Failure…

Failure is a funny word to me, because I truly believe that we rarely utterly fail at something.  Sometimes, it is simply a matter of perception.  Follow along with me for just a moment on that thought before we get into the meat of this topic.

Below is a series of photographs from a wedding, several years ago.  At the time, I owned my own confectionary.  This was not my first big event, but it was my first wedding.  The bride wanted a confection bar full of candies, sweets, and treats.  She didn’t want a traditional wedding cake at all.  We decided upon some cupcake towers and a small cake at the top, which was adorned with their wedding topper and serve for the “cake cutting” part of the reception.

What you see here is a very well executed plan, right?  Wrong.  I had a MAJOR failure.  I promised her Jolly Rancher Cotton Candy.  I woke up that morning to make the fresh cotton candy, only to find that there was just too much humidity in air.  The cotton candy, which I had made dozens of times before, was melting before I could even bag it.  So, I bought some cotton candy that was pre-made and portioned it out into the bags.

The bride was happy, there were no gaping holes in the table set up, and there was not a single bag of cotton candy left over.

I failed.  Yes, it was due to circumstances outside of my control… but I still failed to deliver what I promised.  Even if, ultimately, I was really the only one who knew about the failure.

 

The next large event I catered was for a fundraiser.  I met with the planning team and they presented an adorable center piece concept.  They brought out super cute little tiered dessert stands. The plan was to have the stand filled with cupcakes. There would be a giant cupcake “topper”.  The small cupcakes were part of the dessert for the evening.  They would have table drawings for the centerpiece (inclusive of the giant cupcake topper, plus an additional 1 dozen mini cupcakes).  In addition they wanted gift bags for the VIP sponsor tables.  I was super excited to get started.  I measured out the centerpiece they provided to determine the number of cupcakes that it would hold.  Sent them a quote.  The order was set.

When I arrived the morning of the event to set up, to my shock… the tiered center pieces had be replaced.  They made the decision to go with something nicer, which was the right decision.  However, they neglected to inform me of the change.  These new centerpieces were MUCH larger.  Almost twice the width on every tier.  I placed the topper, the dozen mini cupcakes, and it was SPARSE.  I flagged down the coordinator, explained the problem, and she made the decision we would forgo the dozen cupcakes as part of the table prize and instead use them to fill up the tiers.

The following Monday, I received an email from the main chairperson.  She wanted a partial refund because I failed to produce the dozen cupcakes per table for the prize.  She was never informed by the coordinator, and thought I had shorted their order.  I explained what happened, who authorized the decision to use them, and apologize profusely.   In her response, she was very kind and canceled the request for the refund.  However, I never received another order from her or their organization again.

In this case there was a perception that I failed.  I knew that I hadn’t, and that I met my obligations.  However, based on what she could see… the chairperson perceived that I failed to come through.

This weekend I was reading an blog piece in which the author was brutally raw about her feelings, as she declared that Jesus had failed her family that year.  I was really stumped by those words. Jesus… who is perfect, flawless, dependable, truth… failed you?  I couldn’t understand it.  It didn’t seem possible.

In all the years of unanswered prayers, I’ve never felt like Jesus let me down.  Not once.  I can’t think of a time where I looked up to the heavens and declared “Lord, you really let me down this time.  I needed you to come through.”  I was struggling with every single time her words “Jesus failed me” flew past my eyes.  Yet, I not offended … angry … or hollering out “heretic”.

Perhaps, that is because in all of those times where things didn’t turn out the way I wanted them to… I blamed myself.  I told myself that the reason my prayer wasn’t answered or the Lord didn’t show up was because I failed Him.  I feel like I fail God daily.  I never feel good enough.  I question why in the world He would want to use me in ministry.

What I realized was that how we see things was very different.  I was seeing failure in the way I described the first scenario.  In some way, I failed to deliver on my end of the bargain… even if I did my best.  Even if I made up for it in someway.  Even if no one in the world knew or cared about it.  I knew.  I failed.  My focus was there on that place where I failed, versus the ways that I succeeded.

The woman who wrote the blog piece was more akin to my second example.  She was the chairperson who had expectations on how things were going to turn out.  She brought in the right people, and through no fault of her own in that scenario, something wasn’t right.  She turned to the person she trusted to come through, and she said “you failed me”.

You see, she ascertained that failure based on the limited amount of information she had.  She didn’t know that the centerpieces were different sizes, or that it would make a difference in the end product presentation.  She didn’t know that I was never informed of the change.  She wasn’t brought into the decision making being done on the spot to accommodate the changes, nor filled in after the fact of what happened & why.

When the Lord is working out things for us, we are not always clued in to what is going on in the background.  We can’t always see the people or situations that the Lord is coordinating into just the right places, at just the right times.  In fact, sometimes we never will.  We may never see those fingerprints where God was moving mountains and mustard seeds.  So, when the end product (or process) isn’t what we expected… we may feel like God failed us.  He didn’t come through.

On the other hand, we can become so focused on all of the areas where we ARE messing up… that we think we have failed God to the point He is ignoring us.  We may think He is deliberately keeping blessing from us.  We may even think that he is disciplining us.

In the first case, we are so focused on our perception of the situational outcome that we can’t see those who kept their word and did their part.  We don’t appreciate the people who were pressed into hard decisions.  We lose the ability to give people the benefit of the doubt.  We make assumptions, assign unjust blame.  Our vision becomes clouded to the work God is doing, the blessings that are coming, the people who did care, and the hundreds of little ways God came through with something BETTER.  Jesus never fails us, we just perceive that He did because we didn’t get the outcome we desired.

Or, we become so focused on how wrong and sinful we are.  We become so inwardly focused that we beat ourselves up, disqualify ourselves, and stamp FAILURE on our foreheads.  We make vows to never try again, step away from commitments or ministry work, and wallow in how terrible we think we are.  We put up our hands to the Lord, shouting STOP… I can’t be used.  I’m a failure, not Jesus.

Christ died because we are failures at keeping God’s statutes and commands.  Throughout the Old Testament, on a repetitive cycle…   God would move, the people would celebrate, the people would forget, the people would fall & cry out, and God would rescue.  By the time of the New Testament, when Jesus enters the arena… God’s ultimate plan of redemption for his people who just can’t keep it together on their own.  In her piece, she repeated a few times that she waited for Jesus to rescue her… and He didn’t.  I would contend… HE ALREADY DID, ON CALVARY.

And, in that moment we were given victory over sin and death.  We are not failures, but perfected in Him.  By His stripes we are healed.  We need to keep our eyes on Him, not ourselves.  Trusting His word, even when we don’t understand what is happening around us… or God seems quiet or far.

Then, I read the article a 2nd time.  Something else jumped out at me, and we are going to talk about that next time.

How Deep is Your Faith?

Some of you may recall that back in June I experienced quite a bit of delays trying to fly out to a conference in Indianapolis.  The benefit that came from those delays was the amount of time it gave me to dig into this book without many distractions.  I had no idea how much that reading was going to impact me while in a city far from my own, and would linger since returning home.

amwbook

In the beginning I thought this was going to be a book about deepening my faith.  In many ways I was right.    Exposing shallow faith, where law becomes an idol, and the wake we can leave behind when we are not walking in love and grace.  Recognizing that we have to do more than go through the motions, and that there will be times our faith will take out out of comfort zones into the deep end of the waters.  Pushing ourselves to a deeper understanding of the scriptures and what the Lord expects of us as a response to His Word.

What I didn’t expect to happen was the deeper convictions I was going to feel about how I interacted with this world.  Who was I serving?  How was I serving?  Was it easy, comfortable?  Did it require much of me?

I was great at serving those in my church, but what about the “least of these”?  What real needs have I been engaging?  Was I limiting the Gospel?  Was I limiting my service?  Was I talking a good talk but not walking along with it?  These questions were bouncing through my mind, as I sat in the airport… waiting.

Having a ministry position where I train other leaders, my biggest burden at that point was…

Am I training leaders who are going to go out and serve their people well … or are we just learning how to put on another successful event?  Are we playing ministry or living it?

Had I allowed the Gospel to be too small, was I not seeing the big picture?

This is where the book took me on a new journey about serving, loving, and living the Gospel out in real tangible ways.  Where it becomes more than talk.  Brandon Hatmaker’s words were reeling in my head, as I was walking back to my hotel after the conference let out for the evening.  It was late.  That is when Gregory made eye contact with me.

Gregory walked up to me, tears in his eyes. He was a homeless man, and he was hungry.  I don’t carry cash on me, but directly behind me was a restaurant.  It wasn’t fancy, but it was a better meal than a fast food place.   In Indianapolis, I met a man named Gregory who was from my home state.  I could smell the alcohol on his breath.  I wasn’t sure if I believed his story about being mugged and just needing a few dollars for some food.  It didn’t matter, I knew the man was hungry.

As we walked into the restaurant, Gregory was still crying.  He was sorry for bothering me.  He was sorry for asking. He was sorry for taking our time.  He asked for very little, but I told Gregory to order whatever he wanted.  He first asked for just a sandwich, but I told him to order more.  He gently asked my friend, “Do you think she’d let me have fries too?”.  She smiled and said absolutely, and immediately followed that up with inquiring what he wanted to drink.    In the end we had two sandwiches, french fries, and a large drink for Gregory.   He was grateful, his tears and slurs made him almost inaudible at times.

We prayed over Gregory before we left to return to our hotel.  It sounds like a beautiful moment, doesn’t?

What I neglected to share until this point, was the response of others.  The manager, saw Gregory walk in with us.  She approached us, looked right past my friend and I.  To Gregory, she spoke directly… “Looks like you convinced these nice ladies to buy you a meal.  You can wait here for it, but you can’t eat it outside.  You’ll need to take it and go.”

Her response was as if my friend and I were naive out of towners, taken advantage of by this con-man.  It was insulting to our intelligence and demeaning to Gregory.  He was now a paying customer, and should have been treated as such.  Gregory didn’t leave our thoughts for the rest of the trip, and quite often we prayed for him.  We didn’t see him again before it was time to leave.

Layovers and delays on my return flight home, I kept reading.  Over and over again, I found myself writing in the margins (next to a piece of text)…  Gregory.

From the book:

“It’s true that giving a sandwich to a homeless man on one day is not going to end hunger on the streets of your city.  But it will bless that man today.”

and in another passage:

“You see, after Jesus taught the most significant sermon in the history of time, Jesus didn’t make his way to the next sanctuary to meet  with the religious. He made his way to the next street corner to meet with the outcast. 

By meeting him in his greatest need, Jesus restored more than the man’s health; he restored his dignity. “

Gregory.

A Mile Wide opened my eyes to see so much more than how deep my own faith was, but my willingness to go the distance for my fellow man.  It changed my vision and scope of how ministry was supposed to look, and how I was going to change the way I approached our ministry work of training leaders.  It inspired me to a bigger Gospel.  A global Gospel.  A Gospel that feeds the man on the corner, that restores dignity, fights for justice, helps the Great Commission with feet on the ground.

Lord, I pray for Gregory tonight… where ever he lays his head.  I pray Lord, when I return to Indianapolis next year… I see his face again and we can break bread together.  Keep him safe, bring him to healing, and if I can’t see him again… let it be because he has returned to his family.  I pray for the hardened hearts that have forgotten that Gregory and those who are like him… are human beings made in your image.  Let us treat them as you would.  Amen.

Forgiveness & Reconciliation

MBA

A few weeks ago, I was sitting through our weekly small group meeting.  We took a bold step and decided to tackle Authentic Intimacy’s Passion Pursuit.  Dr. Juli Slattery began to discuss the importance of forgiveness in healing and improving our marriages.  She also delved into the need to forgive past hurts in order to move forward.   Something she said jumped out at me:

The acknowledgement that forgiveness and reconciliation are not the same thing. 

As she waded through the waters of forgiveness, the words FREEDOM were key.  Forgiveness leads to freedom because what ever that wrong was, it no longer holds on to us.  However, reconciliation may not be possible.  Perhaps the other person hasn’t apologized, hasn’t repented because they do not believe they were wrong.  Or, perhaps they took ownership of their wrong doing but for your own safety you can not resume a reconciled relationship with the person.  In some instances the person may have died, moved away, etc and there isn’t a way to even reach out and start a reconciliation process.  However, we can still forgive them and more forward.  This forgiveness does not free them from the CONSEQUENCES of their actions, it does however free us from being held captive by that person or situation any longer.

I walked away that evening reflecting on several situations through the years that cause me distress.  I thought of the scriptures that call us to forgive and reconcile.  I felt like a failure in many ways because even despite my willingness to forgive, there were relationships that were not reconciled.  I had sold myself to believe that I couldn’t more forward until reconciliation had happened.   I resolved that those relationships wouldn’t necessarily reconcile to what they once were, but that to at least be on “civil terms” would be enough.  When that couldn’t happen, I felt like I failed.

Now, that burden was lifted.  I had permission to walk in that freedom of forgiveness, even I was walking alone and the other parties were not ready to join up yet.  Today, I watched a video from The Gospel Coalition on forgiveness without repentance.  One of the things I took away from the video is:

Reconciliation requires repentance and forgiveness from both sides.

It can’t be both sides saying they are sorry, and no one changes.

It can’t be a change of behavior by both sides, without anyone actually apologizing.

It can’t be an exchange of apologies, modified behaviors, when one or both don’t truly forgive.

Forgiveness, repentance, and reconciliation may not come in that exact order & not all at one time.  It may be a process that can span days, months, or even years to complete.  Reconciliation may not even come this side of heaven. 

If we have chosen to forgive, and if we have identified our own mistakes and repented… we may have to be okay with reconciliation’s slow arrival.  If it even comes at all. 

For each of us lies the responsibility of our own actions.  Have we come to God and asked Him to reveal if we are part of the problem?  Is there more to this than being sinned against?  Are we too guilty of sinning against the other person?  If you have a trusted mentor, have you shared the situation with them and sought their counsel and guidance? 

Once you have taken an honest look at yourself, if there is a need for you to apologize then you are responsible for taking the step of repentance and seeking forgiveness.  Then you can also extend your forgiveness to the other person and work toward reconciliation, should both parties agree.  However, if you are truly the only one who was sinned against and the other person is unwilling to repent and ask for forgiveness… you can still choose to forgive as Christ has forgiven.

All of our sins are against a perfect God, who has done nothing wrong to us.  Yet He is able to forgive our sins and cast them to the oceans depths.  If the Lord can forgive me, how can I not forgive those who sin against me?  Reconciliation may not happen, but that doesn’t mean that forgiveness is impossible.

The scriptures state that as much as it is possible, and is up to me, to live at peace with everyone.  Reconciliation isn’t entirely up to me, it takes both parties to happen.  But forgiveness is a choice I can make to bring peace into my heart, life, and relationships.  Then we can lean into trusting the Lord to do the work in the other person, and if reconciliation is possible it will happen under the guidance of the Holy Spirit’s conviction.

When we forgive, we can live in the freedom of Peace.  I choose Peace.

So… I saw Bad Moms, and I laughed.

In case you don’t have any clue what movie I am talking about, here is a promo shot:

badmoms.jpg

First, I’d like to admit right out of the gate I didn’t walk into this movie with naive expectations.  The trailers gave a pretty good indication that there would be some inappropriate humor.  Second, I am not planning on giving away any spoilers.  There were definitely some parts I thought the movie could have lived without, not only for the story line but even in the presentation.  Sometimes it could go too far.  Third, there were some parts of this that were REALLY unrealistic when you are talking about any group of moms.  Lastly, there were also a LOT of truths.

Overall, I laughed and I laughed hard.  At one point I laughed so hard (as I was taking a sip from my straw) that I pushed air through the straw, which caused a small tidal wave in my cup, and that resulted in my drink landing in my eyes.  Which just caused a whole other fit of laughter for myself and those sitting around me.  I laughed until I cried and my stomach hurt.  Yet, there were some moments that I nodded in solidarity.  There were moments that were uncomfortable.  And, yes… as I said before totally unnecessary.

What I want to write about (and I’m up for conversation too) is WHY a movie like this not only resonated with moms but was drawing us in like moths to a flame.

My first thought is probably the most obvious, there is an enormous amount of pressure on moms to be it all, do it all, and do so perfectly.  Whether it is the perfect birthday party, bento box lunches, or simply making it to every school and sport activity… we feel the pressure.  We notice so much of what is around us, like the mom who has the perfect hair and make up in the parent pick up line… when we were struggling to get out of the house with a bra under our pajama shirt.  We see the kids with the perfectly styled hair, accessories, and sparkling white sneakers…. and we just spent the last 40 minutes looking for eyeglasses or a belt.  Other moms dropping their kids off early, and we are 10 minutes late because we had to go back home and pick up the flute that was left behind… or because our darling child took 15 minutes to brush her teeth.

How do these moms do it?  We cast shade in their direction, but really we are asking ourselves… why can’t I do it?

I think there are a number of moms who have run the scenario through their head of just saying no.  No to the requests by the husband, kids, school, coaches, etc.  An opportunity to just walk away from the pressure and enjoy life again.  To make the choice of not being the perfect mom anymore, and instead be the bad mom.

This brings me to my second thought, as you watch the trailers you see a group of women having fun. We are not talking bunko party fundraiser fun, but the kind of fun we had as teenagers  and young single adults.  The fun we had when we didn’t care what others thought, where it was ok to be silly, and there was an expected freedom in the general knowledge we were going to make mistakes and bad choices.  It takes us back to a time when we didn’t have to be an adult, and could just let loose and be free.

With motherhood came some sort of unwritten code of conduct, that we couldn’t be silly anymore.  We began to take everything too seriously, including ourselves.  Let’s face it, books and the advice of television “experts” reinforced this.  Reminding us over and over again that it was time to grow up, put away childish things, and get our heads out of the clouds.  As we did this, many of us sent fun sailing away for good.  We stopped smiling, we stopped laughing, and we stopped being silly.

The movie Bad Moms called out to that free spirit inside of us, that desperately wanted to laugh… and laugh hard.  So, it pulls out all the stops.  The women let loose in a way we couldn’t, and we live vicariously through them.  They say the things that roll through our minds & do the things we secretly wished we could.  (Ok, maybe not all of the things they say and do, but you get the point).

I also believe this appeals to Christian women so deeply because of the bar that is set for our expected behavior.  If other moms are feeling the pressure to be perfect in their every day life, Christian moms understand the additional expectations put on the Christian mom.  To have perfect children that love Jesus, quote the bible, volunteer with the elderly, and gladly donate all their birthday money to the missions fund.  To be women who are serious about the study of the Lord, leading small groups, inviting women over to mentor and pray together, to dress in simple clothes, and be ever diligent in our choices of entertainment.  There is a pressure that all of our time should be so seriously focused on Christ, that we can’t let loose and laugh until our sides hurt.

Confession… I saw the movie on opening night.  It’s taken me almost a month to admit I saw it, because frankly… I expected to be judged for it.  I was worried about what my church friends, my readers that look to me for wisdom, the women or leaders who are reading through my blog trying to decide if I would be the right speaker for their next women’s event… what would these people think of me?

I learned something from the movie though… my eyes were opened to how long it had been since I had laughed so much and so hard.  I realized how seriously I take myself and made the decision not to.  I embraced that silliness is okay and even healthy for my kids to see.  I made the decision that I wanted to laugh more, but with those whom I am the closest to… not a theater full of strangers.  I want that girl posse who has my back, in the most biblical way possible… and who will be silly with me.  Women who know how to laugh, smile, and stop trying to be something that is impossible to attain… perfect.

All of those parts of the movie that I thought were unnecessary, they don’t have to be part of my life.  But the good stuff… I welcome it.  We are all GOOD MOMS despite our imperfections and the times we muck things up… because we are LOVING MOMS.  In the end that is what matters.  The Lord didn’t call us to a life of misery, but of fulfillment and joy as mothers… and laughter.  So much laughter.

Avert Your Eyes

MBA

Women are a funny creation, I’d love to have a one on one conversation with the Creator of the World about how women work.  I want to know how much of our way of thinking, behavior, etc is just “how we are wired” and how much is a result of the fall.  How emotional did God really want for us to be?  How complicated were we intended to be?  When woman first bit that piece of fruit, why is it that her mind became a pile of yarn balls all unraveled and going in so many directions at once?  Why did men get the capacity to compartmentalize things and function so differently with thought and deed?  We both ate of the tree of knowledge, yet our brains work so entirely differently.  Why?

It is a mystery.

Interestingly enough, what also happened after woman bit that apple… she saw herself.  She felt shame and guilt.  And, she hid from God.  Until that moment, the Lord had blinders on her eyes.  She saw Him, she saw Adam, she knew her God given task and purpose.  When she bit of the apple, those blinders fell off.   “What if” entered the world.  “What if God didn’t say ….”.  “What if I take a bite…”.  “What if I didn’t hear God correctly…”.

What if.

Throughout the scriptures there are cries out to God to be seen.  See me, search me, do not cast your face from me, see your people, hear your people, help your people…

Eve hid from God.  Eve said… do not see me.  Do not find me.  Do not cast your gaze upon me.  Do not search me.   She didn’t want to be found in her shame and her guilt.

Avert your eyes.

But the Lord looked for them, he sought them out in their shame, held them accountable, and then as He always does… he made a way out.

I’ve known so many women who want to be seen.  They want their spouses to see them, instead of take them for granted.  They want their children to see them,  and consider them worthy of praise.  They want their parent to see them and apologize for past hurts.  They want their boss to see them and recognize their efforts.  They want their church to see them and welcome their gifts.  They want world to see them and say you add value and are worthy to know.

And yet, some of these same women will hide from those who see too much.   When a spouse gets too close, and they feel vulnerable… they push him away.  When the children begin to see through her perfect mom facade, she builds up taller walls and come up with new covers to her sin.  A parent who desires to fix the past will be kept at arms reach because of fear, we do not want to be hurt again.  Women don’t want their bosses to know how much they sacrificed for the job, because they fear it shows weakness vs. strength.  A woman  who wants the church to see her gift but hides the journey to faith that brought her there.  Women who want the world to see them, but only the parts they want to be seen.

Women are complicated creations.  By our design or as a result of our choices, we seem to have the ability to complicate our lives even more than they need to be.  We say we want authenticity in our friendships, but we do not want vulnerability.  We say that we want iron sharpens iron friendships, yet we do not understand that for iron to be strengthened it’s weaknesses must be exposed.  We would rather our friends look up at us as a model of inspiration versus walk with us through our valleys.  We put on a show, get a circle of friends, build relationships… always keeping our arms stretched out so that no one can get too close.

From a distance our cracks and fractures are not as noticeable.  From a distance we can put on a show and no one can see us reading from the cue cards.  From a distance our grand actions are easily seen but our slight of hand goes unnoticed.  From a distance we look holy and righteous, masking our sin and deprivation.  From a distance we appear to have it all together, all of the right answers, the perfect family… no one can see the brokenness behind our closed doors.

Social media has made the perfect playground for superficial relationships, because we can connect with hundreds and thousands of people… posting our perfectly thought out words, edited photographs, and stories spun to make our lives look like a highlight reel of perfection.  When those people began to infiltrate our real lives, and see how we really live… that facade can only last so long.  When they get too close and begin to the see the truth, we cut them out and replace them with someone new.  Cycling our “friends” in and out of our lives to protect the image we have created for ourselves.

We tackle authenticity from a place of mentor to mentee versus a mutual relationship of accountability.  We want others to be authentic with us, so that we can use our gifts, talents, knowledge, wisdom, et’al to help them.   Yet we dare not expose the thorns in our sides, the planks in our eyes, and our sin to those whom we consider our closest friends.   When they come across them and call our attention to it, we are quick to dismiss it.  Quick to blame, and quick to create distance.  We speak truth in love, but I question how much love is really there.  We speak personal conviction as biblical mandate, standing on a soap box of righteousness that is filled with worms.  We are quick to label others sins and quantify them as more terrible than our own, so that when the time comes we can stop the friendship and feel no remorse.

Righteous indignation is easier than self retrospection.

So, we hide.  We hide from God under the guise that our sin is not as bad as others.  We tell ourselves that God is angrier about greater sins in the world, than this little thing I have done.  We hide from those who love us, because we fear that if they see us for who we really are they will leave… judge… or hold us accountable to change.  We hide from ourselves by focusing so much on how others have wronged or hurt us, that we can put our own sin on the back burner.

We want others to avert their eyes to us, while we look at them under a microscope.

Lord help us to be vulnerable with one another, to walk our roads not alone but in the company of our family of believers, let us not fear accountability, and help us to stop hiding from you.

The NIV LifeConnect Study Bible

nivlcsb

I must admit, I own several Bibles.  In fact, I have such a strong opinion on Bible translations… it may be one of the things I am most frequently asked my opinion on in our church small groups.  While my collection has covered the gamut of translations (I see each one as valuable to my study), until recently I only had one Study Bible (it’s an HCSB).

A few weeks ago, I finally got my hands on a new Study Bible; the NIV LifeConnect Study Bible from Zondervan.  I am thoroughly impressed.  Physically, it is a large Bible.  I won’t be carrying this one with me to services on the weekend.  However, it is great for a desk reference when I am studying or working on a project.  And, a great resource for when I am studying or preparing work and choosing to disconnect from technology.  It is packed full of helpful information and even places to jot notes, if you are a note taker like I am.

Each page has a slim column for taking quick notes, and journaling pages where you can make quick notes about how the scripture spoke to your or how you responded to it.  I am a huge fan of this format.  In many ways, it is like making your own personal table of contents or index to retrace your thoughts or recall information you previously read.  These pages are located at the end of each most books of the Bible, however the longer books will have them peppered throughout.  It’s like they know me!

At the beginning of each book of the Bible, there is a brief introduction that covers foundational information for deeper study.  The who, what, where, when, why, and how questions are answered right off the cuff.  This allows the reader to enter the book with a clearer perspective of what they are reading. Cultural information of importance is shared, there is a timeline to reference, themes you should be watching out for, and even some “Did You Know” points that can assist with interpretation within context.  Thorough footnotes walk through the scriptures with you, the SOAP method to study (Scripture, Observation, Application, Prayer) is located throughout the Bible, and if you’re not familiar with the method … DON’T WORRY.  Clear instructions are given.

The author of the Study Bible, Wayne Cordeiro, has also included quotes from his other works… when applicable to the scripture selection.  There are also colorful maps and concordance reference to further assist your study.  Included is a Bible Reading Plan, if you are interested in a concrete plan for study.

The pages are crisp and easy to read, and begging for a highlighter or colored pencils to adorn the pages.  While there are some sections of study notes from the author, I like that Cordeiro didn’t take all of the burden off the reader.  You have a responsibility here too, he simply guides us through the study process.  You’ll be a better student of the Word, for certain.

In addition to the concordance in the back, you’ll find colorful maps and even weight and measure conversions.  These tools help translate our modern understanding of geography and measurements to an ancient time, clarifying context and allotting for familiarity.

My only complaint, for a Study Bible, is that I wish the maps were incorporated into the study sections verses tucked away in the back.  When reading I’d prefer to only have to flip a few pages versus cover to cover.  Otherwise, it’s a great bible for a serious student… but a new believer too.

 
I review for BookLook Bloggers

nivlcsb

Grow deeper in your spiritual life with the NIV LifeConnect Study Bible. Dr. Wayne Cordeiro includes articles bringing the truths of the Scriptures to your life today, as well as Scripture, Observation, Application, Prayer (SOAP) articles that offer an interactive framework to apply the Word of God to your life. Free digital resources included.

#Write31Days – Post 23 – False Teachers

MBA

A few weeks ago, during our small group, a woman asked me how to identify a false teacher.  Specifically, her concerns were based in the fact that she, herself, was still currently learning the scripture.  The Bible tells us to test false teachers and prophets against God’s Word, but if you are currently not well versed in the scriptures… how do you begin?   I am going to share here, the advice I gave to her.  I hope that it is helpful.

 “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.”

Matthew 7:15

  1.   Begin in prayer.  Whenever I am presented with an opportunity to hear from a new speaker, read a new book, or perhaps even attend another church as a guest… I start in prayer.  I need the Holy Spirit to be that discerning voice, that physical presence in my body, that will help me.  It is that voice you get in your head, when something just doesn’t sound right.  That knot in the pit of your stomach when you are just not comfortable in your seat.  The voice that says do not listen, flee.  I pray that God will move me away from false teachers.
  2.  Do some research.  Thankfully the internet usually abounds with information on any sort of public figure.  Most churches, organizations, and conferences have websites that will clue you into their statement of faith, allow you to see past sermons or snippets from events, etc.  I want to know who this person is, what is their background, what do they believe in, and who is in their circle of influence, who do they consider a mentor or friend.  You can tell a lot about a person by the company they keep.
  3. Remember context matters.  In your research phase, you may come across blogs and articles that speak against ANY given author, speaker, or well known Pastor.  What I would challenge you to do, is to not take their word as gospel truth.  If they post a 15 second sound clip, do not take that at face value.  Instead, take the extra time and see if you can find those quotes, video clips, etc in full context.  Many things can be taken out of context, the Bible often is.  We need the full context of the statement (including who their audience was, and WHEN this was spoken) in order to make an educated decision.  If I can’t find the quote/video in full context, I disregard it.
  4. Time changes people.  I am so thankful I am not the person I was 20 years ago, 10 years ago, and even 5 years ago.  I have grown a lot in my knowledge of the scriptures.  Therefore, I will generally disregard any old quotes, writings, videos as evidence against a speaker.  To be specific, I won’t usually consider anything that is over 10 years old…. UNLESS the speaker hasn’t changed their position.  If this is the same platform being recycled every few years, then certainly it is important.  But, I recently heard a woman call a current author a “false teacher” over a comment she made over 13 years ago… when the author was barely in her twenties.  She has grown a lot since then, and that is evident in her more recent work.  Therefore I am more interested in who the person is NOW, what to they believe today versus what their inexperienced youthful self saw as truth.
  5. Cautiously ask others.   I used the word cautiously here, because we are looking at personal opinion.  Personal opinion can quickly become gossip, it isn’t always factual, and even facts that are spoken may be inaccurate.  To proceed cautiously I would suggest not asking everyone (like a general “what do you think of this person” post on social media.  That will create a STORM.  Instead look to key people whom you respect, and ask their thoughts.  This could be your Pastor, his wife, bible study leaders, etc.   It is ok if they say something along the lines of “he doesn’t sit well with me, but I can’t tell you why”.  That’s their discernment at work (see #1).  However, if they start giving you “facts”, take the time and do the research (see #2) to ensure accuracy.
  6. Keep Studying.  No matter what, keep studying the Word for yourself.  The more acquainted you become with the scriptures, the sooner you begin raising red flags at false teachers/prophets.   In the beginning, it may simply come from your greater knowledge of God’s character over knowledge of the scriptures verbatim.  If a false teacher says something that just doesn’t fall in line with the nature of God, it will stand out…. even if you can’t put your finger on the exact scripture reference at the moment.  Over time, you will become more familiar with the scriptures themselves and improve your ability to recognize scriptures that are twisted or taken out of context.

These six tips are great ways to help you begin to identify false teachers, while you are becoming a better student of the Word.  The more you know the Word, the more you know God… and the easier it is to identify those who are misusing, misrepresenting, and misquoting the Scripture.

The following are some scriptures that clue us into ways we can identify false teachers and prophets:  (bold emphasis is mine)

Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. – Ephesians 5:11        False teachers/prophets are going to make claims, but their claims will not come true.  They will claim healing, but there will be none.  They will give the illusion of miracles, but they will not be real.  They will prophesy, but the prophesies won’t come true.   

I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them.- Romans 16:17    These are people who are trouble makers, pot stirrers, always looking for a fight and to cause trouble.  They are creating divisions in the church, and spinning scripture out of context further causing division among the body of believers.

For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naive.  – Romans 16:18     They are smooth talkers, who say the things we want to hear.  It sounds nice, it sounds appealing, and it may even sound like truth.  But they are not trying to serve you, or God… but only themselves.  Everything they do is for their own gain.  More money, more prestige, more celebrity, more power.  They may also speak with authority and their words may seem credible, but their intentions are to build themselves up over man… not pointing man to God.

For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions.  – 2 Timothy 4:3   These teachers will tell us what we want to hear in a way that sounds like truth, and even those who love God will fall for it… if they do not know His word for themselves.  It will sound like truth, because it will distort scripture to support their claims.

But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. – 2 Peter 2:1     False teachers and prophets are sneaky, and actively sneaking their way into the lives of believers.  They won’t always stand out and boldly proclaim things contrary to the scriptures. Some will slither in to our churches, sitting next to us in pews.  And like the serpent was able to get Eve to question what God really said about eating the forbidden fruit… they will make us question what the bible means in scripture passages.  They will claim to be our sisters and brothers in Christ, but will be wolves in sheep’s clothing (Matt 7:15)

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. – 1 John 4:1-3  There will be false teachers and prophets that are more obvious, speaking directly against God, speak of God without Jesus Christ, or speak of God in a way that contradicts what the scripture reveal of Him.

See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.- Colossians 2:8  False teachers and prophets will use human thinking, logic, theories and empty evidences as an explanation in an attempt to discredit God or to change how we think of God.

For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Their end will correspond to their deeds.   2 Corinthians 11:13-15   False teachers will also disguise themselves as leaders, not just fellow believers.  They will call themselves apostles, disciples, pastors, bishops, reverends, priests, etc.  They will use terms we are familiar with to create a credibility.  However the Word tells us that we will see through their claims by their deeds, how they behave and what actions they take.

And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed. – 2 Peter 2:2   Multiple times in the scriptures we are warned that false teachers are going to be attractive to people.  They may be good looking, seem to have their lives all together, the words that flow out of their mouths will be appealing.  They will have charm, charisma, and an attractive personality.  They will seem to be financially blessed, free of difficulties in their lives, everything appears to always go in their favor.

If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, and constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain.

  – 1 Timothy 3:6-5

There are many, many more, scriptures that talk about the false teachers and prophets found in the Old Testament through the New Testament.    These are just a small sampling of those scriptures.  This is also not a discount to those who have received Spiritual Gifts!  Rather it is a call to all believers to be students of the word, to have a solid foundation in sound doctrine, and an intentional prayer life that keeps their focus on WHO GOD REALLY IS, WHAT HIS WORD REALLY SAYS, AND HOW GOD CONSISTENTLY ACTS.

About a year ago, I read an article written by a Christian woman on a piece of scripture that was entirely off the mark.  She ended it with an invitation to challenge her interpretation of the scripture, but only if you could support your argument with the Bible.  I responded to the article, siting multiple resources on the historical context of it.  I also included Bible verses that discounted her interpretation.  Her reply???  I don’t have enough time to address all of this individually.  I disagree with you and she listed a few quick retorts.  Then do you know what she did?  She blocked me from responding.

I followed her rules.  I had more biblical evidence than she did.  She was unwilling to even check if my evidence was accurate.  And she closed down the conversation.

What did that tell me?  False teacher.

2 Pet2:1 – false prophets among the people, false teachers among you. —– She labeled herself a Christian.

2 Tim4:3 – they will not endure sound doctrine. —– She was unwilling to consider BIBLICAL evidence.

Rom 16:17 – cause division, create obstacles to sound doctrine.  —– Her argument took scripture out of context, and was pitting Christians vs. Christians.  You were only right if you supported her “interpretation”.

Ephesians 5:11 – take no part in fruitless work, but expose it.  —– When she was rebuked using scripture, she disabled me from continuing to expose her. 

1 Tim3:6-5 – teaching a different doctrine that didn’t agree with the words of Christ.   —– She was conceited in her belief that she was right. She was creating controversy and friction among God’s people.   She was absolutely unteachable, and her deeds exposed her.  (2 Cor 11:15)