I just finished a book entitled “How to Solve your People Problems: Dealing with the difficult people in your life.” It is a great book written by a Christian author (Alan Godwin) who for years has counseled people in conflict resolution, and how to deal with the difficult people in one’s life-both the “reasonable and the unreasonable.” But one thing that alarmed me as I read this book was the number of people in ministry positions, leadership positions in the church, who act one way at home and quite another way at church. There was a true story of one man who was an elder in his church, yet for all of his married life had verbally abused his wife. He was one way at home, but quite another way in front of the flock or at a potluck meal. I find this Jekyl and Hyde facade very appalling. Lest you think we can only READ about such undetected atrocities inside the church, I should share a few of my own stories. I know of one church elder who each Sunday goes through the motions as a pillar in his church, speaking, sharing, serving, but on his own time, he gambles, mistreats his employees, and betrays his wife’s trust. I know another leader in the church who verbally abuses his wife, controls her in an unhealthy and harmful way, and yet leads the “charge” each Sunday as he sets his “Sunday best” in motion. I know of women who project themselves as saints inside church circles, but they treat their adult children with such disrespect, manipulating them for their own selfish gain by employing guilt, shame, and sarcasm in order to solicit the behaviors they desire. Essentially, these so called Christians are living a lie. And then there is me. I serve in my church. I serve on a local chapel board. I lead bible studies. But at home I am often disrespectful to my husband, impatient with my children, and self-righteous about the “charges” I lead from this base of operations I call home. I like to think that I am transparent. My motto is often “what you see is what you get.” But sometimes I know that I am misleading others, projecting the false belief that (1 ) I have it all together or (2) My family should be lucky to have me and/or (3) I am rarely, if ever wrong. As I read Alan Godwin’s book and pondered some of these true scenarios while considering some of my own experiences with similar persons, I felt sick. I thought to myself, “It is perhaps the worst kind of sin to act one way to the masses, while privately abusing those who are closest to you, OR anyone who takes a stand opposite your position.” Then I started a closer examination of my own life and realized there were many areas where improvements could be made and spiritual growth could ensue. And finely, I was left with this nagging thought. We (Christ followers) have to look different. It is imperative that we “become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life….”Philippians 2
Jesus had much to say about the sin of “two-faced.” in Matthew 23: “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean. “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.
Paul said about himself and his missionary companions in 2 Corinthians 10 “Such people should realize that what we are in our letters when we are absent, we will be in our actions when we are present.” Paul the apostle was the same guy in person as he was in when absent. We should follow suit with this divine example. We should understand that if we are not for God, then we are against Him. If we abuse others, physically, mentally or otherwise, then we are abusing the positions we hold in ministry, in our community, and in our homes. Belonging to Christ and serving in His kingdom doesn’t grant us licenses to treat others with malice and disrespect. Leadership in ministry and “saintly” labels do NOT give us a free pass to trample down everyone in our path. Nor does it excuse us from the consequences of such behaviors.
Freedom. Do you have it?
Recently my family and I had the privilege of traveling to Moscow, Russia for vacation. If you know anything at all about Russian history, you might know something of its tumultuous past and volatile leadership dating back to the 14th or 15th century and well through the WWII era. Then there was the cold war, the Soviet Union as it was, and the ensuing oppression of its people, still, after having already suffered so much loss and tragedy in the war. We had an incredible tour guide, a lovely Russian lady named Lydia who took us through both Red Square and the Kremlin sharing the minutest details of her country both past and present. Lydia was herself a young girl during the days of the USSR regime. She and her family grew up in a one bedroom, one bathroom flat along with 3 other families! They would alternate the days each family used the bathroom. Still this was luxurious compared to what Lydia’s parents had endured during the war. Lydia recalled with detail how their travel was limited if not made impossible by the government, how their thinking was distorted and manipulated by government ideology, and even their movement around their own city was hampered. As we visited with Lydia and toured her beloved city for hours, the contrast between my upbringing and hers became undeniably obvious to me. Later when Paul and I were alone, we marveled how “In her whole entire life, Lydia had never known freedom in the way we had.” In her whole life, more than 60 years, and she has not tasted freedom like you and I! Needless to say, the spiritual lessons were undeniable. Most of us have enjoyed lives free of political oppression. Most of us. More importantly as Christ followers we have found true freedom in Christ. Freedom from our sin, from a life in bondage to the flesh, freedom from fear. Undiluted, glorious freedom. Galations 5 says It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. Yet how often do we allow Satan a stronghold in our lives. Guilt, shame, bitterness, anger, and/or hurt. Even our overcommitted schedules and many of our worldly pursuits hold us in captivity, and prevent us from fully embracing the abundant life with Christ. All of these things can take root in our souls, and when they do, we are no more free than that little girl who grew up in the USSR in a one bedroom flat. Perhaps less so. We live like captives. But indeed Christ has set us free. We should be singing this from the hilltops. The thief has truly come to “steal, kill, and destroy,” but Christ has come to give us life “and to give it abundantly.” Christians of all people should start acting like free persons. We should show the world that we are Christ followers, and our lives have been transformed by the One, the only One who gives us true freedom.
I will walk about in freedom, for I have sought out your precepts.
Luke 4:18 The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed.
Romans 8:20-21 For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.
2 Cor. 3:17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.
Ephesians 3:12 In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence.
This week a very good friend of mine shared her “heavy heart” with me. So much pain and suffering all around her, she felt overwhlemed. I understand how she feels. Too many marriages crumbling, children emotionally devastated by circumstances beyond their control. There are so many who are suffering with cancer. I wonder “why doesn’t God just wipe this disease out with a single word?” We see a world, cities, communities torn apart by violence or unemployment, or homelessness. We often ask the question, “Will this ever stop?” Then one of you steps up to the plate, picks up her armor, and swings the bat. Hope for the hopeless. Food for the hungry. A shoulder for the weary. You answer the call of trial and sufferings with your available heart, your spiritual gifts, and your compassion. By coming together and giving up your time, your resources, your money, your talents-by being generous with what God has given you, in this way, we make a glorious difference in the world around us, and in the lives of others.
We don’t have to look far to see pain and suffering, discontent, crisis, and struggling families. Do we? While we know as Christ followers, we can have the assurance that God is so much greater than our trials (1 John 4), still yet, the suffering that surrounds us can be overwhelming
Yet, isn’t this a call to arms for us as Christ followers? If ever there was any question of what God is calling us to do, or if He is indeed calling us to do anything at all, you have only to look around you and see this, people in emotional turmoil, marriages on the brink, children impacted by our economy and family crisis, and then you must truly be compelled to say, “Here am I God, Send me!” How can we respond any other way?
Isaiah said this in a scripture familiar to all of us in chapter 6, when with a totally contrite heart he recognized who he was in relation to who God was, and he was compelled to say “Here am I send me,” to the question that God asked “Who will go for us?” ( Special Note on “us-” God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit.) God asked the question “who will go?” and then raised the stakes when He added “for us?” Isaiah responded with a resounding yes. We should all be so sensitive to His call. One commentary I read on the prophet Isaiah said “Isaiah’s account of God’s call on his life, leaves no doubt about what motivated the prophet for the next half century. His vision of God was unforgettable.” Wow.
If we do not individually and personally have a vision for missions, simply a burden for reaching out to others in need, then I would humbly submit perhaps we need to revisit our own “vision of God.” Like Isaiah did, we should recognize who God is and who we are, and respond accordingly. We will leave that place compelled to serve shoulder to shoulder.
Word of God Speak
Sometimes you just feel helpless, and as frustrating as those moments are, they are moments that bring us closer to God. My oldest daughter went on her first youth group trip away from us for a week. Prior to her departure, I went through all the emails from the youth director with a fine tooth comb-as is my “custom.” One piece of advice for parents-“please send a “few” 50 cent euro coins with your child for bathroom stops on the autobahn along the way.” This was an 8-hour drive into Italy. Well, far be it from me to send my child unprepared into the great unknown alone. So of course, I scraped together practically all the 50-cent euro coins to be had in the Tri-border area of Germany. Proudly I zipped them up into her change purse, and smugly sent her on her way. She used one of them! And that wasn’t even for a bathroom stop. One of my friends was making fun of me because she only sent 5 coins with her son, which proved to be more than enough. I was determined to control as much of this situation as I could, but yet ultimately when she left, there was nothing in my control. I had to hand her over to God, and what’s more I had to trust Him with the outcome. (In the words of our youth director, “remember no news is good news.”)
I have dear friends in the states who are going through very difficult times right now with serious health issues, and ensuing emotional trials. I feel so helpless. I have to trust God for the outcome. I want to be there to take them a meal, offer them my time, and help them any way I can. But I can’t do what my human mind thinks is neccessary to help them. I am 2000 miles away, over the “pond.” Essentially, I am helpless. But God is not helpless. He is never unavailable, and He is always near.
When Shelby left for Beach Break, I wrote only a scripture down on paper for her for each day that she was gone from home. I sealed them in envelopes and simply put the day of the week on the outside. When I unpacked her suitcase I noticed that all the verses had been opened and read. Today I “unpacked” some more scriptures from my favorite book again, only this time for my sweet friends. Sometimes when I share scripture, I rarely add any dialogue. Scripture stands alone. It is timeless, relevant, and accurate (John 1:1; 2 Tim. 3:16). It is healing (Psalm 103:1-4), comforting (2 Cor. 1:3-7), teaching and rebuking (2 Timothy 3:16-17), hopeful (Hebrews6: 18-20), overflowing with God’s message of forgiveness (Psalms 103:10-13), and relentless in pursuing us (Psalm 147-15; Jeremiah 20:9;) It speaks for us when we cannot. It intercedes and stands in the gap for us when we don’t know which path to take on this journey. I am grateful for Christ who is the Word, who is my voice and who speaks to me from the pages of my bible. I am only an extension of His mighty hand. I cannot act alone. God give me the strength and the desire to read your Word, to apply it personally, and to hold it out to others as the “Words of life.” (Philippians 2:15-16)
When your words came, I ate them; they were my joy and my heart’s delight, for I bear your name, O LORD God Almighty.
When we moved to Europe, we were immediately surrounded by foreign languages. Parituclary we live in the Tri-border region of Germany, the Netherlands, and Belgium. The Netherlands and Belgium are both a mere few minutes away from us. Dutch, Flemish, French, and German languages are all a stone’s throw from our home. It’s easy to feel like an outsider. We have been thankful for wonderful German neighbors-friends, both Dutch and German who have befriended us and speak to us graciously in English as we struggle to learn even just a few words of their language. But still it can be daunting.
Did you know that in our churches, we also speak different languages? No, I am not referring to “speaking in tongues.” Yet words and phrases we use in church can seem like a foreign language to a visitor or someone who has never been in a church in his or her life. Likewise, our church traditions can often derail a visitor from coming to know Christ. My husband “grew up” Methodist. I “grew up” Nazarene and later Assembly of God. We met in Church of Christ, and nine years later we left and started serving at a non-denominational church. Whew wee. Talk about different churches, different languages, different protocol, different traditions. Wow!
Years after we had quit attending the Church of Christ, my husband revealed to me that he had always felt like an “outsider.” He said the constant chatter in church circles revolved around what Christian college you attended, and topics related to how you “grew up in the church.” My husband neither attended a Christian college nor was he attached to this church from infancy and childhood. We recalled one particular Sunday that a deacon stood up to deliver a devotional prior to communion. There was very little said about the sacraments and what those sacraments represent. (The body and blood of Christ) but rather this guy chose to give a 3 point dissertation on how his great great (great?) grandfather, and all of his ancestors thereafter, including his father and finally himself, were all members of this particular church, and then something about this legacy living on through him. Really? I was somewhat discouraged at this rendition of the Lord’s Supper. It sounded more like a speech for a card carrying member of an exclusive club to which neither me, my husband, or our “unfortunate” children could ever belong.
In the church I attended as a child, “Baptism” was almost solely defined as the gift of speaking in tongues. And if you had never spoken in tongues, you also were not a card carrying member of this body either. When I started personally study baptism in scripture, I found this sacred command to be so much more than what I was ever taught as a child, and more clearly defined.
I had a friend who recently told me that if I attended her church, I would not be allowed to take communion without first speaking to the pastor who would have to decide based on that conversation whether or not I am a Christian. Wow. (What if I lied to him?) Apparently, I am also not a club-card carrying member of this church.
Truly, do we complicate scripture by adding language and loopholes that are not only absent from scripture but that make it hard for someone to understand the true definition of this Christian faith-which is a personal walk with Jesus Christ that brings glory to Christ in all we do?
If there were any “outsiders,” unchurched-if you will, seekers, unbelievers, non-christians, (whatever you want to call them), someone who had never made a personal commitment to Jesus Christ-present the day that deacon in my old church decided to give an exposé on his own family’s denominational legacy- would they do so based on this “speech?” I don’t know. Maybe. But if they did, would the call on their lives sound like this: “Come and follow Jesus,” or this: “Come and join our exclusive club here at this church?”
We should be keenly aware of people in our churches who are different from we us. We don’t always have the advantage of a “common language,” with non-church goers. We should be so diligent to remember this in our conversation and our fellowship. Maybe we need to talk less and engage people in conversation more. It is essential that we give them an opportunity to ask questions and to reveal things about themselves. This action on our part is more likely to start a dialogue with someone who is desperate for Christ, than a long oratory on the traditions of my church, or my own affiliation therein. Perhaps then we can answer their questions-hopefully with grace and compassion and truth.