14 March 2008

Have You Been BURNED or Slightly Toasted?

We had another awesome morning at the Baton Rouge DREAM CENTER.
Pastor Alliece was attending to other business, so Donna Frank spoke about forgiveness and letting go of guilt and anger and resentment.
She had each woman write something on a slip of paper and deposit it at the foot of a huge, wooden cross... very symbolic & powerful in meaning.

And she stressed the point that if we are truly laying it down (the offense, the guilt, the anger), then we have no right to ever pick it back up again.

When I opened my prayer group, I felt compelled to focus on the subject of offense in the church.
SO MANY people I have talked to no longer go to church because of some sort of offense committed against them by someone in the church. Some of these offenses are quite large, some are amazingly minuscule; it doesn't seem to matter to the offended party.
They have been "burned" by the church and have no inclination of returning there.

I can relate -- as I'm sure most people can.
We all have stories of "offense," but what's interesting is the value we put on offense in the church, as opposed to offense elsewhere... Stay with me here; I do have a point!

When I was in high school, I dated a boy who went to a very conservative, but very charismatic church. He invited me one Saturday to attend a church picnic and told me that we would be playing volleyball and other outdoor games.
I dressed in some nice slacks and a pink sweater (not jeans, not shorts, pants -- honestly, probably too nice to play sports in!).
As we walked up to the picnic grounds, my boyfriend's pastor motioned to him. Not knowing anyone else there, I just kind of stood off to the side, waiting for my friend to return. When he did, he had a look of frustrated disbelief on his face.

"Um, they um, want you to leave. They want you to change into a skirt and come back."

They want me to do what?

We left, but I didn't go change.
I went on a tirade.
I could go on a prolonged rant here about how stupid and insensitive that minister was to do such thing... after all, he didn't know me from Adam! How did he know if I was even a Christian?? What if he missed his single opportunity to reach me for Christ?
And it wasn't as though I was dressed immodestly.
Is this the example Jesus would have us set: Focus on the outward appearance rather than the inner state of the soul?

Guess what?
I still went to church the next Sunday.
Well, admittedly, I didn't go to THAT church, but I didn't let the short-sighted foolishness of one HUMAN minister affect my life-long relationship with the church.
I could say that this was the only bad thing to ever happen to me in a church, but I would be lying. My point, however, is this:

Should we ever allow the foolishness of others to keep us from the love of Christ?
And why do we put a higher priority on the attitudes of our fellow church-goers than we do on the guy who sacks our groceries or the cashier at the gas station? If one of the latter two say something rude to us or act unfriendly, we might get a little huffy, but we don't swear off buying groceries or filling our cars with gas... do we?

A visiting pastor (J. Johns) put it this way:

"Just because your mom burned the biscuits once or twice doesn't keep you from going to the kitchen to eat!"

People in church -- even Christians -- are human, too!
And for those who decide that the grass is always greener somewhere else, here's a news flash for ya:

You will find offense in ANY church, indeed, any WHERE you look for it! There are no perfect churches and certainly no perfect Christians!
We are all capable of fully inserting our feet into our mouths and sometimes we actually walk around like that for awhile before we realize our mistake.

"But shouldn't Christians be held to a higher standard?"
Well, yeah.
BY GOD -- NOT by you!

How does it go?
judge not, and ye shall not be judged: condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned: forgive, and ye shall be forgiven:" -- Luke 6:37

Each of us is responsible only for our own behavior and our own choices.
I may have no control over my circumstances or the things that happen to me, but I have every control over how I respond to those circumstances or offending slights. If I deprive myself of the love and forgiveness offered by Christ because someone didn't like my choice of wardrobe, or acted rudely to me, or dared to contradict me, then I am only hurting MYSELF.
And THAT is truly offensive.


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Joyce said...

I remember a Youth Pastor's wife telling me how when she was a young person and in church....if someone came in wearing Red lipstick.....the Pastor would preach on Red lipstick. HA!
Oh well.
Sorry that happened......believe, I've heard worse..but it's still not fun when it happens to you is it? It's all about moving on ward and forgiving. Good job.