The messy entanglements of pain in relationships

I often think that I would be the perfect Christian if it weren’t for other people. I am convinced that I would be a better servant of Christ if it were just Him and me. Sounds ridiculous, right? Being a Christian is all about other people!

The second commandment is . . . “‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”  Matthew 22:39-40

My ideal world would give everyone their own island. There, they could do their own thing with God, uninterrupted by relationships. But since this is God’s universe, I guess I’ll have to do things His way.

This is God’s universe, and God does things His way. Now you may have a better way, but you don’t have a universe.  ~ J. Vernon McGee

My quiet times alone with God are focused and worshipful. I love getting cozy on the couch and diving into His Word. We have a good thing going. However, the complicated mess that is my past, my feelings, and my wounds tend to muddle up the picture when other people enter in.

I was recently talking to my husband about how good I felt about my relationship with God and how strong I had become. I feel as though His Word is finally becoming a part of me and my nature is changing. I am pulling away from my sin nature and participating more in the divine nature.

“Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.” 2 Peter 1:4

I have often wondered, ‘Will I ever learn? Will I ever change?’ However, I know now that I am growing and changing. I feel Him doing a good work in me! Hallelujah!

“He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” Philippians 1:6

But, the moment I step out of my front door, that all changes. When people are introduced into the equation of my faith, it becomes infinitely more complicated. And if I cannot love, then everything else is meaningless (1 Corinthians 13:1).

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I am not talking about the people that we are to serve. I expect those situations to be challenging. I am talking about relationships with friends, family, and other brothers and sisters in Christ. I am talking about people at church, ministers and musicians, coworkers, neighbors and people at family gatherings.

Relationships have a way of rubbing old wounds and ripping off scabs.

Not to long ago I found myself being envious of somebody. I didn’t feel like I was making a conscious decision to be envious. And I didn’t know how to stop it in that moment. The pain came from a place of woundedness from my past. 

Our faith can easily get entangled in our pain. It can cripple us. Having faith, doing the will of God, and participating in His kingdom require us to first deal with our pain and difficult relationships. Ugh!

If we don’t deal with these messy things, than sin will have a hold over us.

The truth is, without the blood of Christ we fall short . . . . by a lot! We can’t be a good enough person; we can’t keep from sinning;  and we can’t untangle the mess of emotions and pain that lead us to darkness. We need a Savior who brings the light. We need a Savior to wash away our past and give us hope for the future.

The beautiful words from the song, His Eye is on the Sparrow come to mind. Praise God! Your eye is on the sparrow!

Why should I feel discouraged and why should the shadows come?
Why should my heart be lonely and long for heaven and home?
When JESUS IS MY PORTION, a constant Friend is He,
His eye is on the sparrow and I know He watches me.
His eye is on the sparrow and I know He watches me.

I SING BECAUSE I’M HAPPY;
I SING BECAUSE I’M FREE;
His eye is on the sparrow
And I know He watches me.

So, the only thing I can do is lay my mess down at the foot of the cross. And sing, because I’m happy. And sing, because I’m FREE!  I have been washed clean by the blood of the lamb!

But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.  Isaiah 53:5

It is amazing that our wounds are healed by the wounds of our Savior. And, through our wounds we can bring healing to others as well.

Other people are going to find healing in your wounds. Your greatest life messages and your most effective ministry will come out of your deepest hurts.  ~Rick Warren

I am always a work in progress. God is so lovingly patient with me.

The longer we walk with Him, the more He will grow a love for others in us. If we seek Him, the ultimate love, He will fill us. Our cup will overflow and the love will spill out on others.


 

Freedom for People Pleasers

“I can’t tell you the key to success, but the key to failure is trying to please everyone.”
~Ed Sheeran

Recently, I challenged a friend of mine to brake the chains of the ‘shoulds’ in her life. She, like most of us, was overcommitted, overwhelmed, and stressed out. Most of her time was spent on others; taking care of her kids, being a good wife, taking care of the house, and volunteering for things at church and school. She rarely, if ever, did anything for herself. Guilt and obligation enslaved her. She was missing the joy of freedom that living in Christ has to offer.

I gave her homework one day after bible study. The homework was that she had to say breaking_free_by_obscurelilium-d7u0xvyno’ to something that she didn’t want to do, simply because she didn’t want to do it . . . . OR, say ‘yes’ to something that she wanted to do, simply because she wanted to do it. And, she had to do this 3 times before the next bible study.

There was only one rule; there couldn’t be a logical reason to say ‘no’ like a schedule conflict, or she was sick, or because she was just too busy. She had to not do something simply because she didn’t want to do it. Sound selfish? For the Christ follower, its called living in God’s freedom.

“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.”  Galatians 5:1

Blessings abound when we walk with Christ. It is the blessing of freedom. Christ died to set us free; free from the yoke of pleasing other people; free from the yoke of doing everything that people ask us to do; free from the yoke of being responsible for other people. There is nothing greater than freedom in Christ.

I was a people pleaser most of my life.  Never having been shown my true value in Christ, I grew up thinking that it was my job to take care of everyone else. We all had a lot in life, and this was mine.

problem pensive girl at window profile sad black and whiteI had to make people feel comfortable and at ease at all times. I was to keep the peace even when peace was not possible; even when peace was not appropriate. And, it was often at my expense. But, I truly believed that I was expendable. Just take one for the team, I would tell myself . . . . again!

Satan had me right where he wanted me; feeling worthless and being useless. He had me thinking that my only purpose was to empower others. He had been feeding me lies and I was ever so eager to believe them.

I am so grateful that God has set me free by setting me straight! He made you and me for a specific purpose in the Kingdom; something more than catering to the comfort of others; something more than just being a loving and supportive spouse; something more than raising children.

“Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.”  Galatians 1:10

My walk with God in the last 20 years has taught me how high and wide and long and deep is His unfailing love. He has been replacing the lies that I believed for so many years with His Word.

Can we say no to our mother? . . . . when the bible says this . . . “Honor your mother and father.” Exodus 20:12

Can we say no to a ministry? . . . . when the bible says this . . . “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few.” Luke 10:2

Can we say no to our church?  ” . . . . when the bible says this . . . “so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God ” Ephesians 4:12-13

Can we say no to our husbands? . . . When the bible says this . . . “Wives, submit yourselves to your husbands.” Ephesians 5:22

Yes, we can!

So, who do we need to please? . . . . God.  Who is the only one that we always need to say yes to? . . . . God.  God is the only one that we need to please, and He is already greatly pleased without us doing one single thing!

He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing.  Zephaniah 3:17

That doesn’t mean that we can say ‘no’ to those things all of the time. If we are to be obedient to God and His Word, than we must do these things some of the time. But, we are certainly not obligated to do them every time.

People pleasers just want to do the right thing. They are usually caring, selfless people. However, the right thing might be to say ‘no’. We need to be regularly in His Word to be able to discern.

 

Relationships, if they are true relationships, demand judgement and confrontation . . . . to faithfully live our life as a human being–to live as we were created to live–is to live in an open-and-closed relational connection to another.
~Andrew Root

God delights in us. And, He loves us with unfailing love. It doesn’t matter what other people think of us, or what we do. It’s who we are in Christ, or rather, it’s who He is.

My Bible study friend whom I gave the challenge to came back the following week and was eager to tell me what she did. She was like a kid in a candy store, with a grin from ear to ear. She beamed with the glow of freedom!

Stop trusting in mere humans, who have but a breath in their nostrils. Why hold them in esteem?   Isaiah 2:22

Church, we have to get this right

“We should be astonished at the goodness of God, stunned that he should bother to call us by name, our mouths wide open at his love, bewildered that at this very moment we are standing on holy ground.” ~Brennan Manning, Ragamuffin Gospel

I have some thoughts that have been nagging me for a few years. I find it so hard to know when to speak what I believe to be truth to brothers and sisters in Christ, and when to stay silent. Many have spoken out about the issue of church in this country. God has placed the state of the American church on my heart as well. My goal is not to simply add to the noise, not just to complain or criticize it, but to fight for it.

I am pained by the direction that I see American churches going. I fear that in such subtle ways, our eyes and focus may be moving away from Christ and His teachings, and toward getting the masses to come in our doors. Are we, as the church, staying true to God’s Word and furthering His Kingdom? Or, as so many megachurches emerge, is it a numbers game?

The church of today is very polished and attractive from the outside. No wonder people are flocking to it. But, we must look at what is going on inside. Is the Word of God preached unapologetically in truth and love?

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. ”  Matthew 23:27

Church is more than a building. It is not this church or that church. It is not this address or that website. It is the body of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is beyond the physical.

“What the church –the disciples gathered –really needs is not more people, more money, better buildings or programs, more education, or more prestige. Christ’s gathered people, the church, has always been at its best when it had little or none of these.”  -Dallas Willard, The Great Omission

We must not be married to our ‘church plans’. Christ is the head of church. How can a church be Christ-led if it is bound to a plan that we created?  If God tells us to move, and it conflicts with our plan, then what? Can having a long term plan breed arrogance and independence instead of DEPENDENCE on God?

Church has been on my mind lately. Oh, my soul is troubled. I just can’t shake this feeling that something is off. I can’t shake the feeling that maybe we can do church better.

I am troubled that our mission as the body of Christ might be compromised by our culture. I see how much like our society American churches have become. I would say that if we resemble the world too much in our churches or ourselves, we are on dangerous ground.

“Something is wrong when our lives make sense to unbelievers.”  Francis Chan, Crazy Love

Where is the tension with the culture that Jesus and the apostles experienced? Where is the upside down teaching of Christ that led crowds of people to cry out for His death? Where is the anguish that caused Jesus to sweat blood that night on the Mount of Olives?

He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground. Luke 22:41-44

I mostly see comfort in our churches. I don’t see people crying out to God; I don’t see people so broken by the sin of the world that they can’t speak; and I don’t see people groaning in prayer for the lost. Where is our anguish and sorrow for a world that doesn’t know Jesus?

We have to ask ourselves, ‘are we lukewarm?’

Becoming lukewarm needs be always on our minds as ‘the church’, just as pride must always be on our minds because we are human. God knows our tendencies as individuals and as the church. He laid it out in scripture. We must acknowledge our sinful tendencies so that we can fight against them.

I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.  Revelation 3:15-16

Most sermon topics revolve around being a better Christian, a better spouse, a better parent, a better citizen, a better neighbor or a better employee. These are all topics we need to be challenged on. However, I feel as though we neglect to preach on being a better church. We need to be examining ourselves to be ready as the body of Christ, just as a bride-to-be prepares for her wedding day.

We focus and teach on these things:

  • Are we seeking His Kingdom first (Matthew 6:33)?
  • Do we take care of the poor and oppressed (Matthew 25:35-40)?
  • Do we feed His sheep (John 21:15–16)?
  • Are we fishers of men (Matthew 4:19)?
  • Are we loving our neighbors (Matthew 22:39–40)?

Many sermons on these topics have been given over the years. And they are vital if we are going to be faithful disciples. However, I believe that there are crucial areas that we neglect to address.

I feel strongly that we must be looking at what is going on within the walls of our churches. The church will never be perfect, but we need to be continually asking God how to make it better; how we can be better prepared for the wedding of the Lamb.

“Hallelujah!
   For our Lord God Almighty reigns.
Let us rejoice and be glad
   and give him glory!
For the wedding of the Lamb has come,
   and his bride has made herself ready.
Fine linen, bright and clean,
   was given her to wear.”  Revelations 16:6-9

  • Do we love each other within the church as the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 13)?

Love is what it’s all about. If people can’t walk into our church and be blown away by the love that we have for each other, than we have work to do. People need to come into our sanctuaries and say, ‘No way! I’ve never seen a group of people love each other like that!’

  • Do we deal with relationships within these walls in a way pleasing to Him (Matthew 5:23–25)?

What does a church-goer do when they disagree with something the church is doing or have conflict with someone in leadership? What is the protocol?

What I believe most often happens is that person or couple will be agitated or have an offense with someone within the church, but they say nothing. As time goes on, they get more and more agitated, and their frustration snowballs. Eventually, they are so extremely disgruntled that they leave. They disappear from the church and are seen no more. A few months later, we ask each other, what ever happened to the so and so’s?

This is how it works at every church that I have ever known. If you have a problem with the church, you leave. And, you find another church that temporarily pleases you. Until conflict arises, that is, and the cycle continues.

People leaving their church when they are frustrated poses 4 problems:

  1. That person loses the opportunity to be refined by God (Zechariah 13:9) by walking through the painful process of facing that difficult relationship or situation
  2. The church loses the opportunity to be refined by God through that difficult situation
  3. God calls us, the church, to be unified (John 17:20-23)
  4. We are all ‘the church’, and if one of us has a problem, the whole body has a problem (1 Corinthians 12:26).

Our growth and maturity as a church is stunted if we settle for this way of handling conflict. It doesn’t matter who is right or wrong.

  • Are we in this church dealing with pride among the body AND the leaders (Jeremiah 49:16, 1 Corinthians 8:2)?

I often thought what a challenge pride would be for those in a place of power or popularity. The enemy will gladly use a stage to throw his arrows of temptation. I truly believe that pride is the enemy of ministry. And, I hope and pray that you, as the leaders, have a plan in place to always keep this on your radar.

  • Are we making disciples (Matthew 28:19)?

The business of the church is to make disciples, and to make disciple-makers. We must ask ourselves these questions. Are the people in our church disciples? Are we, ourselves, disciples? Are we all making disciples? Are we all repenting? Are we all baptizing?

Let’s not just teach what Jesus commanded, let’s teach people to OBEY what Jesus commanded.

“Most problems in contemporary churches can be explained by the fact that members have never decided to follow Christ.”   -Dallas Willard, The Great Omission

  • Are we caring for the weak and lowly within our walls as well as outside them (Ezekiel 34:3-4)?
  • Who do we most highly esteem in the church, the poor widows or the rich fools (Mark 12:41-44 & Luke 21:1-4)?

Jesus Christ didn’t look like a king. He was different than any leader of His day. He took nothing for Himself, He was not loud and aggressive. Do we as the church, put leaders in front of the people and on our stages that most resemble Christ? Or, do we put the most impressive, the most learned, the most credentialed, and the most attractive above others? Does the church choose its leaders any differently than secular society?

  • Are we speaking truth to each other (Ephesians 4:15)?
  • Are we rebuking each other when we fall into sin (galatians 6:1)?
  • Are we searching for the lost (Luke 15:1-7)?
  • Are we choosing the narrow path (Matthew 7:13–14)?
  • Are we guarding against false prophets (Matthew 7:15)?
  • Are we denying ourselves (Luke 9:23–25)?
  • Are we servants of all, including servants to each other (Matthew 20:26–28)?
  • Are we focused on storing up treasures in heaven (Matthew 6:19–21)?
  • Are we preparing ourselves for Christ’s return (Matthew 24:42–44)?
  • Are we unified? Are we one? (John 17:20-23)

God has burdened me for the church. It is so often on my heart and mind. I fight so hard not to do or say the wrong things, that most times I do or say nothing. The tug-of-war within me is between the fear of being prideful or wrong on one side, and the fear of spending my life standing for nothing on the other.

“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. John 17:20-23

Don’t get me wrong, I love the church. It is this love for the body of Christ that fuels my passion. We don’t know the hour our Master will return, therefore, we must always be ready. I desire for the church to always be holy and blameless.

He made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.  Ephesians 1:9-10

The truth is that each one of us is the church. It is up to all of us to fight to keep the body of Christ alive with the fire of the Holy Spirit. I know that I will always have things to repent of and work on until that glorious day the Lord Jesus takes me home. So it is with the church. We must be vigilant about keeping it pure and beautiful as the bride of Christ.

It’s time for revival in our churches! It’s time for an awakening! As church members, are we fresh with the fire of the living God in our bellies?  Or, is it ‘business as usual?” Church is a big deal, brothers and sisters. We have to get this right!