Come Back, Please

Following up on last week’s post, Shepherds False and True, I want to focus on one aspect of that piece. I want to talk about love that pursues.

In my previous post, I referenced the passage of Scripture that describes the man with one hundred sheep, the one who left the 99 to go after the one that was missing. This story ended in rejoicing that after a search, the sheep had been found. The man loved the sheep enough to go after it. He pursued it.

For many of us, the thought of being pursued in love, and I’m not talking about some sick control thing, by any church when there is a problem is beyond comprehension. These institutions are so used to having traffic go both ways on a regular basis that one more family out the door means nothing.

If a family is struggling with something at the church, it is far easier, a relief even, for these leaders to just wave good-bye  than to actually face the issues at hand. Doing so might reveal deep problems, sin, real issues at the church, and “ain’t nobody got time for that.”

Love that pursues.  Think of what these words below would mean when you are having to walk away in a seemingly unsolvable situation:

“Wait, would you come back? We value you. We love you and your family. You are important to us. Can we talk this over one more time? Please don’t leave yet.”

Think how healing these words, spoken in sincerity, would be! Think how beautiful to know that your presence, your family’s presence, matters. That all is not lost.

Imagine this scenario. A church has serious issues going on. Gossip is rampant, families are leaving in droves. Hearts are broken everywhere, as the environment deteriorates and families see no other choice but to drive away.

What if the pastor(s), rather than circling the wagons, meeting with lawyers, holding stern congregational meetings with threats about gossip and slander, stopped everything planned.

What if every meeting, every Bible class, every Sunday School class, every youth group event, every small group get-together, every single thing on the schedule came to a halt? And for as long as it took, they held prayer meetings inside the church sanctuary. Sackcloth and ashes time. A call to reconciliation and confession of pride and everything else. Pastors on their faces rather than lecturing against gossip. Imagine a congregation following the leadership’s model of humility and love.

What if apologies were sent out to pursue wronged and departed members, letters of contrition, letters of love and requested reconciliation to those families forced to leave by arrogance, pride and cold hearts at the top on down?

No slick “revivals”, no professional seminars, no programmatic anything. Just seeking the Jesus so often talked about, and yet so rarely present.

Would this change things? Yes, it would change everything if cold, unfeeling hearts were replaced by the Holy Spirit with new ones, tender and easily broken.  It would change things very quickly if callous indifference were replaced with love, the love that pursues and doesn’t give up.

Maybe this has happened in our time, somewhere in America. I have never heard of it if it has. I do know of countless Christians who have been forced to leave churches they once loved, churches where they hoped to raise their families. This is the terrible reality many know. Meanwhile, the church show must go on.

On a related note, there is general concern expressed in many places about the departure of Millennials from churches. I’ve read countless articles from various Christian news sources about how this demographic is walking away from evangelical and fundamentalist churches.

I’ve also read all the suggested fixes for this, ranging from the usual “cool church” makeovers of formerly staid and conservative congregations to denying cardinal doctrine.  It’s all a howling joke, people. It won’t work.

Some young people will leave church, because the message of the Gospel is offensive and they prefer the world. But who is to answer for the many others  who have walked away, because they have never, ever seen any reality of Jesus in the professing Christians in the churches where they were raised, and theyhave ceased to believe Jesus even exists? Who will give an account for the church politics (I could tell so many stories about that one), the obsession with image over reality, the false fronts, the play acting, the egos, the fraud and the total absence of power in the lives of the “believers” they knew from earliest childhood? Absence of power? What power? The power of forgiveness and reconciliation from Jesus Christ as seen in relationships! The power that can cause a hard heart to grow soft — a miracle only God can achieve. The power that causes change, not just empty talk.

This is what young people need to see. It’s what all of us need to see, more than ever in these times when the “love of many has grown cold.” It’s what we need to show in our own lives.

We may have nobody who pursues us in love, especially from any institution calling itself church. But we must be the church and pursue others in love when there are problems. Pride shuts the door and locks it on those with whom there is a problem. Churches like this are citadels of pride. We can all be citadels of pride. But where pride reigns, it ruins. It ruins people, and it ruins churches as a result.

“Please don’t go. You and your family matter to us. Come back, won’t you? Let’s talk this out. We love you.”

Those beautiful words, so rarely spoken in sincerity.  What wonders they could accomplish.

Heidi St. John: Pride is a Terrible Houseguest

I came across an excellent post today that sums up much of what needs to be said about the root cause in the crashing and burning of a number of ministry leaders, either publicly or behind the scenes.  In fact, I wrote some of these same thoughts not long ago in my post, Only One Hero in the story. She writes.

There is a sneaky culprit that I have observed quietly ruin men and churches and ministries… and families.  It’s not what you may be thinking, either.  The “culprit” has a name. His name is pride.  I’ve come to see Pride with a face. See if you can see that face, too:   It starts out oh-so-quietly … a good message (or, sadly, an ideology)  is spoken eloquently and people follow.  Pretty soon, the messenger is being worshiped rather than the giver of the Message.  The speaker believes the accolades are warranted.  After all, it is a pretty good message.  ”Look how good it’s working for me.”  Said leader puts himself (or herself) out there as the example to follow.

Pretty soon, we’re reading books and buying CD’s from a person rather than seeking the Lord for ourselves.  This is not only bad news for the follower, it’s bad for the leader.  If the messenger basks in the praise of men for more than a moment, the door is opened and the invitation is sent.  Shortly, Pride arrives on his heart’s doorstep.  Left unguarded, Pride moves in, taking first a small, quiet room in the back of the heart—almost unnoticed—but before long Pride, takes root and displaces other tenants of the heart: Humility, Grace … Gentleness.

These are not the qualities of a “real” leader, after all.  A man with a message is more than a man.  He’s a “HERO.”

…right?

Read the full post here.

Thank you, Heidi, for treating the issue incisively and getting down to core causes. It’s something every one of us needs to keep in view.

Hero Worship

Self-Deception – Creating a Virtual Reality

“It’s all gone,” said my toddler daughter as she held up her bowl at dinner.

Surprised that she was finished already, I looked in the bowl. She most certainly was not done. She had barely started. Her self-delusion was rooted in her desire for the cookie that might come at the end of her meal. In her mind, if she stated that all the food was gone, it must be so. She didn’t like the fact that she had food to finish, so she invented her own virtual reality where she was all done.

Self-delusion is a pervasive human trait, and all of us, at one time or another, have engaged in it. What delineates a normal person from a toxic person, however, is the ability to identify this in ourselves and root it out. When people lose all contact with truth and conscience, terminal self-delusion results.

Many of us know someone who suffers from such self-delusion. They wreak havoc in relationships, because they are not willing to hear from anyone around them regarding the reality of their shattered relationships. These people insist on wearing their warped glasses–glasses that create a reality that comports with their own prideful perceptions, but has nothing to do with what really is going on.

One of the hallmarks of such a person is isolation. While they may have many people in their lives, they are close to none. Anyone within close proximity is required to take on their own distorted version of reality or risk being rejected. Many simply steer clear of these people for anything other than utilitarian purposes.

So what are some clues that indicate someone is self-deceived?

In a multitude of counselors, Scripture says, there is safety. If you are ignoring what most of your caring family is telling you when they say there is a problem, you may be living in self-delusion. If you are alienated from most of those around you, insisting the whole time that everyone else is the problem, it’s time for some honest self-analysis.

There’s an apt (if well-worn) illustration of the farmer who complained to his wife repeatedly that the house smelled like the barnyard. He went from room to room looking for the source of the stench, railing at his wife about her shoddy housecleaning. His wife gently pointed out to him that perhaps it was the manure on his mustache that was causing the problem. A self-deluded man is one who would argue with the wife and continue to complain about the stench problem, even when the real source was pointed out, clearly and unmistakably. You can erect an alternate reality, but the stench in your life won’t be eradicated until you identify the source of the problem.

The life of self-delusion is a sad one. Telling yourself something over and over does not make it so. It is the mental equivalent of getting in your car and driving into a brick wall. Repeatedly. If in pride we resist the truth tellers God has put around us, eventually we are given over to a mind that can no longer even take in the truth. That is a frightening place none of us should ever want to be.

Healing and reconciliation can only take place in relationships when real humility causes the scales to drop from pride-filled eyes and the love of God warms hearts long-hardened into stone. It’s important to remember that we cannot change someone else’s self-delusion. But when we encounter someone like this, we can pray for something to break through their self-imposed blindness, and take careful note about the destructive consequences of pride.