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Posts Tagged ‘burning bridges’

Rick Warren tweeted the following a couple nights ago: “God sometimes removes a person from your life for your protection.  Don’t run after them.”

I can certainly envision scenarios where Rick’s advice is warranted.

We’ve all had toxic co-workers leave our workplace and ask if they could keep in touch with us … but after exchanging email addresses, we never write.

And we’ve all had neighbors that we waved goodbye to as they left the neighborhood … while thanking God they’re out of our lives.

But what about fellow Christians?  Is it ever appropriate to burn bridges with another believer?

Rick’s tweet doesn’t distinguish between unbelievers/believers.  I’m not sure what kind of person he had in mind, but I believe his counsel is sound.

And yet some of us … especially those of us who are sensitive … wish we could get along with everybody.

Sometimes God removes people from our lives … and we’re glad.

In my first pastorate, a board member continually became angry about some things I did or said.  One time, he walked out of a class I was teaching and slammed the door.  Another time, he called me at home to criticize me for something innocuous I had written in the church newsletter.  He could be a teddy bear or a momma bear … and I never knew which he’d be.

Since he was 34 years older than me, I tried placating him, but it never worked … for long.

And then one day, he was directly involved in leading 20 people out of our church … hoping he’d become their new pastor.

When he left, I didn’t run after him.  I never saw him again until I attended his funeral several years later.

And I never felt bad that our relationship was over.

Because with him and his crew out of the way, our church was free to take ministry risks we couldn’t have taken had he been around.

God removed him from my life … first when he left the church, and finally when he died.

And I felt a great sense of relief.

Sometimes God removes people from our lives … and we’re sad.

I once had a friend who was a pastor in a nearby church.  We got along so well that we began having breakfast together every week.  I felt like I could tell him anything.

Through a series of circumstances, we both ended up as candidates for the same church job.  I didn’t want the job, but it was offered to me, forcing him to take a church position hundreds of miles away.

No matter how much I protested that it wasn’t a setup, he became convinced that the process wasn’t fair and that I should have found another ministry like he did.

While this incident happened 30 years ago, it still hurts to think about it.

The more we invest our lives in specific individuals, the more hopeful we become that our friendship will last forever.

But most friendships last only for a season … until one of us leaves a job, or moves away, or becomes interested in other things.

I never burned my bridges with my friend.  I hope we run into each other someday.

But God allowed that rift for some inexplicable reason … just like He let Paul and Barnabas sail away from each other in Acts 15.

Rick Warren is usually an upbeat, joyful person.  I’ve heard him speak many times, and although he can be serious, he rarely expresses sorrow.

But the only time I’ve seen him cry is when he started talking about the people who have left his church.

And when people leave a church, most pastors view their departure as a personal failure.

Sometimes God removes people from our lives … and we’re mad.

Sometimes we pastors drive people away from our church without knowing it.

In my rookie pastorate, I became incensed at some teaching I was hearing on the radio from a married couple.  One time, I named the heretics, quoted them – and then refuted them.

But because a deacon and his wife loved their teaching, they left the church soon afterwards.

From that experience, I learned to refute teaching without necessarily naming the teachers.

It’s one thing for God to remove people from our lives.

It’s another thing for us to burn the bridges ourselves.

Another time, a family who had been with the Jehovah’s Witnesses came to our church.  The wife eventually wanted to begin a ministry to JWs.  I was excited.

And then the family suddenly stopped coming to church.

One night, I went by their place and knocked on their door.  The husband emerged but didn’t want to talk to us.

They had left … for good.  I grieved their exodus for 2 weeks.

I later found out that a troubled woman had misrepresented our ministry to this family and that’s why they left.

And that angered me.

The truth is that we’ve all burned relational bridges with people over the years.

We burn bridges passively when we fail to call or email or visit someone we once knew well.

We burn bridges actively when we cut them off without their knowledge.  (Ever “unfriend” someone on Facebook?)

While it’s hard to make new friends if I hang onto all my old friends, there’s nothing better than hanging out with old friends.

Several months ago, my wife and I enjoyed dinner with my oldest friend and his wife.  We met when we were 10 years old.  I still remember the time and place.

He remembered incidents I had long forgotten … and I recalled people’s names he could no longer place.

We’ve been friends for 49 years.  I want to hang on to his friendship!

But I know others whom I once treasured.  Maybe they eventually moved away … or I did … and the friendship slowly fizzled.

And if we tried to resurrect our relationship, it might not be worth the effort.

We might say that time and distance burned our relational bridge.

18 years ago, I attended the 40th anniversary of the church where I first joined a church staff … and later met my wife.

It was a glorious night … seeing people I hadn’t seen for 20+ years.  We reminisced and laughed and cried.  I didn’t want to leave.

But after I did, I’ve hardly seen any of those people since.

That’s what heaven is for.

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