Growing up my family was big into fishing, hunting, and guns. My uncles and my dad were big outdoorsmen. My grandfather was a game-warden and so he took his kids hunting, fishing, and camping as often as possible. That tradition was continued by my dad and his brothers. I started hunting at 13 years old. The first year I went deer hunting was a total bust. In those days, we hunted in northern Indiana on a rather large property. The land was full of open fields, areas with thick tree filled woods, and rolling hills. Don't forget about the rolling hills, we will come back to them.
During my second year of hunting, I had finally found a good place for my tree stand. I placed myself in an unhindered area of the property. I was off to myself away from my uncles and dad. That season had been a struggle for me because I had taken shots at 4 different groups of deer without landing a single deer. I was striking out. It seemed hopeless and I was losing confidence. On the very last day of the season, I had a group of 3 does come in behind me and stop just to my right about 75 yards. The shot was clear and a perfect opportunity to finally take down my first deer. I was nervous, excited, and shaking like a leaf as I pulled my gun up and took aim. With a shallow breath and a slow pull of the trigger, I took my shot. BOOM! Bullseye! Down went the deer.
I thought I could see the deer trying to get up so, I took another shot and another. These shots were unnecessary but I didn't know that at the time. I was excited and eager to go check out my prize. What I didn't know at the time and would later find out, was that about 250 - 300 yards away from me my uncles were going through a very different experience.
They were loading the two deer they managed to take down in the back of a truck just down the hill from where I was shooting. I was unknowingly shooting at them. Forty-five minutes before I took my shot, I thought I watched them leave the field in the truck but because of the hills I was unable to see them return. They were right in the path of my shots. My two extra unnecessary shots went skipping off of the frozen ground and whizzed past just above their heads. My dad's oldest brother Nick, jumped to the ground like a solider under attack in some great battle. His adversary was none other than his 14 year old nephew. This is not a proud moment for me and I was mortified later when I heard them retell this story. We all laugh now but it could have a very different outcome.
I was recently reminded of this story when a good friend asked me a challenging question. He asked, "Why is it that in the church we are so willing to shoot our own?" To give some context, his question was in reference to how often church people judge one another, hurt each other, get jealous, or struggle to simply be happy for one another. It is sad how church people find a way to kick one another when they're down. Perhaps I shouldn't say church people but RELIGIOUS PEOPLE. Unfortunately, this can even be true among Pastors. Pastors are notorious for getting jealous, defensive, and territorial.
It is heart breaking that the one place on earth where people should be exposed to overwhelming acceptance, kindness, and love often have a story paradoxical to the character of Jesus. I don't want to dedicate the entirety of this post to more time or energy on the problem. I would like to propose a challenge/solution. Consider these questions:
What if we spent more time just being friendly? What if we stopped being competitive with each other? What if we could truly be happy for one another?
I love hunting but I really think that church should stop hunting one another. Instead of looking for opportunities to boost our own self-worth and self-image with judgment on others, we should look to encourage others. We should search for opportunities to show gratitude towards others. Pray for those that frustrate you or make you mad. Discover ways to love people who by nature are easy targets for judgment and ridicule.
As a hunter, there have been many instances where I have tracked animals for hundreds and hundreds of yards only to come up empty handed in the end. The rule in hunting though is if you shoot at a deer, even if you think you missed you at least go look and see. I think in life our approach should be even if we miss the mark it is important enough to always go look. By "go look" I mean keep trying to offer the world a better version of ourselves, to do things differently than others, and keep moving towards being more and more like Jesus every day. You wont always hit your target but hopefully the target wont be another brother or sister in Christ. The target should be to be more loving, more kind, more like Jesus every day. The next time you are tempted to put the crosshairs of judgement, anger, gossip, jealousy, or pride on a friend challenge yourself to aim for something else.
Aim for the fruit of the Spirit. May we live out the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.
May God bless you and keep you. May his face shine upon you. Have a great weekend and a Merry Christmas.