Bullies

Bullies are everywhere found.  One friend of mine entered his first ministry assignment with full heart and eager energy. Serving as a layperson for many years in music ministry, the excitement of a full time opportunity drew he and his family to another state.  The church welcomed and enjoyed their new pastor and things flowed well for quite a while.  Sadly, my friend discovered that his boss, the senior pastor, was embezzling funds from the church.  When confronted, the thief did not respond with repentance.  Instead, he fabricated charges of insubordination, deceived the church board and fired my friend.

Another friend in ministry was recruited away from a highly successful youth group he led, to a different church.  The board and senior staff greatly admired my friend’s gifts and connection with high schoolers and stated they wanted to see the same thing happen in their youth program.  He did that.  Unfortunately, the power brokers didn’t genuinely desire to reach the youth of their community, just the ones in their church.  When dozens of students started flooding in from nearby schools, suddenly my friend received poor performance reviews, even though attendance numbers went up among the church’s own youth also.  They fired him within a few months claiming his philosophy didn’t mesh with theirs.  One hundred percent true.

In between full time ministry and building his own insurance agency, my husband sold cars. He quickly rose to the top of the sales chart.  One day his boss invited him to a party at his home for a multi-level marketing business he represented.  We were already involved with a different competing company and so Ken politely declined.  He was fired for “poor performance” two days later even though his sales numbers consistently ranked higher than most of the other salesmen.

Bullies are demoralizing.  Whether on a playground, a place of business, a church, or other organization, everyone deals with a bully at some point.

The harassment and bullying Jesus and his disciples received from religious leaders is what ultimately led to his death.  Huh.  That’s not very encouraging sounding is it?

What can be done when a superior is a bully?  How do you know when to turn the other cheek, stand and fight or shake off the dust and leave?  I think the answer is simultaneously simple and complex and encapsulated in Zechariah 4:6. “’It’s not by might nor power, but by my Spirit’, says the Lord.”  The simple part is, we know what to do with a bully by listening to the Holy Spirit.  The complexity is listening to the Holy Spirit.

Sometimes Jesus flipped tables or shouted at demons.  Other times he just slipped away from angry mobs without saying a word.  How do we know when to do what?

A few observations and suggestions:

  • Use the whole counsel of the word to deal with a bully.   For example, Proverbs is filled with wisdom for dealing with foolish, evil people.  Paul’s writings are also laced with advice on interpersonal relationships.  Our problem is not a lack of advice from the Word, it’s a lack of the Word stored in our hearts.  God uses the Bible to communicate His ways and methods to us.  The Holy Spirit will quicken certain verses for particular situations but only if we read and internalize them.
  • God uses bullies to move us.  Joseph’s brothers almost bullied him to death.  God used their behavior to begin the young man’s journey to destiny.  A church who cannot recognize that their senior pastor is a thief and a liar is not healthy.  I suspect God hastened my friend’s family out of that place for His reasons.  The point is when we are fired, forced to leave or resign a situation, this is no surprise to God.  He knows the wickedness of character in those around us and will use it for His purposes.
  • If you stand and fight, be certain you are standing on THE Firm Foundation.  A number of times, disgruntled people in our church tried to run Ken and I off with falsehoods presented to our denominational leadership.  We stood our ground for two reasons.  First, and most important, God withheld any peace about leaving, even though our flesh wanted to flee, kind of like Gideon.   He supplied us with strength to keep our anger righteous, not sinful.  He supplied wisdom to discern spirits and motives. Secondly, our denomination leadership supported us %100.   Each time, they advised the verbal bullies to leave, which they did.

Fighting back a bully can be a bloody business, so be certain the Lord is in your corner, sanctioning the fight, before you go into the ring.

  • Keep your heart and motives pure. If your secret desire is to see a bully destroyed, God won’t honor that.  In fact, He might just let them trouble you more.  I wonder if He would have allowed David to run longer from the bully king, Saul, if David allowed hatred and vengeance in his heart?  After all, he was the rightful, anointed king, treated horribly by a lunatic with power.  Remember, God loves the bullies too.  Keep your heart pure, as David did, towards your persecutor.  Forgive them however many thousands of times you need to, to keep your hands clean.

If you are in a tough situation right now, bury yourself in the Word so God can feed you wisdom, insight, discernment and understanding.  Listen, then obey. Allow God to deal with other’s reactions and whatever consequences occur.

 

 

The Loneliness of Failure

I wanted to clamber onto the stage and get up in the grill of some choir students, who were behaving like Philistines during a concert. 60 out of the 65 students sang their hearts out.  The other five flicked people’s hair, purposely and loudly sang wrong notes, shouted to friends in the audience and made obscene gestures with their hands.

I took over a chaotic high school choir program in a tough, inner-city school one January day.  The previous vocal music teacher simply walked out of class a month earlier, never to return.  In four years, four teachers tried to wrangle these students. I was the fifth.  My new students home stories broke my heart every single day. Their complex behavioral issues left me drained.

On top of my most motivated students being dysfunctional, my choir classes received consistent dumps of students with severe behavioral problems.  They didn’t bother to meet with guidance counselors  to choose electives they liked.  When those classes filled up, everyone else got dropped into my class.  Most days, 7-8 students fidgeted in various time out locations.  With zero interest in music, they were incapable of sitting by other students.

As our concert approached, I gave the anti-choir bunch the option of writing a paper rather than perform.  When they all chose the concert, I reminded them they would be tested individually on the concert music along with singing in the actual performance.  We all discovered that two weeks of paying attention doesn’t compensate for seven weeks of tomfoolery.

Even if every student sang their best, that concert would have been sketchy.  With all the discipline problems and staff changes, students never learned to sing.  The few naturally talented singers couldn’t overcome the earnest sounds of everyone else.  The polite golf claps after each song spoke volumes.  The next day choir students endured mocking in the hallways.  My first concert in a new school went into the fail column. I felt a dreadful loneliness as I listened to the successes of other classrooms during my lunch breaks in the teacher’s lounge. I seemed to be the only failing teacher.

Feelings of isolation often accompany failure.  It seems that our eyes fall on others succeeding in the areas we are failing.  I went to a music teacher’s conference shortly after that concert and left half way through.  Everyone but me was winning awards, growing programs, hiring assistants, etc. etc.   I’m guessing some of exxagerated.

It’s not failure that keeps you from success.  All successful people experience failure.  It’s what you do afterwards that leads to either achieving goals or settling for less.  For example, I went from  top music dog in my high school choir to a college freshman who couldn’t land a single solo or dramatic role. Nevertheless, I kept on auditioning until I finally scored some great parts.  It took two years.  That’s like an eternity when you’re in college.  Why didn’t I quit or change majors or something?  I credit my parents with some of my success principles.

  • Failure is no reason to abandon a passion or talent.  When my father first entered the greenhouse industry, at the age of forty, he lacked knowledge and experience. Consequently, he authored several crop fails initially. The sickening sight of hundreds of plants tossed on our dump pile is still unforgettable.  In the face of that, his passion and gifts for growing beautiful flowers propelled him to learn from his mistakes and adjust.  Today people will drive 45 minutes past other greenhouses to buy his products.  Whatever passions and gifts God places in you must endure the tests of failures to be fully developed. Gain knowledge, make course corrections and keep moving.
  • Successful people get up, overcome obstacles and do something towards achieving their goals every day. My mother endured moderate to intense back pain from childhood until the day God took her home.  It would have been understandable for her to stay at home and rest.  She didn’t.  She wanted her three children to attend college, for she and Dad to pay off our house and to have great health insurance.  To reach those goals, she worked outside her home for over fifty years.  All successful people must find their way under, around, through and over obstacles.

So, what happened with the choir?   The concert fail pushed me to gain knowledge and adjust my course.  I didn’t give students the paper or concert choice again.  They either made honest attempts to learn and perform or they failed the class and took a different elective.  I sought knowledge about behavioral problems and learned to put enforceable boundaries into place for example, “I only teach when students are listening.”  Fairly quickly, unruly students figured out that creating music together was a lot more fun than spending the whole hour messing around and failing a class.

At our next concert, applause was enthusiastic, students excited and parents grateful. Most of them had never experienced a successful choir performance.

God places passions and gifts inside you.  Expect some failures as you work to turn them into life goals and then achieve them.  That’s the nature of the fallen world we live in.   Don’t allow the heartbreak and loneliness of failures push you into a mediocre, unfulfilled life.

 

 

Jack Of All Trades

The smell of cedar returns me to my childhood church, working with my father in his custodial duties.  I sprinkled the cedar shavings on floors and together we swept many a dusty room in our century old building.  Although these are pleasant memories for me, I suspect they are less so for Dad.  The custodial hat was one of many he wore during that time.

Not only did my father function as part-time janitor for Oreland Baptist, he also served as part-time minister of music.  Well, that doesn’t sound so awful, you might think.  It wouldn’t be, except that those jobs were piled on top of a full-time position in the parts department of a large car dealership.  Add husband, father, son to that and I don’t recall the man having much free time.

I know single folks who work full-time, parent alone and care for aging relatives.  Pastors we’ve met are in small churches where they preach, visit, answer phones, clean bathrooms and type up the bulletins.  I’m also thinking of friends whose titles are administrative assistant but spend work time grocery shopping, wrapping gifts, caring for their boss’s children, picking up dry cleaning and a host of other tasks far removed from their job descriptions.

The speed at which we need to swap hats and roles can by dizzying at times.  Often this can create feelings of isolation and loneliness.  We perceive other people’s lives as far more simple and focused than our own.  It can seem that peers with similar positions are taking mountains and checking off goals far better than we are.  Sometimes I’ve felt exhausted from spending my resources on things that seem completely unrelated to my life goals. How about you?

Multi-tasking and flexibility are terrific strengths to develop. They are qualities employers seek, along with flexibility.  So, what can we do to get over that sensation that we are constantly breaking dishes while everyone else is keeping all theirs up in the air?

First, it seems obvious but I will remind you anyway; take your stuff to Jesus. “Then Jesus said, ‘Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.’”  Matthew 11:28 NLT   I like to put the emphasis on me.  If we run to people first, they can help us to some degree.  If you do this continually, they will dread seeing your number on their screen.   Jesus never wearies of us and he’s the only one with the might to change our circumstances and our energy levels.

“They that wait upon the Lord SHALL renew their strength; they SHALL mount up with wings as eagles; they SHALL run, and not be weary, and they SHALL walk, and not faint.”  Isaiah 40:31 NIV   If you are shortchanging personal time with God, you are keeping from yourself the very thing that will enable you to withstand this season of life.

I’ve wasted these periods in the past.  Don’t just grit your teeth and plow through your juggling acts grimly.  This is an opportunity to learn so, so many things, like peace during chaos or joy above negativity.   Remember, the trip to the Promised Land was an eleven-day journey.  God kept those sillies  in the wilderness for 40 years because they refused to listen, obey and grow.

The second thing to consider is that isolation is the enemy’s strategy, not God’s. Our Father created us for relationship.  Be apprised that Satan will endeavor to construe your vision.  He wants you to believe that you are a failure while others in your line of vision are crossing finish lines. After you’ve carried your troubles to God first, find a key person or two to share your struggles with.  Your goal should be prayer support and wisdom not sympathy.  Watch out for that victim mentality that Satan wants to saddle you with.

Jonathan not only gifted David with friendship, he also possessed wisdom as to how to best to deal with his looney father, King Saul.  Wise friends can view our situations and offer fresh insights.  Give them permission to point out things that you might not see.  For example, you could be in bondage to perfectionism.  You’re not happy even when your plates are all up in the air if some are wobbling!

Frequently we are juggling plates that aren’t ours or should be shared. I overheard a woman complaining to her friend about her siblings not doing their share caring for aging parents. When her friend asked if she had spoken with her sisters she said, “No!  But they should just know, shouldn’t they?”   I seriously wanted to jump into that conversation.

Another occasion, a woman complained to me that she didn’t know how she could continue to work full time and keep up all her housework, grocery shopping, etc.  After a few questions, I discovered that she assigned no household chores to her three teenagers!  That’s loco folks!  Put those moochers to work at home!

Only God contains every resource, every bit of wisdom and strategy you need to navigate your circus.  He alone can grant you supernatural strength beyond your own.  Cast all your hats and dishes at His feet every day.

 

 

 

Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen

I spent the summer of my fifteenth year enduring the worst job I’ve ever experienced.  I didn’t muck out horse stalls or wash toilets.  I sat alone in a room, eight hours a day, cutting up books of quotes and poems and organizing them into notebooks by subject.  It was a made up, thrown together job.  I knew it and so did everyone else in the organization.

Earlier that Spring my father connected with family friends who ran a parachurch ministry.  He inquired about a place for me working with children, one of their main missions.  A key director assured Dad that I would be interviewed as a formality but should plan on spending my summer days at their facility engaged with kiddos.

Weeks passed. No one called. Finally, I phoned the personnel director.  She not only didn’t recognize my name, she informed me that all summer positions had been filled.  When Dad phoned the director himself, the embarrassed man hemmed and hawed and muttered some things about miscommunication.

I had turned down other job opportunities due to the promise of this one. Angered, my father firmly stated that the director would be a man of his word and that I would  be working there that summer.  He seemed angry that my father didn’t just go back down. Instead of finding a solution involving children, he created the job I described above.

Another branch of this ministry involved a popular radio show.  The host loved to use quotes in his opening monologue but struggled to find them in a timely manner.   It was decided that I would spend my summer being his human google search engine.

All summer long I sat at a table cutting and pasting, listening to the sounds of children and the other young staff through the open windows.  Struck with a guilty conscience, I believe, the director came into my little prison every single day to either thank me for my “very important work” or say something encouraging.  He sounded like some of the syrupy quotes in the books.   Never once did he apologize.

At home, I never said a word about my misery.  I didn’t want to create trouble between my parents and this ministry which did great work.  And since they raised me right, I did not spread an evil report about the unfairness of my situation to the other junior staff who I ate lunch with every day.  The loneliness of feeling jerked around by someone else’s mistake and attempted cover up, ached inside me.

That certainly wasn’t the last time I was manhandled by an authority. The pain of being messed with by someone above you can be isolating.  When the same person refuses to acknowledge any wrongdoing, it makes for a tough situation.  As believers, we know it’s wrong to be running to co-workers with gossip and complaints concerning our bosses. On the other hand we are fearful of confronting a boss for fear of making our situation worse or losing our job. What can we do?

  • Discern whether to stand your ground or shake off the dust.  In 2 Chronicles 20:17 and Exodus 14:14, God tells his people to stand their ground and He will fight for them.   In Matthew 10:14 Jesus tells his disciples to leave towns that don’t receive them.  In some situations, I’ve been a tenacious terrier, refusing to allow a difficult superior to drive me out.   Other times, I’ve left situations where I was tolerated, not celebrated.  The only way I knew whether to dig in or bug out was by listening to God and gaining clear direction.   I ask Him for specific verses. I fasten myself to them so I can endure the headwinds of staying in a difficult circumstance or the fallout from leaving.
  • If you stay, ask God to change you and the one above you.  I grew in grace and patience under difficult people.  I learned to hold my tongue and refuse to take up offense.  Sometimes God changed the people above me or just removed them entirely.  A few times he led me to stay and deepen my character through unchanging, unmoving folks.
  • Seek counsel from mature believers outside of your circumstances.  It’s good to find someone who has no dog in whatever hunt you’re running in, to talk to.  Please be warned, it’s easy to flow in a victim mentality and paint a grand picture of how villainous your boss is.  Try to just state facts and share how you feel.  Assassinating a character is not kingdom behavior.  Besides, we need to consider the fact that some of our behavior might be triggering the negative responses in our superiors.  An objective outsider can help us see that if we will be truthful and fact-based.  Sometimes we think others are the problem when it’s us.

God allows everyone to encounter a bad boss at some point in their lives.  How we handle that challenge can either set us up for our next success or hold us back in spiritual elementary school.

Making the Tough Calls

Firing a friend stinks no matter how you phrase it.  My husband let several people go during our years as business owners.  We hired many brothers and sisters in Christ, many in transition between ministries.  Some we knew quite well.  Most of them worked hard and diligently learned the skills necessary for their positions.

A few never mastered key tasks critical to the detailed insurance industry.  Our agency paid fines to the state due to incorrect information on individual policies.  Angry customers barked at our customer service reps because their coverage wasn’t what they requested. This discovery often occurred at accident scenes. Sometimes customer records were stored improperly or completely MIA.  Our csr’s, again, would take the hit when clients called for specific policy information.

Sleepless nights always proceeded the wretched task of “giving someone the opportunity to succeed in a different company,” as my husband phrased it.  The pain of knowingly removing someone’s income and reason to get up in the morning weighs heavily.  In the early years we tried to salvage employees that simply lacked skills or work ethics.  This approach damaged the morale of employees who did their job correctly.  We forced our star workers to carry the weight of other’s poor performances.

We learned to speak the truth in love and execute hard decisions.  A couple folks were so shocked and lacked self-awareness that they left angrily and then trash talked us.  Their bitter attitude, after so much mercy, hurt.  Making tough choices is a harsh reality of leadership.

I’ve observed leaders and pastors who abdicate their responsibility in this arena.  Bullies and complainers are given way too much play and cause substantial damage when a leader won’t do their job.  This applies to families, businesses, churches and governments.

Great leaders rise to occasions and make wise decisions in the face of conflict, criticism, and even danger.  Everywhere from battlefields to businesses, from churches, schools and homes, the world is crying out for courageous, skilled leaders.  You must decide in whatever arena of influence God has given you, what kind of leader you will be. If you desire to be a world shaker and functioning on the forward lines of the kingdom, you will suffer some personal losses.   Here’s a few:

  • Losing the popular vote- This is when you must choose to do the righteous thing even when it flies in the face of majority opinion.  We’ve lost some relationships over these kinds of decisions.
  • Losing your life- When you are willing to lay down your life, resources and dreams for the sake of God’s will and purposes, you are an exceptional leader. Trying to advance your own cause and expecting God to bless it, is a doomed endeavor. Please recall Jesus’ admonition that folks who try to save their lives will lose them. Discover how and where God is moving and blessing and join Him in His work.
  • Losing peace, temporarily-  Holding employees to a standard, correcting straying church members or disciplining a rebellious child are not cuddly moments.  In general, people don’t like to be told they’re missing the mark. Most don’t receive it well.   Just remember, there’s a difference between making peace and keeping the peace.
  • Losing pride-  At times, leaders must recognize that they are the source of a problem. This can be due to us trying to excel in too many areas, instead of bringing other skilled people along with us.  Sometimes we ball up the works clinging to systems and methods that use to be successful but are no longer.  Other times we roll out change too quickly. The point is, a great leader acknowledges when they boggle things and seek appropriate solutions.

If you’ve been avoiding a tough call, face up to it and deal with people in a straightforward, kind manner.  If a dying program needs to be cut, do it.  Need to change processes or personnel, then seek God’s wisdom and make the alterations.  Stand firm in the face of the blowback.   If someone needs some loving confrontation and consequences, get it done and don’t expect a thank you.

It’s resting on you as to whether your family, ministry, business or whatever soars towards it’s God ordained destiny or languishes in a puddle of unresolved problems and unmade decisions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wonderful Counselor

I sobbed my sad tale of woe, again, to another sympathetic friend.  My ears used to throb from so many hours on the phone in those pre- blue tooth days.  Each time another personal attack launched against Ken or I, those close to us braced for tearful, angry conversations with me.

This particular round of assault originated from our decision to move our church service from Christmas Day to Christmas Eve.  Leadership was united and a large majority of members celebrated the change.  Some, however, viewed it as a personal insult to their traditions.  It mattered little to them that three quarters of the congregation stayed home on Christmas day, never attending.  Ken and I became the bulls eye in their targets.

The Christmas Eve service launched beautifully.  Its success created a new tradition for our tenure at that church. That first one, though, came with a high price tag.  I faked Christmas joy a number of times during that particular season.  Being cast as the villain in someone’s holiday story is not cool.

The barrages of criticism we endured at times overwhelmed us.  We didn’t understand then that any leader moving with God’s purposes better plan on serious opposition.  As Christmas drew closer, attacks intensified as critics understood that we weren’t giving in.  With each nasty note or phone call, I poured my heart out to my inner circle, seeking wisdom and encouragement.

After I spoke with a number of godly sisters, then I prayed, asking God for help and courage.  Wow.  That looks even worse in print than it sounded in my head.  That’s the way I rolled in my younger years.  I didn’t enjoy the type of intimacy with God I do now. Even though I accepted Christ at the age of 5, I didn’t give him an all access pass until age thirty something.

One of the results of that was that I didn’t understand his role as Wonderful Counselor, in a personal way. This truth filled every Christmas season with music I sang with gusto, yet it never traveled from my lips to my heart.  I chose to hear his thoughts through other’s voices instead of listening to the soft, still voice myself.

Let me tell you what I’ve learned about the wonderful counselor, the One you should turn to first with anything, anything, anything.

  • He knows you­.  He doesn’t need to spend numerous counseling sessions with you just to understand your personality and background. Done and done. He is second to second with all current events in your life also.

 

  • He knows everyone else. Agendas, motivations, schemes, plans and billions of personal histories could fit on a pin head of the knowledge he possesses. He knows all the whys behind people’s talk and actions.

 

 

  • He is love. All heavenly actions and agendas flow from pure love.  He is the Good Shepherd who will take you on rugged journeys filled with terrors, trials and triumphs.  You can count on him completely when your back is to a wall or the way seems impassable.  Never, never will He leave you hanging.

 

  • He is wisdom.  There is no problem too complex, no challenge too difficult to max out God’s supply of wisdom.  You simply can’t stump him.

 

 

  • He is unfailingly available.  There is no waiting list for face to face time.  He’s never too weary from listening to other clients to focus on your concerns.

 

  • He is understanding. Emmanuel lived among us. He laughed, loved, wept, bled and died.  No one will ever understand all the depths heights of your, unique human experience.

 

So, why did I use run to others before I got on my knees or fell on my face with God?  Same reasons as some of you, I expect.   Lack of understanding and knowledge of God’s word and His character, laziness, a desire for sympathy, enjoyment of a victim status, and the list goes on.

I don’t know what you are facing this Christmas season but God does.  Will you please use me again, as a cautionary tale?  Please don’t waste time and emotion running to others first with your heartbreaks.  One of the most amazing things I’ve discovered is, if I will take my troubles to the throne room first, I don’t usually feel a need to peddle them anywhere else so quickly. Of course I still seek wisdom and counsel from many advisers for the big stuff.  Of course I still share numerous prayer requests with friends and family.  Nowadays, though, this is to confirm the truth of matters that God and I have settled privately or to stand in the strength of unified prayers.

Let the truth of His counsel and peace rule your heart and life this season.

 

 

 

Opposing Forces Part 2

During my childhood, my school practiced air raid drills. A particularly shrill alarm consistently interrupted our education and sent us scurrying under our desks wondering if the Russians had finally launched their nukes.  We lived through the Cuban missile crisis so our parents and teachers too this seriously. Some of my friend’s parents even built bomb shelters in their backyards.

For decades most Americans shared a common enemy, Russia.  In those days Democrat, Republican. wealthy, middle class, impoverished Americans of all races united around one common belief, Russia was dangerous.  The phenomenon of radically diverse people uniting against a common enemy is frequent throughout history all the way back to ancient times.  In Nehemiah 4 we see a Horonite, an Ammonite and an Arab forge a bond based on their hatred of the Jews.  These people groups were driven out of the promised land long ago by Israel. We see an enduring bitterness which celebrated when Jerusalem collapsed and a rage at the possibility of its reconstruction.

Nehemiah and his crew experienced vicious hatred and devious plots to destroy them and stop their king-sanctioned building project. How did they stand up against the onslaught?  What fortified them to keep going instead of tucking tail and running?  They prayed and prepared.

Praying seems so obvious right, yet is it our first go-to when we encounter opposition? It didn’t used to be mine.  When a Sanballat or Tobias came after me, my first response consisted of calling a close friend or family member.  I longed for sympathy and for them to pray for me.  My gracious, what a weak response!  Don’t make the same mistake.

Nehemiah responded to attacks immediately with prayer.  Immediately. He didn’t run tattling back to the king or instigate a boo hoo party with other workers. Whatever fear or frustration he felt, he lifted it upwards towards the One who could settle Nehemiah’s soul AND deal with his enemies.  His prayers packed a spiritual wallop too, no weak-kneed whining here. “Then I prayed, ‘Here us, our God, for we are being mocked.  May their scoffing fall back on their own heads, and may they themselves become captives in a foreign land! Do not ignore their guilt. Do not blot out their sins, for they have provoked you to anger here in front of the builders.’”  Nehemiah 4:4 NLT

Whoa! Doesn’t this sound like Nehemiah is asking God to destroy his enemies?  He surely is! How does this fit with Jesus’ teaching to turn the other cheek and love those who hate us?  If fits perfectly because one of the main ways God destroys opposition is by converting people to be followers of Jesus.  This method worked fabulously with the Apostle Paul.  Be certain that as you pray these types of prayers, your motives are pure.  We want to see sinners converted and God’s justice executed on behalf of His people.

In the face of opposition turn to God first.   Here’s some great Scriptures I use in intercession:

Isaiah 54:17- NLT “ But in that coming day no weapon turned against you will succeed.  You will silence every voice raised up to accuse you.  These benefits are enjoyed by the servants of the Lord. Their vindication will come from me.  I the Lord have spoken!”    

2 Thesselonians 3: NIV “But the Lord is faithful, and he will strengthen you and protect you from the evil one.”

Deut 28:7 NIV  “The Lord will cause your enemies who rise against you to be defeated before you. They shall come out against you one way and flee before you seven ways.”

Deut.3:22 NIV  “Do not fear them, for the Lord your God is the one fighting for you.”

Psalm 44:5 NIV  “Through You we will push back our adversaries, through Your name we will trample down those who rise up against us.”

Next post I’ll discuss the second part of Nehemiah’s strategy, preparation.     

Mud Slingers and Hole Diggers

 

“You don’t know what you’re doin’!  Mrs. Jones didn’t do all this flippin’ junk! Whadda  waste of time!”  My frustrated choir student struggled during a sight reading exercise.  Her coping device consisted of assassinating my character.

For the umpteenth time I explained to the choir that if they wanted to attend a competition, which they requested, we needed to do our time in the trenches with sight reading exercises.

For the next month, my chief complainer led a grim little band of 4 or 5 students who folded their arms and stared at me each time we practiced sight reading.  They chose to lose participation points rather than admit I might know a little more about music competitions. At times I’d overhear them trying to recruit more students to their merry troupe.

When the competition rolled around, the rest of the choir performed well on the sight reading portion. We still received a lower mark because, as the judge said, “I’d like to give you a higher grade in here as most of you are doing a great job, but I can’t because 4 or 5 of you seem to be completely lost and not understanding how to sing these exercises at all.”   The bus ride home was very, very quiet.

If you determine to lead according to God’s guidance, conflict is inescapable.  I know this is normal leadership stuff, but certain elements of conflict used to drag my emotions to subterranean levels.  Attacks on my character ranked numero uno. When individuals criticized my personality, leadership style or questioned my motives, I slid into a pit. Wallowing in the mud hole someone else created, it used to take numerous words of encouragement and support to bring me topside again.

Gradually, I learned that there will always be people trying to drag me down. If you are in church leadership and obeying God, that’s the deal. Read Exodus and Numbers. Considering the shenanigans Moses dealt with will put yours back in perspective.  Not everyone celebrates what God is doing through you. Some can’t even tolerate it. You must be prepared with a response plan when gossip, strife, grumbling and complaining start digging a hole for your emotions and self-esteem to slip into.

Joseph knew the pain of being verbally trashed and cast down, like, way down.  The pit wasn’t the worst of it either!  His journey to a ruler’s position in Egypt went by way of slavery and prison. Years later, during a reconciliation with his brothers, he says one of the most profound statements in the Word.  “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done.” (Genesis 50:20 NIV) God used some pretty vicious behaviors to place Joseph in power.

God used the jealousy and rage of Joseph’s brothers.  God allows humans to choose good or evil. If He gives us a free will, He cannot constantly override individual decisions to commit sin.  One of the qualities that amazes me about Him though, is His infinite ability to bring beauty from ashes.  Clearly, God desired to move Joseph to Egypt for his eventual promotion. His new position would ultimately save the lives of the very brothers who wanted him dead. I love the serendipity of them eventually bowing down before him, just like his teenage dream predicted.

God used the wickedness of Potiphar’s wife.  God could have steered Joseph into a household where the mistress wasn’t starring in her own daytime drama, but He didn’t.   Potiphar’s house became another step in the journey to test and strengthen Joseph’s wisdom and morals. I imagine it crushed him to go from his achieved position to prison.  Are you starting to see the pattern, though? Joseph’s travels to his destiny involved ups and downs between positions of honor and circumstances of lowliness.

Oh dear sisters, I know how much it hurts to be manhandled by other’s words and actions. Understand, our loving Father allows this in our lives for the same purposes He permitted His own son to be brutally assaulted.  Our ability to lead successfully is influenced greatly by our character quality and maturity level. Our strength and purity come forth through fire, just like precious metals.

Although people may intend to diminish, disrespect or destroy us, we can always choose to rise above their mudslinging and hole digging.    

I encourage you to look at your critics with different eyes.  Ask God what He’s trying to refine within you through the mud slingers in your world.  Sometimes, God will use people to make your current situation so intolerable that you will consider something else He’s prepared for you.  Study Joseph’s life and consider all the sinful behavior God re-purposed to direct Joseph’s path.  He can do the same for you, if you will seek His perspective and insights.

In my next post we’ll look at more character issues.   I’ll share five ways unhealthy leadership behaviors and attitudes can damage our fellowship with other believers and God himself.

 

 

 

 

The Grudge

 

Early spring air rushed through my car windows, whipping around some papers in the back seat. At a stop sign, I darted a backwards glance. My eyes recognized the bright colors of worksheets my preschool daughter loved to do, but there was also a strange black spot I assumed to be another “floater” in one of my eyes. I looked straight ahead, moving my eyes around to try to produce the same effect. Hmmmm….. where did that floater go?  At the next stop, I took a longer look into the back seat.  This was no black spot; it was a Something, a Something that hovered in the air.

Earlier that morning my mind fixated on a painful situation at church.  A few members recently behaved in some very divisive, ungodly ways.  Their actions and words cycled through my mind repeatedly, stirring up dark, vindictive thoughts, just like the vague shadow lurking in my car.

I completed the drive home, nauseated and shaking, refusing to look in the back seat and singing praise songs. I knew what this was. I didn’t understand why it was in my car! I immediately phoned an older pastor friend of ours from Texas. When I described the black shadow to him, he asked me one question in his baritone, southern drawl, “Darlin,’ is there anyone you need to forgive, anyone you maybe hate, just a pinch?”

My pride tried to answer first, and I hesitated, weighing my options.  This church girl knew full well that hatred and unforgiveness are serious sins. What would my friend think? Ultimately, my fear of what might be stalking me prompted me to answer truthfully, “Yes, yes there is.”

While I cried, this seasoned pastor explained Satan’s delight in finding an inroad into my mind. Refusing to forgive people is an open  doorway and welcome mat for him to stroll right into my thoughts.  As a believer in Jesus Christ, my spirit is sealed and set apart for God.  I cannot be demon-possessed.  However, by allowing negative emotions to camp out in my soul, I invite evil to draw close to me, oppressively.

That frightening drive remains as one of the few times God allowed me a glimpse into the supernatural world all around me.  I believe He wanted to shake and wake me out of the destructive sin of being a record keeper of wrong doings. The vividness of what I experienced that day keeps me on the straight and narrow regarding holding a grudge against those who hurt me or my family.

My friend laid out some scriptural forgiveness strategies, which became habit.  I’ve also added some of my own that you may find helpful.

  • As soon as someone sins against you, begin speaking silently or out loud, if possible, verses you committed to memory for such moments. My favorite is Matthew 5:11.  Other great ones are:  Matthew 6:14, 15, Mark 11:25, Colossians 3:13, Ephesians 4:31, 32, Matthew 5:23-24 and, of course, I Corinthians 13. (Sometimes, I’ll even excuse myself to the restroom, or some other private place just so I can do this.)
  • Remember, Jesus understands. (Hebrews 4:15)
  • Allow yourself to feel painful emotions. Feelings aren’t right or wrong. They just are. Don’t ignore them, they will simply express themselves in a different way. It’s what we do with our emotions that leads us to righteousness or sin.
  • For smaller things, forgive and move on. You may have to do this several times if you think of the offense, and still feel pain or anger. Keep clearing the wrong doer’s account. God will speak to this person, in His own time concerning their careless words or behavior.  “Let it gooooooooooo………” as the song says.
  • For large pains forgiveness is a process in need of time. On some occasions I’ve needed to pray for and forgive someone repeatedly until I genuinely feel no desire for retribution and can think about the person or incident without a yucky feeling in my gut.
  • Picture offenses as individual rooms in a hallway. When you are able to enter a room and look at the memory of an offense objectively, without pain, you are now able to reach back and encourage someone else who might be struggling to forgive someone for a similar sin.
  • Work towards reconciliation. Follow the Matthew 18 pattern to try to turn this person from an adversary into an advocate.  This process takes humility and patience.  You might think you are only 5% to blame in the situation, nevertheless, apologize and ask forgiveness for your part.  Often this opens the door for the other person to take ownership of their part.
  • When someone refuses to be reconciled with you, turn them over to God and continue your internal forgiveness process.
  • Seek godly counsel. Some situations, involving habitual or unrepentant sin, must be dealt with at a higher level. Another pastor in your church, an elder or deacon, or someone else who has spiritual authority in your congregation will need to be involved if someone is habitually sinning against you within your church or Christian organization or refuses to be reconciled with you.  In Psalm 105:15 and I Chronicles 16:22, God bluntly says, “Don’t touch my anointed!”  Tolerating and making excuses for those who “touch” pastors and ministry leaders with wicked behavior and words, grieves the Holy Spirit.
  • Let God do His work in your heart.  Just as he did for Joseph, God uses the sinful behaviors of others to accomplish greatness in our lives.

In my next post, I’ll be exploring this last item further.  Does it feel sometimes like your ministry life is a roller coaster, rising and dropping based on the decisions and behaviors of others? What may feel like a crazy ride can be an adventure when you remember God is working the controls!

 

Floodwaters

Sploosh, sploosh, sploosh.

As soon as Ken and I walked into our back door we knew something seemed off.  An odd sound came from the basement and a damp smell pervaded the house.  Concerned, we immediately ran down our basement stairs, until we couldn’t.   Three feet of water stopped us from descending the last four stairs.  Tiny waves lapped our feet and continued to rise. We stared, wordless.

The thunderstorm outside wasn’t any worse than others.  Why the flood?  Turns out a nearby construction project accidentally crushed the pipe leading out from our sump pump hole.  Since water couldn’t escape, it stayed.

Sawdust from Ken’s woodshop, small toys from Jennifer’s play area and various items from our storeroom floated on top of the water.  The flood saturated the lower half of all the furniture in our finished family room. Table lamps appeared to be resting on the top of the water, their end tables fully covered.

The process of removing all the ruined possessions and cleaning the leftover molds and mildews took several weeks. Remodeling took several months.   My prayers and sympathy to those whose entire homes have been flooded.

Several years later I remembered that flood one day when I found myself face to floor, repenting.  It was 1990 something and my church experienced a profound revival which lasted several years. The carpet in front of our altar filled up with kneeling, weeping people at every service,  repenting before God. Our basement flood came to mind as I wondered how much more God wanted to remove and rearrange in my life with His rushing waters.

The revival had already re-arranged our lives and souls deeply.  Our hour and a half Sunday morning and evening services extended to three hours, sometimes more.  Our Friday date nights gave way to weekly evangelistic services, which lasted four to five hours.

People ask, “Why in the world did your services go so long?”  When thousands of people are coming to Christ for the first time or returning home to God, it takes time.  Our leadership decided to follow God’s plan rather than their service orders.

The internal changes for many of us eclipsed the outer ones.  God put his finger on habitual sins for which we previously made excuses. We forgave people who wronged us in the past.  Our dutiful prayer lives ignited into passionate conversations with God.  Our love for fellow believers deepened.  Most importantly, Jesus became our first love again.

“I want all that!” some of you might be saying right now.  God wants it for you too but be aware that flowing with the river of God’s purposes and presence comes with a price.  Revival comes when God’s people repent.  It’s that simple and that complicated.  Here’s just a few of the things I lost in our revival flood.

  • Pride- It’s a challenge to act cool when your makeup is smeared, hair is askew and you’re prostate on the floor, overcome with godly sorrow.  When you care more about God’s view of your heart than men’s view of your outer self, pride takes a whipping.
  • Time-  We didn’t want to miss a thing God was doing so Ken and I, and thousands of others, showed up to church Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays.  Additionally, I had three hour rehearsals for worship team on Thursday nights.
  • Grudges- Any shepherd knows that sheep bite.  I had to stop keeping a record of wrong doings.
  • Relationships – Not everyone liked the revised Sharon. People all in for Jesus are kind of weird.  Since I’m already rather odd to begin with………
  • Control- When you commit to letting the Holy Spirit call all the shots, He will often blast through boundaries and comfort zones. For example, God planted this suburban girl in a tough, inner city school for a season.

True revival is simply giving way to God. Charles Finney, America’s greatest revivalist said, “A revival is nothing else than the beginning of a new obedience to God.”  To keep myself on track, these are some questions I periodically ask myself.  It’s usually because I’ve drifted and the Holy Spirit nudges me.

  • Is my prayer life compelling conversation or simply a shopping list of needs?
  • Is Bible study a chore or a joy?
  • Am I harboring any bitterness or unforgiveness?
  • Am I cautious with media and literature or allowing trash in my mind?
  • Am I miserly or generous with my time and other resources?
  • Is my tongue speaking life or death?
  • Am I talking to people who offend me or talking about them?

Your list is different than mine.  We aren’t tempted by all the same things.  It’s important to know your weaknesses.  That will be the foundation of your checklist.  Those are the places where Satan will seek inroads.

America and the world need American Christians to grow up and clean up.  Are you ready for the floodwaters?   I’m asking God to revive my heart again.  My friendship with the world threatens my passion for Christ.  I need him to revive me once more.  How about you?

You adulterers!  Don’t you realize that friendship with the world makes you an enemy of God?”  James 4:4 (NLT)