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Wounded by God’s People, ch2: Life is Hard

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Wounded By God's People, by Anne Graham Lotz

Wounded by God’s People, by Anne Graham Lotz

I’m blogging through Anne Graham Lotz’s book, Wounded by God’s People, chapter by chapter. If you’d like to join me, get the book from your favourite retailer or church library, and read along. Please share your thoughts on the book as well, either in the comments below, or in your own blog post. If you do blog about it elsewhere, remember to post your link below!

Anne begins chapter two with the questions, “When do wounds begin? Who can remember the first one? And who can claim a life without them?”

She tells several horrific stories from her childhood and early adulthood, each involving a memorable wound she suffered from individuals such as a stern Sunday school teacher, a cruel headmistress at a Christian boarding school, and “a distinguished elderly lady [at church who] rose from her seat, walked stiffly over to my mother, and with a stern look pronounced judgment on me…”

As she describes this series of wounds, each carried out by Christians in authority, I’m reminded just how deeply familiar she is with the kind of pain and injustice believers are capable of. Her pain makes her relatable to those of us who’ve suffered similar injuries.

Throughout the book, in addition to telling her own story, Anne takes a close look at the life of Abram’s Egyptian servant, Hagar. In this chapter, she introduces a story from Genesis 13 about Lot’s conflict with Abram, interpreting these events through Hagar’s eyes. After seeing the positive difference God made in Abram’s life, Anne focuses on the way Hagar must have felt afterwards, when Abram treated her so unjustly. For anyone who’s been in Hagar’s shoes, there’s a temptation to let our wounds turn us into wounders. This is Anne’s transition to the next chapter, where she takes a closer look at this cycle of being wounded and wounding others in return.

Probably one of the chapter’s highlights, for me, is the decision Anne made years ago that she wouldn’t let rotten ‘Christian’ behavior interfere in her relationship with God. This point resonated with me because it reflected my experience, thanks to the example my parents set during a number of deeply painful encounters with fellow Christians. As a pastor’s kid, I had seen several church leaders manipulate and take advantage of my parents, and yet their relationship with God never changed. As they modelled for my brother and me, once they recognized a situation to be toxic, when people resisted healing and growth, then it was time to find a healthier community. After a couple difficult experiences, we did find a healthier church which had recently come through its own heartache. As their pastor, Dad’s first task was to lead the congregation’s healing process, and in turn, they were a balm to our wounds as well. We found healing together. Meanwhile, my parents’ relationship with God didn’t change. If anything, it was only made stronger.

It was in this church that I became baptized as a teenager. I had been attending a Christian high school with great teachers, great programs, and a good student body. Except, unfortunately, for my class, it seemed. Over the span of four years I languished at the bottom of a very unforgiving social food chain. So when I got baptized, one of the main points in my testimony was that I had made my commitment to God in spite of the un-Christlike witness of many of my Christian peers at school.

I’m reminded of the ‘sinners’ Jesus befriended during His time on earth, and how much they loved Him in spite of the hateful treatment they experienced from the Pharisees. And remember the woman caught in adultery? How different could their reactions have been: The Pharisees wanted to stone her, whereas Jesus gave her another chance at life. It was the difference between Jesus and the Pharisees that drove people to Jesus. In a way, I can say that happened to me as well.

It would be an honour if you chose to join me in reading through Anne Graham Lotz’s book, Wounded by God’s People. I’ll be reflecting on each chapter here on my blog, and I’d love to hear your reflections too.

Thanks for joining me today!

Marie

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How to be a better Good Samaritan

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Photo by Ruths138

Photo by Ruths138

What happens when we pass by someone who needs our help?

Several years ago, when my Dad was in the early stages of dementia, he lost most of his Christian friends. The reason was simple: They were too uncomfortable with his symptoms to be a friend to him during his life’s biggest, darkest, and final struggle.

So I contacted everyone I could think of at his church, and couldn’t believe the excuses they gave for keeping their distance–leaders included. As one of them so eloquently stated, “I’m not going to babysit.” A handful of people tried to help, but most of those same people also defended the excuses we were hearing.

We eventually found a long-term friend for Dad and regular, ongoing emotional/spiritual support for my parents from two other churches in town. Finally, we had found Christians who wanted to treat Dad with dignity, and be the hands and feet of Jesus in our lives! Then, amazingly, near the end of Dad’s time at home before moving to a nursing home, three people from his original church kindly came alongside him.

I share this so the other side of the story can be heard. And here’s the thing all Good Samaritans seem to know: When we fail to obey God’s command to love our neighbor, our sin isn’t just between us and God.

Our faith, like western society, is terribly individualistic. So please humor me as I repeat: When we fail to love our neighbor, our sin isn’t just between us and God.

What happens when we pass by someone who needs our help? What’s it like for those people? We shield ourselves from those thoughts. It’s too uncomfortable, too convicting to realize that our sin has tangible, painful, and sometimes disastrous consequences for the people we overlook.

I wish Dad hadn’t spent the last years of his life aching for the sense of community that should’ve embraced him all along, and believe me, this is a lesson my family will never forget.

Sometimes we have only one chance to be a light in someone’s life, and sometimes we might be the only one to notice that person’s suffering. If we pass them by, the consequences are permanent.

So let us rethink the story of the good Samaritan and our own role in that story. When we cross paths with someone lonely or in need, let’s resolve to treat our opportunity with the gravity and careful thought it deserves.

Let’s start recognizing the difference between our excuses and legitimate reasons for not being able to help. When we’re being honest with ourselves, if we realize that we really can help, then let’s roll up our sleeves and enjoy the surprises and blessings God has in store for us along the way.

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Who’s outside your pastor’s comfort zone?

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A big challenge in my spiritual journey lately has been responding to fellow believers, leaders especially, who seem to have sold out to a gospel of comfort.

When a relative, formerly a pastor and missionary, came down with a degenerative disease, he noticed himself losing friends. Fellow church members, leaders, choir members, and others, stepped out of his life one by one.

When his family asked the church for help, a pastor told them that people quite simply weren’t comfortable around this man anymore.

Apparently the pastor didn’t consider this a contradiction of the gospel he preached from the pulpit.

The sick man’s family then asked if they could present the situation to the congregation, as they’d seen someone do at another church. This way, they hoped, one or two church members might step forward as ‘volunteer friends.’ But the leadership told them this was impossible.

“You’ve got to understand our culture,” one staffer told them. “You just can’t do that here.”

In short, the retired pastor/missionary had outlived his usefulness and his welcome in the church. Even the pastors didn’t want to see him, ignoring the family’s request for the occasional drop-in visit.

His family was expected to accept his loneliness, that their church family wouldn’t be involved in his life any longer. Except at the funeral, perhaps.

Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me… (Matthew 25:34-36)

When it comes to reaching outside our comfort zone to love a neighbour, we’ve cultivated a subtle disconnect between theology and everyday life.

Many Christians would agree in principle with Jesus’ parables like the good Samaritan, or the passage about the goats and the sheep. We know these stories from Sunday school, and pastors also preach them from time to time.

Knowing them is good. But living them is another thing entirely.

Too many of us are like that pastor defending ‘personal comfort’ as a reasonable excuse not to visit someone in need of a friend. Except, we wouldn’t be quite as blunt about it. Not out loud, anyway.

I know what some of you reading this might say, that people aren’t perfect and that we can depend on God’s comfort when others let us down. And you’d be right.

But this doesn’t mean we need to let sin, especially a ‘respectable sin‘ like the idol of personal comfort, go unchallenged in our lives or our churches–especially in church leadership.

We need to examine our hearts, and we need to invite our pastors to do the same. We need to see how far we’ve let our culture’s gods–happiness, leisure, comfort–become our own gods. We need to release our white-knuckled grip on those idols and, instead, find our comfort in Jesus Christ.

And then, if the Spirit is alive in us at all, we need to see growth.

We also need pastors who don’t make excuses for sin. Ones who don’t limit their teaching to “platitudes, subtle hints, or over-principlized ‘sermonettes,'” as Byron Forrest Yawn writes in his book, What Every Man Wishes His Father Had Told Him:

[Pastors] must put their proverbial finger in men’s faces and tell them exactly … how they’ve wasted years of spiritual opportunity. Not with belittling harshness, but with frustrated optimism. (p. 164)

In other words, we need real leaders, ones who’ll teach us how to put our faith into action when it’s UNcomfortable. We need our leaders to model this in their own lives, and we need them to expect us to follow suit.

And in doing so, we’ll discover a secret: Serving others brings surprisingly more fulfillment than anything we’ll find inside our comfort zone.

What’s your take on this? And how have your leaders handled the ‘gospel of comfort’ in your church?

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