Chronicling 40: Day 33 of 365

A continuation of thought…

FRIENDSHIPSI had not planned to continue talking about friendships, but coincidence brings us back to the subject.

After posting yesterday, I ended up engaging in a conversation about ministry friendships within a networking group of leaders that is nationwide.  I didn’t start the conversation, but it was nothing I had not heard before.  Let’s face it church, we are broken in terms of relationships within the church.  We really need to lean in and listen to what is being said by leaders in the church, and figure out how to fix it.

The comments can be categorized into 4 points.

  1.  I was advised by an older, seasoned, leader not to make friends in the church.
  2.  My greatest hurt has been caused by people in the church I considered friends.
  3.  These friendships have been unequally yoked, where I was more invested in the relationship and they were more interested in position/information.
  4. I have struggled to make lasting, deep, friendships in the church.

The first point reflects the experiences of women who were given this advice as they entered into ministry leadership.  Leaders who had already walked this hard road forewarned these leaders that real friendships would be hard to come by, and it was easier to make friends outside of the church in which they serve (these friends can include ministry leaders in other churches).

The second point reflected the experiences of people, like me, where the relationships we expected to be the most honest, faithful, and trusting… were far from.  Causing these leaders to guard their hearts more in the future, and keep a safe distance.   Friendships in the church were far more superficial.  People who expressed this second point, were most likely to give the advice in the first point… avoid friendships in the church you serve.

The third point revealed what many feared were friendships built for the wrong reasons.  The persons were not as concerned about a real relationship, but rather positioning to the Pastor or ministry leader.  Or, they were really interested in being part of the “in the know” crowd and so it was important to them to foster a good relationship with the Pastor, his wife, and other ministry leaders.  These were manipulative relationships.  Again, those who experienced this may be part of the seasoned leaders advising against close relationships in the church.

The fourth were those who were hurt by rejection.  Even though they were leaders in the church, they just couldn’t seem to break in the cliques of the church.  They felt like outsiders in their own church home.  These women would happily take the risk to foster relationships in the church, but unfortunately the church members are the ones holding their arms extended to create distance.

Church.  What is going on?

How is it that a place where we should feel like a family, we feel outcast?  How is it that it has come to be that our leaders are AFRAID of making friendships in the church because they know the sting of rejection and hurt?  Why is this happening.  I have been pondering it ever since.

Then, to my surprise, I awoke today to find the conversation among the leaders had not stopped while I slept.  A surge of women shared how we must not give up, we must be willing to take the risk of being hurt, and try to build community in our own churches.  These leaders spoke truth, about the enemy trying to isolate us and break up the community in our churches.  They spoke of division, reconciliation, forgiveness, not having a spirit of fear, etc.  All the right things.

So, I pondered a bit more. Here are my conclusions…

  1.  We own one of the chips in this broken vessel.  It is entirely possible that because we are in church with other Christians, leading with other Christians, we were expecting more of them.  We expected they would treat friendship differently than the world, we forgot that they too are imperfect sinners.  But, since we elevated our expectations of them… perhaps we trusted too much, too quickly.  When the hurt came, it hurt more deeply because we were not cautious from the start.  We must use discernment in selection whom we trust, and with what we trust them with.
  2.   We must have friends outside of the church too.  Let’s face it, if there is turmoil in the church, the last thing I need to do is bring that up during Wednesday night small group.  I don’t need to air the church’s dirty laundry to the other members.  But, I may need one or two ministry leading friends whom I can trust to pray for our church/ministry with me.  It is good to have friends IN and OUT of the church in which we serve. 
  3.  The church body is also accountable for some of the chips in this broken vessel.  Relationships are two way streets, both equally committed.  Church members and other leaders need to check their motives in these friendships.  They need to own up and accept responsibility when they mess up.  They, too, need to do a better job at being a friend.  More open.  More receptive.  More honest.  We must all be the kind of friend that we want to have. 
  4. Lazy discipleship is part of the problem.  The church has gotten lazy about discipleship.  We count on warm bodies willing to press play on the DVD player to lead our small groups and Bible studies.  We don’t disciple our leaders, who in turn do not disciple those whom they lead.  We have not taught people how Christian friendships and relationships should differ, because we are not truly discipling them. 

So what do we do?  How do we restore the type of community that we should have among our family of believers?

BUILD COMMUNITY:  We need real community.  Not Sunday fellowship, and Wednesday small group.  A full, robust, church calendar gives ample opportunities for us to meet new faces, connect with people who have similar interests, and get to enjoy one another personally.  Through connecting to one another personally, we can find our “tribe” of friends.

DISCIPLE PEOPLE:  We need to really invest in the spiritual growth of those under our charge. We can not expect them to behave a certain way in relationships if we have not made the effort to show them the way.  Mentoring partners, discipleship partners, is huge in helping to develop others to a spiritual maturity that includes what Biblical friendship and relationships look like.  Perhaps they do not know how because they have not been pointed to those areas of the scriptures.

BE WISE AND GENTLE:  Even sheep can bite, even the best sheep can take a nip occasionally.  There are wolves among the sheep, so we must be wise to discern who to bring into our inner circle.  But, that doesn’t mean to ostracize ourselves from others.  When we are wise and gentle to those around us, we can sense when even the best of people will need boundaries (sometimes just temporarily).

BE WILLING:  We can’t share our desire for close friends in the church while we run away from them.  Some of us, those who are wounded, may need to step into those waters a bit more cautiously.  But be willing to take those steps.

BE PATIENT:  For those who have been trying to make friends, recognize that you may be dealing with a person who is gun shy from prior hurt.  Be patient, move the relationship along slowly.  For those who have been hurt, be patient with yourself.  Not all healing takes place instantly.  For some it is a process, that serves a purpose often greater than we realize at the moment.

I think we can find good, healthy, strong, and deep friendships within the church that we serve.  But, clearly there is some brokenness we need to tend to. 

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Chronicling 40: Day 11 of 365

coffee

What is better than a strong cup of coffee?  A strong, faithful friend.

Where there is no guidance, a people falls, but in an

abundance of counselors there is safety.

Proverbs 11:14

40 has already put a strong focus in my heart toward community, but not just any community.  Intentional community.  Those who lift up and encourage, respect boundaries, have beneficial conversations full of love, and safe boundaries.

Grateful for conversations, like the one I had this morning.  Where you walk away feeling up lifted and encouraged, enjoying time with one another.  I don’t have the energy to be weighed down with negativity, frustration, et’al.

Building a community of strong, faithful, honest, and positive women is paramount to living a good life.  We are not meant to walk alone, but the live in community.  Bearing one anothers burdens, standing in the gap for each other.

My 40th: Day 3 of 365

hands

My friend Jenny took this picture just a few days ago, when she posted it to Facebook, she added the scripture.   I could say so much about what this picture means to me, and how it has been a reflection of the last year.

Two years ago, the Lord brought these three hands together in only such as way as He can.  I don’t live in the same city as these ladies, not even in the same county, or even the neighboring county.  I didn’t share any mutual friends with them (at the time).  But through a ministry connection, this friendship was born.

We have served alongside in ministry together, as Jenny and Aimee have both spoken at Women’s Ministry Council meetings.  We even jumped into the fray, and tacked a big topic… Diversity and Unity in the church.  We were cautious, nervous, maybe even a little afraid.  But the burden to push forward could not be pushed away.  We know that the Lord isn’t done with us in that capacity either, He is working things out and paving a way for a larger conversation.

Outside of the diversity our skin color and life experiences bring to the table, there is a commitment to God that intertwines our hearts together.  There is also something there which isn’t as easy to see… honesty.  You can’t have a conversation about race in the church, race in the community, etc without baring your souls to one another.  Being open about what you didn’t understand, having your heart broken over the experiences that your friends have lived through.  But, that isn’t the only honesty between us.

We have hard conversations.  We speak truth to each other.  We have conversations that are tense.  However, we choose to push through the awkwardness because our friendship and commitment to serving together is so much more important.  Not even two weeks before this picture was taken, Jenny and I had a really hard conversation.  Only speaking for myself, I walked away from that conversation a bit wounded and confused.  But, Jenny knew this.  Instead of burying my feelings, in the course of the conversation I told her “this hurts a little”.

In the days after, I needed to get my head straight.  Who is Jenny?  She is my friend, not my enemy.  Why was I feeling hurt?  Did I even need to be hurt?  The more I thought about these questions and more, I could only land on what I know of Jenny.   What I know of her is that she is a woman who pursues Christ, and she is responsible for the calling the Lord put on her life.  I know that she is wise, trustworthy, and kind.  I know that she is honest, direct, and she has good intentions.  She is a Kingdom server, loyal, and just like the rest of us she is not perfect.

The more I pondered about the Jenny I knew, my heart felt less of a sting.  I recognized that I really had no reason to feel hurt.

There are three things that I have taken away from this, that I am holding onto as I venture in the 40s.

  1.  It is far better to recognize the hurt in the moment, than to stuff it and let it stew.  It is not only healthier for me, but it is good for the other person to know as well.  Should there be actual fault, a person can not apologize for something they are unaware of.  If there is no fault, it allows the person to know that you are in a tender place and may need some space to heal.
  2. I need to surround myself with people whom I can be this honest with.  I knew I could be honest with Jenny.  Reflecting on my past, I can think of people who were in my inner circle and I couldn’t be that honest with.  This tells me that I either didn’t really know them in the first place, or that I knew and disregarded the fact that they were not people I could be honest with for the sake of having a friend.  Usually these are the people who will be direct and honest with you about your sins, but Lord help us all if anyone were to actually call them out.
  3. I need to evaluate who is in my circle, it may be time to prune… create boundaries. I want the friendships that I have, moving forward, to be built on good foundation.  It is quality over quantity.  Reciprocal relationships where we are each a blessing to each other, iron sharpening iron.  I want to walk away from phone calls, lunch dates, ministry work, etc feeling joy, peace, and even a belly hurt from laughter.  I can no longer afford to walk away and feel emotionally exhausted, beat up, pressed down, and overwhelmed.

There is a woman that I have been friends with for a very long time, and I thought it was a healthy friendship.  Now, I am not quite so sure.  I never set boundaries, nor stood up for myself in our friendship.  She has a very strong personality and frankly, I am intimidated by her at times.  I thought I could overlook that strong personality, especially since I have one myself.  However, in the last few days I have realized that while I enjoy most of our time together, it’s not always pleasant.

I’m going to take a heavy dose of blame here because I didn’t handle things well from the start.  I didn’t set boundaries, and the friendship became overwhelming.  Instead of sitting her down and being honest, I just imposed distance.  In the moments where she was overstepping her bounds, I didn’t speak up and tell her that she needed to back down.  Many years later, that resulted in a boundary-less friendship.

This came to a head recently, and when I recount our last interaction and how I felt when I left, I wondered if this friendship was really a blessing?  Not only was I asking if she was the the type of friend I needed… but also the reverse.  Am I the right friend for her?  Am I a blessing to her?  Is this a friendship that is salvageable?  Can we put in boundaries, or is it too late?

What to do with this revelation?

Before I do anything, I must take this to the throne.  As humans we are just fallible.  It is amazing what we can justify to keep in our lives, or to let go.  We allow the opinions of others to influence us.  We can have to soft of a heart, or a deep desire to be liked.  We can fear hurting even those who hurt us.

What does God’s Word say about what our relationships should look like?  What kind of character should we be looking for in those we pull into our inner circle?  Who should we avoid?

This doesn’t mean we isolate ourselves from the world at large, we can’t fulfill The Great Commission doing that.  I’m talking specifically about that inner circle, the closest friends, those we want to rely on for wise counsel and solid truth.  The ones we are going to give permission to speak into our lives.

I am going to trust the One who orders my steps.

We Need Roots to Grow, To Fruit.

Have you been there?  In the place where the Lord has given you a talent and calling, and yet you don’t ever seem to be able to actually USE it?  It can be a very confusing time, frustrating even.  Perhaps, however, our eyes have been to focused on the finish line that we neglected the process to get there.

I just finished reading Banning Liebscher’s book ROOTED, and I found myself taking my sweet time to get through his message.  Usually, I can finish a book of this size in a weekend.   This time, I would often set the book down for a few days to really think about the points Liebscher was making and looking at my own calling and periods of waiting on the Lord.

rooted

If you have any gardening experience you know the importance of a good root system.   Take a beautifully potted plant and pop it in the ground, and you’ll see the plant go into shock and die.  Why?  You didn’t take the time to tend to the roots before you planted it.  A seed dropped in good, fertile soil will produce strong plants in comparison to seeds careless scattered among the rocks. 

Banning Liebscher takes the time to set the context of his book into the Parable of the Soils, and then walks through the value of having solid roots in order that we may grow, and bear fruit.  Not just some fruit, but a lot of fruit.  Not just any fruit, but GOOD fruit.  Not just a temporary harvest, but a long and lasting life of fruit bearing.  But, in order to do this … we must have GOOD ROOTS.

Often when we are waiting for the Lord to reveal our calling or make a move, we feel like nothing is happening.  Yet, it is during this time when the Lord is working on our roots.  He has fashioned life around us, opportunities, and put people in place to create a fertile soil in which we can grow.  Then, like a good farmer, He tends to those seeds.  Weeds are pulled, water and nutrients are provided, and He carefully watches over for disease and pests.

Then after all of the work of preparing the soil, tending to the seeds, building up the roots, caring for the shoots… suddenly life bursts out of those gardens.  And it produces fruit, a lot of fruit. Good fruit.  If we want to produce a lot of good, long lasting, fruit… we have to start with our roots.  That means we dig into the Word, build our relationship with Christ, allow the Holy Spirit access to our lives to move it and shape it, and trust that the Lord’s plans will always be good.  We just need to trust in Him who we have faith in. 

If you are ready to start working on those roots, Liebscher’s book ROOTED is a great way to prepare the soil of your heart to receive, foster, and bear the fruit of God’s Word and Love.

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How Deep is Your Faith?

Some of you may recall that back in June I experienced quite a bit of delays trying to fly out to a conference in Indianapolis.  The benefit that came from those delays was the amount of time it gave me to dig into this book without many distractions.  I had no idea how much that reading was going to impact me while in a city far from my own, and would linger since returning home.

amwbook

In the beginning I thought this was going to be a book about deepening my faith.  In many ways I was right.    Exposing shallow faith, where law becomes an idol, and the wake we can leave behind when we are not walking in love and grace.  Recognizing that we have to do more than go through the motions, and that there will be times our faith will take out out of comfort zones into the deep end of the waters.  Pushing ourselves to a deeper understanding of the scriptures and what the Lord expects of us as a response to His Word.

What I didn’t expect to happen was the deeper convictions I was going to feel about how I interacted with this world.  Who was I serving?  How was I serving?  Was it easy, comfortable?  Did it require much of me?

I was great at serving those in my church, but what about the “least of these”?  What real needs have I been engaging?  Was I limiting the Gospel?  Was I limiting my service?  Was I talking a good talk but not walking along with it?  These questions were bouncing through my mind, as I sat in the airport… waiting.

Having a ministry position where I train other leaders, my biggest burden at that point was…

Am I training leaders who are going to go out and serve their people well … or are we just learning how to put on another successful event?  Are we playing ministry or living it?

Had I allowed the Gospel to be too small, was I not seeing the big picture?

This is where the book took me on a new journey about serving, loving, and living the Gospel out in real tangible ways.  Where it becomes more than talk.  Brandon Hatmaker’s words were reeling in my head, as I was walking back to my hotel after the conference let out for the evening.  It was late.  That is when Gregory made eye contact with me.

Gregory walked up to me, tears in his eyes. He was a homeless man, and he was hungry.  I don’t carry cash on me, but directly behind me was a restaurant.  It wasn’t fancy, but it was a better meal than a fast food place.   In Indianapolis, I met a man named Gregory who was from my home state.  I could smell the alcohol on his breath.  I wasn’t sure if I believed his story about being mugged and just needing a few dollars for some food.  It didn’t matter, I knew the man was hungry.

As we walked into the restaurant, Gregory was still crying.  He was sorry for bothering me.  He was sorry for asking. He was sorry for taking our time.  He asked for very little, but I told Gregory to order whatever he wanted.  He first asked for just a sandwich, but I told him to order more.  He gently asked my friend, “Do you think she’d let me have fries too?”.  She smiled and said absolutely, and immediately followed that up with inquiring what he wanted to drink.    In the end we had two sandwiches, french fries, and a large drink for Gregory.   He was grateful, his tears and slurs made him almost inaudible at times.

We prayed over Gregory before we left to return to our hotel.  It sounds like a beautiful moment, doesn’t?

What I neglected to share until this point, was the response of others.  The manager, saw Gregory walk in with us.  She approached us, looked right past my friend and I.  To Gregory, she spoke directly… “Looks like you convinced these nice ladies to buy you a meal.  You can wait here for it, but you can’t eat it outside.  You’ll need to take it and go.”

Her response was as if my friend and I were naive out of towners, taken advantage of by this con-man.  It was insulting to our intelligence and demeaning to Gregory.  He was now a paying customer, and should have been treated as such.  Gregory didn’t leave our thoughts for the rest of the trip, and quite often we prayed for him.  We didn’t see him again before it was time to leave.

Layovers and delays on my return flight home, I kept reading.  Over and over again, I found myself writing in the margins (next to a piece of text)…  Gregory.

From the book:

“It’s true that giving a sandwich to a homeless man on one day is not going to end hunger on the streets of your city.  But it will bless that man today.”

and in another passage:

“You see, after Jesus taught the most significant sermon in the history of time, Jesus didn’t make his way to the next sanctuary to meet  with the religious. He made his way to the next street corner to meet with the outcast. 

By meeting him in his greatest need, Jesus restored more than the man’s health; he restored his dignity. “

Gregory.

A Mile Wide opened my eyes to see so much more than how deep my own faith was, but my willingness to go the distance for my fellow man.  It changed my vision and scope of how ministry was supposed to look, and how I was going to change the way I approached our ministry work of training leaders.  It inspired me to a bigger Gospel.  A global Gospel.  A Gospel that feeds the man on the corner, that restores dignity, fights for justice, helps the Great Commission with feet on the ground.

Lord, I pray for Gregory tonight… where ever he lays his head.  I pray Lord, when I return to Indianapolis next year… I see his face again and we can break bread together.  Keep him safe, bring him to healing, and if I can’t see him again… let it be because he has returned to his family.  I pray for the hardened hearts that have forgotten that Gregory and those who are like him… are human beings made in your image.  Let us treat them as you would.  Amen.

Forgiveness & Reconciliation

MBA

A few weeks ago, I was sitting through our weekly small group meeting.  We took a bold step and decided to tackle Authentic Intimacy’s Passion Pursuit.  Dr. Juli Slattery began to discuss the importance of forgiveness in healing and improving our marriages.  She also delved into the need to forgive past hurts in order to move forward.   Something she said jumped out at me:

The acknowledgement that forgiveness and reconciliation are not the same thing. 

As she waded through the waters of forgiveness, the words FREEDOM were key.  Forgiveness leads to freedom because what ever that wrong was, it no longer holds on to us.  However, reconciliation may not be possible.  Perhaps the other person hasn’t apologized, hasn’t repented because they do not believe they were wrong.  Or, perhaps they took ownership of their wrong doing but for your own safety you can not resume a reconciled relationship with the person.  In some instances the person may have died, moved away, etc and there isn’t a way to even reach out and start a reconciliation process.  However, we can still forgive them and more forward.  This forgiveness does not free them from the CONSEQUENCES of their actions, it does however free us from being held captive by that person or situation any longer.

I walked away that evening reflecting on several situations through the years that cause me distress.  I thought of the scriptures that call us to forgive and reconcile.  I felt like a failure in many ways because even despite my willingness to forgive, there were relationships that were not reconciled.  I had sold myself to believe that I couldn’t more forward until reconciliation had happened.   I resolved that those relationships wouldn’t necessarily reconcile to what they once were, but that to at least be on “civil terms” would be enough.  When that couldn’t happen, I felt like I failed.

Now, that burden was lifted.  I had permission to walk in that freedom of forgiveness, even I was walking alone and the other parties were not ready to join up yet.  Today, I watched a video from The Gospel Coalition on forgiveness without repentance.  One of the things I took away from the video is:

Reconciliation requires repentance and forgiveness from both sides.

It can’t be both sides saying they are sorry, and no one changes.

It can’t be a change of behavior by both sides, without anyone actually apologizing.

It can’t be an exchange of apologies, modified behaviors, when one or both don’t truly forgive.

Forgiveness, repentance, and reconciliation may not come in that exact order & not all at one time.  It may be a process that can span days, months, or even years to complete.  Reconciliation may not even come this side of heaven. 

If we have chosen to forgive, and if we have identified our own mistakes and repented… we may have to be okay with reconciliation’s slow arrival.  If it even comes at all. 

For each of us lies the responsibility of our own actions.  Have we come to God and asked Him to reveal if we are part of the problem?  Is there more to this than being sinned against?  Are we too guilty of sinning against the other person?  If you have a trusted mentor, have you shared the situation with them and sought their counsel and guidance? 

Once you have taken an honest look at yourself, if there is a need for you to apologize then you are responsible for taking the step of repentance and seeking forgiveness.  Then you can also extend your forgiveness to the other person and work toward reconciliation, should both parties agree.  However, if you are truly the only one who was sinned against and the other person is unwilling to repent and ask for forgiveness… you can still choose to forgive as Christ has forgiven.

All of our sins are against a perfect God, who has done nothing wrong to us.  Yet He is able to forgive our sins and cast them to the oceans depths.  If the Lord can forgive me, how can I not forgive those who sin against me?  Reconciliation may not happen, but that doesn’t mean that forgiveness is impossible.

The scriptures state that as much as it is possible, and is up to me, to live at peace with everyone.  Reconciliation isn’t entirely up to me, it takes both parties to happen.  But forgiveness is a choice I can make to bring peace into my heart, life, and relationships.  Then we can lean into trusting the Lord to do the work in the other person, and if reconciliation is possible it will happen under the guidance of the Holy Spirit’s conviction.

When we forgive, we can live in the freedom of Peace.  I choose Peace.

More Than Words

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The email comes:

“Please pray for our family, my husband lost his job today.”

The text message arrives:

“Prayer request, my daughter has cheer try outs today.  This means a lot to her.”

She stops you in the sanctuary:

“I have a doctor appointment this week, they found a lump.  Would you pray for me?”

You pass the terrible accident…

A person keeps coming to mind, maybe someone you haven’t thought of in years…

At bible study you jot down all those names and requests during prayer and share time…

“I’ll pray for you!” –you promise.

“I should pray for that person…” – you consider.

Your intention are good.  The moment passes, the day passes, weeks pass.  You read the headline about the fatal accident you passed by.   You learn from mutual friends that an old friend of yours (that name that kept coming to mind) lost everything to a house fire.  The woman catches you in the sanctuary and thanks you for your prayers, her tests came back clear.

But, you didn’t pray.  You forgot.  You didn’t mean to forget, you were sincere in your promises.  Distractions got in the way.  Life interrupted.  Your own problems grabbed your attention.

We must be more than words, when we agree or offer to pray for our brothers and sisters in Christ.  Being distracted shouldn’t catch us off guard, we know how life goes.  Instead, we need to be intentional and take a step beyond words.

Stop in the moment and pray for the person, instead of putting on your to do list.  Grab her hand and lead her to another woman in the church, pray together for her corporately.   Even when you a driving, when you can’t bow your head and close your eyes… we can still call out to the Lord while we drive past the scene of an accident or hear sirens in the distance.  Email or text back a written prayer, so that your friend can see your words and return to them as she needs to.

Prayer is a beautiful conversation between us and the Lord.  Talk often.  Pray when you can pray, cry out when the words fail you.  But, when others come to you for intercession… be present with them in that moment of trial.  Stop what you are doing.  Pray.