Monday, February 29, 2016

That's All She Wrote...(for now)

My watch said 1:26 A.M. when I knew I wasn't going back to sleep. I just HATE it when that happens! It's generally me wrestling with the Lord about something, and He just knows He won't have my full attention unless it's without distraction of any kind. I've learned. It's better to just get up, grab a journal, and start processing. It's not like I had a lot on my mind, but I did have this one thing that's been eating at me for a few days. It started with a devotional I read by Kyle Idleman on February 23. It was titled, Audience of One. It's worth the read. So, follow the link.

In case you don't read Audience of One, here's a quote from it: "I'm not anti-social-media. It can serve good and valuable purposes. But, we need to be careful. So much is about me. Me projecting my image to the world. Me sharing my opinions with the world. Me, me, me, me. And that's my problem. My problem is me!" 

Right there, that began the internal war. Then yesterday, as I was continuing my study on what a true Biblical Church looks like, I read these words from the Apostle Paul, written in a letter to a church of whom he could definitely not boast - the church at Corinth. His rebuke to them was less than subtle, and at one point, he even said these words, "I write this to shame you!" Ouch! I know one thing, the Apostle Paul would definitely not be invited to speak in many churches of 2016. Here was the passage which nailed me, and ultimately woke me up:

All things are permissible for me, but not all things are helpful. All things are permissible for me, but I will not be dominated (brought under the power of, controlled, mastered) by anything.
I Cor. 6:12

The enemy of our souls, unlike Paul, uses subtle tactics. He takes something good, yes, even helpful, and turns it into that which can often distract us from what is BEST; and BAM (!) just like that, I'm imprisoned. Entrapped in the me-problem to which Idleman refers. Imprisoned in what I think someone else thinks about me. Robbed of my joy. Stripped bare by the thief who comes to steal, kill and destroy, and left for dead in some wadi, like the man journeying on the road to Jericho from Jerusalem. It's a brutal place to be found, for sure!

Years ago, I promised the Lord, I wouldn't stand in front of any audience to speak, unless I knew I had His permission. At exactly 2:42 A.M., I sensed the Lord giving an instruction regarding this blog, for this season (and I don't know if it's for a short time, or for forever). Regardless, permission withdrawn. I am to continue seeking His face, fill the need for writing by journaling what He's teaching, learning and growing; but, it needs to be from that secret place of nearness to Him, and out of nothing that has to do with me, me, me, me.

So, for now, anyway: a huge thanks to those of you who've journeyed with me.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Extraordinary Faith Shares

It's been just over a week ago, our team of seven returned from ministering in Cuba. While the trip is a lot of work to put together, we are always blessed by the warmth, generosity, and passionate hunger of the Cuban Christians. We go as teachers, but inevitably, we are the ones taught. This is often the case in missions/ministry. It's humbling in a great way; it's encouraging; and, it's often a reminder of what the early church might have resembled. In fact, from the outside looking in, these churches are characteristic of the church Paul boasted of in abundant faith, increasing love, and steadfast endurance. I'm better for each trip I have made into this communistic island of raw beauty.

Over the last four years, I've seen a recurring event that honors me and humbles me even more. Three different times in three different churches, women have come to me with their notes from the previous years of teaching. Two of these times, their notes span back over a six year period. They want me to see that they still have those notes. They want me to know that they continue to study them; but more than that, they all have taken those notes and taught them to other women. Those lessons have gone to women in neighborhoods, to women in other churches, to women in bible studies, and to co-workers in the public arena. Those little composition books are worn thin; the pages are smudged; some are's obvious these ladies aren't just blowing smoke to make me feel good. They aren't just being hearers of the Word, they are being doers. They are fact checking. They are reminding themselves of Truth. They are applying it, then they are taking the words and passing them forward. 

I don't mean this to sound boastful in anyway; please hear my heart. Every time this has happened, I have wondered about me. I've thought about all the amazing truths I've been taught over the years of my Christian life. I've had pictures of conferences I've attended pass through the albums in my brain. I've thought about all the notes I've taken in Bible Studies I've attended...and filed away for years, only to throw them in the trash. I have not been like these women, good stewards of the Truth poured out in my soul. I can't boast, I'm too convicted!

God's Word. It is never going to come back void (Isaiah 55:11). That's a promise. However, if I am growing in faith, and not just growing in little inches, but in leaps and bounds, I am doing something with those Words. They will be my lifeline. They will be my hope in the God of so much more! And, I will be regurgitating them to those around me. If I need them, others do, too. God's Word is steady. It is faith-building. It's ways are RIGHT and SURE! I can rely on them leading to successful living.

That's the thing about faith. It's contagious. When I see over-the-top-faith in someone else, I desire it; and, I want to do the same - pass it on. It only comes one way: hearing the Word of the Lord. God intended for us all to be messengers of faith, spurring one another on to love and good deeds. I am, indeed, challenged by the greater faith of those to whom I was sent. 

This, then, is exactly what Paul boasted of - faith challenging faith in one another; and when it does, we grow in faith, not just a little, but in extraordinary and noticeable ways.

This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success. 
Joshua 1:8

Monday, February 15, 2016

Lazy? or, Growing in Faith?

Swirling around in my brain this morning are scores of verses I’ve studied over the weekend on faith. After all, if ABUNDANT faith is indication of a healthy church, then I want a good, solid, biblical view of what that looks like. I just completed a theological fly-over, but somehow need to bring that plane to a landing on something solid and practical. I want to be a healthy church! I long for my collective gathering of little churches to be strong in spirit, as well.

Unquestionably, faith is the bedrock of Christianity. I can’t muster up faith - it is the gift of God (lest any many should boast). At the same time, I am told to pursue faith and to “make every effort to add to my faith.” Faith rises up out of a strong knowledge of TRUTH, yet it is not inactive: faith without works is dead; and, the righteous live by faith. The Christian is warned to wear faith at all times, as a shield, to deflect the fiery darts of the enemy; and yet, Believer, we are told to rise up and resist the enemy by faith, so he will flee. Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of the Lord, but many a follower (from the beginnings of the early church) have been deceived by the words of man and seen their faith shipwrecked. When the Apostle Paul warns of this, I know he saw particular faces flit through his mind, and his heart broke. So, he challenges us over and over again to fight for the faith, to contend for the faith, and to guard that which has been “entrusted” to us. How do we know if our faith is genuine? It’s revealed through testing…and is refined by fire; but, we are to continually “examine ourselves to see if we are in the faith.” In other words, faith is quite paradoxical (confounding, in fact). So, we don’t spend a lot of mental energy thinking about it. Yet without faith, it is impossible to please the Lord.

I’ve settled on a definition for faith. Faith is to be so persuaded by something, or in our case, SOMEONE, that every decision in life springs out of reliance upon that one. Simply put: faith relies heavily on the only ONE worthy of following. As a result, that ONE must always be in our sights. His words must always ring in our ears. Our responses are always based on where He leads and what He says; and, no matter what, we yield and comply. No!Matter!What! Because sometimes, where He leads and what He says makes no sense at all. Just ask Paul, or Peter, or James, or John… Sometimes, He sent them into the darkest of woods.

The church of the Thessalonians were living out of faith that was growing. Not just “growing,” but growing ABUNDANTLY. That word, abundant (!) meant beyond measure. It was not just growing in ordinary fashion as one would expect, but by leaps and bounds. It was extraordinarily growing, and causing no small measure of notice. So, if faith, indeed, comes by hearing (and hearing from the Word of God), then they were steeping themselves in TRUTH. They were marinating in it, and then going out and doing something with it. The more they saw that their faith worked, the more they wanted. So, they went back to the Source for Faith again and again; and the more they marinated and steeped, read and studied; listened and prayed - the more their faith grew. The Lord honored their pursuit with the gift of greater faith.

I see a problem in this church (me, a little “eklesia"). I see a problem in the collective church. Forgive me if I offend. We are a bunch of lazy churches. We’re comfortable with being spoon fed. We want others to do the work of steeping and studying, grinding up the meat, and making it more digestible. We live in an age of easy access. I can quickly download a new book, or listen to a podcast of my most favorite speakers, or watch faith-building films. I can even dive into “Bible Studies” that others have prepared for me with wonderful, godly, insightfully creative commentary. I love it all. I take advantage of what’s available. It’s comfortable. Yet, if I don’t dive into the truth for myself; if I don’t take the time to do the study; it can be so easy to just take man’s word, and let that be the end-all. And, what I’ve realized is it can simply be the beginning of shipwrecking my faith. It’s the beginning, because lies are subtle. We must take what man says (even what I say!) and always measure it with the plumb line of God’s Words. Sometimes, the enemy has allowed worldly philosophies to be gift wrapped to look a lot like truth, without being TRUTH. It’s exactly what the writers of the New Testament warned against.

Here’s the thing. I don’t want to be just another face crossing through the mind of the writer’s of the Holy Word because my faith failed to grow deep, strong, and steady. I want to pursue faith as I pursue truth for myself…and in the process, wouldn’t it be wonderful if others took notice and asked why?

Monday, February 8, 2016

Church: It Starts With Godly Sincerity

As a general rule, I really struggle when I’m around people who boast. Even though I’ve come to realize that it’s often out of insecurity (which, in itself, is a sense of false pride), it’s a hurdle for me to overcome and, yes, it says something about my own heart. Yet the question that came to mind after I discovered last week’s key passage (2 Thessalonians 1:3-4) was this: “To boast or not to boast?” It is a good question. Since bragging always has this prideful slant, I was surprised that Paul was so generous in his affirmation of the church at Thessalonica. However, the apostle didn’t boast often, and when he did, his boasting was always within the shadow of the cross. AND…always, aLwAyS, ALWAYS to the glory of the Lord. Still, Paul’s boasting is where I began breaking down the verses that held the three key markers of a healthy church). 

Just a reminder. A healthy church is:
Growing in faith
Increasing in love
Remaining steadfast in affliction

I checked out several Scriptures, but here’s the one that resonated with me, especially in light of  the list of three:

For our boast is this…that we behaved in the world in simplicity (without self-seeking benefit) and godly sincerity… 
(2 Corinthians 1:12)

I couldn’t stop looking at those two words: godly sincerity. So, I camped out a little while in study of the word that was translated into that phrase. Here are a few of the phrases synonymous:
Clearness of thought expressed verbally
Ingenuous (incapable of being devious or deceitful; unable to defraud)
Honorably straight forward
Frank and truthful
An inability to mask one’s feelings
An admission of responsibility

As I kept glancing back and forth from list to list, the mental light bulb started to shine. We can’t grow in faith, or increase in love, or keep on enduring in the midst of various trials unless we, as a church, are genuinely honest, loving one another without hypocrisy, and sharing vulnerably with a true connection of heart. The church (collectively and individually) should be, above all things, the ONE PLACE we can enter, be emotional messes without fear of judgment, and leave encouraged to press-on. Yes, there’s accountability that is uncomfortable and sometimes strong. Of course, there will be occasional hard truths spoken over us (a spiritual kick in the pants). However, there will also be comfort from those who have, themselves, been comforted. There will be instruction on how to do life. There will be hope revealed of better tomorrows. There will be healing laughter and times of fun. Yet, there will always be WORDS OF TRUTH and WORDS OF LIFE that will help us abide fully in the presence of the Lord with joy.

If we aren’t able to do the one (godly sincerity), we will never see the other (the marks of a healthy church). I don’t see it often; but, I have seen this lived out a time or two. Being able to be authentic with people who are genuinely for us is an amazing gift. It was one of God’s grandest and best ideas when He came up with the thought of CHURCH! 

And, when we see it, it is worth boasting about! It is worth applauding a church who can do this well to the glory of God. 

I ask myself now: Am I that kind of church for the other churches around me?
Is my collective church that kind of a church? 
If it is…the lost are probably flocking to it. If they aren’t, why not? 
If it is…we are probably enduring persecution, because the enemy would hate to see the church actually being the church. If it’s not, why not? (All those who desire to live in godly sincerity will be persecuted. 2 Timothy 3:12)

Am I looking for this kind of a church, or am I playing it safe, hiding in anonymity in a church that dishes out entertainment, and an easy-on-the-conscience word?  

Here’s this week’s #lessonsonthechurch: Church isn’t about growing in size, it’s about growing in sincere heart-connection. When we learn to connect at the soul-level, we certainly won’t have to worry about outreach. 

Monday, February 1, 2016

The Enduring Markers of a Healthy Church

Lessons on Church, or "#lessonsonchurch". Here’s what I have learned so far.

  1. I am the church.
  2. Jesus has to remain my foundation, my focus, my friend.
  3. Jesus never goes on sale, because what He supplies is always in demand. His worth is inestimable. As the church, we need to be careful not to demand what He supplies. That's when we get into BIG TROUBLE.
  4. My part of being church is to bear the name of the one who called me by name.
  5. My part of being church is to pass the baton of AWE to younger generations.
  6. I need to gather with other churches as one unified church for the purpose of encouragement.

Ever wonder what a healthy gathering of little “ekklesias” looks like? I certainly have! And this week, I stumbled on the Apostle Paul's answer to that question. He wrote about it to a little church in a letter we know as "2 Thessalonians." Paul was particularly pleased with this church. As he begins his letter to them, he lets them know that he has boasted to other churches about them. In other words, Paul has used them as a model church. Remember, our calling is to bear THE NAME. Paul’s words to this collective group of individual churches is to say that these things are reflective of THAT NAME: The name of Jesus.

Here are Paul’s words:

We always give thanks to God for you, brothers and sisters, as is right, because your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of every one of you for one another is increasing. Therefore, we ourselves boast about you in the churches of God for your steadfastness and faith in all your persecutions and in the afflictions that you are enduring. 
(1 Thessalonians 3-4).

I’ve pulled three key markers of a healthy church out of Paul’s boastings. They aren’t earth shattering. They are, however, a rubric of sorts, which we can use to look soul-deep at our gathering of ekklesias, or individually, since we are the church. Would Paul boast about you, or your church, to other churches? This church had...

  • An abundantly growing faith.
  • An increasing love for one another.
  • A steadfastness and endurance in the face of persecutions and afflictions.

The writer of Hebrews said that our community of believers should not neglect meeting together, because the huge need of all ekklesias is encouragement. Paul takes that need one step further by breaking it down in these three areas: Encouragement to Faith; Encouragement to Love; and, Encouragement to Steadfastness / Perseverance. 

I don’t know about you. This is enough for me. I want to dig in a little more and unearth some details in each of those areas. There’s probably enough information to uncover to take a week on each. For now, I’m asking myself this question. If I am being the church, am I doing my part to help “one-another” other ekklesias to faith, love, and steadfastness?


Your collective gathering of other believers?