Friday, November 28, 2014

What Will You Do With God At Your Feet?

"Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him." -  John 13:3-5

The scene was like none other in history.  The Almighty God, the Father, the Creator of heaven and earth, who had come in human flesh to live among men and reconcile the world unto Himself possessing all the power and authority of Deity and worthiness of honor and praise was now stripped of His formal robe, wrapped in a towel and washing the dirt from His Disciples' feet.  It is little wonder that such an extraordinary circumstance would be met by a certain degree of apprehension and, as usual, Simon Peter was the first to voice his feelings on the matter.  

"Lord," Peter asked, "do you wash my feet?"

Jesus answered, "Peter, you don't understand what I'm doing now but you will understand later."  

"You will never wash my feet," Peter replied sharply.  

Lest Peter should be judged too harshly, consider the context of his mindset.  For all of his faults, it would appear that Peter's understanding of the Divine nature of Christ was as solid as any of the Disciples.  "You are the Christ," he would declare on one occasion, "the Son of the Living God."  It is no coincidence that the Apostle John would frame this occasion with the fact that Jesus, as the Son of God, had received all things from the Father, was from God and was returning to that station.  Knowing the identity of the One who was engaging in the menial task of washing feet, Peter's objection was quite natural.  Why would any worshiper allow God to perform a servile act of humility and obeisance and wash their feet?  Peter was in an understandably uncomfortable position.  

This incident should serve to teach us an interesting insight into the nature of God in His relationship with His Disciples.  It is sometimes the earnest desire of God to put us into uncomfortable positions and unconventional circumstances so that we might learn something about Him and about ourselves.  For Peter, the lesson was one in servitude, humility and redemption.  For us it may be a number of things.  But it is very safe to say that God would not place us in a position intended to do us harm.  If the will of God brings a Disciple to a certain place, he may rest assured that there is a benefit to be enjoyed in the end.  

Peter's objection was met by Christ's logic.  "You don't understand what I am doing now but you will understand later."  This is the remarkable promise of God in the midst of otherwise inexplicable circumstances.  The peace of God that passes all understanding comes with the ability of the Disciple to rest in the omniscience of his Lord.  In other words, there is no need to worry about that which God already knows.  One should simply trust Him.  In doing so discomfort will be a frequent companion, many protests will be made and even more will be considered but not voiced.  These are natural reactions.  Consider what degree of protest a piece of coal could make from the pressure of the process of being transformed into a diamond.  

How have you responded in these situations?  Have you looked down and found God kneeling at your feet with a basin of water putting you into an unforeseen discomfort?  Is your God sovereign enough in your life to do so without protest?  If not, are you willing to accept that your Lord knows what is best for you and wouldn't discomfort you without a good reason?  Would you leave your feet in the water long enough for Christ to wash you by the regenerative properties of trial and testing?  

There is no place God would take us lest it be for our own good.  Saying so is one thing, believing it another and accepting it joyfully yet another.  Christ was undeterred by Peter's protesting.  The Lord gave Peter a simple explanation of man's limited knowledge in regard to God's view of the larger picture and how the piece fits with the whole.  Peter protested still.  Christ patiently reasoned again.  Peter relented.  What a loving Saviour.  What will you do with God at your feet?  He's there for a purpose.  Allow Him to take your feet in His hands and watch revelations begin to be disclosed as He washes away the dust of the journey and prepares you for your future.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

A Day Without Morning

"Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning." - Psalm 30:5 (ESV)

All too well I remember when evening came.  It was at a time in my life when many things were transitioning.  Many would have considered it living the dream.  I was under appointment as a Missionary with an internationally recognized and reputable body of Apostolic ministers after having already spent time in Mexico assisting a missionary work and attending language school.  Traveling from state to state on deputation afforded the opportunity of seeing sights many have only read about in books or seen in pictures.  Thousands of miles later, things were not as dreamy as they had started out to be.

A great deal of anxiety came because of financial hardships.  These were exacerbated by rumors that turned into facts.  I had become the object of ridicule and sharp criticism by a number of Pastors and Ministers for some stands that I had taken in defense of what I believed to be right.  One such stand, in the cause of defending Home Missionaries, cost a substantial percentage of financial support and awarded me with phone calls wanting to know the private conversations between myself and host Pastors along the way.  In short, the tide had turned and a choice had to be made.

The choice became clear when God opened the door to a different avenue by which to obey the call of God on my life and, after almost a decade of fellowship, I withdrew from the organization.  But the period brought about a dramatic change in me as an individual.  Having now seen firsthand what betrayal, false friendship and insincerity among the ministry could lead to, these compounded with my preexisting feelings of worthlessness that I had struggled with my entire life and formed a perfect but disastrous storm.  Nothing I had done was good enough for me or anyone else.  Now, even when doing what I knew to be right, it was still not good enough.  When I was born I was an inconvenience to my mother.  When she died I felt like I became an inconvenience to my grandmother.  As an adult I lived with the feeling of being an inconvenience to everyone who knew me.

The evening turned to night and I slipped into depression.  No, I was not demon possessed.  No, I was not backslidden.  No, I was not walking in sin.  I was simply depressed.  Life, by my own permission, had thrown a saddle on my back and was ridding me mercilessly and I couldn't throw it off.  The world was a very dark place and remained that way for the better part of a year.  No one will ever convince me that the darkness was brought on because of a spiritual problem or demonic oppression.  Life just happened.  What happened afterward was that, once the depression sat in, I became susceptible to greater spiritual attack.  Everything I had tried to do for God and His Kingdom now looked like total failure and waste.   My investments in life appeared to be pointless.

I learned, in that time of deep depression, that it is not something you can simply "get over" or "pray through" in one church service.  It is a fight that must be fought every hour of every day until you finally pull out of it.  You are foolish to think it will simply disappear overnight.  Perhaps it will for some but, for most, it is not so.  There were days when I thought I was on top of the world only to fall back in the pit after a few hours.  Being patient with myself was another problem.  With many people telling me, "You've just got to make yourself feel better," it made me begin to doubt my own sanity.  Did people really believe that I wanted to feel like I was better off dead?

The daily fight lasted almost a full year.  At long last small beams of daylight began to shine through.  Could it really be that the worst was over?  No.  The night was just beginning.  My world would be rocked once again by the worst pain imaginable at that stage in life.  Infidelity entered my home and destroyed my marriage.  I was now faced with the second wave of darkness which I had no way of foreseeing and no idea how to overcome.  Now, having spent six years of my life working in Foreign Missions, I was faced with the reality that my ministry might be over because of a decision made by an unfaithful spouse.

What I thought was depression before was nothing akin to what I would soon suffer.  Not only did I feel like I was better off dead but, at times, suicide seemed like a reasonable and logical next step.  The blessing of a group of people coming under me and refusing to allow me to sink was invaluable but still did not drive away the darkness.  It was comforting to have people willing to keep their hand beneath my head to keep me from drowning, but that was an unsustainable dynamic.  Eventually I had to decide if I wanted to live or die and act relentlessly on one of those two alternatives.  I chose to live.  What that looked like was not clear but the determination was made: I will live while I am alive.  A switch flipped in my mind and I have not looked back since.  The key to overcoming depression is not God; it is you.  You will make the ultimate decision of whether or not you recover.  Once you chose to live, then God can help you.

I cannot say that every day since reaching that point of decision has been easy.  There are still days when I wonder why God wasted His time on a miserable individual like me.  But I have learned to embrace the words of Christ to the Apostle Paul, "My grace is sufficient for you" (2 Corinthians 12:9).  This does not mean that I have decided to live whatever life I choose regardless of the Word of God because I am trusting in the grace of Christ to overlook blatant errors.  Rather, I am content to walk in the grace of God and strive to live in a manner pleasing to Him regardless of what that might look like to others.

Have you lived in a day without morning?  How did you feel when others couldn't relate to you?  How did you feel about yourself when told you could just "pray through" your feelings of depression and it didn't happen that way?  Did it effect your concept of God?  Did it cause you to doubt your salvation?  For me, the answers to these questions are somewhat painful.  When others couldn't relate they tended to become accusatory.  It was all my fault.  Well, that was what I had concluded already and, believe it or not, that observation didn't help.  When I didn't just "pray through" like I had been told was supposed to happen, I began to doubt my own salvation and think that, perhaps, God didn't love me anymore.  I never began to see God as cruel; only as somewhat passive and uncaring at the moment.

Yes, I continued to step into pulpits week after week.  Yes, I continued to see people come to salvation because of the preached Word.  Yes, I continued to see miracles worked at my hand.  Yes, I continued to pray, fast, follow my devotionals and all of the other trappings of Christian life.  When I thought I had fallen from grace entirely, it was then that grace was all that sustained me.  What I couldn't see was the hand of God behind the scenes working out His will and good pleasure in the midst of my storm.  I was out of control.  My life, however, was in God's hands because I had put it there by my own free will and chose to allow it to remain safely in His grasp.

Many people walk away from God when the sun doesn't rise just when they think it should.  Abandoning the Faith and casting off the Savior's Way is all too common when the night tarries and the morning does not come.  Hold on.  Don't give up.  I am still unsure of how the story will play out but I am content to keep turning the pages one by one as God writes the book of my life.  I have learned to be content allowing Him to hold the pen.  Has morning finally come to my life?  I'm not really sure.  But I think I see the sun rising in the east.  If not, by faith, I will see another morning someday soon.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

I Was Hurt...By The Ministry

"As she continued praying before the Lord, Eli observed her mouth.  Hannah was speaking in her heart; only her lips moved, and her voice was not heard.  Therefore Eli took her to be a drunken woman.  And Eli said to her, 'How long will you to on being drunk?  Put your wine away from you.'" - 1 Samuel 1:12-14

Hannah's is the heartbreaking story of a woman who desperately wanted to have a child.  No matter how her husband showered her with love and affection nothing could replace the deep longing in her heart.  It must have been terribly heartbreaking for her to watch happy mothers walking with their children, the sight of newborns held near to their mother's hearts and the daily buzz of youngsters at play in the streets around her house all the while thinking, "I will always be an observer; nothing more."  Hannah had reached a place of emotional distress akin to a nervous breakdown.

Very wisely, she ran to the House of God.   Falling to her knees exasperated by her anguish, the woman began to pray but words failed her.  Her lips were moving, her heart was screaming but the capacity to speak was stifled within her.  Seated nearby was Eli the Priest, a Man of God, who saw her actions and perceived them in a most curious way.  As he watched her mouth he drew the conclusion that this obstinate woman had come into the House of God in a state of drunkenness.  He arose, walked up to Hannah and rebuked her soundly.  And he was wrong.

Eli had made the ofttimes fatal mistake of assumption.  He looked at the evidence before him, misinterpreted it and reacted incorrectly.  Yet no one can question the fact that Eli was a Priest, a Man of God.  It is difficult to forget that Eli had great difficult with two rebellious and idolatrous sons who attempted to carry out their own priestly duties while in a state of sin and that he carried the weight of their actions most precariously.  But he was a Priest, a Man of God.  His was not the perfect life nor was his family the picture of spiritual fidelity.  He was a Man of God; a MAN of God.

Men of God are men and, as such, are not infallible.  It would be wonderful if a Pastor could stand and say, "I have always handled every situation correctly, treated everyone fairly and have never reacted incorrectly to anyone who God entrusted to my care."  Unfortunately, there is not a Pastor alive today nor has there ever been who could say so honestly.  Men of God are men.  Men make mistakes.  Men have misunderstandings.  Men misjudge, mishandle and, although having the best of intentions, might misspeak or mistreat.  Of course we hold Men of God to a higher standard than everyone else, but we must be fair and not expect them to be infallible.

Being hurt by the ministry is a great difficulty to overcome.  Part of that comes from the fact that we often look to the ministry as though they are never allowed to make an error in judgment.  It is unfair and unreasonable of us to put that yoke on the neck of a Man of God.  He is a man and men will fail.   We are not talking about Men of God who abuse their office and are obstinate or hurtful purposely because they feel their position entitles them to such a demeanor.  Rather, consider the plight of a Pastor who is doing everything in his power to carry out his calling according to the will of God and, in the process, makes a mistake.  Perhaps he makes several mistakes.  Perhaps he makes several mistakes in your regard.  That doesn't mean he is a bad man anymore than you making a mistake makes you a bad person.

UNINTENTIONAL ERRORS

How would you have felt had you been a desperate woman praying in church so fervently for a child that words just couldn't come out only to be faced by the Man of God and told, "Get up you pathetic drunk," when you knew he was wrong?  It was hurtful.  We probably wouldn't have reacted like Hannah did.  She explained herself and, in turn, received a blessing from Eli.  More than likely, we would have left in a huff, slung gravel against the side of the church building with our car as we sped out of the parking lot, slammed the door when we arrived home and then brooded over the event.  We would have talked about it with our friends, neighbors and other church people never thinking to take it to the Man of God who caused the offense.  This might satisfy our temporary angst but does absolutely nothing to bring about healing for our wounds.

So what should we do if we feel hurt by the ministry?

- Go back to the offending Brother.  Yes, "the offending Brother."  Although we are speaking about the ministry, that individual is your Brother.  A Man of God is still your Brother in Christ even though he has been entrusted with spiritual authority in the Church.  Obey Matthew 18:15.

- Give an honest assessment.  Have you ever done something unintentionally wrong to someone only to have them blow it far out of proportion?  It happens quite frequently.  Do not dress your offense in elaborate clothing.  Strip it down to basics and look at it honestly so that it may be dealt with in complete honesty.

- Accept an honest explanation.  Do not assume that you were hurt by the ministry because the ministry enjoys hurting people.  Such is simply not the case the majority of the time.  Instead, be willing to accept that a Man of God can make a mistake without that meaning he is a bad man just as you can make a mistake without that making you a bad person.

- Communicate with God and the ministry.  One would be foolish to believe that reconciliation is the end of a matter.  After an injury you will begin to, naturally, interpret future statements and actions through the lenses of your past experience.  Because of this, innocent actions may be misinterpreted.  Furthermore, there will be times when you will remember the past hurt and begin to give place to it all over again.  Bitterness is then only a step away.  In those times, have honest communication with God and with your Pastor and use that as a way to dig up the root of bitterness that may grow into a fatal fruit.

In a best case scenario and by following those steps, your Man of God will have the opportunity to respond as Eli did to Hannah; with a blessing.  Before you run away from the local Church, give your Pastor every opportunity to make right what may have been done wrong.

INTENTIONAL WRONGS

There are other hurts that come from the ministry which are far more severe.  These are when a Man of God turns into a monster.  Child molestation.  Adultery.  Lying.  Stealing.  These go beyond errors in judgment.  These are sins; crimes against people and against the holiness of God.  And while there is forgiveness for these sins, they all carry a heavy weight of punishment both by the law of the land and by the Word of God.  Many are disqualified from ministry because of their foolish and sinful actions.  We must be merciful but we must also not have so much pity as to ignore their acts and simply go on as though nothing has happened.

People's lives have been destroyed by monsters in pulpits.  These gross hypocrites have even used their positions to place others in victimizing positions.  What must be done to the Man of God so fallen from grace is a side issue.  But what about you who remain who have been affected by the actions of such a one?  As difficult as it might seem, the answer is the same as with unintentional errors although the methods are somewhat different.

- Go back to the offending Brother.  As difficult as it might be, there is a certain amount of healing which can take place when given the opportunity to forgive someone who has wronged you so deeply and despicably.  You are bound by the law of grace to forgive.  You are not, however, expected to forget.  The ability to forgive that individual is a gift of grace that must be sought in prayer.  You may not be able to do it right away but must work toward a place of forgiveness.  Again, forgiveness does not mean that you condone their actions nor that you will restore them to a "normal" place in your life.  It simply means that you have reconciled yourself to the fact that this individual has already hurt you enough and you will not allow a lack of forgiveness to send you to hell on their account.

- Give an honest assessment.  Do not exaggerate.  Do not give false witness.  Do not attempt to cover up.  Do not protect.  Do not defend.  Be honest.  When an intentional wrong of this nature has been done, come forward immediately.  But, whatever you do, speak the truth.  Do not lie.  Furthermore, be honest in seeking help and counsel in your recovery.  Do not be dishonest by saying you are alright when you are torn apart inside.  Get help.

- Accept an honest explanation.  This does not equal excusing the actions.  Deal honestly with the facts as they are presented to you.  Part of that honest explanation includes the fact that, just because THIS Man of God turned out to be a monster, not all Men of God are like him.  Trust will not come easily but you must find that place of trust in prayer.  You must accept honest answers to difficult questions even when those answers are hard to accept and possibly even hurtful.

- Communicate with God and the ministry.  Your prayer life will probably be hindered.  Be prepared.  You will find it difficult to face God because of the hurt that one of His representatives caused.  You must accept that it is not God's fault that a man transformed into personified evil.  God must be exonerated before He can begin to heal you.  Once you realize He is not culpable, you can begin to overcome.  This comes only by open and honest communication with God.  Furthermore, you must find ministry you can trust to aid you in your recovery.  It will be hard to accept and even harder to do, but you can find a Man of God who is trustworthy.  They are not all the same.  There are Men of God who will love you and help you through the process of healing.

IN CONCLUSION 

In a perfect world no one would ever be able to say, "I was hurt by the ministry."  We do not live in a perfect world.  We must learn how to live in a world of imperfection.  In doing so, it must be remembered that men are not gods, promises are only as good as the ones who make them and pain is an unavoidable part of life.  When we are the victims of an unintentional error we must be willing to reconcile.  And when victimized by those committing intentional wrongs we must be willing to be healed.  If you have never been hurt by the ministry, you should be aware that such a hurt will probably come.  Very few Saints of God, or other Ministers for that fact, can boast of having never been injured at the hands of the ministry.  This doesn't negate the ministry in the least.

We must press on through injuries and learn to respond to them properly.  In the end, the most important thing in our lives is not whether or not we made it through life unscathed but whether or not we made it to the end with our salvation.  Salvation involves overcoming.  Purpose in your heart to be an overcomer.  You are not in error to feel hurt at times.  We all will feel that way eventually.  You are only in error when you refuse to allow yourself to be healed.

"If you seek the physician's help, you must uncover the wound." - Boethius