Michael B Linton

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Bitterness tastes bad!

Here is a question posed to me:

"I sense a bit of bitterness towards the church from you as well. How do you get over that? How do you forgive a place that hurts you, but yet is supposed to be the ultimate picture/place of love?"
Outstanding question. The short answer is that I'll let you know when I get over it.

The truth is, this is not the first time I've been hurt by a church. I would dare say it has happened, at some point, at every church in which I've served. So I've been through it before and know the process fairly well. And it's no easy process.

The first thing to remember is that, though churches are supposed to be the ultimate picture/place of love, only God truly possesses that kind of love. When we want to see/feel/experience true love, He should be our first choice, not a group of people. But wait a minute, I didn't say forsake church in favor of a Kum Bah Yah experience in the middle of the woods. Church is extremely important. "Do not forsake our assembling together," the writer of Hebrews tells us. The problem is that the church/fellowship is made up of sinners, right up to the pastor. I know for a fact that every church I've joined has had at least one professional sinner as a member: me. This is a vital point to remember. We expect church to be utopia. Heck, most new Christians expect the Christian life to be utopia. It ain't. "In this life, you will have trials," said Jesus. Utopias don't have trials. They have Kum Bah Yah.

In the sinfulness of those that make up a church, you will have 110 agendas for every 100 members. Jesus prayed that we would be one, and occasionally, we are. But the majority of the time, sin is winning with many of the people involved. Sometimes with the pastor, sometimes with other staff, sometimes with various members. Those are the times we struggle. Those are the times that those of us who on that particular day just happen to be in tune with the Spirit have to trust the most. We trust that God will change hearts. We trust that His perfect plan will be accomplished. We trust that tomorrow, maybe more folks will be in tune with Him and we can move forward.

So the question remains, how do you forgive and move past the bitterness? Time and a continual revealing of God's perfect plan. Was it God's will for me to get hurt? I don't think so. Was it His plan for me to get fired? Maybe. Will the pastor who fired me be held accountable some day? I think so. Remember that Cyrus was used by God to punish Israel, but then Cyrus was punished for his arrogance. Judas was a primary instrument in the work of salvation, but he gets and deserves no kudos for it. So first, see the hurt in the grand scheme of God's sovereignty.

Also see the hurt as a lesson in what you will NOT do to people later. Will there come a time when I, as a pastor, must make the choice to fire a staff member? Probably. Will I do it without any warning, no opportunities to rectify, a termination letter that does not match the presented reality, and no severance pay for a family of four with a mortgage? Absolutely not. Even when administering deserved punishment, there can be graciousness. Learn from your hurts.

Finally, pray for those that hurt you. Sounds Biblical, doesn't it? This, I believe, is the hardest. I know when I pray for the man that fired me, it's fake. I don't mean a word of it, unless I'm praying for his downfall. But that isn't what we are to pray for. So I have to pray for his good anyway. Sometimes we have to pray when we don't want to because we have to. If we begin by praying that God will expose the wrongdoing to the ones that hurt us, it will make it easier to move on to better prayers for them. I hope that my prayers for the man who fired me result in him not doing it to someone else, and result in a softer heart for people in general. Our prayers must be for the betterment of the ones that hurt us or we just feed the bitterness. It may never happen, though. The people who hurt us may never change. But we will change because we prayed. Prayer doesn't just change people we pray for, it changes us as well.

Go into every new situation/church with fresh eyes and a fresh heart. Pray that it won't happen this time. Will it? Probably. Don't be naive. But if we go in with our guard up, we won't minister, we won't relate, and we won't reach people. We can't have the attitude that we'll hurt them before they hurt us. We have to be willing to be hurt. We have to come to the point where we can take to heart what James says:

James 1:2-4
Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.


David said...

I don’t know. I see today’s church as a house full of spoiled brats taking full advantage of grace under the excuse of “sinners saved by grace.” It’s a convenient get-out-of-guilt-free card used by many professional Christians to justify bad behavior.

If an Elder must be selected as one who “must be blameless, the husband of but one wife, a man whose children believe and are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient” or one who is able to “manage his own family well and see that his children obey him with proper respect,” then why are the standards suddenly thrown out the window when it comes to God?

If the Church represents the family of God, where God is the elder of the body of Christ then what does it say of God when today’s church is so reckless in its own behavior?

There must come a point where the testimony of so-called Christians testifies badly of the Father. The same reasoning applied with the elders seems applicable to God, if God can’t keep his own kids in line, what business does he have raising mine?

There is grace, and there should be grace, for prostitutes caught in the act, dragged into the village square to be stoned all to entrap the son of God. There is grace, and there should be grace, for lepers and tax-collectors who’ve never known community because both are held at a arm’s length.

But when it comes to Pharisees, calling a pit of vipers a pit of vipers goes a lot further than dressing them up nicely just so they don’t get on our case for calling them what they are.

If the wine of the church is bitter, I’m not going to hold my tongue and lie by saying, “Well wasn’t that the most refreshing thing I’ve ever tasted.” I’d rather spit it out and move onto something sweeter.

So to me, either I get to call them for what they are, “non-Christians” (those who do not follow Christ) or else it reflects on the Father, God.

Michael said...

I would respond to your comment but it really just appears, based on your comment and your website, that you are merely looking for an argument. My blog will not be a place for argument, but for honest discussion. I also will not allow name-calling. Vitriol and venom are not why I started this blog. A deeper relationship with Jesus, for all participants, is why I started this blog.

korey said...

To say that God is held to the same standards as the Elders is an example of anthropomorphism, and although a lot of people do it subconsciously(sp), including me, it definately limits God, and produces a problematic view of God/Christ/Church.

I spent half of my spring break just kicking it in Beavers Bend National Park up in Oklahoma. It really was supposed to be a time to get away, but it came to me that I was coming back to Nacogdoches, and what was I really trying to get away from. As I was trout fishing(sounds coincidental huh?) It hit me that this bitterness that I questioned you about earlier had been taken to another level and produced within me a monster, or something like it.
I took my story of being hurt by a church go to a level that made me think that I had the priveledge of doing with my circumstances whatever I wished instead of looking towards God. So I saw that I wanted to teach this church a lesson. I wanted them to see that what they did was wrong. So I wanted to pretend to be something I wasn't; a faithless person. I wanted them to think that their actions affect people's spiritual side, not only their emotions. I wanted them to learn a lesson from their mistakes, because what they did WAS wrong, no question. But again I just wanted them to feel the effects and make them say, "Look!, what we did not only caused a brother to stumble, but it caused him to lose his faith." I don't know I just felt like they didn't realize the responsibility they had in nourishing hearts, and that if I did that they would realize it. But of course it didn't work that way. I literally LOL'ed when you said, "Will the pastor who fired me be held accountable some day? I think so." Because it was this attitude taken to the extreme that was revealed in me this weekend.

But I'm learning how not to hold a grudge against the church in general and find that place between bitterness and naivette, is it wisdom? Perhaps. But I see the biblical picture of Church, and it helps get through some of the mess that the churches have.
Thanks for picking up blogging, it's refreshing to read your posts.