Barn Cat People

Farm people know about barn cats. They are the cats which live in the barns around their farms. They are not exactly strays, and they are not really pets, either. The farm family gives some mild encouragement to the barn cats to stick around, and some mild toleration exists between the cats and the farm family.

The barn cats are not part of the family, though. They receive no care when they are sick or injured. They receive no protection from the foxes and coyotes that live on the fringes of the farm. They may receive some occasional scraps and friendly pets, but they pretty much need to find their own food and comfort among themselves. Moreover, the only protection they receive from the cold, rain and snow is whatever place in the big building that they manage to find. If they die, though, the farm family may give them a token burial.

The people who live around the fringes of our churches, especially the larger ones, are somewhat like barn cats. They become invisible after attending a few times, when the others get used to them. They swell the attendance statistics of the larger churches, and they become part of the pride of growth. They may come forward when there is an altar call if they realize a particular need, and they may attend some functions of the church. But they are not part of the family; they are at the edge of our lives, but they never enter our hearts.

During my time as a pastor I met with many of these people, spoke with them, and developed some kind of relationship with them. Often enough, they might attend and give some hearing to my preaching. But by and large, despite my pleadings to the members of my churches, they never became part of the family. They themselves became wary of some of the church members, just as a barn cat might become wary of a little boy that pulled his tail.

Barn cats do not always socialize completely to become docile pets. They seem to miss something of the human contact in their early days that seem to keep them from forming as strong bond with families that take them in as the cats who were part of the family from kittenhood. But for those who take them into their hearts, they are as much a part of the family as the ones who became part of the family when they were born into it.

Safe and Unsafe Churches

Characteristics of the Safe Church

Characteristics of the Unsafe Church

Personal information is kept personal and confidential, especially when it is part of a sinful habit or pattern for which a believer is seeking victory.

Personal information is shared inappropriately among others, often in a distorted and angry manner, and any sinful habits are fair game for conversation with uninvolved third parties.

The sins of one’s past are not kept in focus, but are treated with due discretion, as something which has been forgiven by Christ.

The sins of one’s past are shared freely behind one’s back by those who seek to inflate their own reputations at the expense of the reputation of a brother or sister in Christ.

Personal differences are pursued personally and privately, according to the scriptural pattern of correction and reproof (Galatians 6:1, Matthew 18:15-17).

Personal differences become the subject of increasing escalation as previously uninvolved third parties are involved.

Prayer requests are treated with reverence as requests to God above all for his solution, and are not shared beyond the number of believers necessary to seek him in faith in perservering prayer.

Prayer requests are treated as a way to spread personal news about others while trying to avoid the appearance of gossip.

The teaching and preaching ministry of the church is directed toward feeding the entire flock of God, toward the challenges that are facing the entire church.

The teaching and preaching ministry of the church becomes entangled in correcting the supposed problems of individual believers which are better pursued through personal discussion and correction.

A believer can be trust that no confidences will be broken in the sharing of his or her personal information before other believers through the preaching and teaching ministry of the church.

Unpleasant surprises occur when confidences are broken or when personal information is shared, often in a distorted and angry manner, in the preaching and teaching ministry of the church.

Believers do not monitor the attendance, participation and activities of others at the request of others.

Believers spy on and gossip about the attendance, participation and activities of other believers at the request of others.

The leaders of the church are those who meet the scriptural qualifications of leadership.

People who seek power over others and who do not meet the scriptural qualifications for church leadership seek leadership in the church, and others in the church, even those who know their true motives and character, cooperate with their campaigns for personal power.

The will of God in the Word of God under the Lordship of Christ is the ultimate aim and personal satisfaction of the leaders of the church and the believers in the church.

Personal prestige, preferences, grudges and prejudices are the hidden agenda behind much pseudo-spiritual posturing.

Ministry positions are filled according to spiritual gifts, according to the personal and prayerful sense of call and equipment of each believer, yet with reverent corroboration by others in the body of Christ. Each position is approached with the faith that God has

Recruitment for positions is by social pressure and guilt trips for anyone who may seem to be available, and a refusal upon the basis of no sense of call means simply more pressure. Immediate acceptance of the responsibility is expected, with no allowance for someone to pray about the responsibility before accepting it.

The entire body of Christ ministers to the needs of all believers in the body of Christ, and they are there for each other in the major crises of life with care, comfort and prayer.

Some believers are neglected in normal ministries of the body of Christ even in the major crises of life, and the reasons are generally that someone does not like them, or that someone disagrees with some choice that they made in the past which is blamed for their present crises.

Loving Honesty and Mercy: There is an atmosphere of loving honesty and humble realization that past sins are forgiven through Christ. Sins are covered by the blood of Christ and the love of believers in Christ.

There is an atmosphere of undue suspicion of others and proud secrecy about past sins. Sins are covered by human deceit.

Christlikeness: Conformity to the will of God in the Word of God and to the character of Christ is the mark of spiritual safety and maturity.

External Legalism:Conformity to a series of external rules and regulations is the mark of spiritual safety and maturity — until you break one even inadvertently.

Church Detox Installment 8: Clarify the ‘Altar Call’

Many times, at the conclusion of a sermon, a pastor will offer the invitation to those who are seeking spiritual help for a problem to come forward and pray in the front of the church. Many times people do sincerely come forward to repent of their sins and to put their faith in Christ. Many times also someone else who has been a believer comes forward to make a more thorough commitment of his or her life to Christ, or to seek God’s forgiveness and overcoming power for a sin which weighs greatly on his or her conscience.

Sometimes, though, there are those who come forward, with often with a very emotionally demonstrative show of tears, who do not seem to show any changes in their lives. I have talked with those in my ministry who seemed to show little evidence of conversion, who were living lives in direct contradiction to the commands of Christ, and who had a very unBiblical understanding of the gospel, who nevertheless believed that they were going to heaven because they had gone forward and repeated a prayer. I have also seen those throughout my Christian experience who seem to go forward often enough, and do not show that they have changed their ways afterward.

After long thought and prayer, I came to the conclusion that, for some, the act of going forward is itself treated as the way of conversion or the answer in itself to a spiritual problem. Even more, I saw that there were times that it could be abused by some people as a way to take the heat off themselves as a show of remorse before someone whose disapproval they were seeking to escape. The result is that many people are living in a false assurance of salvation or that others are failing to find true relief in Christ for their sins and weaknesses.

The answer to this comes back the pastors who offer the invitation to people to come forward. Do you make it clear what the Bible really calls for?

Suggestions to Improve the Situation

  • Avoid calling anyone forward without a clear and scriptural explanation of repentance and faith in Christ, how to receive his forgiveness and overcoming power and the cost of discipleship. These are all the scriptural responses, and the altar call means anything only when it means genuine repentance and faith in Christ and commitment to him as Lord.

  • Regularly remind everyone that the act of coming forward itself is not the basis of assurance of salvation. The key question for anyone is not whether he or she has gone forward in a church service and repeated a prayer but whether he or she has repented of his or her sins and put his or her faith in Christ.

  • Regularly remind everyone that the front of the church is not a special place in itself in the eyes of God. A person can come to Christ or find his forgiveness and overcoming power sitting in a pew in back of the church, or anywhere else in the world, just as well as at the front of the church.

  • Remind everyone regularly that the act of coming forward itself should never be done for a show of remorse or change before anyone, and that these acts of show before man are in fact offensive before God. Anyone who comes forward who does not intend to end any thoughts, acts, intentions or habits of sin is acting the part of the hypocrite.

  • Regularly remind everyone that the reality of receiving from Christ comes from the reality of the grace of God and the reality of one’s faith in Christ, not how emotionally demonstrative a person is. Some of the most genuine conversions I know of came through calm and unemotional but deep and serious expressions of faith in Christ.

  • Have some sort of more thorough followup for people who are coming forward to seek overcoming of a sinful habit. An invitation to a session where they could go through Neil Anderson’s Steps to Freedom in Christ is a good possibility. Another possibility is to emphasize that the proper followup to this step would be Christian counseling, a Christian Twelve Steps group, or some other discipleship or accountability group or partner.

Rebuild the Bridges

Malicious gossip and backbiting are the weapon of choice for many professed believers in the modern church. Sometimes it seems like a person can hardly spend any time in a church today without becoming a recipient of malicious gossip or backbiting about another person at one time or another. This distorted, unfair and often untrue view of another person not only damages that person’s reputation and fellowship within the church, but it often taints and pollutes previously beneficial relationships among the believers. When this happens, and it becomes clear that a lie has been told and accepted, there is the need to rebuild the bridges. Unfortunately, genuinely conscientious believers are often not very good at doing this. Here are some ways to rebuild the bridges to someone who has been hurt by rumor and gossip within a church.

Understand that accepting and participating in a campaign of malicious gossip definitely puts you in a place of spiritual danger.

Here are the ways in which it is dangerous:

  • It gives Satan, the Father of lies, access to one’s heart through believing a lie, and not holding to the truth (John 6:44, II Thessalonians 2:10-11).
  • It means that the professed believer in Christ is now doing the work of Satan in being an ‘accuser of the brethren’ (Revelation 12:10).
  • It is an action not of Christlike love but of hate, and means that the professed believer is living under deception, with a internal stumbling block (I John 2:9-11).
  • It is an action for which each participant will give account personally to Jesus Christ (II Corinthians 5:10).
  • It is SIN, and distances you from God (I John 1:8, 10).
  • It pollutes the unity of the body of Christ (Ephesians 4:1-3).


This participation can in fact become a spiritual stronghold of demonic influence in the life of both the original perpetrator and each one who receives the same lies.

Repent Before God of Accepting Evil Words Without Question or Contradiction.

The first task is to get one’s own heart right before God. Rebuilding the bridges is not something to be approached with one’s own wisdom, power and compassion. Rather, it calls for the exhibition of the Christlike fruit of the Spirit, and this calls for humbling oneself before God before anything else. Understand also that scripture holds the recipient of gossip as being as wicked and deceptive as the person who spreads it: “A wicked man listens to evil lips; a liar pays attention to a malicious tongue” (Proverbs 17:4). It calls for confession before God of this sin of listening to evil words and receiving, believing and often passing on to others a lie.

Pray for Restoration to Christlike Love Through the Holy Spirit

Pray that God will give a forgiving heart for the other person. Whether you are certain of a merciful reception on or, have the moral courage to seek forgiveness by yourself even if no other participant comes forward.

Pray for Wisdom for Restoration

“An offended brother is more unyielding than a fortified city . . . “ (Proverbs 18:19). Scripture rightly describes the offended brother as someone who has his heart barred and shut against easy reconciliation. Understand that there is no glib pat answer that will heal and restore this situation. Wisdom from God is necessary to know how to approach this situation. Take hold of his promise to provide wisdom for the asking (James 1:5).

Take Personal Responsibility to Restore the Relationship

Dash any thoughts of trying to preserve your own reputation, since that is not is what is at stake. Rather the issue is living with integrity before God and man, and the goal is to make the reputation reflect real and not counterfeit integrity. Rather make your goal to follow Christlike love according to I Corinthians 13, and take personal responsibility to restore the relationship.

Initiate a process of spiritual discipline of the person who instigated the campaign of malicious gossip, if this has not already begun.

This may call for more spiritual courage and fortitude than you might normally exercise. The initiator of these campaigns often turns to tactics of either fear and intimidation, or feigned victimhood, or vicious and lying counterattacks when exposed and confronted. Nevertheless, the fear of man must not be what guides the believer here, but the commitment to follow the will of God according to the scriptures. Here are the basic principles of scripture to guide this process.

  • Recognize that according to the scriptures, the person sponsoring the campaign of malicious gossip has the real spiritual problem.“A perverse man stirs up dissension, and a gossip separates close friends” . . . (Proverbs 16:28).


  • Follow the scriptural pattern of Matthew 18:15-17 and Galatians 6:1 in partnership with the scripturally designated leaders of your church — those who fulfill the scriptural qualifications of elders and who have accepted the spiritual responsibilities of eldership.


  • Recognize that the goal of spiritual discipline is the restoration of the wayward believer to a closer, more obedient walk with God (James 5:19-20).


Offer simple, gentle expressions of regret, remorse or compassion

One of the worst things to do is to offer exaggerated expressions of regret, remorse or compassion for the brother or sister who has been wounded by rumor and gossip. This may not even be verbal, but an exaggerated concern, and often this seems to be more from a desire to preserve a reputation than to heal a wounded relationship and a wounded brother or sister. Sometimes, the reaction can almost be a kind of ‘love bombing.’ Unfortunately, overly nice seems very insincere and untrustworthy to a wounded brother or sister. Moreover, false and unfulfilled promises of making it up are do not actually heal the relationship. Gently offer the simplest apologies without excuses.

Encourage the Wounded Brother or Sister According to the Truth

If the wounded brother or sister is aware of what has been said, take care to contradict the lies, the false and exaggerated gossip and backbiting you have heard. But do it with grace and encouragement — otherwise this could be simply the source of deeper wounding.

Never minimize the reality of the sin or of the pain of the target. Never attempt to talk the wounded brother or sister out of his or her pain at the smear campaign which has erupted against him or her. There is no persuasion which can ever deny the reality of this kind of pain. Never deny that gossip is not ultimately malicious or destructive, or claim that you had ‘good intentions.’ Rather, genuinely good intentions would have resulted in more Christlike conduct, and not attempts to squirm out of having been caught in a lie.

Take the Lessons Forward in Your Own Life

Any fall or failure in the Christian life is a lesson to be learned for the future in following Christ. The first lesson to be taken forward is a fresh recognition of one’s own faults and vulnerabilities. Each sin and mistake is a reminder of the need of the believer to abide in Christ (John 15:1-17) moment by moment. Moreover, it means developing a truly Christlike forgiveness and patience with others. It removes the personal pride that is the basis of the foolish gloating, giddiness and glee over the faults and vulnerabilities of another person.

Another lesson to be taken forward is to become truly a peacemaker among your brothers and sisters in church. This is the opportunity for obedience that was missed through disobedience in listening to and passing on gossip and backbiting! In each of these situations, God has given you a very precious opportunity to show the reality of your relationship to him in this way: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God” (Matthew 5:9).

Still one more lesson is to refuse to have anything to do with these kinds of dark plots and sinister campaigns. The Word of God is plain on the correct reaction of the believer: refuse and correct (Ephesians 5:11).

Take care to avoid absorbing the behavior or excuses of the ringleader.

If you were personally close to the person who instigated the gossip, then take responsibility before God for any patterns of behavior that you may have picked up from that person. The tendency is to believe that person’s self presentation and then to pick up the excuses and follow the behavior of that person — but rather there needs to be an understanding that, “A malicious man disguises himself with his lips . . . “ (Proverbs 26:24).

Here are the excuses:

  • The deception to yourself and others of “I/we really had good intentions.”First, this is a denial of the basic sinfulness of the human heart. A professed Christian may attempt to use this to excuse sinful actions, but the apostle John rightly exposed this as self deception and a slander against God for his adjudication of human sin: ” If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us . . . If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives” (I John 1:8, 10).

    Claims of good intentions do not whitewash malicious, harmful or negligent actions! The source of the lying tongue is the hateful heart.

    “A lying tongue hates those it hurts . . . “(Proverbs 26:28)


  • The deception to yourself and others that, “We were not really serious; it was only a joke.”“Like a madman shooting firebrands or deadly arrows
    is a man who deceives his neighbor and says, “I was only joking!” 
    (Proverbs 26:17).

“A man who lacks judgment derides his neighbor . . .” (Proverbs 10:12).

  • “He/She/They are crazy”The allegation of mental illness by a person eminently unqualified to offer any such diagnosis is often part of the campaign of vicious gossip against someone else. Since being the target of this kind of deception and rejection can lead to great personal heartbreak, the symptoms of the heartbroken victim are often cited by the perpetrators as evidence of the supposed mental illness of the target. The perpetrators are themselves more and more being recognized even by secular psychiatrists as the ones who have the real problem. (See George K. Simon, In Sheep’s Clothing: Understanding and Dealing with Manipulative People, for the groundbreaking work in this field. The evangelical authors of Boundaries, Henry Cloud and John Townsend, often show some influence from this work.)


  • “There’s a grain of truth in what was said.”That ‘grain of truth’ is often so covered with embellishments and fabrications that it ceased to have any value as truth. Moreover, the real significance of any ‘grain of truth’ practically never bears any resemblance to the purported significance. So, the grain of truth does not whitewash the mountain of lies!

Work to establish your church as The Gossip Free Zone

Answer stories about another with these questions — or ask them of yourself before you say anything (based on Neil Anderson and Charles Mylander, Setting Your Church Free):

  1. What is your reason for telling anyone/me this?
  2. Where did I/you get your information?
  3. Have you gone directly to the source?
  4. Have you personally checked out all the facts?
  5. Will you allow yourself to be quoted on this?

All scripture references taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION, copyright 1973, 1978 by the International Bible Society and used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.

Church Detox Installment 6: Follow Godly Recruitment Methods

Over the many years that I’ve been involved in various churches, I’ve noticed that one of the major concerns is recruiting qualified and willing people to serve in various church ministries such as teaching Sunday School and singing in the choir. When I’ve been in attendance at a church where I’m not serving as a pastor, there have been a number of times that others have tried to recruit me for various ministries such as these. While it can be difficult I’ve often felt that there were a number of times that the approaches to recruit me were misguided, to say the least.

Often people who serve become more like cogs in a religious machine, and the additional pressure of feeling pressured or coerced. Nor should anyone feel trapped in a ministry commitment if he or she is sensing God leading him or her somewhere else. Ministry in the church of Jesus Christ is not like fulfilling a position in an earthly club or being part of a religious show, but rather it is service in the power of the Holy Spirit, and calls for the servanthood attitude of Christ.


  • Make each ministry position which needs someone a matter of united prayer by the leaders. Trust that God will provide the right people for a ministry that he wants done!

  • Avoid any kind of high pressure, heavy handed, disrespectful or interfering statements or actions when attempting to recruit someone to serve in a ministry position.

  • Be sensitive to the many demands and the complexity of the lives of others when approaching them about a possible ministry in the church.

  • Seek to staff positions based on the awareness of God’s leading. Allow others time always to pray and think about ministry involvement.

  • Seek to staff positions based on spiritual gifts since these are signs of God’s provision of the ability to fulfill the position.

  • Let people leave a ministry position gracefully, without malicious snipes, guilt trips, tormenting them, or blackening their reputations.

  • Allow those who are serving who may simply want some time away that time away to recharge themselves spiritually or to attend to personal and family needs.

  • Seek to help anyone who has been serving improve and make the best use of his or her gifts and abilities.

  • Seek to have appreciation regularly given both publicly and privately to those who serve in ministry positions.

  • Keep people always aware of the spiritual qualifications for church leadership from the scriptures. Many positions really need those who have elder, deacon or deaconess qualifications — even if not specifically elected or designated for those positions.

Church Detox Installment 4: Deal Forthrightly with the Hidden Abuse in the Modern Church

Over the years, I’ve become convinced that there is hidden violence and abuse among the men and women who attend our churches. Often we begin to hear about what takes place in counselling rooms, divorce proceedings, and sometimes even murder investigations. After September 11, as I was reading my Bible, what God actually had to say about violence and abuse seemed to leap out at me more. I was also surprised at how little I had heard about the sinfulness of verbal, emotional and physical abuse in the preaching and teaching ministry of the church over the many years I’ve been a part of the church. I also became ashamed of how many sermons I myself had preached that had not mentioned these kinds of sins. Here are the thoughts that came to me on what seem to be the scriptural responsibilities of the church to deal with this often hidden behavior.

  • Set forth the scriptural teaching about violence and abuse in the preaching and teaching ministry of the church, and call for clear repentance. The most powerful prevention of violence and abuse among professing Christians is for hearts to be cleansed of violent and abusive tendencies through the power of Christ.

  • Make it clear that abuse is not restricted to physical violence but also includes verbal and emotional abuse (ridicule and scorn), the denigration aimed to control or crush the intended victim totally.

  • Make the church a safe place for repentant abusers, and an uncomfortable place for the stubbornly unrepentant.

  • Make clear the resources of the church which are available to help repentant abusers.

  • Deal with bullying of others in the programs for children and youth; abusive adults often start out as bullying children and adolescents.

  • Make the danger signs of a potentially or actually abusive person clear, and incorporate them in youth, college and singles teaching and premarital counselling. The church can prevent many potentially or actually abusive relationships by making it clear what constitutes this kind of person and relationship in the earliest stages.

  • Make it clear that a workplace or other family situation can be an abusive situation as well as a marital or dating relationship.

  • Avoid anything that blames the victims or targets of abuse for their situation. Not all are always 100% innocent, but it is true that many, if not most, do absolutely nothing to bring the abuse upon themselves. Rather, they most often are dealing with an angry, hateful and violent person.

  • Avoid giving the expectation that it is the will of God for a person to remain in an abusive situation. God hates violence as well as divorce.

  • Develop a church policy with the board of elders for church discipline of unrepentant abusers and for the restoration of repentant abusers.

  • Develop a denominational policy for church discipline of unrepentant abusers and for the restoration of repentant abusers among pastors and other church leaders. Titus 1:7 makes it clear that violence, quick temper and domineering, aggressive ways of dealing with others are a disqualification for a position which involves elder authority.

Here are the steps that I would set forth for someone as the way to become a Former Bully and Abuser.

  • Understand that you will stand before God and answer for every word and action in your life.
  • Understand that no religious activity, claims of good intentions or temporary shows of nice and charming behavior will ever make up for your destructive behavior or stubborn, violent and unrepentant heart.

  • Understand that the profession of Jesus Christ as Savior carries with it the obligation to follow Christ as Lord in thought, intention and deed.

  • Abandon any obsessions that you can control yourself and others by your own cleverness, cunning, deceit, strength or persistence or any permissions you have given yourself or rights you have claimed for yourself to control others by deceit and violence.

  • Abandon your longstanding grudges, wicked schemes and personal vendettas against those who have avoided, resisted or exposed your attempts at control and personal sabotage, and release others from your unreasonable expectations.

  • Abandon verbal abuse and manipulation, emotional abuse and manipulation, and physical violence as any way to achieve your ambitions and desires.

  • Take personal responsibility for the pain and destruction you have caused to others through your wicked schemes, verbal abuse and manipulation, emotional abuse and manipulation, and physical violence.

  • Demonstrate truthfulness and trustworthiness rather than demanding trust and making false claims of truthfulness and good intentions.

  • Look at yourself with a new and scriptural view of yourself as a sinner who has fallen short of the glory of God with no special privileges before God or man.

  • Take up a new way of Christlike humility and servanthood, and place no obstacles in the way of anyone else seeking to follow Christ.

  • Take up a new way of peacemaking rather than instigation.

  • Take up legitimate scriptural goals and ambitions.

  • Seek to fulfill your legitimate scriptural goals and ambitions through personal skill, diligence and effort with prayerful reliance on God.

“He who covers his sins shall not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them shall find forgiveness” (Proverbs 29:13).

All scripture references taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION, copyright 1973, 1978 by the International Bible Society and used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.

Church Detox Installment 3: Care First

This is the third installment in a series of posts on how to make our evangelical churches more Christlike and therefore glorifying to God. Over the years, I’ve met with people who gave up on the church when they were left out in a time of personal crisis. I myself experienced a personal crisis, and from this I came to the conclusion that God’s call for us in these times is to Care First.

On June 17, 2002 I experienced the devastation of my apartment building due to a fire set by an arsonist. In more recent days, the USA experienced a disaster with the hurricane Katrina left many victims homeless. Throughout our lives, there may be many others who find themselves in personal crisis, disaster or catastrophe:

  • The single person who’s going through a romantic breakup

  • The person experiencing rejection by a friend

  • The adult receiving shocking news of a deserting spouse

  • The person and family experiencing the death in the family or among their friends

  • The person or family going through job loss

  • THe person or family loss of dwelling

Each of these people and families will need to start a recovery and rebuilding process in their lives. At these times their fellow believers need to take care that their words and actions are a help and demonstrate the wise love of Christ. Otherwise they can, through senseless words and actions, become an annoyance at best,or a hindrance or even a stumblingblock. My view is that the call for Christlike love calls each believer to Care First.

  • Ask for Information to Find Where the Need and the Pain Is

    The wrong reactions are to ask for information out of curiosity or even, more perversely, to be looking for something to correct or criticize.

    The call of scripture is for believers to care and love whether someone has made mistakes or acted contrary to wisdom or their expectations. There is no ‘escape clause’ for any believer to think, say or act in a way that implies that he or she can withhold the love and compassion of Christ from a fellow believer who is hurting because that believer may have made some contribution to his or her troubles through their own mistakes, lack of wisdom, or choosing not to follow someone else’s advice.

    I personally found that the most common question that I had from anyone after the fire in my apartment building was, “Did you have insurance?” In my life, I’ve made the personal choice to err on the side of honesty and candor, and answered the question this way: “No, but I have sufficient personal funds to take care of my personal losses.” And indeed my personal needs in those times were not financial, but for others to offer a brief word of sympathy at the least. A more pointed answer would have been, “Why do you ask? So what if I did or didn’t? Do we trust God in the time of emergencies? Do we refuse to pray with and and care for those who are going through a hard time because of a technicality?”

  • Allow Others to Hurt and Recover in God’s Time

    The worst speech to give a person in the process of recovery and rebuilding is the ‘get over it’ speech. In fact, that’s pretty much what the person is actually trying to do. That person will get back to normal life and work eventually. But in the meantime, there is still the need to deal with the shock, the hurt, the pain, the losses, and to adjust to the often radical changes that are necessary. This simply cannot happen according to the timetable of another person. The person working his or her way out of a personal catastrophe or crisis will often be in shock, living moment by moment for a while during the early stages of the rebuilding process. These kinds of speeches are simply cruelty to someone in that situation.

  • Open Your Heart

    Let words of caring and compassion come from your heart. A person in crisis does not need any grandiose, solves everything answers — and you probably don’t have the wisdom or insight to offer them. Offer a brief word of sympathy — “I’m sorry to hear about that” or “I’m sorry that that happened to you.” A brief prayer of faith, hope and encouragement is also often welcome if the other person is comfortable with that at the moment.

  • Open Your Arms

    Sometimes a person in crisis needs a physical demonstration of caring. Provide a hug of comfort and be a caring presence. Note that Jesus often gave his touch to those in need of physical healing, and these were often the most physically repulsive. Be the arms of Jesus in that situation.

  • Open Your Home

    Sometimes those in personal crisis or catastrophe need a place to stay. Be ready to provide temporary housing for those in need, and treat that person as an honored guest. Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it (Hebrews 13:2).

  • Open Your Hands

    The process of recovery and rebuilding from a crisis may have many small tasks, and the number of tasks may seem overwhelming to one person. Be ready help with these tasks of rebuilding. Be careful, though, not to jump to conclusions about what another person may need. Show up with a helping hand, ask what needs to be done, offer to help with whatever you can. Great skills and deep insights are not what is often needed, but more often simply the heart and availability of someone who is willing to be serve for the sake of Jesus.

  • Open Your Wallet

    Although many people in personal crisis do not need money, some do need financial help from their brothers and sisters in Christ. Give sensibly, and avoid seeing this as an opportunity to unload secondhand junk.

All scripture references taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION, copyright 1973, 1978 by the International Bible Society and used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.