Over the past months my resolve has been to stay out of issues that don't involve me directly and to avoid offense when they do find their way to me. My resolve has been to focus on what God has called me to do in my home, in my church in the world...instead of focusing on drama. There have been times I have been able to do this and times I have totally missed the mark and found myself neck deep in hurt feelings and negativity. I am learning as I go.
I think God allows these times in our life for a reason. Its not because he wasn't paying attention or fell asleep at the wheel. Its not that he's angry with us or abandoned us. Its because he wants us to grow up in our faith.
When gold is heated (and combined with flux) it is purged of impurities . As it goes through intense heat the impurities rise to the surface and what was hidden is made visible. It is the same when we face trails and adversity in life. Ugliness has a tendency to rise to the surface. It is what we do with that ugliness and those gut reactions that will make us either grow through the circumstances or become professional pit dwellers and drama queens.
In the last couple years I have seen more turmoil and upheaval in my body of believers than I have ever experienced in my life. It has been painful and unpleasant to witness. It has been down right heart breaking at times. I want it to be over and to return to life as usual. I'm starting to see ,though, that through this discomfort I am learning more about myself and I haven't always liked what I learn. The impurities are rising to the surface faster than I can account for them.
People can be mean and spiteful. Friends can suddenly become bitter adversaries. People do things and make decision's that we don't always agree with. Uncontrollable circumstances and tragic events leave us reeling and trying to navigate uncharted territory. Its so easy to get offended and angry when this happens. Human nature wants to nurture the hurt and grow bitter. It's tempting because it feels good at the time. If not checked , we grow bitter at the people involved, at the leadership, at the church and eventually we will grow bitter at God. Anyone we can blame for our misery is fair game and our "bitter list" grows.
In that place it is easy to justify any reciprocating action we feel like taking.
Out of offense grows hostility, gossip, malicious talk, bitterness and hatred.
Often these attitudes and actions are disguised under a facade of concern or some noble cause so usually the offended person doesn't even realize their own condition. They become unable to see it.
These are certainly not the line up of character traits a follower of Christ should have. If you get enough people harbouring offense a body cannot function as a body anymore, it cannot minister to others, dispense grace or shine a light...it becomes impotent. The longer these feelings are allowed to take root the harder it is to be free of them. We start looking at life through bitter lenses and filtering everything through our past hurts, disappointments or our own social convictions. We become self absorbed and self protecting. Dissension, factions and splits are a direct and tragic result.
Misery loves company. A miserable person intentionally seeks out others they can co-miserate with. They want others to justify them in their misery and join them on their band wagon. These people will spend a lot of time with others who will validate their hurt feelings and will become very upset with those who won't. They will spend time discussing everything that is wrong with the world, the church and the people they choose to blame for it all . They will intentionally try to sway other people to see the situation their way. They will make intentional phone calls and they will invite strategic people over for dinner to get an earful. They won't leave a situation without trying to take as many people as possible with them and they cut down as many people as they can on their way out.
This is a harsh checklist but I think its good to look at these things and continually allow God to examine our own hearts, motives and actions. Its so easy to fool ourselves and justify these behaviors...but the Spirit of God cannot be fooled. I have been guilty of some of these attitudes myself. These things are not unique to any one person, church or social group....it is a pattern that happens any where sinful attitudes and offence is allowed to take root in our hearts.
Here's a good guide to follow. If I leave a church or a ministry because God is leading my family elsewhere ....we will go in peace and joy. We will be grateful for the time spent and the lessons learned. I will go in peace and confidence.
If I leave a church or ministry with hurt feelings, anger and bitterness I am not leaving the right way. If I leave a church or ministry and I feel the need to discuss my offenses and justify my actions to anyone who will listen....I probably should not have left in the first place. God was likely trying to teach me something. Something uncomfortable and difficult but something valuable. By running away from discomfort or conflict I would miss out on opportunities to grow up in my faith. Not only would I be running from the purging God wants to do in me , I would be taking those seeds of negativity with me and jeopardizing a new body of believers. The pattern would not end until the heart condition is dealt with.
Are we building up or are we tearing down?
"Don't let any evil talk come out of your mouths. Say only what will help to build others up and meet their needs. ...get rid of all hard feelings, anger and rage. Stop all fighting and lying. Put away every form of hatred. Be kind to one another. Forgive each other, just as God forgave you because of what Christ has done.
You are the children that God dearly loves. So be just like him. Lead a life of love, just as Christ did. He loved us. He gave himself up for us. " Ephesians 4:29-32
In times of adversity, in the waste land of despair or difficult situations its so easy to lash out. We want to find someone to blame for our disappointment with life.
"If he didn't act that way...or she hadn't said that...if they hadn't betrayed me....if they would just see my point of view and listen to what I have to say I wouldn't be bitter anymore". Not true. I would just find something else to be miserable about. If its not one thing it would be another. Its a condition of the heart not of circumstances.
Leadership is often the easiest target. If I have great expectations of someone and high hopes of my own needs being met that person will most likely let me down at some point. If everything I get from that person is a blessing not something owed to me the there will be no room for disappointment. There is no room for pedestals in healthy relationships. We must view people as human, as the flawed struggling people that Christ's loves and died for. There are standards of holy living that God expects from the ones He places in leadership....but in areas that are not blatant sin, we need to bear with one another in love and grace and let the Spirit of God do His work.
If we jump from church to church until we find perfection we will not be able to put down roots anywhere....because only Christ is perfect. He is our perfect Pastor. Those of us who bear his name are just sinners saved by grace. God has an extensive history of using flawed, ordinary people to achieve his purposes...either through them , or in spite of them.
Anytime you put a group of humans together there will eventually be issues and disagreements...how we handle them makes all the difference.
Sometimes we get this noble idea that we are somehow avenging ourselves or someone else and that our sinful and hurtful actions are justified.
If our standards or social convictions are challenged we feel that we owe it to God to make things right. What we fail to take into account is that God is capable of taking care of his own. He will raise up and He will bring down as He sees fit. Nothing is hidden from Him, He will bring justice. His command for us is to love our enemies, to do good to those who persecute us and to bless those who curse us. yikes. That's a tall order when you come face to face with it. We should be so willing to extend grace and forgiveness that we actually put ourselves at risk of being hurt again. Everyone has heard "turn the other cheek" but few of us actually think about what that means in everyday life....since not many of us go around slapping each other physically. It doesn't mean that it is acceptable or right for someone to "slap"you ...it means that you can forgive them for it whether they deserve it or not.
So why does God allow us to go through times when it seems our vision and our dreams seem to be turning to dust? When it feels like we are wandering through the wilderness alone?
Because He wants us to make us into the person he can use for greater things. As the impurities and ugliness rise to the surface and the dark corners of our hearts are illuminated they must be purged and repented of... not justified and coddled. He wants us to learn endurance, tolerance, forgiveness. He wants us to learn to trust Him even when we are having trouble seeing Him in a situation. He wants us to grow up in our faith.
Once the impure alloys are removed in the refining process the gold becomes softer and more pliable.
That is the kind of heart God wants us to have.
That's the heart that God uses to channel his love through.
If our hearts are soft they are moldable to His purposes and to the changing needs of those around us.
When our hearts are full of impurities , as with the gold they become hard and brittle. If we have this heart we are slow to hear Gods voice because our own self absorption and quest for justice drowns Him out. We become stubborn and cannot be moved by other peoples points of view...or even God's. We get our minds set on a particular stance, on a goal....on a particular color of carpet, and we can see nothing else. Hard hearts are not obedient hearts they are self preserving and self promoting. They are negative and cynical.
"Keep away from foolish disagreements. Don't argue about family histories. Don't make trouble. Don't fight about what the law teaches. Don't argue about things like that. It doesn't do any good. It doesn't help anyone. "
"Warn anyone who tries to get believers to take sides and separate into their own little groups. Warn him more than once. After that, have nothing to do with him. You can be sure that someone like that is twisted and sinful. His own actions judge him."
I have a vision for my wounded church family. I see a remnant that will have been purified and refined by fire. All superficiality and facades will have long been purged and only soft hearts that seek God will remain.
God hasn't jumped ship, he hasn't left the train without a conductor. He is not fretting and wringing his hands in despair like we so often do. He is still in control.
I don't believe that it is Gods best for us to act this way, or that conflict, dissension and factions are in any way glorifying to God. In fact ,I think it grieves him because ,unlike us ,He can clearly see how far we are from hitting the mark, how far we are from what we should be as a Body of Christ. BUT, this wasteland we are wandering though will not be wasted. What satan intends for evil, God will use for good.
There will be a re birth from the bottom up that has nothing to do with board meetings, executive decisions, budgets or administrative changes. It will be His people on their knees in prayer, devouring the Word not to use as a weapon but to seek His heart. His people encouraging, loving and building up what was tore down. His people re-lighting the lamp and placing it back on the lamp stand.
It will be the heart of God beating in his servants. His faithful servants will be so focused on Him that they have no time for petty arguments over "the law". They will be so focused on loving others that they will not have time to be offended. That day feels a long way off right now, but I have faith and I know that it will happen. I see it already.
"Do not be proud at all.
Be completely gentle.
Put up with one another in love.
The Holy Spirit makes you one in every way.
So try your best to remain as one.
Let peace keep you together.
There is one body.
There is one Spirit.
You were appointed to one hope when you were chosen.
There is one Lord.
There is one faith and one baptism.
There is one God and Father of all. He is over everything. He is through everything. He is in everything.
...He is the one who gave some the gift to be apostles. He gave some the gift to be prophets. He gave some the gift of preaching the good news. And he gave some the gift to be pastors and teachers. He did it so that they might prepare God's people to serve. If they do, the body of Christ will be built up.
That will continue until we all become one in the faith and in the knowledge of God's Son. Then we will be grown up in the faith. We will receive everything that Christ has for us.
We will no longer be babies in the faith. We won't be ships tossed around by waves. We won't be blown here and there by every new teaching. We won't be blown around by the cleverness and tricks of people who try to hide their evil plans. Instead we will speak the truth in love. " Ephesians 4: 1-15
In His peace and grace,