Archive for Forgiveness

My daughter has been monitoring tweets about actor Cory Monteith’s death this weekend. I think it’s been quite some time that a person who was on TV weekly and loved by many teens and young adults has passed away. For them I think this is going to be very hard and significant. They need our prayers. I want to blog about it more to the teens I know later this week.

But in her watching tweets, my daughter found that the Westboro Baptist Church is spewing its vile attitude again, being “Glee-ful” at Cory’s death, and threatening to picket. They don’t represent me at all, and when they are described as Baptists and as a church that really bothers me. I’ve been wanting to say something for a while about them, especially for people who aren’t part of the orthodox Christian community.

This is what I hope you know:

Baptists Are Not All the Same

First, “Baptist” is not a term that always stands for a well organized denomination. There are several good Baptist denominations or confederations between churches that provide checks and balances if needed to the individual churches and pastors. But “Baptist” basically means only that one believes that when a person becomes a Christian he or she should be baptized by immersion in water. It says nothing, really, about how the church lives out its faith.

If you and I wanted to go out right now, buy a building, and start a Roman Catholic parish to run any way we pleased, we couldn’t. We would need to come in line with the denomination and agree to their viewpoint. But if you and I wanted to buy a building and hang a sign that said, “Baptist Church – Come Sunday at 10”, there’s nothing to stop us.

The Westboro Baptist Church is run by one man independently. The condemning things the church says and the picketing and hatred they promote are the teachings of this man. He is in a miniscule minority. Very, very few Baptists would join him on the picket line, and many, many of us would be glad to serve in the lines of “human shields” who protect mourners from what Westboro’s doing. They do not speak for the American Baptists and Conservative Baptists I have known, and I’m sure they don’t impress the Southern Baptists, either. Overwhelmingly they speak only for themselves.

The Matter of Being a “church”

Usually churches are made up of believers from a community. The members share a faith in the essentials of Christianity, but from there, they can be from different cultures, races, and economic classes. The Westboro church is made up almost completely of the relatives of the pastor. That’s an unusual and insular situation, lacking diversity and giving the pastor the powerful dual relationship of religious leader and family patriarch with almost everyone. There’s a proverb in the Bible, “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” (Proverbs 27:17) In other words, my differences of opinion with yours are like two swords sharpening against each other and becoming greater tools to sharpen both our understandings of God and the Bible. The extreme and unquestioned opinions, and the lack of outside community participation, should give anyone pause. A church was never meant to be a closed group.

As It Should Be

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Although the terms “Baptist” and “church” grate me when used with Westboro, the last thing I hope you know is more important by far:

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” John 13:34 and 35

Below is a beautiful song based on this verse by Christie Knockles:

They Will Know Us By Our Love

This command of Jesus is buttressed by so many parables and incidents in His ministry: the Good Samaritan, the adulterous woman, the injunction not to judge lest you be judged. Accusing people of sins and humiliating them is not the way to go. The Holy Spirit can convict people of their sins far better than we can. We were sent to love as Christ loved us.

The Westboro people may believe that Jesus died for their sins and is their Lord and Savior, and it’s not mine to take that away from them if they say they believe it. But my understanding is far different than theirs. I believe Jesus died not only to take my sins, but so I would have His life and love in me, and because of that, in my life and the lives of other believers this kind of hateful venom would end. Let me say it again:

My Savior hung naked on a cross so that this kind of hatred would stop. It’s that important.

Apr
02

A Word Aptly Spoken

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A word aptly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver. – Proverbs 25:11

Recently several of my friends have been hurt by remarks that lacked tact. As I’ve thought about this and wished my loved ones had been treated more tactfully, I’ve realized I have plenty to learn, too.

Although tact isn’t a listed fruit of the Spirit, it calls upon a lot of them. Kindness, gentleness, and self-control come to mind, along with as much wisdom as we can muster. Tact is needed in confrontation, but also in sharing the truth and speaking one’s mind. It is knowing when a thing should be addressed privately, or later on, or perhaps a realization that you’re not the one who should bring it up at all. Or, as little as we like to admit it, our opinion is not needed in the situation. Ouch!

I think Christians are especially susceptible to crossing the line in truth-sharing. We are called to proclaim the Good News but you can’t win everyone over – the apostle Paul certainly didn’t! “Trying harder” can take a wrong turn and start sounding like arrogance. Many times I’ve found out later that the people who seemed to be shutting us down when spiritual things were presented were really thinking about what was said. It’s made me remember one of my grandmothers. In my childhood she used to say, “I would rather be right than President,” and she made sure she was. But people did not remember her correct opinions or her intelligence. They remembered being hurt by her sharp tongued comments.

When King David’s son Absalom rebelled against him, he asked his soldiers not to harm him when they captured him. Nonetheless, he was killed, and the man who reported it to the king said, “May the enemies of my lord the king . . . be like that young man.” (2 Samuel 18:32b) The patriotic sentiment was tactless in the face of David’s losing his beloved son. Only God knows if David wept all the more over Absalom because the men around him saw an impudent enemy vanquished while only David saw a much loved wayward son come to a terrible end.

Jesus gave us instructions about confronting another person that showed love, concern, and were designed to give a person a place to reconsider their actions. (The instructions include the appropriate action for the rarer egregious problem that requires churchwide attention, but I am not addressing that here.) The basic step is “If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you.” (Matthew 18:15a) So much damage is done by people who confront others’ faults in anger and in public. We are supposed to talk to others in love and in private to find a reconciliation, not shout out their faults to demoralize them.

Priscilla and Aquila, two strong believers in the early church, came across a man named Apollos who was preaching publicly, but did not know the full details of the Gospel message. Did they butt in and take over on his speech? Did they criticize him for not preaching everything they knew about Jesus? No, “they invited him to their home and explained to him the way of God more adequately.” (Acts 18:26b) Even in the case of his preaching an incomplete message, they spared Apollos every public embarrassment that intervention or criticism would have brought him, and instructed him privately.

I missed the opportunity to show tact recently when I rebuked someone on Facebook. In my anger I thought I was justified – don’t we always? The result was we both found there had been a misunderstanding that left each of us feeling foolish and embarrassed. Considering the fruits of the Spirit, the tact that I should have been using, and the love I have for my friend, I wish I had gone to her privately.

One last thought: sometimes a person is blind to a fault because the Holy Spirit knows he is not ready to confront it. The Holy Spirit guides us perfectly in revealing and healing our faults. He chooses the right time when we can bear to look at our shortcomings, and His healing makes that possible. When we feel someone should hear the truth about themselves now we need to pray about the possibility that we are running ahead of the Holy Spirit and what that person is ready to hear. Instead of tact we may find we need patience(!) and a renewed love for the person just the way they are – which is, of course, just how God loves them.

“People don’t care how much you know–until they know how much you care.” – John C. Maxwell

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Aug
27

Anointing with the Oil of Joy

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My last blog was about my son Jon’s near death experience with heroin and other drugs. I’d been studying rejoicing, one of the fruits of the Spirit. Rejoice in all things, Paul said. Now that “all things” weren’t so hot, I challenged myself.

The first reason to rejoice: my son lived. He awoke at the hospital and was able to talk to us. Later, while he slept, I watched his breathing the way parents watch a newborn’s little breaths while he sleeps. It seemed no less a miracle to me now as it had then. Looking into his groggy blue eyes, I was so thankful I was even seeing them again.

I rejoiced in what Jon had to say when he awoke. I’m really sorry, he said. I know I need help. I want to get clean. I want to go to rehab. Of course his bravado returned in a couple of days, but in all these years of drug use he had never, ever acknowledged that he was at rock bottom and needed help. Unmasked in the seriousness of the situation, he admitted that he’d lost control of his drug use.

Another blessing in disguise: Jon had pneumonia and had to stay in the hospital for a few days. There he was able to see how many people cared about him as friends visited. He was not so alone in the world as he had imagined.

Something unusual happened when we found Jon in his bedroom at home. He had been saving a two-liter soda bottle filled with water. His friend, Jesse, had brought it over the last time he visited us and had forgotten it there. After Jesse died Jon kept the water bottle on the floor like a relic, and it was by his feet when we found him unconscious. I knew that was “holy water” as far as Jon was concerned, but one of his friends grabbed the bottle and threw the water on his face to try and revive him. When I told Jon what happened to the water, he said, “So he saved me. Jesse saved me.”

At the most I would entertain the idea that the hand of Jesus was guiding Jesse’s when he left that bottle there almost two years ago. But after that Jon didn’t ridicule God again. If I mentioned God, he never again told me that there was no God and my beliefs were on par with the Tooth Fairy. He saw in that forgotten water bottle a spiritual intervention to save his life, and he gave up his insistence that the world consisted only of what we can touch and see. It’s a start. I rejoice.

I wasn’t prepared to be tested and tempted to display my worst attitudes.
After nine hours of standing watch over my son, I left the hospital. Getting away will be a relief from the tension, right? Oh, no. The assault came immediately.

I sat down to eat at a restaurant with family members. All I wanted was a respite and a bowl of soup. They had an agenda. (Do not eat with people with agendas. It spoils the digestion.)

I tried three times to change the subject, but one family member was completely undeterred. She was going to ask every question about Jon’s situation then and there. She caught me when I was tired, scared, and hungry. It was not a good conversation.

As we left the restaurant, she berated me for not “making connections” and not “giving trust”. She said that as I’d called her early in the morning about Jon’s condition, she was entitled to details. I said nothing, but I left the parking lot furious. Couldn’t she see I’d had enough? Why didn’t she care about the condition I was in? What made her think I owed her anything? Couldn’t she let me eat in peace?

I knew I needed to forgive them, but the restless waves that often form our family relationships rose to a tsunami. This has really crossed the line, I fumed. There was no consideration for me. She didn’t want to know about Jon, she wanted information for her own gratification. They think if they’d been Jon’s mother they’d be doing a better job. They’d know the answers. They’d get him in rehab. They think I failed.

I was upset, too, that anger and unforgiveness were getting the better of me. I kept thinking of the lines of an old gospel song: “Joy, joy, joy/ Joy in the Holy Ghost/ Don’t let anybody rob your joy/ there’s joy in the Holy Ghost”. In the hospital I had tried so hard to rejoice in this disaster. Now this situation had robbed my precious joy and replaced it with a rock-hard heart, and I hadn’t stopped it. I’d even reveled in it. Weren’t their bad behaviors rooted in attitudes I had suspected all along? Didn’t they deserve my contempt?

My mind came back to Philippians 2:5 – 7:

Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God,
Did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
But made Himself nothing……

Equality with God is a big deal for Jesus to let slip from His grasp. It’s one of the many humbling things He did for us. I have what I think of as my own big deals. I mean, they’re big deals to me, but God’s not so impressed. What if that passage said:

Anne should not consider being respected as something to be grasped; or
Anne should not consider always being right as something to be grasped; or
Anne should not consider always having her way as something to be grasped.

I have a feeling there could be a hundred more of those uncomfortable little phrases informing me I have to let my grasp go.

In Psalm 45, the bridegroom is praised in this way:

You love righteousness and hate wickedness;
Therefore God, your God, has set you above your companions
By anointing you with the oil of joy.
Psalm 45:7

I pray that I would hate the wickedness that would have my heart,
And I would lift my hands to praise God,
And He would anoint them with the oil of joy
So my grasp would slip from the things that would rob me.

Aug
16

Looking for the Open Window

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Recently a greeting card had me laughing in the middle of Wal-Mart. A man and his wife were in bed for the night when a bald old man with a long white beard and moustache came up to their bedroom window, smiling. The woman was shrieking in horror at the sight of the stalker? intruder? murderer?

The inside of the card declared, “When God closes a door, sometimes He opens a window.”

It's often said that when God closes a door, He opens a window.

It's often said that when God closes a door, He opens a window.

It reminded me all too much of myself these days. I’ve had about seven years of seeing closing doors. That’s a long time to be looking for the open window…or skylight…or crack in the wall, even. Now, behold! God appears to be at the window, and I am a bit like the startled woman on the greeting card.

For quite some time I’ve needed employment that would bring in the kind of income that would pay for my home and household expenses. I have a degree in music performance that was not going to help me now. In the business world of the 21st century, my skills as an office worker in the 1980’s were laughable. The jobs on line were all looking for my resume. What resume was that? I didn’t really have one. And I loathed and dreaded the prospect of returning to school. One run through the gauntlet of academia was enough, and then some, as far as I was concerned. So when I prayed, “Lord, you know I need a job,” it was not the same as when I was in my early twenties and needed work. I was praying for some specific conditions that would meet the needs and abilities I had now, which were very different.

This year I became distracted from my financial needs. My son has had a very difficult year so far and that took up my energy. When there was flooding in the spring, I was one of those with a lake in my basement, and many hours were devoted to repair before we could return home, and more repair afterwards. When there was finally a break in the action, I looked at my finances and realized the situation had become dire while my attention had been diverted. Now the prayers became really urgent and heartfelt. Something had to open up – now.

I want to tell you what happened before and after that prayer. God prepared me for that moment of prayer, and as I said above, it looks like the window is opening for me at last.

BEFORE:

Just a couple of weeks before the financial crisis, God brought me to a place where I could heal from the guilt of my divorce. I’ve written some things before about this wonderful moment when I finally realized that God was not punishing me. It came to a head because guilt was stopping me from believing God could have an answer for me, or blessings for me. Guilt gnawed at me when I knew that all I could do was go forward from here. Guilt even gnawed at me although I knew in Christ I was forgiven. Counselors would write evaluations of my son and mention that his troubles began when our marriage became difficult, and my heart would sink. Some circumstance would go wrong and I would think, maybe my plans fall through because of the divorce. The idea of a curse became a superstition with me.

God sent me back to the Bible to see that there was no verse that said for some sins God punishes continually even if I repent. Then I found a humorous coupon that author Steve Brown has on his website: A certificate entitling the bearer to three free sins. Laughing, I immediately knew what I wanted my first free sin to be. Then I began to see his point: because of the blood of Jesus, I don’t need a coupon to be free from the consequences of three sins. I have been freed from the consequences of all the sins I have been mourning.

“Then I acknowledged my sin to You and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord’ – and You forgave the guilt of my sin.” – Psalm 32:5

Moreover, I am not cursed, but blessed:

“Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord does not count against him and in whose spirit is no deceit.” – Psalm 32: 1 & 2

PRAYER:

When I prayed for the financial help I desperately needed, I called on God in the brokenness of my situation, not awash with the guilt of my past. I could not fix it. Only He could.

“The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, You will not despise.” – Psalm 51:17

This was a huge difference in my attitude in prayer. Because of what had been lifted from me in “BEFORE”, now I believed God had forgiven me and He would be willing to bless me again. Sometimes I got anxious, sometimes I cried, but I kept turning to the hope that God would bring the answer.

“My soul, wait thou only upon God; for my expectation is from Him.” – Psalm 62:5, KJV

AFTER:

My great friend Michelle called me seven days later. She had heard from an old friend she hadn’t seen in years. The woman wanted to know if she knew people who needed a job, who were worried that they would lose their home. She wanted to hire some people and give them professional training in her trade.

This certainly seemed to fit a lot of my prayer requests. I was someone who needed a job and whose house was on the line. The offer came through a friend rather than the route of a want ad or resume, where I couldn’t compete. The education was going to be one on one, where skills can be “caught” rather than taught. This was the way I learned music and is my favorite method of learning. I could work hours that accommodated my daughter’s transportation needs for school. As I became skilled, I could earn a substantial portion of my budget this way.

You might be expecting me to say that I then wrestled to determine the Lord’s will. And you might be surprised to learn that I can’t say I did. I have done that in years past. Instead, this is the attitude I took: I prayed, something that held answers to my particular requests appeared, I will thank God for it, and I am going through the open door to see what God does here.

Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.” – Isaiah 30:21

Either 1) This is the way God has for me to ease the financial burden; or 2) I will see God teaching me something here, but in time leading me to something else.

Am I cut out for this new endeavor? We will have to wait and see!

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