Sunday, September 29, 2013

Sifting & The New Thing

Sifting…another buzz word around here. I hear it every week. I’ve grown to dread hearing it…not because of what it actually means, but because of how it’s used to describe what is happening at this church. “You know, Satan is just sifting this congregation.” It implies that what has happened in this congregation is a natural divine series of events. It implies that the sour grapes are being sifted from the bunch. And this statement is often followed closely by a recitation of  Isaiah 43:18-19 …"Forget the former things, do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland."

There…we’re all better now…right? I mean we had a little disagreement, the sour grapes were divinely sifted from our midst and now we need to forget things that happened and not dwell on the past. After all, it says it right there in the Scripture. God is doing a new thing! He loves this church and wants to bless it. And those who are hanging on to their hurt are just preventing the New Thing from moving along at the pace we’d like to see.


Hang on. I’m wrestling with this idea a bit. Here’s why:

1. “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” Luke 22:31-32

Some versions of the Bible say that Satan wants to sift “you”. Other versions say that Satan wants to sift “all of you” or “the apostles”. Either way, it seems that the verse is talking about a sifting of the useless parts from the useable parts in the life of an individual…not sifting certain individuals from a group of people (or from a “body of Believers”). I think it’s much more personal than some of us are willing to admit.

Sifting wheat is a violent process of ripping, tearing and beating the grain out of the chaff. While I don’t believe that I’ve been sifted from this church as some might suggest, I do believe that I am experiencing sifting as it’s referred to in this verse. I definitely feel my beliefs being torn, ripped and beaten. I don’t like it and it hurts like hell…but God allows it.

In this verse, Jesus prays for Peter…that the harsh sifting will not destroy Peter’s faith. And He must know that Peter will doubt and question, but survive with his faith intact, because He tells him to strengthen his brothers “when you have returned to Me”.


2. In our current situation, it’s interesting to me that the people who purportedly “got sifted” were often the ones who looked beyond the story that was being presented to the church, discovered the truth about the forced resignations of two ministers, questioned church leadership and tried to expose the untruths spoken against those and other ministers by church leadership/members. None of those who manipulated the process, spoke untruths to Sunday School classes, knew the truth about what was happening and refused to reveal it to the congregation…not a single one that I know of…was “sifted” from the congregation.  Please correct me if I’m wrong.


3. I’ve read many interpretations of Isaiah 43:18-19. I don’t believe God wants us to live in the past and allow our previous mistakes to keep us from living a fruitful life. I can’t imagine, however, that He doesn’t want us to acknowledge our mistakes, confront them and attempt to clean up the mess we’ve made before moving on to the “new thing”.

I wish church members would just stop for a moment before they recite this verse in response to what has happened in this church…and think. Imagine that your husband has been accused and his integrity has been questioned. Imagine that he is never given the opportunity to face his accusers. Imagine that his request for reconciliation is flatly denied. Imagine being told that your husband’s severance pay can be taken away if either of you reveals the truth about your situation to your closest friends/mentors. Imagine your closest friends believing you are happy about leaving your current job, home and schools because they believe you have made the choice to leave. Imagine how you will react to their giddy congratulatory remarks and hugs. Imagine you must find a way to allow them to believe a lie…in order to save your family’s ability to pay your mortgage and provide food and insurance until your husband finds another job. Imagine telling your children that they will have to leave their school, their friends, their home. Imagine trying to explain why they must move and leave these things behind. Imagine receiving anonymous mail suggesting that you leave town. Imagine leaving your life as you know it behind. Imagine rebuilding your life in a new place. Imagine the struggles of starting new schools, finding new friends and mentors, starting a new job, making a different house into a home…all while deeply wounded.

Imagine this scenario happening in your church.

Now…imagine hearing the church members say or seeing people post on social media this Scripture: “Forget the former things, do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing!”

Imagine how that would feel.


I guess the takeaway message for me is this…

While hearing the word “sifted” began to tie my stomach in knots, I appreciate those who have said it to me. The pain of hearing it made me search the meaning of the verse for myself and, in the end, brought some comfort. Comfort…in the prospect that I have not been sifted from the congregation that I loved and trusted for years. I am being sifted personally…to refine my faith…to tear away the part that I don’t need because it’s not helpful and it prevents the heart of my faith (the grain) from being used. I’m also comforted to know that God is most likely pulling for me…knowing that I will doubt and question…hoping I won’t lose my faith completely.  And He’s hoping that when I return to Him, I will encourage those around me. I’m praying this for myself.


Friday, September 27, 2013

The Guilt

I went for a walk this morning under a weight of crushing guilt. Guilt because I’m not able to move forward quickly enough to satisfy some of those around me.  When I feel this way, I feel like I could walk for days…walking and walking just to get away from this place and the pain. I barely feel my legs moving and I’m unaware of time. As I pressed “shuffle” on the IPod, “Beautiful Things” began to play.  The words were poignant and I cried as I walked.


“All this pain
I wonder if I’ll ever find my way
I wonder if my life could really change at all
All this earth
Could all that is lost ever be found
Could a garden come up from this ground at all
You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of the dust
You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of us”


I’m an ugly mess right now. I wasn’t always this way. It’s not who I really am. It’s not who I want to be. It’s not where I intend to stay. It is, however, who I am right now until I can work back to a healthier place. It seems my church life has been a cycle of trusting, having my spirit and trust broken, slowly learning to trust again, finally trusting…and then it begins again. After the last 19 months…I’m angry. I’m cynical. I’m suspicious of the actions, words and motives of those in the church. It’s hard to imagine that God will be able to make something beautiful out of my life again. But He’s done it before.


Saturday, September 21, 2013


A little history that may explain why I’m having a difficult time walking away from our church experience this last year without resolution or reconciliation:

My husband was forced out of his first ministry job by a small group of people in a manipulative way that was veiled in secrecy. There were never any charges brought against him, no explanation given…he had done nothing morally or Biblically wrong. He had simply fallen short of the desires/unvoiced expectations of some very influential men in the church…men who could change what they did not like without revealing their actions to the church body. We were “encouraged” to quietly look for another job and then the church would make it appear as though it was our choice to leave. We were young. We were naïve. And we were nearly destroyed by the experience. The church as a whole never knew what actually transpired behind the scenes….and that included some of our closest friends.  We moved on to another church…only to witness the same thing happening to the pastor of that church. Unable to stomach the devastation again and again, my husband resigned and we left full-time ministry completely.

Eventually we returned to that original church where we had first served…only this time as “regular” church members. And this is the church where we witnessed the forced resignations of two ministers this last year…amidst manipulation and secrecy. Sounding familiar. When church members encourage me to move on and get over the events of the last 18 months, I have a bit of baggage to haul on my journey toward renewed religious bliss. It’s just not that simple.


After the second minister was forced to resign last year, I wrote a letter to the committee who made the decisions without providing either minister with a list of allegations, a formal complaint, a chance for reconciliation or a Biblical basis for their decision. I have not shared it publicly, but now I feel I need to put it “out there”…

…for those ministers’ wives who have experienced similar circumstances and been forced to keep it to themselves.

…for the ministers’ wives who have yet to experience it, but likely will during their lifetime in the ministry.

…for the “regular” church members who are kept in the dark by committees, deacons and teachers who feel it is “above their pay grade” to know the truth about what is actually taking place in their church.

…for friends and family members of these ministers’ wives who don’t fully understand the seemingly disproportionate amount of pain and anger.

…for the minister/husband who falls victim to these Clergy Killers and then becomes the recipient of his wife’s subsequent emotional breakdown.

… for the children of the ministers who live through these events and have their lives turned upside down…having to move, change lifestyles and live with the awkwardness of the situation.

My desire to speak out is no longer about seeking change in our current situation because the leadership seems to be making it clear through their actions, inactions and words, that they will not report to the church as a whole the truth of what happened in the past 18 month…and they will not make an apology to these ministers nor address the untruths and subsequent rumors that are still circulating around our community about these men today (I would love for someone to correct me here…with action, not words). I will learn to live with that. I will not, however, keep my experiences to myself because there are too many ministers, wives, children and believers in Christ struggling through similar situations…alone and isolated. There is healing and strength in knowing that you’re not alone in the struggle. So, for those who struggle, here’s the letter that described the truth of my experience:


Dear Members of the ***** Committee,

I would like to ask you to pray for [the wives of the ministers forced to resign] in the days ahead. I know the range of emotions and the depth of despair they are encountering at the moment and will encounter in the days, months and years to come. Life will move on and they will eventually re-engage in normal living, but they will be changed forever because of their experience at [this church]. They will fight disillusionment with the church, anger that their husbands’ integrity has been questioned and feelings of helplessness to ease the burden on their husbands. They will fight anxiety that, at times, may be debilitating…both physically and emotionally. They will watch as their husbands struggle with the burden of finding another job and providing for their families. They will try to convince their husbands that they did not fail the Lord or their families and they are still worthy of being ministers. They will have a hard time trusting church members again with their thoughts, feel suspicious of people in church leadership and feel abandoned by the church. At times the stress of the situation will cause them to unleash their anger and hurt on the only person with whom they feel safe…their husband…causing further stress. They will experience the accusatory looks from church members and members of our community who were given inaccurate information as grounds for their husbands being asked to resign. They will struggle to bury their anger and disappointment for the sake of their children. They will try to teach their children to trust in a foundation that has been rocked to the core in their own lives. And they will try to take people’s advice to “get over it” and “move on” because “it is in the past”. No one will be able to tell them how long the pain will last and no one will be able to speed up the process of moving past it. Only the Lord will be able to heal their hearts…in His timing. And, just when they think their healing is complete, they will witness another minister’s wife start the awful journey. The pain will be fresh and new…and the process will start again.

I know these things to be true because my husband was a minister in this church 25 years ago and, like [the two ministers who were forced to resign], he was asked to leave this church under similar circumstances. We left this church for another with the words of staff and deacons ringing in our ears…”May the Lord richly bless your ministry and your family in your new place of service.”  Just 2 short years later in our new place of service we witnessed the whole process again…this time as a bystander. As we watched the church slander and tear apart the ministry of our Pastor in the new church, we knew that we could no longer serve in church ministry. We made the choice to leave church ministry. Ultimately we returned to [this community] to be near family and friends. We made the tough choice to rejoin [this church] as a testament of our faith in the Lord’s ability to heal broken hearts and relationships. We have served in this church as laypeople for the last 18 years and rarely spoken of our experience here 25 years ago.

The struggles I mentioned above were mine. Maybe ministering to the brokenhearted wives of ministers was God’s calling on my life from the beginning. I would not have chosen this ministry for myself. In my case, it took 12 long torturous years and the words of my then- 4 year old son to finally start my healing. The other ministers on our staff and their wives have just witnessed the same heartbreak. They, too, will feel many of the emotions I mentioned above.  Please join me in praying for [the two wives mentioned above] and ***** (as her husband has been questioned and was mentioned numerous times in [the business meeting last night])...for as long as it takes the Lord to restore in them what we have robbed.


That letter was written 15 months ago. I bet if you asked the ministers’ wives mentioned in the letter if I got close to the mark on what they have experienced, they’d tell you it was pretty accurate. If you know a family who has experienced a forced resignation, ask them. They would probably be relieved to share their experience. Honesty feels better than secrecy…especially when it’s met with genuine concern.


Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Holy Spirit or Personal Conviction?

I woke up before the sun rose this morning. My eyes popped open and my heart hurt. I was remembering a letter written and sent to the church body in the very heart of our church turmoil. I could remember the letter nearly word for word. It haunts me. I got up and found the letter. To my amazement, it was dated June 28, 2012. Over a year ago. And I can still remember the words. And those words can still wake me from a deep sleep.  So I wonder…is this the Holy Spirit or my own personal convictions that causes me to continue being bothered by the contents of this letter? I mean, in the past, based on what I’ve been taught in church over my lifetime, I would say that they are one in the same. That stirring in your heart, the “gut” feeling…that is the Holy Spirit…that’s what I’ve been taught. On the other hand, many church people have told me in the last year that what happened in our church is over and it’s time for me to move on…without open and honest discussion or resolution. They’ve told me if I can’t find a way to move on (meaning stop talking about it and being bothered by it… “grace” is the buzz word) , I need to find a new place to worship…for my own health and wellbeing, of course. So, which is it? The Holy Spirit or my own convictions…or both? Maybe the reason I continue to wake in the night is not because the Holy Spirit is somehow speaking to me, but because  I am just deeply disturbed by the behaviors that I witnessed and the untruths that have remained unchallenged by professing Christians. Maybe the reason the contents of the letter bother me so much is simply because, on a human level, I recognize them as being in conflict with the actions taken by the church. Or, perhaps, God continues to bring the uneasiness and pain to me even in my sleep to keep me mindful that there is still truth to be told and it is not time to rest. I’m not even sure anymore. For whatever reason, either prodding by the Holy Spirit or personal conviction based on the Biblical principles I’ve been taught, I continue to struggle despite my desire to move on.


Thursday, September 5, 2013

Moving Forward

I thought I had signed off for good…but, plans change…and so do hearts.

Day by day, as I walk this new territory as an unchurched believer in Jesus, I’m gaining new insight into what I never had a clue about as a church member. The biggest eye opener has been just how uncomfortable we are as church members with those who profess to believe in Jesus, but aren’t official members of a congregation. We seem to be comfortable with the “us” (Christians) and “them” (non-Christians) scenario. There’s security in the notion that we are the “saved” ones and we are comfortable with the idea that our job is to get all those “lost” people into church. But, how do you explain a person who professes to believe in Jesus, but isn’t ready or willing to be a church member? It seems that we’ve begun to equate church membership with spirituality. Such a person must not really be a Christian…or she must not be very  serious about her faith…or maybe she is just bitter, which makes her spiritually immature.

Several times a week, someone from my old church asks me where I’m going to church now. My response is a simple: Nowhere. After the bugged out eyeball look and the shock wear off, here are the most common responses:



-Well, you need to get somewhere and get involved.

-Don’t let Satan get a foothold in your life and rob you of your joy.

-Have you visited any churches?

-You should try X, Y or Z Church…X Church has deep preaching, but the praise band isn’t very good…Y Church is a good place to be anonymous and relax, the music is great, but the preaching is a little shallow…Church Z is great, but there are too many young people there. You’d probably like one of them.

-That’s not good. (*frowning and head shaking back and forth*)

-You’ve got to find a place (meaning church) to serve.

-You’re so talented, I hate to see your gifts not being used.

-We were meant to be part of a (church) body.



Honestly, people just don’t know what to do with people like me. So, most of them end up giving me advice and throwing a Christian cliché my way…and then they disappear.

However, there are a few people who have saved me from the crushing depression and anger I’ve experienced over what transpired in church over the last 18 months…and the guilt over my subsequent knee-jerk reaction to retreat from church all together for a while. They also love Jesus and understand His sovereignty and grace…which allows them to love me right where I am (and it’s ugly) knowing that I belong to Him…and he won’t let go of me. They don’t quote scripture AT me and tell me how to feel and how long I’m allowed to take working through the doubts and hurt. And they listen…period. And they are honest and real about their own journey. No pretense. No desire to prove their spiritual superiority.

On the days I scream at God to step up and make sense of this nonsense, he must be patiently waiting for me to learn how to treat people the way I want to be treated, not the way that we’ve become comfortable with and condoned in church. There absolutely is no other way I could have gained this insight than to be thrust into the position I find myself hovering in…

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By the way…here are the responses that are running through my head as I listen to all this advice:


-Well, you need to get somewhere and get involved. (Or what? What will happen to me?)

-Don’t let Satan get a foothold in your life and rob you of your joy. (Actually, Satan didn’t rob me of my joy…the deacons who told untruths about people, the ministers and church leaders who were too afraid to stand up and tell the truth and the people who chose to quietly turn a blind eye to the carnage…those are the people who robbed me of my joy. If you want to equate the two…that’s your choice.)

-Have you visited any churches? (Why? Will that make YOU feel better?)

-You should try X, Y or Z Church…X Church has deep preaching, but the praise band isn’t very good…Y Church is a good place to be anonymous and relax, the music is great, but the preaching is a little shallow…Church Z is great, but there are too many young people there. You’d probably like one of them. (Hmmm…)

-That’s not good. (*frowning and head shaking back and forth*) (He/she thinks I’m headed to hell.)

-You’ve got to find a place to serve. (Great! I’ll continue serving my patients and neighbors and friends and family!)

-You’re so talented, I hate to see your gifts not being used. (Why do you assume that church is the only place I can use my gifts?)

-We were meant to be part of a (church) body. (I was part of a “body” …that covered up the truth and did whatever was necessary to “save face” in the community. I’d rather not revisit that “body” concept again for a while.)