Dealing with parents who fail us, Part 3

HonorI’ll conclude with some lessons I have learned from a lifetime of helping people deal with the shortcomings and failures of their parents…

Parental abuse comes in a lot of different packages.  Certainly, physical and sexual abuse gets the most notoriety… and rightfully so.  But there are so many other ways.  Neglect. Intimidation.  Unrealistic expectations.  Belittling. Comparison.  Rejection.  Insults.  Unfair punishment.  Shaming.  Threatening. Withholding affection.  And so many more.

The Apostle Paul wrote in Ephesians 6:1, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.”  One way children can show honor to their parents is by obeying them.  No doubt.  But obedience “in the Lord” is a huge qualifier.  I have come to believe God does not ask children to give their parents blind obedience, especially as they grow older. Parent’s demands must be consistent with the heart of God, if obedience is to be required.

When God wants one thing and your parents want something different, Jesus makes clear which master you should serve.  Man cannot serve two masters.  (Matthew 6:24)

Here are some other passages that help clarify the parent-child relationship:

“Do not call anyone on earth your father; for you have one father, and He is in heaven.”  Matthew 23:9

“Whoever does the will of My Father in heaven is My brother and sister and mother.” Matthew 12:50

“I have come to set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. Anyone who loves his father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me …” Matthew 10:34-37

Harsh?  No doubt.  But the words of Jesus must inform our behavior.

There is a huge difference between forgiveness and reconciliation.  Forgiveness is when the offenses of the other person have been pardoned to the point we no longer desire harm or payback to the offender, but we can wish them well.  Forgiveness does not require reconciliation.  

Reconciliation is the restoring or rebuilding of a relationship.  Forgiveness is necessary for reconciliation to begin, but that is only the starting point.  Reconciliation requires repentance and life change on the part of the offender.  Trust must be restored.  Safety is essential.  Reconciliation may or may not ever happen between an abusive parent and a child who has received abuse, although it should always remain the goal. 

It is still possible to love our abusers, but because it is not safe to be with them, sometimes protective walls must be put up.  It is always ok to say “no” to an abuser.  It is always ok to withdraw from, limit, or even end a relationship with an abuser, if necessary.  It is always ok to protect ourselves and our loved ones from the behaviors of an abuser.  Even if it is a parent.

As followers of Christ, he is always our example.  We should always be defined by kindness.  Grace and mercy must be our guide.  Compassion and understanding simply have to be the filters for justice, if forgiveness and reconciliation can ever take place.

Let the God of second chances rule in our hearts.

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Dealing with parents who fail us, part 2.

HonorThe motivation for this series of posts came from my sermon yesterday.  As I prepared for preaching last week, I realized I was preaching to two entirely different groups of people.  The first were people who had grown up in a stable (or relatively stable) environment…where love and encouragement and healthy discipline and constant provision were present.

The second group was the one I was concerned about.

To bluntly state, “Honor your father and your mother” could possibly be words of callous disregard to the painful and abusive childhoods of so many of our North Point family members.  (From years of friendship and counseling, I know many of these stories.)

So I acknowledged the reality and have chosen to write some more about it here.  If you are that person…the one with parents who failed you…the one who struggles with the command to honor parents that left you with scars and memories of fear and trauma…these words are for you.

We who live in the 21st century were not present when Moses came down from the mountain with the stone tablets bearing the ten great commandments.  Written history leaves us longing for more information to help us understand exactly what must have been meant by the words, “Honor your father and your mother.”  Much is left to speculation.

The Hebrew word for “honor” has multiple definitions.  One of those definitions (which I think applies here) is “be heavy” or “weightiness”.  It’s easy to see that honor might have something to do with giving weight to or seeing and interacting with our parents with a level of seriousness…or recognizing that our parents, no matter what they are doing, are always playing a tremendously important role in our lives.

As we work toward health and healing, I believe that honoring parents does not mean we ignore or deny our past.  Rather, it implies we acknowledge the seriousness of the impact our parent’s behavior has played in shaping the person we have become…both good and bad.

And since we honor our parents by refusing to deny or ignore the role they have played in who we’ve become, it also means we must own our responses.

More thoughts to come…

Dealing with parents who fail us…

HonorLately, I’ve been preaching through the Ten Commandments.  This sacred list of God’s rules has been cherished by religious folks throughout history.  Numbers 1-3 lay the foundation for functioning in a God-centered society.  Number 4 appears to be specific to the Jewish culture (though some would challenge me on this).  Numbers 6-10 are pretty straightforward, common sense rules for living with others.  

But what do we do with number five?

“Honor your father and your mother.”  It seems so loving.  So simple.  And it is for many.

I grew up in a loving, nurturing home.  My parents loved and provided for me.  My father was a carpenter and he worked long, hard hours to provide a roof over my head and food on the table.  He played catch with me when I was young and seldom missed my games or performances.  My mom was my den mother, secretary of the PTA, and the maker of hot chocolate when I was sick.

My parents were active in our church family and raised me to believe in God, treat others kindly, and be generous with my money and belongings.  We trusted the Bible as God’s word and lived by the Golden Rule.

I was never mistreated, abused, neglected, or overpowered by my parents.  But I have known many who did not live such healthy and idyllic lives as children.  Many.

I married one of those.

Wanda grew up in a home much different from mine.  She is a survivor of abuse…psychological, emotional, physical, and sexual.  She is an Adult Child of an Alcoholic (ACA).  She lived with unfairness, unpredictability, and fear.  There were certainly stretches of love and provision and nurture, but the abuse dominated and produced a foundation of insecurity, empty self-esteem, and fear of failure and rejection, that has taken a lifetime to overcome.

When we started dating at 15, I stepped into this chaos.  It was there I learned to be a “rescuer” and the repercussions of those early years of our relationship have lasted decades.  And not always in healthy ways!  It affected how we interacted with my parents.  It certainly shaped what our relationship was like with her parents and extended family.  It provided the backdrop of how we have related to each other for a lifetime, as well as how we raised our own kids.

Her family dynamic has clearly been felt for multiple generations.

Let’s just say that “honoring your father and your mother” has been a complicated command.

More to come…

Theology for the rest of us

one percentersWhen I started in the business of being a minister 42 years ago, I entered into the world of theology…the study of God, religious beliefs, and the Bible.  Years of my life have been dedicated to reading and studying what others have written.

That’s what you do as a would-be theologian.

But through the years, there has been a slow shift.  In my young adulthood, I devoured books.  I was thoroughly impressed and deeply influenced by the writings of pastors, commentators, and Bible scholars who didn’t just wade out into the deep end of the sacred book, but mined it.

I have spent untold hours re-reading interpretations and explanations and commentaries, with my head spinning, as I tried to make sense of their complicated theories and weighty analysis of the pages of Scripture.

Even though they all spoke of the Bible as God’s word for everyone, I have grown to see it has been turned into a textbook, designed to be dissected, analyzed, and illuminated for the masses…by the hyper-educated and masters of theological academia.

Fortunately (or unfortunately), I get it.  Most of the time, I can debate and argue religious concepts, interpretations of the Bible, and the whole of church history, with the best of the ecclesiastical eggheads.

Here, you want to be impressed?  I know about arcing, mirror reading, and redaction criticism.  Yup.  I can tell you the difference  between prevenient  grace, irresistible grace, and common grace.  You want to know about mongerism, modalism, molinism, inclusivism, text criticism, cessationism, open theism, or penal substitution?  I’m your guy.

My point?  Pleeeeez don’t be impressed.

In recent years, the term “one-percenter” has become popular, as it relates to the top 1% of the world’s wealthiest people and the control they have over the world’s finances and the power it wields.

I’ve concluded there are also the theological one-percenters...that super small group of highly educated, religious elite, who spend their lives studying and teaching theology, for the benefit of the 99%.

That group loves to write.  They love to speak and produce conferences that other theological one-percenters attend, in order to listen to each other.  They read each other’s books.  They subscribe to each other’s blogs and troll the comment sections, looking for an opening to prove each other wrong.

They believe the other 99% need them, in order to fully understand what God’s book is saying.  But the truth is, most people don’t have a clue what they’re talking or writing about.

And it’s not because people are ignorant.  It’s because the theological one-percenters have made it soooooo confusing!

Apparently, they are impressed with each other, though.  They keep writing and selling.

I’m not naive.  Theological academia has its place and certainly serves its purpose.  The study of God’s word deserves solid scholarship and careful consideration.  I’m grateful there are people who have dedicated their lives to it.  But I’m pretty sure the Apostle Paul didn’t intend for this level of academic surgery to be performed on his letters.

And I’m definitely sure Jesus didn’t intend for libraries of books to be written to explain everything he did and said…by people who always seem to appear way smarter than He ever was.

It just isn’t that complicated, is it?

This road I travel. #2

This Road 2Having grown up in a church tradition that believed it had sole possession of the correct interpretation of all the most important passages of the Bible, I realize I was already starting in a pretty big hole.

I was humbly and politely trained by my church leaders to view all other religions, denominations, cults and independent religious groups with at least a skeptical eyeand some with complete disdain.  Early on, I learned to identify the different faith groups in my community by certain distinctives that were simply wrong:

  • The Methodists had women pastors.
  • The Lutherans could smoke on their church patio.
  • The Baptists made you get re-baptized to be a member of their church.
  • The Presbyterians sprinkled babies and called it baptism.
  • The Samoan Congregational Church across the street didn’t practice communion.
  • The Episcopalians used real wine in their communion.
  • The Catholics had nuns and their priests couldn’t get married.
  • The Church of God in Christ by my house passed around rattlesnakes in their services.
  • The Assembly of God folks spoke in tongues.
  • The Seventh Day Adventists only met on Saturdays, not Sundays.
  • The local AME Church said God wanted everybody to be wealthy.
  • The Church of Christ didn’t use musical instruments.
  • The Greek Orthodox had crazy looking pictures of old people everywhere.
  • The Jesus People had long hair, torn jeans and were always barefoot.

But WE were the right ones.  Seriously.  My church (and others in our non-denominational club) held tightly to the inspiration and inerrancy and infallibility and the absolute authoritative truth of the Bible.  And we based our beliefsand assumed our doctrinal and ecclesiastical high horseon the foundation of God’s Word.  At least our understanding of it.

Looking back, the funny thing about this is every one of those faith groups believed (and still do believe) that THEY were right, also.  And each one of the practices and beliefs that make them distinct are based on their understanding and interpretation of the same Bible we all use.

So here’s where I’ve landed after a lifetime of studying the book and following Jesus:

If I were God, I would have made the book a lot easier to understand.  Good, godly, compassionate, gifted, educated Kingdomworkers have spent centuries studying it and arriving at different conclusions about what God is attempting to communicate.   I don’t think this dilemma will be ending anytime soon.

I’ve grown to accept the “humanness” of the Bible.  It was written by humansfrom their perspectivereflecting their  journeystheir emotions (see the Psalms)their flawstheir unique positions in the flow of history and culture.  I believe they wrote exactly what God intended for them to write, but I don’t believe they wrote robotically.

The Bible doesn’t exist in a vacuum.  Humans read it, study it, interpret it, and apply it.  And we don’t study it in a vacuum, either.  We always bring our preconceptions, our biases, our cultural bents, and our personal stories to the study desk.  We cannot avoid our humanity when we come face to face with scripture.  And I think that’s exactly what God intended.

I still believe in absolute truth.  But I don’t think that any of us can know all of it absolutely.  If we could, I’m not sure faith, as we know it, would be necessary.  Sight, experience, evidence and intellect would be all that was necessary.

I agree with my friend, Sean.  You should read his comments in yesterday’s post.  First, I believe my position perches me near a slippery slope.  But I like it here.  I no longer speak, think or act with an attitude of spiritual superiority that comes with believing my interpretation of the Bible is inerrant or infallible.

I am almost always willing to rethink what I have come to believe and entertain that I might be wrong, if posed with credible, humble and thoughtful opposition.  I still believe there is a list of essentials one must affirm to be in right standing with God, but that list is waaaay smaller than it used to be.  I believe this to be the way of grace.

Second, Sean said something really profound:  “In my opinion, God brings us closer to him through study, not interpretation.”

Enough said.  It’s time to study.

This road I travel

This Road 2Now that I’m back from traveling, it’s time to get busy with this new series on changes I’ve experienced in my life that I said I was going to start.

In my younger days, I was taught in both the classroom and through modeling, that following Jesus was pretty much a black and white proposition.  I was told to believe the Bible.  I was taught the Bible was to be my only rule of faith and practice.  I grew up believing the Bible contained the answer to every important life question.

I held on to the notion that the Bible didn’t just contain truth, but that it shared equal stage with Jesus.  When he claimed to be the way, the truth and the life, it was just assumed the words “Jesus” and “the Bible” were pretty much synonymous.

The Bible was the tangible presence of Jesus in the world.  Jesus = truth.  Bible = truth.  My religious heritage taught this phrase:  The Bible says it.  I believe it.  That settles it.  But the older I got, the more I began to see a different picture.  A fuzzier picture.  A more complicated picture.

What I failed to realize in my youth is now something I see clearly.  Whenever a Bible teacher (minister, seminary professor, author, Sunday school teacher, Bible study leader, whatever…) actually teaches the Bible, they are giving their version of the truth.  Their opinion.  Their commentary.  Their spin.  Their bent.  Every time.  All the time.

They might be reflecting their parent’s opinionor their former preacher’s opinionor the opinion of the latest theological book or blog they have just reador the party line of their denominationor the seminary professor’s insights they gleaned from a few years of sitting at their feetor years and years of personal study and reflection.

No matter.  Any way you cut it, it’s still personal insight and interpretation.  And ever since the day the Bible began to be mass-produced and put in the hands of people, we have been free to read it and come to our own conclusions.

Does that make everybody’s opinion equally valid?  Of course not.  Should we go with majority rule?  Does any one denomination, theological tradition, or religious heritage have a corner on the truth?  Of course!  Mine does.

I bet you didn’t know I had a better hotline to God than you do?  Yeah.  Right.

Is there really only one “right” interpretation of every passage and teaching in the Bible?  Maybe.  But we will never know which one that is until we meet the truther, Jesusface to face.

I know this creates some sticky questions and the ground I walk on sometimes feels like thin ice.  I’m well aware of all the things I’m saying when I declare my allegiance to a shade of gray, rather than boldly and defiantly demanding my own way and my own interpretation of God’s revealed word be bowed to.

But things have changed for me.  My love for God’s word remains the same.  My commitment to studying it and teaching it the best I can is deeper than it’s ever been.  But I no longer worship a book.

The Bible I possess is not perfect.  Only Jesus is.

Mine is mine. Yours is yours.

OpinionsI’ve been sitting here this evening sorting through all the things I could write aboutbecause I need to write?  Maybe.  Because you need a healthy dose of my perspective?  Meh.

So many topics.  So many opinions.  I’m sure you can’t wait to hear mine.

The Michael Sam “kiss”the abduction of the 180 Nigerian schoolgirlslegalized potthe Donald Sterling fiascodrone strikesthe $60M Plano football stadium will stay closed because of structural flawsCalifornia wild firesdid Prez Obama take a pay cut like he promisedthe “new” 24…

Or how about some Farra-isms on theology and church life hot buttons?

The big stink with a bunch of the high-profile neo-Calvinist church leadershellthe inerrancy of the Bible debateopen theismpredestinationchild abuse scandals in the churchwomen pastorssegregation on Sunday mornings in America… young adults leaving the churchscience vs. creationmoney issuesviolence in the Biblesin (take your pick)and so many more.

Or maybe you’d like to hear my opinion on the various ways to smoke brisket?

I’ll be the first one to admit that things can get pretty confusing, and even frustrating, at times.  It’s hard work to have an opinion about so many things.  It takes time and emotional energy and huge amounts of discernment for me to find a resting spot on so many topics and agendas.

All of them don’t share equal importance.  Not every one of them fight for top billing in my intellectual and spiritual war room.  But my search process and conclusion-building in each one of them is an integral part of my faith journey.  My opinion on each one of them is a vital part of my faith development.

What I believe (and the truth I continue to build my life on) is not all static.  It is neither fixed, nor immovable.  The God who never changes is not equal to my personal interpretation of the Bibleor the times we find ourselves in.   My changing opinions (whenever I have them) are never to be confused with an unchanging God.

But just like in a court of law, the flow of the story line is always subject to new insight and new information.  The church throughout history has always recognized the fluidity of Bible interpretation.   I do, likewise.  (Take what I am saying at “face value”.  Be careful not to read more into what I am expressing.)

The point is, I continue to work hard at seeking the truth of God’s revelation.  I work equally hard to live it out as a 21st century follower of Jesus.

Don’t let my study (and opinion-making) take the place of yours.  I own mine.  You need to own yours.

It’s that important.