The following is a chapter from my 2007 book Crossroads, and was later published in Coastal Christian Magazine.
”Shallow”…”manipulative”…..”all you care about is money”….and these were some of the nicer comments that jumped off my computer screen, words and phrases designed to do nothing more than injure and tear down, part of an e-mail message that I had just received, from a brother in Christ whose church I had performed in a few weeks before.
Y’know, try as we might, we all have the occasional spat, disagreement, dispute, tiff, squabble, whatever you care to call it. Never mind the fact that we are Christians and we’re supposed to be about that whole brotherhood-unity-peace-and-love thing. We’re human, it happens, so get used to it. Far more disconcerting than the fact that it happens is the fact that it is so often left unresolved.
The e-mail message I just quoted from came from a church I had recently performed in, and to be blunt, they had not lived up to their agreement that they had made months before. I approached them about resolving things, and the situation very quickly turned nasty. I came home one day to find that e-mail from the pastor of the church waiting for me, and I knew I was in for it because the monitor was smoking. I opened the message to find a very angry and very personal assault on me, my ministry, my character, and my motivations. All that was missing was saying something nasty about my mother.
I had never been talked to by another Christian like that in my life, and I was incredulous that a Christian, much less someone in a leadership position, could actually write such venom, much less sign his name to it and send it.
I would later approach this man on two separate occasions, to tell him that this had gotten out of hand, that there was no reason for it to have gotten this nasty, this abrasive, and that we needed to heal this rift and go our separate ways in Christian love, not the tattered remnants of a bitter dispute that brought no glory to God whatsoever.
And he refused. Both times. And again I was amazed that a fellow Christian would turn away somebody who only sought healing and restoration, because the message sent through those actions is “we don’t care enough about you as a Christian brother to make this right.” Personally, I cannot imagine slapping the hand holding the olive branch, but that’s just me.
Now things like this can really knock the wind out of your sails, and that certainly happened in my case. In that moment, I totally understood those folks I’ve met who want nothing to do with church or Christians or anything remotely close.
I’d also like to tell you that this was an isolated case. It is not. I have seen and heard similar stories from other Christians for years. And they all seem to share a common thread……that many times, we eschew any measure of healing or restoration, and choose instead to simply cut ties with the other person and walk away, leaving behind a wound that is still open, raw, and festering. I’ve seen it tear apart relationships, marriages, ministries, and churches, all because one party or both are simply too filled with pride to say, “Hey, let’s make this right.”
Now, flash forward a couple of years. Another pastor, another entirely similar situation. And again, I went to this pastor to make my point known, because I am a firm believer in the admonishment of Matthew 18:15-17 which tells us: “Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother. But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that ‘by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.’ And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector.”
You will note that there are three separate and progressively involved steps here with regard to settling disputes; apparently, it means something to God for us to be in harmony, in one accord, and living in peace with one another, and He expects us to take every possible step to do so.
Well, a few days later, I got a response, again through e-mail. And while my monitor wasn’t threatening to spontaneously combust this time, I was still wincing as I opened the message, fully expecting to again be belittled, dismissed, and thrown away.
Well, you can imagine my delight when, instead of the cyber-thrashing I was expecting, I read a very polite, well written, heartfelt response. He indicated that there were indeed misjudgments on both our parts (and he would be right), went on to apologize to me for his role in the problems, and (yes, it gets even better!) expressed his desire for healing and restoration in our fledgling relationship.
Man, my spirit went into warp speed. At last, I thought, here is someone who gets it, who understands that this isn’t about proving one person right and the other wrong, it’s not about making your case watertight, and it is most assuredly not about tearing the other person to proverbial shreds to achieve some undefined form of victory.
It’s about simply recognizing that something is wrong, and taking the proper steps to correct it. It’s about doing what honors God and brings glory to Him by showing the world how we treat each other. It’s about getting yourself out of the way, hanging up your pride, and being obedient to the Word.
Now I don’t know what kind of relationship I will have with this pastor. It’s a concert booking, and all too often those are one off events. But whether or not it continues beyond one show, I feel like I have in fact, “gained my brother back”, as the Scripture puts it so well. My respect level for this man has shot into the stratosphere. And the whole situation just feels good, right, and just!
And I cannot help but wonder just how much better off we’d be if more folks responded like this one pastor did. Simply having the intestinal fortitude, i.e. “guts”, to say “Hey, I was wrong. I apologize. Now let’s make it right by each other and by God.”
Can you imagine the marriages that could be restored? Can you picture the friendships that would be strengthened? Can you see the churches whose ministries would blossom? And all because we simply do what should be oh so obvious…..treat one another in love, respect, and with value. How we treat each other is such a powerful witness!
I have a very simple philosophy; at the end of the day we are family, and as such one day soon we’re all going to be spending a considerable amount of time together, like say, eternity. With that in mind, doesn’t it seem a little, well, ridiculous, to hold anything against one another while we’re here? Personally, I find the idea to be a completely alien concept. Jesus prayed that we, His followers, would be as one, God is oh so much bigger than our petty little gripes, and I’m here to tell you that it is a most agreeable feeling to do right by God and my brother.
Now, may we go therefore and do right by one another, may God alone be glorified in the process, and may we all be found faithful til He comes again…..
“And whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone: forgive them, that your Father in Heaven may also forgive you your trespasses. But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father in Heaven forgive your trespasses.” – Mark 11:25
“The hypocrite with his mouth destroys his neighbor, But through knowledge the righteous will be delivered.” – Proverbs 11:9
“He who says he is in the light, and hates his brother, is in darkness until now.
He who loves his brother abides in the light, and there is no cause for stumbling in him.” – I Jn 2:9-10
(Copyright 2007, by Darrell Ritchie, from the book Crossroads)