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Lifeway Christian Stores carrying 'So Called Christian' 

Lifeway Christian Stores carrying So-Called Christian: Healing Spiritual Wounds Left by the Church This is an amazing blessing since we did not even market the book to them. It was presented in the proverbial 'stack of books' that many distributors place in front of book buyers hoping that one or two of them will be chosen. We are thrilled and honored that ours was selected! Praise to God!

To obtain your copy of "So-Called" Christian: Healing Spiritual Wounds Left by the Church CLICK HERE.

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Entries in Relationship Repair (4)

Thursday
Dec122013

7 Pre-Conflict Self Examination Questions we really don’t want to ask or ‘How to be a Hero when conflicts come.’ 

Been on an airplane lately? Are you the guy I sit next to that’s on the edge of his seat in rapt attention while the flight attendants rehearse the pre-flight instructions? If you are that guy, then you know what they say about the oxygen mask; if not, you may be the guy who I’ll have to help when the cabin pressure starts dropping. For those who have never been on an airplane the instructions are universal for anyone travelling with children or others who need assistance. If cabin pressure drops PUT YOUR MASK ON FIRST before helping the other person! (I owe this illustration to my lovely wife)

At first glance the instruction seems a little unkind, even selfish. The logic behind it is flawless though – we can’t help anyone else if we are helpless. Putting the oxygen mask on first is essential to being useful to those who may be experiencing a challenge to do the same. Our health is critical for theirs. This illustration is perfect for our conflict preparation questions. If we are not healthy and secure we will probably not be helping anyone else with his or her health. We are probably going to make things worse if we enter into conflict as an unhealthy, unprepared participant.

In our last post we identified the real problem with many conflicts – It’s us. Our blindness to our own faults is often the heart of the problem. We may see the oxygen mask but think we can handle the pressure drop without it. I said in the last post that we needed to ‘recognize and remove the log or beam that is obliterating our vision.’ Further, I indicated that recognizing our own issues is probably the single most difficult part of conflict. I’ve found the best way to do this is to pay attention to the pre-flight instructions. In our case, what the Bible says about conflict.

I’m fairly certain that if you ask a flight attendant the kind of passenger they appreciate most they would probably say ‘the attentive, courteous one.’ I think the passenger who looks around and thinks through all the scenarios and prepares himself or herself mentally to respond is the person I want to sit next to. I admit, I’m not always that guy but after writing this I think I will endeavor to be that guy next time I fly.  I do want to be that guy when it comes to handling conflict the way God wishes. I want to be prepared!

How do I know if I’m prepared? I, or we, test our knowledge by asking questions.  Some of these questions have to do with our own safety, some about helping others, but all are asked in order to prepare for survival. The same preparation is helpful if we want to survive the conflicts that come up between brothers.

This is where my subtitle comes in, ‘How to be a Hero when conflicts come.’ We can be heroes in conflict. I’ve noticed that one of the most consistent qualities of heroes, both real and fictitious, is that they must inevitably struggle against their own desires and do what is best for those that need them. Let that sink in, they do have to struggle, often violently against themselves and the desire to preserve their own comfort. That’s part of what draws us to like them – they struggle – like us!  The seven questions put this quality to the test. They ask us to be a hero, to put our own desires aside, and to do what is best for the others in order to resolve the conflict. Heroes are heroes because they win this battle over themselves. They put their own desires aside for the good of others. Let these questions test your hero aptitude.

Questions are meant to uncover strengths and weaknesses. We want to use our strengths and shore up our weaknesses to insure success. If we will graciously use our strengths under the control of the Spirit, and if we will ruthlessly uncover our own weaknesses (sinfulness) and deal with them; we will be better prepared when conflict comes. We might even be heroic!  So let’s ask ourselves the 7 questions. For effect, let’s ask them in two different ways. These are meant to reveal our weakness so we can prepare to know the Lord’s strength. 

 

  1. Do I tend to readily notice the faults or mistakes of others?
  2. Do I tend to correct the faults I notice?
  3. Do I tend to take a firm stand for the truth?
  4. Do I tend to believe I see the truth clearly in most situations?
  5. Do I tend to make quick assessments of people’s motives?
  6. Do I tend to tell people how I assess their motives?
  7. Do I tend to instruct people what is right and wrong?

 

There are most likely a hundred other questions that will grow from these. Feel free to ask yourself those the Holy Spirit brings to mind. These questions are the ones I believe will reveal the source of many conflicts – PRIDE! Many of us read these questions, answer yes to many of them, and see ourselves in a pretty good light. Our thoughts may sound like this, ‘I am pretty good at noticing mistakes. I am good at constructive criticism. I know the truth and am not afraid to speak it. People are usually an open book to me.’ While these can be incredibly strong gifts when gently used by a person filled with Christ’s love – they can be tremendously damaging to others when exercised by our flesh.

If you didn’t notice, the phrasing of the questions above turns our thoughts to the other party. We may think of situations where we have come to a judgment about a situation or person. Let’s rephrase them and see what then comes to mind.  Even better, ask other people to assess you in light of these questions. Make sure you ask people who are willing to tell you the truth – we all have our “yes men”.

 

  1. Am I a judgmental person?
  2. Am I a negative, critical person?
  3. Am I close-minded to other’s view of the truth?
  4. Am I overconfident (or arrogant) in my knowledge of the truth?
  5. Am I prone to jump to conclusions?
  6. Am I proud of my ability to “shoot straight” with people?
  7. Am I perceived as arrogant or “lecturing”?

 

Asked this way, these questions probe our own weakness and expose our tendencies toward pride. They reveal the things the hero needs to conquer within himself before he can conquer the outside conflict. By the way, lest we think this is merely an exercise in exposing our weakness, remember that heroes are strong precisely because they conquer themselves. They probe themselves with hard questions, uncover their inner weakness, and then apply their formidable will to conquer them. Once their inner man is under control they tackle the external battle. With that in mind let’s meditate a bit more on the questions.

Question 1: I think there is more than one way to be judgmental. We can be judgmental and come across as superior. We can be judgmental and come across as the victim. There are probably endless nuances between these two extremes but make no mistake – a victim mentality can be manipulated to make us feel superior. Making someone else the victim by being critical can also make us feel superior. Both are at heart self-protectionist pride. They are un-heroic. If you answered the question in the positive as it was originally phrased – beware – you may tend to be a Sawdust Tyrant. You tend to focus on specks in the eyes of others while missing the Sequoia planted firmly in yours. (I speak from experience)

So be honest – if you answered, “Yes” to question one then you may need to repent of a judgmental spirit and learn to look through loving eyes.

Question 2: Be brutal on yourself here and ask, “When it comes to people and situations involving people, is my first thought typically negative?” If you answer yes your mind may immediately start justifying why. Stop right there. Does that negative thought or assessment usually take into account all the details of the person, his life, his situation, his baggage, his understanding, the Lord’s understanding, and other’s involvement? Can we work at quelling our initial assessment by waiting to consider all the extenuating circumstances? Can we replace the mental correcting of other’s faults with a benefit-of-the-doubt patience toward them?

Question 3: Have you ever changed your opinion? Ever changed a major theological view on an important topic? Have you ever had an incorrect first impression of someone only to have it change later? If so, how did these changes come about? What am I getting at? Is it possible that the truth you have come to is subject to change? I’m not talking about essential Christian doctrine here. I’m talking about the things that are most likely to cause the conflicts we are preparing for – peripheral issues that are subject to differing views or personality types that grate against us.

We may be convinced of a truth that another is yet to be faced with. He may have been faced with it and arrived at a different view. What we have to prepare for is this – are we going to reject the PERSON for his views or are we going to accept the PERSON in spite of his views? Is truth more important to us than people? If we are close-minded to the opinions of others we are begging for conflict. On the contrary, if we can heartily debate views without offense or feeling personal injury then we stand a very good chance of maintaining healthy, loving relationships.

Notice that I have not suggested that we abandon the truth we know. Hold to the truth you know while considering another point of view. Walk away in love even when the other person holds belligerently to his view – he might be proved right some day.

Question 4: What makes you so sure you are right? Test everything before you flame out on a half-baked idea. It is the height of embarrassment (to yourself and your Lord) to stubbornly hold to an idea that requires altering when in full light. Remember how tight the Pharisees believed their arguments were just to have Jesus blow gaping holes in them at every turn. Their understanding, in fact, the entire underpinning of their interpretations was flawed and Jesus truly embarrassed them with the compassionate truth!

Question 5: Have you ever heard anyone say, ‘I’m a prophet, I can’t help but use my gift’ after they have said the most tactless, rude, and cutting thing to you (Especially when they have jumped to the wrong conclusions about you or the circumstances they reference)? Have you ever said anything like that? I beg you, don’t use your spiritual gift as an excuse to beat someone up.

Let’s assume you do have an uncanny knack of discerning the details that lie under the surface of any issue or situation. What’s the harm in waiting before wading in? What if, rather than make a statement about what you’ve discerned, you rather ask a question to draw out the truth from the other party? Maybe they don’t see what you see. Maybe a little patience and probing will help them without you ever having to make a proclamation. This approach is worth practicing in advance. (Feel free to ask if you need some examples of how this approach looks)

Question 6: There are times when “shooting straight” is an amazing blessing and times when it is a complete disaster. Can you tell the difference? Those who are proud of the ability to shoot straight may struggle to discern between a good shot and a bad one. What am I saying here? I’m saying that some of us are so proud of our razor sharp wit or our ability to clearly and quickly see solutions that we brazenly run over folks that are trying desperately to catch up. They aren’t challenging us or dismissing our solutions – they simply haven’t got there yet. We may be making enemies of folks that, given the time, would have been our greatest supporters. Our language is to be gracious and seasoned with salt – which means it should be palatable to those who are not accustomed to the taste of how we communicate.

Question 7: Don’t ask yourself this one. Ask your children. Ask your husband or wife. Ask your best friends and their friends. In fact, if you suspect you may fit the description under any of these questions – ask those who spend the most time with you and assure them you will not react to their answers (and then make sure you don’t!). Listen to their answers and the WAY they answer. Were they timid or halting? Did they tell you what you wanted to hear or did they reveal some things you didn’t want to know about yourself?

If we are serious about maintaining love and unity with our brothers and sisters we have to examine ourselves in this way. Are we drawing folks to us and to our Lord or are we driving them away? Are we being heroic or self-serving? I admit that it’s hard to get all the way through a post like this without some strong reactions. But I encourage you, be a Hero! Ask the hard questions. Do the hard things. Sacrifice. Then give God praise that He has empowered you to overrule your un-heroic self for the good of others.   

 

Next Post, My Story.

Tuesday
May212013

Jesus Hates Your Doctrine. 

(Title and emphasis borrowed from my good friend Matt Jacobsen)

“Loving the truth” is often the thin veil that shadows the grey countenance of a Pharisee. Jesus hates that. He hates the dreary parsing of tiny details that substitute for a vibrant, loving relationship with Him and His children. Your doctrine is not important in comparison to love. Review our Lord’s attitude toward the religious glitterati of His day – He leaves no room for “truth”-obscured agape. Who cares if you are right if you do not love?

Being “right” in your doctrine is often the hammer that rings the bell of rivalry. Being “right, free from error, doctrinally pure, etc, ad infinitum” drives the wedge of “me vs. you” into relationships. It assumes levels, factions, classes, and sub-classes of Christians. It subjugates all else to your understanding of God’s mind. Your doctrine is not that important! Your doctrine does not sit as potentate of all that should be. How many Christians are at this moment faced off in bitter rivalry – in direct opposition to the Lord’s command? (Ephesians 4:3)

Test yourself. If you are offended by the two paragraphs above you just might be the subject of them. You may be thinking that I (the author) am one of those “love at all costs” liberals (notice how defaulting to labels brings an familiar clarity to your mind?) that wouldn’t know truth if it hit him in the face. Quite the contrary – I’ve slaved in the mines of loveless truth and found them intellectually, arrogantly, stimulating. I loved the truth. I loved my doctrine. I had very little real love.

If you do find yourself offended by the first two paragraphs you may be completely blind to the whole point here. The point is that Jesus hates your doctrine. What are you going to do about that? Will you hold onto your doctrine as a replacement and rationalization for your lack of love? Will you continue to separate from Christian brothers who don’t hold your view but have done nothing to offend their Lord or you? Will your doctrine remain the monarch on the stone throne of your heart? 

Notice very carefully that my point has been that Jesus hates your doctrine. He doesn’t hate His own. He doesn’t hate doctrine. Where His doctrine is concerned, He is delighted. One thing about Jesus’ doctrine is that it is always lived out. It is never an intellectual, prideful pursuit. It is always a pulsing, overflowing, fully transparent conduit for Love.

We can’t love what is “right” and not rightly love. Truth is walked out. It is vulnerably displayed in completely broken people. Truth is lived more than it is spoken. Arguments, debate, reasoned proofs, and the like are at best imperfect attempts to explain a perfect life of Love – the perfect life of Jesus. When truth leaves us broken and pleading for some resolution to our miserable condition we have gotten close to the heart of it. When truth leaves us abased and hopeless at the foot of the cross, groveling for an ounce of grace, we are very near the center. Absent this, we are probably back to paragraphs one and two. 

I’m resolved to pursue the truth lived out. Ready to remove the veil and join me?

Friday
Dec092011

Replace or Repair?

A good friend of mine from a wiser generation once said to me, “Your generation replaces things, my generation fixes them.” He didn’t mean to insult “my generation” or to somehow demean me. He was simply stating his observation. It struck me though and made me feel as though I was smaller or somehow - lacking. I didn’t learn the skills his generation took for granted. I don’t plumb, pound nails, bleed brakes, in fact, I don’t even pump gas anymore (I happily live in one of those states that doesn’t allow mere consumers to tackle such a challenging task). If the modern world of smart phones, iPads, texting, and Twitter came crashing down tomorrow I would have to learn how to do a thousand things I don’t presently know how to do. (Come to think of it – how would I learn them without “googling” them?) 

I thought about this recently while studying the word “reconciliation” in the New Testament. It struck me that this idea of replacing instead of repairing has leaked into our dealings with relationships. Maybe leaked isn’t the right word – perhaps we’ve blown the entire gasket and precious fluid is spewing all over an overheating engine. (It was a head gasket repair my friend and I had been discussing. If you don’t understand the reference then ask a good mechanic from a "previous” generation) The point being, when relationships get tricky I think our culture (yes, our Christian culture as well) readily replaces them rather than repair them. Examples are not hard to find. Divorce rates are the same in the secular and sacred cultures. Church hopping is rampant. Our mobile culture sees families uproot and move often. Literally millions of former church-going folks are now sitting out due to damaged relationships.

Brothers, sisters, is a relationship disposable? Are we living in such a throw away culture that we discard people as quickly as plastic? Do we need a generation to speak to us about repair? Do we need to be reconnected with the teaching of reconciliation? Sadly, yes, and happily, yes! Sad that we have to relearn the art of reconciliation. Happy that Jesus Christ teaches us perfectly and with easy to understand steps. I didn’t say, “Easy to follow instructions.” They are not easy to follow but they are easy to understand.

Look at some of the simple instructions for relationship repair hidden within the reconciling actions of Christ. Jesus reconciled the Father to us and us to the Father and shows us the way to approach those with whom we need to reconcile. To keep it short we’ll just look at Romans 5:5-10.

  1. Start with Love. “because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit.” Vs. 5  When we are smack in the middle of conflict this sounds trite doesn’t it! Do you expect me to reverse and dismiss the agony and intensity of hurt this person or group has caused me “just like that”? No, and Yes. No, God doesn’t expect you to dial down true righteous indignation. Yes, God does expect you to follow the example of Christ through the unlimited power of the Spirit. How did He handle the undeserved hate, misuse, and pain of rejection put upon Him by his enemies?
  2. Recognize their Weakness. “while we were still helpless (having no strength)” Vs. 6  The relationship is broken due to someone’s weakness. Someone is unable to muster the might to approach reconciliation. In the case of our need for salvation – it was us. We were once the weak, helpless, unable to seek reconciliation ones. Realizing this, let’s give grace and be patient with the party we are in need of reconciling with.
  3. Wait for the Right Time. “at the right time” Vs. 6 We often press the issue and end up making a bad situation worse. People need time to process difficult issues and navigate hurtful relationships. We (my wife and I) had one experience that took five years to reconcile after repeated attempts – in this case timing was everything. In the believer's case, the Spirit wooed us with perfect timing. He won us with the grace of Christ patiently applied. We owe our brothers the same.
  4. Take the Initiative. “Christ died for the ungodly.” Vs. 6-7  The initiative of God is matchless; perfectly conceived, unselfishly provided, and generously applied. Someone needs to write a book on the initiative of God – what a boundless topic! Jesus commanded initiative in Matthew 5:23-24. He instructed us to cease (one form of) worship, seek reconciliation  (another form of worship), and then return to worship. The act of worship involved in reconciliation with human brothers is actually more important (or at least precedes) our acts of sacrifice to Him. Powerful! By the way, when you take the initiative, be prepared for hell to break loose – the evil one does not like brotherly love. Expect to see anger, resistance, denial, tears, or any other tactic that will make the process more difficult.
  5. Demonstrate Love. “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” Vs. 8  Show that you meant what you said in Step 1. There’s a lot wrapped up in this word “demonstrate”.  Saying something is so much easier than showing something! Salesmen say a lot of things – good salesmen prove the product. We may have to demonstrate our love for a loooong time before the other party softens enough to be approached. IMPORTANT: Sinners need to see love. Realize that you are approaching a fellow sinner and they don’t believe that you are any different than they. To have a fellow sinner reach out in love is often a scary thing but Spirit energized love will eventually win their heart. They may be an enemy for now but that didn’t stop Jesus from making the sacrifice – did it?
  6. Someone has to Sacrifice. “Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.” Vs. 9-10 Notice I didn’t say, “Someone has to be sacrificed,” Jesus already did that. This step is that someone has to sacrifice something.  It might be pride, position, restitution, revenge, time, money, or any number of things. In the case of our salvation, the Father and the Son were willing to pay the ultimate price to accomplish reconciliation with our black-hearted rebellious selves. God was angry and we were the objects of His wrath. He was also brokenheartedly seeking us in love. Jesus was the lovingly obedient redeemer, reconciler, and mediator of a perfect covenant of reconciliation. In cases of division, strife, disagreement, and hurt among brothers someone is often called upon to follow the example of Christ. Someone has to Sacrifice!

This is a very simple 6 Step Reconciliation Plan. Actual application of these steps can be difficult. We meet resistance because hurt, questioned motives, and self-contented denial may be at play. Note that it’s also a one-sided plan. This is all something we do without expecting any certain response. It’s an invitation. It might be rejected – we need to accept the rejection without offense. Jesus “despised the shame” but continued “for the joy” that was to be.  He was not willing to discard one relationship but rather wished to reconcile all men to Himself. My brothers I hope you will seek reconciliation with every human for the simple joy of what lies ahead when brothers live in harmony! (Psalm 133) Let’s stop replacing relationships and start repairing them.

Thursday
Dec082011

Spiritual Mutilation: When the Church Attacks Her Own.

We hope to find a publisher for a short 10 chapters with the above title. The first draft is finished. Below is a brief description of the contents from the Introduction.

This book is about, "Overcoming and preventing the most common source of pain in many Christian lives. Healing torn relationships and restoring relational connection between brothers. The key to advancing the Gospel in a love starved world. Drawing close to Christ by caring about what He cares about."

"Practically speaking, you’ll learn several things that will help you live a more obedient, harmonious, and loving Christian life. Here are some of the lessons you’ll encounter.

  •   The two life altering things on Jesus’ mind the night before He died on the cross.
  •  The most powerful rebuke to the early Church and how to avoid it for yourself, your church, or your Christian ministry.
  •  THE EVIDENCE the Church presents to the world to prove that God loves them and sent Jesus to die for them.
  •  The wisdom of God about differences in the Body of Christ and how to deal with them.
  •  The healing power of rightly relating to believers with whom we disagree.
  •  The Bible passages that confront spiritual mutilation and give instruction on how to stop it.
  •  The rare occasions when Christians are commanded to avoid or separate from other Christians.
  •  The importance of recognizing “Those who Can and Those who Can’t”.
  •  The Apostolic challenge to the modern Church to address what may be the greatest hindrance to our Gospel witness in the world.
  •  The dividing line between Christian and Non-Christian – what Christians must agree on. Or, What makes us Christian.

And much more that will perhaps revolutionize the way you fellowship with God, love your brother, and witness to your world."

More on this as we progress.