Steve’s Letter – May 2014
MAY 1, 2014
I have a friend who recently went through a hard time…and what made it even worse was that his church didn’t seem to care. Nobody called, nobody referenced his pain, and nobody tried to reach out to him. He was devastated. I often say when people criticize the church, “You don’t know nothin’! I could tell you stories that would curl your hair.”
With that being said, I love the church. Scripture says that “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25). I don’t understand it, but the closer I get to him, the more I find myself loving what he loves.
I recently read a wise quote by Henri Nouwen (from the Henri Nouwen Society):
“When we have been wounded by the Church, our temptation is to reject it. But when we reject the Church it becomes very hard for us to keep in touch with the living Christ. When we say, ‘I love Jesus, but I hate the Church,’ we end up losing not only the Church but Jesus too. The challenge is to forgive the Church. This challenge is especially great because the Church seldom asks us for forgiveness, at least not officially. But the Church as an often fallible human organization needs our forgiveness, while the Church as the living Christ among us continues to offer us forgiveness. It is important to think about the Church not as ‘over there’ but as a community of struggling, weak people of whom we are part and in whom we meet our Lord and Redeemer.”
Have you ever been hurt by church members who didn’t seem to care that you were going through a difficult time? Have you been ignored by the “friendliest church in town”? When it was dark for you, have church members used clichés at best or just pretended that you weren’t there at worst?
If you’re there or have been there, I’m here to help.
I’ve spent a long time with Christians and we’re sometimes not as bad as you think…well bad, but probably not evil. Sometimes we don’t know what to say, so we don’t say anything or say the wrong thing.
Then there are some of us for whom people in pain have become an anomaly. God is supposed to bless you when you’re faithful and nice. When it is quite apparent that you’re still trucking and at this time not being blessed, it messes with our heads. It’s the same thing one sometimes sees in “name it, frame it, claim it” fellowships when someone dies of cancer. If the cancer is admitted, the whole theological superstructure comes crashing down. They don’t know what to say either.
Then there are those of us struggling with our own stuff yet deny it. You are too close to our reality and we simply don’t want to go there. So we don’t. It’s the same reason some people don’t go to funerals. We are more scared than bad.
Then there are, of course, the “wolves among the lambs” who don’t like being around anybody who can’t help them, enhance them or make them look cool. Those are the truly self-absorbed. They should be kicked out of the family or, at least, forced to sit on the back pew until their repentance is clear.
The trouble is that it’s hard to tell which is which in the dark. And “the dark” is where you may be right now. Until the light shines again you probably won’t know who to be ticked at and who to forgive. And so do the best you can and when this passes (and it will) then you can decide who to kick and who to hug.
In the “between time,” let me tell you some things from Scripture that are helpful in the dark.
First, do some loving.
John wrote, “We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother” (1 John 4:19-21).
Second, do some forgiving.
Jesus said to Peter who had already forgiven his brother seven times and felt that it was enough, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven [i.e. without limit]” (Matthew 18:22).
Third, do some waiting before you jump.
Jesus said, “Do not judge by appearances…” (John 7:24). James wrote that we should be “quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger” (James 1:19).
Are you crazy? You have no idea how I’ve been treated. When they love me, I’ll work at loving them back. When they repent and ask for forgiveness, I might forgive them. They don’t deserve love and forgiveness; they need truth.
I know, I know.
I’m sure you’ve heard the old story about the mother who woke up her son and told him that it was time to go to church. He said, “I’m not going and I’ll tell you why. They don’t like me and I don’t like them.”
“You will go,” his mother said, “and I’ll tell you why…you’re the pastor.”
I’ve been on the receiving end of rejection and judgment, and a lack of compassion. Do you know the only thing that helps? It’s the recognition that I’ve been on the other end more times than I can count too.
When Jesus said in Matthew 7 that we shouldn’t judge the “speck” in someone else’s eye until we take the “log” out of our own eye and could see properly enough to judge, I always thought that he was telling me (one who is ordained) to work at getting better and better in every way every day so I could preach convicting sermons, and exercise proper pastoral oversight and godly discipline of those who were not “walking the talk.” I was young then. I’m a lot older now and a bit wiser. I’ve been trying to remove the log from my eye for a long time and, frankly, haven’t been very successful at it.
And that, of course, is the point Jesus made. He said that I can’t fix others until I can fix myself. Since fixing me is a lot harder than I ever thought it was, my whole attitude is different. I can’t even fix myself, so how can I fix other people?
No, I’m not making excuses for our family. We’re often a hard bunch.
Not too long ago I shocked some people at a church where I was preaching. “If you’re visiting here,” I said, “or if you’re not a believer, we’re so glad you’re here. But take some advice from the old guy. Leave before you get hurt. We’re not nice people. Sometimes we hang out in cliques and it’s hard to break into those. Sometimes we’re so selfish that we don’t notice you. Sometimes we hurt others. So just leave before you get hurt.”
A friend of mine told me about a motorist who drove by a Texas ranch and hit and killed a calf crossing the road. The motorist went to the calf’s owner, explained what happened, and asked how much the calf cost.
“Well, it’s only worth $200 right now,” the rancher said, “but in six years, if you had not killed the calf, it would be worth around $900. So I’m out $900.”
The driver got out his checkbook and wrote the rancher a check. He handed it to the rancher with, “Here’s a check for $900. I’ve postdated it six years from now.”
God isn’t through with the church yet. Sometimes change takes time. Paul wrote in Ephesians 5 that eventually we’ll get it together. So you have to give the Holy Spirit some time to work. Meanwhile, what do you do when you get hurt by some very self-centered people? You remember the times God loved you when you were self-centered. How do you overlook the rejection and pain inflicted by your Christian family? You remember how often God overlooked yours. How do you cut slack for those who have hurt you? You remember how often God cut you slack.
It works. It’s how I became a spiritual giant.
Okay, maybe not that, but it has kept me from becoming a serial killer.
So if you’ve been hurt by the church, cuss and spit, and then wait for the light.
One more thing. The next time I go to the church and don’t find help or when I’ve reached out to Christians who don’t give a rip, I expect you to tell me what I just told you.
He asked me to remind you.
The image used with this post is licensed under the
Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.
Attribution: Antonio Litterio