our agenda, our theological sound bites, our plans, our view, our cultural background, our opinions, our preference, our rugged independence, and values.

And please don’t read into me saying that your filters or opinions don’t matter. They do, yet friends; what Jesus said is not up for our negotiation, but what He said was to move us towards our obedient motivation and activation. 

And that I believe God’s desire was to see our filters and opinions submit to His and not His to ours. 

Did you know in the last 25 years, 40 million Americans have stopped attending Church? That’s something like 12-15 percent of the population, and it represents the most considerable concentrated change in church attendance in American history. 

Some are now calling it the great Dechurching. And if you were to ask the next generation, you would notice in many places that they have long run to the church door exits. Not everywhere, but more significant numbers than we realize.  

But I have hope for more than just the prodigal returns because not every exit is prodigal; some are just frustrated.  

And maybe we shouldn’t be asking for the frustrated, who we mistaken as prodigals, to repent but ask for the repentance of those who remained in the pews who are called to be benevolent and inspiring spiritual parents. (Luke 15)

This great DeChurching is terrible news for our nation, not just the Church.

Reflect on what experts say about participation in a religious community: it generally correlates with better health outcomes and longer life, higher financial generosity, and more stable families—all of which are desperately needed in a nation with rising rates of loneliness, mental illness, and alcohol and drug dependency, racism, sexism, and cultural polarization.

And more incredible minds than mine wrestle with the whys of this DeChurching. Some say it’s because the Church is no longer relevant, or those exiting claiming to have been hurt by members or clergy, moral corruption, American individualism, workaholism, and the most challenging, just apathy.  

And let us not forget that the opposite of love is not hate but contempt that leads to indifference and apathy. Maybe the Dechurched have slowly or quickly become desensitized to what the actual mission is and was.  Love. Loving God….Loving One Another…and Loving our Neighbor.

Another insight of this DeChurching is some are claiming too many demands from Jesus and the Church on our time, treasure, and talent,

Yet some scholars like Jim Davis and Michael Graham come to this conclusion. “What if the problem isn’t that churches are asking too much of their members but that they aren’t asking nearly enough amid all these challenges? To actually obey what Jesus said…from top to bottom.”

Or, as I said earlier, not a self-focused negotiation to get God to agree with what we have to say. As if we dare to say, “Let me tell you something, God.” 

In my opinion, the only place we have been given permission to do so is in the act of worship we most neglect: Lament. Lament allows us to voice our frustration and travel through that path until we have wrestled through the negotiation to submission in obedience in a new relationship of trust in Him. God won’t stop listening to the heart that hurts in the Lament but may become silent to the heart that does not want to obey. 

In many contexts I have observed across the country, some churches have become more of an organization of detached individuals who meet together for religious services that inspire them once or twice a month if they determine that day works in their schedule.

Added to it, the leaders (pastors) of these organizations live under the pressure that the platforms at their gatherings will provide practical life advice that almost all will agree on or whatever we think like according to our favorite newsfeed or influencer, and at the same time offer a positive emotional experience according to whatever we feel in the moment and does not cause much disruption to our daily lives. 

In some places I visit, the Body of Christ, the Church, has forgotten the power of community, His Word, His Spirit, and our ability to be witnesses to another way to live.  

Jesus said what He said, and maybe instead of asking God to negotiate or tone it down, or culturally pressure the churches and their leaders only to give what is comfortable to us, we become obedient to just a couple of the last things He said to us. Starting with these for instance:

Matthew 28:18-20 18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit 20 and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” 

John 14:15 If you love me, you will obey my commandments. 

Matthew 22:37-39 He said to him, “ ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the greatest and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 

John 17:2-2-24 20 “I ask not only on behalf of these but also on behalf of those who believe in me through their word, 21 that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, 23 I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

And we let these. “let me tell you something’ move us to learn how to grow together into a holy, obedient community. After all, I trust the messenger and His character. And I trust that His love has driven out fear and He only has the best in mind for you and I.

So, let’s tone down the negotiation and turn up our obedience.  And tell the world in love, “I want to tell you something!”

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