Apr 23, 2006

a long confession for today



Imagine that coming out of you in a public place as you share the word of God. Metaphorically speaking, this is what happened to me today.

How do you recover? Are you supposed to? Is the stink of what has exited your mouth in the form of careless words so thick and the image so repulsive that no one can ignore it?

Can God redeem and ransom such things?

Today I shared a message from Acts 1:8, specifically focusing on the Holy Spirit and who He longs to be in our lives. It was supposed to go something like this...

Imagine finally getting it – there’s Jesus in front of you, fully resurrected and having fully conquered eternal death on your behalf. What might that feel like?

Have you ever been so geeked? So excited? On an everyday level…

It’s when you’re done with your road test and written exam, head over to the camera at the DMV, and finally hold your driver’s license in all its glory – feeling completely ready and fully prepared to face the road.

It’s when you have that first kiss from that special someone and you float home on air, ready to call around to see which churches can get you in and marry you the next day.
The first service went over fine. Yet in the second service, though, I got on a roll with the word "special." That last part went more like this...

It’s when you have that first special date with that special someone, have a special time, then have that special awkward moment that you
have longed for to happen in a special way, causing you to lean in for that special kiss that makes you feel all nice and special as you dream of a special future and a special marriage with special kids... who go to school on the short bus... and then you have... a... special life... togeth...
It was about this point that I realized what I'd said. Somehow the word "special" had triggered in me a Freudian slip that created a derogatory comment about kids with special needs. Immediately, I apologized up and down, several times stating how sorry I was for such a rash statement. I didn't know what to do... I wanted to stop preaching because I had allowed a momentary slip of the tongue to ruin all credibility I may have had with someone in the congregation.

Granted, many people laughed it off. Perhaps 80-90% of the people chuckled.

Me? I got sick. Emotionally, that is.

And so I leaned into the Holy Spirit and asked, "What do I do?" All I knew is that I needed to keep on preaching, and so I did. It took a bit of effort on my part to find a stride again, but eventually I was able to put the focus back on the Scriptures.

At the end of service, I was heading down to the area where we meet and pray with people only to be quickly caught by a gentleman who introduced himself to me. In a very appropriate yet firm manner, he shared with me how my comment wounded, offended, and soured him from ever attending our services again. He shared how he has a son with autism who is "one of the kids who rides the short bus to school" and couldn't believe I would be so insensitive to the diversity that a church needs to have towards loving all people.

I couldn't have agreed more.

I apologized several times to him, stating that I knew there was nothing I could do to erase what I'd said. In fact, I didn't even try to justify it... I just let it wreck me in the way it needed to. While he mentioned he'd tuned out my message after my comment, he received my apology and shared he would choose to forgive me. Before leaving, he cautioned that I should be cautioned to be careful of such haphazard comments in ministry - especially "if I hope to start a new church."

Again, I couldn't have agreed more.

And so I slipped backstage... out of sight... and wept. No, I didn't just weep - I broke down and collapsed into tears. I suddenly thought of every special needs child or family in the church and how insensitive I had been to them through seven words... "who rides the short bus to school."

I mean, where did that come from? That was in me somewhere, and I flippantly said it the other night, too. Why? That's not even the attitude I have in my heart - the last time I ever thought that way was in junior high when my buddies and I used to try to make sense out of kids who were different by belittling them with jokes.

What triggers such stuff? Do I need more quiet times? Am I watching too much Comedy Central? Seriously - no joke... is there something in my life that is feeding that?

As I made my way back out, I noticed a gal sitting down with one of the other pastors. I joined the conversation because I felt like I should, even though I could hardly concentrate. She shared how she was struggling to forgive herself for something that happened a couple of years ago. I don't usually do this, but I shared with her what had happened to me that morning and how I was on the same page with her. We each prayed to receive God's forgiveness over our stuff, including forgiving ourselves. Amazingly she thanked God in her prayer for my mistake that morning, thanking the Lord that I am human after all.

Nice, huh?

It's about an hour and fifteen minute drive for me from Greenville (where the church is) to Holland (where I currently live). I couldn't listen to the radio, so I turned it off and tried to make sense of the morning. As I drove I found my body becoming ill... my stomach churning acid while my heart beat as thick as ever. I was torn between allowing God to use this in my growth while fighting the attack of satan trying to mess with me.

When I got home, I could barely stand and began to mull over how my comments may have caused someone to not only tune out from me to even tune out God.

Honestly, I may have gotten in the way of someone's salvation today.

That wrecks me... and it should.

Tomorrow I'll move on, get a nice theological perspective, and realize I was awfully hard on myself today. But today... I want this to wreck me. As my father-in-law put it, "Grow... use this to grow." That's what I want to do - this may have offended a few people today, but if it offends me perhaps it can proactively become a part of my future ministry in a judo-turn-it-around kind of way that only God can redeem.

The Holy Spirit spoke to me today as I tried to speak about Him. First on stage, then afterwards, and even later as I felt urged to call up everyone in the church with special needs children and simply apologize yet again. Everyone was gracious... and thankful for the extra call.

Me? I'm still very broken over this... and very raw.

Thanks for letting me confess.
"Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed." (James 5:16a)


Tom said...

" Create in me a pure heart, O God and renew a steadfast spirit within me."
(Ps 51:10)


stephanie said...

wow... thank you for that..

Sandra said...

May God continue to work in your heart and churn your stomach to be all He needs you to be. Thank you for your transparancy...
Bless you.

Tony Myles said...

You guys rock... thanks for helping me through this. I have to admit that today has been a bit easier but I'm still churning - physically and spirituall - and hoping to become more fully God's through this.

DJ said...

Tony keep in mind that while it was something you probably shouldn't have said that I also had a person come up to me and tell me to pray for you as you were getting confronted. She also said that you really hit her hard that day and that her life will change as a result of your message. Right or wrong people will pick apart everything we say as Pastors. I think the big issue is that we try to be so relational that it sometimes gets in the way, by that i mean that people who don't know us get easily offended. If they knew you they would know that you would never make fun of such kids, they would know you have friends who have a special needs child. But they don't know you and they did take it the wrong way. You did the right thing and apologized, if anyone leaves as a result of it then they probably would have left for the wrong reasons anyway. Keep doing what God has called you to do.....dj

Tony Myles said...

Wow, DJ... thanks for that. And thanks for praying with me and for me Sunday. You rock, bro.

Melissa said...

Mark Hall of Casting Crowns made a comment at their concert I attended last week that I can't get out of my head. He said, "the world doesn't care that Christians have problems. The world cares that they PRETEND like they don't." He is right and we have to be transparent and real and always, always, always bring our sins into God's redeeming light. Thanks for the honesty. I am glad to see another "human" Christian experiencing God's grace!

Tony Myles said...

Thanks... this has really become for me an education in greater empathy, not to mention some good time with God.

Anonymous said...

Good Evening. My name is Charles Elliott and I'm the gentleman who "confronted" Pastor Tony after the second service this past Sunday.

I first read this blog on Sunday evening, shortly after Pastor Tony posted it, when my girlfriend brought it to my attention. I read it three times to make sure I understood exactly what context Pastor Tony was conveying.

I came back to it tonight after I learned that Pastor Tony was trying to reach me. I read all the comments as well and do have to agree with most of them as well.

There are always two sides to every story and everyone is entitled to their opinion. I would like to take a moment and present my side please.

My son is 7, attends first grade here in Wyoming, and is a high-functioning autistic child. Autism is the fasted growing disease in the world today. Currently, 1 out of 166 children will be diagnosed with autism. There is no known cause for autism and there is no cure. It does not discriminate against anyone and shows no mercy to the lives it destroys.

I came to GCC as a visitor that Sunday. My girlfriend has raved about the people, the fellowship, but most of all the worship arts and drama ministries.

I also attend a Wesleyan church in Kentwood, where I serve God in our children's ministry and am currently developing a special needs ministry so that our special needs children can learn that Jesus loves them and help them develop their own relationship with Him.

Mat 19:14, "But Jesus said, Let the little ones come to me, and do not keep them away: for of such is the kingdom of heaven."

We currently have 12 families with special needs children, but no one "sees" them as special needs. We see them as the children Jesus has called for.

Now that I have given you a better picture of who I am, please allow me to express how Sunday's service affected me. I will not go into minute details, but I will say that I found the time of worshipping our Lord and Savior to be quite fulfilling and uplifting.

I remember Pastor Tony's "roll on the word special" quite well. I remember how I felt a knife had been driven into my heart and a sick feeling hit my stomach when I heard the senior pastor make such a hurtful and derogatory statement against an innocent child. Granted, he did not name a specific child, but did he really have to?

It's funny how people have selective hearing and/or memory when certain events occur. I do not remember Pastor Tony "apologizing up and down" nor the "several times stating how sorry I was for such a rash statement."

I also don't remember "Perhaps 80-90% of the people chuckled". As I recall, it was deathly quiet afterwards. Pastor Tony did take a few seconds to recollect himself, but then continued on.

I admit to everything that Pastor Tony stated in his blog about our conversation. I was offended, hurt, and insulted by his comment and I honestly cannot tell you one thing he said after I wounded.

I also conveyed to him that we are taught in Matthew that before we can give our sins to God, we must first ask for forgiveness from the one we sinned against (Mat 5:23-24). I told him that I forgave him and that I knew he made a mistake, but that I also had concerns as stated in the blog.

To respond to DJ: I was not picking apart what Pastor Tony was teaching. I was voicing as a Christian how upset I was that a man who is to be our teacher in the lessons taught by Jesus, had offended my family.

Also, I may not know Pastor Tony personally and as I said in the beginning, I was a visitor, but I was NOT the only person who voiced their complaint. I know that two REGULAR members and who do KNOW Pastor Tony personally expressed their pain and complaints to various members of your Board that morning. Are you saying that they took his insult the wrong way as well??

I congratulate him for defending him and his comments, but he admits to having made the same type of comment just a few days before in his blog AND you mention that he has friends with a special needs child. I cannot judge, only Our Heavenly Father can But I can choose not to attend a church where my family and I are made to feel pain for being "special" as opposed to being a special part of a church family that shows love.

For the record, Pastor Tony's comment is not the only reason I will not attend GCC again. When Pastor Louie was explaining the new Family Ministry, he made it sound as if leading the Children's Ministry was a burden to him, instead of a gift from God.

I truly wonder if your Board made the right decision in letting go the wrong pastor(s)?

Pastor Tony, thank you for allowing me to voice my opinion and concerns on your blog. I know you made a mistake and I know that you feel horrible over it. Please remember that the enemy will try to destroy us every time he gets the chance. When he does hurt us, God is there for us...He wraps His loving arms around us and hols us close and nutures our wounds as we heal. From those wounds, we become stronger in our relationship with Him. I wish you the best with your new church.

Your Friend in Christ,

Charles B. Elliott II

Tony Myles said...

Charles -

I don't know if you'll come back to read this but thanks for this post and for your willingness to dialogue here and on the phone. I appreciate your general affirmation of my retelling this and apologize if some of what I shared seemed contrary to your recollection of the events on Sunday morning.

As I mentioned, I was taken aback, too, and yet I kept on preaching even though it felt abnormal to do so... as you said tonight, stopping would have been the wrong thing to do. I remember apologizing at least two times, but the "up and down" phrase was a summation I stole from a few people I spoke with Sunday morning after we'd talked. They encouraged me to put it behind me since I'd "apologized up and down" in the moment. I wasn't sure apologizing was enough which I why I tried to track you down as well as any one else I may have hurt.

Nevertheless, one can never apologize too many times, so again... I'm sorry and thank you for your forgiveness.

Likewise, thanks for letting me share this story with others. I know it involves you and I appreciate you being willing to become an active part of the conversation. I know it's easy to defend ourselves in such times, but you have done an incredible thing for me in receiving my pursuit to chat further. Thanks for your redemptive friendship, and I hope to support you and your ministry as you have mentioned support of me and mine.



Jason said...

I believe this is the most relevent conversation I have ever read on a blog. I found myself reading the entire thread and am glad this came up here since I do not attend church with Tony.

This issue reminds me of possibly a more widespread problem in the evangelical faith today. And pardon me for making a lesson out of this transparent situation, but some of the stuff I hear from the pulpit in many evangelical churches today is completely hurtful to all sorts of people.

I have heard my friends who are gay, overweight, old fashioned, skinny, or blonde being made light of often. This "comfort" we all have with collegiate-like jargon has no place in the pulpit. It often takes a situation like the one mentioned here to leave a painful reminder that words hurt.

Of course we need to temper that with the fact we cannot control (or know) everyone's experience, as DJ stated, but Tony has crossed over to another side of this situation to compassion (or what some evangelicals wrongly label tolerance, spoken like a dirty word).

I, for one, am very proud that he posted here (as well as Charles Elliott, I am a Kentwood CC alumn too).

Your ministry Tony has just jumped to a new level, I would be honored to attend services with you, a broken, honest, and real pastor...

Jason of Colorado