Being Snooty And Smug

I just got home from a business vacation with Cynthia. We went to a big city for a convention I had to attend. We spent a lot of time out shopping and having a good time.

It’s been a while since I visited a big city. This one is one of the largest cities in the United States and we had a blast.

We saw a decent number of homeless people and, of course, I had forgotten how insensitive I was in my thinking toward the homeless. We walked past them with shopping bags and food and I ignored them. Cynthia showed empathy several times but I was just hard of heart toward them most of the time.

We kept shopping – mostly for her – and she asked, “Is there anything you want?”

I said, “I really would like a pair of nice boxers to sleep in (too much info?)”

So we set out to find some nice boxers. We looked for a while and were sent down the street to some huge multi-level men’s store I’d never heard of.

We walked into the plush lobby and I should have walked out the second we walked in.

All of the sales associates were wearing suits. It looked like a grand cathedral. There were suits from wall to wall and most of them looked like they would set me back a month’s salary. But, I was on vacation and trudged ahead.

The guy in the suit who met us asked what we were looking for and sent us up the elevator to the second floor. More suits there. More sales associates in suits. And when we got off the elevator, everyone stopped and stared at us.

Now, listen. We were dressed casually. I was wearing khakis and nice shoes, and an American Eagle shirt. Cynthia was wearing a nice shirt and khakis. But we weren’t dressed like them.

A man stopped us and said, “Are you looking for someone?” Yeah. Not, “Can I help you?”

His question was meant to say, “You have no right to be here. You have no right to shop here. You can’t afford this place so leave now.”

But I’m too stupid to stop when I’m offended. I wanted to say, “Yeah, I’m looking for your sense of humor.” But I didn’t. I told him I was looking for boxers. He sent me toward a lady who led me over to a corner of the store.

She kept looking me up and down like I had leprosy. She wouldn’t let me touch the boxers. It was like I had a disease. I was lower class to them. I just said, “You know what? Don’t worry about it. I don’t see anything I like.”

We left. I was irritated.

I had some time to reflect on it for a while. Why was I so irritated? Because these people were middle-class, most likely, like me. And they weren’t any better than me. They waited on high class people, but they got snooty because I wasn’t good enough for them to wait on. It was about what “class I was in.” How dare they!

Oh, snap. Wait a second, I thought.

How had I been thinking about the homeless people earlier? I had seen them as below me and had been hard-hearted in my thinking toward them because of their “class.” Well, crud. I wasn’t any better than the people in the men’s store.

Let’s go a step further.

How about my post the other day about the SBC? Some took it the wrong way, I think. I’m not blaming the SBC for my fall. My point was that the resolution they voted on will really do no good in the end. However, the people that make up the SBC and the committees are just people. And if I’m wrong, it will be because I judge the people, not the group.

How about this? What about when people walk into our churches and they look a little different? They don’t act like us? They don’t fit into the cliques we’ve formed? What would your church do if an alcoholic showed up? What would your church do if a man fresh out of prison showed up? How would you feel? (I hope you would respond positively in all those situations – and many of you would.) But unfortunately, many don’t. And that’s about class – that’s about our snootiness and smugness.

Guess what? From members of the SBC, to those of us in church, to the people in the men’s store, to the homeless, we’re all human. Strip us all down to our boxers, and we’re just a bunch of vulnerable people in need of God’s love and mutual human understanding. But with our protective shields of piety and smugness on, we judge and look down on others. And that’s not how it’s intended to be. I’m guilty.

It’s innate in all of us and it needs to be fought against. And I was reminded of that when I wasn’t good enough to buy a pair of underwear this week.

Great Article For Helping Your Pastor

Found this article by Thom Rainer about how to help your pastor. Great read.

Hope church members will take it to heart.

When To Confront From The Pulpit

Just a disclaimer – I’ve done what I’m about to complain about. And I was wrong to do it. In fact, it grieves me that I did it. I learned from it when I did it and hope that others won’t make the same mistake.

So what exactly am I going on about?

In the past two weeks, I’ve heard about pastors who have heard there was adultery occurring in their church; instead of dealing with it in biblical fashion, or talking to those involved, they addressed the individuals from the pulpit. Once, it was done directly, and once it was done in a roundabout way so that everyone in the congregation knew who the pastor was talking about, but he didn’t mention any names.

Before I start making points, I’ll tell you about the 50 or so times I did it. I was arrogant. I thought I had the black and white truth and biblical authority to lash out against people. I thought the pulpit was my right to say what I wanted, when I wanted. Uh uh. Doesn’t work that way.

I’d hear about someone living together, having an argument with another church member, being stupid inside a committee meeting, or whatever, and I’d make a whole sermon point about it. I wouldn’t mention a name, of course, but I’d make sure they’d hear my point.

On one occasion, after the music director left after the deacon controversy, I preached a whole sermon out of anger. It was basically a “don’t let the door hit you where the good Lord split you” sermon. It wasn’t right and it wasn’t well received.

You know why it wasn’t right? First, because I was angry. Secondly, because if I had a problem, I needed to deal with it in private with the people I had a problem with. I used a bully pulpit to make a point to people and stirred the pot. I was airing dirty laundry that was personal business and I had no right to do it.

Does the pastor have the right to preach on adultery, anger, gambling, etc.? Absolutely. But in the course of normal preaching. Not when we’re using another person to make a point. Not when we’re showering down the Word of God on someone to lash out on them instead of going to them first.

It’s the misappropriation of the pastoral office, plain and simple. It’s the abuse of the Word and the pulpit. And it does harm to the congregation and those who have sinned. It doesn’t make the situation better, it makes it much worse.

You know what to confront from the pulpit? The enemy. Other church members are not our enemy. If a church member sins, we seek them out and restore them, plain and simple. If they don’t want restoration, we grieve the loss and pray for them wholeheartedly. We tell the church to pray for them.

But we never, ever air their dirty laundry. Because we might just find ourselves in their position one day. God help us all when we do.

Great Is Your Faithfulness

I didn’t put the video together and don’t care for some of the images. I love the song though.

Even The Agnostic Gets It

I’ve been in counseling for about five months. I take that back. I’ve been in counseling since college on and off. But recently, since my fall, I’ve been in counseling for five months. It’s been very productive.

If you’ve read my blog, you can tell I have a bunch of mixed emotions. Anger, unforgiveness, despair, depression, anxiety, and whatever the heck else is swimming around in my mind.

My current counselor, Ivan, has been wonderful. He’s helped me a lot. He told me he was an agnostic, but that hasn’t hindered the counseling process. He has seen a lot of pastors and sympathizes with my plight. We’ve made a lot of headway. Especially yesterday.

I’m still hurt and angry with what happened at Angel Falls Baptist and the way everything turned out. Let me explain. Yeah, I committed adultery. I hurt those people. But some part of me wants them to seek me out – not all of them – but the ones who said they loved me and cared about me. I want them to seek me out and let me know they forgive me.

I sent out a letter to the congregation about two months ago. Only one couple responded. I told the church I was sorry I let them down. I let them know I had no excuse for what I did. I’ve had plenty of people tell me that it takes time for people to forgive.

Angelica has forgiven me. I’ve blogged about people “forgiving in their heart.” I wrote the head deacon a special letter and let him know that he had a particular responsibility to seek me out. No response. I laid all of this at the feet of Ivan yesterday.

I told him that it made me angry and hurt that I spent all those years pouring my life into those people and that they could be so angry at me. I had received angry text messages, emails, and Facebook messages from them. I told him that it really came to a head in the past couple of weeks because Lydia wasn’t invited to attend the AFBC VBS. (She is still related to about half the congregation there). If Cynthia had cheated with a plumber or electrician, the people at AFBC wouldn’t have batted an eye. But since she cheated with me, they were angry and unforgiving.

I told him with great emotion that it was a horrible double standard. That the church shoots their wounded pastors and leaves them for dead.

He looked at me and said, “Did it ever occur to you that you loved them more than they ever loved you?”

I was shocked for a second, then my shock turned to hurt. “I guess that’s possible.” I didn’t want to think about it, but it started to make sense.

Ivan continued, “What do true friends do when their friends make mistakes like you made?”

I said, “They love them and look past their mistakes. Like my friends at my secular work. They didn’t bat an eye. They just loved me regardless. They looked past what I did and moved on. Even the two pastor friends I had and the couple in church who still loves me – they didn’t hesitate.”

He sat in silence for a moment and said, “Is it possible that they never really bonded with you?”

Wow. Then I said, “That makes sense to me. That would explain why in almost a decade of ministry there, I was only invited to eat in someone’s home only twice. I was only asked out to eat after church only twice. They were a tight knit group. I felt like a hired hand most of the time.”

He said, “What does it take to bond or start a friendship with someone?”

I said, “You have to open up and be yourself, you have to let someone in, you have to spend time with that person.”

He said, “Exactly. Did they ever try to reach out to you like that?”

I was getting irritated, “No. But Lord, you would think after a decade of doing their loved one’s funerals, their kid’s weddings, baptizing their grandchildren, going to their bedsides when they were sick, and God knows what that they would love me.”

He said, “No, not necessarily. Like you said, you were a hired hand. They didn’t place the same importance on the relationship that you did.”

I was becoming broken in this conversation and he could see it. Then he asked, “Help me understand something. You have told me before how judgmental you were before your fall. How would you have responded if someone you knew had fallen before this had happened?”

I said, “Harshly. But it depends on who it was. There are some who are close to me that I would have gone to battle for. But most I would have been harsh on. It was all black and white for me.”

He said, “I don’t understand that. Everyone makes mistakes. We’re all human and we have no right to judge another, do we?”

I said, “I know that now. I was wrong to do it, but I thought I was right and I did it anyway.”

He looked curious and wanted to know more. “So how is it that the church can treat you like this? It’s supposed to be a place where – if I understand what little I know of Christ’s teachings – where people are supposed to be loved for who they are, right? Weren’t sinners the ones who Christ came after? Weren’t they the ones he would have welcomed?”

Lord, I thought. The agnostic gets it, but the vast freaking majority of Christianity doesn’t get it. The church doesn’t get it.

I said, “You’re exactly right. And I’ll explain it to you. The harsh reality. And it’s horrible. If you are a drunk, an adulterer, a drug abuser or a vile sinner then you get ‘saved’, then the church welcomes you with open arms. They love the fact that you have a testimony. You’re like a trophy in the case.”

I continued. “But if you’re a saved Christian in the pew, already a member, and you sin – you commit adultery, use drugs, get caught with a DUI, sin in any way publicly, then you become an outcast. You’re a shame to the church. And they don’t want you anymore.”

He was leaning on my every word. He was fascinated and shaking his head at this point because he knew it was true.

“And the church doesn’t want you so they kick you out. You know why? Because other churches look at that church and say, ‘Is that man/woman still going there? I can’t believe they tolerate that kind of sin!’ It’s a blight on that church. It becomes a shame on that church. It’s not church discipline. It’s not what Christ wanted and it’s not biblical.”

He responded, “But that goes against what people who preach the Gospel believe, doesn’t it?”

Again, the agnostic gets it. And Christians don’t. We should be ashamed. And he wasn’t taunting. He wasn’t rubbing it in. We was observing. And he was right.

That’s when he turned it back on me.

“What do you want?” he asked.

“I really want the people at Angel Falls to treat me like they did before . . .” I trailed off. I realized the implications of what I was saying.

Before my fall I had been miserable. I was unhappy in that church. We had crisis after crisis. A lot of the people had been complaining about whatever they could find to complain about. Everyone was nitpicking the current situation. Frowns everywhere. I didn’t really want them to treat me like they did before. They were unhappy before my fall. And I told Ivan that.

He said, “See? They weren’t happy before. They never bonded with you. They weren’t your friends.”

I said, “But they have gossiped so much about what happened after my fall. They have so much misinformation. I want to stand in front of them and tell them the facts.” I paused. “But I know what you’re going to say. Showing them the facts won’t change their mind about how they feel about the situation.”

“Exactly,” he said. “It’s like conspiracy theorists. People who don’t think Obama was born in the United States. You could show them a birth certificate and they would still say, ‘Doesn’t matter, it’s fake.'”

He paused for about twenty seconds then said, “What do you have to do, then in dealing with these people? What have you learned about yourself? Some people are built to carry a heavier load than others, and you are one of them. You are able to forgive now better than others. They are not. You’ve been able to understand things better because of your experience. So what do you need to do?”

I kinda knew what he was looking for, but not really. I said, “Put things behind me? Move toward the future?”

He let me sit in silence for about a minute. A very long minute.

Then he said, “You have to accept them as they are.”

Well, crud. He was right. Then he said, “They can’t carry the same load you can. They don’t have the same life experience you have. They haven’t come to the same point in life and don’t have the same understanding you have. You have to be patient with them. You have to love and accept them as they are.”

I broke down. I said, “You’re right, and that’s biblical. It makes me think of Christ. And don’t hear me comparing myself to Christ, because I’m definitely not.”

He said, “I don’t.”

I said, “But Christ came to save people and they hated him for it. And on the cross, do you know what he said? He said, ‘Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.'”

He said, “Yes! I do remember that!”

That’s called a breakthrough counseling moment.

I can’t blame my counselor for believing in a God but not knowing who he is exactly. Especially when he can walk into a church and see such hypocrisy. I see the same thing. But I believe in a risen Christ. And some days, that’s all that gets me through. How can we continue in unforgiveness and shunning our own the way we do and claim to love a Christ who loved all repentant sinners? How can we sit on our rear ends and know that there are people who have left our churches when we should be pursuing them as Christ did?

We should be ashamed when an agnostic understands the gospel better than we do.

Forgiveness And Frustration

I had an interesting conversation today with someone who had visited Angel Falls Baptist Church before once or twice and knows a lot of people there. She also knows Cynthia and I well.

We had a great talk about what “could have happened”.

It was all hypothetical. By the way, I hate hypothetical. I could toss hypothetical out the door the second it gets birthed. But we talked about it anyway.

Know why I hate hypothetical? Because it didn’t happen. It’s not reality. Sure, it could have happened, but it didn’t. Deal with reality. Sure, I could have stayed with Angelica, but I didn’t. Sure, I could have resisted temptation, but I didn’t. I could have seen a real marriage counselor, but I didn’t. Sure, I could have healed the eight years of marriage problems that we had, but I didn’t. Hypothetical issues and problems are stupid. That’s why I can’t watch the History Channel. That’s why I can’t watch programs where they ask, “What if this would have happened.” Who cares? It didn’t happen. Deal with it. We live with reality.

Anyway, I did deal with hypotheticals tonight. And I did so with grace.

This person who visited Angel Falls asked me several questions had some real points that made some sense to me.

Cynthia could have run off with a plumber or an electrician or a lawyer after she kicked Barry out of the house after he had been unfaithful to her. You know what? The people of Angel Falls probably would have welcomed her back with opened arms after that. They would have understood her plight and seen that he was unfaithful and was being an idiot. They would have seen that he was a moron and was a terrible husband.

But no.

She slept with the pastor.

She was unfaithful with Angelica’s husband. The pastor’s wife. That was inexcusable. That, to Southern Baptist folk, is the unforgivable sin.

After she did that, she was shunned.

I received the worst of it and I planned it that way. I received their hatred. I wanted it that way. I didn’t want her to get it. I wanted all the anger and hatred of the church to be pointed toward me and not toward her. They texted me, Facebooked me, emailed me and Lord knows what else they did to me. I got it all.

She got a bit. What she got was a few texts that asked her to repent of her adultery. That was it.

Where was the forgiveness? If she had committed adultery with the local plumber she would have been welcomed back into the congregation. But no, she had committed adultery with the pastor, she was shunned.

The problem this person I was talking with came to a head because we were talking about Cythia’s daugher, Lydia. She had been invited to a local Vacation Bible School – not at Angel Falls Baptist, but somewhere else. She had already been told by the head deacon, Phillip Townsend, that she wasn’t welcome back there.

If Cynthia had committed adultery with the local architect, then Lydia would have been fine to come back to VBS at AFBC. But since she had been with me, then she was shunned. All bets were off.

Does this not seem like a double standard? Forgiveness only seems to go so far. It only reaches so far for most people. It reaches out for the average Joe but not for the pastor in the pulpit or for the Hester Prynne who he consummates with.

Should I have been held to a higher standard than the local plumber? Yes. But does that mean that the local church member should forgive me any less? No. Does that mean that the local church member should treat Lydia different? No.

"I’ve Forgiven Them In My Heart"

I want to write about a statement that really, really bothers me. “I’ve forgiven ‘so and so’ in my heart.”

I have heard this sentiment over and over for many years. I understand what it means. Usually, it means, “I say I forgive them, but I never really want to tell them I forgive them.”

Is this true, biblical forgiveness? Does Jesus ever tell us that we can “forgive someone in our heart” then never tell them that we’ve forgiven them?

No.

Now, I’ll grant that there are times that we need to give forgiveness and that full reconciliation is not going to happen. I get that. That’s not what I’m even talking about.

I’m talking about John Churchgoer who doesn’t want to be a man and face the person who has wronged him and say, “I forgive you.” He doesn’t want to accept the apology or repentance of the person who is offering it. He doesn’t want to look that person in the eye ever again, as is required by Scripture. He just wants an “out”.

So he says, “I forgive him in my heart.”

Where did this horrible phrase ever come from? Is this an American church thing? It needs to be preached against. It needs to be spoken out against. It needs to be stricken from our vocabulary.

Forgiveness needs to be real and honest. It doesn’t need to be silent. It’s either real or not. It’s either genuine and seeking toward reconciliation or it’s not.

Forgiveness: Who’s Saying What?, Part 2

In my last blog, I started an article review about forgiveness and I started with secular ideas about forgiveness. Now I’d like to look at a smattering of articles from Christian writers. Please take the time to read the last blog post before reading this one.

John MacArthur, in a sermon on forgiveness states that it is vital to the Christian life to forgive. His definition is pretty good: Forgiveness is a marvelous thing. Forgiveness is a promise. Forgiveness is a pledge. Forgiveness is a statement of undeserved, unearned love that says no matter what you’ve done there is no anger, no matter what you’ve done there is no hatred, no matter what you’ve done there is no desire for vengeance, no matter what you’ve done there will never be any retaliation. I pass by that transgression completely. I do not hold you guilty. I do not blame you. I feel no self-pity for myself because I’ve been offended, rather I pass by that transgression completely and extend my love to you fully. That’s forgiveness and that’s godlike.

He also remarks something I’ve been echoing in my own mind: I’ll tell you something as a pastor. I grieve deeply over people who carry bitternesses. It is so ungodlike. It is so unlike the character of Jesus Christ. I grieve over people who think they have to retaliate for every wrong that was rendered against them. Somehow they’ve got to get their pound of flesh. Somehow they have to react back to preserve their ego and their pride, they become divisive.

He repeats again a helpful statement: Never are you more like God than when you forgive. Very much agreed. To withhold forgiveness is a very unChristlike thing.

Also helpful is Christian counseling guru Jay Adams‘ writing on the subject. He’s written a lot on the subject, and Brenton Ferry sums up Adams’ take on forgiveness well in an online article. Adams’ states that we should not forgive until someone repents because that is how God forgives in Scripture. Adams’ sees forgiveness as a process that should be gone through instead of a feeling. He states that forgiveness is not the ignoring of sin but it deals with the offense of sin.

Another interesting article I found that echoed some of Adams’ thoughts was by Edward Mrkvicka called, “Christian Forgiveness: It’s Not What You Think.” In it, he stated that Christian forgiveness is different from secular forgiveness because it comes at a price. Repentance and recognition of sin is necessary to move toward forgiveness and a simple, “I’m sorry” just won’t cut it.

Here’s a helpful site with just about every quote from the New Testament on forgiveness. Here’s a good site on forgiveness as well.

After looking at the secular and sacred on forgiveness, I found it interesting that both were headed in the same direction. Both state that forgiveness does not overlook the trespass. Both state that hurt may last for a long time. And both state that there is great benefit in forgiveness.

I found it interesting that a few of the Christian sites (some that I listed, some that I didn’t) perpetrated a false view of secular forgiveness. I think there are false forms of forgiveness out there (and there is some in the church as well), but for the most part, the right form of forgiveness is taking place in the world.

I would even venture to say that many non-Christians know how to forgive better than a lot of Christians.

Forgiveness: Who’s Saying What?, Part 1

Before delving into this topic Scripturally and personally, I wanted to look around and see what other people had to say on the topic.

Some might think this is useless, but it’s not. There’s the famous Augustine quote about all truth being God’s truth. Since it gets taken out of context, here’s the whole thing: “A person who is a good and true Christian should realize that truth belongs to his Lord, wherever it is found, gathering and acknowledging it even in pagan literature, but rejecting superstitious vanities and deploring and avoiding those who ‘though they knew God did not glorify him as God…’

So, for this post, I’d like to look at a few articles I found online from secular sources about forgiveness. Some you might agree with, some you might not. Some of it comes from good sources, some from people who are just sharing their opinion. Either way, there’s some interesting stuff out there.

The first comes from the Mayo Clinic, written by Katherine Piderman, titled, “Forgiveness, Letting go of grudges and bitterness.” She makes the point that unless we let go of grudges, we might pay the price with our health. Forgiveness doesn’t mean we condone what the other person did, but defines it as “a decision to let go of resentment and thoughts of revenge.”

She states that even if we forgive, we will likely feel the hurt for the rest of our lives, but we will have the peace of forgiveness. She states several benefits of forgiveness including spiritual well-being, lower blood pressure, and lowered anxiety. It answers several questions that the reader might find helpful including how to forgive and topics on reconciliation.

For some reason, Lance Armstrong’s foundation, Livestrong has a whole page dedicated to forgiveness. Not bad stuff, either. It’s a pretty good overview and laundry list for the topic. It has a pretty good discussion of the difference between forgiving and forgetting including this quote: Forgiving is allowing another person to be human for faults, mistakes or misdeeds. Forgetting is putting these behind you; they are no longer brought up and no longer remain a barrier to your relationship.

It discusses the negative aspects of holding onto bitterness as well of the signs that a person is being unforgiving. The most practical aspect is the section on how to forgive, step by step.

Cultivate Life Magazine, which looks like an emagazine, gives us a pretty helpful article written by Lori Radun called, “Forgiveness – Breaking the Cycle of Resentment.” It’s filled with a bunch of helpful quotes and is very well written. It is written by a woman who has tremendous experience with forgiveness and understands the need for it first hand. I encourage you to read her article just to read her personal story. Here are a few quotes from the article:

  • Forgiveness is something virtually all Americans aspire to – 94% surveyed in a nationwide Gallup poll said it was important to forgive. In the same survey; only 48% said they usually tried to forgive others.
  • Forgiveness is a necessary step to healing from pain. It is a choice to extend mercy to the person who hurt you. Sometimes forgiveness allows you to move forward with the other person and experience a new relationship. Other times, reconciliation is not possible. In this case, forgiveness is more for you and your own personal growth.
  • You might be saying, “But you don’t understand what’s been done to me.” And you’re right; I don’t know all the hurts you’ve endured. However, I know from experience that it pays to forgive. Forgiveness is a sign of strength – not weakness. It is the strong who can put aside the past and let go of anger and resentment.
  • Forgiveness does not mean you allow people to treat you badly. It does not mean you ignore the wrongdoings. It means you accept that the person has made a mistake, and you are choosing to grant them mercy. When you forgive someone, you won’t necessarily forget the hurt.
  • Forgiveness does not mean you are condoning or excusing the person’s behavior. And it doesn’t mean you have to trust that person again. Some acts, like physical and sexual abuse, require that you limit your trust or at least test the trust with the person who hurt you. Remember, forgiveness is more for you than the other person.

She does a good job giving tips on how to forgive. Great article on forgiveness by someone who has been there and lived it.

Found an article in a newsletter by Diane Anderson Counseling. It touched on a topic that needs to be addressed more. It’s in a section called, “Cheap forgiveness devalues.” It makes some great points. Cheap forgiveness is basically given when someone says, “I forgive you” before thinking through how they were violated and how the violation might effect them long term. It is pointless to give out cheap forgiveness because it’s not real and not from the heart. This one is definitely worth reading.

Most of the time I’ll spend on the topic of forgiveness will deal with those who need to forgive those who have sinned. However, I did come across an interesting article aimed at those who have committed adultery. It talks about how to forgive yourself after causing pain to your former spouse and children. Great article on the topic. It’s a rarity to see someone reach out to those who have sinned. It’s called, “Happiness After Infidelity,” by Suzie Johnson – give it a read.

Next time, I’ll look at Christian articles and possibly compare and contrast them with the secular articles. If you know of any online helps, sermons, or good reads regarding forgiveness, please let me know in the comments section.

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