Sunday, September 16, 2007

Sometimes the Master Just Got it Right

Well, all the time the Master Just Got It Right. The last few days I have been experiencing the wisdom of a few advisories of Jesus

Matthew 5:23 So then, if you bring your gift to the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother and then come and present your gift.
Matthew 10:19 Whenever they hand you over for trial, do not worry about how to speak or what to say, for what you should say will be given to you at that time.
Matthew 18:15 "If your brother sins, go and show him his fault when the two of you are alone. If he listens to you, you have regained your brother. 16 But if he does not listen, take one or two others with you, so that at the testimony of two or three witnesses every matter may be established. 17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. If he refuses to listen to the church, treat him like a Gentile or a tax collector.
I have learned that last year folks left the community group I was in because of me. This year, folks said they did not want to be in a community group if I was in it.

My understanding is that they came to the group leader for this year and expressed their concerns. He then, understandably, asked my group leader from last year about my affect on group dynamics. The two of them asked to meet with me to chat before the first group meeting this year.

Let me say that I have to grant every criticism, even though they are pretty non-specific. My brain needs concrete examples to act on; and the general principles that we should:
  • think about the affect of our words on others;
  • see things through others eyes; and
  • be sensitive to folks feelings
are all things I know and believe - and practice badly: certainly my boss at work is trying to teach me to gauge my words to others in exactly the same way. The bat he uses to sink in his words (just kidding) may actually help me someday.

I had no desire to drive someone from our group - and will take this opportunity to apologize and ask their forgiveness if they read this - which they might. I did not mean to hurt, or make them stumble, rob their hope, or offend their sensibilities. These are all things I really am quite capable of doing. Heck, my MIL tonight, who was in last year's group, said that I had a way of stating things that just made it seem that I was certain I was right and if someone disagreed they were wrong. This is certainly an ongoing struggle for me. Folks who talk to me, especially at Street Prophets, will relate to that.

It should be said that, as near as I can figure it, this was not as much about doctrinal statements during a Bible study (although I am sure that was there); but about things that I shared in transparency about my personal struggles - particularly with sexual temptation and pornography - and my view that indeed I may struggle with these things for the rest of my life. It is a frequent suggestion in my FMO group that I may pay too much attention to the ongoing struggle of Romans 7 . . .
19 For I do not do the good I want, but I do the very evil I do not want! 20 Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer me doing it but sin that lives in me. 21 So, I find the law that when I want to do good, evil is present with me. 22 For I delight in the law of God in my inner being. 23 But I see a different law in my members waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that is in my members. 24 Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?
. . . while missing the glorious answer that begins in verse 25 and continues into chapter 8:
25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin. 8:1 There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2 For the law of the life-giving Spirit in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and death . . .
I damaged someone's hope in struggling with their own issues because I did not seem to recognize and acknowledge the power of God to free me from my addiction. For this I am beyond sorry - I have made a fellow Christian stumble and that millstone feels a little heavy and my feet are getting wet. I do acknowledge God's power (and only God's power) to bring me healing; and I rest entirely on that hope - my own efforts being so useless. Again, if my brother or sister is reading this - forgive me: I did not mean to make your struggle harder.

Regretfully, I never knew the effects of what I did when they were happening - nor do I even know who left the group because of me; who I am apologizing to; or who was concerned I was joining a group with them this year. Anonymity has been maintained completely.

That brings me to the three passages at the beginning of this post; and hopefully it is clear that what I am about to say is not an attempt to deflect criticism from myself. Folks had a responsibility to correct me in love as the events unfolded. Even if they thought that I might take offense, get angry, leave the group or the church, or tell them they were idiots and fools - they had the responsibility to correct me. My group leader from last year sincerely apologized for not bringing it up as it came to his attention - and for allowing a desire for peace to keep him from correcting me in love. He took his share of the responsibility. I appreciate that; and forgive him.

However, in the Matthew 18 passage he should not have entered the picture until the second step. Folks should have gathered their strength in Christ, left their offerings at the altar, met with me alone, and let me know how my actions affected them and damaged their Christian walk. If I reacted badly or continued my behavior then it was the time for the group leader, and then maybe the church, to take a hand.

There has now been a different chain of events that occurred:
  • People left community rather than building community - something that comes through some struggle
  • Two group leaders, and groups, were affected
  • I felt blind-sided by having what appears to be a years worth of actions brought to my attention in a way that makes it hard to act on them - generalities are hard learn from
  • My wife and MIL are hurt because I was hurt
God will use this to teach me and grow me - however, failure to follow Biblical principles on my part and the parts of others means that folks have been hurt and harmed in ways that should have been avoidable - and for longer than it should have occurred.

All this brings me to an appreciation of the group guidelines in my FMO group:
  • Take Responsibility: When uncomfortable with anything in this group, we deal with it directly ourselves instead of expecting others to solve the problem or rescue us.
  • Consider Others: We guard against offending one another. If someone offends us, we work it out directly with him.
These guidelines, and the passages from Matthew, are essential to build community between human beings who are so capable of being so insensitive and self-absorbed - myself definitely included.


  1. Folks who talk to me, especially at Street Prophets, will relate to that.

    Oh dear JCH, I so admire and I so pray with you, for our communal struggle as followers.

    Words have such power and how we use them can hurt or heal. That said, here you are, prayerfully exploring this topic.

    What a reminder - for me to do the same. Oh sometimes I look at what I wrote and think "oh no." Like most of the time...

    Thank you for this thoughtful post and for your prayers. Know you have mine as well.


  2. >Anonymity has been maintained completely.

    While this happens all the time, and people have their reasons for it, in my opinion it is not biblical and almost always destructive.

    I know of no biblical warrant for accusing a brother anonymously and it often reveals as much about the people involved as it does with the errant brother.

    The other side of the issue is that sometimes the truth hurts and people pick up their feet and leave. Even Jesus dealt with that (John 6:66-67). It was interesting that he didn't try to convince anyone to stay.

    There is nothing wrong with correction, discipline, and rounding off the rough edges of our social manners, as long as we keep a proper distinction between sin and social niceties. We need to remember that as a family, God expects more of us, not less.

  3. Feel free to bounce over to my latest post. I kind of address your concern about chronically practicing the same sin (in your case, porn).

    BTW, I'd apologize to them personally, whether they read your blog or not. Just a suggestion.


  4. Hi Alan,

    Thanks for dropping by. I agree about the apology absolutely - indeed I certainly should have done that in private before posting this; and then I wonder about posting it.

    Learning experience for others yes - but should it have been posted?

    Anyway, I really have no way of knowing who left because of me. I did apologize indirectly through last year's group leader.


How to debate charitably (rules are links to more description of rule):
1. The Golden Rule
2. You cannot read minds
3. People are not evil
4. Debates are not for winning
5. You make mistakes
6. Not everyone cares as much as you
7. Engaging is hard work
8. Differences can be subtle
9. Give up quietly