Pain floods my heart often. Ministry can open your eyes to the true horrors of the fallen world around us. I ask the intern, “What’s the best part of ministry so far to you?”
“People…” he says.
“And the worst?”
“The hours…” he mumbles. My answer? People. People are both the best and the worst part of ministry. And what’s worse… is being around and knowing people’s hidden secrets and then realizing how horrible of a person I am without Christ too… again. And again… and again…
I realize that some women in the church would be a better pastor’s wife. A better mother to my kids. A better bible study leader. And a better woman. Hands down. But then I read something in my husband’s upcoming sermon. And shame floods me. I realize… this… this scripture is what it all comes down to in regards to life in ministry.
Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry. Human anger does not produce the righteousness God desires. So get rid of all the filth and evil in your lives, and humbly accept the word God has planted in your hearts, for it has the power to save your souls.
But don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves. For if you listen to the word and don’t obey, it is like glancing at your face in a mirror. You see yourself, walk away, and forget what you look like. But if you look carefully into the perfect law that sets you free, and if you do what it says and don’t forget what you heard, then God will bless you for doing it.
If you claim to be religious but don’t control your tongue, you are fooling yourself, and your religion is worthless. Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you.
So… here’s the deal.
Am I listening without always having to speak back?
Am I processing my answers before I quickly fire back?
Am I slow to get angry or am I jumping into drama full-force?
Am I listening to God’s Word in regards to my life?
But not just that… am I listening to His Word and then DOING IT?
Or am I just listening… whether it’s during the sermon or my personal study time… and then I close the Bible, sigh with happiness and just walk away?
We cannot… whether we are in ministry or just attend church… cannot just let it go in one ear and out the other. We cannot. It’s got to stick. Otherwise… what’s the point? What makes us different and not hypocrites?
So…we have to decide, “Okay… I can do this…” no matter how scared you might be with what God is asking us to do. Can we do it? It’s gonna be hard… but I think we can.
What is He asking you today?
My soul is at peace.
My thoughts only reside on the One who sits seated on the throne in heaven.
I feel broken and restored in the same moment.
A song flows from my voice, but I cannot even hear it.
All I see is his glorious face. Sometimes, He is smiling. Other times, He is crying as my heart is mourning my hurts, sins and problems. There are moments when He is dancing with a wild sense of abandonment as I raise my voice in joy. And there have been moments when He is smoothing my hair as I weep at his feet.
All of this happens on any given Sunday morning. While the band plays, the music swells and envelopes me and I am transported to the throne room.
Yes… I know… transported sounds so science fiction. And although I do have a LOVE of that wonderfully, imaginative fiction… transported is the word that most closely describes how I feel in those moments. One moment, I am squinting because of the stage lights… and the next… I am blinded by something from out of this world. I close my eyes and realize I am in the presence of the Almighty and his love surrounds me. I do not hear my voice as it feebly shakes out of my vocal chords. When tears begin to flow down my face, my voice breaks… but still I sing. All I know is that I am singing to Him. No matter how bad or good I sing, if it is from my heart, it delights Him.
Instead, be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Ephesians 5:18b-20)
In the realm of planting, I’ve been forced to learn a lot about forgiveness. In the past 2 and a half years, I’m positive that I’ve emotionally injured people… and I know that I’ve been hurt by several people as well. In fact, I’m wrestling with forgiveness right now. It’s a constant in my life now.
The following is a stab at trying to help me process through the forgiveness process. (Bear with me, please!)
I have to forgive myself. I need to forgive my family for words that cut and cling to me. I need to forgive those who walk through our church doors and hurt me unintentionally. I need to forgive my friends who forget to check in sometimes. I need to forgive those who gave our church “a chance” and then walked out the doors to look for “another church.” I need to forgive those who don’t make it to church every week even though many have given up several hours to prep the church, write the lessons, practice the songs and turn the heat on. (Which sometimes doesn’t happen in time…)
People are Imperfect. Us Included.
This is not a new concept. We all acknowledge that no human who has ever walked this planet (besides Jesus) is perfect. If we acknowledge our own imperfections (like my imperfection of feeling left out), we need to realize others have imperfections as well. They may be subtle or out in the open… imperfections can be sneaky (like ninjas… as my 6 year-old would tell you.)
C.S. Lewis was spot on in this:
“. . . you must make every effort to kill every taste of resentment in your own heart—every wish to humiliate or hurt him or to pay him out. The difference between this situation and the one in such you are asking God’s forgiveness is this. In our own case we accept excuses too easily; in other people’s we do not accept them easily enough.”
Knowing Lewis’ quote (and fully understanding it) should allow us to give each other the grace we need. Grace for their imperfections. Grace when they don’t call. Grace when they use words that seem harsh or ignorant to you. Grace when your church doesn’t measure up and lead enough bible studies. Which leads me into my next point…
Give Grace to Those Who’ve Hurt You
This part is what really scratches at you. When someone has walked away from me with frustration… my heart first becomes hard with anger… then quickly turns to sadness. I don’t last long in the anger stage… God has graced me at least with that. But the sadness sticks to me– for days, weeks or even months. Every time you hear their name or see them, your insides will bristle (and mine undoubtable crumbles. I usually run for the hills and hide from everyone so that they cannot see it written across my face. I evidently can hide nothing.).
This is hard. It is perhaps not so hard to forgive a single great injury. But to forgive the incessant provocations of daily life—to keep on forgiving the bossy mother-in-law, the bullying husband, the nagging wife, the selfish daughter, the deceitful son—how can we do it? Only, I think, by remembering where we stand, by meaning our words when we say in our prayers each night ‘forgive our trespasses as we forgive those that trespass against us.’ We are offered forgiveness on no other terms. To refuse it is to refuse God’s mercy for ourselves. There is no hint of exceptions and God means what He says. (C.S. Lewis)
We must forgive others, when we ask God to forgive us (Matthew 6:14). With the softness of forgiveness in our hearts (no matter how hard it was to forgive), God is able to mold His love back into our hearts to love others the way that He loves us.
Give God your depression or anger.
Ask Him to soothe your wounded heart and heal it wholly. This is something that you need to ask Him daily. Beg Him for forgiveness in the situation and allow Him to mold your heart into something that looks more like His.
With all this talk about forgiveness… I wonder. How could He, the God of the Universe, forgive us? Us- petty humans with self-righteous and self-interest at heart. And not just us– how could He forgive me? I mean, I’m “supposed” to be this woman of God who is standing by her man, bringing people to Christ and serving others with not a thought of myself. Ha! I am NOWHERE close to that… (as you saw earlier in my post.) I am guilty of being self-absorbed. I am guilty of laziness. I am guilty of not wanting to reach out to others and I am guilty of wanting to stay at home with my family when a church event is going on. I am guilty. But…
I am forgiven.
So, why is it so hard to forgive others? Maybe it’s because of everything that we are guilty of.
“We must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love. There is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us. When we discover this, we are less prone to hate our enemies.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.
If we have the power to love within us… we must have the power to forgive.
I love the verse in Colossians 3:13, “Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” Why do I love this verse? The very first part: “Bear with each other...” It reminds me that we are not alone on this earth. Jesus established the Church before he left for heaven. The Church is here for us… it is our family… our connection… something to lean on. Something to help you press through the harder times.
“Mom.” My seven-year-old son’s voice broke through my pizza-eating revelry at our favorite pizza joint. Titus had whisked away my phone and was scrolling through photos of our local pound’s adoptable animal photos. He had been begging us for a pet for around a year now.
My husband, Michael and I had tried every excuse in the book to avoid the commitment of getting a dog. “You’ve just had another baby brother… we should wait until he’s older.” “Our house is too small… we need to wait until we move into another home.” “We’re not sure you’re ready for the responsibility of a dog, Titus.”
This time, there was a tone in his voice. Like he meant business. I looked up from my slice of pepperoni and across the table at him. He had a bright light in his eye and an excitement I had not seen on his face in a while. He handed my phone back to me with a photo of a very frustrated, older Huskie dog trying to jump the fence of the kennel at the pound, enlarged and prominent on the screen.
There was sadness in this dog’s face that I instantly understood. A sadness that words cannot define. I was struggling from post-partum depression after the birth of our third son… and that look in the dog’s eyes grabbed me. When I turned to my husband, he rolled his eyes, but made no dismissal. I immediately messaged the pound asking for details.
Within days, we met Dutch for the first time. He was a nine-year-old Siberian Husky, with one brown eye and one blue and he shared my birthday. His fur was so soft; you could not help but stroke his back every time he passed you. One of his ears was bent, while the other stood proud. It only took a half hour for our two older boys to fall in love with him. I was hesitant… who was this dog? Why had he been relinquished? Could he be trusted with my children? Was he a “good dog?”
Those questions and more were all answered by that evening. After laying our children down for the night, my husband and I prepared for bed. Dutch circled the rug next to my side of the bed and lay down. He seemed to wait for us patiently to finish our bedtime routines. As soon as we settled and turned the lights out, he got up and disappeared into the hallway. Worried to see where he was going, I reluctantly left my warm bed and went to look for him. I found Dutch, curled up next to our baby’s crib, sound asleep.
It only took a couple of days for him to flow into our family’s lifestyle. He began barking to sound the alarm whenever someone approached our home. He LOVED walks… so much so, we could not even SPELL the word out loud anymore. He became my vigilant running partner and would run beside the jogging stroller where my youngest was along for the ride. He lay in the kitchen while I cooked, waiting for crumbs to drop to the floor during the process. He was an extrovert and made sure to meet all the dogs in the neighborhood. Everyone remarked at what an amazing dog he was; he was well loved by our extended family and friends.
Of course, he wasn’t a perfect dog as he was terrified of fireworks and thunder. He had an obsession with cupcakes and hotdogs (when I left out two dozen lemon cupcakes to cool; he ate 10—including the wrappers.) We could never leave the front door open, or he would dart out to explore the countryside for hours. He would distract the cats and eat their food; later, his loud toots would clear the living room. He learned to sit patiently next to our baby’s seat at dinner… and the baby learned he could feed the dog anything he didn’t want to eat. Occasionally, when it rained, his arthritis would kick in and he would be pretty grumpy and impatient with the boys’ antics, but he never snapped or showed his teeth.
But no matter how imperfect he was- he was perfect for us… and me. On my dark days, when my husband was at work, he would lay next to the couch where I lay. He followed me around the house those days, making sure I was never alone. He would snooze when I would, and when I woke up, he would perk up his head at me and give me this look of understanding. When the baby would cry, he would gently nuzzle me with his cold nose to wake me up. He was my helper; and he slowly walked beside me until I was back to normal.
He wasn’t just my companion. Our boys began to want him to sleep in their rooms and they talked about sled dog adventures all winter, waiting for it to snow. They dressed him up in costumes, and he sat, participating, as long as his beautiful fluffy tail wasn’t pulled or stepped on. He sat, stayed, shook and rolled over on cue from them. Our middle son, Elliott, taught Dutch to catch popcorn in his mouth while lying on his back.
And finally, Dutch worked his way into my husband’s hesitant heart. One night, only months after his adoption, I heard my husband wrestling him in the living room. When the play was over, I looked over. Both my husband and Dutch were grinning at each other. I watched as Michael stuck his face into the fur on Dutch’s neck and mumbled, “I love you, Dutch.” My heart caught in my throat.
We had a wonderful year and a half with Dutch. I often think that God sent him to us when we needed him the most.
Suddenly, without warning, he got sick one night while my in-laws were visiting. My father-in-law, Pat, took care of him during the night, not even waking my husband and I. We went to church the next morning and he seemed fine. By nightfall, I began to worry again and told my husband to call the vet. But it was too late.
As I was getting ready for bed, my husband crashed into our bedroom, tears running down his face. “Dutch is gone….” was all I could understand. In our grief, my father-in-law decided that right then was the time to bury him. We followed him, numbly, picking a spot in the backyard to bury him (we had just had our utility lines marked in the yard for our new landscaping plans.)
In the chaos and grief of the night, as Pat began digging Dutch’s grave, he hit the gas line that ran into our home. We had to wake our children, call Source Gas and fire department and wait on the cold pavement next door, while our children cried for Dutch. It was awful.
Days later, after everything was fixed, the gas company sent out a man to double check and make sure we didn’t have any gas leaks leading into our home. After finding out we had just lost Dutch, he kindly said he would check our furnace and water heater as well, just to be nice. After tinkering around in our garage for several minutes, he called me into the garage.
“Ma’am, I wanted to let you know, that your water heater has been leaking carbon monoxide into your home since it was installed improperly.” I was stunned. He turned to me. “Not to be blunt, ma’am,” he began again. “But I think your dog’s passing saved your family’s lives.”
Suddenly, Dutch’s death made sense to me. He had always protected us from the time he was introduced into our family. It made complete sense that in his death, he would protect us as well. He was not just a good dog; he was our Dutch.
Our family had a great summer… lazy days… trips swimming, kayaking, biking, etc… and we highly anticipated a trip to Colorado for our family trip. We had it all mapped out; spend a few days with my brother and his family (grab a soccer game), then a few days in the mountains exploring, mountain biking and renting a boat on a lake; finally topping off our trip by staying the night with our good friends in Denver (with plans to take in the town) before we headed back home.
And suddenly, my husband (who is hardly ever sick) was down for the count. And when I say down, I mean- lying on the mattress in my brother’s basement for days, and sporadically running for the bathroom. By the third day, he rolled over and whispered to me, “I think I need to go to the hospital.” That was scary for me, as he hates even going to the doctor for a sinus infection.
Two days later, and a night in the hospital, we still didn’t have answers. (And even two months later, we still don’t.) His body just crashed and couldn’t recover. He still is not even back to 80% of his normal energy level and strength. And this all happened before we were given access to Thrive’s new building. Within two weeks of his hospitalization, we were on full-force at the overhaul of the new building. And I watched, as he tried to help… but he couldn’t. He had to rely on the help of his congregation to do most of the heavy duty stuff. It killed him.
As he gained some strength and energy back, he began to rip some old musty carpet out of the foyer. The next day, he collapsed at the building, all alone… and he called me in a panic. My heart was in my throat. He told me to call his doctor and set up another appointment. I was seconds away from waking napping babies and speeding all the way to the building to check on him- but he assured me he was alright. He had collapsed in the bathroom there and laid there quite some time. Suddenly, the maintenance man dropped in unexpectedly to check on the air conditioner and found him. He got Michael some water and helped him up to his feet. Thank God for that man.
Our church has had to pull together while Michael recuperates. I was blown away by all of the generosity and love that the people of Thrive poured out on us. It literally has brought me to tears several times. Men and women (not to forget the teenagers!) stepped up where gaps appeared. And our church family grew closer, tighter… together in the time of adversity.
John 13:34-35 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
There are cloudy patches in church planting. The clouds roll in; but it doesn’t rain. The air gets thick with humidity, your hair frizzes and suddenly you have curl in your otherwise straight hair. The cloudy nothingness seems to be burdened with dark waters just waiting for something to set them off. You hold your breath waiting for the clouds to burst and pour upon your dry soil.
And then nothing happens.
Just like life, huh.
And all I can think is… why now? Why, when we were just picking up steam? People were actively seeking God out… families were finding healing… lives were being changed because of Jesus’ sacrifice. And then… nothing.
It is so frustrating. And disappointing.
And in these moments, I ask God, “Why now? What is the point of this cloudy nothingness? Is there a storm brewing? Do we need to hunker down and prepare for battle? Or is harvest around the corner?” (Can you tell I struggle with impatience? And the need for control?)
He whispers, “Wait. Abide in Me.” Because at the end of the day… week or month… that is all we can do. Wait for Him and His timing. And most importantly, abide in Him.
John 15:1-4, “I am the true grapevine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch of mine that doesn’t produce fruit, and he prunes the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more. You have already been pruned and purified by the message I have given you. Remain in me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me.
Isn’t that what it is all about? Realizing that we do not have control over this church plant and its success or fail. Realizing that it is and has always been His Church. Knowing that He can see all and knows all. And TRUSTING in that. Resting in His Presence with our thoughts and actions… and running to Him with our questions and thoughts.
John 15:5-8,“Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing. Anyone who does not remain in me is thrown away like a useless branch and withers. Such branches are gathered into a pile to be burned. But if you remain in me and my words remain in you, you may ask for anything you want, and it will be granted! When you produce much fruit, you are my true disciples. This brings great glory to my Father.
Am I trusting? Am I truly abiding?
John 15:9-17, “I have loved you even as the Father has loved me. Remain in my love. When you obey my commandments, you remain in my love, just as I obey my Father’s commandments and remain in his love. I have told you these things so that you will be filled with my joy. Yes, your joy will overflow! This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you. There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you slaves, because a master doesn’t confide in his slaves. Now you are my friends, since I have told you everything the Father told me. You didn’t choose me. I chose you. I appointed you to go and produce lasting fruit, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask for, using my name. This is my command: Love each other.
And here is my answer:
In the cloudy times of nothingness…
- Remain in Christ.
- Realize, He chose and appointed us for this.
- Love one other.
Now, to actually do that…