Bothered by Frustration

Do you ever find yourself getting frustrated with people?  Let me re-phrase because the question is ridiculous.  I know you do get frustrated from time-to-time.  The question is how often and why? I’ve certainly been there (way too many times)!  In some ways, I can be extremely patient–but then in other ways, well…

I realized a couple of weeks ago that my frustration level has been a little bit on the rise.  It bothered me that I was getting bothered so much by how much people were bothering me.  So, I’ve been thinking about it, trying to put my finger on the real issue.

I wonder if the heart of the problem is as basic as forgetting that people we grow impatient or frustrated with are sinners?  Do we forget they are naturally imperfect?  Of course, on the other hand, much of the reason we get frustrated with others is that we forget we are imperfect!  I get angry because someone is not taking care of my needs as I feel they should.  They are wasting my valuable time.  Yeah, pride definitely plays a big role and, yes, pride is sin.

This train of thought was triggered as I was reading through a great little book by Eugene Peterson called, The Contemplative Pastor.

In it, Peterson reminds us that, “the word sinner is a theological designation…not a moralistic judgment.” So, we’re not declaring someone a horrible person when we refer to them as a sinner (they might be very nice), but that they have the same internal problem we all have: we are imperfect before a holy God and need grace through Christ to save us.

Even though Peterson is writing to pastors, the principle he is talking about is relevant to everyone.  See if this resonates:

If a pastor finds himself resenting his people, getting petulant and haranguing them, that is a sign that he or she has quit thinking of them as sinners who bring “nothing in themselves of worth” and has secretly invested them with divine attributes of love, strength, compassion, and joy. They, of course, do not have these attributes in any mature measure and so will disappoint point him or her every time. On the other hand, if the pastor rigorously defines people as fellow sinners, he or she will be prepared to share grief, shortcomings, pain, failure, and have plenty of time left over to watch for the signs of God’s grace operating in this wilderness, and then fill the air with praises for what he discovers.

Amazingly, that little shift in our thinking can change our entire demeanor.  If I can stop looking at you as someone who has it all together all the time, but understand that you are frail and imperfect, as I am, I will be prepared to give you a lot more grace than I otherwise would.  Margin for both of us would leave room for God to work in the midst of our frailty.  When I give you space to be imperfect, I experience a reduction of frustration, anger and stress along with an increase in peace, joy and rest.  Sounds like a great trade-off to me.

That said, there is a potential danger I see: Taken too far, we end up giving everyone a pass on responsibility.  Peterson wouldn’t be advocating allowing people to shuck their responsibility or perform at a point lower than their potential.  It does mean that we must encourage each other towards growth and pursuing excellence in their life just as I desire excellence in my own, though imperfectly.

So, next time you feel yourself growing frustrated towards someone, stop! Take a deep breath and remember that they, like you, are becoming.  They are on a journey towards being the person God has designed them to be and it’s a tough road to travel, and if they’re not, your patient love towards them might help them find their way.  Instead of demanding perfection (and feeding your own pride!), humbly determine to be used by God as an agent of grace.

What do you think?  Is this the main reasons you deal with frustrations or are there better explanations?  This topic can definitely be taken deeper into some real practical ways we can process frustrations, but what are your thoughts?  Do you have tips or suggestions for how you have successfully dealt with frustrations and anger?  Are there ways in which you need help working through it?  I’d love to hear about it.

 

When It’s Good to be in a Gang

Paul tells Timothy that if anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonorable, “he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work.” (2 Timothy 2:20-21)

This is a concept I’ve been dealing with a lot lately in messages at The Gathering, though it’s a concept I’ve not mastered.  I certainly struggle, not so much with the concept or idea of “cleansing oneself”, as much as the practice of it.  The concept basically addresses the outworking of sanctification (the process by which the Holy Spirit begins making changes and also empowers us, through discipline, to bring about changes, as well).  Whereas salvation/transformation is solely the work of the Holy Spirit, sanctification is a divine partnership, in which I have responsibility.  Admittedly, it would be much easier if God just DID IT all, Himself, but that’s not the way He’s chosen.  Instead, He has equipped me to do battle within myself and those deep-seeded sins that “so easily entangle” (Hebrews 12:1).

Because of the work Christ has already done in my life to change my position before the Father to that of Holy and blameless, I have the power to say no to conditional sin that, before, I could not.  Before, sin had me chained…I was under it’s power, fulfilling all the things that my flesh dictated to me (Ephesians 2:1-3).  Now, the Word tells me I’m no longer a slave to sin and that the only reason I am under any authority of sin is that I, willingly, place myself under it’s control, wrapping myself again with the chains that once held me, choosing the sin from which I’ve been freed.  In short, I sin now because I want to, not because I have to (Galatians 5:1).  That’s what is troubling.  I want to sin. Man, I hate even saying that, because I really don’t and, yet, if sin ever dominates my life, according to Scripture, it’s because I let it.

I think this is why Paul encouraged his young son in the faith to “Fight the good fight of faith.” (1 Timothy 6:12a)  It is most certainly a fight, but it’s a fight that involves retreating…running away from an enemy.  Sounds crazy when talking about standing firm and fighting, but being an overcomer, in this case, involves running away from enemies we cannot beat if we remain in their presence.  Samson was the strongest man in the neighborhood, but the only way he could have beaten the Philistines was by running away from that which tempted his heart…the great temptation of Delilah.  He was defeated, not by the brute force of an army, but by remaining under the influence of a single individual who offered him all that he wanted…momentary pleasure.

Wow, that’s it right there.  Momentary pleasure.  Even though it doesn’t last, it still has the ability to train wreck our spiritual lives.  This is why Paul kept encouraging Timothy to run away from it.  Don’t try to stay and fight because, eventually, you’ll let your guard down and the fight is over.  Clean knock-out.  As a matter of fact, right after Paul encourages Timothy to cleanse himself, he tells him how:

So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart. 23 Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. 24 And the Lord’s servant[e] must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, 25 correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, 26 and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will. (2 Timothy 2: 22-26)

In this passage, there is both a “run away from” and a “run towards”.  Both words used, “flee” and “pursue”, communicate both an urgency and an exertion of effort.  One involved running away from as hard and fast as you can while the other involves chasing after something as to catch it.  In other words, we should never be standing still!  The question is where should the most emphasis be placed, on fleeing or pursuing?  Which one do I focus on more?  The great news is that they are in opposite directions, but only sort of.  Here’s what I mean: I can flee from unrighteousness, but that doesn’t mean I’m necessarily pursuing godly righteousness.  It might mean that I’m simply pursuing self-righteousness.  I might still be trying to overcome sin under my own power and that will just lead to a pride that is nothing more than unrighteousness in disguise.  So, in truth, I’ve never actually run away from anything!

The key, then, to dealing honestly with sin, is to chase after godly righteousness “along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.”  In other words, I will never actually overcome sin in my life using a “Lone Ranger” approach because I’ll just drift towards self-righteousness and never even notice.  It’s actually a great weapon of the Enemy, “the Father of Lies”.  However, if I am in a community of humble people who are honestly seeking these same things, we can ” gang up” on sin, keeping each other in check, moving towards true godliness together, pointing out that slow drift away from our godly pursuits.

This is why “Gospel friendships” are so important, where we are deliberately speaking into each others lives; where almost every conversation contains some level of Gospel conversation, encouraging and challenging each other and simply “checking up”.  It doesn’t happen by accident and takes a great deal of cultivation.  If, though, I want to overcome sin in my life, sin that my flesh really wants to give in to because I like the momentary pleasure it offers, I have to pursue such relationships with everything I have, knowing that it’s worth the effort.

Making Disciples

The mandate for the Church is to “go into all the world and make disciples.” (Matthew 28:18-20).  If we’re a part of a “church” and not doing that, and doing it effectively, we are hard-pressed to say we are a church.  I think that we are to do this is hardly debated.  HOW we do it is another story.  Though I think there are many different “methods” utilized, I am convinced most (though, of course, not all) are overly complicated.  Without desiring to come across either arrogant or critical, the following is a sneak-peak at an article I’ve written for an upcoming edition of RoadSigns, the monthly newsmag of The Gathering where I propose a simplified (not simplistic!) approach to this process.  It’s the approach that I, personally, have adopted and found fruitful for myself and those I spend time with:

On Being A Disciple-Maker

I have been thinking a lot about discipleship lately.  One of the things I’ve always said since I first came here nearly seven years ago was that I never want (nor expect) God to bring more people here than we can effectively disciple.  I still mean that.  Our primary calling is to make disciples to the glory of God.  If we can’t do that, what’s the point?

So, I’ve been evaluating where we are and thinking through different aspects of discipleship and wanting to lead us into the most effective strategies in order for that to happen.  I’ve read books on discipleship and looked at various programs for discipleship and, somehow, something always seems to be lacking.  They all seem to leave me somewhat cold.  That is not to say that all discipleship programs are bad or that there is no place for them.  Rather, this is more about emphasis.  Are we boxing up discipleship too neatly or is there more to it?  Is it a little messier; a little more dynamic?

Over the course of a few weeks and a few different conversations I’ve had, I have done some re-thinking on the process of discipleship and moved in a direction I think is more reflective of a dynamic process of making disciples.  I’ll start with some of the characteristics and go from there.

Simple

The one who first made disciples of Jesus was, well…Jesus.  He’s the first one who called people to Himself.  So, how did he do it?  He quite simply said, “Follow me.”  They did.  That’s a pretty simple approach, right?  He didn’t introduce them to a program.  He didn’t hand out books or have them do homework.  He just called them to follow Him, they did and they learned from Him.

I’m not sure that our approach to disciple-making should be any more complicated than that.  These people stayed close to Him, listened to Him and grew in Him.  The beauty of Jesus’ approach was that it was very relational, which is how they learned.  Today, we can emulate that by building relationships with each other, doing life together and learning from Him through His Word where we focus on having gospel conversations together.  We challenge each other in our attitudes, actions and words.  We talk of what is really important and encourage each other during tough times.  In this way, we very simply grow in our understanding of the comprehensive nature of following Jesus; that He is concerned and is to be included in every part of our lives.

Organic

Though we don’t know the criteria Jesus used to determine who He would call, we know He didn’t have an extensive sign up process or pre-screening for them.  He very naturally entered into relationship with them and invited them to follow Him around and listen to how He handles things, what He prioritizes, how He deals with people and how He obediently walks with God.  It was a living process rather than a stale, classroom relationship. Discipling others should focus on how a more mature Believer does life following after Christ so that those who are younger in the faith can learn what to (and not to) do.  It’s being real, letting others inside your world, seeing your weaknesses, your strengths, your faith, your mistakes and how you work out sin through repentance.  You may not feel comfortable being completely vulnerable, but discipleship is at least being open and honest enough to be able to wrestle through the issues of life together, growing in faith together and serving as iron sharpening one another to the glory of God.

Intentional

This process doesn’t just happen.  As a matter of fact, I don’t think it will ever happen accidentally.  Just because it is to be organic and natural doesn’t mean that it isn’t intentional.  We have to determine we’re going to pour our lives into someone else.  We have to intentionally establish that relationship with an understanding of what is happening.  Jesus did that.  He made an intentional decision and then established the relationship with, “Follow me.”  Jesus was very intentional about doing things in the presence of His disciples.  He pulled in Peter, James and John, in particular, to share in some of the most intimate and amazing aspects of His life.  As a result, they, being filled with the Holy Spirit and having lived with Him for three years, did some amazing things for God’s glory after Jesus had left.

Discipleship is a simple process, but I don’t want to make it simplistic.  We have to care enough to get involved.  We have to love enough to include.  We have to trust enough to be real.  None of that is easy…but it’s our purpose and the blessings on the other side are priceless.  We are called to go into all the world and make disciples.  You may not feel as though you are qualified.  Fortunately, the requirements are not that extensive.  Do you have a vibrant relationship with God?  Have you been walking with Him through the seasons of life?   Do you spend time with Him in His Word and in prayer.  If not, you may not be ready to be a disciple-maker.  You may need to be discipled.  However, none of us are in the middle.  We either need to be discipled or we need to be a disciple-maker.

I really believe God has grown The Gathering to the point where we should be ready for any number of people God brings through our doors.  However, that will largely depend on whether or not YOU are taking discipleship seriously.  Decide where you are in the process.  Do you need that kind of mentoring relationship where you can grow in faith along with someone else who is a bit more mature in the faith or are you at a point where you could pour your life into another, ready to spend time with someone, walking through life together for a season?  Once you’ve got that figured out, pray that God will hook you up with at least one other person to begin growing together.  If you are unsure where you are or where or how to get started, find one of the Elders of The Gathering.  It’s our job to help you move down the road to spiritual maturity.  When this happens, we will accomplish our goal of being among the healthiest churches in Chattanooga!

After discussing this article with a trusted friend in the ministry, he pointed out this video on discipleship by D. A. Carson that had been shared this morning by Mark Dever.  It articulates much of what I have proposed here.

Conflicting Times: Handling Relational Challenges

conflictsConflict happens. There is no way around it. If you care about someone or work closely with someone, you spend more time with them. If you spend more time with them, you have more opportunity to annoy each other or miscommunicate. If you have more opportunity, conflict happens. So, the question is not whether or not you can always avoid conflict, but how to prevent relational casualties when conflict arises.

Here are a few suggestions to help us wade through the mire of conflict management:

1.  Start with YOU.

Chances are, you are at least partially responsible for any conflict you’re in.  Honestly identify your role.  If you’re a follower of Christ, pray that your level of culpability will be revealed.  Humble yourself to the point where you are prepared to repent and make the necessary changes to minimize the potential for conflict over the same issues in the future.

2. Expect the best.

If this is someone you know well and care for, there is a really good chance that what they said or did was not intended to do you harm.  Sure, in anger, we say things that are intended to sting or offend.  Yet, even in those times, it is usually raw emotion rather than a calculated effort to harm you.

A dog that is otherwise a loyal pet, will often snap at her owner if she has been injured.  Her instinct of self-preservation tells her to protect at all cost, even lashing out at someone she normally “loves” (to whatever extent that applies to dogs).

We often act in the same way if we feel personally or emotionally threatened or hurt.  In those cases, we need to show that person grace.  Even criminals are given the benefit of a presumption of innocence until proven otherwise.  Surely those close to us expect at least that much consideration.  Expecting the best takes us off of the offensive and allows us to reflect on what we know about the other person. (Philippians 4: 8)

3.  Forgive ahead of time.

Don’t wait for the apology (which hopefully will come), but determine that the relationship is more important than this incident.  This will put you on a good footing to fight for the relationship.  Even if the other person is not ready to apologize, communicate your hurt honestly but determine to let the offense go.

Any time we harbor bitter feelings, we suffer as much as the person we’re upset with: lost sleep, anxiety, lack of focus on anything other than the offense.  Harboring ill feelings are destructive on so many levels that it is not worth whatever “satisfaction” we get from holding a grudge.  (Ephesians 4:32)

4.  Talk it out!

The most natural thing for us to do when we are offended or hurt is to avoid the other person at all cost.  We wait for them to come to us, which makes reconciliation impossible if there is a stand-off.  Act like an adult, confront the fear, push aside the awkwardness and deal with the issue head-on.  Remember, the relationship is worth it!  Even if you know it’s going to be a lengthy and painful confrontation, the relationship is worth it.  The longer you wait, the harder it gets and the more likely that thoughts, feelings and emotions that weren’t initially a part of the situation will be brought into our thinking which simply makes reconciliation more difficult.

The passing of time following a disagreement rarely, if ever, make the situation better.  Yes, sometimes a “cooling off” period is helpful, but rarely should that take more than a few hours.  Follow the biblical mandate to not let the sun go down on your anger! (Ephesians 4:26; Matthew 5:23-24)

Stronger Than Ever

Working through conflict is rarely easy, but when it’s done and reconciliation happens (which, sadly, doesn’t always happen), you will experience a stronger relationship with that person than before the conflict occurred.  We often find an increased respect and trust in the individuals whose friendship has now been “tried by fire” and proven to be stronger than before.  Yes, it’s hard work, but if it’s a relationship that was worth building in the first place, it is always worth the work it takes to sustain it!

Are there some other steps that you would take in resolving conflicts?  Let me hear them in the comments section below.

 

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