Monday, February 18, 2008

People in Power

Have you ever played “Hot Potato” with the Holy Spirit?

You know, He convicts you with a sin, and you lob the hot potato sin towards the closest rationalization.

“Well, Holy Sprit, I wouldn’t fall into temptation if it wasn’t for, um, the media. That’s right Holy Sprit. You need to convict people in the media for tempting me.”

And you think to yourself, “Ha! Got rid of THAT hot potato.”

Then, of course, you look down to see the hot potato burning a hole in your mittens. And realize you never really got rid of it at all.

Conviction is painful. Even more painful is swallowing pride.

I am, by nature, a people pleaser. You would not think this by reading my blog.

That’s because I’m way braver and much more passionate in cyberspace than I’d ever be in person.

I don’t even like to merge in traffic.

Believe it or not, for all of my bluster about this and that, I actually subscribe to the live and let live policy. I’m very polite, and if I don’t agree with you (in person, that is), you’d probably never know it.

Well, until you read my blog.

What I’m getting at is that I’m actually very personable (or I’d like to think so) IN person. But, in cyberspace, and in my head, I’m outspoken.

I’m also very proud of my personal beliefs and much more stubborn than most people know. I like to think I’m right, and there are certain things I know for certain I AM right.

To have those thoughts challenged, or in this case, cause conviction is very painful. Sort of like peeling back a wound to see what caused the infection. It hurts but is necessary for diagnosis – to find the right treatment to heal the wound.

This morning I had one of my personal, rock-solid, to-the-core beliefs challenged. The Holy Spirit convicted me gently, kindly, but all the same I was reeling from the very clear reprimand.

Other than my parents, I have never respected my Christian leaders. Not really.

Before today, I would have said that none of them were worth respecting. They were fine people and all, but nothing special. They’d done nothing for me to take notice.

I guess I shouldn’t say I didn’t respect them, but instead, I just thought they were praised and lifted up when they were no more special than you or I.

They were people. Just like me. Just like my Dad. I didn’t see why everyone was always applauding them, giving them cars, paying off their houses, acting like sprinklers of gold went off every time they opened their mouths.

I thought it was too much. I saw the pedestals and despised them.

We suffered just as much as they did. We gave up things for the cause of Christ, and no one was paying off our house or buying us cars.

No one sang our praises.

And, of course, as you’re reading this, another ugly truth emerges.

I was jealous. I’ve always been jealous of the special treatment heaped on those in ministry, I suppose. It’s just been so deep-seeded I’ve never honestly realized it.

I wanted to be in that spotlight. Those people were JUST like me, and yet somehow, they managed to be revered.

Oh, I suppose part of it was jealousy that only men can rise to prominence in the church.

And perhaps, that is in part, why I struggled mightily with why God must love men more than women. Well, He must! Why deny women the honor and glory that was heaped so generously on men?

Women are the footstool, the helpmeet – an accessory, as fleeting and useful as a pair of old shoes compared to men in the ministry.

Or so I used to believe.

Another termite burrowing into my contempt of spiritual leaders was the five year experience that plunged my father into a deep depression.

A pastor caused this, but now I believe it was not purposely.

But then. Oh, but then, I believed him fully culpable. As I watched my strong, godly father wither under this man’s flawed teaching, I lashed out.

I said awful things. Untrue things. Heartless and cruel things about this man.

But, for a long time, I felt they were justified. After all, hadn’t the experience robbed me of a strong father for five long years of my childhood?

Many years later, I realized this struggle plunged my father into the Refiner’s fire. The trial and God’s grace to emerge from it victorious, made my father joyous in his faith, confident in our Lord, and a bright shining witness for the cause of Christ until the day he died.

My wrath against pastors and people in spiritual leadership conflicts with the pastor worship that takes place in many Evangelical churches.

To this day, I’m still not sure if I despised my spiritual leaders to go against the flow, or if I truly felt they were all undeserving, manipulative hacks who’d wormed their way into the hearts of unsuspecting, stupid sheep who brayed blissfully at their every word.

Whatever the case, I’ve long held this opinion. Sometimes silently. Other times, I’ve willfully, verbally torn down leaders who I felt did not deserve the praise heaped upon them.

This is not to say I’ve no respect for pastors. There were several pastors who I respected. But none I worshiped.

When my cousin Aaron became a pastor, he noticed a change in my behavior. Finally, he said, “I feel like you hate me because I’m a pastor.”

Shaken, I realized that was a tiny bit of how I felt and whole bit of how I was acting.

So, that’s my secret. Jealousy. Anger. Selfishness. Hate. Bitterness.

And, while I guess I’ve known it for some time now, I’ve never felt the need to address it.

After all, now we attend a church where those feelings are rarely agitated. Thanks to an exceptionally humble and transparent leadership staff, I now understand how people - who are susceptible to the same sins I am - are the perfect people to minister to my own spiritual needs.

But, I’ve continued to hold on to my own feeling, knowing in my heart that’s the way it MOSTLY is – when it comes to church leadership.

Until today. Until the Holy Spirit exposed my sin, and I saw the ugliness I’d been harboring illustrated perfectly in the Word.

The passage is Numbers 12:1-16. The story is of Aaron and Miriam. The brother and sister of Moses had been instrumental in God’s plan to rescue the Israelite people from Egypt. But it wasn’t good enough for them. They wanted to know and make known they were equally as important as Moses.

They chose a small issue – the ethnicity of Moses wife – to provoke argument and level criticism against Moses.

Excerpt from Today in the Word (my devotional book):

“They might have had a problem with his Cushite wife because of her ethnicity, but really it was an excuse to put Moses on trial.

What was so special about him? Surely, he was in no way different from them. After all, he was their baby brother! They dismissed any claims he or others might have made to his special divine privilege or authority.”

Ouch! Sound familiar?

It goes on to say:

“What is particularly notable about this story is God’s action to defend Moses. God didn’t force Moses to explain his own legitimacy. Although Moses was a leader who made no apology for representing God, he was also the kind of leader who had a reputation for authentic humility.”

God punished Miriam with leprosy, but Moses pled for her life. The Lord banished her from the camp for seven days in disgrace before she returned.

I learned several lessons this morning. Perhaps the most touching was that Moses would speak out for his sister’s life, even after she had tried to discredit him. To me, this shows Moses’ true humility and leadership. He was truly a godly leader who cared about his flock.

I also realized the Holy Spirit was convicting me about the way I looked at spiritual leaders in the church. Not only was I to realize that God placed them where they were, I was to pray for them, love them, and encourage them.

Of course, this does not mean anyone is pedestal-worthy or perfect, and discernment when dealing with one’s leaders is always important.

However, the jealousy, anger, bitterness, and years of built-up resentment were all sin. And the Holy Spirit handed me one hot potato after another.

To say I was ashamed isn’t enough. I was instantly convicted and asked for God’s forgiveness.

Teaching this old dog new tricks will be a process, I think, but seeing how the Lord chose to work in my heart today brought me great joy – He truly cares about the secret sins no one would ever see. In His time, His perfect way, He chips away at this old heart, refining His child.

Those hot potato sins will be burning through my mittens for the rest of my life. But at least, instead of trying to throwing them away, I’m learning to rip ‘em open and examine the contents for my betterment.

(Although, I’m relatively sure real hot potatoes taste much better than conviction.)

Especially if you add butter.


Jennittia said...

What a well-written post! I applaude you for your honesty. We all have our "secret sins." Again, it is wonderful to watch your growth. It is hard to chip away the fallicies that being a fundemental Baptist sometimes brings with it.

Alice said...

I wish this post could be in a magazine somewhere (actually, I see a series of articles here!). I think you're voicing what many laypeople probably feel or have felt deep down. Isn't God so good to us--He loves us too much to let us get away with stuff.

Anouk said...

Ah, conviction. We hate it and yet learn to love it as we see God working in our lives. Most of the time I praise the Lord for it, but at times, I cringe knowing that it's coming! Thank you for your refreshing post of how God is working in your life. I pray that God will give you grace and strength to overcome and be victorious! I'm so thankful for His patience and forgiveness - I've been a recipient of both more times than I can count!

Heidi said...

It is great to see the softness of your heart and how the Holy Spirit is working through His conviction. As painful as it is, it is always a good thing.
It is true that many IFB put their pastors on a pedestal. I have been guilty of that myself having come from that background, so I know where you are coming from there.
I hesitate to truly say that I am IFB anymore because of the Reformed theology that I have come to believe and the reputation of IFBs.

Juliet said...

Dearest Daughter of Mine

Forigve me for being all women..I just cried. Love you so much, Mom