Dissecting an expectation…

In sixth grade my parents got me a biology kit. My 12-year-old friends all got chemistry kits, but I think my parents were afraid I might blow up the house, so I received a biology kit–complete with shrimp-like creatures, fruit flies, and a frog to dissect. Perhaps you remember dissection from your high school biology class. You cut, you observe, you make notes, and then you start the whole process again.

In relationships we have expectations. We all have these expectations: whether parent to child, husband to wife, neighbor to neighbor, or employer to employee. Dissecting the expectation helps me understand what’s going on in my heart, and how the Spirit of God wants to change it.

Most expectations are unspoken. Like the inside of the frog, nobody knows what’s going on in there unless you open em’ up. So let’s open up the expectation, discover what prompts it, and where it will lead.

A desire becomes a demand.
I think that would make me happy.

A demand gets expressed as a need.
I think I can’t be happy without it.

A perceived need sets up an expectation.
I think if you loved me you’d give it to me.

An expectation leads to disappointment.
I think you don’t really love me.

Disappointment leads to punishment.
I think I’ll make you pay for not loving me.

Punishment leads to bitterness.
I think I’ll never forget how much you hurt me.

These are six progressive steps, and they reveal just how deadly expectations can be to the growth of a relationship. Jesus said,

Even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many (Mark 10:45).

What if our only expectation was the desire that Jesus had developed? We simply expected to serve God and serve others better…


Sexual abuse and the victim

Whenever I am ministering I am consciously aware that there are those in the audience whose hidden past is painful beyond words. They are the victims of sexual abuse. Those who have been victims of such crimes often feel guilt and shame. There are questions that haunt them. Could I have told someone? Would they have believed me? Could I have stopped the abuse, even if I was a child? Sometimes these questions further the guilt that the victim struggles with.

In helping victims of sexual abuse I have often turned in my Bible to an obscure passage in the Old Testament. Thousands of years ago the Bible acknowledged that there would be this kind of abuse among mankind. And although God’s plan entailed justice for the offender, He wished to alleviate the guilt of the victim. And so He had Moses record the following words for the young woman (or young man) who had been sexually abused.

You shall do nothing to the young woman, there is in the young woman no sin (Deut. 22:26).

I have watched as tear-filled eyes have fallen upon those words for the first time. Guilt is a hard taskmaster – even when it’s not deserved. But the Bible wishes to clear the abused individual of the guilt that they often impose upon themselves, and so it uses the phrase no sin.

Do I wish to infer that it is an easy road back for the individual that has suffered abuse? No. There are always emotional scars. Do we grieve with them for the pain they still may feel? Absolutely. But God doesn’t hold the abused individual responsible for sin that was perpetrated upon them, even though they may feel like it. And the Bible makes that clear. 

God is not angry with them. He loves them, and is concerned about their future. And such a thought is the beginning of healing for the individual who has carried secrets to painful to talk about for as long as they can remember.

Jesus and the small group

Jesus did small groups. We tend to think that small groups are a creation of the last 20 years. Not so. Jesus was leading one 2000 years ago. His small group consisted of 12 men that he chose after an entire night of prayer (Luke 6:12-13). Jesus did life with the disciples. They interacted together so frequently that he actually referred to them as family (Mark 3:34).

There are numerous life-lessons the disciples learned from Jesus. But there was one lesson so significant that it surpassed all the others. It happened in the upper room.

The night before the crucifixion, Jesus gathered in the upper room with his disciples. He is there to celebrate Passover – a meal that had rich Hebrew traditions. There was tension that night, revealed through the disciples’ arguments with one another. Luke makes note of it,

A dispute also arose among them, as to which of them was to be regarded as the greatest (Luke 22:24).

The disciples were understandably mistaken about the next item on Jesus’ agenda. Earlier in the week the multitude had been proclaiming Jesus as their Messiah. Hadn’t Jesus said they would sit on 12 thrones over 12 tribes? Were there not twelve of them? (Matt. 19:28)

There must have been pushing and shoving for the head table—every disciple for himself. It is at that moment that Jesus moved away from the table. This is how John recalls it,

He rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. 5 Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him (John 13:4-5)

Jesus does this act of service without a word. In fact, you’re left with the impression that if Peter hadn’t denied having his feet washed Jesus would not have spoken at all (John 13:6).

Having washed the last set of feet, Jesus puts down the basin.

Do you understand what I have done to you? 13 You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. 14 If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15 For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. 16 Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17 If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them (John 13:13-17)

What if every time I entered a small group setting I positioned myself to serve, and not to be served? Could it be that serving others is a resource to gain victory over my selfish inclinations? Might this be the most important purpose when we gather with a group of friends?

There is something that happens when we serve one another—we discover what God has called and anointed us to do.

And in Jesus’ words,

If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them (John 13:13-17)

When a want feels like a need…

Addiction isn’t limited to substance abusers. The mark of an addict is when a want becomes a need – at least in his mind. This is easy to see when one struggles with substance abuse. In those cases our very body responds as if the thing we desired is an actual need. We call that process withdrawal. While it is painful to experience for the abuser, it is equally painful to watch when you love the person who is fighting for his life.

Pursuing wants as needs is not limited to what excites the physical body. It affects our thoughts, our emotions, and eventually our will. When the desire for what we want  becomes too great, we find we have no resolve to stand against it.

Eve reveals this truth, when she saw that the fruit was good for food (a need), and desired to make one wise (a want). The very thought of the fruit ignited within in her a desire. She wanted it. She hungered for it. She took it.

Think about this, she had every food imaginable in the Garden of Eden to meet her needs, but she couldn’t keep her eyes off the tree that was forbidden. She believed she would lose something of herself if she couldn’t at least try it. It felt like a need, but it was only a want. She was deceived.

Adam followed suit. Not because he wanted something that he didn’t have, but because he feared losing something that he did. Adam undoubtedly remembered his earlier loneliness. After all, even God acknowledged it was not good for man to be alone (Gen. 2:18). Adam needed God. But he wanted Eve. He would rather die with her than live without her. So, knowing what he was doing, he took the fruit from Eve’s hand (1 Tim. 2:14).

In both cases, they had wants that they perceived as needs.

What do you desire so strongly that it feels like a need? Do you believe you’d be less of a person if you had to deny yourself that pleasure?

Satan is strategic in stirring this desire within you. God defined love as giving up what you want for a brother’s need. That’s exactly what Jesus did for us (1 John 3:16-17).

So be careful. If you get your wants and needs confused, you may discover that you can love no one but yourself.

The difference between a peace-maker and peace-keeper…

Peace-making is rarely confused with peace-breaking, but it is often confused with peace-keeping. When I first traveled to Bosnia in 2001 on a humanitarian aid effort I got a good look at peace-keeping. The United Nations had divided up the land between the Bosnians and Serbians. Without a doubt there were heinous crimes committed during their civil war. There had not been an attempt at repentance, forgiveness or restoration.

The UN’s answer to the conflict was to significantly limit the interaction between the conflicting parties. They drew strict boundaries in the villages. Serbians lived within their territories, as did the Bosnians. For those of us who are conflict avoiders this might seem like a good option. But to avoid the conflict does not resolve the conflict.  

The following chart from the junior edition of Ken Sande’s Peacemaker is helpful in distinguishing the difference. Peace-keepers tend to fall in the escape mode. Peace-breakers easily move to the attack mode. Only the peace-makers are the ones who will make the personal sacrifices to work it out.

You have three options in the work it out category:

(1) Overlook. Perhaps the point of offense is only a preference on your part, or you don’t see the sin done against you as intentional or characteristic of the other individual. The apostle Peter encouraged us,

Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins (1 Peter 4:8).

(2) Talk it Out. Perhaps you are unable to overlook the sin. You were hurt deeply. Maybe you are beginning to see a pattern of this type of sinful behavior on your friend’s part. Then it’s best to talk to them. Critical in winning your brother is that you initially do this between the two of you without a third-party. Jesus reminded us,

If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother (Matthew 18:15)

(3) Get Help. It could be that your attempt at contact is rejected. There may be a refusal to acknowledge sin or you sense the conflict is only getting worse. Don’t be afraid to seek help. Jesus went on to say,

But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses (Matthew 18:16).

Be careful. It’s a slippery slope. Always attempt to stay within the work-it-out  boundaries. No wonder Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the sons of God” (Mat. 5:9).

God is listening

The book of Deuteronomy is one of those Old Testament books we don’t often read let alone study. But it was there that a verse jumped off the page recently.  Moses is recounting for the Israelite children how their parents had received the Ten Commandments. It was in this setting that they were genuinely frightened by the presence of God, so they sent Moses to speak to God on their behalf. And they had a message to send. It went like this: “Whatever God wants us to do we will do it.”  A good response if you genuinely fear the Lord. But God’s response is what riveted my attention. Notice God’s words to Moses, “I have heard the voice of the words of this people which they have spoken to you. They are right in what they have spoken” (Deut 5:28).

Do you see in that verse what I see? What words did you say yesterday that God heard? What about the day before? Or the day before that? How did you speak to your spouse? Or your children? Or your boss? How did you speak about your children? Or about your spouse? Or about your boss?

Have you paused to realize that God was listening? That God would say, “I have heard the voice of the words which you have spoken?”

Now some of us might downplay God’s holiness and up-play His mercy regarding His hearing of our words. After all we might reason, we know what we said would not please Him, but at least God is a forgiving God.

Truly He is forgiving, and we certainly praise Him for that. But remember the context of this statement? The Israelites were standing in awe of His greatness, power, and holiness. It is in that setting that God said He had heard their words.

Would you have spoken those harsh words to a friend if you remembered God was listening? Would you have lied? Would you have gossiped? Would you have kept silent? We need to remember that what we say and how we say it is important, because when we speak. . .God is listening.

The Scripture’s Effect on the Mind

Twenty years ago a deeply troubled young man stepped into my office.  He was accompanied by a friend for the sake of encouragement. Together they began to pour out his sad story. When he was in 8th grade he became a victim of sexual abuse at the hand of high school teen. As he had entered high school he struggled with depression, attempted to take his own life, and was hospitalized. He had carried the dark secret alone. Neither parents, nor counselors knew his past.

Now, seven years later his anxiety was all-consuming.  His struggle with fear and worry had even crept into his sleeping hours, revealing itself through nightmares of the teen who had abused him.

I was fresh out of seminary, with limited experience in the ministry. As I reached for my Bible I remember praying to the Lord for guidance. I knew I was in way over my head.

I asked the young man what he was thinking about before he fell asleep. He acknowledged his painful past consumed his thoughts. He said tearfully, “I’m just praying to God that the nightmares won’t come back.”

“I understand you’re praying, but what are you thinking about.”

 “The nightmares” he said, “I don’t know how to stop.”

 Together we opened up our Bibles to Philippians 4:8 and we read,

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. [emphasis added] (Phil. 4:8)

“Your challenge,” I said, “Will be to develop a plan where you think on the things that are in that list.” Together we read  the promise that came next,

What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you [emphasis added] (Phil. 4:9).

 “Memorizing is only the first part” then I added, “You’re actually going to have to do it.”

“Do what?” he said.

 “Think on these things,” I replied.

Together we drew an octagon. He wrote each of the 8 qualities found in verse  on the outside boarders of the sign. Inside the sign we wrote the words “Stop! Think on these things.”  On a separate piece of paper he wrote each quality as the heading for a list. The 8 lists would be comprised of  anything he could think of that was “true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and worthy of praise.”

One week later he returned to my office with his friend. The two sat down. I began the conversation “ How’s that Bible verse I asked you to memorize?”

His friend smiled, and shook his head as if he knew something I did not.

“Why the smile?” I asked.

 “Did you want him to tell it to you, forwards or backwards?” he replied.

 “Let’s start with forwards.” I said. The young man quoted the verse word perfect one word after the other.

 “Can  you really quote the verse backwards?” I asked incredulously.

 Phrase by phrase he gave the verse backwards. He didn’t miss a beat.

 “That’s pretty amazing” I said. “So how are the nightmares?

 He looked me in the eyes, shrugged his shoulders, and smiled.

 “What nightmares?”

When Abuse Happens within the Church

Years ago a friend of mine wanted to know my take on the sex scandals that had rocked the Roman Catholic Church. He himself was a practicing Roman Catholic, and although I am not, I appreciated his invitation to share my thoughts.

First of all I assured him that the Roman Catholic Church was not the only church that struggled with sin – even sin of this nature, and that I understood the desire to want to cover-up one’s sin. Although it is not a Biblical pattern it is a natural one. Adam and Eve hid from God in the garden after sinning (Gen. 3:8). Although it increases the harm to others, and violates the Scriptures, it is in our nature to cover up sin.

However, I reminded him, because the Bible is such a practical book it does explain what should happen when the leadership sins within the church. In I Timothy 5:19 we read: Do not receive an accusation against an elder except from two or three witnesses.  Those who are sinning rebuke in the presence of all, that the rest also may fear.

We immediately notice something from this passage. It assumes sin will take place in the church (even among the leadership) Here is God’s plan for dealing with it.  (1) Make sure the report is true. The witnesses confirm the accusation. Many reputations have been destroyed by rumors. But once it’s verified we move to the next step.  (2) Call it sin. Don’t sugarcoat it. Don’t make excuses. Don’t explain it away. Such approaches stave off true repentance. We must call it sin if we are ever to understand our need for a Savior (Rom. 5:8). Finally, as difficult as the last step may seem:  (3) Make it public. The Scripture says of sinning leaders you are “to rebuke them in the presence of all.” Strong words? You bet. But they are God’s words. And such a statement reminds us that none of us are above the Scriptures . . . whether that’s a prophet, priest, or a king.