FEBRUARY 21, 2010


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             A customer sat down at a table in an upscale, trendy restaurant and instead of placing the napkin on his lap, he tied his napkin around his neck.  The maitre de called the waiter aside and said, “Try to make that man understand, as tactfully as possible, that the way he is using his napkin is not appropriate in this restaurant.”

            So, the waiter approached the customer and said, “Shave or haircut, sir?”

            Our one another passage for day, admonishing one another, is risky business.  Most people would rather not do it.  In fact, most people do what they can to avoid it.  I know I do.  I enjoy pleasing people, not hurting people, and after all, we have talked about thus far in this One Anothering sermon series, positive things like loving one another, and praying for one another, and bearing one another’s burdens, admonishing one another sounds so negative, so discordant. 

            But there it is in the Bible.  The Apostle Paul tells us to “admonish one another with all wisdom.”  Admonish or admonition are not words we use often today, so I looked up the meaning of them in Webster’s New World Dictionary.   Here’s what I found.  Both words, admonish and admonition, deal with gentle, earnest, solicitous warnings or reproofs.  The key words were gentle and earnest.  This is not a process of blasting someone with both barrels. 

            It’s not like what took place between between Elton John and Keith Richards, the guitarist for the Rolling Stones.  They made the news awhile ago with public insults of one another.  Keith said that Elton John is a "Vegas act" and said his career now consists of "writing songs for dead blondes," referring to the memorial songs Elton John wrote in honor of Marilyn Monroe and Princess Diana.  Elton John responded to Keith Richards’ remarks by saying, "He's so pathetic.  It's like a monkey with arthritis trying to go on stage and look young."

            That’s not biblical admonition.  That’s not what the Apostle Paul had in mind.  The Apostle Paul says when we do it, when we admonish one another, we do so with all wisdom, not in anger, not with bitterness, not with desire to injure, but we admonish in all wisdom.

            It’s exactly what Nathan did with King David.  He admonished him with all wisdom.  Let me offer a little background to their confrontation.  God had chosen David to be king of Israel, and God referred to David as “a man after my own heart.”  David was a much-loved king, the most popular in Israel’s history, a terrific military commander, and also a great writer.  He wrote many of the Psalms including such beautiful words as “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want,” and “Teach my your way, O Lord, and I will walk in your truth,” and “Create in me a clean heart, O Lord.”  But then David veered off course.  He pulled a Bill Clinton, he committed adultery with a woman named Bathsheba, and even worse he got Bathsheba pregnant, and then like a thug, he orchestrated the murder of the Bathsheba’s husband.  So, the Lord sent Nathan to admonish David, to get him back on track.

            And imagine the courage it took for Nathan to confront David.  David was not only the King of Israel, but he had also concocted a plan to dispose of his lover’s husband.  What if David chose to “dispose of” Nathan?  After all, in fact you can read about his in the next chapter, David had a bodyguard, a guy named Abishai, who kept begging David to take off a guy’s head who had offended the King.  Confront David and you might lose your head!

            We may not lose our heads, but it still takes courage to admonish another.  It may go well, as it went well with David and Nathan.  David accepted the admonishment.  He repented and mended his ways, and in a similar vain, the person those we admonish may say to us, “Well, thank you for pointing out that blind spot.  I appreciate your thoughtfulness and insight.”  Others, however, will not be so receptive.  They might respond differently.  They may say, “Now, that we are on the subject, let’s discuss your blind spots, you jerk!” 

            Yet, as difficult as it may be God calls us to admonish one another, to help one another get back on track when we have veered or are veering off course, and we are to do it in all wisdom.  What does that mean, to admonish in all wisdom?  Let me take a stab at that.

            First of all, a wise admonisher remembers the goal of admonishment.  The goal is to keep a brother or sister in Christ on track.  Admonishment brings attention to a debilitating behavior and opens the way to change. 

            That was Nathan’s goal with David, and the Apostle Paul models this behavior for us in his relationship with the people in Corinth.  Apparently, Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians really upset some folks.  In that first letter Paul exercised some tough love with some of the folk in First Church Corinth, and Paul’s admonishment hurt their feelings.  So word got back to Paul that what he had written, bothered some of the good folk in the church, and listen to how he responds to that report.  You can turn with me there, to II Corinthians 7:8.  Here’s what he says about hurting their feelings.


            For even if I made you sorry with my letter, I do not regret it (though I did regret it, for I see that I grieved you with that letter, but only briefly).  Now I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because your grief led to repentance; for you felt a godly grief, so that you were not harmed in any way by us..  For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation and brings no regret, but worldly grief produces death.  (II Corin. 7:8-10)


            Note the purpose of admonishment.  We do it, so that people will see the error of their ways, repent and get back on track.  As such it differs from criticism.  Criticism tears down, whereas admonishment attempts to build up, to get a person back on track.  I like the term coined by David Augsburger.  He refers to admonishment as “care-frontation.”  We admonish another because we care about the other person.  We want them to grow to their full potential and so we point out what is keeping them from doing that.

            Second, a wise admonisher consults with God prior to admonishing another.  That’s what Nathan did.  Nathan went to David only after receiving marching orders from God. 

            To tell you the truth, I hesitated to include this particular one another injunction because I feared it could easily be abused.  Some folk are hyper-critical by nature, and this particular one another commandment, could easily give them carte-blanche to engage their critical spirit.

            That, however, is not the intent of this directive.  Before we admonish someone we need to consult with God.  First, we need to ask God, “Am I the best person to admonish, so and so?  Is there someone else better suited to deliver this information?  Will they hear this better from someone else?”  Second, we ask God, “I know, Lord, that we are supposed to take out the log in our own eye before we worry about the speck in someone else’s.  So, Lord, please reveal to me where I, myself, may have veered off course.”   

            Third, a wise admonisher rehearses the admonishment, so that it is presented as tactfully and sensitively as possible.  Nathan certainly rehearsed what he was going to say before he said it.  In fact, he came up with a little story about a rich man and a poor man and a little lamb.  Nathan spoke the truth.  He admonished David, but he did so tactfully and sensitively. 

            Of course, we can be too tactful.  We can be so tactful that don’t get the point across.  I recently finished reading a novel titled American Fugi.  I enjoyed it immensely.  In fact, I devoured it while on vacation, and it describes the many differences between Japanese and American cultures.  One difference has to do with indirect communication.  Because the Japanese are so big into losing face, you don’t come out and say something that might make the other person lose face.  No, you beat around the bush, and you hope the person reads between the lines.  think of our time living in the South.  That’s a very proper, polite place as well.  Though not to the extreme of the Japanese, they too have mastered the art of “being indirect.”  Unfortunately, we can be too sensitive and too tactful to the point the person has no idea what we are getting at.

            And what is tact?  One person says “Tact is making a point without making an enemy.”  Another said, “Tact is attacking the problem rather than attacking the person.”  Another said, “When you put encouragement and correction together, you get tact.” 

            Fourth, a wise admonisher admonishes personally, face-to-face.  They don’t send an anonymous note.  They don’t send an e-mail.  Instead, they show their face and they show their heart.  Jesus set the standard for us.  He said, “If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone”  (Matthew 18:15). 

            Next weekend, our former church, where I served for seventeen years, will celebrate their 50th anniversary as a church.  And they are asking former pastors and their spouses to come back and join them for the celebration.  So Trudy and I will be attending events on Friday night, Saturday afternoon and Saturday night.  We’ll miss the Sunday morning activities because we would rather be here with you.

            And we will be hosting Jim Fiedler and his wife Diana while they are here.  Jim and I were associate pastors together at West Hills, and then when I became Head of Staff, he was one of my associate pastors, and I still remember our last meal together before he left Omaha and moved to Bellevue, Washington.  We had a staff luncheon at the old Grandmother’s Restaurant located at 90th and Dodge.  We had about a dozen staff people at lunch, and Jim pointed something out to me while we were alone at the salad bar.  He said, “I’ve been meaning to tell you this for years, and don’t let this bother you, but I want to correct something you say.”  He said, “You use the word ‘irregardless.’  He said that’s improper.  All you need to say is ‘regardless.’ ‘Irregardless’ is not proper English.”  He said, “It may bother others when you use that word, so I wanted to let you know before I left town.” 

            I never used the word again, and every time I hear someone say “irregardless” I fondly think of Jim, who corrected me when we were alone, face to face. 

            In closing, let me take you on a quick trip to Washington, D.C.

            John Rawlins was General Ulysses S. Grant chief of staff during the Civil War.  John Rawlins was an attorney from Illinois and he became a trusted friend and advisor to General Grant during the Civil War, and during Grant’s presidency he served as Grant’s first Secretary of War.  As you may remember, Grant had a problem with alcohol, and Grant gave Rawlins his pledge to abstain from intoxicating liquors.  When he broke it, Rawlins admonished him, pleading with great earnestness that Grant refrain from strong drink, for his own sake, for the nation, and for the holy cause for which they were fighting.

            That’s the background, and now our trip to Washington D.C.  At the base of the Capitol Building, facing the Washington Memorial in the distance, stands a magnificent monument to General Grant, sitting on his horse, flanked on either side by stirring battle scenes. It’s the second largest equestrian statue in the United States.   At the other end of the Capitol, and a little south of Pennsylvania Avenue is a park.  It’s called Rawlins Park, where a very ordinary statue of Grant’s friend stands.  One cannot think of Grant’s magnificent monument without thinking about Rawlin’s very ordinary statue.  It was Rawlins, after all, who kept Grant on his horse.    

            Admonishment may not be needed very often, but when required, it is important that we love each other enough to do it.