Woman Who Died A Year Ago Found In Home On Christmas: A True Metaphor

Just this past Christmas Sunatha Simmons, a 63 year old woman from Thailand, was found dead in her home by family visiting from Japan. The coroner report stated that she had died of natural causes approximately one year ago. None of her neighbors in the small town of Makanda, Illinois had noticed.

Not that there weren’t signs that something was amiss. Her yard was overgrown, trash littered her front porch, and no one had seen her. According to the news story at least some in the community knew that she struggled with depression since her husbands’ death. Here’s the line in the story that got me…

“Neighbor Shannon Butler said she would have checked on the woman if she’d known her better.”

I’m afraid that this story serves as a metaphor for how many communities (churches included) function today. Because we don’t know each other, we choose to ignore the rather obvious signs that things might not be going well for someone. Although we are always around people, many are lonely. A person’s life goes down a wrong road and we say what Shannon Butler said, “I would’ve checked on them if I knew them better.”

I thought that Erin’s post yesterday gave a realistic, practical, and attractive way to get to know a couple other people in a more meaningful way.

I want to take this line – “I would’ve checked on the person if I’d knew them better” and the sermon from last Sunday about fighting sin being a community project – and go a slightly different direction with it. Yes, I need to know people better but once that happens, how do I go about checking on them? When we see signs that someone might not be doing well or might be trapped in sin, what do we do?

Jerram Barrs shared with the pastors at The Crossing an unpublished paper that he had written for his denomination. In the paper he laid out a process that might serve as a helpful guide when you notice a friend is having trouble. The substance of the points below are Barrs while the wording is mine.

1. When you see a fellow Christian in sin, the first thing you should do is ask yourself if that same sin is present in your life. If yes, confess it to God and ask him for the grace to change. Always start by examining your own heart. (Matthew 7:1-5)

2. Ask yourself whether this is a sin that you need to talk with the person about or simply one that you should be patient with and not bring up? If we talk to each other about every sin we see in each others’ lives, that’s all we will talk about. It’s no great accomplishment to find sin in a sinner. Knowing when it is appropriate to talk to a person about sin, which we can tackle in another post, requires discernment. But it is clear that some sins should be “overlooked” (Proverbs 19:11). Love covers a multitude of sins (1 Peter 4:8).

3. If we think that this is an issue we need to talk to the person about, the next step is to ask yourself what’s motivating you to have this conversation? Are you doing it out of love for the person? Or is this a way to make yourself feel better? Your motives are very important.

4. Have I earned the right to talk to this person? Have I expressed concern and love for them in the past? A hard conversation about sin probably isn’t going to go very well if it isn’t done in the context of a healthy relationship.

5. Do I have first hand knowledge of the issue I am going to discuss with the person or am I basing all of this on gossip?

6. I must be prepared to go and have the conversation.

7. Am I willing to help this person fight against their sin? This is what Paul means when he calls us to bear one another’s burdens Galatians 6:2). No Christian is called just to say tough things and then walk away. We are called to come alongside and help by praying, offering accountability, and more. Helping people grow in their faith and learn to fight sin will require self sacrifice. If you’re not willing to help the person, you’re not ready to talk to them about their sin.

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