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How Can I Love the Church that Hurt Me?

Written By Ruth Lawrence, UK

Seven days after I came into the world, my dad became the pastor of the church that I would grow up in. Unlike my siblings, I never knew a time when my Dad wasn’t a pastor. I quickly learned that people either hold pastor’s kids to an unreasonably high standard, or wait to see when they rebel and fall off the rails.

I didn’t like either.

If I could get away with not having to tell people what my dad’s job was, I would. I did not like being scrutinized. All I wanted was to figure out what I thought about God and church without an audience. By the time I was 20, I had reached my conclusion.

I knew the Bible was true, and I had no problem with God. But I didn’t like Christians, which was slightly problematic seeing as I was one myself.

I could understand non-Christians hurting people. I could even get my head round Christians lashing out in the heat of the moment. But Christians deliberately hurting other Christians?

There had been times as a kid in church when I was the only one who got told off for something a group of us had done. As I got older, I listened to people gossip about my family; their caring tones and concerned faces were merely a cover to finding out what they could from me. Eventually, I narrowed my world to just me and God. I let people in so far and no further. I kept hidden the things that were really important to me as much as I could.

When this kind of hurt led my dad to leave the church we were at, I decided that I had had enough of Christians. God might love me, but His people definitely didn’t.

As I found out about other things that had happened in our church over time—things that were unjust and that hurt my family—my hurt turned to anger. The more angry I felt, the less I felt I could go to God, and the more my relationship with Him deteriorated.

I was stuck in limbo. I did not want to walk away from God because I loved Him and because I knew that the Bible was true. But I did not want to associate with His church, since that was a painful place to be. It became so painful that I finally realized that I needed to do something about my attitude and how I was thinking and feeling.

Passages like Hebrews 10:25 and John 15 convicted me. They told me that the church is God’s plan. Jesus told His followers to “abide in my love” (John 15:9), which sounds great, until He explained that to abide in His love means we have to obey His commandment—to love other Christians (15:12). That part I’m not so thrilled about, because it means opening myself up to potential hurt again.

Because I’m still very much working through this, it’s not been something that I’ve talked about much with my family. But here are a couple of things I’m finding as I address my flawed thinking:

 

1. Christians hurt each other

It may seem obvious, but none of us are perfect, Christian or otherwise. So we will hurt each other; I hurt people. I can feel as defensive and hurt about my injuries as I want, but at the end of the day, I have hurt other people too. I need to be forgiven just as much as I need to forgive.

In Matthew 18, Jesus answers Peter’s question of how many times we should forgive people by telling the parable of the unmerciful servant. The story goes like this. There’s a servant who owed a massive amount of money to the King which he couldn’t pay back. The King rightly wanted to throw the man in jail, but the servant pleaded for mercy. The King, in an amazing act of grace, cancels the servant’s whole debt. The debt-free servant now bumps into a man who owes him a small amount of money and demands that the money be repaid then and there. The man can’t pay, so the debt-free servant throws the man in jail, ignoring his cries for mercy. Word gets back to the King, who is royally furious, and he metes out justice and throws the unmerciful servant in jail.

This story has in some ways haunted me since I was a kid, because I really wanted grace for myself, but I have a hard time giving it out. I was thinking about all this recently and I came to the conclusion that if I met the people who had hurt me and my family back then, I would want them to know that I didn’t hold it against them.

It’s unlikely that I will ever see them again—life has taken me a long way from them—but that doesn’t mean that I can’t forgive them. Forgiving them means not wanting bad for them but praying for their good. And for the relationships I have with Christians now, it means being quick to apologize when I get things wrong.

 

 2. There is no higher standard

Other people may have been holding me to a higher standard of behaviour because of who my dad was, but God wasn’t. God holds us all to the same high standard that none of us can meet. And just as none of us can meet that standard, all of us are offered grace because of what Jesus has done for us. Jesus’ blood paid for all of the times we mess up and hurt each other.

Every time we don’t meet that standard, there is grace to make us right with God again. So when I feel like that higher standards are being applied to me, which still happens sometimes, I can put my mind at rest by reminding myself that Jesus has paid for my sin. I don’t have to try and earn my way back in. It’s comforting to know that God isn’t waiting to catch me out, but is waiting with grace and forgiveness.

  

3. We can choose how we respond

I may not like it, but living in this world means that at some point we will get hurt. What we do with that hurt is what counts. Rather than burying how I feel and holding on to resentment, I’m trying to remember what Paul tells us in Ephesians 4:32, that I have been shown grace for the times I’ve failed.

Because of the mercy shown to me, I am slowly changing how I respond to people who have hurt me. I’m working on not being quick to judge but being quick to forgive. It’s hard because that’s not my nature, and maybe it’s not yours either. It all feels a bit backwards. But God has shown forgiveness and mercy to me, and in turn I’m trying to do the same.

 Like I said, I’m still working on this, and most of the time I don’t respond in the way I know I should. But I’m learning to take it back to God and let Him continue to work on my heart.

 

I’m a long way from those churches I grew up in, and if I could, I would still keep my Dad’s job a secret. I’m still afraid of being hurt, but I’m trying not to let that fear get in the way. Mostly I fail, but I’ve not given up and I don’t want to. The church is full of broken people who will hurt one another. But they are also God’s people, loved and forgiven by Him.

The church is God’s family, that you are welcome to be a part of. It’s a place that is meant to help us grow in our walk with Jesus, because it’s easier to keep fighting sin with others than when we try to go it alone. It’s not a perfect place, but it’s a place that is worth sticking with. No matter how bad things got or how painful they were, I didn’t want to give up entirely on the church. And I still don’t.

We Are Not the Sum of Our Bad Choices

Written By Ruth Lawrence, UK

You might have encountered them on the streets. The lonely, the homeless, and the addicted. They started off just like the rest of us, but somewhere along the line, one wrong choice after another led them on a downward spiral. Now, they think it’s too late for them to try and amend their ways—God wouldn’t possibly want anything to do with them anyway.

Or perhaps you have a friend or have heard of someone struggling to take care of her baby on her own after a series of bad choices. Life is hard and lonely for her. Even if God exists, He wouldn’t know or care about her predicament, she tells you.

All around us, there are plenty of such people. In fact, some of my neighbours have the exact mind-set like those homeless guys on the streets. I find it sad that they’ve allowed their past choices to trap them into living such defeated lives—because it doesn’t need to be this way.

That’s what I’ve learned from my recent study on Nehemiah 9. At this point, the people of Israel are making their way back to Israel, after spending 70 years in exile in the land of Babylon. Nehemiah has been rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem amid some fierce opposition. Now all those who have returned are gathered together and they have a decision to make: Would they follow God?

The answer is a resounding yes—they want to follow God. Nehemiah 9 therefore is their prayer of repentance. It’s a long prayer and it covers all that God did for them as a nation and all their mistakes. Just like the people we see around us, the Israelites made some very poor choices. They rejected God and did what they wanted, even when they had just witnessed God doing amazing things for them—like rescuing them from slavery.

They must have been filled with regret and shame as they recounted their past mistakes. But what struck me about their prayer was not so much the extent of their sinfulness, but how God responded to them each time they failed. Interspersed through Nehemiah 9 are beautiful phrases like these:

But you are a forgiving God, gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love. Therefore you did not desert them,” (Neh 9:17)

Because of your great compassion you did not abandon them in the wilderness.” (Neh 9:19)

But when they were oppressed they cried out to you. From heaven you heard them, and in your great compassion you gave them deliverers, who rescued them from the hand of their enemies.” (Neh 9:27)

And when they cried out to you again, you heard from heaven, and in your compassion you delivered them time after time.” (Neh 9:28)

But in your great mercy you did not put an end to them or abandon them, for you are a gracious and merciful God.” (Neh 9:31)

And that made me think, wow! What an amazing God we have, who has compassion and still loves us even when we do our own thing and ignore Him. In my own life, I too have failed God’s instructions like the Israelites. And one of the things that gets to me the most is when I choose not to tell someone about Jesus, because I’m afraid how that person might react.

In the UK, people often don’t know or don’t speak to their neighbours. In my street, we might say hello to each other as we leave our houses at the same time, but our conversations never go further than the weather. So even though I can see that my neighbours need Jesus, I say nothing more than “hello” when I see them, because I’m afraid that they will think that I am crazy.

When I think of all the opportunities that I’ve missed this way, I’m left feeling horrendously guilty. I know I’ve been ignoring what God has instructed to me to do: to tell people about Jesus. And I can’t help but think that He must be really mad at me.

So to read these verses is a huge relief. It feels like someone has lifted a heavy weight off my shoulders. And that is what God promises if we take time to pray, confess and ask for His forgiveness; He will free us from guilt and cleanse us from our sins. Sure, I still need to be responsible to tell people about Jesus, but I can do that because I want to obey God and not because of my guilt conscience.

So here’s the thing. Maybe you’ve made some bad choices. You’re hanging out with the wrong crowd or you’ve gone too far in a romantic relationship and you know that your actions haven’t honoured God. Or maybe the choices you are making leave you feeling hollow and guilty. If you’ve messed up and feel like there is no way God could forgive you, then have a look at what God says in His Word. Look at who God is and what He has done for you on the cross.

Come back to the God who is “gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love.” He won’t turn you away. Let’s not be trapped in our past choices.

Why read a Christian book?

They help you study the Bible.

Some books are written to help you get the most out of your Bible study time. They could be books such as Dig Deeper by Nigel Beynon and Andrew Sach that give you tools for studying the Bible on your own, or they could be commentaries, like J. C. Ryle’s commentary on Matthew, that will bring out the details that you might have otherwise missed. However, none of these would ever be able to replace reading the Bible itself.

They help you understand an issue that you—or someone you know—may be struggling with.

Ever been in a situation where you don’t know what to say? Or has something unexpected happened and you don’t know what to do? Or has something been going on for a while and you don’t know what the Bible has to say about it? There are books out there that can help you get to grips with the stuff that you are dealing with from God’s perspective. One of the best books that I have read is Depression: Looking Up from the Stubborn Darkness by Edward T. Welch. I don’t have depression but it helped me see things from the point of view of someone who does. It was definitely worth the while learning the Bible’s view on depression. Compared to Her by Sophie de Witt is another good book to read. It addresses the issue of Compulsive Comparison Syndrome and how to move beyond it to live a life of true, lasting contentment.

Benefit from other people’s wisdom . . . or in some cases the lack of.

We live in an age where there are more Christian books available than any other time in history. And it’s getting easier and cheaper to get them. So, one would be smart to gather insights from someone else and the work that they have done to understand the Bible.

However, with it being easier to get your book out into the market, there is also some stuff not worth reading, along with all the really good stuff. The problem comes when you have to pick out the good from the bad. You need to think about what you are reading, or get recommendations from people who read good books.

Editor’s Note: What are some good Christian books you’ve read or want to read? Share with us.

Read the review of Compared by Her by Sophie de Witt here.

Photo credit: ginnerobot / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Written By Ruth Lawrence for YMI

Book Review: Compared to Her by Sophie de Witt

How to experience true contentment.

That’s quite a claim for a book to make, and I have to say that I was sceptical. But I have since changed my mind. Halfway in I realised that I was guilty of comparing myself to others, particularly in the area of ‘Christian-ness’ (read the book to find out what I’m talking about). What is worrying is that I didn’t even realise that it was going on.

Sophie de Witt begins by explaining what Compulsive Comparison Syndrome is. She then went on to describe what it looks like in real life, what triggers it, and the consequences of living like that in the long term. All these will take you to about the halfway point of the book. The next couple of chapters cover why we have this problem, and where it comes from. She does this by describing what the Bible has to say about our problem and the effect it has on our relationship with God. The solution comes when we get our view of God and ourselves right. If He is not what satisfies us then we will never be truly content and we will be doomed to always compare ourselves with others.

I haven’t really done this book justice in the short space I have used to summarise it. The best thing that I think you can do is to sit down and read it for yourself. It is very readable. At less than a hundred pages it isn’t a long or daunting read. It’s a perfect book to pick up if you have never read a Christian book before and want to try something lighter than Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion.

The book has eight chapters and an introduction, so if you read one chapter a day, you would have read it through in just over a week. I read it in three sittings, none of them longer than an hour. You may also like to consider reading it with someone and sharing your thoughts with one another. If you agree to be honest about what you are struggling with, you can fight that fight with someone rather than on your own.

What I’m taking away from this book is a greater awareness of what I am thinking. And when I catch myself comparing myself with others, I am teaching myself to remember God and be satisfied with Him as my King.

Have you read this book? I’m interested to know your thoughts about it.

Written By Ruth Lawrence for YMI