The Perils of Misunderstandings
The General grabbed the phone and heard his aid report the grim news, "The Germans have launched an invasion against us." "OK," the General acknowledged. "Mobilize the defense and I’ll be over as soon as possible to take charge." As the General hung up the phone, he yelled out to his dinner guests, "I’m sorry folks, tonight’s party is over. Our base has just come under attack."
There was, however, no invasion. The flares that were dropping from the sky were not a prelude to a nighttime assault as originally thought. As it turned out, an American soldier was using the flare gun as a substitute for fireworks. It was July 4th and he figured the lonely and isolated base in the desert of Africa needed to celebrate. It never crossed his mind it would be mistaken as an invasion.
What started out as a celebration of Independence Day was misinterpreted. Granted, shooting off flares on a military base probably wasn’t the grandest of ideas. But, then again, my dad had always been a prankster. The thing which makes this whole situation comical (and probably explains some of the overreaction) is the fact it was a British base. The British don’t understand our obsession with fireworks on the 4th of July. They also don’t appreciate the fact that we still make such a big deal of becoming independent from British rule. As a result, they didn’t see the irony of the situation as humorous. Captain Bronson was transferred later that week.
There will always be misunderstandings. Sometimes we bring them on ourselves, sometimes they’re unavoidable. No matter who you are or what you do, there will always be times you will be misunderstood. Sometimes the consequences of misunderstandings are benign, other times they can be very traumatic and even deadly.
The reason I’m writing this chapter is twofold. First, many misunderstandings can be avoided simply by being more observant and exercising common sense. This is especially important when witnessing. It would be a pity to turn a person away from Christ because of an avoidable misunderstanding. Second, it is important to understand that even if you are faithfully following God’s leading, you still may become a victim of misunderstandings.
Sometimes seemingly innocent comments can be stumbling blocks in witnessing. Some friends and I from Bible School were going to a sporting event and asked a non-Christian friend to come along. We were hoping for an opportunity to share Christ with him. As we drove through a rich part of town, my friends made multiple comments about the vanity of the expensive homes. When we were ready to take our non-Christian friend home, he was reluctant to tell us where he lived. Finally, he said, "You know those homes you were condemning? That’s where I live." Talk about major blunders. I am happy to say these careless comments did not stop him from becoming a Christian.
In 1 Peter 5:8, God says Satan roams around like a roaring lion, seeking to devour us. Because of his pride, Satan lost his position as the most powerful created being. He is a very bitter and angry being who would love to take his revenge out on God. Although Satan cannot directly attack God, he can hurt God by attacking His children; the "apple of God’s eye." This, by itself, makes us a target. If, however, you are effective in your ministry, you’ll become even more of a target.
I was going door-to-door with a member of my church trying to find children interested in riding our bus to Sunday School. At one house the mother showed an intense interest. After sharing the gospel with her, she accepted Christ as her savior. She began to weep with joy and relief. Just then her husband called. Concerned, he asked why she was crying. She said, "Two men are here and..." That was all she was able to get out before he told her he was coming home immediately. She told us to leave right away to avoid the wrath of her husband. Follow-up calls revealed a very angry husband. To this day, I wonder how she is doing. Please pray for her.
Jon Hus was a gentle 14th century priest who was burned at the stakes because he refused to follow church tradition contrary to the Bible. The priests in his region despised him because his life and teaching exposed their sins and hypocrisies.
He earned the favor of the king and archbishop because he didn’t back down from the threats of the other priests. These men provided him with friendship and protection. Although the priests continually tried to turn these protectors against Hus, all of their schemes failed. Then one day, a lack of clear communication resulted in a misunderstanding and the wrath of his friend, the archbishop. The archbishop, feeling betrayed by his friend, Jon Hus, had him excommunicated. In reality, Jon had not betrayed the archbishop, it was simply a misunderstanding. Nevertheless, not only did Jon lose a protective friend, he gained an enemy who triggered events which eventually resulted in his death.
Misunderstandings are an effective way for Satan to attack a believer. The turmoil and frustration may be enough to cause him to quit his ministry. If Satan cannot destroy the Christian’s ministry, he will be happy if he can just discredit his testimony.
As mentioned earlier, some misunderstandings can be easily avoided. Male Christians, in particular, should be very careful to avoid the appearance of inappropriate behavior with females. The moral failures of prominent TV evangelists have shown the world that Christian leaders are very capable of immorality. If a person spreads a rumor that a Christian leader has committed adultery, the public, justifiably, may say, "Well, that possible. He wouldn’t be the first preacher to do it." For this very reason, Billy Graham has made it a policy never to meet with a female alone.
John Bunyon, the 17th century author of Pilgrim’s Progress and three dozen other books, fell victim to this type of misunderstanding. A church member asked John to take a young woman, Agnus Bomount, to a revival meeting. John refused because he said it would be inappropriate. After the person said, "Are you going to deny this girl the opportunity of hearing the gospel?" John reluctantly agreed to take her. They rode horseback together to the revival meeting. Shortly afterwards rumors began to fly. When her father died a sudden and premature death, accusations arose that they had poisoned him because he objected to their relationship. She was even charged with murder. Although she was acquitted, John’s effectiveness in that region was greatly diminished.
Normally we would expect non-Christians to be the primary source of most misunderstandings. However, Christians have also been guilty of deliberately lying about other Christians in order to discredit them. Many church splits bear witness of this.
Most Christians are familiar with the tragic story that inspired Horatio Spafford to pen the encouraging words to the song, It is Well with My Soul. Many Christians, however, are not aware of what happened to him in the following years. After the shipwreck that claimed the lives of his four children, friends at church secretly felt this calamity was a judgment of God for parental sins. I call this Job’s friends syndrome. The church, with a strong puritan background, viewed calamities the same way Job’s friends did; God does not punish the righteous.
A couple years later, after the birth of their son, little Horitio, they began to rebuild their lives. Then tragedy struck again. Seven years after the SS Ville du Harve disaster shattered their lives, their only son died of scarlet fever. Once again questions of parental sins were raised. A close family friend, disturbed that Spaffords would dare to question God, offered to adopt their only living child. The Spaffords were deeply hurt. Later, conflicts arose and the Spaffords were asked to leave the church. There’s a lot of truth in the phrase, "The Christian army is the only army that kills it's wounded."
Over the past few decades there have been several Christians leaders involved in what I call "Holy Wars." In his magazine, one leader will accuse another leader of being "liberal" because the doctrine of the second leader doesn’t completely line up with his. The second leader then retaliates in his own magazine. These wars continue for years. There was one leader who rose above this. Although he had been heavily condemned, I have never once seen him condemn his accusers in his magazine. God will be the judge of whether he deserved to be condemned. Nevertheless, I feel his response to the accusations has brought glory to God.
Some of the greatest Christian men and women in history were attacked more by Christians than by non-Christians. Although I would never dare to group myself with these dynamic people, I have run across similar problems. I was blessed at a previous job with the opportunity of leading two coworkers to Christ. This joyful experience quickly turned sour as a result of a fellow Christian coworker. He was jealous. He had invested a great deal of time witnessing to these people, but I was the one who got the "credit." A few things then happened. First, he tried to discredit me with the new converts. Second, he tried to get me fired. Third, he started to spread rumors among the local pastors that I was denying the inspiration of the Bible.
There was another occasion where something similar to this happened. A friend and I were working with youth in the community and the parents of one of the youth wanted to discredit us. They went to their pastor and asked to have us "investigated." Many of their "findings" were humorous while others were profoundly revolting. Besides "finding" us liberal, etc., they also concluded my friend and I were homosexual lovers. Things got so out of hand we decided to meet this problem head on. We approached the parents about this investigation. After initially denying there even was an investigation, they finally admitted they had initiated it. When we asked them to substantiate their conclusions, they recanted. I find it very troubling that Christian leaders would conduct themselves in such a manner.
I recently heard about a single female missionary who had been very successful in tribal work. Unfortunately, I don’t remember her name or mission board. Since this woman was very talented, the head of the mission said to her, "You have been blessed with two great qualities: Energy and creativity. Unfortunately, these great qualities combined together often produce misunderstandings and resentment among other believers. Make it a point to pray for patience and understanding." I think that is very sound advice.
What lessons do we learn from all of these examples? First, use common sense to avoid unnecessary trouble. Second, realize and accept the fact that at one time or another you will be misunderstood. This fact of life is unavoidable. Therefore, when it happens, be sure to fully commit it to God.
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