Now What? – #Write31Days

 

If you are a leader of any sort, you may be looking at a list of emails or text messages seeking your opinion.  In the last few days, a well known author is at the center of some controversy.    Her fans are sticking by her side.  Her friends are comfortable to agree to disagree.  Her critics finally received the ammunition they needed to label her a heretic.

The people whom you lead may be asking you…

“What does this mean?”

“Do I have to stop reading her books?”

“Is she right, or is she wrong?”

“What is your opinion?”

You may find yourself struggling as well.  Are you the die hard fan that thinks she can do no wrong, the one who can see so much value in what she has offered that you are comfortable disagreeing with her on this controversy, or are you the critic who has been waiting in the wings for the shoe to drop?

This situation is not unique.  I have heard plenty of criticism about certain Bible teachers, famous Pastors, and specific authors for a very long time.  Video clips, quotes from their books, etc. which have helped their critics drive home points about the person being a false teacher, heretic, and sometimes far more drastic terms.

How, as a leader do I respond to these questions and criticisms?  How am I responding to emails, texts, and posts about this newest controversy?  By not giving my own opinion, but instead by suggesting to each person how they can go about figuring out the answer for themselves.  It is the same litmus I suggest to women in my small groups and women’s ministry leaders to use when selecting Bible study materials.

First, I establish the reminder that we are all humans and prone to err.  Additionally the amount of knowledge I have to day is vastly greater than what I knew 5 years, 10 years, 30 years ago.   As well, my opinions and interpretations have changed over the years with the accumulation of knowledge, wisdom, and experience.  I need to remind myself (or whomever I am giving this counsel to) that I can’t hold anyone to a higher standard than I would hold myself.  If I need grace, they need grace too.

Second, I ask a few questions about the author:

?  –  What is his/her background?   Seminary student? Lay leader?  Seasoned speaker on the scene, or a new face?

? – Who is in his/her circle of influence?   Who does s/he read, quote, look up to, etc.  Is there any controversy regarding that leader?

? – Who endorses him/her?  What publishing companies are printing their material, and what standards does that company hold to?  What do leaders whom I respect say/write about him or her?  What conferences or organizations have supported him/her?

Third, I look at the criticisms of the author (body of work, personal life, etc).   If there is an accusation regarding an interview clip or quote from a book, I look into the full context.  I want to eliminate any criticism that is based on partial information.    If it is taken out of context, or there is no way for me to verify the context, it is disregarded.  If I can read it within the full context of the interview or book, then I feel more equipped to make an educated decision by testing it against the scripture.

I also want to look at when this interview or book was written.  It may be a legitimate criticism over a piece that is 10 or more years old.  Lord knows I am not the same person, same Christian, I was 10 years ago.  I’ve learned somethings.  If the criticism is that old, I look for more current works and interviews to determine if the author/speaker/Pastor still maintains these beliefs or not.

Fourth, I want to consider who is making the accusation and responsible for the criticism.   Is this a person who generally has a critical spirit over anyone who doesn’t fall in line with his/her beliefs?   Is this a person who is credible, or not?  What is being criticized, the author’s interpretation of a Biblical truth or a personal conviction?  What does this person get out of criticizing the author/speaker/Pastor?  Is there a pride issue here, of wanting to be right or a sincerity of wanting to expose truth?

Finally, if I am still uncertain, I MAY purchase the material and test it to the Word.  Now you could argue that this would be better suited for the first step.  I disagree.   Usually, a false teacher or heretic is going to be exposed in these first four steps.  I would rather not spend money on materials from a false teacher, adding to their coffers and raising their book up the best sellers list another notch.  I would rather not put into my mind materials that are false teachings.  I would hate for something to take hold and stick there, and later quote it in error.  So, if I can discount material before reading it… I would prefer to do so.  I also wouldn’t want anyone to assume that because it is in my possession I endorse it.  Trust me, when you invite me into your home… I am casing your bookshelf for reading suggestions.

That said, new authors and speakers may not have enough history to address those first four steps appropriately.  If it comes down to it, I have to make a stand.  I can purchase the material, test it against the Scripture, and then make an informed decision.  OR, I can choose to skip the material altogether or at least until I can learn more about the author and their beliefs.  It is okay to not jump right on the band wagon of the newest popular speaker, author, or Pastor.  To take your time, observing and testing what you can.  When in doubt and you can’t find clarity, it is better to pass it up than regret your decision to engage.

So, does this mean I disregard everything this person has ever said?  No, not necessarily.  A friend of mine once said, ” a broken clock is right twice per day “.  There are authors who I do read, that claim to be Christian authors, and I do question some of their theological statements and interpretations.  However, because I am testing it against the scriptures… I know what to disregard.  I often read some of these authors as if they are secular authors versus Christians.  There are speakers who are great motivators and have some challenging words on social justice, and I can value the words they speak without affirming the rest of their beliefs are doctrinally sound.  There are some books I have completed avoided, because I don’t want to even entertain the thoughts and ideas shared in the material.

I would suggest to anyone before you jump on the bandwagon of criticism, do your due diligence.  Don’t rely on the opinions of others.  Pray that the Lord will give you clarity and discernment.  When it doubt, pass it up.  Be okay with giving time to build your own opinion.  Look at the big picture… who is the person, their life, their beliefs, their body of work.  Then make an educated informed decision.

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In the Midst of Azusa, Forgiveness Was Found

azusa

First, just in case you don’t know what AZUSA is…. 110 years ago, on Azusa Street a revival began. On the 110th anniversary, many church leaders, congregations, believers, musicians, etc came together to pray for a new revival.  The church is calling out for a third great awakening.

I have never personally witnessed an event of this magnitude, in fact the only revival I have ever attended was a community one held at a local church.  I was in middle school.  There were a LOT of people, but nothing like Azusa on Saturday, April 9 2016.

First, I want to comment on the diversity of those who came to worship together.  I was not their live, but watching online as much as I could throughout the day.  When the camera would pan the audience and the stage, there were so many colors… ages… genders… just, people.  God’s people.  Together.  In one accord.

I found myself brought to tears each time I heard the Word of God spoken, prayers, or songs of Praise… in a language that is not my own.  English. Spanish. Native American. Hebrew. Arabic. Latin…  it was just beautiful.

Second, I want to point to the overall theme of the event… while the church was calling out for revival… they were acknowledging that we have to get ourselves in order before it can.  There was so much emphasis on getting our own houses in order, so that the spirit of revival can be unleashed.

If we want to usher revival in we have to clean our house first. 1Tim3:5 If anyone can’t manage his own family, how can he manage the church

If you look at the great revivals of the past, those who witnessed it would tell you that there were small pockets of revival happening at the same time in various locations.  Small movements that grew into great movements and spread like holy wild-fire!

What was the core issue that Azusa pointed to, that the church needed to get in order?  Unity under Christ.  We’ve been divided too long, doing what seems right to men and our own minds.  We have allowed man’s notions of what is “godly” to divides us against each other.  Denomination vs. denomination.  Christian vs. christian.  In order to unify under Christ, we must begin with forgiveness.

We must get our house in order as a church, to be a vessel of revival into the world. Forgive and seek forgiveness

Division is one of the things that breaks my heart about the current day church.   We have put ourselves first, our way of thinking… interpretation… worshiping… praying… studying… etc.  We hold people to our “standard” of what righteousness looks like and quite often we are incapable of living up to that standard in the first place.  We allow pride to take root, and then we elevate ourselves about other believers because they are not as wise or knowledgeable as we are.  And then we see friendships divide, churches divide, denominations divide.

We watch our family crumble.  Then a bitter root takes hold, because that bitterness helps us justify our choose to separate, judge, and criticize our brothers and sisters in Christ.  We justify our sin of division, when Christ has called us to reconcile to each other and be one body, one church, under Christ.

We wonder why our prayers are not answered, yet we are in active sin while bitterness, pride, and unforgiveness are sewn into our hearts.  We wonder why our ministry isn’t moving forward, when we have become our own stumbling block.  We wonder why God is not blessing us, when we are constantly building up a wall between us and Him.

If you are holding bitterness, a bad word about God’s anointed, anger toward someone, hate… we are in sin.

When we allow that bitterness to take root, we can speak and act terribly about those God calls His children.    We are criticizing God’s creation, the work He is doing in a person, the mission He has put on their heart, and even God himself!  Because, we are created in His image.  This doesn’t exclude the moments when we are holding unforgiveness, bitterness, or critical thoughts about our own selves.

Every time we criticize our sister/brother in Christ, we are being critical of Jesus who lives in them. God help us.

If it goes unchecked and that bitterness takes root, it can make itself a comfy home in our heart and lives, and it will choke out everything good that tries to come into our life. We can become so focused on the root and it’s offshoots… we miss what God is doing around us.  We become wrapped up in it’s vines and become slaves to it, unable to serve God because we are bound to anger and hurt.

Holding unforgiveness in your heart toward someone, you both are slaves in bondage to it. Free your slaves. Jer34:8

We will keep adding to the weight of the baggage we carry, and we will carry that baggage far longer than God would have us.  It will become heavier, slowing down our walk, weighing us down, stealing our energy, our hope, and our future.  We can’t reach the blessing, when we are dragging dead weight behind us.  Eventually it will win, and break you down until you just give up.

What is the baggage you have been carrying for TOO LONG, that is slowing you down & holding you back from blessing?

We are told in the scriptures that if we have an offense between us and our brother, we are to put our offering down and go handle that first.  We are not to bring our offering into the temple until we have reconciled.  So, until then, every offering you make is empty.  Who is it that you need to forgive?  A friend, relative, church… yourself?  Are you carrying the weight of your own sin?  The sin Christ died for, and cast to the depths of the sea… did you fish it back up?  Are you taking it back from the foot of the cross?  Are you saying… “everything but this Lord, this sin is too big for you.”

God help us.

We can’t bring our offering to the table if we are holding a grudge against someone. Who do you need to forgive?

When we are focused so much on our own pain, bitterness, anger, and what we see as unfair… we miss the fact that our world is mourning and crying out in pain.  Instead of crying out on their behalf, we say:  WHAT ABOUT ME?  What about my pain?  What about my situation?  What about my hurt?  Where is my help?  Where is my blessing?

People groups around the earth are crying out in pain, will you cry with them. Will you mourn with them?

We can not unite under Christ when we are too focused on our own selves.  When we are seeking my own needs or blessings first.  The first shall be last, and the last shall be first.

If Christ can call out to the Lord to forgive those who stood against him, accused him, crucified him… why can we not say of our oppressors, “Lord… forgive them… they know not what they do.”

We need to get on our knees and pray.

Lord, let there be a sweeping release of forgiveness across the country between all people, unite us seventy-seven times seven!

We need to forgive others, and ourselves.  Our past, is our past. It was washed clean and we need to stop picking that back up.  We need to take that stronghold of shame, and let it go.  We need to believe that we are that new creation in Christ, a new thing… a new work, where we are continuing to grow in our pursuit of holiness.  A good work He continues in us until the day of fruition when we are united with the saints in Heaven.

Lord, free of us of our bondage to sin… our wayward steps… our critical words… and our flesh. Spirit come.

Lord we repent of our attitudes of separation and division, let us reunite under you! Amen.

Lord, set the captives free! Spirit, move us to mourn as one body & move us to unite under Jesus

And, we need to pray as if we are the only ones praying.  We need intercessors who are standing in the gap for those who are too weak to pray, or too broken.  We need intercessors to pray for the lost, the prodigals, the ones who have gone astray.  We need to pray fervently, as if everything depends on our pray.  Then when we are all praying, as if we are the only ones, there is a complete community of intercessors praying on behalf of YOU too.

Pray as if no one else is praying. If we all pray, as if no one else is praying we will all be intercessors.

As forgiveness and healing sweeps across our body, and we unite we become a city on a hill, shining the light of the Son, for the lost to find their way home.  We begin to look different from the world, not because of our dress or the words we speak. Instead we look different because we love differently, we forgive even the unforgivable.  We will not be divided but united under the Truth.  Standing in agreement of His Word, and let by His Spirit instead of our own thoughts and our own flesh.

— John 16:13 —

When the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth.

In our brokenness HE is magnified because in our healing HE gets the glory.

We must pray that the Holy Spirit will flood our hearts & compel us with your Word, let it pour out of our mouths, a sweet song to a weary world.   So that we can go out and disciple the nations, starting here in our country.  One person, one family, one community at a time.  The mission field is here, in our own back yards.  We still have unreached communities here.  We have missionaries coming INTO the United States in order to preach the gospel!  We must get our house in order, and then we go… we go out beyond our backyards, into the unchurched communities, and then into the world.   Sharing the gospel, baptizing the people, making disciples, and building up leaders to continue the good work.

Lord, send a fire of revival into the hearts of your people. Let us touch the communities around us in a mighty way.

Praise God for what is about to come.

This brings me to my third point, what I took away from Azusa.  I watched church leaders…. catholic, messianic, denominations, cultures/ethnicities… forgive each other.

If others can forgive, so can I.  And, so can you.

#Write31Days – Post 9 – False Spirituality

spotlight

The lights come on, the camera is rolling, there is beautiful music being played, voices fill the air with their melodic song, and then the speaker delivers a powerful message.  We leave from that place invigorated and inspired to change our ways, to pray more and read the Bible every day.  We agree to hold each other accountable, to volunteer more, and to give more as we become better stewards.  Our lives are so affected and changed that each week we will invite more and more people to hear this person, this godly and spiritual gift from heaven.

This may go on for weeks, months, years and even decades.  Then it happens, one day we turn on the news and that gift is being splashed across the screen.  The person we held in such high regard has been accused or even arrested, or has stepped forward to admit and unexpected truth.  We try to deny it, but ultimately the truth always comes out.  We have to face the fact that this person, whom we held in such high regard, was nothing but a phony.

When I was a child, I remember watching television with my grandmother on Sundays.  There was one particular show she would watch, where a beautiful woman would come on stage… she would sing with such beauty and emotion that tears would stream down her face.  Her husband would then take the stage and preach a message that was convicting and life changing.  They were inspiring people, until the day his fraud was exposed.  People who had supported their ministry were devastated, and many became like me… a hardened skeptic.  I don’t fall for “shows” anymore, and I have learned to watch for the signs of hypocrisy and being disingenuous.

There are people who are REALLY good at faking it.  They may appear to have it all together, the perfect husband, kids and home.  They can spout out bible verses, speak in glorious ways that make them sound learned and wise, they pray out loud using fancy words and phrases, and they know the right lingo that will create an illusion of being holy and righteous.

Therefore whatever you have said in the dark shall be heard in the light, and what you have whispered in private rooms shall be proclaimed on the housetops.

Luke 12:3

Sometimes I will see right through a person, from the start.  Yet there are other times where it isn’t quite that obvious.  I may be suspicious, but without any evidence.  Or, the person might be really good at hiding their true self.  Humans are incapable of hiding truth for that long though, eventually we begin to see signs that things are not quite how they are being presented.  Then over time, particularly as the person becomes more comfortable with you – or confident in their ability to deceive – they truth beings to come to surface.  We can see through the facade.

The man who acts like a loving and caring father out in public, but verbally abuses his children or wife.

The pastor who gets caught in an affair or misusing tithes and church funds.

The woman who comes off as a sweet and kind woman at church, but in her home she screams and treats her family like they are nothing.

The ministry leader who prays for spiritual purity in the youth, while he is grooming certain students to be abused.

I am not talking about the person who gets caught up in a singular bad decision, where they lost good sense because of the temptation in front of them.  We are all sinners and have the capability of atrocious things.  I am talking about the person who is consistently and purposefully this way.  They put on a good show for others (and maybe they think it’s impressing God) but in their heart they are truly not changed, in their homes they are the exact opposite of what they preach or teach.

These are people who have a false spirituality.  They know all of the right words, all of the traditions, and how to present themselves in a way that sells their best characteristics.  But inside they are corrupt, manipulative, and deceitful.

Would not God discover this? For he knows the secrets of the heart.

Psalm 44:21

God knows the heart, and He will shine light on the darkness.

For there is nothing hidden that will not be disclosed, and nothing concealed that will not be known or brought out into the open.

Luke8:17

These are people who will even try and garner your sympathies as they wallow in their own sin, but it’s just for show.  They are not really interested in changing themselves, they just want to make sure you can’t speak against them.  It’s a guardrail that they put up to protect themselves.  It allows them to speak their truth (sometimes harshly) by tagging on a “I am not perfect” clause as they critique you.  They will claim deliverance from this or that sin, so that after they have torn you down … they can build you back up in as their own image bearer.

People with false spirituality are not trying to make you look Christ-like… hardly!  What they are trying to do is to mold you to look more like they do, they are doing it for the glory.  They shout “LOOK AT ME!  Look at what I have done.  Come, be just like ME!”… and God is not part of that equation.

So, how do we spot “false spirituality” –

  • Pray for Discernment – ask God to give you the wisdom and the knowledge to see through those who are frauds.

  • Pray for Transparency – pray that God will reveal their hidden truths to you, or the public as a whole.

  • Be Observant & Listen – you will begin to notice things that don’t feel quite right, or they will say something that will cause you take pause.  The more you are around them, the more frequently this will happen.

  • Look to Others – let me be clear, I am NOT advising you to gossip about a person.  What I am saying is see how others act around them.  Are there people who seem to have modeled themselves to be just like this person?  That’s a clue.  Just as much on the other side, do you notice that the wise people in your church or community are avoiding them like the plague!  That’s a clue too.

  • Who Do They Credit – when there is blessing or praise to be given, who does this person credit the glory to?  If they are constantly looking for the pat on the back, the attention, the credit, the glory … be careful.  “Look at what I did…” is just as bad as “Thank you Lord for allowing me this success….”.  In both cases, this is a person who is working in their own strength, on their own agenda. 

No one is going to be perfect, and if you are not careful you can discount just about anyone from being in your life because they are failing or sinful SOMEWHERE.   A genuine person isn’t going to put on the act of spiritual superiority, they are more interested in trying to address their own sin issues than trying to solve everyone else’s.

I recall a woman I was speaking with was sharing a ministry vision, she wanted to create a website where Christians could essential log their community service hours.  She wanted the world to see the good that Christians are doing, so they would see that we are not hypocrites and that we are actively striving to make a better world.

In theory, that sounds good.  But is that biblical? Is that actually a ministry?

Not really.

It was just another way to get a pat on the back for doing a good job.  It was another way of saying “hey, look at me and what I do!”  It didn’t allow God to get the credit, it was a place where instead each person would be able to get the credit they felt they deserved.

“So when you give to the poor, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be honored by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But when you give to the poor, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving will be in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.”

Matthew 6:2-4

This is also an great example of “false spirituality” because it gives an appearance of godliness.  When we boast about ourselves and our accomplishments for God, we are actually boasting only of ourselves.  If we truly wanted God to have all the glory, we would leave our names out of it entirely.  We are warned that as the days draw closer to Christ’s return, false spirituality is going to be on the rise as much (if not more) than sin and decay in the world.  When we encounter false spirituality, we must flee from it so that we are not corrupted by it.

But know this:  Difficult times will come in the last days.  For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, without love for what is good, traitors, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding the form of godliness but denying its power.  Avoid these people!

For among them are those who worm their way into households and capture idle women burdened down with sins, led along by a variety of passions, always learning and never able to come to a knowledge of truth.

2 Timothy 3:1-7