Category Archives: Spiritual Growth

He’d be Crucified in the Blogs

Some days I just get weary of life in the 21st century American church. Yes, I am a part of it, and yes it does many good things.  When I walk through the halls at my church, I see lives that have been radically transformed, marriages that have been saved, and I hear messages that proclaim God’s unchanging truth. When I look at disasters in our world, I am always blessed by how the church rises up to help victims. However, when I look at the American church as a whole I sometimes get a little nauseated. It brings a whole new meaning to Jesus’ words about spewing the lukewarm Laodicean church out of his mouth (Rev. 3:). In fact, in the Greek, that word literally means vomit.  The church is supposed to be salt and light not curdled milk!

Is it just me, or do others have that same queasy feeling about our modern church? Between the television preachers who promote a feel good, self-centered gospel to the Christian bloggers who take issue with just about everyone in ministry, I find myself ready to spew. It seems we can’t find a balance between judging and condoning self-serving doctrines.  I guess that is what lukewarm is all about—having no passion for God and people, but only for our own interests. Pride fuels one extreme and selfishness the other. I often wonder what would happen if Jesus showed up in America today. I feel quite sure many who claim his name would reject him. The prosperity sect would be drawn to the miracles, but later appalled at his teaching on self-denial. They probably wouldn’t even bother to debate him. They’d be too busy confessing their next blessing. It would be the self-righteous, faultfinding bloggers who would crucify Him this time around, except this time it would be done with words.

I can only imagine the uproar He would create in the blogosphere! Here are just a few blog posts we might see. “We find it hard to endorse this man, because he clearly does not live a lifestyle that is ‘above reproach.’ He not only violated the unspoken rules about spending time alone with a woman, but he did it with a divorcee who was living in an adulterous relationship in Samaria. Then there was the sinful woman who crashed a religious discussion group by clinging to him, kissing his feet and washing them with her tears. He didn’t even bother rebuking her for her inappropriate physical contact.” “Masses are lining up to be touched by this self-proclaimed faith healer. We believe he has planted actors in the crowds to build the mass hysteria.” “We are told there are several uninformed women footing the bill for his ministry.” “He is a wine bibber and constantly questions century old traditions passed down from the church fathers.” “He travels with a group of women (one of them a known prostitute), and spends a great deal of time hanging out with prostitutes, drug addicts and the like. It’s one thing to minister to such people, but he apparently prefers their company.”  “Apparently, he disagrees with many widely accepted interpretations of Scripture.” “We consider this man a false teacher.”

I believe if Jesus came and established a ministry on earth today, He would have many followers, but I also believe he would meet criticism on all sides. Since He always seemed to honor individuals over institutions, I am sure that would happen again. In his day, He clearly broke their Sabbath traditions, and even seemed to break the law concerning the Sabbath.  In our day, I wonder if He would tolerate the way we tend to honor broken marriage covenants over individuals. Would He send women and children back into abusive situations for the sake of saving the institution of marriage? When questioned about his apparent disrespect for the Sabbath, Jesus responded, “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath” (Mk 2:27). I believe the same is true of marriage. God created Eve, because it was not good for the man to be alone. It sounds to me like marriage was created for man, and not vice versa. Yet, I have seen far too many women sent back into dangerous situations for the sake of an institution while they and their children were enduring physical and emotional harm with lifelong effects. Don’t get me wrong! Marriage was ordained by God and meant to be permanent, but God allows divorce because of hardness of heart (Mt. 19:8). However, in the modern church, even though God allowed it, we have labeled sin rather than the result of sin. I believe Jesus would be far more gracious. He would esteem individuals over institutions every time.* (See footnote added on 7-4-18)

In Jesus’ time the religious people were all about show, and Jesus constantly challenged them on it. I wonder what it would look like if He popped into one of our modern day worship services. In one instance, would He endure the lifeless, thoughtless vain repetition of hymns along with the precisely timed rising and sitting? And on the other hand, would He appreciate worship services reminiscent of rock concerts seemingly more intent on conforming to the pattern of this world than glorifying God? I guess the answer to those questions would depend on the hearts of the people involved.  But I feel quite sure He would find much to challenge.  Bottom line is, we as God’s people need to get back to our first love. We seem to think we have it all together, but we are so lacking. Like the church in Laodicea, we are spiritually “wretched, miserable, poor, blind and naked” (Rev. 3:17).  We get so tied up doing that we forget to be the people He intends us to be. Salt adds flavor and light delivers people from darkness. If we were being salt and life, I believe our nation would look completely different right now. Perhaps its time we stop pointing fingers at one another and look at our own hearts. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if his people who are called by his name would begin to humble themselves and pray (2 Ch. 7:14)? That would bring healing to our land. Personally, I would much prefer that to crucifixion in the blogosphere.

Lord, help your people!

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*Of course, with the modern church we find extremes on either side. There are domestic violence advocates who deny the power of the gospel by saying that abusers can never change and they attack anyone who says it’s possible. While good advocates knows that seeing an abusive personality change is quite rare, I believe that one of the main reasons for that is a lack of knowledge. Uninformed counselors, therapists and pastors  treat it like a marital problem and actually make matters worse. The general pattern tends to put the burden of the entire relationship on the victim. As a result some advocates have become lopsided in their approach by only addressing victims. They always advise divorce, even when the victims want to try and save their marriages. This unbalanced approached goes against everything we are taught in advocacy training as it once again takes freedom of choice away from those who have never had a voice in their marriages.* It fails to recognize that if we don’t at least try to reach the hearts of abusive people with the power of the gospel, they simply move on to their next victims and perpetuate the cycle. The bottom line is that as these “advocates” aim harsh words at those who are offering gospel hope to offenders they may be hurting the very ones they claim to be helping. They set themselves up as authorities, and like the religious leaders of Jesus’ day, end up caring more for their agendas than lives. That, my friends, is the definition of lukewarm. It is caring more about ideologies more than God and people.

*We do always advise SAFETY for victims, but we have seen cases where a prolonged separation and working with experts has led to marital restoration.

They’re Driving Me Crazy!

When People “Make” us Anxious…

Lord, today I ask You to remove any anxious ways in me. It is so easy to allow the circumstances of life and people to plunge me into stress and anxiety. How did You do it? You were so connected to the Father that with a sea of hurting people around You, You were never anxious. You were fixed in purpose and had confidence in the sovereign plan of the Father. Help me be the same way. Sometimes counseling can be so frustrating. People don’t receive truth and insist on believing lies. It is so hard to watch them struggle when I know the freedom You offer. That’s the part I’m having a hard time with. It is painful to watch people self-destruct. I know it grieves You too, but it doesn’t cause You anxiety. Help me get to that point. Help me realize that their success or failure is not in my hands, but yours. Help me surrender them to You, and not to worry. I am sure that when I let it stress me out, I am far less effective, or even ineffective, for your kingdom. Walking in the flesh is what truly causes stress, while walking in the Spirit brings peace. Help me cling to You and to walk in your Spirit today, and help this poor, confused person I am counseling to see the truth. Amen

My people perish for a lack of knowledge. Your task is simply to share the knowledge of my truth. You are correct that you are not responsible for the outcome. Remember my words to Ezekiel, you must speak whether they listen or not. Only I know what is in a person’s heart, and when that seed will penetrate the soil. Perhaps I will bring circumstances into their lives that will make them more willing to break up the fallow soil, but if they continue to resist, that is not your responsibility. I know it grieves you, it grieves Me as well, but when you stay stressed it means you are striving and not surrendering them to Me. Remember the years that you believed lies? You would not receive the truth, because it was too painful. Surgery is never without pain. Some of these people need some complicated procedures, and healing takes time. Those who belong to Me will eventually receive my truth, because I am faithful to complete the work I begin in them. Some of those you see are not my sheep. Share my message of hope. If you lack wisdom, ask Me. I can show you their hearts. Unfortunately, that will not always be easy to see. Until you stand in my presence, there will be pain, sorrow and trouble, but those who are mine have been made overcomers. You will lead some to freedom, and others will choose bondage. Stay close to Me, and rejoice in the love and grace I pour out on you daily. It is sufficient.   Hos. 4:6; Ezek. 2:3-3:27; Phil. 1:6: Jas. 1:5; 2 Cor. 2:14 & 12:9

Getting Over Myself

Lord, I give You my day, and ask your forgiveness for all the days I’ve wasted on myself. Life is so much better when I take the time to seek You. You lead in amazing ways, and I get so much more accomplished. I start too many days seeking my own agenda first. Today Lord, I ask that You would stay in the forefront of my thoughts, and that I would see the world through your eyes. So many people are living in darkness and despair. Your love and grace are available to restore their lives, and yet too often I am silent. I am more worried about getting a negative response than I am about leaving them in their despair. How completely awful! Please forgive me. Help me love others the way You love me—enough to set aside my own agenda and become obedient to the point of sacrifice (Phil. 2:1-8). I know that when I lay down my life for You, I receive more abundant life. There is peace and joy that I do not experience when I seek after my own kingdom rather than yours. Give me wisdom to find the best use of my time daily.

Let my highest goals be to love You and others more than I love myself. It seems self-love comes naturally, loving You has become natural, but I still struggle with loving others. Yes, I know what 1 John 4:20 has to say about that! The thing is You have always given me far more grace and love than I deserve. It completely blows my mind. People do not do that. They are harsh and judgmental. (Yes, I know I am too sometimes). As I think about those people I struggle to love, I know I do not wish them anything except a complete surrender to You. However, sometimes in my position as judge and jury I determine how that should look. I think they need to suffer a little bit, and that is not my place to determine. Help me to flow in your abundant grace today and help me remember that it is your kindness that leads us to repentance. Remind me often that I am not the judge, and to leave justice in your competent hands. I want it here and now, but I know that the entirety of my life is but a speck in the whole of eternity. Somehow You have a beautiful plan that uses evil for good. I see glimpses of it so often on this side of eternity, but one day I will see it in full. How I long for that day dear Lord! I long to see You! I long to set aside the constraints of this life and enter into true life. Until that time, I know You have a plan and a purpose for me. I am so grateful to be your child! So unworthy, and yet You (the only perfect One) love and receive me in spite of my complete imperfection. How amazing and wonderful You are! Help me live in a way that is worthy of the goodness You have bestowed. I know my only hope for doing that is being completely dependent on You. That is the place I choose to start this day. Amen

I hear you little one. When you pray anything according to my will I hear you, and I will answer (Jn. 14;14, 1 Jn. 5:14). I stand ready to empower you to love others with the love I give you. It is something you can never muster up on your own, so look to Me. The more you see Me for who I truly am, the more you will love Me. The more you see yourself as you truly are, the more you will love others. That is because you will see that apart from my grace they are really no different from you. Listen for my voice as you go through this day. That will require quietness on your part. Do not rush to give an answer, but wait and listen. If you ask for wisdom, I have promised to give it to you (Jas. 1:5). However, you must ask expectantly with your mind grounded in my Word. Wisdom comes when you seek my glory over any human agenda. Although you will have trouble in this world, you do not need to despair, because I enable you to overcome (Jn. 16:33). I will cause you to triumph as you seek me (2 Cor. 2:14), and I will give you joy that the world cannot begin to understand. Rejoice in Me as I rejoice in you (Zeph. 3:17). Rest in my love and in my presence today. As you do, nothing will be able to stop my good and perfect plan for your life.

 

Changing my Mind

How the Faith Movement Damaged my Faith & How God Restored It

In the past few months I have realized that something needs to change in my life. I have felt stuck in circumstances and powerless to move forward. I have walked with the Lord for over 40 years now (though I must say much of that time was more self-serving than God-serving). Still, I have studied his Word for the majority of that time, and his Word does not come back void. God has used my mistakes and sin to correct me and teach me some very profound lessons. He has helped me overcome fear and taught me to forgive the unforgiveable. Sometimes when you have walked through times of profound growth it’s tempting to think there aren’t any major lessons left to learn. (Did I just hear a laugh from heaven?) On the one hand, the older I get in my faith, the more I see my weaknesses and my need for his strength. On the other hand, the more I have learned, the less I think I need to learn. My attitude has been that I just need to apply what I already know, and that is definitely the case. However, what I fail to realize sometimes is that there are still spiritual blind spots in my life. In spite of all I know, my past has left me with preconceived notions that just don’t line up with truth.

Many years ago, my family was introduced to the modern Faith Movement, or as I like to call it “blab it and grab it Christianity.” Many teachers in this movement taught (and still teach today) that if you believe something enough, God will give it to you. You don’t have to pray for God’s will, and all you have to do is maintain a positive confession to make your dreams come true. According to this belief system, God wants all of his children to be wealthy and healthy. One of the fathers of the Faith Movement, Kenneth Hagin, even wrote a book entitled How to Write your Own Ticket with God. He taught that the Lord’s Prayer is not for modern day Christians, because we no longer have to pray for God’s will– as Believers we have authority to determine our own destinies. Hagin, and many like him, put people in control while God is simply bound to do whatever his children ask for and confess in faith. The problem is that God is sovereign, and such thinking attempts to reduce Him to a genie in a bottle with the individual becoming the sovereign. This teaching led to a major crisis in my own family. It shipwrecked the faith of my ex-husband when things did not happen according to the faith teachers’ claim that he could have anything he wanted. I literally got beat up for continuing to believe in a God “who makes empty promises.” It did not take me long to reject these teachings, and to separate myself from any group that promoted anything that seemed remotely related to the Faith Movement. I hunkered down in a denomination that rightly stresses the authority of Scripture without any hint of adhering to such heretical teaching.

Over the years, I have caught myself judging anyone who makes a claim such as “I’m claiming it,” or who admonishes me not to use any negative words. However, lately I have encountered some people who have challenged my thinking in this area. A few years ago I became involved in network marketing in an attempt to build residual income and have more time for ministry. It has become very apparent to me that the people who do well in this business are the ones who maintain positive attitudes, and even positive confessions.  A recent encounter with one of these folks made me stand back and reevaluate my judgmental stance.  This lady doesn’t simply muster up positive confessions in the midst of negative circumstances. Instead it seems she chooses to live in gratitude and seems to be overflowing with joy.

So much of our negativity and lack of joy tends to focus on what other people are doing or not doing. My friend says she has trained her mind not to tolerate negativity. She casts out negative thoughts immediately. In the beginning it was difficult, but now it is her habit. I believe the difference between her and many involved in the Faith Movement is motivation. Hers is not self-serving, but focused on serving God and others. She has become highly successful, and as a result she has been able to bless others. Watching her giving spirit silenced the desire to judge that normally rises up within me any time I hear someone talking about positivity. It also made me stop and reevaluate my stance on the whole notion of faith and positive confession.

Just about the same time that I encountered this positive friend, I was reading through the book of Matthew. I couldn’t help but notice how many times Jesus told people that they were healed “according to [their] faith,” or rebuked his disciples because the faith was small or lacking. He did not perform many miracles in Nazareth, because their lack of faith. The woman with the issue of blood did not even stop and speak to Jesus. She did not ask if it was his will. She simply had seen him in action, and knew that He was the answer to her problem. Jesus told her “your faith has made you well.” In fact, it says that just touching the hem of his garment healed many. I am not a cessationist. I have seen miracles firsthand and do not believe they were limited to biblical times alone, but once again the Faith Movement has tainted my perspective. Proponents of this doctrine claim that everyone should be healed, and that a lack of healing points to a lack of faith on the part of the person in need. I have seen people muster up all the faith in the world, maintain positive confessions, and yet not receive healing. For some, the result is self-condemnation, or even worse, rejection of God and His Word, as their improper interpretation leads them to believe His promises are untrue. Watching this play out over and over again has left me cynical and hyper vigilant against any hint of the Faith Movement. The problem is that in my attempts to guard against heresy I think I have managed to “throw the baby out with the bathwater.”

As flawed people we tend to react emotionally rather than respond intellectually. Hence my reaction to the Faith Movement actually stirred up so much contempt in me that I could hardly bare to read passages of scripture that they overused. Obviously, I had a problem, because “all scripture is inspired by God” (2 Tim. 3:16). It was much the same as my reaction to passages on wifely submission after living with an abusive man. The drawback here is that our experiences do not nullify the Word. We must learn to seek out the truth regardless of our experiences, and perhaps God would have us use our experiences to teach us to “accurately handle the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15). The reason I hated to read passages on submission was because they had been improperly used to humiliate me. In an effort to get past my aversion to those passages I forced myself to study them in depth so that I could understand the true intent. It turns out that the same passages that men use for evil God intends for good. And just as there is nothing in the submission passages intended to turn women into slaves, there is nothing in the faith passages that makes people sovereign. Our goal should be to look at misused passages in light of the “whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27).

Proponents of the Faith Movement stress positive confession to the point they give their own words creative power, but James 4:13-16 warns against confessing big plans for the future, stating that none of us “even know what will happen tomorrow.” That certainly does not sound like God has given mere humans creative power to determine their own destiny. On the contrary men can make their plans, but God determines the final outcome (Pr. 16:9). Yet, we cannot deny that Scripture emphasizes the importance of faith, and that “without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He rewards those who diligently seek Him” (Heb. 11:6). Perhaps the whole problem with the faith movement is found in this verse. It seems to me that those who promote the prosperity gospel are encouraging people to diligently seek their own desires rather than Him.

Jesus said that the mark of a true disciple is self-denial (Mt. 16:24). Passages like this are often completely ignored by the faith teachers, even as I had learned to ignore passages like Mark 11:23-24. “Truly I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and cast into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says is going to happen, it will be granted him. “Therefore I say to you, all things for which you pray and ask, believe that you have received them, and they will be granted you.”  Perhaps we should look at this passage alongside John 15:7. Jesus explained, “If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” Simply desiring something and claiming it does not meet this standard. We must know his Word and abide in it, and we must also walk in his Spirit. Romans 12:1-2 tells us that as we surrender our lives fully to Him and allow Him to transform us by renewing our minds we will be able to discern his good and acceptable will.

True children of God are so surrendered to Him that they learn contentment in every situation (Phil. 4:11), because He is sovereign over every circumstance. They learn to focus on things that are true, honorable, right, pure, lovely and worthy of praise (Phil. 4:8). Some might call this the power of positive thinking. Scripture certainly has a lot to say about our thought life. We are to set our minds on things above (Col. 3:2), to be transformed by the renewing of our minds (Rom. 12:2), to love the Lord fully with our minds (Mt. 22:37), and to prepare our minds for action (1 Pet. 1:13). We are also warned not to complain (Phil. 2:14– I would say that complaining amounts to allowing negative thoughts to flourish). The bottom line is that Scripture encourages us to line our thoughts up with His truth, and that is a positive thing. We are to be content, and we are to rejoice in Him always (Phil. 3:1). I see nothing in Scripture that indicates thinking positive thoughts will guarantee a trouble free life. On the contrary, Jesus promised that in this world we will have trouble, but followed that by saying we can still rejoice because He has overcome the world (Jn. 16:33).

It really does seem as if Scripture admonishes us to maintain positive thinking, and there are plenty of instructions on our speech as well (Pr. 18:21, Jas. 3:5-8, Col. 4:6). After reevaluating my position,  I realize it is time to change my mind. Not only do I need to stop automatically judging my brothers and sisters in Christ, but also I need to set my mind on things above, which will absolutely transform my thought life into something positive. No more whining and complaining about people who disappoint or unpleasant circumstances. Instead I will choose to praise the One who is Lord of it all, and find contentment in Him. Sure, it is wrong to have faith in faith, but I choose to have faith in Him and He will never disappoint. I have been given a wonderful legacy as his child, and I am claiming it!
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
be acceptable in your sight, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer. Ps. 19:14