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.

What Haters Lose

I’ve been targeted  by a man for 31 years in May. He’s a relative with too much time on his hands and very little to do but follow my life, read this blog and send attack emails in hopes of causing injury and angry reaction. It used to be hurtful and confusing. It is now a source of humor and pity, simultaneously.

When we have real love, we have no need to hurt other people for sport. The sight of blood in the injury of someone else causes horror and concern, not pleasure, if you are a loving and normal person. That is one big “if.”

The goal of this kind of sad person is always pain. But they won’t say so. They will wrap their true goal in regal robes of religious pomposity or faux concern. These people have a barge full of personal garbage in their own lives, and worst of all, they think nobody knows it. But that doesn’t stop them from going full on pharisee about the lives of others. It’s chuckle worthy if you can see the humor in it. If not, shed a tear for them.

The beauty of the passage of time, lots of it, is that it brings things into focus in a way that makes you wonder why you didn’t see things as they were years before. Pathological antagonists are sad people. They are worthy of pity and prayer.

I think how different lives like this would be if they had lived in love. The very thing hate-filled people supposedly crave could be theirs–a lifetime of it. Because respect sown into the lives of others grows respect. Love and understanding grow love and understanding. You give and find out that what little you gave comes back to you in far greater amounts. It’s how God designed it.

Belittling someone’s pain, adding to it, mocking, judging, attacking, piling on in someone’s life at difficult moments, dear stalker, if you only saw yourself as God and others see you. If you only knew what you have thrown away on the altar of pride and malice. You could have had it all, untold riches of generational love and respect. True wealth.

When you are dead. When your lifeless form lies silent and cold at the funeral home awaiting burial or cremation, what do you want people to say about you? That you were one kick-rear business person? That you had a great house and pool or the best vacations money could buy? That you were a great communicator or blogger or athlete or leader who fought moral evil or (fill in the blank)?

This is what I want others to think about me when I’m gone. I want them to know that I loved people. That I grieved when things weren’t right with them. Maybe too much so. That people were important to me, even if I was not important to them. That I have a heart that was easily pricked and convicted. That I shut nobody out permanently. That I was always open to sincere reconciliation, even if nobody was interested in sincerely reconciling.  That I may have had differences, but that I didn’t hate anybody.

I have been married to a man for 22 years in June. His hallmark is humility and kindness. He has never deliberately and maliciously hurt anyone. He is moved with compassion so easily, it amazes me. He once got up in the wee hours to bring a bag of food to a former colleague who had fallen on hard times–someone who had called, because he was literally without food. The man passed away shortly after that. He KNEW who would care, because Tom never turns anyone away with real need. He doesn’t judge people. I’ve seen this times without number.

I am blessed beyond measure to not only witness Tom’s love, but that of his beautiful family. They are role models for love in action, decades of it. I owe these people my life in many ways. Love like this restores your hope and counteracts the poison of lies from those who live in hate. It contradicts the haters who tell you, you are hopelessly flawed. You are the problem. You are wrong. You are defective. You are not worthy of my love.

Love says, I’ll take you, flaws and all. I will bind up the hurt places. I will cover you with my kindness. I will keep you warm when you are cold. I will listen when you open your heart and I won’t dismiss or laugh at you, I will believe you. You are worthy of love.  I love you.

That kind of real love makes another human being come to life again. It does something else.  It causes a person  to want to  return that love with everything they have. The haters will never know love–love that gives life and laughter and joy. The haters spend their years wanting blood and pain from a victim, hacking away with all their might, only to find out in old age that the only one they were really  injuring was themselves.  It could have been so different and so beautiful if only they would have loved and without conditions.  Could have been.  The saddest words in the English language.

Yesterday, I caught the blue of the sky as background for our magnolia tree in full bloom. God’s glory shining through his creation.

Needed: Clarity on Forgiveness and Reconciliation

reconciliationThere is probably no teaching so messed up among Christians as the topic of forgiveness and reconciliation. Some subjects may come close , but this one has to be at the top. Rather than clarity and sound counsel, Christians often get mixed messages on the subject from pastors, counselors and articles, making difficult situations worse.

Related to the subject of forgiveness is the issue of reconciling with those who have injured us. Separate issues, but sometimes not treated as such. I will give you just one example of why sorting this out, particularly as Christians who are commanded to forgive others, is so important.

Years ago, a relative in my extended family targeted me for harassment and extreme emotional abuse.  I was barely out of my teen years when he decided specifically that I would make a handy weapon to get back at my father for some long held grievance.  It wasn’t hard to see why I was targeted. With the advantage of age,  I completely get why I was the one, and not one of my siblings. I was sensitive and easily hurt, quick to react and eager to please. I was also too inexperienced and young to know what was really going on behind it all. The extent to which the relative meddled in my private life would shock. He even involved my two little boys.  It went on for eleven years at its worst.

Finally, deciding that the self-created drama and excitement of provoking and harming someone who had never done anything to him was getting old, the perpetrator gave a lukewarm, “Sorry we (he had his wife and son participate as well) got involved.”  Not, “I’m sorry I targeted you in the most vicious fashion possible with  ongoing lies, gossip, slander and meddling. We behaved in an evil fashion and harmed you terribly. I am sorry, will you forgive me?” Just, “Sorry we got involved.”

Young and eager to do the right thing, I reached out, invited the perp and his family to our home, fed them from our table, and tried to let the emotional harm stay behind in the dust. But the story did not end there. It was not long when the trust and attempts at involving these people back in my life were met with further betrayal. This happened several  times in the next few years. Needless hurt once again occurred, trust shattered, emotional pain inflicted. A familiar set of dynamics surfaced,  distracting me from my primary calling as wife and mother and causing old wounds to reopen.

So what had happened?  Hadn’t I rushed to forgive like Jesus? Hadn’t I spent years trying to show that I had put the past in the past and moved on in love?  I recently came upon an article that was tremendously helpful in understanding what had happened in this particular situation.  It also shed a clear and helpful light on other situations I have struggled with as a Christian who wants to live in the light of forgiveness, and, yes, see reconciliation. ( I have seen precious little of the latter in my  life. I can count the time on a couple fingers of  one hand where I have seen real, true healing of relationships. Hatred and pride are the default settings for most professing believers today.)

The excellent article I have linked to below points out something very basic. Letting go of the wrongs that people have done to us is one issue. We are called to do this. We also have to do it or become sick with anger and grudge holding. But reconciliation is something else entirely. THAT is predicated on repentance by the offending party. Real repentance. Not a pragmatic, fake “sorry.” Going back to the so-called apology by the person who targeted me, with the advantage of years gone by, I see now what the problem was. The entire “apology” was a non-apology. The only thing the person was sorry for was that poking me with pins like an insect on a display board was no longer entertaining and had actually screwed up any hope of having family gatherings, something he decided he wanted after all. It served his purposes to say a quick sorry. And I was naive enough to buy it

We must forgive people, but one thing we cannot do is force reconciliation, no matter how much we yearn for it. Those who refuse to see the harm their behavior is doing when confronted with it and instead chose to marinate in the raw sewage  of hate cannot be allowed back into our lives. When those involved claim to be “Christians”, they make an ugly mockery of the Savior they claim to follow. We reward those who mock Jesus when we rush to embrace those who aren’t in the least sorry for what they have done. In fact, many don’t even see that they’ve done anything wrong at all.

Something else happens when we try to force reconciliation.  We bring on ourselves the time- wasting, unprofitable distraction of endless relational drama and emotional chaos. Narcissists, bullies, sociopaths who are in our lives can literally serve as human wrecking balls. They produce false guilt in those who long for reconciliation and healing. Their projection of their sin onto their victims is one of the hallmarks of this kind of person. They are divisive, and they enjoy what destroys a normal person. These people need to be removed from our lives permanently if at all possible. Satan lives in the tumult they create. We are called to peace as believers.

I know there are those reading this blog who are struggling with this in their lives. The article I referenced by April Kelsey is excellent and gives biblical examples. I would also warn, as a side note,  that some things that comes out of the “biblical counseling” movement need to be taken cautiously. Much of it is simply not biblical at all and strengthens abusers rather than get to the core of these situations that can destroy lives—lives intended to bring glory to God, not Satan.

A quote from Kelsey’s article:

When Joseph’s brothers show up at the palace where Joseph is governor, Joseph doesn’t even reveal to them who he is. Instead, he sets his brother Benjamin up as a thief and threatens to enslave him to see how his brothers react. Only when Judah, the one who sold Joseph into slavery, offers to take Benjamin’s place for the sake of their father does Joseph reveal his identity, extend forgiveness, and invite his brothers to be reconciled (see Genesis 44).

Here is what Joseph didn’t do:

– Joseph didn’t hop the first chariot down to Canaan when he became governor.

– He didn’t show up at his brothers’ house and request a private audience with his abusers.

– He didn’t say, “Forgive me for being angry all these years over my enslavement. It was wrong.”

– He didn’t say, “Despite how you might feel about me now, I want us to have a good relationship.”

Joseph didn’t even allow himself to be alone in the same room with his brothers until he saw that they were fully repentant.

The same scenario plays out in many other Bible stories. Reconciliation is only offered when the offending party demonstrates true repentance.

Those who do not repent are not entitled to reconciliation…

Read the whole article here.

And, I would add, trying to force reconciliation, because you want it so much, will ultimately  end up in failure and further spiritual damage.

 

 

 

 

Say it Now – In the Living Years

A friend of mine posted this on FB, and I remembered it from when I was in high school. Great song. Mike and the Mechanics. It cuts both ways, doesn’t it? The living years – we only have them for so long.  Soon it’s too late when we die. Don’t ignore the hand that reaches out, parent to child, child to parent. We don’t get another chance when we’re gone.

K.P. Yohannan: Godliness is not an Abstract Theology

I came across an article today that is worth sharing. My post a few days back about the lack of love and interest in reconciliation among Christians very much ties in with what K.P. Yohannan’s book, Touching Godliness, is talking about. We have more Bible teaching and preaching accessible to us than at any time in human history. We have more conservative activism, more “exposure” of evil on radio and the Internet than ever before, more churches and more parachurch ministries than have ever existed. Yet something as basic as showing love and reconciling with a brother or sister is beyond us. Here’s an intro and the article link below.

Gospel for Asia founder and president K. P. Yohannan, who recently greeted the second release of his book, Touching Godliness, says that despite an abundance of filled megachurches in the U.S., many Christians are far from a strong relationship with God.

“Just as the world has an abundance of food and clean water while people are dying of hunger and thirst, even so, as Christianity offers teaching and preaching like never before, people sit in church pews yet lack the deep knowledge of God,” said Yohannan. “They are suffering spiritual bankruptcy…

God’s word tells us that righteousness is a gift; it cannot be earned,” said Yohannan. “But godliness is not a gift. We must pay a price to touch godliness through a daily decision to die to self and embrace the cross. God calls us to learn godliness in the classroom of life among people as we sit on airplanes and buses, walk among our neighbors and labor at our factories or desks…”

Read full article here.

When Love Goes AWOL Among Christians

I once sat at a table, looked a professing Christian in the eye and asked them to help me to see what the power of God looks like in healing a broken relationship, because I could not heal it myself. “We talk a good line about how God does the things others say is impossible, and that there is nothing impossible with Him. I need to see it in my own life, please help me,” I said. It was a relationship in profound need of repair.

Instead of seeing God’s power, there ensued the most amazing display of the power of darkness I’ve ever witnessed. I got to see what evil looks like close up and the various forms it takes– sometimes blatant, sometimes so insidious it slithers. Nothing, and I do mean nothing, but destruction was left in the wake of the consuming fire that followed my request. I can still see smoke rising if I make the mistake of looking back over my shoulder.

What are we to make of times like this? What do we tell our children? Do we tell them not to ask to see God’s power heal things in the lives of Christians? Do we tell them that when we need to see the reality, not just hear the rhetoric, of Christian living, not to hope for too much, or rather, not to ask at all, because they may get to see the reality of something very evil?

ReconciliationOne thing I have learned in life is that we sometimes get what we need to see, rather than what we want to see. It’s a good thing to want to see healing, to see reconciliation, but I will be perfectly honest here and tell you that in my life I have seen very little of what that looks like among Christians. I know what divisions are, fractured situations, I know what it is to get blown off when you reach out to someone, I know what it is to get rejected and repudiated and devalued and scorned, but the hug of someone who once hated me or reviled me online or slandered? I don’t know what that looks or feels like. So what did I mean when I wrote that sometimes we get what we need to see, rather than what we want to see? Who needs to see division when Christ was supposed to represent unity, a family of God, love and acceptance? Answer: All of those who want to know what the real state of things is. And what is the state of things? That few, at the end of the day, value or love each other, and I’m referring specifically here to those calling themselves “Bible-believing” Christians. The reality is that there are many, many like me who are at a loss as to explain the magnitude of callousness, the total disregard for Christ’s commands about love, and the near total absence of anything like spiritual power to heal things between people. Love seems AWOL many times, even from those who claim to be at the front lines of promoting Jesus to others.

I have a friend who is a bartender. I’ve known her for 20-odd years, and we’ve stayed in touch. Her father passed away recently, and she commented about the love she got from her bar patrons who cared about how she was doing and kept checking up on her, donating time off so she could be with her family. It touched me. I’m glad that she’s gotten support at a hard time in her life. She’s the kind of person you would go to if you were down and out and needed a place to stay or a few bucks, and people know it. She has a better sense of right and wrong, a better eye for the fakes and abusers than many highly devout people I know. I would head for her door if I needed help, and there are a number of “Christians” I would not go to, because they wouldn’t open their doors.  (And I hope she would feel welcome at my door as well.) So the question is, are bars like my friend’s safer and healthier than churches when you peel back all the church superficial prettiness, when you shut off the flowery rhetoric, the grand claims and pious platitudes?  If this is the case, what exactly is being peddled to the masses? A religion where an invisible God is loved, but people around us are of no value? I find it all very sad.