Saturday, March 1, 2014

Part 2: Do You Have a Good Story?

A few days ago I wrote a post entitled Do You Have a Good Story? Two people commented on it--my friends Tesha and Sandy. Tesha had a very sad childhood, and Sandy experienced something that in my mind can only be called a tragedy. It was more than sad. She shared it on her blog, but I can't find the story link without her help.

In light of their comments I think another post on good story vs. sad story would be a good idea, so here goes....

Sandy brought up that hardship and pain give birth to compassion. This is so true and I believe it's one of the reasons God doesn't prevent hardship. I'm grateful that in my life I have known soul-deep pain; I'm a better person for it and for that reason, I can call it gift. Sandy says:

I read this the other day, when it was posted and I wanted to comment, but I wanted to consider my words first. I too had a sad story (you've read a summary of it, I think, over on my blog). I think this is why I was drawn to your blog - because you have such compassion, and such a genuine heart and desire for doing right and doing good. I relate to that. Compassion learned through hardship can be something quite beautiful. It is one of God's mysteries.

Something Tesha wrote resounded in me too - if only people would turn to Jesus. I have had that discussion with my husband, along the lines of 'how on earth do people manage without God?!' and he replied 'they don't - you've seen them' and how right he was!

BUT my deep, deep desire is that churches would be much more open to damaged people, and not judgemental. Damaged people make damaged choices and often that is because they never learned any other way. In my case, I did not even comprehend that I could make choices - abuse strips away the ability to make choices so you grow up not being able to recognise where the 'I' begins. You can't even love properly because you have no sense of self. I don't know - it's hard to explain. Don't get me wrong, this is never, never an excuse for hurting other people, but instead of judging 'low-lifes', 'drop-outs', 'losers' the church should say 'you are welcome - we are all sinners here' (but the church should not be naive, either, because there will always be wolves hiding among the sheep).

I guess it is summed up in this passage from Matthew 9:10-13
'Later, as Jesus was in the house sitting at the dinner-table, a good many tax-collectors and other disreputable people came on the scene and joined him and his disciples. The Pharisees noticed this and said to the disciples, “Why does your master have his meals with tax-collectors and sinners?” But Jesus heard this and replied, “It is not the fit and flourishing who need the doctor, but those who are ill! Suppose you go away and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice’. In any case I did not come to invite the ‘righteous’ but the ‘sinners’.” (Sandy King)

Sometimes we invite pain by our own poor choices, and other times it visits us because of other persons' sins, either past or present. For the most part, let's talk here about pain we inherited, so to speak. In every case, hardship and pain are a result of the sin curse.

Tesha brought up that she knows her compassion was born of pain, and that it saddens her when people blame their childhoods for their present pain, for there is healing in Jesus.

I have to say I've had a sad story. My childhood was very very sad. There have been moments that I have felt shame over it, but all in all I felt really thankful because I know it caused me to seek the Lord with all of my heart, soul, mind, and strength. Also the hard things of my childhood have caused me to be tenderhearted toward hurting people. I can imagine I could end up like many of them had the Lord not saved me. I see so many people blame the way they are today on the childhood and it really hurts me. It hurts me because I know that Jesus can heal them and turn what the devil meant for bad to good if they would only let him into that place. I say share your story of pain and let others know that no matter what God is faithful and able to turn it for good! I know that I have the family I have today because of the past I had--He restored the years the locusts have eaten. (Tesha)

First, we'll discuss the church opening its arms to broken people. The second topic that comes to mind--Does God Completely Heal Pain? Does He Erase It?--is for part 3. I know Tesha wasn't saying God erases pain--she meant that people can move forward in Jesus, despite their pasts--but sometimes I think the expectation is that God will erase our pain, so the topic is worth a blog post.

Good, Solid Churches

A good church welcomes everyone and uses church discipline wisely. They aren't afraid to say goodbye to someone who defies church leaders and their discipline (defiantly living in sin), and they aren't afraid of new people coming in with sad or tragic stories. This balance is the fear (isn't prejudice born of fear?).

It's easy to welcome people on their first several visits to our church, but do we still feel as welcoming after hearing their broken story? Is our smile as wide when we see them after that revelation? Instead of adding to the church wealth, a portion of broken people might extract benevolence funds and never add to them. They may talk too long about their sorrows, or use language or exhibit a roughened manner we're uncomfortable with. Their brokenness and neediness may be so complicated it makes our heads spin.

But still, we (The Church) are called to minister to brokenness, just as Jesus did. This is possible only when we consider that we aren't doing the ministering. Jesus does it through us, so our heads need not spin. It takes time and patience and obedience, and all the while we must remember that we're not responsible for the outcomes or the know-how. All that is the Lord's territory.

We are responsible for obedience and faith. We are to love our fellow man as ourselves, through the power of the Holy Spirit, with a faith that can move mountains. Perfect love casts out fear and Jesus is all about perfect love. So kick your fear straight to hell, for that's where it belongs.

That said, are all church members equally matched in ministry, in terms of where they best can comfort and understand and heal? No, by God's design. The body is made up of many parts, as the Bible teaches.

I can minister to women who have lost babies because I understand the depth of that despair, and the feelings of personal failure that come with it. When you lose a baby you feel a sense of failure, because so many women don't lose babies. So many women get pregnant easily and carry babies easily. It isn't rational to feel like a failure, but sense when is pain always rational? There are things about baby loss that only its sufferers can understand.

I can minister to people who have had parents do shameful, pain-inducing things, like drink for decades and spew hate and practice blame (my mom). Or marry five times (my dad)--in some cases to women younger than me by more than a decade. I understand not having ideal parents who are capable of deep love for their offspring. The truth is some people are so broken themselves, they can't give a child the love God desires.

I can minister to those who are living just beyond the poverty level, or at the poverty level, either so they can stay home with their children, or because in a complicated world that continues to become more and more specialized, menial labor is what they can do well (because of learning disabilities or whatever).

My husband is a college-educated custodian working for a low-wage, and that isn't always easy to explain or understand. As a result, I don't try to explain it, despite the confusion of people in our midst. They perceive my husband as intelligent and educated, so the picture of him as a 55-year-old custodian doesn't fit. I didn't understand it well myself until I was forced to deal with and understand my son's learning disabilities and disorders. It didn't take long to begin to see similarities between father and son. My husband was never diagnosed and couldn't understand himself why so many things were difficult for him, that other men do easily. It was demoralizing for years, and still is. But this matter is a digression so I'll stop here. I'm sure some people judge him (and me for not working), but there is nothing I can do about that. He works very, very hard, and that is what God asks of him. Supporting us in style is not a requirement. I can say that our lifestyle is in so many ways, a gift.

Getting back on topic now: Can I minister to someone who is a past or current drug or alcohol user? No. I can pray for them and ache for them, but I wouldn't attempt to minister to them. It would be too easy for me to judge, based upon the pain I experienced on the other side of this problem. I can pray someone in to help and pray that God takes my judgement away and makes my smile truly welcoming, not fearful.

The Body of Christ is a hodgepodge of believers, by God's design. If it is too middle class or too rich or too poor, it loses effectiveness and becomes too comfortable to change the world for Christ. If your church is too much of one thing, it probably doesn't even realize what's missing.

Ask yourself, what can I do to help my church branch out and see with open eyes? Try introducing the book Radical by David Platt, for one. It encourages us to do church right, the way Jesus would do it.

There are things I don't like about my church, but I've come to the conclusion there's no perfect church. God seemed to place us in this church and I trust He did it for a reason. We don't plan to leave, but we definitely don't fit in (though we're welcomed). We may very well be the only family living just above the poverty level, and as uncomfortable as that can be, we get through it. We have something to learn at this church, and something to teach.

So don't misunderstand me...I'm not advocating leaving your church for a better or more balanced one. Instead, ask yourself what God would have you do to balance out your current church. And humbly consider that it has something to teach you?

Secondly, I would say beware the temptation to choose a church that has a lot to offer, as though you were looking for an ideal neighborhood to move into. Bells and whistles and attractive programs are nice, but they aren't church the way Jesus would do it. Church isn't supposed to entertain. Unfortunately, that's what many North American churches are today--attractive buildings meant to reel people in with bells and whistles.

What we can do is resist the temptation in our own hearts to choose comfort over substance, and help our church resist it as well.


Tesha Papik said...

Well I didn't expect that comment to become a blog post or I would've written better lol;) I totally understand there are scars from a painful childhood, I have many of my own. I know that God has helped me immensely and taken me on a path of healing. One of the best books I have ever read was Breaking free by Beth Moore, God used that book to heal so much childhood pain. although even to this day I can fall into negitive patterns from the painfull past. I am so blessed to have a husband that can point me to Jesus and contends for my life in prayer.

I agree with what you said about the church and it's need for understanding. We are a small congregation and our ministry has been primarily to broken, poor and struggling people. I have seen Gods hand do miracle work in their lives and I have also seen those fall back into a life of horrible sin and destruction. I am very carful when talking of those that fall away because I know the pain they carry causes them many times to stumble. Like I said I can picture myself in anyone of their shoes given the right set of circumstances. I am also carful about proclaiming who will be in heaven...will those that know and love Jesus but live in outright sin because of brokenness be there? These are hard things to swallow hard to understand... We have seen brokenness bring down our church at one point as many members spiraled out of controll into sin together. Revival is messy, life is messy. All we can do is cling to Jesus, fight for growth through deciplship and bible study and cry out to God in prayer! Good post my friend.

I love love love what you said about staying in your church. It is so important to stay where God planted you and be a light there! You could be the key to revival because you can minister like no one else. said...

What a lovely post - thank you for considering and including what I said. I am honoured. I look forward to the next post :-)