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Archive for July, 2008

I’m Impatient

I have some things that I need to work out that are complicated: those kinds of things where there is really no good option and a lot of subpar options.  I’m the kind of person that when I am confronted with difficult decisions I like to make lists, consider options, and put out fleeces to see what options will work best (I call it “jiggling door handles” which means that I try every door (option) to see which ones are unlocked).

I read three different devotional books in my quiet time and today 2 of them dealt with being patient and letting God work things out for us.  Ouch.  That stepped on my toes.  While I believe that God wants you to make decisions with his counsel and prayer and move on decisions that you make, I’m learning that there are times when it’s best to just be still and wait on the Lord, allowing him to open some doors when they all seem locked.

This is hard to do.  When I’m confronted with decisions I want to be active, doing research, checking options, doing SOMETHING.  My devotions today, however, have convinced me that there are times when we just need to trust God, knowing that he knows our needs and will work to meet them in his best way.  Jesus told us not to worry about tomorrow, yet this is a command that most of us routinely disobey.

God help me to learn to be patient and trust that you have it all in control!

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Do you ever have those times when God seems to hit you in the gut with a scripture, a sermon, or a devotion?  You know what I mean: you are struggling with some issue or some sin and then you read or hear something from God’s Word that really sets you straight (and kind of creeps you out when it speaks right to whatever it is that’s on your mind).

I had that happen to me twice in the last two days.  I won’t share what yesterday’s revelation was (it’s just not that interesting), but today’s revelation is worth sharing because I think that many of us could learn from it.

Yesterday I received an email that really made me mad.  I was feeling pretty good, sat down to go over my messages and have a cup of coffee and got kicked in the stomach, so to speak.  A friend really reamed me out in a totally unfair way (from my perspective).  He assigned to me all kinds of motives that I did not have, misrepresented things I had said, and said some pretty cruel things.  Let’s just say that grace was not the order of the day.   I went through the typical gamut of emotions: shock, hurt, remorse, outrage, and finally the one we usually end on: anger.  The more I thought about it, the angrier I got.  Having slept on it I was more and more convinced that I had not done anything to deserve the kind of letter that I received and the more I replayed the events the more angry I got that I was on the receiving end of this guy’s bad day.  I stewed in my anger: “What right did he have to say those things in that way, especially without first talking to me civilly?”  I just knew that I was totally justified to be angry for having been treated the way I was and thought of all the things I wish I had said back to him that I didn’t.

Then I read my devotion for the day from John MacArthur’s “Strength for Today”.  The summation said this: “Jesus is the greatest example of gentleness: He became angry when God the Father was dishonored, but not when He, the Son, was.” The last sentence in the devotion says this: “It’s so easy to strike back when someone criticizes or attacks us, but that’s not the way of the gentle Christian trying to walk worthy.  The only time we should let the lion in us roar is when God’s honor is at stake.  Jesus forgave those who crucified Him.  How can we do any less to those who hurt us?”

Ouch.  God’s Word, right to the gut.  Here I was, angry because my precious honor was impugned.  I was angry because I was done wrong (in my opinion).  I was stewing in my anger because someone had treated in a less-than-Christian way.  What a selfish, prideful person I am!

Jesus constantly had his motives questioned: they accused him of working for the devil.  He constantly had his words misrepresented: witnesses were found to twist his words before the Sanhedrin.  Jesus was personally attacked when all he wanted to do was to seek and save the lost: yet he went like a lamb to the slaughter.  And here I was in a tizzy because of a nasty letter.

The only time Jesus really showed anger was when God was being attacked: when the Temple was being used for greed and when people were being misled by the religious leaders.  And even when he was being nailed to a cross he said, “Father, forgive them.”  He never got angry when his pride was hurt or he was unjustly treated.  And yet we get so mad for the slightest offense.  Mad used to mean “crazy” (as in the Mad Hatter); maybe that’s not such a bad usage.  Most of the time when we’re mad we’re simply acting irrationally.

And here I am walking around in a funk because someone fired off a nasty email, something I’ve done a thousand times.  For all I know this guy, a friend, was just having a bad day.  He could have been speaking out of some deep hurt or anger.  I might have touched a nerve that I didn’t even know he had.  And even if he was 100% wrong, why should my anger get so stirred up over an insult to me when Jesus was willing to suffer death for my sake?

I read somewhere that you can tell a lot about a person by what they laugh at and what they get angry about.  I need to get over getting so mad over personal insults and more mad when God is dishonored.  I’m sure I’m not alone in this.

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I’m getting a little bit of flack on a Christian forum that I participate in. There is a lot of hair-pulling and sackcloth wearing about the California decision to legalize gay marriage (mazel tov, Ellen). A lot of my conservative, evangelical friends are talking like the sky is falling and urging us to get out and do something to keep gay marriage illegal (kind of hard to do when the courts are making legal what the voters have voted to keep illegal, as in the California case).

My take is a little different. Of course I’m concerned that our culture has drifted so far away from our Christian roots that we are making legal something that is clearly unbibilical (though I might point out that we are sticking to our roots of freedom and equality; it’s hard to balance our Christian roots with our equality roots sometimes). Of course I think that gay marriage is morally wrong simply because homosexual acts are biblically wrong (no need to argue with me, I know that some folks interpret the bible to allow for homosexual acts, then again, you can argue about anything from the bible if you want, this is my interpretation based on a lot of study). Ok, that being said…

I don’t think that the Christian response to an unbiblical law is to immediately rush out and write letters to the editor, march in protest, or call a Senator. Sure, we have a civic duty to let our legislators know what we want and we should go and vote our morals (as I just mentioned in a previous post). All of those responses are certainly valid as American citizens.

But if we really want to make a change, our first and most important response should be to change hearts, not just laws. We will not lead one person out of a life of homosexuality by making gay marriage illegal. But if we lead a person to Christ and they are convicted that homosexual acts are wrong they will repent and change their actions.

The same is true with any other issue. Take abortion. It’s legal now and I think we should work to make it illegal. Yet I know that even if abortion were illegal there would still be abortions and even if there weren’t there would still be people having sex who are unprepared to raise a child (so we might end up with less abortions and more neglected and abused children). I’m all for working to make abortion illegal, but I think that the Christian response first and foremost would be to lead people to Christ so that they will not have sex outside of marriage and if they did end up with an “unwanted child” that they would seek another option instead of abortion.

I think the temptation to win the world through laws and coercion is a lot like the temptation that Satan offered Jesus: to give him the whole world with just a word.  We could make people act like we believe they should with laws and enforcement, but would that really change a heart?  Instead, we should lead people to follow Christ, knowing that their lives will change as a result.  And really, in the end, are we trying to end homosexual acts, abortion, drugs, violence, etc. or are we trying to win souls to Christ?  The changed behavior is the byproduct of a changed heart.

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Time to share a pet peeve. Wow, this blog is starting to sound like Andy Rooney!

I’ve been whining a lot lately, and as a result I’ve noticed something about whinees, you know, those close friends that you share your burdens with. Look, I know that whining is ugly and unproductive. We should be bold spiritual warriors and bear our burdens alone with strength and quiet resolve. Wrong. Some folks, like me, are verbal and do better when they can just vent and verbalize their problems. They (we) are not looking for answers and don’t expect you to have some miracle solution that we didn’t think of, we just want to get it off our chest. Granted, some people do this all the time and are annoying, but if someone who is not normally a chronic whiner comes to you because you are a good friend and wants to vent, consider it an honor and if you have time, listen to them, offer to pray with them, or just tell them how sorry you are for there.

Here is what NOT to do, and my pet peeves:

  1. Don’t try to one-up them. There’s the joke about the guy who complains about his back and the guy he talks to says, “Your back, what about my knee?” Or, imagine the old guys in the Monty Python skit who would one-up one another’s stories of their rough upbringing. I’ve had some financial struggles lately. Yes, I know the whole country is having financial struggles, and that in perspective, mine are minor. I’m not being foreclosed on, I’m paying all my bills, I’m certainly not starving. But for me, they are very real concerns. I hate it when I share my concerns and my friend proceeds to tell me how much worse off they are than I am.  Great, now I’m still worried about my finances but I feel like a heel for complaining when you have one foot in the poor house.  So please, when someone is whining about their finances, don’t tell them how much worse your finances are. When someone is whining about how busy they are, don’t pull out your schedule and show them how much busier you are. When someone is whining about their health, don’t tell them how much worse yours is. There is a place for empathy, but not for one-upping. Nothing makes you feel lower than when you turn to a friend for sympathy and they make you feel like a jerk for complaining about your problems when theirs are so much worse. You can have your turn to whine later, but for now, just listen.
  2. Don’t “put it in perspective.” I’ve met people who, no matter how bad they were hurting, would say, “Well, there is someone worse off.” I’ve never seen how that helps your hurting, but if you want to say that about yourself and if that makes you feel better, have at it. But, please, if someone is telling you their problems, don’t point out that there are people worse off than them. It doesn’t help them and only makes them feel worse. Again, let’s use the financial problems. If I’m whining that I can’t get my lawn mower fixed, don’t remind me of the people who are living on a cup of rice. If I’m whining about a sore shoulder, don’t remind me of all the kids in the cancer ward. You’re right, of course, but you’re not helping. I’ve always said that there is no such thing as a “minor surgery”. If you’re being cut on, no matter how lightly, it’s a major surgery (for me giving blood is a major surgery). I’ve never seen anyone feel better about their problems by finding someone who is worse than they are.  So don’t tell them that there is someone worse. Just listen.
  3. Don’t try to solve their problems. Ok, this one I’m guilty of. Most guys hear a problem and go into problem-solving mode. Unless your friend specifically asks for advice, don’t try to solve their problems. They are probably just wanting to vent and have a sympathetic ear to listen. Most likely they have thought about every solution you are offering and for whatever reason those things are working. Don’t be Dr. Phil unless they ask you to be, just listen.
  4. Just listen. In case you missed the point, just listen.

I know, a whiner is annoying (I’m a minister, I’ve met my share of chronic whiners). But if someone who is not normally given over to times of self-pity comes to you as a trusted friend and tells you their problems, it’s probably because they are overwhelmed and just want a friend to listen. Remember, Job’s friends did great when they sat in silence, it’s when they opened their mouths that they got into trouble.

Just listen.

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No, this is not turning into a blog devoted to ministerial whining, honest! I’ve just been noticing how many of my minister friends and Christian workers are battling discouragement in the ministry. You won’t read it (much) in the blogs of the rock-star ministers with the booming mega-churches, you won’t read it in the pages of Leadership (unless they get the rock-star minister to do an article about how they defeat discouragement), and you won’t see it in the pasted on smile of your local minister who keeps up a good front.

But when you get Christian workers together and remove the masks, you hear a lot of discouragement. Most people go into ministry because they want to serve God and see people get closer to Jesus. They tend to have this idea that if they serve in a local church or other ministry that the Christians there will get on board and everyone will pull together to advance God’s Kingdom and tear down the strongholds of the devil.

The reality often is less idealistic. Church members can fight amongst themselves with an ugliness that you won’t see in a biker gang. They can criticize and complain about their minister, which can be very dispiriting to the minister who is burning out trying to serve God and the church. They can show an amazing level of apathy and complacency: nothing like preaching for a week on the need to serve the community and then have 2 people show up to help with the food drive. They often fail to learn the basics of the bible even after countless sermons and lessons. Ever hear a church member of 40 years tell a racist joke? That’ll discourage you. Then again, Jesus himself seemed to get discouraged at how clueless the disciples could be.

The very nature of ministry leads to discouragement. Long hours, working with volunteers, trying to please an entire congregation with often divergent interests, an emotional investment in the people of the church, an idealist view of the ministry: all these things are a set-up for some severe discouragement.

And finally, we have to understand that the devil does not just tempt us to sin, he also vexes us with discouragement. I would guess that more ministers quit the ministry or change congregations because of discouragement than sin or conflict. The devil knows that he can sometimes wear us down better than strike us down. Those who are used to solving problems get discouraged when the problem has no easy solutions, and spiritual attacks are not something that you can just work around.

The end result: a lot of ministers, missionaries, and church workers (elders, deacons, teachers, etc.) who are ready to give up or who are just plodding along going through the motions. Keep these folks in your prayers, and remember, a word of encouragement goes a long way. I can think of times when I was walking on air, feeling really good after a service, only to be shot down by an ill-thought word of criticism or a conflict brewing up. On the other hand, I’ve had days when I was ready to give up and a note or a call picked me up and gave me the strength to carry on, like the angel giving bread and water for Elijah’s journey.

Just a note: this is not an autobiographical post. I’m not telegraphing any personal discouragement nor am I crying out for an encouraging word or comment. Honestly. My discouragement level is well within the normal operating limits. These thoughts are just dovetailing on my “I’m tired” post and a lot of comments with fellow Christian workers. I imagine that a lot of you out there who are ministers will identify with these words, so just take a moment and think of someone you know who is discouraged and lift up a prayer to them, and maybe pick up the phone and give them a call or shoot them an email.

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