Tag Archives: Brokeness

When God Walks Away

The crush of bodies on a hot, dirty street; pressing, looking, reaching. Filthy mud, made from blood and dust, sticking to the feet of a distraught woman whose bleeding had not stopped in a dozen years.

Woman Looking 02This broken woman was seeking Jesus, but he was moving away, headed through the unrelenting crowd to bring relief to another.

But she would not be denied. Having heard of other broken ones who had touched Jesus and were healed, she pressed on, believing she could be healed as well.

Fighting her way closer, she finally was near enough to reach between others and brush her fingers against the back of Jesus’ garment.

Instantly something changed. The unwelcome bleeding didn’t just slow; it completely stopped. Right there in a mass of humanity, she received her miracle.

In this story, there are several things that bring me hope. First, is the persistent faith of a woman who never gave up. If I have a headache for more than a half-hour, I’m running for aspirin — but in spite of serious affliction for over a decade, she was pressing on, trusting that God had not abandoned her.

I’m also struck by the accessibility of Jesus. He was not being carried on a throne above the masses. He did not have bodyguards keeping the sick away. Even though he was surrounded to the point of being crushed by the crowds, he could be reached by the one seeking him.

And I’m most taken by the reality that this was not a God-directed miracle. While we find plenty of those in the Gospels, in this setting Jesus was actually headed away from the woman when she was healed. He was not seeking her out, yet she accessed God’s power just the same. I find hope here because sometimes I feel like God is headed away from me when I need him most. While theologically I know this isn’t the case (he has promised to never leave or forsake me), practically it can feel this way.

So this is a strong reminder: even when it seems God is not setting out to bring his power my way, I still have access to it. Just as this woman was made whole because of her faith in Jesus, I can press through whatever (or whoever!) is standing between me and a miracle, trusting God to meet my need.

Are there places in your life where it feels like God is absent, where it seems he’s moving away from you rather than toward you? Don’t give up and don’t give in to discouragement. Keep fighting. Keep pursuing him.

“So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised.” (Hebrews 10:35-36)

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Letting Go of the Rope (My Struggle with Forgiveness)

When I was a kid and would get into arguments with my younger brother or sister, my mom enacted swift justice. She’d pronounce guilt, then immediately make the offending party (usually me) say to the one who’d been aggrieved: “You were right. I was wrong.”

Then, whether we wanted to or not, the other would have to respond: “I forgive you.”

That was it. Clean and simple. I might have still been seething inside, wanting to throttle my sibling (either because the court of family justice had once again let me down, or because I really hadn’t forgiven anything), but it was done. Time to move on. This must simply be how forgiveness works.

Gripping the Rope

While life did move on, my views of forgiveness didn’t. I continued to deal with petty failures (others or my own) through this same kind of framework for forgiveness: one party admits fault, the other says all is forgiven, and you just move on.

That seemed to work until about 11 years ago.

Over the course of about a year we could tell that my dad was slowly imploding. He saw his worldwide marriage ministry taking significant hits, and life seemed to be crashing in around him. So, battling depression and feelings of deep rejection, after more than 30 years of ministry and 40 years of marriage, my dad split.

It was a very public and hurtful divorce. It quickly became an illustration in multiple news sources of “another minister who couldn’t keep his own marriage together.”

I was livid. As a son, I watched my mom go through incredible pain and embarrassment; as a father, I watched my three young children go through deep sadness and questioning; and as a person, I had my own hurt and anger to deal with. Lots of anger.

After two emotionally charged phone calls with my dad, we stopped talking altogether. We resorted to lengthy diatribes via email in which I was furiously attempting to prove his wrongness and he was just as forcefully defending his decision. We were at a bitter impasse—one that, after several weeks, was literally making me sick.

I discovered that the deeper my hurt, the tighter I wanted to squeeze the life out of the one who had caused my pain. I felt it was my right (maybe even my duty) to keep a choke hold on my dad until it either killed him or forced him to admit his sin.

Then along came a friend, a counselor, who began to gently probe around the edges of my wounds. As he graciously helped me process my anger, he had me imagine what forgiveness might look like in my situation. At first I didn’t even think it was possible—after all, my dad hadn’t said the magic words: “I was wrong. You were right.” Without the admission of his guilt, what was there to forgive?

But the pain in my soul urged me forward and I began investigating the concept of forgiveness. In the weeks that followed I began deconstructing my old, immature views of forgiveness, while building a new, transformative understanding of this life-giving process.

Two things helped more than any other.

First, I turned to Jesus’ words and discovered I’d been ignorant as to what forgiveness truly meant. As I went to the root meaning of the words he’d used to talk about forgiveness, I found they literally meant: “Let go.”

There are many examples of this truth, but one that rocked me started in Luke 6:37. The exact word Jesus used when he said, “Forgive, and you will be forgiven,” was also used by Pilate before he sentenced Jesus to death. In John 19:10, Pilate said “Don’t you realize I have power either to free you or to crucify you?”

This concept revolutionized my thinking about forgiveness, especially because my hands were so tightly gripping my dad’s throat (figuratively, but barely). Like Pilate, I could extend either freedom or death. It was in my power to forgive, whether or not my dad ever acknowledged any wrongdoing.

I could feel God gently asking me to let him go—not pretending my dad hadn’t caused real pain—but urging me to loosen my grip so I could release him (and my hurts) to God.

I found it came down to an issue of trust. Did I trust Jesus to handle this situation, or did I trust myself more? Did I trust God to judge my dad and bring any needed correction, or did I assume I would do a better job as judge and jailer?

I chose to trust the Lord with my dad, and slowly began the process of letting go. Forgiveness had begun.

The second thing that helped me greatly was coming across an illustration about forgiveness from 20th Century saint, Corrie ten Boom. Corrie’s family members had all died at the hands of the Nazi’s during the Second World War—she was the lone survivor. But her realization that God’s grace is greater than any evil allowed her to become a beacon of hope for millions in the decades after the war.

Corrie said this about forgiveness: “If you have ever seen a country church with a bell in the steeple, you will remember that to get the bell ringing you have to tug awhile. Once it has begun to ring, you merely maintain the momentum. As long as you keep pulling, the bell keeps ringing. Forgiveness is letting go of the rope. It is just that simple. But when you do so, the bell keeps ringing. Momentum is still at work. However, if you keep your hands off the rope, the bell will begin to slow and eventually stop.”

Corrie’s words not only affirmed the reality that forgiveness means letting go, but also clarified that this wasn’t simply a one-time act that would immediately free me from all pain. Forgiveness was going to be a daily commitment to keep my hands off my dad’s throat, and that eventually the pain would subside. She was right.

While the pain I went through with my parent’s divorce doesn’t scratch the surface of what many have endured, others have let me know that these concepts about letting go have helped them as well.

Can you imagine what forgiveness might look like in your situation? Whose throat are you squeezing? Could you trust Jesus with your pain and those who caused it? Who do you need to let go of to find peace for your soul?

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Disqualified…

What could disqualify someone from ministry leadership? Permanently?

Maybe a better question would be: are there people so broken that they can not be restored?

My hope — and I believe God’s heart — is that no matter what the offense, restoration is not only possible, but should be the ultimate goal. But things get tricky and sticky when it comes to how we do “church life”, and often people are permanently sidelined after failure. Why is this the case?

  • There’s hard work involved. Restoration is often a messy, lengthy process, and leaders dread wading into these challenging waters.
  • Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice…and so on. We are fearful that people will be repeat offenders, and we don’t want the backwash of their continued failure to splash polluted water on to our “clean” reputations.
  • We just don’t want to be associated with the brokenness of others. If I embrace you, offense and all, people may assume that I tolerate your sin (gasp!) and this would be a negative reflection on me (double gasp!).
  • The church often reflects a shame-based culture. When someone blows it, there must be something inherently wrong with them (as if there isn’t something inherently wrong with me). We label those people as failures, as shameful examples of what “not to be”.

A friend has experienced something like this over the past year. A qualified and skilled ministry leader, he went through a dark season, during which he made a bad decision that snowballed a bit before he “woke up” and put an end to it. I had the privilege of walking with him during that time and since. I was so proud of him for going back to each person involved and making it right, choosing to swallow his pride and walk in repentance. The whole episode lasted no longer than two weeks, and he came out of it stronger and more humble than before.

But over a year later, my friend’s pastor won’t even consider him for a ministry role. There’s just no place for him. He’s disqualified. Worse yet, there’s no pathway of restoration being made available to him. In his pastor’s mind, he’s permanently disqualified.

Can’t we just admit that we’re all broken people in need of grace? We all need the hope of restoration. And discarding those who fail is plain stupid (oops…did I just say that?!).

Part of the problem of maintaining a shame-based, rather than a grace-based culture is that people will go to great lengths to hide their issues. Oh, they still have them. They just fear the permanent shame they believe will be brought about by exposure. My fear of marginalization usually exceeds my desire to walk in honesty.

Are there times when someone’s habitual failure should sideline them for a season? Yes, I believe so. Leaders have the responsibility to protect the community — both the one who is currently weak as well as those who could be negatively impacted by his or her failings. But even then, restoration should be the goal of a season on the sidelines.

I’ve recently been reminded of the need for a grace-based church culture in a profound book, Love, Acceptance and Forgiveness. I’m not sure how this book, authored by pastor Jerry Cook, had escaped my reading for so long. But I’m really glad I picked it up…and I’ve bought and passed out dozens of other copies. Pick up your own copy and get ready to live differently. There is a world of broken people who are waiting for us.

(Photo credit: Ramzi Hashisho)
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