Church leadership- 2016 version

Two years ago I was incredibly frustrated at how church elders were selected, and who was selected.  Nothing personal about the selection committee, nor of the candidates.  It was not a personal issue.  It was a matter of discernment, of obedience to God’s plan for his church, and for how he has deemed leaders are selected.  It is a humbling thought that most of us are not leadership…. and more humbling is that the choice of who is prepared, seasoned, honed and ready to obey God in a leadership role often does not see it that way.

This frustration sent me back to deep study, to discern what God calls leaders, what they look like, how they are developed, and how they are recognized.  Big surprise – the method and the process were nothing like earthly ways.  In the Bible it was the known leaders gathering in prayer, asking for discernment, while reviewing the lives of possible candidates.  I found a wonderful recap of the concept of elder published by John Piper.

<Click here to read the article>

While it seems that some sort of selection group gathered, and names were raised for elder, did they lay them before God and ask for clarity? Two years ago one of the elder candidates was on the surface wonderfully skilled at teaching and a holder of an undergrad degree from a christian college, but if you watched that life, how they handle their own self, their family, their work?.There were a lot of alarms raised.  Perhaps i was closer to the situation, having known them for a decade, and having watched them struggle with their marriage, and life issues.  My objections were met with response that I was wrong, or my thinking was flawed. (Yes, that is always possible, but on this one i know what i was watching for 10  plus years. )  And while my heart was heavy to see the end result, i was not surprised that within 6-8 months he crashed hard and burned to a crisp under the weight of the elder-ship.

I never wanted to say “I told you so” but i certainly could!  And as a result we went 2 years without that office filled.  The role of elder was shouldered by less people, and growing demands.

God has framework and ways of living documented to us for reasons.  He is far more wise than any committee or group of humans will ever be.  And it seems that the role of elder is one of great weight of responsibility – one must know God’s word, be qualified, and humble, willing to help people through difficult things with strength, wisdom and character.

This year the choices were interesting.  There is a clear pattern of who influenced the decisions, which raises a great concern for the overall health of the church.  I hope i am wrong, but alarms are raised again for one of the men chosen.  It seems that was yet another choice of the “committee” to overlook or pay no attention to the documented qualifications of the office, ensuring they match with the character and history of the person.  But I open my hands, throw them to the sky and say “Lord, this is your church.  You are building it, not me.  You choose to bless us with wise and strong leadership, or withhold this and give us weakened leaders… yet it is you that is in charge, not a committee, or a person.  Have your way, take this burden from me, and show me how to pray for them.”

And that brings me to the article i wrote two years ago…. still valid, still practical, and still critical for body health:

The committee has met, the votes are tallied, and now a new leader (elder/deacon) has been decided upon.  Were the decisions unanimous?  Were there lingering wonder about their fit for the work?  What are we required to do?

1. Pray – pray daily that the Lord will have his hand upon the man:

  • Protection – from the attacks of the enemy
  • Wisdom to make correct decisions
  • Strength for the work

2. Encourage – when possible try to encourage them

3. Watch – watch as the leader steps up…. will they bring a humble heart, yielded to God, or will we see misuse of power?  Watch and pray

In the crucible of position character will reflect the truth about the person… whether they a re established, rooted and grounded, and able to lead.  Or not.  We are obligated to pray for our leaders, asking God to reign over all, sovereign, holy and with all wisdom.

“Lord, we bring our leaders to you.  May you always watch over and protect them.  May you grant them your wisdom, your spirit of leading, and always a teachable spirit.  May they lead well, with strength and power of your spirit, direction from your word.  May you give deep insight into the building of your kingdom, and use these leaders for your glory. Amen”

To this i have a few things to add to my prayer:

“Lord, First I ask that you will grow up these men that our congregation call elders…. give them strength in your word, soundness of character, protection from the arrows of the enemy and yielded teachable spirits toward you.  and Second, I pray for any intentions, engineering, personal gain, or other reasoning that may have come to mind in this decision- may you break down all that is not of you, and may you teach our church how to live by your word in powerful obedience.  May your power rest in strength on our leaders…. make them strong, discerning, capable and wise.  May you break down any weapon the enemy brings to try to weaken or destroy us.  And for the future practice of selecting elders, may you begin raising up men who love you, know you, already have withstood seasons of trial, and remain focused on you.  Only you can raise leaders, only you can build your church so that the gates of hell will not prevail against it.  Have your way.”  Amen

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Thoughts on being my brother’s keeper

“Am I my brother’s keeper?”

When i first read those words uttered by a very angry Cain in Genesis  the idea of being careful or engaged with other people did not seem so important, but as i have grown older it is clear that we cannot do this life alone.  We need the strong presence of God in our life, and we need to know we are a part of a greater whole, whether it is a family, a team at the job, a sports team, or a group of people that care for one another.

Am I my brother’s Keeper?  I have asked myself that many times.  Am I responding to and paying attention to those unspoken hopes of another for a moment of attention or prayer?  Am i seeing those subtle changes (depression, stress, etc) that are not typical of my husband, friend, sister, cousin….

Do i take the time to care?

These thoughts have bubbled to the surface of my thoughts again in the wake of that horrific news story of a suburban Cleveland home blowing up, and taking the lives of a couple and their two sweet daughters.  Within a day the fire investigators had used the word arson, noting that it was not a natural gas explosion.  And today the news announced they are ruling this a murder suicide, with the husband having had history of suicidal idiations.

Was anyone keeping up with this guy?  Did someone notice his change in thought and action?  Did anyone take the time? Perhaps he was not reachable… but lets just suppose that someone had noticed, and began to take time to care.  The outcome could have certainly been much different.

We dont know what is going on in the depth of one another’s mind and heart.  But we should at least be building a community that cares, and taking that step to notice.  It hurts more to think he was a deacon of his church. No doubt a great church… but i cant help but wonder if anyone really reached out, took the time, walked through those dark recesses of life where it is dirty, scarey, and often painful…. to do soul saving work.

Certainly God was there.  Certainly.  But with those explosions that blew up that house more than a house blew up…. a community was rocked… family, friends, coworkers, fellow students, fellow church members… and the greater community of people that never knew them… The explosion was heard around the world through the news.

So how do i bring this to a practical purpose?

Here are just afew things i want to say:

  • Are you struggling with thoughts that are destructive?  Reach out to someone.  Your life is far more precious than to consider destroying it.
  • Are you living with someone who is struggling? Get help – talk to a counselor, call your pastor, call a friend, reach out….. do it.
  • Are you living with grief after such a devistation – find healing in friends, talk it out, get help…. find someone.
  • Are you fortunate to not be in those places?  Then look around, hug someone, call someone, reach out to those you have not seen around…. check in, develop a closer friendship with people.

2016, the year ahead

We are all focused on turning the page, opening a new year, new calendar, making resolutions, or promises, or going through the motions to start off on a fresh and new adventure…. and yes, i share that odd sense of needing a fresh start, a new year, and a new sense of direction.  But why are we like that?  There is nothing inherently different between December 31st and January 1… yet we build our mind sets around this being a quantum leap from old to new.

So what do i think about this emphasis on a new year/new start?  I think life can be very challenging and uncertain.  We each deal with joy and grief, wins and losses.  Some years are filled to the brim with blessings, and other years feel like they took everything we had, and then some to drag across that demarcation mark of the end of a year.

Our lives wear us down, and slowly erode a sense of hope.  Placing emphasis on a new year, and a fresh start means a new chance to live, a new opportunity to change something that has been impossible to live with, or a clean break from a mindset that has held us in shackles.

So as i greeted 2016 with its uncertainty thee was a fresh sense of hope for a wonderful year.  Will i loose those XX pounds?  Will this be a year when amazing things occur?  Whatever life will bring, i will choose to hope for the best, and attempt to practice something that can always improve…. Here is my list of thoughts and things that I will keep in positive light, no matter what comes:

  • I will smile, and thank God for each breath, each moment, each opportunity in life
  • I will choose to not lean onto my own opinions of life, or situations because perception can be skewed.
  • I will choose to forgive, to give grace, and find ways of living with those who are difficult, challenging, frustrating.
  • I will choose my words carefully, and try to filter my speech with love, concern and ask for wisdom when i have no clue.
  • I will choose to thank God for the hard times, the challenges that can be almost soul crushing, because this is the stuff that builds character.
  • I will choose to thank God for his provision, and pay no attention to the rest of the world, being grateful and blessed that my needs are met.
  • I will choose to passionately pursue Jesus, spending more time reading, studying, and growing.
  • I acknowledge life is often out of my control, and will accept that fact, knowing that God holds my life, and my future in his care.

This is the closest to resolutions i will make.  A new year is exactly that… a fresh run at life…. regrouping, reorganizing, moving forward with a new sense of hope and vigor.

It is my heart felt wish that your new year will be filled with blessing, health and prosperity.  i do resolve to write daily on this blog…

 

Wrecked and burning the bridges – A story of 2015

burningship

If you have at any point followed this blog you know that i was at one time obsessively on top of it,  documenting the things that were at the forefront of my life.  But then life sped up, and the already limited time spent writing was suspended for the tyranny of the urgent.   In the midst of working a full time job for a salary, keeping a full time business flowing (i still dont get paid a paycheck for that one yet), keeping my house (if you can call it that), keepin my hubby organized as much as I can and keeping the dogs in control … would you believe i still love to read as much as i can get my eyes on.  Daily reading keeps the mind sharp and satisfies that need to learn, be challenged and to grow.

Life long learning is a serious theme of my life.  I have a bucket list of things I want to accomplish before  heaven is real.

I have wanted to work out this unresolved upheaval of my life and the stripping of any sense of normalcy that occurred in 2010 when we lost our income, our standard of living, and our purpose (short run).  This year (2015) was the one to lay down the grieving for what was, and fully embrace the life that is now. If you have ever been there it’s not easy to make that turn. Thank God for movement with this- because for so long it has felt like I was straddling a fence with one leg in the past, the other in the future and the present was the pokey fence digging and gauging into the middle of me.

But the truth is 2010 and those mosterous losses were a gift.  A scarey as hell gift that cast us out into deep water with only the provision God would bring. Like a scene from 1519 and ships burning in a harbor port somewhere in the Yucatan peninsula, I identified with Cortez.  There was no turning back- it is forward to the unknown with only the meager provisions, and the grace of God.

There was a freeing of a part of my soul that had been denied for decades, numbed to a whimper by the necessity to work a job, and live like 99% of college educated Americans. Years of obedience, timely-ness and accuracy, of learning to work with a full spectrum of personalities, some of which left deep scars, all making bigger and greater demands of my life, my time, and talent in exchange for a meager portion each pay.

Don’t get me wrong… I really love my experiences (well, I was not so fond of the years working for a women we called hitler’s little sister, but all of the work was interesting.  I am thankful for those years too because they taught me how to recognize and treasure that is working for good people, and to see the the kindnesses, the blessings.

But as the ship of ease and income hit the rocks of the harsh recession it was clear the ship was no longer sail able.  The recession had driven my ship to the rocks, wrecked, forever altered beyond repair.  So burn the ships and let’s conquer new land.  In one quick stroke i struck the match, turned to the dry hulk and lit it up.

That ship had more passengers than i thought.

Fear, my old traveling companion, was big and heavy baggage that had to be cut loose too. Fear always appeared when there was a moment of question, or a change of scenery.  Loud and exhausting to travel with, fear often held me down, gripped with a deep sense of overwhelming emotion.  Fear is a bully.  Fear is a liar.  Lets call this traveling companion what he is… a distortion, a betrayal to what is true, shackles on my feet, and someone who overstayed their welcome in my life.  Fear had traveled these 50 some years with me but it was time… he had to go.  So there in sight of the burning hulk of my former life I parted ways with old Gripping Fear. He chased after me for a long time, but I would not take him back-no, never again would I sit debilitated by him again.

Doubting Doubt, a more quiet of the traveling companions, was always there when we rounded the bend of a new portion of the journey.  Doubt always had strong opinions too, loved to express disbelief in my life, or God’s ability to lead and provide for it.  Doubt brought along others – Shyness, Insecurity, and Procrastination.  Doubt, while quiet, was one of the most destructive voices… often engaging my whole energy, and altering my responses to life itself.  When I first lost my job doubt was there to assure me i would probably not make it, and something hideous was to come next. Doubt often planned, organized and threw lavish parties in my living space, ushering in procrastination who was always dating insecurity.  They kept me up at night, spending long hours speaking to me of anything but truth and peace.

Raging Resentment was a dangerous guest, bubbling through the surface and constantly trying to get me to remember injustices, and events that were not fair.  Like a cruel animal constantly taunting its prey, Resentment kept on coming.  But i knew better.  One small sip of resentment would be deadly poison to my soul.   For you see, I believe every thing that happens in life is filtered through the gentle hands of our great God.  And i believe there are lessons to learn about life, and my own sick soul, which require tough doses of medicine to protect myself from such poison.  Resentment still tries to whisper soft and velvety smooth thoughts about how injustices should be repaid.  But she lies.  She speaks only in ways that will bring death to my soul.  I meet her with my new friend Forgiveness, who reminds her that every event is an opportunity to let go, love and move forward.  Resentment runs away, licks her wounds and regroups… She is a challenging enemy of my soul.  Yes, she must go too.

One challenging companion that lingered was Guarded Grief, who at every opportunity lamented and was found weeping over the burning hulk of what once was.  She was not consolable, and there was no common ground to be found to negotiate with her . Almost like a pouting and tired child that demands their voice, Grief continued to grab the emotional reigns, and remains fixed on the trauma, the loss, the change.  Truth can be found in Grief.  And Grief must be handled with great consideration for she brings a perspective that is tough medicine.  But she must be dealt with gently and properly, or she will not go, and she will leave you stuck in places that drive others away.  So Grief demands her turn at the dance.  She offers compelling reason to drop back, assess, get angry, find a way of copng with factors beyond your control, and she waits for periods of time, an almost silent companion that walks with you in this place of loss.  Her company is bitter sweet because she brings a richness to a side of life few people want to deal with… and she can bring crystal clear vision, although often she puts on thick lenses of emotion.  Everyone offers advice for dealing with Grief.  I won;t add to it.  I can only say that it is up to you to find that place where the emotions and the deep senses of loss give way to a new found purpose, and a new normal.  Grief can have a cruel side too…. like the smell of baking bread harkens me to memories of my mom, and the intense sense of loss even though it has been 23 years she is in heaven.  Grief seeks to poke and prod with reminders that are essentially good things.  She is a master of tweeking emotions when we least expect it.

Have you ever imagined the traveling companions that have shared your journey? Some of these were old friends, a part of my life for as long as i could remember.  It would be odd to release them, and move forward without them.  But this is what needed to occur.  And this is what happened.

Yes, there on the beach, feet from the burning hulk of my former life I announced my separation from these companions.  I announced my complete break from them, and refuse to travel one more step together.  And there, on the sandy beaches of a new life I gazed at the ship burning, thanked God for the new life to come, and accepted his invitation to travel on abandoned to God.

In those moments of decision, of burning up the ship, abandoning the toxic companions of my past and of taking a deep sigh as i accepted the offer to travel with God there was a peace, and a sense of calm beyond words.  Abandoned, wrecked, but at peace.

While i have know Jesus, and have had a strong relationship with him for 30 years now, this was a deeper calling.  The call was to lay down my trust in myself and my ability to earn and squirrel away money, but instead to watch, pray and ask for my needs because he would provide.  And he has. Over and over, in amazing ways the resources to pay bills, meet needs and survive have been there.  Sometimes seemingly impossible, often simply, and always to his Glory.

 

This is indeed a gift.  It is an opportunity to let go of everything, and let the priorities become reset, not to my own priorities, but to the greater good of a loving God.

I wanted to write this for a few reasons, but i must confess that it is very scary to write about coping with a major life event and subsequent transition because it is personal.  In a human sense it could be deemed an epic failure.   Or it makes people uncomfortable because they fear the struggle and loss is contagious. No, a thousand times no, it is not contagious.  If you have not sensed the deep water of loss, nor struggled to find a new normal in your life I cannot explain in a way you would relate to fully.   These life changes are something individual, personal, yet if you will not be disabled by them, they are transformational.  The depth of grief and loss caused me to dig deeper, love greater, set better priorities, and follow harder after God.

Something changed in me.  The stripping away of all the extraneous was not the only thing.  The process made me see how this life is fleeting, and we only have a finite time her to bring glory to God, and allow him to use our lives to build his kingdom.  The burning ship reminded me that just about everything in our life is subject to that test.  Will my character, my word, my actions stand the test of fire to bring forth silver and gold  for the master, or will they go up like the ship, burned to a crisp with nothing to remain?

This gift comes with a price.  It becomes challenging to be around people who have not embraced such change, or who have not been called to this change, yet this is where I am. And this is who i am.

 

Are you growing concerned?

Are you becoming more aware of the news?  From financial issues, and suffering of those around us, to the world events – horrific news, startling, and possibly very overwhelming.

My husband and i have been a part of the prayer team of our church, and so we find ourselves filtering things through soft and purposeful conversation with God.  Painful bodies, fearful moms, unemployment, disobedient children, struggling marriages, and on and on.   Our needs as people are very great, and our dependence is growing greater and greater on God himself to provide and meet the needs.

But i must tell you that while i know our needs are important they seem to pale in comparison to our brothers and sisters around the world who are giving their lives for their faith in Jesus.

As I stand to sing worship choruses these past Sundays I realize how privileged we are to gather publicly, to give voice to our hearts cry of worshiping our great God without fear of imprisonment, beatings, death.  So as i close my eyes, and lift my heart and my voice to God I find myself lifting those believers around the world to Jesus, and ask for his presence in their lives.

Remembering Al and Eileen – We have friends who are Pakistani nationals, and have lived around the world. They are believers in Jesus.  And these last 10 years their government has not permitted them to leave their nation.  They are surrounded by 99.5% of their fellow citizens who believe in radical Islam, or tribal factions.  They have a life that is constantly one word or one action from death.  Al told us the last time he was visiting in the states that we need to pray for the believers in Pakistan like this:

  • Lord grant them wisdom to know your word, your heart, your spirit
  • Lord grant them favor with their neighbors that those who do not know Jesus might see his love extended through your people in that place.
  • Lord give opportunities to love, help and share your word with those who do not know
  • Strength, courage, boldness, fearlessness, God’s favor.

As the news continues to churn out photos and video of Christians being executed for believing in Jesus I can;t just stand in church and sing a worship chorus.  I am compelled to cry out for our brothers and sisters who are persecuted.  And i am compelled to cry out against the acts of injustice, shocking violence, of global bullying on a massive scale.

The rising tide of hatred and hostility of Christians is joined by the growing antisemitism that is playing out in the world.  Many are saying these are times much like that of pre-WWII, where people were being fed propaganda, believing ideology that was filled with venemous hatred, doctrines of demons.

America is not the same nation it was 5 years, 10 years, 20 years ago.  The news media is whipping up a hostility toward Christianity, our government is embracing poor judgement, and the leadership of our nation is growing sketchy.  Being a Christian is becoming a dangerous decision, with frequent news of charges pressed, court cases, etc for simplly living out our faith.

The winds of change are blowing.  Are we there in prayer, standing firmly asking our Great God and King to meet us, change our hearts, accept our repentance, and heal our land?

I am growing concerned – not of God, because i know he holds everything in his great care, but i am growing concerned that fellow believers seem to have little sensitivity to the great need to pray, to seek God with everything in our souls, and to ask for the needs of our fellow believers that are hurting.

“Father, forgive us for our self focus.  Forgive us for not praying for our rulers, our government, or leaders.  And forgive us for letting your word slide from our lives.  We repent today, and ask you to fill our  hearts and minds with your spirit, your word, your strength.  And we bring our brothers and sisters who are being fiercely persecuted to you.  Please be their strength, glorify yourself in your people, strengthen and embolden your church to stand in the presence of evil, and know your plan is to bring many to salvation.  

We pray for those who are the persecutors… may they come to know they are persecuting your people, and that you know every thought and act.  May you show yourself to them in dreams, visions, and manifest fear in their very souls.  We ask for their salvation, we cry to you to turn your enemies to repentent believers.  In everything may we sense your spirit, your provision, your protection and your love.  And may the world sense this too.  Amen”

Transparency and Safety

Many years ago i heard Warren Wiersby talk about the church like this:

The church, that is to say, the body of believers brought together, is much like a bunch of porcupines.  They all come together and huddle and gather, and sooner or later someone pokes someone else with a quill, and then they seperate… but over time they come back together, and poke each other.  This process goes on and on.  And the truth is as sinful people in a sin scarred world we will poke each other. Its not the poking, but how do we deal with the poking, and how do we learn to change that behavior that matters.

We have been a part of the kingdom for a long time, and we have known seasons where there was great unity, and peace and openness.  And we have witnessed times when the church was not a safe place to be… attitudes, and judgements overruled grace and mercy.

Somewhere in these years of being a believer the Lord impressed on my soul how important it is for me to handle such situations with great care.  It is true that each of us are responsible for the health of the body, just as each of us takes care of our own body. Here are a few of the scripture the Lord gave me as tools to remember and use:

  • Proverbs 6:16-19 “There are six things that the Lord hates, seven that are an abomination to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that make haste to run to evil, a false witness who breathes out lies, and one who sows discord among brothers.”
  • Matthew 5:9  “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.”
  • Galatians 6:1 “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.”
  • Colossians 4:5-6 “Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.”

Welcome a new year

new horizon

Here we are, seconds into a new year, and the fresh hope of this new year is bright with hope and promise.  We are so thankful that the promise and the hope comes only from Jesus Himself.  May this year be filled with blessing, prosperity, hope and most of all, may you know and sense the fullness of the love God has for you this year.

Blessings, and Happy New Year!

Steve and Barb

Wolves among sheep, cowardly shephards

 

 

Part 1 in a series on the book of Jude

I have been drawn back to the book of Jude because of things I see occurring in the church in America.  We cannot be caught by surprise at the presence of evil in our churches, and in our fellowships.  Jesus told us that would happen, and Jude writes because he was compelled to discuss the many ways that evil people have crept in among the believers.  I want to spend several posts examining the book of Jude, the concept of Apostasy and the hunger for holiness, godlyness and freedom in Christ.  It is with that goal that i offer these articles as a clarification, and perhaps because in my life it has been a wake up call to live a holy life, seeking God daily, moment by moment.  I pray you will see God’s word as deep truth, and you too will join in asking God to protect his people, and build his church free of apostacy, error, slander and greed.

Jesus warned us over and over that the church would be filled with believers and unbelievers alike.
In Matthew 13 we learn that some are wheat- healthy, solid, good; and some are rates- simulations, copies, knock-offs of the real thing. To a point they look alike…but at some place in time the difference begins to show. The wheat forms heads of grain- the tires form something but there is no grain, no substance, nothing fruitful. Yet the tares are the big fake out – looking like and growing along side the true ones, only visible when the fruit should be visible.  No grain produced, no purpose except to take up valuable farmland, soil nutrients, and crowd out the good.  Consider how this is played out in churches everywhere.

And then there is the book of Jude which challenges true Christ followers to earnestly contend for the faith because there are deceptive apostates that have come in among us. Let’s read Jude’s words:

Dear friends, although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt compelled to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to God’s holy people. For certain individuals whose condemnation was written about long ago have secretly slipped in among you. They are ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord. (‭Jude‬ ‭1‬:‭3-4‬ NIV)

So let’s pull some points from this passage:

  •  Jude is compelled to write about contending for the faith. Contending speaks of a challenge, a debate, a polished understanding of the subject. Contending is used of soldiers guarding the city who are prepared and have great strategy and planning for how they will protect and defend their post.
  • Jude reminds Christ followers that faith was given once and for all.  Faith is something given once to every believer, but it is something that must be worked on, given attention to.  It was a gift to every believer.
  • Jude reminds believers that faith was entrusted to God’s holy people.  The word entrusted means to be put into someone’s care.  This faith is more than a gift – it is a sacred trust from God to his people, to be handled rightly, protected, guarded.

So we know that faith is a gift that has been entrusted or placed in our care by God.  Verse 4 furnishes the reasons for why we  are to earnestly contend for the faith… it is because of the tares, the false ones, the apostates.

Look out at the church, especially the comfortable church in America and you will begin to see how the defense of the gospel is diminishing, and the invasion of ungodly people  is coming.  Lets continue to look at what Jude tells us about these people:

  • Certain individuals whose condemnation was written about long ago  – God was not surprised by the presence of falsehood, of tares.  He was not taken by surprise, but instead warned of this centuries before, speaking through the profits.  Condemnation is a very harsh word – it is a noun that means “the action of condemning someone to a punishment; sentencing”.  The actions and choices these people have made are already condemned, judged, worthy of punishment.  The language indicates these deeds have been accounted for by God….
  • These individuals have slipped in among you – they live, breath, move and act among the believers.  They influence, deceive, redirect, thwart the work of God for their own purposes and devices.  They have slipped in – secretly, quietly, almost without notice they have joined us.

This brings me to a thought about how easy it is to influence one another, and how easily we can be encouraged or discouraged in our faith.  As believers we need community – a safe group of fellow believers that can hold us accountable, and visa versa.  But the people Jude is speaking of buck the idea of accountability.  They prefer instead to build influence by lies, deception, and exhorting peep pressure.  I must say that of late i have been asking the Lord to filter my thoughts, and give me discernment and wisdom to be a positive influence to other believers.  I am also praying that God would give me discernment to see the truth in situations and people that appear to be not preaching and living their faith as the Bible prescribes. So lets continue looking at Jude to see how these people are described:

  • Ungodly people – Literally the translation means “people not of God”.  How they live, what they do, say and think will be evident and apparent.  They live in patterns that God does not approve, or is not the best choice.
  • who pervert the grace of our God into a license for immorality –  This is the fruit of their life.  These ungodly people alter truth, using their altered perception for their own purposes and those purposes are not moral.  Simply put, they justify their sin with God’s word.  Pervert – to alter something with a sharply negative intention, to mar or damage what was whole.  There is a contrast between grace of God and license for sin…. how opposite to each other, and what a great benchmark for determining a situation.  God will always extend grace – granting us favor that is not earned, giving us blessing though we deserve hell itself.  And God’s grace is pure, whole, right and good.  But these other people choose to damage that truth, take from God’s free gift and extend instead damage, pain, injury, all for the sake of advancing their own plan or goal.  How unsettling that is!
  • They deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord.- How can you miss the truth that Jesus Christ is the ruler and king over all – he was the creator, and he is the one who handles every aspect of life.  These people choose to deny this truth, living as though God does not exist. They live for their own goals with self as center of life.

It is for these warnings that God has put in place the office of Elders.  Elders are intended to be the shephards of the flock on earth, watching over the body of believers, protecting them from harm, alarm and deception.  It is a sacred office, a responsibility that should never be entered into lightly.  Scriptures are careful to lay out the qualities elders should have, the qualifications for the office.  And while i have spent several posts discussing these qualities, and how important they are to the body lets consider them in light of Jude’s announcement that tares or false teachers will live among us.

Elders should be knowledgable and well studied in the scripture  – why? because error can begin with subtle changes in truth.  Like a counterfeit piece of currency examined by a bank teller, the changes are subtle, but the tell knows what to look for – specific marks, watermarks, etc.  When they are not there, or they are altered the currency is counterfeit.  Likewise, a little error can lead to big error, and should be examined and corrected  quickly before it has a chance to grow and take root.

Elders should be leaders – Scripture tells us they should be the husband of one wife, having their children and home in order.  Leadership starts with a good home life…. when that is good the elder has demonstrated that he has a leadership ability and is capable to influence for good those he loves.

Elders should be courageous – Standing for truth requires discernment, diplomacy and the courage to speak truth to situations that are wrong.  Elders should be unbiased, not easily influenced by one person or another.  They should be reflecting the values of Christ to the congregation.

Elders should be accountable for their lives and faith to trustworthy brothers in the faith.  Accountability speaks of bearing one’s soul, being totally honest, and seeking counsel for living.  We all need community, and we need each other to remain strong, stand firm and live rightly.

When elders are not leaders, not strong in their faith, or are easily influenced by others who are not living rightly it is very dangerous for the flock of God.  The majority of God’s people look for and need the strength of leaders to protect them, defend the faith, and make certain that the church is a place of safety and protection for God’s people.  When elders become self serving or greedy the protection and grace of God are not present. And the sheep stumble.\

When elders choose to have no courage they open the door for deception, error, and greater problems.  And it all goes back to a church that is rightly governed versus a church that is not.

Lord, we need you now more than ever to flood our churches with your spirit.  We need you to call your leaders out and strengthen them for service, granting them great insight into your word, and wisdom to recognize truth from error.  We need you to raise up strong leaders with hearts fully yielded to you.  You have told us we do not have because we do not ask.  So we are asking – May you build your church, and not permit the gates of hell to prevail against the church.  May you call out the error of those who refuse to see error, or refuse to lead, and may you call them to step down from their neglected office.  We ask you to pour out your spirit on us, and give us deep insight into your word, and discernment for how to deal with those who are not believers.  We ask that you tear down anyone who has placed themself in a leadership role without your wisdom and insight. And Please heal those who have been hurt or injured by false people.  I claim the promise that you are triumphant over hell and the grave, and I thank you that you are all powerful and there is not anyone   Amen

 

 

responsible citizen activity

arist

For the last week or two the buzz on christian radio has been instructive reminders about our role as citizens in a free republic known as the United States. Yes, indeed it is incredibly important to exercise our right to vote, and to express our opinion on how the nation, state, and community will go forward. I have voted every time the opportunity has existed… since i turned 18 years old. Voting was something my parents impressed on me as a child, and i am so thankful that they did.

My masters degree in Public Administration helped to refine that right into a passion. We are given a rare privelege to be able to participate in the decision making process of who will govern us, and what they can and will do. And when the majority has voted, the society is stronger.

Did you know that last year in Cuyahoga county only 30% of registered voters actually exercised their right and voted? That is less than 1/3 of all registered voters in the county. Here are some amazing details about that vote from the Cuyahoga County Board of Election:
boe2013

boe2013b

In order to get a bigger picture we need to figure out how many people actually live in our county and of that number how many are actually of age to vote.

census

A quick calculation taking into consideration the 2013 population, minus the 21.7% which are persons under 18 years old gives a number of total possible voters.  However there is a gap between population and registered voters of a bit over 10% of eligible persons not registered to vote.

censtat                                                                                            If you study all of these figures carefully the bottom line is that less than 1/3 of registered voters actually vote, make decisions and direct the course of our nation, and municipality.  That is quite unsettling.

jackson

But there is another problem.  Its wonderful for radio to speak up and urge people to vote… but what about registering to vote?  That process would have concluded a few weeks before the election occurs… so there should have been a more vigorious push to get every eligible adult registered to vote long before the onslaught of political ads, and commentary began.

Government exists to keep order in our society.  When we relegate the decisions to a minority percentage of our society we dont have the full voice.  And those who choose not to vote are forgoing the right to this freedom.

madisonbern

And do you do your homework to determine best possible candidate who holds solid values?  I do.  The league of women voters offers a non partisan guide to the candidates.  ivoter.com also offers a guide that will help you understand the character of candidates.  Do your homework!

Fact- in the 2012 election cuyahoga county voters cast the majority vote to place a woman back in her position as judge… however she was involved in the Jimmy Dimora controvery, and had been endited forfederal charges.  She won the election.   Someone did not do their homework!

Wisdom, Speech, and unity

A story rests on my spirit today which i must share.  It is something that I have seen play out so many times.  It is a sad tale, a cautionary tale that is all too real in this day and age.  Here it is:

There once was a small group of people, redeemed by the blood of Jesus, who gathered with great joy, celebrating their mutual faith, strengthening and encouraging each other.  The trust was strong, the love was sincere.  Faith was growing, and transparency was the norm.  It was a close group of people, unified by the presence of Jesus.  His spirit had freedom to move in and through each of these people.  It was noticeable to those who visited from outside the group.  There was a deep hunger to grow, or at least it seemed that there was a core of people growing and seeking answers from God.

There were many stories of grace, and of miracles.  Healing of body, mind and soul was a daily occurrence, and the group was hungry to see what each day would bring because God’s Spirit was there and moving in power.  Certainly the enemy would not like this.

One day one of the people began to wag their tongue, stretch the truth, manipulate information to benefit their own self.  Nobody knew the pain, the sin or the scars that would rise to the surface in that moment because there was a deep trust among this group.  Transparency meant there were sometimes hard things shared, but always based on truth, honesty, with the heart to grow and see healing.  But that day the trust that ran deep began to erode.  And as people began to hear these words they believed them.  That is the nature of a trusting group of believers.

And the tongue wagging began to erode friendships, introduce rumor and speculation, and disturb the delicate and rare harmony and unity of this small group of believers.  One by one, the formerly united people began to wonder, sensing a coldness when they gathered to worship their lord.  And his words were still a clear invitation to love, trust and obey, but the living examples that surrounded them no longer shared that same mission.  Friendly smiles were met with suspicion, and few words were exchanged because of an uncertainty of what is true, honest or sincere.

Deep friendships became uncomfortable.  Common faith became cold.  Hearts became guarded, defensive, questioning of each other.  And God’s spirit was not able to freely move and breath in the group.

One voice was all it took to break down the unity. One word spoken to bring question, to bring challenge, to mock, or to question the respectability of another believer broke down that delicate trust.

Some of the group continued on as though nothing was wrong, yet others were deeply changed, sadly they could no longer live together in a harmony that was shattered by the careless words of another.

I tell you this story because it is played out throughout our nation, and it is breaking down what God wants to build up.  It is His Church, and he will ultimately build it as he wishes.  But small and seemingly harmless words can be like a spark of a match in a dry forest… it sets everything in its path on fire, destroying the beauty, and protection that we need as the church.

So what can be done?  How can this be avoided, limited, or removed from a community of believers?

1. The health of the community is directly related to the spiritual health of each believer – we must be responsibility for our own walk, our own growth, our own communication.  That means that each day we must seek the lord, spend quiet time to hear his voice and know his wishes for our life.

2. We must be the filter for problems – AS we begin to hear the rumblings of tongue wagging we must respond correctly – giving no room for that type of communication.  Defusing when possible, or taking it to an elder if our efforts to stop it dont work.  Some thoughts about defusing dangerous communication include the following:

  • Direct the person with harmful communication to speak with only the person involved… if they have something bad to say about another they should discuss this directly with that person.
  • Filter everything through the word of god.  Is each word I convey going to be true, edifying, strengthening, grace filled, encouraging?  If not, pray for wisdom and God’s leading on sharing it.
  • When a situation is beyond your ability to stop, bring it to the attention of leadership – that is a ministry leader, pastor, elder.  Ask they to go with you to speak with that person.

3. Don;t ruminate on the negativity that has been spoken.  Instead, like a prisoner of war, take it to Jesus.  Confess the struggle with the information and ask for this to be healed.  Leave it there with him.

4. Practice Grace.  Understand we all struggle, and allow a measure of understanding for others.  Each of us are on this journey to heaven, and we all have shortcomings, struggles, challenges.  A little bit of grace covers a multitude.

5.  Pray for our church leaders to be strong, wise, and responsive.  When the leaders are sensing and following strongly after the Lord these stories are less likely to take root and flourish .

6.  Churches should be extremely discerning on how the leadership is chosen… wrapped in deep prayer, and following strong after the leading of God based fully and explicitly upon the Word of God, elders should be chosen to meet the criteria layed out in the word.

 

So you read this and said, “Hmm, that does not describe my congregation” – to that I say Great!  Pray.   Pray hard daily for your leaders.  Pray daily for discernment, and for God’s Spirit to keep the unity and bind the work of the enemy in and through your congregation.

And perhaps you say “Wow, that sounds all too familiar… i am there.  I honestly dont like going to church any more because of this situation.”  To you I say steady on – pray and ask God for his wisdom.   Remain willing to be open and transparent, but use discernment. If someone has sinned against you go to them, and call it out.  If they dont receive your words and repent then go to a leader and together go with the leader to that person and confront them.  If they still are unresponsive, allow the leadership to take over the dealing with  that individual.  If leadership is not responsive that might raise another alarm flag… and perhaps you might wish to seek the Lord for wisdom on what to do.

The mission of living for Jesus is challenging, yet when we as a community are unified the life we live is made easier knowing we do not walk alone.  Sin can destroy everything in its path, and that also means it can disable people from the goal and purpose of their call by God.  Lets ask for wisdom from God that we can see the power and fire of God flood through our church, that we can see the hope and healing that Jesus wants us to know.

Prayer:  Jesus, the church is your work.  You have said that it is built by you and that the gates of hell shall not prevail.  But i confess that there are times when the church looks like it is being ripped apart by pride, lust and greed, and that the deadly sin of the tongue set about a fire that is from hell itself.  We hunger for unity in your spirit.  We hunger for strength in the leaders you ordain for us, and we hunger for a safety and transparency that allows us to seek you, grow in grace, and find our healing in you, and in community.  May you be glorified in our lives as we seek you, hunger for you and yield our very core to your authority.  Silence the tongues of sin, break the strongholds the enemy wants to set up, and remove the snares of deception, confusion and fear.  May we see your church rise in power, reaching our broken world with the power of your salvation.  Amen.