Plutoed!

Pluto Protest and Counter Protest by Fanboy (Public Domain)

This is the second of three guest blog posts by Gary Buterbaugh.

Have you ever heard of being plutoed?  We’re not talking about Pluto the proper noun, but the verb to pluto—the American Dialect Society’s 2006 word of the year. Many of you probably remember learning about Pluto as the ninth planet in your grade school science lessons. You may have even constructed your own model of the Solar System at one time or another. Well, you may need to climb back into your parents’ attic to yank out that last crumpled ball of aluminum foil, because on August 24, 2006 the International Astronomical Union demoted Pluto from the status of beloved ninth planted to dwarf planet134340 Pluto.

According to Max Lucado, minister and prolific author, to be plutoed means to be “demoted or demeaned like the former planet Pluto – one day you’re in, and the next day you’re out.”

Most of us – if not all of us – at one time or another have felt plutoed, but perhaps no group of individuals have experienced this more than those who struggle with homosexuality and same-sex-attraction. Young boys who may be more effeminate in their mannerisms, or more oriented to things on the soft-side, get used to being called faggot or sissy, and made to feel they are not accepted by their more macho friends.  The same is true for young girls who are more athletic or masculine in nature, and are called dyke or lessie by other children. When a teen guy or girl comes out that they are gay or lesbian, or when anyone who struggles with homosexual feelings at any age shares with friends and family about their struggles, they are more often than not met with rejection and ridicule. It is difficult in our culture to go through a day without hearing a demeaning joke or comment about homosexuals.

Photo by NASA (Public Domain)

But perhaps the greatest amount of plutoing is done by those who should demonstrate just the opposite of demoting and demeaning, those who are called to share and demonstrate the love and grace of Jesus Christ—the church.

On one extreme the fundamentalist church bombards homosexuals with the message that their actions are an abomination and that they, having no hope of salvation, will end up in hell. On the opposite end of the spectrum lies the liberal church in its proclamation that homosexuality is a God-given gift to be accepted and embraced. In between these two extremes lies the vast majority of Christians who simply try to ignore the subject of homosexuality, treating those who struggle with homosexuality and same-sex-attraction as if they simply don’t exist.

But to those who do wrestle with such feelings, there is good news!  God is not a plutoer—even though at times the church may fail to show the true depth of His amazing love. As eternal as God’s holiness may be, His love continues to boldly proclaim, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16 NIV).

When we turn to Him He does not respond with rejection. He responds with love and the power to heal and forgive, and the redemptive power to change the way we process life.

The Lord continually calls those who have embraced Him, having given their lives to His control as Lord and Savior, to love the world’s plutoees with the love that sent His Son Jesus to Calvary.  Are you willing to share that kind of love and the message of redeeming grace with those who struggle with same-sex-attraction, or will you continue to pluto them? I hope that my story somehow helps to influence not only your behavior, but also your motives.

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Shed the Weight!

We hear it all the time—obesity is a leading cause of health problems in our day. The experts tell us to shed the pounds, but everywhere we turn we’re bombarded with messages to the contrary. “Eat!” they tell us. “Our sumptuous treats will make your life full and complete!”

I’m not saying that physical weight loss is unimportant, but we all deal with other types of weight that have an even greater influence in our lives. In a life where we seek personal change and growth, one of the more unbearable weights is guilt. Guilt bogs us down, making us miserable and our personal journey at times unbearable. (The burden of guilt actually multiplies the difficulty of physical weight loss.)

Photo by alisha - morgueFile

Feelings of guilt flow from our conscience–an internal, but often inaccurate, moral compass. Conscience is an inner law, the likes of which we are not forced to obey.

Everybody is born with a conscience, but the enculturation of each person is different. Someone reared in a family of pet loving thieves, for example, may feel absolutely no remorse about stealing a neighbor’s jewelry, but be devastated at having to kill their dog in the process.

Christians can be particularly susceptible to guilt because we have an innate desire to honor God and do the right thing. Still, few of us realize that guilt is an archenemy of personal growth and change. Guilt’s self-centered, unbelieving focus only serves to perpetuate the cycle of sin.

Sin seeks to knock us out with a one-two punch. It begins with the persistent and sometimes overwhelming desire of temptation. God always provides a way of escape—one which, unfortunately, we don’t always take.

Photo by dany13 - CC by 2.0

Our surrender to temptation is immediately followed by condemnation. We are guilty and feel downright horrible for what we’ve done. The burden of guilt weighs heavily as we constantly kick ourselves over our failure.

Worldly thinking would simply tell us not to feel guilty. We are good people and there’s nothing wrong in what we’ve done. Christians know better, which is why we can be especially susceptible to the burden of guilt.

But there is another factor that must never be forgotten! The cross! For the Christian, guilt is obsolete!

Jesus paid an extreme price for all of our sins. What an offense to Him that we would continue to carry even one ounce of guilt!

Make every available effort to overcome temptation, but if/when you do fall, please don’t wallow under the weight of guilt and condemnation! Humble your heart. Admit your need. Confess your sin. Go to the cross. And BELIEVE that you are forgiven. No matter what your feelings tell you, stand on the promises of God’s word.

Oh the lightness of heart when we finally shed the weight of guilt!

“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.” Romans 8:1-2 (ESV)

The Next Level

Photo Courtesy of NOAA Photo Library

I did everything right (at least in this particular situation). I prayed. I fasted. I confessed my faults to God. I picked an appropriate time. I approached the situation with humility and began the conversation by admitting my failures and asking for forgiveness. I was sincere in my approach, but the other person did not respond in any way that I had hoped.

Again, I was faced with a choice—respond in anger or forgive and let it all go. This was all so painful, but I realized that the other individual wasn’t going to budge. I was hurt. I wanted more out of the relationship. But just letting things go really seemed to be the best way to honor God. In retrospect, it was a good move and this particular relationship has improved dramatically since that time.

Even when we do everything we’re supposed to outcomes aren’t always certain. Human wills and perspectives can be so unpredictable!

The situation described above occurred with a non-Christian so I felt further recourse wasn’t warranted. When dealing with another believer, however, it’s often necessary (especially if some type of sinful behavior is involved) to take things to another level—involve a third party as a mediator.

I do not recommend asking a close friend to mediate (although I have seen this approach unsuccessfully attempted). It’s best to involve a mature leader who is able to remain objective throughout the process.

In another situation I tried to bring correction as gently as possible to a person who was clearly and selfishly out of line. Wow! What a reaction! She was indignant and (without my knowledge) proceeded to go from person to person in the room complaining about what I had done—that is until she got to John. John wisely took things to the next level by inviting her to join him in speaking with me. She wanted no part of that and proceeded to quickly leave the building. I did call her afterward, explained my position and made it clear that I was the person she needed to speak with. It sort of worked.

The goal is always restoration, but realistically speaking, some people just want their own way. Others freak out when we even suggest the possibility that they have done anything wrong. Many years ago a pastor once told me, “There will be walls between you and some other people. It’s unavoidable. Just make sure that you aren’t the one responsible for those walls.”

Looking back I realize that this was excellent advice. When we blow it, we take responsibility and ask for forgiveness. When others are at fault, we go the extra mile to help bring resolution. Taking things to the next level honors God even if the results aren’t always what we hope. If we seek to honor Him, He’ll work everything out in due season.

The Missing Link of Conflict Resolution

Creative Commons License 2.0 from Lord Jim

They tell us he’s out there—somewhere. Some call him the missing link—that illusive transitional life form between man and ape. You’d think that they would have found him by now, what with all the effort. Unfortunately for naturalists, the missing link is still missing—providing a powerful platform for opponents of naturalistic theory.

They tell us it’s out there—somewhere. Some call it unity—that state of oneness that should typify the Church. You’d think we’d have seen more of it by now, what with all of the preaching of the Word that we hear on Sunday mornings and throughout the week. Unfortunately for Christians, church unity continues to elude us, providing a powerful platform for opponents of the faith.

Regardless of how right we are as Christians in our perspectives of earth and eternity, our well-designed arguments ring hollow (or even hypocritical) as long as we continue to have our own missing links.

So just why is unity so elusive? What makes conflict resolution a missing link of the Christian faith? It seems to me that conflict resolution has its own missing link–bravery.

The most powerful way to resolve conflict is simply to speak heart to heart in a non-accusatory way. Rather than, “It was so cruel the way you snubbed me so that you could look good in front of your new friends!” we would be better off to say something like, “I was really hurt when you didn’t speak to me the other day in front of your new friends. Can I ask why?” In many situations a reasonable degree of effort will bring healing and resolution.

Unfortunately we find that the majority of us either attack or avoid. We blast people in our hurt and anger, or we try to ignore and suppress the issues.

Spiritual people know that attacking isn’t very godly and so we choose to avoid any possible unpleasantries of interpersonal dynamics. It’s difficult. We’re not in control of another person’s responses. We don’t want to say something stupid or look bad in any way. Perhaps we’re wrong in some area that we can’t bring ourselves to admit. Maybe we’re afraid the other person will get mad and reject or avoid us. The problem with these motivations is that they are rooted in self-preservation—our primary concern is us. We know the importance of communication, but too often we put it off . . . and put it off . . . and put it off . . .

When weighing these considerations it’s important to ask ourselves how much we value the other person (or people) involved. How much do we value God and His desire for us to walk in love? Our true values are revealed by our actions.

Love is brave. Self-preservation tends toward cowardice.

I know this sounds blunt, but I think that far too many of us avoid unpleasant situations because of fear. In most situations the fear is understandable, but courage sings of a higher call, compelling us to press forward in spite of any anxiety.

Love takes necessary risks. Love values others beyond our base cravings for self-preservation. Love seeks to honor God in all circumstances regardless of any personal cost.

If love is brave and bravery is our missing link, what are we to conclude? We’re all well-equipped to do the math!

The ABC’s of Conflict Resolution

Creative Commons License 2.0 from Scrpitingnews

I was ticked! I admit it. For some bizarre reason my wife doesn’t always think the way I do. I had no question in my mind that she was wrong, but the decision was now mine. What to do with the situation? Should I continue to sulk and steam, or perhaps lash out in anger? Or would there be a more loving way for me to deal with my hurt and frustration?

Each of us faces similar decisions on a regular basis with a variety of relationships. In most cases we don’t recognize that a decision is being made. We’re just offended or hurt or angry or all of the above. As a result we simply do what comes naturally and in most circumstances what comes naturally only makes matters worse.

Over the next 3 weeks I’ll highlight a few ABC’s of conflict resolution. They really are fundamental in their essence, but unfortunately too often we still attend pre-school when it comes to dealing with interpersonal conflicts.

Attitude – The manner and heart with which we approach relationship conflicts can have a huge impact on the outcome of the circumstances. If it’s all about me, reconciliation will be elusive. A primary goal should be to deal with our personal hurts and frustrations in a manner that honors God and benefits others involved. If we care more about our rightness than our relationships, we are in trouble.

Sometimes emotions run high and it’s best to take a little time to cool off to avoid saying something regrettable. Each situation with each person is unique, and so contributing factors need to be weighed in choosing the appropriate time to proceed.

It’s also critical to take some time to consider the other individual’s perspective and to see if perhaps there was something you did or said to hurt or offend the other person. We all have a tendency to magnify the faults of others while minimizing our own missteps.

Depending on the seriousness of the situation, fasting is one of the most powerful things you can do to help bring resolution. Yes, you read me right—fasting—as in not eating food.

I have found great value in skipping a meal or two and taking the time to seek God’s face through prayer and the Scriptures. When I come before God in my weakness, everything begins to come into perspective. Inevitably I find myself confessing my sins before God and something miraculous takes place. My heart begins to soften and my attitude toward the other person starts to change. As a result I’m better able to communicate with gentleness and graciousness.

I realize that such an approach makes for a radical departure from our natural way of doing things, but we are not called to be a natural people. I think that the divorce rate among professing Christians would drop dramatically if we took a more supernatural approach that welcomes and invites God to work in our circumstances.

If we would only be willing to first search our own hearts and humble them before God, we will find our interpersonal relationships to be much richer and far longer lasting.

One other tip–when you fast and pray about a relationship conflict, you may want to eat before talking with the person.

Dark Ages or New Day?

Castle Photo by: Misterzee*

Demosthenes, the famous Greek orator once wisely stated, “Nothing is so easy as to deceive oneself; for what we wish, we readily believe.” Demosthenes understood something about the essence of human nature!

Quite frankly I am amazed by our ability to rationalize our judgmental attitudes toward other Christians—especially those foolish enough to remain outside of our own elite organizations. Of course, we expend a lot of effort critiquing our own pastors, lay leaders and church members (doesn’t God expect us to keep them all in line?), but at the end of the day it’s difficult to understand why other Christians would fail to see the wisdom of joining our church. After all, we’re there so it must obviously be God’s anointed fellowship!

Jesus clearly stated, “Every kingdom divided against itself is destroyed, and no town or house divided against itself will stand” Matthew 12:25 (NET).

The kingdom of light is at war with the kingdom of darkness—and it must be absolutely clear—we will not win the battle for our culture if we have darkness in our hearts toward our brothers and sisters in Christ. We can rant and rave all we want about how all of those unsaved people are destroying our society, but the truth is that we will never significantly impact their behavior until we are united as the body of Christ.

Many pastors and church leaders have used the Matthew 12:25 passage to help preserve unity within their own churches or denominations—and, of course, the application is appropriate. But the broader context of this passage speaks of unity in the kingdom of God—an application that we often miss.

To equate one’s own ministry, church or denomination with the kingdom of God is a HUGE mistake! The kingdom is far greater than any one of these entities. In fact, a primary reason for disunity (and the church’s lack of influence in our society) is that we are too busy building our own feudal kingdoms. Can we say Dark Ages?

Most church leaders bristle when they see selfishness at work in the lives of those within their own congregations. Not many pastors would be pleased to see church members redirect tithe money toward family vacations! As servants of Christ, we expect them to look beyond their own households and give a portion of their finances, time and energy to the church. After all, it’s the Christian thing to do.

My question is this: Do we employ the art of self-deception by practicing selfishness with regards to our church or denomination? Are we willing to give beyond our own church household in an effort to further the kingdom of God?

I know of a pastor whose church takes up a monthly offering for other churches in their community. They are breaking down walls and building bridges in an area that has been overrun by strife amongst professing Christians. Wouldn’t it be great if such kingdom mindedness was the norm in every community rather than the exception? Certainly a new day would dawn!

*  Misterzee – Creative Commons License 3.0: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Castle_Bodiam1_cz.jpg

The Pleasant Way to Remove Liquidy Pet Vomit?

Let’s face it, as any parent or pet owner would know—there is no pleasant way to clean up vomit! My son once had a dog that always managed to throw up on the carpet when I was the only one home. Because it was on the carpet I couldn’t wait for the boy to come home and clean up his dog’s mess. I had the privilege of experiencing first-hand the real life side of the timeless, treasured image of a boy and his dog.

With regard to romantic relationships, we now live in a time where we expect, and even demand, that our relationships always carry the happily ever after fairytale mystic. It begins with spending oodles of money on proms, then oodles more on the perfect wedding. Unfortunately, the day quickly comes when we are appalled by the stark realities of life.

All of this applies to our church relationships as well. For some reason we think that our interaction with other Christians is always going to be syrupy sweet; that other believers will never be self-absorbed or uncaring. How I remember the day that a man in the church cheated me when he sold me a defective shotgun for small game hunting! It took me a long time to work through that one. Such things should never happen amongst professing Christians—and yet they do.

We prefer to envision all of our church relationships as warm, fuzzy, Kumbaya campfire experiences. How quickly we forget how deep the extent of humanity’s brokenness runs! Even those who love God with all of their hearts will have unpleasant issues at work in their lives.

Do you enjoy a good steak? How about prime rib or filet mignon? Unless you are a vegan there’s nothing distasteful about enjoying a prime cut of meat in a nice restaurant. Purchasing the meat from a grocery store is a little more messy, but certainly still tolerable (especially when grilled!). Killing and butchering a cow, however, is a completely different issue. And yet we can’t have that delicious steak if somebody doesn’t go through the repulsive process of killing and cutting up the animal. There is simply no way around it.

So what’s my point? The fact that there may be unpalatable elements to our interpersonal relationships does not mean that everything is grossly out of whack. Ever since the fall of man, love and pain have been inseparable. The real problem is when we run from the unpleasant aspects of interpersonal relationships rather than seeking to effectively deal with them. In essence, nobody is going to come along and butcher the cow for you. We each need to be willing roll up our sleeves and get messy. It’s okay if the process is clumsy or awkward. Love will triumph in the end.

I realize that I may have offended some readers by using such a bloody analogy (pun intended), but it illustrates my point very well. We can be so enriched if we are willing to work through unpleasant relationship difficulties with honest hearts! Those who are unwilling just may find themselves starving for emotional nourishment.