Tag Archives: Healing

People Crumbling Internally

I think too many people are emotionally weak. Of course, I was raised on a farm with three older brothers, so I don’t recall anyone getting away with the type of whining that makes news today.

In the past we were kept somewhat sober because disease, famine, and war highlighted our vulnerabilities. They were brutal reminders that we were not in control. However, ours is the first generation in which more of us will die from eating too much than from eating too little; from old age rather than from infectious diseases; or from suicide rather than from soldiers, terrorists, and criminals combined. My friends and I are far more likely to die from binging at McDonald’s than from drought, Ebola, or an al-Qaeda attack. We’re the first generation in which starvation, epidemics, and violence continue to be serious, but are, in fact, manageable. In response, it seems as though we are replacing our external fears with internal conflicts, which makes us increasingly appear like babies.

We’re getting soft.

Last Christmas I remember a news story about an over-weight elementary-age boy whose mom brought him to see Santa. He asked Santa for an I-Pad and a Play station, both of which produce sedentary activities that would keep him in the house, looking at screens, and probably eating snacks. Santa teasingly responded that he would give the boy his request if he would lay off the hamburgers. The story went on to report that the kid cried all afternoon and even cried himself to sleep that night. Apparently Santa wounded him. In response, the boy’s Mom demanded Santa apologize (which he did) and that he be fired. He was fired and had a stress based heart attack the next day because of threats directed at he and his family. Certainly there are multiple causes for obesity and I don’t know the boy’s reasons, but what I do know is that now her son’s emotional sensitivity was empowered.

I’ve noticed the church also having to deal with a heightened emotional sensitivity among worshippers. When I was growing up, we went to church because we were Christians . . . period. We did not go for entertainment, soothing, or therapy. As I think about attending First Presbyterian Church in our small farming community, I don’t think anyone cared how we felt about it. We needed to know the facts to live well, so we learned the Scriptures, worshipped, served, and returned the next week to worship again. I never remember my parents discussing whether or not we would go to church, or even whether or not they liked the church. Their view was that the church provided an important and firm foundation for our lives. It was based on the truths of the Scriptures and timeworn logic and wisdom. It was fundamental because the alternatives were not acceptable. It was reasonable and had a core of conviction about it and was not subject to our whims or approval . . . and certainly not our feelings.

But today it seems as though we have replaced the Scriptures and logic with emotional sensitivity and personal exaltation. I don’t know if this comes from television, humanism, social media, or all of us feeling entitled because we’ve been raised with benefits earned by others, but we sure seem spoiled.

During that season, even Saturday Night Live mocked the hyper-sensitive. Their Christmas skit, “Wells for Boys,” was a spoof advertisement of “toys for sensitive boys,” so sensitive little boys can “live a more examined life.” These toys included a wishing well for little boys to sit beside and contemplate, a broken mirror to remind our boys of “the complex contradictions of their being,” and a plastic balcony so they can express themselves. The SNL skit mocks the overly sensitive way we’re creating weak children.

I don’t typically watch Saturday Night Live, so for me, the tipping point was the emotional response to Clinton losing the presidential election. I have to admit, Trump’s victory caught me by surprise. I knew Clinton had the experience, money, and machinery that would be difficult to overcome. As a Republican, I fully expected that Clinton would win the presidency, Democrats would retake the Senate, and the Supreme Court would move left.

But the actual results were very different. It turned out that Trump won the White House, the Republicans kept the House and the Senate, and the conservatives will have opportunity to fill one seat, maybe two, in the Supreme Court.

When Democrats started blaming their losses on others, protesting in the streets, burning police cars, and damaging private property, I questioned what they expected to accomplish and if they were emotionally healthy. If these responses were, in fact, intentional, then the protesters looked like leftists in third-world countries overthrowing democratic processes because they could not understand another point of view – believing everyone else must be ill informed or misled. Or, if they were upset and reacting emotionally and spontaneously, then they were just throwing a fit because they didn’t get their way and wanted everyone to know they were angry.

Either way, we need more adults in the room.

They say the diversity we have always had in America has morphed into bitter divisions. Perhaps this idea is due in part to political parties, scholars, and the press who have grouped us by our age, our race, our gender, our faith, our education, our professions, our sexuality, etc., in order to highlight and contrast the severity of our differences. No doubt, it makes their presentations more interesting. When there is tension, more people pay attention than when there is peace. As a result, those institutions, which rely on followers, students, and ratings, have no incentive to help America be a melting pot where we all can benefit from and enjoy one another’s strengths in an atmosphere of respect. Oh, they do give it lip service, but with every newscast and opportunity in our classrooms, pundits and lecturers irritate their audiences by pitting groups against one another. They encourage us to feel like emotionally damaged victims and, in effect, be selfish children willing to defame Santa because he doesn’t give us what we want and make us feel good.

I suggest that instead of simple emotional reactions, maybe we ought to think and let wisdom dominate our emotions. We have a choice. We can crumble internally, yell, scream, block traffic, hurt people, burn police cars, and bust out the windows of our businesses to show the world we did not get what we wanted. Or we can grow up, toughen up, and respond constructively to life’s circumstances. When we are emotionally strong, we can build peaceful communities, solid churches, and a great country. I think we should opt for the latter. Our survival in a brutal world may depend on it.

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The Honor of Pastoral Service

Julie’s despair was mounting as her two pre-adolescent boys were becoming increasingly demanding, her husband was working out-of-state, and the strains on her time seemed beyond her ability to perform. She had worked at a local para-church ministry for years and was a committed Christian with supportive friends, but a dark cloud of hopelessness was growing in Julie’s mind.

While at work Julie increasingly spoke with her coworkers about the relief being in Heaven would provide. One day she told a woman who worked closely with her that she had decided to take her own life. The woman reminded Julie that she loved her two sons and would never want to be without them. Julie’s response alarmed the woman. She said she planned to take them with her.

As Julie walked to her car at the end of the day, her co-worker called the police and reported to them that Julie was suicidal and threatening the lives of her children. When Julie arrived home, the police were there and, as required by protocol at the time, took Julie to our local hospital for a psychological evaluation.

Oddly, the hospital cleared Julie within a few minutes. Later that evening while the children lie sleeping, she shot both of them to death and then took her own life.

Within a week three coffins—one large and two small—were stationed in the sanctuary of our church. I performed the funeral as Julie’s husband, the father of their children, sat shocked on the front row. After the burial, he sold the house and left town.

A few weeks later one of my friends in the police department told me that he was at Julie’s house that day and had taken her to the hospital. He said typically they place people on a 72 hour hold for evaluation, but in this case they didn’t. He did not know why.

Another friend, who worked in admitting at the emergency room at the hospital, told me that when they brought Julie into the hospital, a friend of Julie’s happened to be overseeing the psychological evaluations that evening. She reported overhearing Julie and this women talking and laughing together in a hallway around a corner. Afterwards, the woman in charge filled out the paperwork reporting that Julie was fine and released her to go home . . . resulting in the deaths of the two children and Julie’s suicide.

I did not blame the hospital, but I thought they should be informed of the situation and consider improving their systems to ensure this didn’t happen again. Yet when I contacted the hospital administration, they received my concern as a threat and issued a public statement that all legal requirements were met. Later our local news reported that I had accused and blamed the hospital for the tragic event. The public perception was that I was grandstanding.

I backed off because I knew the hospital was concerned about liability—which was not my intent in contacting them. I also wanted to protect the confidences of the people who shared privately with me, and to avoid feeding the press a sensational and grizzly public confrontation between a pastor and our local hospital. I was simply seeking an improved system at our hospital, knowing that another Julie would one day arrive at their door.

That was over 10 years ago and I still carry it. Since I did not respond, the story died in the press, leaving the appearance to the public that I had baselessly accused our hospital. Julie and her children were buried in our local cemetery, and the hospital quietly improved its systems a few months later. I called Julie’s husband from time after that to see how he was doing. He just wanted to leave the pain of the past behind and build a new life. The families that left the church because they believed the press account—I’ve not heard from since. But I, as a pastor, feel gratified that our systems were quietly improved after the glare of the press was lifted, and to my knowledge, there have been no cases like Julie’s since.

This is the honor of pastoral service. There are typically facts behind pastoral decisions that cannot be publicly known, but the goal is to improve the lives of others, apart from grandstanding or glory. It’s an honor to serve; it’s the way of Christ.

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Look Who’s Talking Now!

What is Jesus saying to the Father about you? Is he telling him the worst about you? I think not. Since he died on the cross for you, your failures, weaknesses, mistakes, and lapses are covered by him. Jesus has taken on the role of saving you from the eternal and some of the earthly consequences of your humanity, and infusing his perfect life into you. Now he is telling the Father about that, because he continues to want the best for you. He gave you his righteousness, his life, his nature, even his name. He is your friend. So like a good father defending his child, a friend protecting a friend, or a competent lawyer representing a client, Jesus is for you. He is your advocate.

What do advocates do? They present the best possible argument on your behalf. They promote, defend, and support you. As your advocate Jesus offers you his counsel, and he also counsels others how to see you and respond more positively to you. He wants the best for you. As your advocate, he speaks for you and champions your interests. He maximizes your good and minimize what is negative about you. Actually, advocates do not even bring up the negative unless it is to your benefit. When you are the subject, Jesus is neither cautious nor suspicious, but is 100% sold on you. Though he knows you better than you know yourself, he presumes the best about you. So what is Jesus saying to the Father about you right now? All good things. He’s defending you. He’s spreading good news of hope about you. He believes in you.

So as a Christian, as a man who strives to be Christ-like, I focus on what is good in people, to see them through the love of God, to cover over their sins, to be their advocate, and to give the best possible argument in their defense. As a Christian, I feel no obligation to be an expert in someone else’s sins, to nuance my compliments with any negative I know about them, or to ensure they experience the full consequences of the weaknesses in their lives. That’s just not my role.

The Devil is their accuser, but since I’m not a Satanist, I’m not compelled to be their accuser. Journalists are in the business of telling all they know, but I’m not a journalist, so I have no obligation to broadcast every negative impression. The district attorney has a responsibility to hold those who violate the law accountable and ensure they receive the consequences they deserve, but I don’t work for the DA’s office, so I have no role ensuring others experience just consequences. Instead, I am a Christian, which means I am like Christ in that my role is to forgive, heal, infuse hope, defend, provide, protect, and give my life for those who have not earned it, and advocate for those who are guilty. That is exactly what Jesus did, and continues to do, for us. And it’s what we can do for one another.

It takes courage to be Christ-like. It’s actually easier emphasize the bad in others, but I’ve chosen to try to find the speck of gold buried in mountains of dirt and talk about the gold. Others can talk about the dirt, but I’m highlighting the gold. Why? Because Jesus did that in me. By his grace, we can have grace. Many accuse the gracious of lacking standards, condoning sin, and being ungodly. But in my mind, grace is God’s solution to our sin problem, not the cause of it. And since I want to be Christ-like in my response to another, I find the courage to apply grace. In other words, I am willing to apply the same Gospel to them I so deeply appreciate having been applied to me. Jesus is talking positively about us. We can do the same for one another.

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Genuine Restoration (Part 3)

#7 in Q & A Series

Question: How do you believe New Life Church could have handled your situation better?

“Begin with the End in Mind” is Habit #2 in Stephen Covey’s, Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. Just about every church in the nation has taught some version of this, if not used the text itself as a leadership guide. But when it comes to restoring another, most Christian restoration teams not only are confused about New Testament guidelines instructing them, but also about the purpose of the process. As a result, many, particularly leaders, who have been subject to restoration in a church find the process nonsensical and are left discouraged, despondent, and some so bitter they seethe.

Galatians 6:1 is the most relevant Scripture in the New Testament addressing the subject of restoring another.

“Brethren, if any person is overtaken in misconduct or sin of any sort, you who are spiritual [who are responsive to and controlled by the Spirit] should set him right and restore and reinstate him, without any sense of superiority and with all gentleness, keeping an attentive eye on yourself, lest you should be tempted also” Gal. 6:1 AMP.

So what is the goal? Restoration. The Greek word in this verse is Katartizo, which means to re-set, restore, as we would a disjoined limb. It means to make perfect, to restore. Thus, the translators are correct when they use the English word, “restore,” in this verse. The New Living Translation and the Amplified are correct when they say, “help that person back onto the right path” or “set him right and restore and reinstate him.”

Carnal-thinking people punish, embarrass, dehumanize, and humiliate those they are commissioned to heal. Because they are untrained in the application of the Gospel in these situations, they make demands and design activities to occupy the fallen without a constructive end in mind. Paul strongly warns against this, and says genuine spirituality is displayed through gentleness and humility as it restores another. Otherwise, the “restorer” will take on an aura of spiritual and moral superiority and rationalize why the fallen cannot  and should not be restored. Typically they say the fallen are unrepentant or unsubmissive. Then, they too often see themselves as more important than they are, which is specifically warned against in Galatians 6:2-3 where Paul concludes his thought regarding restoration: “Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ. If you think you are too important to help someone, you are only fooling yourself. You are not that important.”

Paul’s caution might be here because the self-righteous leader is unable to appreciate the power of the resurrection of the fallen, and will end up thinking of themselves as more important than they should in light of the sins of the fallen. This is one of the sins of the Pharisees.

Jimmy Swaggart endured his scandal in 1988. His denomination constructed a restoration program, which he rejected for reasons to which we may not be privy. Then he was caught yet again in a compromising situation in 1991. Since that time, as far as we know he’s been actively involved in ministry and has been faithful to his wife and to God. It’s interesting to me that so many Christians hate Jimmy Swaggart. When I ask pastors’ groups why they think so poorly of him and don’t trust him, they always say it’s because he didn’t go through his denomination’s restoration program. I then ask what the purpose of that program might have been? They always respond by saying that the purpose of the program was to heal Jimmy Swaggart, help him find the moral strength to overcome his sin problem, and help him return to ministry again. I then point out that the 1991 repeat was predictable and that virtually every therapist teaches that relapse is part of recovery, and that he has been faithful to his wife and ministry for 22 years since that relapse. My follow-up question to the pastors . . .  “Is the purpose of the process the process itself, or the RESULT of the process?”

Then we talk about the real reason we question his integrity. Could it be that our real issue is that he did not cooperate with our program, which would have given us the ability to take credit for his sobriety and ministry? Were we more concerned about managing our image than restoring our brother? Did we elevate his submitting to our control over our helping him to achieve the goal of his repentance and to return to the ministry to which God had called him? Or did we really just want him out of ministry–either because we were envious of his accomplishments or embarrassed by his human failings? After all, ultimately we tend to manage our image and reputation. Perhaps we should ask ourselves if we are managing a Christ-like image and reputation or a worldly one based on self-righteousness.

The English word “restore” means to “bring back to a former, original, or normal condition. “ It means “to put back to a former place, or to a former position, rank, etc.” This is the correct interpretation of the word Paul used, Katartizo. So why would it benefit the church to follow through on his admonition to gently restore a fellow believer (even a leader) who has been trapped by a sin?

It is because it models resurrection, hope, redemption, and life.

The fallen give us opportunity to model Christ’s resurrection among us, and to demonstrate Christ’s heart toward humanity. Christ has restored all of us. When we, who are spiritual, competently model restoration among ourselves, others see the Gospel with clarity. We’ve got to give credit where credit is due. The Holy Spirit and the Word of God should get the credit for restoring leaders. We should not position ourselves to receive glory. Healing, sobriety, holiness, and integrity are the goals. God’s work moving forward is the goal, the purpose, the end. We can begin with that end in mind

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Survival In the Coming Age?

4 in Q & A Series

Question: As believers, how do we prepare for the coming changes in this world?

As Evangelical Christians looking to the future, we would be wise to understand the times in which we live, and be aware that as a society we are improving in some ways and worsening in others.

I’ve observed that typically when a Democrat is in the White House, we Christians publish and sell a great deal of apocalyptic literature, but when a Republican is in the White House, we produce an abundance of hopeful, faith-based materials. This trend demonstrates how politicized we have become. Nations are always forming or being dismantled, economies are strengthening or weakening, political movements are growing or waning, and believers are impacted one way or another in each of these situations.

Surprisingly, under Sadaam Hussein, Christians experienced greater protection and freedom to attend church and worship according to their faith. Since his removal, the church has suffered greatly in Iraq and has gone virtually underground. Under Hasni Mubarak, the Egyptian church enjoyed greater freedom and government protection, but since his removal, Christian churches and schools have been burned, and many Christians have been martyred. Sometimes when we think political events might improve our plight, they actually get worse. And sometimes when we think things might get worse, they actually get better.

With that in mind, how do we prepare for the coming changes to the world? The Bible simply says that we should watch, pray, and be ready. I believe in staying steady on good days and difficult days. So here is what I do:

1. Develop habits now that will never change. I read my Bible and pray every day. I have done this during times of great success in my life, as well as during my most horrible upsets. We all can receive life and encouragement regardless of the other events surrounding us if we will read our Bibles and pray every day.

2. Keep growing financially. We all need to intentionally increase our value in the workplace so we will have as much earning power as possible. As we go through life, if we tithe 10% to an authentic New Testament Church, save and invest 10%, and use the other 80% for everything else, we will become increasingly financially secure as we go through life. Then if unexpected events come our way, we will have a greater ability to absorb them. If nothing negative happens, then in our 50’s, our investments will produce as much income as our work. Regardless of our age and current situation, this is a good plan to start today.

3. Love, but never take it for granted from others. One of the most crushing moments in life is when we experience a difficult season and it dawns on us that our friends don’t love us or our families as much as we thought they did. It’s tough, but to stay healthy and recover as quickly as possible, we would do better to face the reality that others do not owe us their love.

I think it’s wise to accept the fact that ONLY God has unconditional love for us, and that love from others is mostly earned. Certainly there are exceptions. Some will love us without us having earned it, while others may choose to love us because they value us in spite of our current limitations and failings. But don’t expect others to love or care about you or your family on a bad day, or you may end up deeply disappointed. Instead, be grateful when anyone is loving, kind, or generous. We will be stronger if we are grateful for any good that comes our way, than to expect kindness and be disappointed. And with that strength, we can love others.

4. Be strong and courageous. Courage is the greatest of all virtues because, without it, we are not able to exercise any other virtues on a bad day. Faith, love, and kindness all disappear from the self-serving hearts of cowards because they lack the courage to do the right thing. With courage, we are able to stand firm.

Courageous faith is our hope no matter what comes our way. It is based on timeless truths we can count on regardless of social, political, or economic trends. We can always trust the Lord. He is our core strength.

And finally,

5. Participate in an authentic New Testament Church that understands the application of the Gospel, grace, love, internal transformation, healing, redemption, power, and restoration. Here you will experience the strength of the family of God on good days and bad. Authentic New Testament Churches are the fellowships of the gratefully redeemed, not fellowships of the self-righteous. How do we know the difference? By how they respond to someone else’s sin. If they are an authentic New Testament Church, they will respond with understanding and redemptive healing. If they are actually an Old Testament “church,” they will respond with punitive condemning judgment that will include separation from the body. They will, in effect, deny resurrection to the sinner in order to increase humiliation, thinking the solution to the sin problem is punishment. They are Old Testament thinkers. They do not know that the Gospel applies most significantly in a difficult situation.

So how do we prepare? None of us knows our futures, but if we develop a few good practices and stay steady, we can face whatever comes our way.

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How Many Will God Heal?

Last Wednesday night we held our first prayer meeting at St. James Church in which we focused on praying for the sick. It was incredible to sense the presence of the Lord fill the room and begin to minister to people. As that happened, God began to manifest himself in the lives of those who had opened their hearts for a touch from God.

I love the way God reveals himself. After God rescued the people of Israel from Egypt, he revealed his desires for them in Exodus 15:26 by saying, “If you will listen carefully to the voice of the LORD your God and do what is right in his sight, obeying his commands and keeping all his decrees, then I will not make you suffer any of the diseases I sent on the Egyptians; for I am the Lord who heals you.”

In Exodus 23:25-26, after God provided so many miracles, he repeats his desire that his people be strong by saying, “You must serve only the LORD your God. If you do, I will bless you with food and water, and I will protect you from illness. There will be no miscarriages or infertility in your land, and I will give you long, full lives.”

Thousands of years later, God reveals that he rewards those who trust him and have faith in him by saying in Hebrews 11:6, “. . . it is impossible to please God without faith. Anyone who wants to come to him must believe that God exists and that he rewards those who sincerely seek him.” The rewards he offers are infinite. To sincerely seek him is a powerful action that strengthens every one of us. James 1:6-8 encourages all of us to be focused when we petition him by saying, “But when you ask him, be sure that your faith is in God alone. Do not waver, for a person with divided loyalty is as unsettled as a wave of the sea that is blown and tossed by the wind. Such people should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Their loyalty is divided between God and the world, and they are unstable in everything they do.”

God loves every one of us so much he puts all of us in positions where we can choose him. He likes that, and he doesn’t lie about it. In Numbers 23:19, the Bible says, “God is not a man, so he does not lie. He is not human, so he does not change his mind. Has he ever spoken and failed to act? Has he ever promised and not carried it through?” In contrast to our current culture where we are accustomed to people saying things they don’t mean, or not keeping their previous commitments because circumstances have changed or a situation has evolved, God says exactly what he means and always keeps his word. In 1 Kings 8:56, the Bible reminds the people of Israel that . . . “not one word has failed of all the wonderful promises he gave through his servant Moses.” And David expresses gratitude toward God in Psalms 119:89 by writing, “Your eternal word, O Lord, stands firm in heaven.”

Some would say, “If this is God’s plan, why are there so many sick people?” It’s because earth is not heaven. In heaven, no one is sick. God’s perfect desire for us is fully manifested in heaven. But here on the earth, we have had sickness among us since the fall of the human race. As a result, we not only have God’s will, but our own will, the work of evil, and natural law that combine to create our current reality. As a result, we have to take the initiative to stay well and appropriate as much of heaven as we can while on earth. That is why Jesus instructed us to pray in Matthew 6:10, “May your Kingdom come soon. May your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.” We know he wants us all well.

So how many will God heal? Everyone who responds to him is ultimately completely healed, if not here on the earth, then in heaven. In the meantime, we can all know that he wants the best for us. That’s why we pray. Not because we are noble, but because we are needy. That’s why we meet with the brethren to celebrate on Sunday mornings. Not because we are perfect, but because we are not and are in need of fellowship with him and fellow pilgrims. Prayer stimulates the Holy Spirit’s activity, and the Holy Spirit delivers into our lives everything Jesus appropriated on the cross for us. God is for us, and with that knowledge, even life on earth can be a little better. So let’s pray and trust.

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