Friday, February 8, 2019

Unoffendableness


I didn’t make up the word “unoffendableness.”  I first read the word in a staff meeting at Bethel Life Center many years ago.  Our youth pastor asked if he could lead a team-building exercise.  Each one of us were handed a 3x5 notecard and were asked to write our name on the top. Then, we passed the cards to the person on our left. With each card, we were to write a positive word, statement or phrase that, in your opinion, best described that person.  When the circle was complete, each received their card back with a list of people’s best thoughts about you.  It really was a great exercise. I still have that card.
(Couldn't find "unofeendableness" anywhere)

My friend Mark (the youth pastor) wrote on my card.  “I appreciate your ‘unoffendableness.’”  He chuckled as I slowly tried to pronounce the syllables out loud.

I asked him why he thought that I was unoffendable?  He went on to explain that as a music minister, he had watched me deal with cranky musicians, difficult sound guys, take open criticism for song choices (even having received a few racial slurs about some of my choices), staged large Easter and Christmas productions, worked long hours…and nothing seemed to phase me.  He stated, “You get along with everybody and you never get rattled.”

I don’t relay this encounter for any reason except to say, Mark was right.  I cannot remember the last time I was offended.  I attribute some of that to my dad’s influence.  You could spit in my dad’s face and he’d take you for coffee to talk about it 5 minutes later.  Maybe some of it came from childhood pastor, J.P. McCamey.  Talk about a man smooth under pressure.  He is always smiling, always believing the best in everybody, no matter what they’ve done or where they’ve been.  I’m also quite sure I learned much under Kenneth Woods, the first pastor I ever worked for.  If he was ever upset or irritated about something, you could never tell.  If there was ever any problems within the church, no one knew, even his own staff members.  Again, smooth leadership, even when it was tough.

I honestly cannot think of one person on this planet that I would not go up to and hug and wish them God’s best if I saw them on the street today, regardless of what our past may look like.  Why?  I’m not offended.  I’m not ashamed.  I’m free.

I’ve always been the type of person that would rather apologize to save the relationship, even if I had nothing to apologize for.  (Yes, I’ve had plenty of missteps for which I needed to apologize…and have done so.)  I’ve stood in the pulpit on many occasions teaching on forgiveness and proclaimed, “I cannot be offended.”  That statement always brings a chuckle from the crowd…and some have taken that statement as a personal challenge to prove me wrong.  They lost every time.

Here’s why I share this particular blessing in my life. 

The Apostle Paul wrote in Hebrews 12:15, See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.”

We fall short of the grace of God in our own lives when we refuse to offer the same grace to others.  But the second part of this verse is the most disturbing to me:  “…no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.”

Who are the “many” who would be defiled?

1.     You.  If we choose not to participate in the grace of God toward others, then we undermine the grace of God in our own lives.  We cannot fully understand what an incredible gift His grace is until we actually pass that gift on to others in need of it.

2.    The one trying to offend you.  Wounded people…wound people.  Yes, offense is always available, but remember, you may be the one true representation of Christ that wounded person may see.  Would Jesus react with anger, bitterness or offense?  No.  Then why should you?  He may be setting you up to be the healing agent in their lives.  It doesn’t get any better than that!

3.    Your family.  Please never forget that your family is watching. Your spouse will thrive and stay well-guarded if you maintain your own innocence. If you choose the path of offense, a root of bitterness will eventually creep into the ones you love the most.  Be very careful of “borrowed offenses.”

Rick Renner posted this morning:  “You can’t be offended without your own consent.”  Remember, offense is your choice.  Every offense that you hold onto from the past is like a weight. With each new offense, more weight is added until it becomes very difficult for you to move forward with joy in any area of life.  The cycle has to stop and with God’s help, you’re the only one who can decide you’ve had enough.  Offense is a prison sentence.  Offense produces a sick heart and leads to poor physical health.  Heed Jesus’ warnings to forgive so that you can be forgiven.

Allow me to clarify one thing.  I have never said that I haven’t been disappointed or let down by others from time to time.  That’s part of life.  However, each of us own the choice to hold on to those disappointments until they fester into a cancer on the soul.

Not long ago I was pointing out a very “disappointing” comment made to me in a meeting.  One defender of the comment said, “Well, you obviously took offense to that.”  I stopped him quickly and said, “No, I wasn’t offended and I’m still not.  However, the statement was wrong, ill-advised and I want you to know that I won’t stand for it.”

Was I offended?  Absolutely not.  Did I forgive that person, even though an apology was never offered?  Absolutely, almost immediately. Was I providing a necessary boundary around someone else’s choices so they clearly knew where I stood?  Yes…and that’s a very healthy, empowering thing to do.

Wounded people tend to rehearse the offenses of the past and live only to survive.  Thriving has almost become impossible because all the offended see is how they’ve been hurt. We should empathize and pray for them, but never dwell there with them, borrowing their offenses and making them our own.

You’re not called to be a doormat…you’re called to overcome.  Overcome the enemy by never allowing offense to produce a bitter root that will choke out God’s peace and separate you from others.  (It’s also very fun to win with people, even if they don’t want to be won.)

Thanks for that card, Mark. I still have it. It was a game-changer.

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Pastors, Priests and Perverts


(Yesterday’s Wichita Eagle had yet another front page article concerning sexual abuses among the priesthood right here in the State of Kansas.  It prompted me to re-post the article below once again.)

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.  My middle school pastor had resigned a month earlier, but had decided to let the world know he had since chosen an "alternative lifestyle."  This wonderful young man who had such a unique call on his life to minister to young people had left so many families and youth devastated.  I immediately called him and asked him if it was true.  He confirmed and gave me assurances that he had never discussed his decision with any of our teens.  He had never influenced them to believe anything different than what the Bible teaches.  He was just tired of his internal battle and had given up the fight. My heart breaks for him to this day.

Of course, my mind also raced to the possible damage this could cause the church as this unusual news began to spread.  But as I began to pray through my own broken heart and concern for my former employee, the Lord spoke to me very clearly.  “You will meet this head on with truth and love and I will walk you through it.”

Within 24 hours I had called a “family meeting” of any of our church members who wanted to attend. Of course, I especially focused on getting as many parents of teenagers to the meeting.  Rumors had already started and the atmosphere was tense as people filled our sanctuary.  I explained what I knew…how I found out…and exactly what my conversation with the former youth pastor had been the day before.  I answered several questions from concerned parents and we closed the meeting with prayer.

As we were leaving, I felt weighed down by the burden of the many confused and frustrated teens and parents who were in attendance.  Our friend, our middle school pastor, our confidant had seemingly betrayed everything he had been preaching for the past 2 years.

Then a parent came up to me a gave me a big hug. “Pastor, you did the right thing.  Thank you for being honest and straightforward with us.  That means the world to us.”  I began to cry and the burden began to lift. 

We are only as sick as our secrets.

This morning’s headline estimates that at least 1000 children were abused by priests in the Catholic Church over the past several decades.  That’s just in Pennsylvania.  Attorneys in Kansas are working with victims to formulate lawsuits against the church for knowingly covering up the same type of atrocities.  Attorneys General from at least 27 other states are currently investigating similar stories. But it’s not just a Catholic church problem.

Our own headlines in Wichita recently detailed a local youth pastor’s victimization of one of his own female youth group members over the span of more than a year.  He was sentenced to 8 years behind bars. The local church who employed the youth pastor for nearly 2 decades is now the focus of a civil lawsuit brought by the parents of the victim.  They seek hundreds of thousands of dollars, claiming that church leadership knowingly ignored warnings about this employee’s inappropriate behavior.

These kind of stories make our skin crawl and our hearts ache.  We weep for the victims of such abuse.  We don’t clearly know the ripple effects of such crimes.  Childhoods are robbed.  The ability to function in a normal, healthy relationship as adults is brought into question.  And so often…the victims become abusers themselves.  Trust of authority figures is oft times shattered beyond repair.  The social, moral and spiritual foundations are cracked and weakened.  The moral authority to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ erodes with every accusation that surfaces.

But shouldn’t we also be outraged by the cover up?  The Vatican itself, even the Pope, is being accused of complicity in knowingly ignoring and not removing perverted priests in a timely manner.  Often they simply re-assigned the priests to different positions until the dust settled.  Discipline not given.  Protection of innocents withheld.  Victims often accused.

It’s true. There is a millstone that is custom fit for the neck of any adult who harms a child and causes them to stumble.  If there were levels of judgment for sins, these type would top of the list…at least in most people’s opinion.

Is there hope?  Sure there is.  There’s hope for the victims of such pain to find the help they need to recover and heal.  There’s hope for a youth pastor, who now has lost everything, to repent, seek forgiveness and find his path to recovery as well.

Perhaps the greatest hope is for a repentant church leadership to stand in their pulpits and tell the truth, regardless of the price.  Tell the truth, confess their own sins of cover up and self-preservation and seek the forgiveness of their congregants. Rather than hide, blame the victims or make excuse for what really happened…they should come clean and repent so healing can truly begin for all affected.

King David was guilty of great sins: an illicit affair with another man’s wife and the subsequent cover up that led to having her husband murdered.  David thought he had gotten away with it…until the prophet Nathan came to him with grim news.  He called David on his failures. David repented and the kingdom was restored to him.

Maybe we should pray for spiritual fathers and modern day prophets who will not go quietly away when faced with such sin.  The ones who will make it their business when some would tell them “it’s none of your business.” Maybe God will use someone who can bring restoration to the Catholic Church and to any church where leadership is tempted to hide and make excuses for sin in ill-fated attempts to “save the ministry.”  Let’s pray for accountability, transparency and healing.

There is hope.

Attacks on the Frontlines

I pray for pastors.  I am one.  I know how hard it can be.  My wife forwarded the article below to me this morning.  We have been in and out...