Monthly Archives: March 2007

My Beloved has a new name

I have always longed for a more distinct appellation. A more colorful moniker. A memorable sobriquet. Instead I am named Dave. I share my very original name with 3,553,128 other citizens of this great country according to the website howmanyofme.com. My name is the 7th most common male first name in America. Los Angeles has a population of about 3.8 million so you could populate about 94 percent of LA with Daves and Davids. I looked throughout history and I saw many distinctive names that I considered for my upgraded cognomen. I am envious of the title given to Diogenes. The philosopher was known as Diogenes the Cynic. My wife quickly vetoed “Dave the Sarcastic” since that is one of my gifts that she is trying to downsize.

Some of the names in history were powerful. William the Conquerer and Richard the Lionheart conjure up images of strong and courageous leaders.

Some names would not make the hearer real comfortable.
“I would like you to meet Vlad the Impaler.”
That’s a party ender. Being introduced to Ivan the Terrible or Pedro the Cruel would not make for comfortable small talk either.

Some other names are not so intimidating. It must have been odd to be the King of France and have the title of Charles the Simple. But that was better than his predecessors, Charles the Bald and Charles the Fat. Charles the Bald had a son who became king. His name was Louis the Stammerer. No kidding. It must have been fun to be the king, nervously waiting for your title to be assigned. Since they titled kings by obvious traits I would have been “Dave the Awkward Dancer”. But that is still better than “Dave the Simple”.

There seems to be a lack of creative among the really, really powerful. Alexander, Catherine, Herod, Peter, Frederick, Constantine, Cyrus, King Alfred, Xerxes, Darius, Gustav Adolph, and many others called themselves “the great”. That seemed way too pompous for me. And since I am going for authentic about who I am that title would simply not be honest. Still, “Dave the Occasionally Above Average” lacks the impact I was hoping to find.

My search for a new title was fruitless. But I am thrilled to report that my bride has a new name. First, a bit of background before we unveil Joni’s new designation. One year ago today was D-Day. Diagnosis Day. At just about the time that I am writing this one year ago I received a call from Joni telling me that she had breast cancer. We began a journey that has been difficult and long. But it has also been an amazing testimony to the sustaining strength and comfort that God gives His children when we totally depend on Him. God has taught us so much in the past year. I asked Joni what her biggest lesson from the cancer had been. Her answer was trust. Trust in a God who is trustworthy. Joni wrote these words in the middle of her chemotherapy.

I don’t like being sick but God keeps  reminding me that He is in charge of my body, the cancer, the treatments and the timing even though  I feel so out of control.  When I am able to relinquish control of my situation is when He can work.  Lord, I thank you for Dave, my earthly rock, and I thank you that you are my true Rock.  Psalms 31:3  For thou art my rock and my fortress;  for thy name’s sake Thou wilt lead me and guide me. 

Joni built her foundation on the solid rock of Jesus and she withstood the storm with courage, grace, and dignity. Recently she underwent the one year scan to see if the cancer had developed anywhere else. The scan was clear.

So Joni has a new title that is better to me than all of the great titles of history. Her new title is “Joni the Survivor”. That has a wonderful ring to it.

 

 

 

Do we really understand grace?

(For those who are breathlessly awaiting the next installment of the victimhood series…it will resume in a couple of days)

God is a great teacher. He is a prof that I cannot bluff. I report to Him that I have read the material. I tell others that I have done my homework. I speak proudly about how I am mastering the course. And then He pops the life quiz to see if I have truly absorbed what I say I have learned. Those who are honest about this journey know that you are in trouble anytime you announce that you are determined to be more (choose from the following partial list: patient, loving, obedient, forgiving, prayerful, serving). God smiles and arranges a test. I hate the spiritual pop quizzes as much as I did the academic ones. But they are just as revealing about how I am doing. A recent pop quiz consisted of work situations that frustrated me and other people conspiring (I thought) to divert my focus and steal my joy. How did I do? I failed the test miserably. I was grumpy. I was discouraged. My joy meter barely moved. I bombed the test.

Later I regrouped and had a personal conference with the Teacher (He is really good about that). That is when I remembered again what grace means to me. Yes, I failed miserably. Yes, I was disappointed in myself. Yes, I was a little embarrassed that I have written and spoken so boldly and flopped so easily. But here is what poured over my soul from the Holy Spirit.

You are my child.
I love you.

Grace always takes me by surprise. I am not conditioned by this world to expect love and acceptance when I have failed. I am conditioned to expect condemnation, shame, and rejection. But there was the Father God patiently and lovingly dealing with me. Mark McMinn, a professor at Wheaton College,  wrote these words in an article in Christianity Today.

“Seeing our sin occurs over a lifetime of pursuing God. Our vision is seldom restored in a single burst of light but with countless rays streaming into our darkened eyes over many years—and always in the midst of amazing grace.”

That is the power of grace in my life. In His infinite mercy God does not reveal the ugliness of my heart in one gigantic and loveless revelation that would destroy me. He chooses instead to gently chip away at the rough edges of pride, selfishness, and disobedience. The famous artist Michelangelo would often select a block of marble that others thought unsalvageable and then go to work on that ugly hunk of rock.  He once remarked, “I saw the angel in the marble and I carved until I set him free.” That is what God’s grace means to me. He sees the beauty in the piece of rock that is me. And He sees the beauty that no one else sees. He lovingly and gently carves away the ugliness until a little beauty begins to come through. But He never gets angry and gives up if another strata of ugly crops up.

That is what grace means to me. Even on the days that I fail miserably I know that I am loved. I am accepted. There  is nothing that I can do to make God love me more and nothing I can do to make Him love me less. This is one place where the spiritual hall monitors are apt to jump in and complain about “cheap grace” in the church. Cheap grace means one thing. You don’t understand grace. Because grace understood would never translate to making such an amazing act of unmerited mercy trivial or unappreciated.

Paul and Barnabas proclaimed to the assembly that,  “We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved.” A common acronym for grace is God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense. Recently I have experienced a new acronym for grace.

God’s
Radical
And
Complete
Embrace

Most of us know the story of slave trader John Newton who repented of his sin and wrote a popular little tune called Amazing Grace. When he said wretch he knew what he was talking about. At the end of his life Newton said to his friends, “My memory is nearly gone; but I remember two things: That I am a great sinner, and that Christ is a great Savior.”

He is indeed.

Amazing Grace. How sweet the sound. That saves and oh so patiently perfects a wretch like me. Amazing.

Letting go of Victimhood – Part 7

For the next several days I will be working on a new book project. During that time I will be posting some excerpts from the previous books. We begin with a chapter from “Bring’em Back Alive – A Healing Plan for Those Wounded by the Church”. This chapter is called “Your Bleating Heart Will Tell On You” and it deals with the uncomfortable truth that sometimes we choose to remain in victimhood.

Blessings,

Dave

Many people go to church with the hope of finding a place to finally belong and fit in. They were the kids who dined alone in middle-school. They were the people who hated phys-ed because they were the agonizing last pick for a team or they felt embarrassed to undress around the “jocks”. They might have been the one who sat home depressed on prom night or were rejected for membership by a fraternity or sorority on campus. Then you hear about this thing called Christianity and how everyone is part of a body of believers that love and share together. It sounds too good to be true (and sometimes it is). The reality is that the church is the same collection of personalities that you struggled with in high school, college and beyond. Sorry.

Nonetheless, we feel a profound sense of betrayal when a person in the church lets us down. It really does cause a hurt disproportionate to the size of the wound when it is inflicted by someone we know and trust. The Psalmist described the feelings in this passage.

This isn’t the neighborhood bully
mocking me-I could take that.
This isn’t a foreign devil spitting
invective-I could tune that out.
It’s you! We grew up together!
You! My best friend!
Those long hours of leisure as we walked
arm in arm, God a third party to our conversation.

Can’t you feel the pain of the writer? Haven’t you been there at one time or another? It’s you! It’s not Bob the Backstabber or Gertie the Gossip. I would have been ready for that. It’s you! My best friend…or so I thought. It does hurt disproportionably to the apparent size of the wound.

We endure hurts and wounds that wouldn’t happen if we were all living according to the example and teachings of Jesus. But allow me to let you in on another little factoid. We don’t always do that. And perhaps a more vexing problem is that some Christians are wholly convinced that they are following the teachings of Jesus yet they wound others through their actions. I would encourage you to examine their actions through the lens of God’s Word. Perhaps part of your healing process will require finding a flock that properly balances doctrine and grace. You already know from comments in this book how seriously I take any decision to leave a church. As a general rule I follow the belief that I need to be directed to another flock instead of church shopping whenever I am offended. But I will allow that a church environment that will not encourage your restoration and healing might require a change of flocks. A church that is abusive is not a place that any sheep should be…let alone a wounded lamb. Any shepherd that does not preach the gospel of Jesus Christ will require you to seek a new flock. I would encourage you to review the checklist that I included in Chapter 2 of Bad Christians to help evaluate the merit of trying a new pasture. The grass isn’t always greener but it may be more nourishing in some cases. But I must leave this topic with a word of caution. Please pray, be still and listen and leave with grace and dignity if you must. Burn no bridges and wound no sheep (or shepherds) as you exit.

…to be continued

Letting go of Victimhood – Part 6

For the next several days I will be working on a new book project. During that time I will be posting some excerpts from the previous books. We begin with a chapter from “Bring’em Back Alive – A Healing Plan for Those Wounded by the Church”. This chapter is called “Your Bleating Heart Will Tell On You” and it deals with the uncomfortable truth that sometimes we choose to remain in victimhood.

Blessings,

Dave

We have unrealistic expectations regarding how our church experience should be unfold. The church is where I least (or at least used to) expect to be hurt. Perhaps we expect attack and have our defenses up when we are out in the “world” but are extra vulnerable to attack at church.

For example, you likely would not hurt a boxer if you took a swing at him in the ring. He would be wary, fists up and ready to defend and respond. You might hurt that same tough individual if you walked up and slugged him when he was totally unprepared and defenseless, never dreaming that an attack might happen in a supposedly safe place. That is how some churchgoers view the church…as a safe place where no sucker punches could possibly be thrown. They believe they are not at risk and defenses can be let down. And because the punch is so unexpected it will likely inflict more damage than the same emotional punch would deliver outside the church.

For many of us church is a final attempt to find community. For others the church is a last bastion of hope that there is a place where they will not be hurt. . Some believe, and worse yet, have been told that their every wish will be met in the body of Christ, from finances to fellowship to health. Mature believers know that every need is met when we are seeking God’s will and growing in our relationship with Christ. But not every desire is met.

Some churchgoers expect members of the flock will always be at their side when they experience a rough time. And that should be true. But what often happens is they get involved in a church filled with people like you and me who have our own problems. Oh we care, but probably not enough to jeopardize the alignment of our own universe. I believe with all of my being that God will bring an individual, group or church into my (and your) life that will meet those deep seated needs and bring about healing. But the reality is that you have a responsibility to make that happen.

To achieve that type of relationship in the body takes a commitment on your part. You must give time and invest yourself in the lives of a small group of people in the church. I have found those relationships will result in brothers and sisters who will return the favor. The best experiences that Joni and I have had in a church body not surprisingly coincided with our involvement with a dynamic small group. It takes work and time but I can tell you it is worth the effort. Joni and I know there is a group of ten that will be there if we need them. We have no
doubt. But that didn’t happen by just waltzing through the church door on Sunday mornings. We have invested in their lives and they in ours.

Without that kind of support from the flock I think we are more likely to blame God for the failure of His people or, for that matter, for our own failure. I am guilty of evaluating God just like I evaluate friends and neighbors. I think Stacey Padrick gets is correct when he writes in Discipleship Magazine that “We call people good if they do what we want and make us happy. We apply the same criteria to God.”

To blame God for our wounds from others effectively ends our pursuit of spiritual healing. To blame God shows a lack of belief or lack of knowledge of His promises to meet our needs. To blame God shows that our prayers and desires do not always reflect that His will be done but sometimes that our will was not done in a timely fashion and according to our requests.

….to be continued

Letting go of Victimhood – Part 5

For the next several days I will be working on a new book project. During that time I will be posting some excerpts from the previous books. We begin with a chapter from “Bring’em Back Alive – A Healing Plan for Those Wounded by the Church”. This chapter is called “Your Bleating Heart Will Tell On You” and it deals with the uncomfortable truth that sometimes we choose to remain in victimhood.

Blessings,

Dave

Eugene Peterson argues that the main difference today is not how much people are hurting, but how much they expect to be relieved from their hurting.  Few in the church have taken victimhood to the subterranean level that Romanian Sandu Tudose achieved.

When his wife ran off with another man the seventy-four year old man vowed to spend the rest of his life in a hole in the ground. His underground ode to bitterness is located in the town of Mera, Romania and is outfitted with a bathroom, heater and water tap. He has food delivered and his garbage picked up once a week. While you may find his response childish you certainly cannot say that he “doesn’t know forgiveness from a hole in the ground.”  While we may laugh at the ridiculous excess of this man’s response, we can achieve emotional and spiritual equivalence by burrowing into ourselves and never surfacing to live life within the community of believers.

I do believe that as a society we tend to fixate on woundedness. But at the same time I am convinced that we must begin a serious dialogue on hurting and wounded Christians. It seems to me that this seeming epidemic of Christians wounded by Christians (or churchgoers) might merit a pathology test to see if we (the church) are causing the outbreak.

 I have wondered why the wounds suffered at church seem so devastating. Perhaps one of the reasons is we don’t expect the rules of street fighting to be present in church. Workplace tactics like gossip, manipulation, controlling others, etc do find their way into the body of Christ. During the writing of this book the U.S. was at war with Iraq and a big topic was the “rules of engagement” for the military. There are certain rules that the most countries believe should never be violated. Military professionals believe you must never use a hospital to shield troops and weapons. You must not locate strategic military targets near churches or schools. We believe that the soldiers should not strategically integrate with citizens because of the potential danger to innocents during military engagements. Our opponents did not share our view of the rules of engagement.

I think the same thing happens with Christians. We expect certain behaviors and tactics will not be used in the church or from the folks who are there. Our enemy, Satan, does not share our ideas for the rules of engagement. Jesus warned us of the inherent dangers of being a lamb in this brutal world.

“Stay alert. This is hazardous work I’m assigning you. You’re going to be like sheep running through a wolf pack, so don’t call attention to yourselves. Be as cunning as a snake, inoffensive as a dove.” Matthew 10:16 (MsgB) 

We really are like sheep running through a wolf pack both in and out of the church. I wish that were not the case in our fellowship but we don’t have a screening system to investigate everyone who claims to be a Christian. We let’em all in and there will be some wolves that find their way into pews. But we never seem to expect that.

Christians are simply not prepared to encounter the tactics of the “world” in the church. We start out believing this Christian walk will be an idyllic spiritual Camelot where hurt has been banned by decree. Everything is going just according to plan until someone begins to spread some gossip about you. Or when a fellow leader takes you to task for teaching from a book by an author (hopefully not me) that he knows is apostate and you should know that too if you were listening to the Holy Spirit. We are unprepared for the unbiblical blindsiding that inevitably happens.

….to be continued

Letting go of victimhood – Part 4

For the next several days I will be working on a new book project. During that time I will be posting some excerpts from the previous books. We begin with a chapter from “Bring’em Back Alive – A Healing Plan for Those Wounded by the Church”. This chapter is called “Your Bleating Heart Will Tell On You” and it deals with the uncomfortable truth that sometimes we choose to remain in victimhood.

Blessings,

Dave

 

English writer Charles Kingsley wrote, “If you wish to be miserable, you must think about yourself, about what you want, what you like, and what respect people ought to pay you. Then to you nothing will be pure. You will spoil everything you touch; you will make sin and misery out of everything God sends you.”

That is painful to apply to my personal life. I sometimes try to imagine how I would respond if I were a disinterested third party listening to my own whiny complaints. Would I agree with my case or would I think the argument was self-centered and exaggerated. If I am honest with myself the latter is usually the case.

There are indeed those in the church who find their identity in woundedness and they find a hurt under every rock. The tragedy is that kind of thinking never leads to the peace, joy and contentment that Jesus came to this planet to provide. With the gentle prodding of the Holy Spirit I pray that those mired in the muck of victimhood will be challenged to get up and get out. I pray for those who are deeply wounded that they will begin to claim the supernatural resources of forgiveness available to all believers.

Josh McDowell makes a worthwhile distinction between those who are broken and those who are just needy. “Broken people are much more receptive because they’ve realized how self-dependent and prideful they are. They are very open to the Holy Spirit’s work in their lives. Needy people, though, may not know how to trust God with their struggles. They tend to suck the life out of whomever they come into contact with. Thus, we must help them learn how to talk to God about their problems instead of pouring them out on the first person who’ll listen – which is often what happens.”

We must be especially patient with the needy lambs. Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, “I can no longer condemn or hate a brother for whom I pray, no matter how much trouble he causes me. His face, that hitherto may have been strange and intolerable to me, is transformed into the countenance of a brother for whom Christ died, the face of a forgiven sinner.”

If you are broken you have completed your prerequisite studies to begin Recovery Class 101. And if you have a twinge from the Holy Spirit that you have become a little “needy” then we will explore some ways to take that neediness to the Lord. Corrie ten Boom noted that anything “too small to be turned into prayer is too small to be turned into a burden.”

That would be a good starting point for neediness. Take it to the Lord in prayer. I will tell you that I am able to allow hurts to roil around in my mind until the perpetrators become evil and my emotions are rampaging. I find that when I take them to the Lord and articulate those offenses they often don’t seem quite as major.

….to be continued

Letting go of victimhood – Part 3

For the next several days I will be working on a new book project. During that time I will be posting some excerpts from the previous books. We begin with a chapter from “Bring’em Back Alive – A Healing Plan for Those Wounded by the Church. This chapter is called “Your Bleating Heart Will Tell On You” and it deals with the uncomfortable truth that sometimes we choose to remain in victimhood.

Blessings,

Dave

(Yesterday I mentioned a letter from a reader who was not a big fan of mine and my fellow Christians. Here is that letter)

I cannot grant the courtesy of credit since the reviewer identified themselves only as a “reader from Wayland, Ma”. I will reproduce the comments along with a sampling of some typical reactions I have to criticism when I shift into victim mode.

“Burchett (as is the case with virtually all his co-religionists) (What the heck is a co-religionist?) misses the point: it is the belief system that fosters these abuses. A good example of the simplistic nature (Simplistic? You don’t have to agree but I’m not STUPID!) of Burchett’s arguments is to be found in his brief treatment of the concept of eternal damnation. He asserts that it isn’t a concept that even requires justification; it is God’s universe, we are his creations, and it is his prerogative to do with us as he will. (Guilty. Though I didn’t say it nearly that nonchalantly) It isn’t Christians who are arrogant, it’s the secular humanists and believers of other faith traditions who are actually the arrogant one, as they seek to question God’s authority! Extremely childish. (Childish???? How dare you call me childish! At least my words were not written from the safe haven of anonymity)

Burchett mentions that he and his wife have (if I recall correctly) two sons, (No moron, three sons) at least one of whom is studying to be a minister (Wrong again Sherlock Holmes. They are studying higher education administration, sports management and, at the point of this writing, business). I often wonder how conservative evangelicals and fundamentalists who have “unsaved” children envision the Day of Judgment (if they are even capable of that kind of projection). (So you think we just believe these things to be mean and that we don’t even think about the ramifications?) Do they imagine that, as their child is being dragged of (sic), kicking and screaming to an eternity in hell, that they will turn to God, and say, “Well, this is unpleasant, but as you are perfectly just, it isn’t my place to question your will?” (No, nothing could be further from how I view my God and His judgment) This is the implicit outcome of Burchett’s thought processes, (Thanks for interpreting my thoughts for me) but I’m sure that he doesn’t see it. (Bingo, I’m too stupid to really understand what I think)  It is a belief system so appalling that it should be beneath the dignity of a human being to indulge in it, (Are you serious? And your hatred toward faith is not appalling) and Burchett brings nothing new to the argument.(Okay, you may have finally  made a point) He is incapable of seeing that it is the belief system itself that is abusive.(I have recently learned to dress myself and no longer need Velcro closures on my shoes) If you aren’t an evangelical or fundamentalist, and have more than a few brain cells to rub together, don’t waste your time.(First of all, it was written for evangelicals. This book was not an apologetic and if you had a few brain cells to rub together you would have realized that).

My goodness that looks ugly in print. But that is a natural response to being (in my mind) attacked. Poor little me! Every year during the Easter season I review the agony that Jesus endured for me. The shame, the mockery and the suffering of the cross touch me deeply. Then I turn around and get all bent out of shape because some stranger called me stupid! I have so many people I know that I can turn to for that. So I dragged my wounded little heart to my lovely bride Joni. I read the mean comments to her and I waited for her to validate my anger. I waited for her to tell me I was smart and that person was stupid. I waited for her to tell me that I was not simplistic or childish. I waited for her to pat me on the back and tell me I was complicated and mature and not bad looking for a middle-aged guy. And I waited. And waited.

She absorbed the whole critique and then responded. “You really need to pray for that person. They are obviously under a lot of spiritual conviction to be that angry.” THAT WAS NOT WHAT I WANTED TO HEAR! But it was what I needed to hear. Whenever I inflate with pride God uses Joni as His little hatpin. I was deflated because my woundedness had not been validated.

….to be continued