FRAYED – A Church Unraveling

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My longest posts are, generally, the ones where I am pouring out my heart.   So, consider this your warning.  Grab a cup of coffee and get comfy, we may be here a for a while.   My heart is heavy to day.

In recent days my eyes have been opened to how others view the church, more so than ever.  In particular, it has been most apparent as more church/Christian scandals break the news.  From a popular Christian family (who is caught up in the sinful decisions of one of their sons), the Ashley Madison leak (which exposed the names of Christian men and women wrapped up in adultery), bakeries and state clerks (caught up in the gay marriage SCOTUS decision),  and into the press and debates over the released Planned Parenthood videos (and the push to defund Planned Parenthood).

We are called hypocrites for standing against gay marriage, while divorce is still rampant within the church.   In other words, they wonder why we consider ourselves an authority on what a healthy marriage actually looks like… since we can’t seem to get that right ourselves.  We lost our integrity.

We are called hypocrites for standing against something when our own past, or current hidden sins, are being exposed for the world to see.  We lost our transparency.

We are called a “hate group” because of the words of our mouths and behaviors/actions are anything but Christ like. We say the most terrible things about people who are not “just like us”.  We lost our love.

We tear apart people we have never even met based on what a news article says about them.  We cry paranoia over news reports and internet articles where we are only receiving part of the story.     We lost our discernment.

In stead of loving people, we feel justified in screaming “murderer” at a women who had an abortion.  Without any knowledge of the events that brought her to the clinic that day.  We don’t take the time to understand people, but feel justified in judging them.  We lost our compassion.

What does the world see, when it looks at us?  What are we known for?

By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”

John 13:35 (HCSB)

We have become our own greatest obstacle.

We argue over translations of the scriptures, then we wonder why the world doesn’t trust the scriptures to be accurate.

We argue over personal interpretations of scriptures, to the point that we have divided from a unified body of believers into denominations.  Then, we wonder why the world doesn’t trust that we know what we are talking about.

We rake leaders and teachers, over the coals in public and social media forums.  These are our own sisters and brothers in Christ!  Then, we wonder why the world doesn’t trust us with their failures and short comings.

We put on a false purity, holiness, righteousness, knowledge, wisdom, and illusions of “Christianity” instead of being authentic, transparent, and vulnerable.

We use judgement as a way to sit above others making our sin look smaller, because they are so much worse than we are.

We sell ourselves to the world as people who “have it all together” or “have all the right answers” and then we stumble and fall and discredit ourselves and our faith.  When the reality is that none of us have it all together or the right answers.  We are not spared trials and obstacles.  We simply have a hope that carries us through, and a trust that nothing we do when we fail can separate us from the LOVE OF GOD!

I find myself over, and over again, praying the Holy Spirit would convict us all to get beyond this place of division over foolish arguments and reconcile us to a united body of believers who stand in one accord, sharing the Gospel to the ends of the earth.  That we can be like Paul, who admitted of the sinners he was the worst.   Using that as our platform to woe people to Christ, instead of our “holiness”.

We have become slaves to the traditions and human commands of what a “Christian” should look like, that we have neglected what the scriptures say.  These human commands, they sound good and right, but if we are not testing them to the scriptures, and not praying for the Holy Spirit to help us discern truth… we become trapped.

Colossians 2

For I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you, for those in Laodicea, and for all who have not seen me in person. I want their hearts to be encouraged and joined together in love, so that they may have all the riches of assured understanding and have the knowledge of God’s mystery—Christ.[a] All the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden in Him.

I am saying this so that no one will deceive you with persuasive arguments. For I may be absent in body, but I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see how well ordered you are and the strength of your faith in Christ.

Therefore, as you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, walk in Him, rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, overflowing with gratitude.

Be careful that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit based on human tradition, based on the elemental forces of the world, and not based on Christ. For the entire fullness of God’s nature[b] dwells bodily[c] in Christ, 10 and you have been filled by Him, who is the head over every ruler and authority. 11 You were also circumcised in Him with a circumcision not done with hands, by putting off the body of flesh, in the circumcision of the Messiah.[d] 12 Having been buried with Him in baptism, you were also raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. 13 And when you were dead in trespasses and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive with Him and forgave us all our trespasses. 14 He erased the certificate of debt, with its obligations, that was against us and opposed to us, and has taken it out of the way by nailing it to the cross. 15 He disarmed the rulers and authorities and disgraced them publicly; He triumphed over them by Him.[e]

16 Therefore, don’t let anyone judge you in regard to food and drink or in the matter of a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day.[f] 17 These are a shadow of what was to come; the substance is[g] the Messiah. 18 Let no one disqualify you,[h] insisting on ascetic practices and the worship of angels, claiming access to a visionary realm and inflated without cause by his unspiritual[i] mind. 19 He doesn’t hold on to the head, from whom the whole body, nourished and held together by its ligaments and tendons, develops with growth from God.

20 If you died with the Messiah to the elemental forces of this world, why do you live as if you still belonged to the world? Why do you submit to regulations: 21 “Don’t handle, don’t taste, don’t touch”? 22 All these regulations refer to what is destroyed by being used up; they are commands and doctrines of men. 23 Although these have a reputation of wisdom by promoting ascetic practices, humility, and severe treatment of the body, they are not of any value in curbing self-indulgence.[j]

The hard truth is the greatest obstacle to our sharing of the Gospel, has become ourselves.

We are not known for our love, hope, and faith.

We are known for hate, judgement, and we lack the basic understandings of our faith.

We are guilty of quoting scripture out of context; or stating the Bible says something that can’t be found in any book, chapter or verse.  We look past certain scriptures as being “out dated” or part of a different “culture”  in one breath, while claiming we believe in the full authority of the scriptures in another breath.

We are unable to defend our faith, because we have not learned it.  We are not students of the word.  We are repeaters of other teachers.  And, even worse, we are repeaters of the teachers who say what we want to hear.  (2 Timothy 4:3)

We look to the scriptures to learn about ourselves.  How does this pertain to me, when we should be asking how it pertains to God.

We are no different than many of the churches in the NT days.

And difficult times are still ahead.

2 Timothy 3

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 to 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 the truth. Just as Jannes and Jambres resisted Moses, so these also resist the truth, men who are corrupt in mind, worthless in regard to the faith. But they will not make further progress, for their lack of understanding will be clear to all, as theirs[a] was also.

10 But you have followed my teaching, conduct, purpose, faith, patience, love, and endurance, 11 along with the persecutions and sufferings that came to me in Antioch, Iconium, and Lystra. What persecutions I endured! Yet the Lord rescued me from them all. 12 In fact, all those who want to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. 1Evil people and impostors will become worse, deceiving and being deceived. 14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and firmly believed. You know those who taught you, 15 and you know that from childhood you have known the sacred Scriptures, which are able to give you wisdom for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is inspired by God[b] and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness, 17 so that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

We think that this warning in 2 Timothy 3 is about the world alone, but it isn’t.  This was a letter written to the church, about the things happening within the community and within the church.

We… the body of believers…. will become:

Lovers of self.

Lovers of money.

Boastful and proud.

Blasphemers.

Disobedient and Ungrateful.

Unholy, unloving, irreconcilable.

Slanderers, without self control.

Without love of what is good.

Traitors, reckless.

Conceited and lovers of pleasure over God.

We will hold to the form of godliness, but deny it’s power.

We will become so focused on loving people, that we will distance ourselves from The Word.  Or, we will become so legalistic to the Scriptures, that we will distance our selves from the people who need to hear it the most.

The lion doesn’t go after the animals in the pack, he goes after the one who is isolated, alone, and hurt.  Isolated from the body of believers, as we miss corporate worship.  Isolated from our sisters in Christ, as we hold grudges and fight against reconciliation.  Hiding from our family, instead of embracing them.  Isolated from the Word as we become more dependent on what others say about it, versus reading it for ourselves.  Isolated as we become too busy to – pray, study, attend service, fellowship with other believers.

Our “righteous” divisions are isolating ourselves from the greater body.

And we think we are being holy.

That we have some greater knowledge than they do.

That our self gratifying interpretation is better.

We argue with fellow believers instead of loving them.

We have become proud, and our pride is literally festering and manifesting itself in every area of our lives.

And then we wonder why we are not known by our love?

Our love, has been overshadowed.

We have overshadowed Christ, with our own self righteousness.

We want the world to see us, how holy we are, how knowledgeable we are, and how much will live “in accordance to the scriptures”.

But we are told that all of that means nothing, if we don’t have love. (1 Corinthians 13)

Being right, has become more important than love.

If you wonder why no one seems to listen to you, I wonder…

Are you the sound of love?  Or, are you just making noise?

TGC Women’s Conference Notes, Part 3 – Nehemiah Sessions #1-2 (Ch 1-4)

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These are my notes on the book of Nehemiah from The Gospel Coalition National Women’s Conference.  There were 7 total sessions, covering all 13 chapters.

Session #1 – Kathy Keller, Nehemiah Chapters 1 & 2   (VIDEO:  Nehemiah 1-2 Kathy Keller: http://vimeo.com/99765572)

Nehemiah is an OT Narrative, it is basically Nehemiah’s journal of from that time period.  Israel at this time was a weak conquered remnant.

In Chapter 1, Nehemiah gets word about the Jewish remnant that survived the exile and the state of Jerusalem.  It wasn’t pretty.  The city itself was broken down, damaged.  So were it’s people.  Nehemiah is pained by this news.  He prays to God.  His prayer consists of 1st praise, then confession, then glory to God, and then asking for God’s favor.  This prayer was not a one time event, rather Nehemiah prayed for 4 months.  Until the Lord guided him to act.

In Chapter 2, Nehemiah (who is cupbearer to King Artaxerxes) presents his concerns about his people to the king, when asked why he looked so sad.  King Artaxerxes favored Nehemiah and not only granted his request to go to his people, but also his requests for provisions and provided protection for him.  Nehemiah went to Jerusalem and assessed the situation.  At first he kept his plans to himself.  Once he was able to survey the lands and determine a plan of action, he then shared what God had put on his heart.  The people were ready to work.   Although there were some that stood against him.

From Kathy Keller:

We have prayer from Nehemiah that can be summed up with:  If it will glorify you, then I am ok with it.

When Nehemiah got the word about Jerusalem & it’s condition, he had two choices… a bad reaction or a godly reaction.

The back story here, the history, is that Jerusalem was in ruins, Nebuchadnezzar took the Israelites captive. Time passes Cyrus has compassion for the people & wants favor with their God so he allows them to rebuild the temple (2 Chr 36:22-23) But then Artaxerxes stops the rebuilding progress due to the influence of his counsel.  Remnants of Israel begin to intermarry, their worship practices end.  (Ezra 4-6:10)

Now Nehemiah is a man who understands God’s Word, he sees the bigger picture.  He doesn’t just try to fix the circumstance, he recognizes it is more than just building the temple.  Restoration to the people needs to happen too.  Nehemiah leaps to action by praying.

Nehemiah is 1 small story, in the larger story of Jesus.  It’s a redemption story.  From ruin to renewal.

The Bible is not about us.  It’s not there to access to understand our circumstances.  It is there for Jesus and about how God deal with the world.  We do not need to be feeding our soul with artificial inspiration and toxic devotionals that have no value, aka “Soul Junk Food”.  We need the meat and milk of HIS ACTUAL WORD.

(my personal note…. the devotions I read and write need to be pointed to Jesus, not me… not my circumstances, unless ultimately GOD is glorified through it)

Nehemiah didn’t need a devotion, a fleece or a sign.  He was a man who knew God’s word & took action in that confidence to enable his peopleto be what GOD needed them to be.  Nehemiah didn’t negotiate with God (do this, then I will…).  He just did what God required of him. (I will, so God can…)

In his prayer, Nehemiah was interceding on behalf of Israel.  It wasn’t the first time either, Moses would do it frequently.

After his 4 months of prayer, God set Nehemiah on a fast track of action.  There was opposition, but Nehemiah went for broke.   He had confidence in God, so he had no qualms about asking the King for more provisions/assistance.  He was called.  He went.  Action was needed.  Action was taken.  When God calls you to action, it is often because you see a need others don’t.

Nehemiah was taking radical action based on his knowledge of God’s Word & for the redemption of his people.

Parallels to Jesus…  Nehemiah was with the king, in the comfort, safety and luxury of the palace.  (Jesus was in Heaven, with God).  Nehemiah assessed the situation and prayed before starting his work. (Jesus walked the earth for thirty years before starting his ministry).  He put himself at risk for Jesus.  (And Jesus put himself at risk, for us, and paid the ultimate price).

Additionally what is important to this story is that this HAD TO HAPPEN.  Nehemiah needed to restore Jerusalem and his people, otherwise there would be no Jewish culture/society that would need Jesus.  It would have been entirely lost.  They had to get back in the sight of God, so that God could redeem the people.

“God’s people do not need to be a powerful culture or in a powerful position to be obedient & accomplish his purpose in the world.  All they need is to be faithful.  He will accomplish it.” (Kathy Keller, The Gospel Coalition Women’s National Conference 2014, Nehemiah 1&2)

Session #2 – Timothy Keller, Nehemiah Chapters 3 & 4   (VIDEO:  Nehemiah 3-4 Timothy Keller: http://vimeo.com/99790975)

In Chapter 3 is essentially the delegation of work for the rebuilding of the wall.  Each portion of the wall is built by a specific group, basically repairing the portion of the wall that was was closest to their house.  The chapter details out that the people doing the work were made up of all classes and genders.   All of society was represented.

In Chapter 4 we see the opposition that they face in doing so.

From Timothy Keller:

Nehemiah left the safety of his position with the king, to do what God called him to accomplish.   The wall was the first thing build, to protect his people from those who would oppose the rebuilding process.  This is a parallel to salvation, like the walls of a city, protecting us from sin. (Isa. 26:1)

Keep in mind that we are not building walls to keep non-believers out, to be separated.  NO.  We are building walls of safety, and we are bringing the people into the city, into citizenship.  The gates are open.

Moses was often working for God without the cooperation of the community, they were easily swayed and distracted.  Yet here we see a full community, working together for the greater good.  This is a progression of redemption toward Holiness.  All of us, working together… The whole people of God doing the ministry.  We become living stones in a temple. (Eph 2, 1 Peter 2).

Nehemiah points to the future.   We all have a ministry.  We are one people, united.  All with gifts and talents to be used for HIS glory within our community.  The early churches grew through evangelism, not due to great pastors and preachers.  It grew because EVERYONE did it.  Studies, readings, prayer groups, etc.

We are unified as Christians first, our nationality/position comes second.   Just as all the different classes & positions & genders joined with Nehemiah to rebuild the wall, we must be unified as Christians FIRST in the calling God has laid before us.  It bonds us together, regardless of our individual identity.

In Chapter 4, when they face the opposition to the rebuilding from the outsiders… it says they were despised and insulted.  The response was prayer and then posting a guard.  This points us toward the relationship between God’s sovereignty and human responsibility.

They prayed, first (God’s sovereignty) .  They posted guards, second (human responsibility).

Jesus was sacrificed by God (God’s sovereignty) .  But, he was crucified by wicked hands (human responsibility).

When things happen:   God is in charge (God’s sovereignty).  What you do matters (human responsibility).

Just as Nehemiah and the Israelites were despised and insulted, we will also be persecuted (2 Tim 3:12). This side of the cross we have an opportunity to forgive that Nehemiah didn’t…. when people slander us, insult us, hurt us.

“Take the hit to your reputation, because I [Jesus] took more for you”   (Timothy Keller, The Gospel Coalition Women’s National Conference 2014, Nehemiah 3&4))

THEY BELIEVED HER! We are qualified.

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Have you ever read a book for the second or even  hundredth time and you catch some sort of small detail that seemed to escape you  in all the previous readings?  You wonder how you could miss it, since it was  there all along… in black and white.  Plain as day.  Yet until this very  moment, it never stood out.    I believe this happens not because the book or  story has change (that is impossible) but because the reader has changed.  They  have grown as a person, their life experiences have changed and perhaps there  have been people who have influenced the reader to see things differently or  even pointed out the hidden jewel.

Scripture is called the “Living Word” because the  Word lives within us.  In a printed Bible, the chapter and verses do not change.   They are constant, unchanging.  Just like God.  Yet we can take a verse that we  learned in Sunday school, that has been repeatedly read, taught and referenced over a life time… and suddenly, one day, see it in a whole new light.   This  recently happened to me regarding John 4:1-42, the classic Samaritan Woman at the Well story.

Every time I have read this passage or about it,  it has come from the point of view of the woman.  How broken she was, her shame  and her guilt keeping her separated from her community; and a pattern of  repeated mistakes.  I think this is common because we can all related to the  woman at the well.  It was during Sunday service, that my Pastor took this  piece of scripture and presented it form the point of view of Jesus &  related it to our own experiences in evangelism.

We wrapped up with verse  41, where she has brought the towns people back to Jesus & “because of his  words, many more became believers”.   It was in my continuing to read through to  verse 42 that I found my hidden jewel.

John 4:42 They said to the woman, “we no longer believer just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves and we know that this man is the Savior of the world.”

When Jesus revealed to her who he was, she left the well, leaving her water jar behind.  She went to the town and told the people of her encounter.

She left more than her water  jar at that well.  She left her shame, her guilt, her past, her mistakes behind.   All of the things that kept her isolated from her community, were no longer  important.  Her encounter with Jesus was greater than any of those things.  To  the point that she would run back to town and tell everyone.

AND THEY BELIEVED HER!   They listened to her.  They believed her.  In spite of who she felt she was.  She didn’t hesitate to tell them, and scripture doesn’t indicate they hesitated to listen or believe.    Her past didn’t disqualify her, in fact it qualified her.

* Have you ever found yourself, stuck at the well?   Trying to avoid your past, hide your guilt and  shame?  Avoid those who you feel will judge you?

Psalm 103:11-12 (NIV) – For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.

Our sins are washed away, we  are made a new creature in Christ, we are filled with the Holy Spirit and find  our confidence and strength in HIM!

* Have you worried or doubted  your ability to share the Word with others, because you think that you are  unqualified?  Or, that your history has ruined your credibility?

1 Corinthians 4:20 – For the kingdom of God is not a matter of talk, but of power.

The Lord will give you the  strength to do what He has asked of you, He equips the called.

* The Lord softened the  Pharaoh’s heart to listen to Moses and if we ask of Him, and have faith in  Him… the same will be done for those we encounter!  They will believe.

John 4:42 – They said to the woman, “we no longer believer just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man is the Savior of the world.”

Some of use will be called to  plant seeds, some will tend to the fields, and others will work the harvest.

But, all things will be used  for the glory of God…. even those things that bring us to well.  Find your  power in Him, pray for His hand to guide you, and leave your water jar at the  well.  You do not need it any more.  Be filled with the Living Waters…. see  the Word through new eyes.  You have walked away from your sin.  You do not need  to be a Pastor or teacher, just a person who is willing to tell others about your  encounter with Jesus

*Written for the TC3 Women’s Ministry Devotion Blog