This is our final edition of Your NFC, as changes happen at NFC. David Thomas agreed to share some thoughts he has had as we all wade through the hard waters of separation.
My dear NFC friends, this is a sad time as we break apart, with some people forming the emerging church, some staying, some choosing to move on to other churches, and some not sure what they will do. Debby and I joined NFC this past year because of all the wonderful people and relationships that have made up this congregation. It is sad to see these relationships strained and in some cases broken. For most this has been a heart-wrenching experience. So how do we go forward from here? How do we deal with our loss and with these changing relationships?
Back in Rwanda we went through some difficult and stressful church conflicts. During those days I was continually placing myself and all the turmoil we were experiencing on the altar. One leader accused us of being terrible missionaries, of destroying the church, even though we were trying to follow God’s leading to the best of our ability. It hurt deeply, and all I could do was to go back to the cross and release all of these things to Jesus.
At times I was really frustrated by someone, but I came to realize that as I prayed for them it was not my place to accuse them before God; that is Satan’s role. Instead, God asked me to forgive and bless them! This was hard, but Jesus enabled me to do this. This process of continually forgiving and blessing softened our hearts. In this process, God asked us to give some money toward this leader’s education. At first we did not want to do this, but God used our generosity to change our own hearts, allowing us to grow in love for this person. In time his attitudes toward us changed, and we were reconciled. Before we left Rwanda he told us how much he appreciated our persevering through the really hard time of influencing the church out of a culture of dependency. He is now one of our key ministry partners on the Rwandan Discipling for Development team.
I think the only way to get through a major conflict like this is to bring ourselves and the whole situation to the cross of Jesus. I find the picture of bringing our burdens and laying them down at the foot of the cross very freeing. It’s at the cross where we lay down our pain. Jesus’ suffering covers this and he can bring healing to our areas of brokenness. At the cross we can lay down our anger, our confusion, our bitterness, our feelings of ‘getting back at someone who hurt us.’ We bring the conflicts and people we are in disagreement with.
Along with the image of laying down our burdens at the foot of the cross of Jesus, the concept of dying to ourselves is also needed. Jesus admonishes us in Matthew 16:24 NLT, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross, and follow me.” Paul asserts in Galatians 2:20 NIV, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me…”
Another symbol of dying to ourselves is the sacrificial altar. Paul tells us to “offer yourselves as a living sacrifice…” (Romans 12:1 NIV). I choose to get up on the altar, laying down my pride, my doubts, my fears, my rights, my bitterness, my need to be in control….
Through the cross we come to know what love looks like. God’s love for us is expressed through the cross, through Jesus dying for us, and we are enabled to love each other through the cross. It is difficult to love someone who has hurt us, but as we lay down our pain and hurt we are empowered to love the person who has hurt us.
From whichever side of this conflict you find yourself, know that you have been a part of something very special at NFC. As we all move forward, maybe this advice can be helpful.
Some Useful Advice:
• Assume we will get hurt in this conflict and split, and choose ahead of time to forgive.
• Bring to the cross of Jesus all our burdens and lay them down: burdens of pain, brokenness, sadness, fear, uncertainty…
• Take up our cross and die to ourselves daily. Choose to be a living sacrifice and die to our pride, our rights, our doubt, our fear, our control…
• Do not allow anything to come between Christ and ourselves! Be persistent and keep laying down our “stuff.”
• Forgive and bless those on the other side who we disagree with, especially those who make us angry. For difficult relationships, ask God for a tangible way to bless the other person.
• Do not allow a root of bitterness to grow. Do not give the devil a foothold! Deal with your anger right away, laying it before Jesus.
• Remember that our conflict is not with people but with the spirits of evil influencing the world around us. (Ephesians 6:10)
• Remember the bigger picture that God is good and is in control. Romans 8:28 in The Voice, says, “We are confident that God is able to orchestrate everything to work toward something good and beautiful when we love Him and accept His invitation to live according to His plan.”
May God bless each one of us as we choose to stay open and pliable in God’s hands.