Welcoming the Warning Signs

“Sir, you’ll need to leave the courtroom and wait in the hall.” The young man in the audience stared at me. “You can’t communicate with people in custody,” I said. “You need to leave now.”

He stood up just as the bailiff started to approach him, ready to help him leave if he didn’t do so of his own accord. The young man turned toward the door and made a gesture clearly indicating he thought this was ridiculous.

“Sir, please stop.”

“I’m leaving,” he said as the bailiff reached his side.

“Sir,” I repeated, “please stop.”

He did.

“The reason I’m telling you to wait in the hallway is that you were communicating with your friend in custody. You can get arrested for that. I’m trying to keep you from getting arrested. You don’t have to wait in the hall. You can go home or whatever. I just don’t want you to stay here and do things that will get you arrested.”

The bailiff saw I was done and directed the young man to the door.

Courtroom control, life control

One way to keep control of the courtroom is through clear directions, sometimes becoming clear warnings. Courtroom control can ultimately be maintained by holding someone in contempt for creating a disturbance. You don’t want that to happen to you, because it can result in jail time and a hefty fine.

I also don’t want that to happen to you. I haven’t jailed or fined anyone for creating a disturbance in court in the 22 1/2 years I’ve been on the bench. Clear directions and follow-up warnings have worked just fine.

People ought to welcome the directions and warnings, but I get the impression that many don’t.

It’s the same in the rest of life. Take railroad crossings, for example. As Jeremy White says, “I’d rather be delayed by a train than hit by one.” Yet most people, as Jeremy says, consider the arms swinging down and the bells ringing and the lights flashing to be more of a hindrance than a help.

source

Road signs are good, though, as my wife and I found out when traveling a back country Georgia road one night. We were following the directions on GPS and ascending a hill that got steeper with every foot we climbed. Suddenly there were large yellow arrows showing a left curve. I hit the brakes just as the car leveled out at the top, turned a  sharp left, and shot down the slope. If I hadn’t taken the curve at that reduced speed, we’d have instead shot down a worse slope, the one straight over the edge and into the ravine the arrows helped us avoid.

I was glad for that warning.

You’ve probably been glad for some warnings too, even those that bring more concern than relief along with them.

  • A call from your doctor saying your routine annual lab work has revealed something she wants you to see a specialist about. The specialist eventually tells you there’s a high chance of treating it successfully, but it will take a lot of time and effort.
  • A note from your child’s school concerning grades and possible ineligibility for participating on athletic teams. Grades can be improved, but your daughter or son would rather just play sports. You have some hard parenting work ahead.
  • A trip to your mechanic about squeaky brakes, where you get the news your brakes need replacing and your car isn’t safe to drive home.

Warnings like these are hard to hear, but they should also be welcome to receive. Consider the alternative.

Warnings of love

The Bible is full of warnings and advice about warnings.

Jesus warned his friends to be wary of those who would lead them away from God:

“Be careful,” Jesus said to them. “Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” …

“How is it you don’t understand that I was not talking to you about bread? But be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” Then they understood that he was not telling them to guard against the yeast used in bread, but against the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees. (Matthew 16: 6, 11-12.)

God gives you friends, as well, who can give you good advice:

Listen to advice and accept discipline, and at the end you will be counted among the wise. (Proverbs 19:20.)

Better is open rebuke than hidden love. Wounds from a friend can be trusted … . (Proverbs 27:5-6.)

This was the guide for God’s people in ancient times, and continues for God’s people today:

If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that “every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.” (Matthew 18:15-16.)

Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. (Galatians 6:1.)

This advice cuts two ways: how you receive warnings and how you give them.

You might be in a situation where you need to receive a warning. It might come softly and gently (as in advice from your doctor), or it might come loudly and suddenly (as with railroad arms and lights and bells). The warning in either case is intended to save, and is appropriate to the situation.

What about when you give warnings to friends or family. Do you make sure to be as gentle as the situation will allow? Think of the young man in court. No one yelled at him, he wasn’t arrested for speaking to his friend in custody, he wasn’t held in contempt for interfering with the proceedings. He was warned not to repeat his actions so that he would know how to behave properly the next time he came to court. He might not have appreciated being told he had to leave, but he learned something that would keep him from getting himself into trouble.*

Wouldn’t you like to avoid trouble too? Wouldn’t you rather be delayed by a train than hit by one?

I thought you might.

***

*You might ask why the young man wasn’t allowed to stay in court after the warning. It’s a public safety issue. Once a person has started to communicate with a person in custody, the bailiff does not know whether it is part of a larger intent to create a disturbance or the person would heed the warning and cease communication. The bailiff must be able to watch over the safety of the entire courtroom and should not have her or his attention primarily drawn to a person who has already disturbed the proceedings once.

***

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Online Dating for the Christian Woman: How to Recognize Red Flags and Encourage Your Faith

[Today’s guest post is from Juli J. Ellen. I hope you enjoy her insights on Christian women, dating, and faith. And no, I did not pay her to say nice things about me as blog host.]

When Tim asked me to write a guest post on his blog about the subject of “dating and how God uses us to work in other people’s lives,” I immediately had a hundred ideas. As usual, I wrote each one down on a sticky note and started sticking them to the walls around my desk. When the sunlight hits the bright fluorescent pink sticky notes, it’s a blinding reminder I need to plunk out the keys on my computer and write those thoughts into a short story, blogpost, or work them into the book I’m writing.

Something was very different this time, as my stomach was churning when I thought about completing this assignment. I’d sit down to write, but instead I would allow myself the time to complete every routine task I could think of before actually doing any writing. However, the menial tasks would add up to an all day chore list and at the end of the day I hadn’t written a word. I knew I was impeding the process, and I felt like I had writer’s block. In attempting to write this blogpost, I realized my writer’s block had more to do with the condition of my heart than a slowing down of my creativity.

I had excuses in my head as to why I should refrain from writing this post, one being that Tim’s audience is mainly Christian and the truth of my story and my attempt to be real may very well cause many to pass judgement and raise an eyebrow, or maybe two, and miss the point of my post. Consequently, I will refrain from giving specific details, but will state that it is possible in the midst of dating, either online or the old-fashioned meet at Home Depot, the bank or the grocery store, to be encouragers of our faith in a way that isn’t overbearing or judgmental.

A Certain Type of Man, a Certain Type of Church

Having a proclivity for attracting men who have secret lives, it used to take me a decade to figure out what was going on. I use the word “proclivity” for a reason:

pro·cliv·i·ty: A tendency to choose or do something regularly; an inclination or predisposition toward a particular thing.

To explain where this predisposition comes from, it’s important to know I was raised in two of the most conservative Christian churches in Southern California during the sixties and seventies. They believed women should not teach or minister to men, or do anything that attracted the attention of men. I was taught to be the submissive little girl and future wife. As a teenager, I was always trying to stretch the boundaries of what I was allowed to do. I didn’t want to learn classical piano, I wanted to play jazz and rock & roll. Not being allowed to participate in modern art, yearbook, dance, or other classes that would be out of the box, I was told to take typing, cooking and sewing. This was all in preparation for me to be a wife…a submissive wife.

As a child, I attended Sunday school every week. I remember in first grade, one of the lessons was to love my enemies and always be forgiving. I also remember being taught this during the time the girls and boys were in separate classes. I’ve wondered if the boys were taught equivalent messages. This teaching created a mindset in me that led to a traumatic encounter in first grade and affected my ability to know the difference between forgiveness and trust later on in my life.

In first grade, I decided to put my new Sunday school lesson into practice as there were two older girls who would hunt me down during recess, call me names, and physically push me around the play yard. I spent my savings to buy each of them a present and used my newly acquired origami skills to wrap these up in neat little paper designs. I put my two origami gifts in my lunch bag and trekked off to school with a nervous stomach, knowing I would need to approach these two mean girls at the first morning recess.

At 10:10 a.m. the sound of the bell was louder than any other day. I grabbed the two gifts and walked down the asphalt play yard. It was fenced with chain link on all four sides, and as I passed the foursquare courts painted on the ground, I sensed I had no escape.

The girls were playing with a volleyball and bounced it like a superball when they saw my approach. Each crash of the ball hit the pavement faster and faster as if it was beating to the rhythm of my heart. I walked up to them with my arms outstretched, with an origami gift balancing on the palm of each hand. I clearly remember citing the words I’d learned the day before from my Sunday school teacher. “I’ve been told to love my enemies, so I forgive you and have these presents for you, and I want to be friends.”

This is when one of the two girls expeditiously threw the volleyball in my face and broke my nose.

These girls were a few years older than I, so they had some pretty good throwing skills from being on the kickball and volleyball teams in the after school sports program. When they saw the blood gushing out of my nose and down my face, they looked at each other with fear and ran away. The only thing I remember seeing through my tears was the volleyball bouncing slower and slower and then rolling across the pavement and stopping at the chain link fence.

I was told by my parents and my Sunday school teacher I had done the right thing. I’d loved my enemies, shown I could forgive them and I would find my reward in heaven. Instead, I should have been given the tools to spot and deal with the bullies.

These teachings had an effect on my marriage and still have an effect on my subconscious when I meet someone I’m interested in dating. I have an unending capacity to forgive and be non-judgmental, but this leaves me missing the red flags that are waving vigorously in the hundred mph winds of caution. Winds I used to pretend were just a breeze blowing through my hair, like when I found out my husband had a secret life. I forgave him, I took him back, and it would happen again and again, affair after affair.

When counseled by my church in a joint session with my estranged husband, the counselor’s first sentence was, “This is happening because you’re not a submissive wife. You need to forgive him and take him back.” I had the good sense to get up right then, leave the counseling session, go out to the payphone and call my attorney to give her permission to file the divorce papers. I haven’t set foot on that church campus since. My husband at the time wasn’t sorry for his actions because of the pain he caused, he was only sorry because he was caught.

Lessons Learned and Lessons Taught

All of this brings me to one of my favorite bloggers, Tim Fall, who has been an encouragement to me during the time I’ve explored my equality with men and what the Bible really teaches. I’m learning to use the gifts God has given me, even if it’s contrary to the teachings of conservative pastors like John MacArthur or John Piper. It no longer takes me a decade to see the red flags in a relationship, and I know to let go sooner than later. I now understand that forgiveness and restoration of trust are two separate necessities in a broken relationship.

Dating these days is very different from when I was single before.

We talk politics, religion vs. faith, and many times they’re surprised to know my faith is a little different than the church going women they’ve dated in the past. I’m honest about who I am, why I think the church has missed the mark, and my obvious faults. All this lends itself to more honest discussions and when I have an opportunity to mention Tim’s blog, “Just One Train Wreck After Another.” they light up and look in my eye, as if I’ve just sent them the phrase that describes their entire life. If we’re honest with each other, we can relate to this train wreck because we all have the inability to be perfect and we will repeat our mistakes.

I don’t know how many of these men get over to read Tim’s blog, but I do know a few who have, and they’re relating to what Tim is posting. In a world of online dating, where flirting, sexting, and free love run rampant and politics collide, and where people are afraid to identify as a Christian, I am an encourager of my faith in Christ. Not because I’m a church goer who lives by rules, but because I have a daily relationship to Jesus. I trust Him, but at times I struggle with that, and sometimes I get angry, but I’m open to what He has for my life, even if I don’t at first agree.

I’m at ease with knowing God’s intention is for men and women to submit to each other in love, and that a successful relationship will exemplify this. I do single life fairly well, and if in the future I find I’m interested in a forever relationship, it will be a relationship where we inspire each other to be better people and do great things with the gifts God has given us. Where we can be honest with each other in a kind and gentle manner, and because we’re better together than apart.

***

Juli J. Ellen is an accomplished lifetime entrepreneur in the arts and business, from creating fine art photography to owning an ice cream store, working with child custody cases as a mediator and parenting coordinator to creating social media content for local, national and international brands. As an empty-nester mom of two grown children, and a lover of the outdoors, she finds the time to trek to the arctic, hike out on the trail in the Rocky Mountains, and spend time writing about her life adventures. Juli is exercising the gifts God has given her and hopes to inspire other women and girls who have been oppressed by patriarchal teachings.

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Letting Words Go Unanswered

On-line discussions can be difficult. Sometimes they are wonderful and worth the effort, and other times they are withering and not worth the time it takes to form the words on the keyboard. Blog comments, Facebook posts, Twitter feeds and more can be deep wells of encouragement as well as deep pits of discouragement.

People sometimes lift others up with the greatest of ease, their words floating by and carrying you aloft in their kindness and plainly good intentions. People sometimes try to force upon you their demands you conform to their thoughts, their rules, their practices, or be labeled as unworthy of their esteem.

You can decide whether to breathe in the one and let the other die of its own lack of oxygen. Remember, silence is a time-honored tool for healthy conversation:

The one who has knowledge uses words with restraint,
    and whoever has understanding is even-tempered.

Even fools are thought wise if they keep silent,
    and discerning if they hold their tongues.
(Proverbs 17:27-28.)

As Jacqueline Winspear said:

Sometimes it’s best to let words die of their own accord rather than fight them. (In This Grave Hour.)

This does not mean rejecting the other person, but it does mean not allowing the other person to set the rules. Not every demand on social media requires you to respond. After all, when you engage there is no reason to fight their fire with fire of your own. Rather:

A gentle answer turns away wrath,
    but a harsh word stirs up anger. …

A hot-tempered person stirs up conflict,
    but the one who is patient calms a quarrel.
(Proverbs 15:1, 18.)

Patience does not require endless engagement while the other person continues their disputatious ways, though. You don’t have to stay in those conversations forever.

But avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and arguments and quarrels about the law, because these are unprofitable and useless. (Titus 3:9.)

If the conversation is a foolish argument, quarrel or controversy, you have permission to drop out of it. There is nothing about Twitter, Facebook or the rest of social media that says you have to stay. You have the freedom to leave a bad conversation behind and let it go.

Does that mean you should leave all social media behind? Not at all. There is much that can be good in connecting with people. As Paul said:

Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing. (1 Thessalonians 5:11.)

Do this with people you see face to face and with people you see on line. Encouragement and building one another up is a great way to use the Internet. Go and do likewise. (Luke 10:37.)

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Tolerance, Approval, and Love

“As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” Jesus

Love like Jesus.

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Why Struggling Against Sin Is Better Than You Think

“I’m still dealing with the same sins I’ve had all my life.”

“Join the club.”

“But you don’t know the sins I’m still committing.”

“I don’t have to. I’ve got my own.”

“Not like mine, you don’t.”

“Right. Yours are special.”

“Exactly.”

“You want advice about what to do with your special sins?”

“That’s why I asked you to meet me for coffee.”

“Get over yourself.”

“Is that it?”

“There’s more.”

“I hoped so.”

“Thanks for buying me coffee.”

“You’re welcome. But can’t you be serious? I’m struggling here.”

“That’s good.”

“You think it’s good that I struggle with sin? You’re supposed to help me!”

“All right, fine. Tell me how you struggle with sin.”

“I thought you said it didn’t matter what sin I was struggling with.”

“It doesn’t. What I want to know is how you struggle against it.”

“Well … sometimes it’s emotional, like I start feeling like I’m missing out on something everyone else has. I know that’s not true but that’s how I feel.”

“What do you do with those feelings?”

“Do with them?”

“Do you like them? Indulge them? Analyze them? Reject them?”

“I’ve never thought about it much. I guess sometimes I catch myself in time to realize I shouldn’t go down that path.”

“And other times?”

“To use your word, I indulge them.”

“What happens when you indulge the feelings?”

“I sin.”

“What happens when you don’t let yourself follow the feelings?”

“I don’t sin.”

“Which comes more often?”

“What do you mean?”

“Do you catch yourself more than you let yourself indulge?”

“Sometimes. Maybe. I mean, it seems like it’s getting better sometimes and then I go through times where it seems to be happening constantly.”

“Would you say you struggle more now than you did before?”

“What do you mean? I’m struggling all the time!”

“Are you struggling more against this sin now than a few years ago? Overall, I mean, not comparing your worst moments now with your best moments then.”

“I guess.”

“I think your struggle against sin is a good sign.”

“How can you say that? I thought I’d be free of this sin after all these years.”

“I’m older than you, so can I give you a little bit of advice?”

“Like I said, that’s why I wanted to meet with you in the first place. Tell me how to stop.”

“Sorry, but that’s not my advice.”

“You don’t think I should stop sinning?”

“No, I don’t think you should stop struggling. The way I see it, every time you struggle you acknowledge you belong to Jesus, that he loves you and wants better for you than the sin could deliver. Your struggles testify that the Holy Spirit is in you, working against those sins.”

“I’d rather God just make me stop.”

“You’d rather be dead than have God work in you?”

“Not when you put it that way.”

“Every time you struggle and succeed, you have given in to God that much more and sin that much less.”

“But why?”

“Why?”

“Why does God work like that?”

“Because he’s kind.”

“Kind? What’s kind about letting me sin?”

“His kindness is proven every time you struggle against sin. It’s his kindness that leads to repentance in the first place, according to Romans 2:4, and your struggles are a sign that you want to repent.”

“Sure they are. Even when I give in and sin.”

“You think I’m painting too rosy a picture? A struggle against sin is an agreement with God that his ways are better, and that’s a start on the road to repentance. Sometimes you take a step down that road and sometimes you don’t. But eventually you will complete that journey.”

“You sound more confident than I feel.”

“I’m confident in God’s grace. Read the second part of Titus chapter two: it’s grace that teaches us to say no to unrighteousness.”

“I haven’t learned the lesson, apparently.”

“Teaching is not an instantaneous event. Teaching is a process. And God is a gracious teacher.”

“And I’m getting a failing grade.”

“No one who belongs to Jesus gets a failing grade.”

“Except me.”

“There you go thinking you’re special again, so hear this: everybody’s sinning.”

“I haven’t been able to stop, and that means I failed the lesson.”

“It means you still have a lot to learn. But you’re not getting an F. No one does, because there is no condemnation for those in Christ, not even for those still struggling against sin. That’s one of the main points of chapters six to eight of Romans, isn’t it?”

“I guess.”

“I know.”

“How can you be so sure?”

“I must know something. Why else would you buy me coffee and sit here listening to me for so long?”

“Meaning?”

“Meaning that if I were a fool, would you have even bothered asking me to meet with you? Because if so, that would make you foolish too. And you know I don’t think you’re anything of the kind.”

“You don’t? Even after all I told you about struggling with this sin for years?”

“I like what it says in Ephesians 4:2 – ‘Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.’ We’re in this together, with God and with each other, because he loves us all. You’ve just realized that you still have a lot to learn.”

“So what do I do next time?”

“Next time you let me buy the coffee.”

“Not what I meant.”

“I know what you meant. And I think you know what to do. Keep up the struggle.”

“That’s it?”

“That’s all I got. And I’m serious about letting me buy the coffee next time, because it’ll probably be me who needs your help with something I’m struggling over. Just be there for me.”

“That I can do.”

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When Cousins Come Calling

[Based on a true story or two.]

“Oh, hey,” I said, looking around the restaurant without really seeing anything. “Did your brother make it?”

“He’s holding a table for us.”

“Sorry you had to leave work early to meet me for lunch.”

“Don’t even think about that,” Devin said as we reached Drew’s table.

Devin and Drew, my cousins and each other’s twins, were less than a year older than I. We spent a lot of cousin time together growing up, almost all of it fun and games. But now we were grown up and life got hard sometimes.

“How are you holding up?” Drew asked.

“It’s hard. It’s weird and it’s hard.”

“Sure. Your sister died.”

“And she’s our cousin,” Devin added.

“Yeah. And my brother in law’s wife, and my niece and nephew’s mom.”

“But what about you,” Drew said, returning to his question. “How are you?”

“I don’t know when it’ll hit me. It’s supposed to hit me, right? But I haven’t found myself falling apart or breaking down. Yet.” I picked up the menu and didn’t read it. “That’s the weird part.”

“Grief’s weird,” Drew said. “Everyone’s is different and everyone handles it their own way.”

The server came up. Drew and Devin took a quick scan of the menu and ordered. I didn’t bother reading the menu and just ordered what I had the last time I was there. It was easier that way.

“I keep thinking about what it was like when we were kids,” I said.

“Me too,” Devin and Drew said together.

I smiled maybe a little but sat there with no response. They threw a look at each other.

“Do you remember that summer in Tahoe?” asked Devin.

I nodded.

“Did your sister ever tell you about me catching her sneaking off to the camp store when all us kids were supposed to be on the beach?”

Drew grinned widely. That was all the encouragement Devin needed.

“She thought no one was left in the cabin and walked out the back door …”

The stories continued for the rest of lunch, some about my sister and some about the rest of us, and most of the stories they told ended up with them as the butt of the jokes.

***

The server left the check and I reached for it. Drew was quicker.

“Devin and I are getting this.”

“Lunch was my idea,” I said.

“But it’s our treat.”

“Besides,” Devin added, “Drew doesn’t know this but I’m going to let him pay for me too.”

“He’s a better cousin than a brother,” Drew said.

“Your both great cousins,” I told them. “You’re weird and that makes me feel not so weird. Thanks.”

“Any time. What else are cousins for?”

***

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Being Hot Stuff Gets You Burned – a lesson in grace from an old guy

I was 29 and attending one of my first meetings as a newly elected member of the Elder Board. I could blame my conduct that night on my youth and inexperience, but it was really a matter of sin. Prideful sin had a grip on me.

Among the Elders

Don was a founding member of the church, going back to when it was a Bible study in a fellow veterinary professor’s home in the years just after World War 2. Don came to our town after serving in the war, recruited to teach and do research at the newly formed veterinary school in a very small town in California’s Sacramento Valley. He and Elizabeth, his young wife, accepted the challenge of helping to start a new congregation for the growing post-war population in their new home on the west coast.

I met Don many decades later, as he approached a well-earned retirement. You see, Don not only taught at California’s only veterinary school, he served as its dean at one point in his career. His research in dairy production and disease prevention improved the lives of people all over the world, including developing countries.

Dairy cows outside the barn on campus, next to the dorms and across from the medical school and football stadium. (Source.)

Don and Elizabeth served their church faithfully as well. After raising their children, they bought a duplex so they could live in one half and rent the other side to college students from the church at very low rates. They both led Sunday school, outreach and hospitality ministries. They took their positions among those who started the church very seriously.

By the time I met Don and Elizabeth, they were the only founding members left in the congregation. And there I was on the board with Don as the chairman. You’d think this would have humbled me.

It didn’t.

Instead, I was proud of my position, being so young and considered by the congregation to be qualified to serve alongside Don and the others. Frankly, I thought I was pretty hot stuff.

A Little Too Hot

In one of the first meetings we were going over some item on the agenda. I have no idea now what it was, but it was something that generated a lot of discussion. Don was doing what he did well in managing the meeting, and at one point he started to respond to something someone said.

Midway through his first sentence I cut him off and proceeded to give my opinion on the subject. If you envision me leaning forward, raising my voice to drown out others and pointing my finger more than necessary, you’ve got the right picture.

I said my piece and the conversation continued. Don didn’t say anything else on the subject until he called for a vote.

By that time I’d had a chance to think about what I’d done, and I didn’t think much of it.

Don said it was break time since we were about half way through our agenda by then. Break time at these meetings meant snack time. I didn’t have much of an appetite. I was right behind Don as he got something, though, and waited for him to step away from the table.

I took a deep breath and felt myself flush, sure my embarrassment was showing crimson on my face. I started to apologize for cutting him off and speaking out of turn, trying to say that I knew I should have waited my turn. I hoped he’d accept my apology. He didn’t. This time he cut me off.

“No, no, you felt strongly about that and needed to say it. That’s fine,” he said with the most gentle and kind voice imaginable. I think he may have even patted my arm.

The Grace of Acceptance

Don reminds me of the father in the story called The Prodigal Son. The son talked his father into giving him his inheritance early and then spent it all on wild living, reducing himself to poverty far from home. When he came to his sense, he realized he had to go home and beg his father to take him back, even if only as a hired hand. He even had a speech and rehearsed it all the way home. Before he could finish that well-rehearsed speech, though, his father cut him off and welcomed him home.

The son is called the prodigal one for spending all his money, but it is the father’s grace that is truly prodigious: Welcome home, my son, and enjoy all the riches I have to offer.

The Return of the Prodigal Son, Pompeo Batoni 1773 (Wikipedia)

That’s the way Don made me feel. He graciously overlooked my abhorrent behavior and treated me as his equal on the board. This is a lesson I have tried to remember – with varying degrees of success, I might point out.

Don’s few words were mighty with grace. I hope mine are too.

***

[This first appeared four years ago as a guest post for Cara Meredith’s blog, where she wrote this very kind introduction:

I was sitting with a group of other writer-mamas when I first heard of Tim Fall: “Oh, you don’t know Tim?  Well, you SHOULD.”  And just like that, Tim entered my list of people to someday connect with, mostly because I’d heard that he’d be encouraging to me – but soon it wasn’t just about receiving what Tim might be able to give me.  Instead, it became a back and forth, burgeoning online friendship.  So friends, I am delighted that he’s here today; soak up his wisdom-filled words, especially if you’ve ever found yourself serving on a committee or a board, thinking you have the world figured out.  Because you know what?  You SHOULD.

I think you should check out Cara’s writing too.]

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When Churches Force Forgiveness and Discipline

“Hello, Frank. What’s up?”

“I’m very sorry I hurt you. Will you forgive me?”

“Sure, but …”

“Ah-ah-ah … you know what the pastor always says: there are no ‘buts’ in forgiveness.”

“I’m still hurt, though.”

“Yes, well, you’ll just have to get over it now that I’ve asked your forgiveness.”

“Get over it? How am I supposed to ‘just get over it’?!”

“You need to let go and let God. That’s what I did.”

“I don’t think I can.”

***

“Yes, Pastor Smith, what’s up?”

“I’m very troubled to hear you refuse to forgive Frank.”

“I’m not refusing to forgive him. He hurt me real bad and I’m just not able to let it go yet since … .”

“You need to learn true forgiveness. He’s sincere in his sorrow to have caused you pain. Remember that Jesus forgave you even when you didn’t deserve it.”

“I know that. But …”

“Now, now, you know there are no ‘buts’ in forgiveness.”

“Yes, I’ve heard that recently.”

“Good, then all is forgiven?”

“Forgiven yes, but there’s still …”

“You’re being unreasonably willful and stiff-necked about this. I have other calls to make, but we’ll talk more about this soon.”

***

[Door opening]

“Hello?”

“Thanks for coming to the Elder Board meeting. We’re hoping to work out this little problem with you and Frank.”

“Me too.”

“Now tell us about not forgiving him.”

“He has my forgiveness …”

“Wonderful!”

“As I was saying, he has my forgiveness …”

“Don’t tell me you’re inserting the word ‘but’ in there. What have I told you about that?”

“I heard you. See the thing is that I need more than an apology.”

“There’s nothing more required in Scripture, though, and you don’t want to add to God’s word now, do you?”

“I’m not adding to God’s word. I’m just asking for help.”

“Yes, we all need God’s help.”

“I don’t want God’s help!”

[Collective gasp]

“That’s not what I meant.”

“You better explain what you did mean, then, before the Board takes action.”

“Action is just what I want. Frank hurt me bad and I need action.”

“What makes your hurt so special?”

“It happened at the church picnic.”

“We know.”

“Everyone in church saw it happen too.”

“Are you asking for a public apology? That’s sounds somewhat vindictive.”

“I don’t need him to apologize. I need him to pay …”

“Now you truly do sound vindictive. We’ll pray for you now.”

“No, please. Don’t pray for me!”

“I’ve never in all my years had a member of my congregation reject an offer of pastoral prayer.”

“I’ll take the prayer, but can you please just listen to my side of things for a minute?”

“You are being very demanding.”

“It was at the church picnic during the softball game. Frank got mad when I struck him out to end the game. He was his team’s best hope for sending the game into extra innings, but striking out lost them the game.”

“Yes, he appeared quite angry. But he calmed down by the time the picnic was over.”

“He didn’t calm down soon enough. He came running at me with his bat.”

“We know Frank doesn’t mean it. He just gets angry too easily. We all have faults, even you.”

“He hit me with the bat!”

“Yes, well …”

“And broke my leg! The doctor says I’ll be on these crutches for six weeks until the cast comes off, and then physical therapy for at least another six weeks.”

“What do you expect us to do about it?”

“Frank needs to pay …”

“Don’t start getting vindictive again.”

“I just want some help with my medical bills for crying out loud!”

“You need to adopt a more respectful tone. After all, we are the ones God has put in authority in this church.”

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to raise my voice.”

“We’ll have to consider the best way to respond to your apology. Now, we have much urgent business on the agenda so I’m afraid we can’t spend any more time on you tonight.”

***

[Sound of envelope tearing open and paper unfolding]

“Dear ____,

We regret to inform you that you are now under church discipline regarding your repeated refusal to forgive a repentant fellow member of the church. You are barred from partaking in communion and your voting privileges at church business meetings is suspended until further notice. You are also forbidden to speak to anyone about these matters except the Senior Pastor and the Chair of the Elder Board. Failure to submit to these conditions will result in further discipline. The Board has also voted not to allow you to resign your membership in this church while you are under discipline.

Prayerfully yours,
Your Pastors and Elders

***

Would anyone really begrudge a person some help with medical bills for breaking their leg? Unlikely. But people who are hurt are told they need to forgive the other person and move on. Well, you can’t move on from a broken leg at the drop of a hat. It takes time to heal and the medical bills need to be paid. There are other types of injuries that can’t be seen from the outside, but are just as real as a leg in a cast and take a lot longer to heal than a broken bone. The church needs to come alongside these people with real solutions to the real problems they are dealing with. Sadly, sometimes the person just ends up under discipline for trying to ask for the help they so desperately need.

***

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The Top Test to Decide if a Woman’s Call to Be a Preacher Is Legitimate

There are people who insist women can’t be pastors, preachers and church leaders, claiming that the Bible forbids it. They set this up as a rule which cannot be violated.

Another word for a rule that can’t be violated is law.

When it comes to laws, though, life under the New Covenant requires they be measured against God himself. If they don’t measure up, they aren’t God’s laws. And if they aren’t God’s laws, they must belong to someone who isn’t God. You are not required to follow anyone else’s rules.

So how does a woman know that a call to being a pastor or preacher falls within the rules?

Jesus told us the one rule that encompasses all:

“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:29-31.)

So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets. (Matthew 7:12.)

Jesus even called this a new command, and his friends and family reiterated it.

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35.)

If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right. (James 2:8.)

Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. (Romans 13:8.)

Yet there are still some today who would say that a woman cannot preach or be a pastor because it’s somehow against God’s law.

Vashti Murphy McKenzie, AME bishop (Wikipedia)*

They’re wrong.

Getting it right is better than getting it wrong

The way to decide whether a woman’s call to preach or be a pastor is from God isn’t by comparing 1 Timothy 2:12 with 1 Corinthians 14:39 and try to decide if one is a universal bar for all time while the other has limited application that must fall outside the preaching ministry. No matter how many other passages you study that support one conclusion or the other, testing it like that leads to a false analysis and unhelpful conclusions.

That’s because the test of your calling is how it lines up with the fruit of the Holy Spirit.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. (Galatians 5:22-23.)

That last sentence is telling. If the Spirit produces fruit in you – that is, if your preaching or pastoral ministry or church leadership is typically filled with love, joy, peace,  and the rest – there is no law against your ministry. That bears repeating.

There is no law against a ministry that exhibits the fruit of the Spirit.

Mailoica Basket of Fruit, Fede Galizia

A set of rules structured on 1 Timothy 2:12 to forbid women access to the role of preacher, pastor, or elder is a law. That law has no place. A set of rules that insist anyone who likes can be a preacher based on 1 Corinthians 14:39 is likewise void.

Your ministry – no matter what it may be – has one test to pass and one only. Does it display the fruit of the Spirit? If so, there is no law that says you can’t pursue it.

Giving you that ministry is one way God shows how much he loves you. Serving him in that ministry is one way you can show how much you love God.

There’s no law against love.

***

*There are some who might be offended by that picture of Bishop McKenzie in the pulpit and will choose not to read the rest of this post, missing that the point is there is no law against any ministry for women (or men) that bears the fruit of the Spirit. I did not add the photo to offend those people; I added it as an example of what a woman serving God in pulpit ministry looks like.

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My Natal Speed Limit Issue

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