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!

 

Ducks and Lions-

“Well, I simply couldn’t concentrate on the sermon at all today with the pastor’s bare feet sticking out.” This fashion review occurred a few days after my husband preached an illustrated sermon as John the Apostle.  Most of the congregation loved his costumed, first- person presentation but one member thought that, perhaps, John should use better manners and wear dress shoes instead of sandals, in the pulpit.

Ken chuckled at the comment and moved on to the next thing.  I, on the other hand, brummed about it internally for several days.  “What were they doing staring at his feet anyway? For heaven’s sake, the minor things people get all twisted up about.” And on and on my inner snarky went, criticizing this person.

As my thoughts continued to feed my anger engine, a moment of revelation occurred. My behavior was no better than the church member, “for heaven’s sake!”  Indeed, I’m sure heaven was relieved I’d suspended my own complain train. I had chucked all the encouraging comments about Ken’s sermon out the window and fixated on one foolish remark.  I should have laughed and let it go, just like Ken did.

How do you know when to be a duck or when to be a lion concerning personal criticisms?  Ducks let a lot of water roll off their backs and just keep paddling. Lions aggressively pursue anything perceived as a threat.   Our perfect example, Jesus, knew when to paddle and when to roar.

In Matthew 27, Pilate questions Jesus about who He claims to be.  The profound silence from Jesus must have been maddening to a ruler used to getting his way.  In Luke 4 a crowd from the synagogue became so angry with some things Jesus said during a service, they tried to hurl Him off a cliff.  The Living Word slipped through the crowd and walked away.   There are a number of passages where Christ’s response to personal attacks is very duck-like.

Then, there are times when the Lion of Judah roars at his critics.  In Matthew’s gospel, chapter 22 relates an incident in which Pharisees came to Jesus with a question about taxes, attempting to ensnare Him with His answer.  I believe the key to Jesus’ response, a harsh verbal lashing, lies in just a few words in verse 18. “But Jesus, aware of their malice….” (ESV).

Walking in step with the Holy Spirit is non-negotiable to determine the difference between careless words and malicious attacks. We all can toss out whiny, complainy jabs when we are tired, ill or stressed.  Often, there is no true desire to hurt the recipient of the complaint or a consistent pattern of negativity.  People in your environment may say things, without thinking, that are hurtful without any true motive to damage you.  These are careless words.  Forgive, recognize the distress in the other person’s life, and move on. Paddle, paddle paddle.

Just like Jesus’ enemies, though, some people do mean you harm and their verbal stabs are part of an agenda of strife and disunity.  You cannot take a ducky approach in these situations.  Left unchecked, this kind of divisive behavior creates conflict and confusion, hindering your church or organization’s ability to move forward into the destiny God designed for you.

I recommend this outstanding article on ­handling church conflict, if you are under fire, consistently, from certain folks.  People whose conversations frequently turn to gossip and criticism, must be dealt with in a biblical, Christ-like way.

Are you overreacting to every unkind, thoughtless word?  Ask God to help you see the person behind the words, like Jesus did. If you listen, God will share insight into people, cause you to notice circumstances in their lives and put things in a better context.   Many times I worked myself up (which, by the way, is not beneficial to your health) ignoring the promptings of the Holy Spirit to pray for that person and my attitude, forgive them and move on.

My next post topic will be about the nuts and bolts of the forgiveness process.  Between now and then, read some of the Gospel encounters between Jesus and His opposition.  Fill your mind with His ways and allow God to change your heart on this matter.  Don’t miss any of the great adventures God’s planned for you because your brain is obsessing over someone’s sloppy words!  Selah.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Criticism is Inevitable, Offense is Optional

The elderly church lady marched up to the grand piano, where I was playing, stuck her face by my ear and angrily hissed, “You always bang the piano so hard when you play.  It hurts my ears.” The harsh assessment came during a break in the service where members were supposed to greet one another and welcome newcomers. Dismayed, I smiled sweetly, apologized and reduced my volume, sorry I caused this dear sister any suffering.

Not!

The first part is absolutely correct.  The second part, about me, well…… that’s not quite the way it rolled out.  The truth is, I never looked up, kept pounding the keys, my gigantic 80’s mall bangs wobbling back and forth like a metronome, and gave my critic a terse nod. My insides took on a boxer’s stance. Snarky jabs jumped to mind, like, “I’d looooooove to play more softly but our antique sound board is so horrid, how else can I keep the congregation on the same beat!” The rest of the punches that piled up in my mind definitely qualify as below the belt.   Nice pastor’s wife, right? Sadly, I used to respond to criticism with less than a mature response.

This type of childish reaction is typical for many believers who lack the godly tools to process criticism. 

My inability to handle critics flowed from deep insecurities and a desire to be liked by everyone…..all the time, everywhere, without exception.  That’s normal, right? Probably not, but   I’ve known many other people who struggle with the same issue.

Insecure people don’t handle criticism well because they already feel lousy.

If the voices in your own head tear you down regularly, negative remarks from others become unbearable.   Some people wilt and shrink away trying not to poke the verbally abusive bears in their lives.  Feisty folk, like me, sometimes pop the bear right in the snoot. Neither of these responses are Christ-like, and can mess you up, in the long term.

The piano incident pales, pain-wise, in comparison to critiques of my character and motives I’ve received, over the years.  These types of comments used to slice deeply into my soul and make me question everything about myself in an unhealthy, obsessive way.

I know I’m a handful.  My artistic, melancholy and sanguine personality blend can be exasperating for those around me.  Folks never know if the party otter or the introverted worker bee will show up on any given day.  But these days, I am grounded in the knowledge of the unique person God created me to be, flaws and all.   My job is to walk uprightly before Him and let Him put his finger on the edges of my diamond that need polishing.  Criticism is simply one of the polishing tools He uses.

If you are a leader, scrutiny from others is a fact of life. People trash talked Jesus’ ministry and character frequently.  While Jesus responded, the disciples usually reacted.  How are you handling negative remarks?   Do you feel like the complaints outnumber the compliments?  How many bear snoots have you bopped?

You cannot control other people; you can only control your response to them.

Dishing out grace to our critics doesn’t happen with determination and grit. This type of maturity is the fruit of intimacy with God.  He enables you to be confident in your strengths and honest about your raggedy edges. He insists that your first priority is pleasing Him, not others.  Criticism may still wound you but you will respond to it instead of reacting to it.

 

How you navigate negative remarks will strengthen you, drawing you closer to Christ, or weaken and embitter you.  In the next few posts I’ll describe my personal process for handling criticism.  I’m still tempted to nurse grudges or retaliate, sometimes, but usually I don’t. That behavior grieves the Holy Spirit too much and derails my intimacy with Christ.

The first question I ask myself, when confronted with an unflattering assessment is, “Does this comment contain any truth?”   I choose to shift my mind away from instinctive reactions.  Instead, I choose to look objectively at the situation and my role in it.  Did I bang the piano too hard? Yup, and it probably did hurt some ears.  My critic’s tone and timing were poor, yet kernels of truth resided in what she said.  I could have kindly explained my challenges to her, after the service, and maybe gained support for purchasing a sound system upgrade sooner than we did.

Receiving criticism humbly and measuring our response is Christ-like and pleases our Father.  The bonus is that God can use the sharp edges of other’s words to chisel away our faults and make us more like His son.   Let Him do His work!

In my next post we’ll explore handling criticism further.  If you’ve got some tips and strategies for this common ministry challenge, please share them on my Facebook page.  Let’s encourage one another!

“Whoever stubbornly refuses to accept criticism will suddenly be destroyed beyond recovery.” Proverbs 29:1 (NLT)

 

 

 

 

 

 

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)