Tag Archives: pain

Church Discipline: Finishing What We Start

Now, regarding the one who started all this—the person in question who caused all this pain—I want you to know that I am not the one injured in this as much as, with a few exceptions, all of you. So I don’t want to come down too hard. What the majority of you agreed to as punishment is punishment enough. Now is the time to forgive this man and help him back on his feet. If all you do is pour on the guilt, you could very well drown him in it. My counsel now is to pour on the love.  The focus of my letter wasn’t on punishing the offender but on getting you to take responsibility for the health of the church.  2 Corinthians 2:5-9 (The Message)

triathlon running race

Moments that Test our Motives

Years ago, I was in a race with several hundred other people.  It was a triathlon. It started on a beach in Corpus Christi, Texas.  After a half-mile swim in a very choppy ocean, we all ran to a transition area. There we quickly put on cycling shoes and rode off on a 25-mile bike ride, about half of which was directly into a stiff and steady 20-mph headwind.  By the time I got off the bike, my legs were jelly and my body was exhausted.

I sat down in the transition area, thinking about the 10K run still ahead of me.  Genuinely torn about what I would do, I could quit now and just lie back and relax or I could strap my running shoes on and stand up and “will” my legs to work again.  It was the very kind of moment most endurance races bring: the moment of decision, whether or not to finish what I started. How we respond to those moments …

Hope for the Barren Church

Because the Lord had closed Hannah’s womb, her rival kept provoking her in order to irritate her. This went on year after year. Whenever Hannah went up to the house of the Lord, her rival provoked her till she wept and would not eat. 1 Samuel 1:6-7

http://www.dreamstime.com/royalty-free-stock-image-cracked-land-image22328576In ancient times, being barren was a major affliction. I suppose it probably still is in many parts of the world. But for Hannah (and for all the other women in the Bible whose stories begin with being barren), it meant no security at all for their future. Once their husbands were gone, with no children of their own and with no ability to own property or to earn a living, they would be destitute. Desperation, then, does not begin to describe their plight.

Churches often go through seasons of desperation as well.  Maybe you understand what I mean. After years of budget shortfalls and then an economic crisis, there is suddenly a severe conflict and families leaving the church, and then the sudden death of a key leader and then a moral failure on another’s part and so on and so forth…the desperation can pile up pretty quickly.  Then there are the anguishing cries to the Lord, “How long will you allow this to continue?!”  Month after month of praying can turn into year after year.  The landscape of the church turns into a parched, dry, barren land. Heretofore strong, faithful members begin to question whether the Lord has simply lifted his hand from the church…His glory has departed…He has written “Ichabod” across the door.

In such “barren” circumstances, hope for the future is all but waned completely.  It becomes impossible to even imagine a future.  Only the most faithful few even remain.  It can feel awfully destitute…much like Hannah no doubt …

The Blinding Power of Bitterness

Then the LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it.” Genesis 4:6-7

blind bitternessAt the very front end of Cain’s anger and frustration, before it had lead to anything permanently damaging, God warned him.  “Cain, you better get control of this anger, or it will get control of you.”  Well, that’s my paraphrase.  God was warning Cain about a part of the human condition to which we often turn a blind eye: anger is not something to leave unattended.  Unresolved anger, you see, turns into bitterness.  And bitterness, over time, is a disease that spreads into our heart, our eyes, our brain, and a host of other places.

I have seen it way too many times in my ministry to churches in conflict.  When passions get high and anger is left to fester over time, finding the truth about what really happened can become nearly impossible.  That is because anger makes for a horrible historian.  It twists the truth and blinds us to what really happened.  The longer we stay angry, the less credibility we have for reporting what happened.  However poor our retention rate is for facts and figures we have seen or heard, our retention rate for what we felt is almost perfect.  So, in situations which anger us, if that anger is left alone to do its dirty work, we later remember how we felt and then back into the rest of the facts in a way which supports how we felt. In other words, our brain fills in the gaps and recalls events in a way …

The Future of the Church…It’s Complicated

“For thus says the Lord: When seventy years are completed for Babylon,I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” Jeremiah 29:10-11

Then the Lord said, “I have pardoned, according to your word. But truly, as I live, and as all the earth shall be filled with the glory of the Lord, none of the men who have seen my glory and my signs that I did in Egypt and in the wilderness, and yet have put me to the test these ten times and have not obeyed my voice, shall see the land that I swore to give to their fathers. And none of those who despised me shall see it.When it comes to understanding the God of the Bible, context is everything…and perspective counts for something as well.  Numbers 14:20-23

My brothers and sisters who preach a prosperity gospel (i.e., that God intends for you to have material wealth and to have it right now) claim Jeremiah 29:11 separate and apart from Jeremiah 29:10. complicated journeyIn other words, they catch the good news of the promise of hope and a future but they gloss over the bad news that it would come only after a  lifetime of exile and hardship (and for many who would die in exile, it would not come in this life at all).

By the same token, my brothers and sisters who favor a dark, judgmental, angry gospel point to Numbers 14 and God’s judgment on the people of Israel who rebelled against Him, but they tend to miss the unbelievable mercy He showed …

Log Removal Plans

Tuesday Re-mix –

How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.  Matthew 7:4-5

How are you at removing splinters from children’s fingers?  Yeh, me neither.  It is quite an ordeal, even under the best of circumstances.  It takes a steady hand, a soothing voice, and really good eyes.  As I write this, I am just now realizing how cool it is that so many of us did not need reading glasses until after our kids were old enough to get their own splinters out.  Isn’t God smart?  I can still remember feeling all medically superior one day when one of my girls came to me with a splinter in her finger.  I brought her into the bathroom (where the light was the brightest), got some tweezers, picked up her hand and examined the finger closely.  “Wow, this must be a tiny one” I told her, “I can’t even see it!  Where is it?”  And she answered, “It’s right here”, as she held up her free hand!

Being able to clearly see the splinter, it seems, is pretty critical to the entire process of removing it.  And so it is with helping a brother with the “Speck” in his eye.  Notice: Jesus’ aim in this lesson is for us to “see clearly”…that is the goal, so that we can help our brother.  When you cannot see clearly, you simply are not capable of being any help.

It appears to me that commentators are all over the board regarding what, exactly, the “log in your eye” …

Three Easy Steps to a Church Implosion

Tuesday Re-mix – 

I remember a couple of years back when First Baptist Church, Dallas, made the news with its simultaneous implosion of several buildings on its campus in preparation for a major building program.  The videos were all over YouTube.  Here is one of them.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q0nqulYY7AM&fs=1&hl=en_US]

I’m not sure what the psychology is behind this, but I am fascinated by imploding buildings.  Feel free to comment about how twisted I am.  But even as I watched this video, I thought to myself, “There are easier ways to implode a church.”  I’ve seen it happen too many times.  So, for those who are interested in imploding your church but cannot afford the actual dynamite, here is a fairly quick and easy formula…three easy steps, and you won’t even need a fund-raising campaign to pull it off:

1.  Hold onto your pain and encourage others to do the same. This is not difficult.  In fact, it is very human.  Anytime anyone does something or fails to do something and it hurts your feelings (especially if it is a church leader…extra points for that pain), DO NOT go to them and DO NOT commit it to prayer…in fact, do not do anything at all which might actually cause you to forgive and let go of that pain.  Rather, hold onto to it with every ounce of energy you have.  Stir it regularly, just to keep it festering.  Use it however you can.  It makes a wonderful excuse for just about any kind of bad behavior in which you might care to engage.

2.  Talk to as many other people about your pain as possible. Never underestimate the value of gossip for the whole implosion process.  If you share your pain with enough people (NOT with the person who actually caused the pain, …

Creating Meaningful Community: “You Are Not Alone”

Tuesday Re-mix – 

I believe that loneliness is sweeping our culture in epidemic proportions.  I also believe the church is uniquely positioned and empowered to cure loneliness.  We just need to figure out what genuine friendships look like in the face of life’s most painful circumstances.

I have not yet met a pastor or a church leader who thinks their church actually has too much community or too much in the way of genuine relationships.  The truth is, all of us are always looking for ways to develop a deeper sense of community among our members.  We all understand that there simply is no richer, deeper, more fulfilling sense of God’s love and grace than to be fully known and fully loved, i.e., to have someone know our darkest secrets and struggles and flaws and still love us!

I have found that kind of community in our church’s support group ministry.  It is the absolute best way I have ever seen to say to hurting people, “We understand you and we love you anyway!”  I have come to believe that the more church members we can get involved in it, the deeper our sense of community becomes.  Here is a great example from that ministry:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-cqW0oe_h5c&fs=1&hl=en_US&rel=0]

The underlying message behind support groups is the same message which is at the heart of all genuine community: you are not alone. My church’s support group ministry is built on two simple foundational pieces: (1) God’s Word, and (2) friends who share your pain.  There seems to be no limit to how much healing can take place with those two elements working together in a person’s life.

Of course, there is much more to a good support group ministry than that.  But that is the core of it.  Anything about this message which …

The Plight of Mrs. Pastor

Tuesday Re-mix –

My older daughter married a pastor.

In raising daughters, there are the years when you have lots of say about who they see and who they do not see…and then those years come to an end and you learn to just keep quiet (mostly) and pray a lot.  For my own girls, I have prayed their entire lives that, if other men must come into their lives–and, alas, they apparently must–that those men would know God and walk with Him and be shaped by Him to love my girls well.

But in my most vulnerable moments, ones when my worldly anxieties crept in and I allowed myself to have an opinion on the matter, when I was completely honest with God I probably periodically threw in an extra prayer such as, “…and God, please don’t let them marry a minister.”  I had my reasons.

I myself am a pastor’s son.  I’ve been around the church my whole life.  I have made a career of working with conflicted churches and counseling pastors and church leaders alike through those difficult seasons.  I have seen “up close and personal” the results of church fights in tens of thousands of lives.  And of all the casualties of mean-spirited Christians and of all the lives and careers I have seen destroyed, the most helpless and defenseless (and typically the most innocent) of all is…the minister’s spouse.

If ministers have had any decent training at all, chances are pretty good that somebody along the way (maybe a seminary professor, maybe a wise friend) has warned them that they have chosen a difficult path, one wrought with mean people and disappointment.  So when trouble comes and I am counseling them and I say to them, “Welcome to ministry”, they usually know exactly what I …

Trust as the Means of Healing

Tuesday Re-mix:

“…speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ.” Ephesians 4:15

I was maybe 9 or 10 years old.  I was at church (Dad was a pastor…I was ALWAYS at church), playing with a friend out on the church playground.  It had rained, so there was plenty of opportunity for slipping and sliding.  One of us had the brilliant idea of using the slippery circumstances to stand up on the slide and “surf” down it.  The “brilliance” of the idea, however, was soon overshadowed by the sharp pain on the back of my head after it hit the slide on my way down.  I couldn’t see it, but I knew it had to be bad by the way everyone kept reacting to it, and by the way my parents threw me into the back seat of the car and sped off to the hospital.

stitchesThis was a day I would face yet another fear on my long list of childhood phobias.  This was a fear near the top of the list, one I had carefully and gratefully avoided until now: stitches. I can still remember the word coming out of the doctor’s mouth…He was almost apologetic about it, and yet he was certain.  I wanted to ask, “Are you sure?” But I could see it in his eyes.  There would be no getting out of this.  I knew it was inevitable.  So I mustered up all the trust I could find and I put myself in his trained and skillful hands.  Mind you, I didn’t really have a choice, so “bravery” or “courage” probably are not the right words to describe it.  But I did it.  I faced my fear by trusting in someone else.…

Forgiving is Not Forgetting (but maybe it should be)

Tuesday Re-mix – This is a popular post from last year, updated and resubmitted for your consideration and comments.

I used to have a great memory, especially for numbers, directions, and tunes.  For names and faces, not so much, but for sports trivia and other such unnecessary stuff, I was a memorizing machine.  It seems to me that the older my girls get, the more my memory comes into question.  I really hate that.

So, now I’ve started devising little tricks to help me remember things.  I’ve programmed birthdays and anniversaries into my computer and my phone, I’ve found important locations in the house and the office to put things so I know I’ll see them.  I am finding more and more ways to “tie a string around my finger” these days.

One thing I’m still pretty good at remembering, though, is pain.  When you do something that hurts me, whether you intended it or not, I have a remarkable ability to remember it for a very long time.  I’ll bet you’re like that too.  What is it about painful circumstances that seem to linger in our memories forever…long after we have expressed forgiveness?  And more importantly, does that mean we haven’t really forgiven?  After all, when God talks about forgiveness, He promises, “I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.” Jeremiah 31:34.  And we are commanded to forgive just as we have been forgiven (Ephesians 4:32).  So, if I have truly forgiven, why do I still have these painful memories of times I was wounded?

I don’t have the answer to that question.

But here is something I do know: forgiveness and forgetting are not the same thing, at least not for us (and don’t get me started on the question of how a God …