Dancing In The Dungeon

9781462734993_COVER.inddOne reason for a blog is to disseminate information. Thus, I have published a book titled: “Dancing In The Dungeon: Suffering With Hopeful Joy For God’s Glory.” It can be found on Amazon and Barnes & Noble as of this date. The Kindle edition should be available soon (God willing).

I wrote DITD first for my children to have a resource one day when life kicks them in the teeth… then for all my brothers and sisters in Christ to experience the God of comfort by considering how God comforted me in my trials (2 Cor 1:3-4). DITD is filled with practical ways God comforted me. It is written as one who’s walked a somewhat difficult path and found God faithful. DITD isn’t a philosophical treatise nor a bunch of ivory tower Bible studies about suffering. Three men who endorsed DITD say it better than I can…

Dr. Rick Lance (Executive Director of Alabama Baptists)

The problem of suffering has always haunted Christians. If you are a follower of Christ, why do you suffer? The answer to that age old question is not easy, but it may be obvious. Because we are followers of Christ, we experience suffering.

Ron Ethridge has transformed his story of dealing with suffering into a book which is a helpful guide for all of us. Dancing In The Dungeon is a personal story. Ron is very transparent in telling about those moments when he suffered most in life. He does so knowing that our God can use suffering for His glory. That is the theme of this book.

Dancing In The Dungeon is not only personal in nature, but Biblical in content and practical in application. As a fellow-sufferer, you find comfort and hope in the pages of this book. You will be encouraged to worship, pray and serve our Lord, even in the midst of suffering.

I am grateful that Ron Ethridge has shared his story and the redemptive lessons which can be learned from it. Experiences of suffering can be and should be a laboratory of learning for Christ followers.

Dr. Timothy George (Founding Dean of Beeson Divinity School of Samford University)

Ron Ethridge is an ordained Baptist minister whose past service in the church follows a well-trodden trajectory. Brought up in the church, followed by undergraduate studies in a denominational setting, and then seminary at a fine theological school, Ron was ready to pursue a life of pastoral ministry in fulfillment of what he was sure was God’s calling on his life. Then, midstream, Ron found himself on the outside of the church looking in when he was asked to leave two of the churches he had been called to serve. Rather than precipitate a knock-down floor fight at the church business meeting, Ron decided to walk away.

Ron admits that he himself made mistakes along the way and that, in hindsight, he would do some things quite differently. This book is not about victimhood or retaliation. Rather, it is the anguished cry of a wounded shepherd, one who has come to understand that healing only happens in the broken places. Through Redemption Ministry, Ron Ethridge is now reaching out to all who are hurting with an emphasis on fellow ministers who find themselves the situation of conflict, and possibly termination, on that part of God’s flock they have been called to serve. Ron wants to come alongside his fellow struggling pastors and hurting Christians to offer encouragement and counsel.

Dr. Ray Pritchard (Keep Believing Ministries; Author of: An Anchor for the Soul, The Healing Power of Forgiveness)

We all go through hard times. As Ron Ethridge wisely reminds us, no one gets a free ride through life. That certainly includes pastors who serve in vocational ministry. If that’s the bad news, then the good news is that God uses those hard times for our good and his glory. Dancing in the Dungeon takes us to the ragged edge of life to show us that when we feel most forgotten, God is doing his best work in us. Of all the good things about this book, the best is that Ron brings us back again and again to the Bible so that we will discover what God has said about the hard times of life. Read it so that you will be equipped when your time comes to dance in the dungeon.

Here are a few chapter titles:

What God Can Do. Reflection: One Night From Hell

A Theology Of Encouragement. Reflection: Satan’s Achilles Heel…Forgiveness

Why Me, Why This, Why Now? Reflection: The Problem Of God And Evil

When God Is Silent. Reflection: Before All Hell Breaks Loose

Comfort When Betrayed. Reflection: Enemies As Emissaries of God’s Grace

Comfort In Personal Failure. Reflection: Mind Over Heart

When Sheep Attack Shepherds.

How To Fire A Minister.

Blessings.

Last Post of “Ron’s Reflections”

RM Logo 500“Ron’s Reflections” has a new address: http://redemptionministry.org . Along with the new location will be a new blog name: Redemption Ministry. The address is: http://redemptionministry.org/blog/ . It can be accessed through the Redemption Ministry (RM) website or directly by the previous link.

My goal, desire, and prayer through God’s providence in my life and ministry (My unique experiences as pastor) is to “Comfort others with the comfort by which I have been comforted by God” (2 Cor 1:3-7). I’m asking God to help me find hurting, wounded, and struggling ministers so I can (If He so allows) help them through the unique trials ministers face. Here are a few of the resources from Redemption Ministry…

You are not alone.” Testimonies given to RM from Junior Hill, Rick Lance, Mike McLemore and others with more to come (GW).

Healing For Hurting Ministers.” This is a process I’ve relied on for years during my difficult times as a pastor (Minister Resources).

Helping Staff Reconcile.” For when there are problems between staff at a church (Church Resources).

How you can pray if you are so led…

For God to be glorified through Redemption Ministry,

For God to “make the connections” with ministers and churches to encourage and help as He wills,

For a project I’m working on titled, “Dancing In The Dungeon.”

I close this blog address with “I Asked The Lord That I Might Grow

True…

How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord, Is laid for your faith in His excellent word! What more can He say than to you He hath said— To you who for refuge to Jesus have fled?

“Fear not, I am with thee, oh, be not dismayed, For I am thy God, and will still give thee aid; I’ll strengthen thee, help thee, and cause thee to stand, Upheld by My righteous, omnipotent hand.

“When through fiery trials thy pathway shall lie, My grace, all-sufficient, shall be thy supply; The flame shall not harm thee; I only design Thy dross to consume and thy gold to refine.

“The soul that on Jesus doth lean for repose, I will not, I will not, desert to his foes; That soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake, I’ll never, no never, no never forsake. That soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake, I’ll never, no never, no never forsake.”

God, Where Are You??

DrRvrBdI’m troubled most when God is quiet. When living water seems to have dried up. Consider Psalm 77:7-9…

Will the Lord spurn forever, & never again be favorable? 8 Has His steadfast love forever ceased? Are His promises at an end for all time? 9 Has God forgotten to be gracious? Has He in anger shut up His compassion?

When God is silent I get anxious. I start questioning… wondering and wandering… my mind tends toward discouragement. I identify with the uncertainties of what is written in the Scripture above. What about you?

Intellectually I know God is omnipresent. It’s the personal sensed favorable presence of God I/we need. We are like the little kid scared by thunder at night who crawls into bed with his mom and dad for safety. God’s “stuff” (Material blessings) mean nothing in comparison to His felt presence. Houses, land, money, and men’s recognition is crap compared to everything this world offers (Don’t get offended, Paul said it first in Phil 3:8. “Rubbish” is better translated “barnyard dung.”).

Therefore there are other Scriptures I go to which answer Psalm 77’s questions…

You who have made me see many troubles & calamities will revive me again; from the depths of the earth you will bring me up again. 21 You will increase my greatness & comfort me again. Ps 71:20-21

You have kept count of my tossings; put my tears in Your bottle. Are they not in Your book? 9 Then my enemies will turn back in the day when I call. This I know, that God is for me. 10 In God, whose word I praise, in the Lord, whose word I praise, 11 in God I trust; I shall not be afraid. What can man do to me? Ps 56:8-11

For God alone my soul waits in silence; from Him comes my salvation. 2 He only is my rock & my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be greatly shaken. Ps 62:1-2

You (God) who have made me see many troubles & calamities will revive me again; from the depths of the earth You will bring me up again. 21 You will increase my greatness & comfort me again. Ps 71:20-21

What I feel (God’s absence) is not reality (God is present). Sometimes He causes us to feel absence of His presence to long more for Him and be satisfied with His presence above all things.

Patience With The Hurting

GoodSamJohn Maxwell wrote, “Hurting people hurt people and are easily hurt by people.”

We live in a broken world where everyone has secret problems. Some hide and handle them well… others (Because of what they are dealing with internally) are withdrawn, short-fused, harsh, detached, emotional, and have all kinds of dysfunctions. We are ALL dysfunctional… it is just a matter of degree, which should affect how we interact with others who are dysfunctional just like us.

Patience, mercy, and grace with others is a rare virtue… but a blessing when encountered. Hurting people don’t need to be told to pull themselves up by their boot straps… nor do they need to be told others are tired of drilling holes and pulling them through it. What they need is patience, mercy, grace, compassion, and love.

Hurting people are messy… I’m messy! Like the Good Samaritan, we are to bind up the wounds of the hurting REGARDLESS of how they got wounded! Yes, it will require sacrifice on your part. It may require you to suffer while binding up their wounds. But that is what Christians are called to do because that is what Jesus did for US.

Be patient with those who are hurting. Give them space to not be perfect. Allow them time to work through problems and help them toward what they are seeking… Peace in Jesus Christ! Remember what Jesus said… “When you did it to the least of these, you did it to Me.” Keep in mind what is found in Hebrews 10:32-35…

Recall the former days when, after you were enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, 33 sometimes being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction, and sometimes being partners with those so treated. 34 For you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one. 35 Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward.

How Have You Changed?

1978 HHSOld pictures are funny. Thus the picture of this guy who graduated high school in 1978. If you laugh, I will call my cousin Guido in Chicago and have him bring his friend “Crowbar” to fit you for concrete boots!

People change over time… not just physically, but also as a person. One who was harsh, may now be gracious.  One who was caustic, may now be encouraging. One who was cold, may now be friendly and engaging. People change over time. On that point, aren’t you glad you aren’t now like you once were?

Pictures are snapshots from the past. Likewise, how we remember people may very well NOT be who they are today. It might be a good idea to consider viewing people as a motion picture rather than a still photo. As movies give a running representation of a story, so too people should be understood as morphing over the years.

This is especially true for Christians. When a person is saved, Jesus begins a work of transformation over time to conform them to His image. He does away with the old person, and makes them new… in HIS likeness. The answer to the age-old question, “Can a leopard change its spots?” is no… BUT GOD DOES. Thus Paul from 1 Cor 6:9-11…

Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, 10 nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And such WERE some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

As God has changed… and is changing you, God is also changing others. Don’t judge them by the picture you have in your mind from weeks, months, or years ago. Accept them as a work in progress The Father is transforming… JUST LIKE YOURSELF.

It Could Be Worse!

chJoyProverb… “I complained about having no shoes until I met a man who had no feet.”

Do you have a house? A car… clothes… food? Then you have more than Paul did! 1 Tim 6:8, “But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content.” He was content with no TV… no internet… no air conditioning… no camel or donkey… no electricity… no retirement… no pillow… no health insurance… no roof over his head. This was a man who was beaten and then sang in the dungeon (Acts 16:25)! He was chained between two guards in prison and wrote, “Rejoice in the Lord ALWAYS…”

Take a few minutes and be thankful. If you are a believer, consider your name is written down in heaven. Anything more is icing on the cake (Especially considering we deserve eternal condemnation)!

Being thankful, rather than complaining, is pure Bible. Consider…

Eph 5:4 Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out-of-place, but instead let there be thanksgiving.

Eph 5:18 Be filled with the Spirit, 19 addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with all your heart, 20 giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ…

Col 4:2 Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving.

1 Thess 5:18  Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

Remember… it could be worse…

What The Heart Wants

Heart WantsEver been asked, “Why did you do that?!” There is a better answer than, “I don’t know!” Some explain it as… “The heart wants what the heart wants.” Tim Keller suggests…

“What the heart trusts, the mind justifies, the emotions desire, and the will carries out. Everything follows the heart.”

Everything we do does spring from the heart. The mind, emotions, and will follow it. If the heart is right, so will be the mind and actions. If the heart is evil, there is no hope. We cannot control the heart, only God can. Consider…

Jer 24:7 I will give them a heart to know that I am the Lord, and they shall be my people and I will be their God, for they shall return to me with their whole heart.

Jer 32:38 They shall be my people, and I will be their God. 39 I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear Me forever, for their own good and the good of their children after them.

Ezek 11:19 And I will give them one heart, and a new spirit I will put within them. I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, 20 that they may walk in My statutes and keep My rules and obey them.

Ezek 36:26 And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.

There is a progression that takes place inside us every time we say or do anything, even though it might be immeasurably short. Heart… mind… emotions… will… ACTION. This order cannot be subverted as it has been determined by God. Thus… in our hopes of transforming society, families, government, or anyone… we must address the seat of it all… the human heart.

It then follows that programs, seminars, initiatives, and laws will forever fall short of bringing about substantive change since none of those things change the heart. Instead Christians are to pray for God to do what only He can do… change people’s hearts (Jer 24:7, 32:38-39; Ez 11:19-20, 36:26-27 above).

I’m Disappointed…?

disappointPaul wrote, “Speak the truth in love” (Eph 4:15). Thus…

It is time for those who are believers… who love Jesus… and care for the Bride of Christ to conduct themselves as such. It is time for Christians to carry out what God commands about forgiveness, mercy, restoration, and reconciliation. Not preachers… not staff either. Deacons. Opinion leaders. The people who tell pastors in secret they support them to do so openly! Why? Keep reading…

For a while I have been observing a significant number of ministers suffering and hurting… silently… in private… unbeknownst to many. I must say that I have been surprised by the depth and significance of the pain these men are enduring. People who are supposed to be relating to them according to Hebrews 13:17 (“Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you.”)  is appalling. I’ve seen it so many times I am close to agreeing with the piccy to the right…

The depth of pain and hurt inflicted on ministers (Primarily Pastors) by church members is just not right! As I hear my brother’s stories I ask… Where is love? Where is forgiveness? Where is grace? Where is mercy? What happened to compassion?! Yes, I AM defensive for my brothers in the ministry! Yes, I am incensed at the way pastors are treated. I ask… “How long oh Lord will You allow this to continue?”

Consider: Five years after graduating seminary 50% will have quit the ministry. 1,700 ministers are fired every month in the U.S. Why is such true? Because of how dysfunctional many congregations are.

When a pastor (Because he didn’t have good “leadership skills”) is given two weeks to get out of the house and two weeks severance, something is wrong. When a pastor is told he doesn’t have a vision the same as the staff and therefore he must resign, something is terribly wrong. When deacons allow church members to spread rumors and lies about the pastor that undercut his credibility with the congregation, there is a problem (Not with the pastor!). When it is acceptable for the tail to wag the dog in a congregation (Rejecting a pastor’s leadership), that fellowship is dysfunctional. When church leadership refuse to support the pastor because the people they’d have to confront are their friends, well… what can be said?

Disappointed? Almost. This I know, there are wolves among the sheep and tares among the wheat. The problem is at times it is difficult to tell the two apart. Sometimes it isn’t. It is obvious a person is a believer when they seek: Reconciliation, forgiveness, show mercy… grace… and compassion, to those who they don’t understand… necessarily agree with… and especially with those who have failed.

I’m done now…

When Sidelined By God

Side Lined“This is counsel for you who are temporarily laid on the shelf. Some of God’s best workers have been laid aside for long periods. Moses was forty years in the desert, doing nothing but tending sheep. One greater than Moses, our Blessed Savior, was thirty years doing — I will not say nothing, but certainly doing no public work.

When you are retired or inactive, prepare for the time when God will use you again. If you are put on the shelf, do not rust; pray that The Master will polish you, so that when He uses you again you will be fully ready for the work.

While you are laid aside, I want you to pray for others who are working. Help them and encourage them. Do not get into that peevish, miserable frame of mind that grudges and undervalues other’s efforts. Some people, when they cannot do anything, do not like anyone else to work. Promise that if you cannot help, you will not hinder. Spend time in prayer, that you might be fit for the master’s use.” (C.S. Spurgeon. “Beside Still Waters” edited by Roy H. Clark, page 9).

How Dying Is Gain

This is copied from Desiring God. “It Is Great Gain To Die: Five Reasons

Our spirits will be made perfect (Hebrews 12:22-23).

There will be no more sin in us. We will be done with the inner war and the heartrending disappointments of offending the Lord who loved us and gave himself for us.

    But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to myriads of angels, to the general assembly and the church of the first-born who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the Judge of all, and to the spirits of the just which have been made perfect.

We will be relieved of the pain of this world (Luke 16:25).

The joy of the resurrection will not yet be ours, but the joy of freedom from pain will be. Jesus tells the story of Lazarus and the rich man to show the great reversal that is coming.

    [The rich man] he cried out and said, “Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool off my tongue; for I am in agony in this flame.” But Abraham said, “Child, remember that during your life you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus bad things; but now he is being comforted here, and you are in agony.”

We will be given profound rest in our soul (Revelation 6:9-11).

There will be a serenity beneath the eye and care of God that surpasses anything we have known here on the softest summer evening by the most peaceful lake at our most happy moments.

    I saw underneath the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God, and because of the testimony which they had maintained; and they cried out with a loud voice saying, “How long, O Lord, holy and true, wilt Thou refrain from judging and avenging our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” And there was given to each of them a white robe; and they were told that they should rest for a while

We will experience a deep at-homeness (2 Corinthians 5:8).

The whole human race is homesick for God, without knowing it. When we go home to Christ there will be a contentment beyond any sense of security and peace we have ever known.

    We are of good courage, I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord.

We will be with Christ (Philippians 1:21-23).

Christ is a more wonderful person than anyone on earth. He is wiser, stronger, and kinder than anyone you enjoy spending time with. He is endlessly interesting. He knows exactly what to do and what to say at every moment to make his guests as glad as they can possibly be. He overflows in love and with infinite insight into how to use that love to make his loved ones feel loved. Therefore Paul said…

For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain. But if I am to live in the flesh, this will mean fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which to choose. But I am hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better.

Vengence Is God’s, Not Ours

revengeRevenge is forbidden for Christians… in every circumstance… without exception. If we take revenge, we don’t trust God to do what He says He will do. Romans 12:19, “Never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.'”

What our revenge looks like: A cold glance, look, or stare. Saying… or NOT saying… anything to anyone that hurts or harms another person. Doing… or NOT doing something… that harms another person. Being glad or happy when something bad happens to one who has harmed us (Pr 24:17-18).

To take revenge on anyone for anything is to arrogantly attempt to sit on the throne of judgment for which you are not qualified. And consider this… if you as a Christian take revenge in any form, God then has two to deal with. The person upon whom will fall His discipline to begin with, then he will lovingly discipline you for disobeying His command not to take revenge.

Whoever has hurt you… whoever it is that has wounded you… forgive them as God has forgiven YOU (Eph 4:32) remembering what is written in Hebrews 10:31, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”

There is one way NOT to take revenge: Believe God will… and do it better than you ever could. Thus back to Ro 12:19, “Never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.'”

Trayvon, Weiner, And Us

TrayMarAdmittedly, my son has not been killed (Travyon Martin) nor has my wife sent inappropriate texts to anyone (Anthony Weiner). How I’d react for sure in such situations is unknown. No one knows what they will do in a situation until they are in it. With enough pressure, everyone will break. My prayer is that if/when my day of adversity comes I will conduct myself in a manner that glorifies God in keeping with Christian Biblical ethics and morality.

How will/would you react if your child was killed or spouse acted immorally? NOW is the time to think, meditate, and determine what your response would be. As a Christian, NOW is the time to drive into your heart through prayer the way to respond. NOW is the time to ask God to strengthen you so you will not fail in the day of adversity. With that said, consider a few thoughts…

Whatever happens, conduct yourself in a manner worthy of the Gospel” (Phil 1:27). “Whatever” includes loss of a child and a spouse’s immorality. “Whatever” does not exclude anything.

Never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 20 To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink…” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good… (Ro 12:19-21). “Never” is all-inclusive.

Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. 31 Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice (Eph 4:29, 31). “No,” “Only,” and “All” encompasses every emotion in every circumstance we encounter without exception… murder and adultery included? Yes…

Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you (Eph 4:32). Those who have been forgiven by God will forgive others. Those who are bent upon revenge and refuse to forgive, reconcile, or be restored at best are in rebellion to God and at worse, not saved.

I implore you… today… before your day of adversity hits, drive God’s Word deep into your soul. Then, by The Spirit’s power, you will glorify God and not fall when hardship comes. Tomorrow, God willing, we’ll examine a few ways to help when it comes to NOT taking revenge.