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Father of Promise

Published June 27, 2018 by Dawn

There must have been many nights, Sarah cried herself to sleep, feeling the frailty of her once-strong body as youth slowly died away. Her God had made a promise, but life had gone on just as barren as it always had been. She lived in a silent, seething bitterness watching Ishmael grow up under the arms of his father. She endured the daily sneers of her rival, whose womb had not betrayed her husband. Sarah knew she was Abraham’s beloved. She felt like his curse. The one thing she felt gave worth to her as a wife was motherhood, and she had been denied that by the Maker of Heaven and Earth.

How many nights had they laid down, his arms wrapped delicately around her, his face pressed into her ear, whispering the hope and faith of a man who was confident about his God. Sarah’s eyes traced the lines of the canopy drapery, tears rolling down her cheek and her throat catching sobs before they reached his ears. He smiled, sure of his future. She cried, sure of her failure. Bitterness nestled in her bosom, growing like thorns and sickening the garden of her heart. There had never been a tale of resurrection before, so when dreams died then, they simply were no more. And Sarah’s dreams had died.

Long after Sarah had abandoned all hope, “ … the Lord was gracious to Sarah as he said, and the Lord did for Sarah what he had promised.”

I read this the other morning after entertaining thoughts all the way to work that probably resembled Sarah’s during her barrenness. Thoughts about broken promises and a silent God. Thoughts about endless warfare and abandonment. Thoughts about faith weakened by time and circumstances, and a need ripened past the harvest.

The Holy Spirit tried to reach me through the radio with “Who You Say I Am” by Hillsong and “Overcomer” by Mandisa. I arrived with just enough peace to not cry in front of my students or coworkers. Then I read this in Genesis and I was stirred a little more, considering God’s timing and how sometimes, He pushes us past the breaking point and then holds all the broken pieces while we struggle to accept things that cause us pain without abandoning our faith.

This thing between Sarah and God kept turning over and over in my mind, accumulating other truths like a snowball. A girl in my class reading her bible in her freetime reminded me that there’s a next generation after me. A memory of a broken child just wanting her Father, and not just his money, reminding me that God is my Father and our relationship is about more than blessings and goodness. Finally, it all came together into this one magnificent, chain-breaking truth: Sarah’s story was the first resurrection story. A dead dream coming to life again after years of turmoil. That story has spoken to generations after, like all these things in our lives might one day reach someone else who hasn’t even gotten here yet. And in the midst of it all is a Father who wants us to know that He is here for more than blessings. He’s here for the highs and lows. To hold his child and comfort him or her. To bless, but with a purpose and a timing set by wisdom and not emotion or desire. A Father who’s promises are yes and amen, and who is not a man so that He should lie.

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Published June 10, 2018 by Dawn

I hurt. I should be walking through the doors of church right now but instead, I’m still lying in bed with my feet hooked on the end of the mattress, gently stretching out my calve muscles while I write. I’m going to miss church this morning, which means there will be no one to lead youth. I’m also going to miss our fundraiser – the men’s group is selling the best barbecue this side of heaven – which is going to directly benefit the youth group. I should be there but I couldn’t push myself to get out of bed this morning. I’ve been enduring one pain after another for a while now, but yesterday took the cake in the duration and intensity. Although I can’t be sure of a proper diagnosis, I’m fairly confident in my educated guess that all of this can be attributed to a lack of stretching before and after my runs.

Did you know that your hamstrings can tighten so much that they can pull your pelvis out of place? I didn’t either. When I abruptly stopped my half-marathon training in January to pacify my daughter and went from running 25-35 miles a week to running nothing for two months, I gave no thought to the creeping tightness in the back of my left leg. Nor did I connect it to the first twinge in my upper back. I wondered about the lack of running being connected to the stiffness that set in to my lower spine, and when my gait became uneven, I knew a trip to the chiropractor was in order. But I didn’t know it was all because I hadn’t stretched.

The chiropractor straightened me out and educated me on the hamstring. He warned me to stretch it out properly every day before I left his office. I should have listened, but who has time for stretching, right?

My mom and I go to the gym M-F. I only live two and a half miles from the gym so I get up in the morning, lace up my running shoes and meet her there. I walk about a minute up the hill from my house and then take off toward the gym. I used to do a five-minute walk to warm my muscles up before running, but now that I’m meeting mom at the gym, I don’t have time for that. She gets to the gym ahead of me and does ten minutes of cardio so that when I get there, we can head straight into lifting. I might stretch my arms a little after signing in, but here lately, I’ve had to be back home within half an hour of getting there, in order to take my son to football practice, so we move right in to lifting without stretching. My mom drops me off at home afterward and my son meets me at the door ready to go. I drive him to school while my muscles cool off and then go home to take a shower and get ready for the day.

I think my body is in revolt. The chiropractor warned me about what can happen if I don’t stretch my muscles, but he didn’t tell me about the creeping pain that starts out subtle and turns into a fire. He didn’t tell me about all of my muscles coming together in defiance to torment me while I sit helplessly behind the wheel of my car on a long drive, unable to stretch them out. He didn’t tell me that not stretching my muscles could cause a mutiny in my body.

It seems silly to be telling you all this, but although I’m not at church, the Holy Spirit has been ministering to me all morning and the lesson started with this musing. See, my current physical situation mirrors my spiritual one: I’ve been in pain for quite some time, and most likely, it’s because I haven’t taken time for the things that matter.

I’m into the final stretch of raising two kids on my own. Thus far, I’ve made it through a combination of prayer, fasting and constant surrender to the Lord. I have pleaded for His wisdom and strength, as well as His provision and comfort. God has not failed me. But this final stretch … well, it’s a lot like any final stretch for me while running. I’m not the kind of person to look at the finish line and press harder toward it. I see a finish line and quit trying early because I can see it … I’ll get there eventually. That last little bit of the race is so hard! That’s why I stop running. It’s so painful. My muscles have already endured so much and I’m ready for it to be over. If I push through, I put my muscles through the worst pain of the race! Why not just walk it in? I’ll get there eventually.

Raising teenagers is hard work. It’s the last leg of the race, I’m exhausted and this is the most intense moment of parenting. It seems endless, although people will tell you, “It goes by so fast!” I silently lament, “Not fast enough!” I feel like I used to have allies in my home, and now my crew is in revolt. They seem to hate me in unison and attack me without provocation. It’s full on mutiny.

I’m not naïve enough to believe this battle is avoidable. This is just how raising teenagers goes. They literally fight you to become their own person. No one who’s done it tells you it’s going to be easy … but nothing they say can prepare you for the mental breakdowns, the constant confrontation, or the letting go. I might have avoided some of the pain, though, if I’d taken time for what really helps. Prayer. Fasting. Constant surrender.

How is it that the things that matter most are the things we put off first? It seems rather lunatic to know that stretching after a work out is so vital, and yet one does not spend time doing it. The suffering for it is inevitable. Likewise, how lunatic to know how important prayer and surrender are and yet not taking time to do so. Especially on the last leg of the race! If I were a well-disciplined runner, I’d be pressing in toward the mark. I’m not, though. And because of that, I’m suffering at home instead of leading my teens in Bible study. Although right now, it’s a physical pain that has kept me in bed this morning, sometimes, it’s a spiritual battle that I’m losing because I’ve ceased trying.

I don’t know if any other runner out there will be straight up with you about running but let me be honest: running sucks. It’s never easy, and just when you think it might be getting easy, something inevitably slams you back into reality of how much it sucks. Why do we do it, then? To eat cake. To fit into our clothes. To see results just a little faster. So we don’t have to fad diet. For the carb loading. For the mental health benefits. Cheap therapy. To be introverted without being judged. The same is true of prayer and fasting. It’s not easy, by any means. To still yourself before God can be the hardest thing. To calm your flesh in the presence of the Holy Spirit is so difficult. To still your mind and quiet yourself so you can hear Him speak is like herding cats. Who has time for that? But listen to me: the benefits outweigh the pain, aggravation, whatever.

Clearly, taking a break from running and not stretching out my muscles regularly has been the worst physical fitness decision I have ever made. Similarly, not taking time for prayer and communion with God has had dire consequences in my daily race. The good news is that I woke up this morning determined to make a change. I might not have went to church, but I have been in the presence of the Holy Spirit, praying and stretching while I write. It’s never too late to get back into the race, friend. It’s never too late to bow before your King in surrender. It’s never too late to make time for the things that will really make a difference in your daily life. I urge you to decide today that things will be different and allow the Holy Spirit to teach you how to discipline yourself. You’ll be so grateful you did.

Published April 26, 2018 by Dawn

“God met me there tonight, Mom. Can I tell you about it?”

 

My daughter got in the car excited after church tonight. It was a nice change, because we’ve all been weary lately. The battle has been so intense … and so daily.

 

As her youth leader, I would love to say I had something to do with this. I guess in a way, I might have had a small part. You see, last week, I took a hard look at myself in relation to my kids’ relationships with God and each other and realized something very painful: in the past, I had warned other parents that their direct involvement in youth meetings sometimes hinders their kiddos from partaking in what God puts before them. Only I’m the youth leader … and I have two teens … and this applies to my family too. I humbly asked a few other youth leaders what their take on the matter was, and the Holy Spirit confirmed through a meeting of the minds that I was onto something. Therefore, I was responsible to act.

 

I went home that night and told my kiddos that I would like for them to consider attending another youth group on Wednesday nights. Our group currently meets Sunday mornings, and so Wednesdays, they join the Bible study with the adults. They both find themselves in over their heads in that group, and so I thought it would be a good idea if they were ministered to by another youth leader, on their level. She picked one and he picked another. First night of this experiment was tonight, and I have to say I am ecstatic about the results thus far.

 

My beautiful daughter climbed into the back seat with a beaming smile and wet eyes. She was exuberant. I hadn’t seen that in such a long time. My daughter has been loosely holding onto sanity and trying in her own strength to be the glue that holds everyone together. She’s the strongest of the three of us, for sure, and I have depended on her strength a lot lately. But she’s been quietly wearing down and I could see it, but I didn’t know how to fix this for her. Thank God, He had a plan.

 

She continued, telling me about how God pursued during the ministry. Each speaker said something deep, that called out to deep in her, and finally, they were given the opportunity to stand up to show their desire to be all for God. But she thought, “I’m new. It’s my first day. I’m not standing up.” She said she prayed at her seat, all the – and I quote – “Crap you usually say that’s rehearsed and meaningless.” I couldn’t have described it better. Then someone stood up and admitted that he felt not everyone who was committed had professed it with their actions. He asked them again to stand. More did, but not her. She still did not want to be the newbie falling apart in front of everyone. She just kept her head down and continued her superficial prayer, but tears were flowing now, her shoulders shaking and sobs taking over her body.” Then, someone came.”

 

She said it just like that, and started crying again. They asked her some deep questions. More of that deep calling out to deep that crumbled the ever-hardening façade, and just like that, she fell into the arms of her savior and admitted her struggle and need. She said, “I didn’t even know it but more were coming and praying, and I can’t … Mom, it’s just indescribable. This all sounds so cheesy when I try to tell you about it. God met me there tonight, and when I wasn’t going to come to Him, He came to me.”

 

I came undone. Thank you, Lord, for being her great Father. Thank you for showing my lovely daughter your loving arms and healing her. Thank you for the wisdom of friends that brought her to your feet. Thank you for divorcing me from pride and making this moment possible. You are truly magnificent and so worthy of my adoration.

 

My daughter longed for the day she could be a part of my youth group, but now, she and I both realize her need to be ministered to by others outside our daily situation. Trust me, I preach it at home. They hear it and I think my kiddos tune me out a lot. It’s important for kids to grow in Christ, and sometimes, we need to let someone else come in and plant the seeds. I believe this is both natural and necessary. If we could lay down our pride and admit we need each other, the church would be a much healthier, much more effective body.

 

The Ministry of Jesus – God’s Will for You

Published February 8, 2018 by Dawn

It’s amazing the things God uses sometimes to teach us. The way He works into the fabric of our day, the little things He needs to show us to mold us and make us more and more like Christ. The other day, my schedule was upended two days in a row, and I found myself in a situation at work in which I had to shadow a student at her job sight: a nursing home.

We walked in and immediately jumped in line with a lady rushing here and there, all over the facility, passing out clean linens. She had no time to talk, no time to teach, and the student and I simply followed her, stayed out of her way and watched everything she did. At one point, though, I glanced into a room and noticed a lady in a dark blue shirt sitting bedside to an elderly man, slowly putting a full spoon of soft mush into his mouth and speaking quietly to him while he ate. She turned and looked at me as I stared, lost in this intimate moment. Her face was not soft. It was hard and she never smiled at me, though I smiled at her in a friendly manner. She turned back and scraped up another spoonful of food while I shamelessly watched, in awe. You see, though she didn’t smile at me or even seem remotely softened by my own smile, I looked at her and recognized Christ.

It dawned on me in that moment that I have spent so much time trying to figure out the will of God, trying to see what big plans He has in store for me. Fighting with life because I feel like there are many things hindering me from being all that God wants me to be. But what if God just wants me to be like Jesus in any circumstance? Willing to feed the elderly, or sit with the broken, or minister to a child’s heart simply by hugging him or her? What if God’s big ministry opportunities are really just the small things of daily life? That woman, in that moment, was more Christ-like than I, because my relationship with God is sometimes just a pursuit of the next big thing and a lot of anger and frustration in the between times. Sitting in a church pew wishing God would use the Word I’ve faithfully planted inside me. Wishing He’d give me a platform and an audience so I can minister truth because it’s like fire shut up in my bones. But could it be that I am missing all the daily things God could be offering to use me in? What does it mean to be Christ-like, anyway? Jesus didn’t base his idea of success in ministry on the number of people who showed up. Sometimes he ministered to the masses, and sometimes, he ministered to a lonely woman at a well or a desperate group of lepers. He didn’t really even set the world on fire. That fire started after His earthly ministry was complete. What if, ultimately, some of our greatest victories for the kingdom are seeds planted now that we won’t even see bear fruit because it happens long after we’re gone?

I swallowed my fear when that woman walked past me several minutes later. I ignored her hardened, smile-less face and spoke to her heart. “Thank you so much for what you did. For feeding him.” She said, without a smile, “Well, he had to eat.” I just started weeping. I know, it’s so unprofessional, but I couldn’t help myself. I had seen Jesus in her actions and I realized in that moment that what she was doing is more “ministry” than I do as a youth leader. As a teacher. What might have been humiliating to her, and often devalued by the world because of how degrading it seems, is exactly what Jesus would be doing. Helping the helpless. Loving in actions and not just words. Touching people instead of just speaking to them. I don’t think we’re doing it right if all we ever do is show up to church and sing songs and listen to a preacher preach. Even if we crack our Bibles open every morning and hit our knees every night. If we don’t have a relationship with people, putting our faith into actions such as these, our lives will amount to nothing, eternally speaking.

“Not everyone that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?” (Matt. 7:21-22) Jesus confronted the ministry-minded here in these verses. In essence, what he wanted to make very clear is that these things might have a place in the work God gives us to do, but they aren’t “the work.” Micah 6:8 says that God wants us to act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with him. James 1:27 says that God’s idea of religion is to look after orphans and widows in their distress and keep oneself from being polluted by the world. Then there’s the parable in Matthew 25:

34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

46 “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

In this parable, reaching out to those around them was literally their ticket into the Kingdom of God. Why have we focused on the platform – the recognition and busyness of teaching people what we know – and forsaken the real work of the kingdom? There are more churches than morgues, but the morgues are fuller than the churches could ever be, and they are full of people who needed to see Jesus but didn’t because the body of Christ (the “church”) is so inwardly focused. Narcissistic. Distracted by false prophecies about big ministries. We Christians spend so much time trying to find out God’s big plan and purpose for us, because we’re convinced we’re all so incredibly awesome and equipped for big things. Have we forgotten that Jesus said even he didn’t come to be served, but to serve, and give his life for many? Give his life. Live every day for others and not himself. Christ showed us what selfless love was. If we cannot live a life of service in obscurity, we cannot consider ourselves Christ-like. We have to wonder if God is pleased with us as we devote so much of our time daily seeking our own advancements, serving others with impure motives, so that we might be somebody in our own eyes.

I wonder if there would be less broken people in the world if the church got a little uncomfortable. A little less cliquish. A little more involved in the world outside the sanctuary doors. A little less worried about having a bright sign and a steeple. A little more like Jesus. Revival isn’t a well-planned sermon in a good location with a bunch of big names. Revival is dead things coming to life. And it has to start with the church. The body of Christ has been lethargic for so long. We need to reach out as the hands and feet of Christ, with his precious lifeblood coursing through us, ministering to the world like Jesus desires us to. First Corinthians 4:20 tells us that “the kingdom of God is not a matter of talk, but of power.” Our meetings are good and beneficial to the body, but they aren’t everything. Let them serve as rest stops, and there will be some who find their calling there, but most of us will be obscure instruments who will be last here. Forgotten. Forsaken. Used. Despised. Rejected. Scorned. Broken and belittled. God, help us to endure to the end (Matt. 24:13). In whatever way God chooses to use you, in whatever situation He daily places you, be faithful, friend. One day, the first shall be last and the last shall be first (Matt. 20:16).

Honoring God Through Unhappy Halloweens

Published November 1, 2017 by Dawn

For all the years growing up that I can remember, we didn’t celebrate Halloween. Somewhere in the Bible, something convinced my parents it was not honoring to God, so we never dressed up, never went trick-or-treating and never fit in on October 31st. Probably, there are a ton of Christian parents today who can relate to this. They have a similar story. Or, they did get to dress up, but were firmly convinced by mom and dad that “there is a good Halloween and bad Halloween … we are celebrating the good one.” They got to go knock on doors, smile cheesy and go to bed high on sugar.

Three weeks after becoming a mother, I dressed my daughter in the cutest bear costume and trudged through snow to the neighbor’s door for a kit-kat just so we could say she had a “first Halloween.” For several years afterward, we celebrated just like everyone else and my kids, for sure, were the cutest kids on the block. Then it happened: I began to study various literatures about the pagan ties to the holiday, the occult’s worship of this holiday in particular, and all the while 1 Thessalonians 5:22 resounded, “Abstain from all appearances of evil.”

You might have just rolled your eyes, but bear with me. I’ve read most everything that’s been written about Halloween. I’ve read the mommy blogs, where a well-meaning and genuine mother gives a heart-felt dissertation on why Halloween can be a fun outreach for the family, a moment to “be the light” in the darkness. I’ve read the Satanist’s giddy, mocking quip: “I’m so happy Christians let their children worship Satan one day a year.” I’ve read them both and I was ready to let this day go by without saying a word. As for me and my house, we call in Chinese and Netflix with the porch-light off. No big deal.

This year, I wanted to test the theory: Christians can use this holiday to reach the masses of unchurched people and people will come to Christ through our efforts.

Now, because handing out tracks is unscientific, in that I cannot accurately measure the amount of people who come to Christ through my efforts, I chose not to go that route. Likewise, how can I measure one’s acceptance of Christ by merely smiling and passing out candy? If we don’t talk about Jesus while they are with me, how will I ever know if my efforts to “share Christ” in such a way actually brought them to the foot of the cross? Lacking any other avenue of measurable means, I put a sign up on my front gate with the facts: No candy, but we have Jesus! Want Jesus? Knock! The door will be opened.

Yes, I did this. In the town my kids go to school in.

No one knocked.

No one chose to come to Christ when it was all I offered.

If I would have had a huge bowl of candy, I would have entertained the masses of strangers all over town but would any of them come to know Jesus … genuinely know Jesus, through my “evangelism outreach”? Would they dig any deeper than the bottom of their pillow case after a long walk home, to get to know my King? And all the while, I might have been showing my kids the opposite of what I preach:

  • That we don’t have to come out from among them and be separate.
  • That fear can be fun and exhilarating as long as they know that mommy is near.
  • That Satan is just a Halloween ghoul and witches are just people with green make-up on; the occult is nothing but a sham and Halloween fun.
  • That there is a good side to evil and everyone can partake because Jesus would never want us to feel left out.

Maybe this is just me rambling, but let me do so for a sec. The scripture clearly tells us that no one can even come to God unless the Spirit of God compels them to (John 6:44). Do I believe that all of these efforts to reach people are fruitless? No, not exactly. I believe God reaches people through any means necessary, and He works all things in conformity to His will. He can use even our sins and foolishness to draw people to Him because His purpose is unwavering even if we do things we shouldn’t. But are we honoring Him?

Does this matter to you like it matters to me? My heart broke the first time I had to explain to my kids that we would no longer be celebrating Halloween. No more huge buckets of candy, no parties, no costumes. This holiday fell off our calendar, so to speak. Yes, they have endured the pain of not partaking in something that brings a lot of joy to a ton of other kiddos. But isn’t this the reality of Christianity and sin in general? Don’t we want our kids to abstain from the things that dishonor God, even if the whole world is doing them? Then why do we make exceptions for this one holiday? Satan mocks God every year because of the millions of Christians who have chosen to justify their involvement in a holiday that glorifies darkness.

“I just want to honor God to the best of my ability,” I told them, through tears.

Here’s the truth, church: people will come to Christ as God compels them. That’s scriptural. God can use any means necessary, but He doesn’t need us in any way to do so. Be His hands and feet, but you don’t have to be so desperate to reach people that you worship at pagan altars next to the lost. Jesus didn’t do that. Did he eat with “sinners?” Sure. Did he engage in their sin so they didn’t shun him? Never. He was wholly set apart and different, and that’s probably why they were so drawn to him. He was weird and different, but full of love at the same time. Weren’t we called to be Christ-like?

Be Christ-like.

And, know that when you choose to be Christ-like, you will be treated as he was. Persecuted. Hated. The world will not accept you because it did not accept him (john 15:18). Even the church will mock and disdain you, my friend. Still, I encourage you to be Christ-like. The world will notice that you have been with Jesus (Acts 4:13). Not only, but your actions will please your Heavenly Father, which is worth more than the accolades any man can give. Be at peace!

 

A Stone’s Throw Away from Judging My Neighbor

Published July 22, 2017 by Dawn

“Judge not, lest ye be judged” (Matt. 7:1)

It’s the newest hot-button issue. The world loves this verse. Heck, so does the church. We’re throwing it around as a means to fend off anyone who wants to talk about morality because as a society, we’ve decided morality is so last century. I’ve been praying about this one for a while, because there are some scriptures in the Bible that seemingly contradict this one, and we’re all a little confused.

Because this is such a delicate issue, the authority of scripture is the basis of all commentary presented, and I hope this blog reads more like an expose. I also hope you understand that I have spent hours researching scripture and praying over this. I don’t claim to know it all, just want to present the scriptures and I pray the Holy Spirit leads you to the truth of God’s Will.

Let’s just begin here, with Matthew 7:1-5. I’m going to use the NIV text for ease of reading. “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck out of your brother’s eye.”

Ok, we have the topic of judging, alongside the topic of hypocrisy. This is a great place to start! Most of the time, this text is quoted in part. In effect, “Don’t judge me. The Bible says that.” But look further and you will notice that in differentiating between your plank and your brother’s speck, Jesus is referring to one thing: seeing your own sin. Christians should be introspective about sin before they discuss it out loud. They should know their own sin and then deal with it. To paraphrase, “take care of your sin first.” Christians should not speak of sin if they don’t have a healthy prayer life involving repentance. If we don’t know our own spiritual depravity, we shouldn’t try to help anyone else. When you come to know the depravity of humanity and what you are capable of, you can approach the topic of sin from a place of humility. Humility is so important, especially when discussing sin with unbelievers. When we have a nonexistent or weak relationship with Christ, we cannot help others understand topics such as repentance, forgiveness, and grace. There is no salvation from sin without these.

But Jesus doesn’t stop there. He says “deal with your sin first, then help your brother.” This is where things can get a little uncomfortable. Because we are called to talk about sin … no one likes that truth. For a more in-depth understanding of what Jesus meant, let’s follow Him to the scene of another group of church members discussing someone’s sin.

It’s important to understand, however, that the same Jesus who said, “Judge not, lest ye be judged” also said, “Go and sin no more.” Let’s take a look at John 8:2-11:

“At dawn he appeared in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in the act of adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, ‘Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now, what do you say?’ They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.

“But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, ‘Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.’

”Again, he stooped down and wrote on the ground. At this, those who heard began to go away, one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. Jesus straightened up and asked her, ‘Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?’

“’No one, sir,’ she said

“’Then neither do I condemn you,’ Jesus declared. ‘Go now and leave your life of sin.’”

Ok, that’s a lot to digest so let’s take it in a little slower. It starts with the representatives of the church, those specifically entrusted to carry the Word of God to the world … the Pharisees.

Ouch, church.

They caught her in the act and decided something had to be done. According to the law, they would have been justified in stoning her. They were zealous for God, and loved righteousness. In this, they weren’t wrong. But when they picked up the stones, the true motives of their hearts were revealed. They didn’t want to redeem her from her sin. They wanted to punish her for it.

We still do this. I shake my head at Christians every day on social media who, zealous for God, only quote the law and lambast the transgressions of everyone who is not in line with it. Jesus dealt with the Pharisees by again pointing out their hypocrisy. He encourages them to take a hard look at their own lives. It’s a humbling thing, to be sure! The bottom line is this: we cannot talk to the world about sin if we do not have an understanding of our own sinful nature apart from the saving grace of Jesus. Because one thing the world is not wrong about is that we Christians also sin! What separates us from the world is not our purity, it’s our repentance. If we aren’t repentant, we are not pure!

The Pharisees also made a public spectacle of this lady. They pointed out her sin in front of a crowd of onlookers and demanded Jesus do something. What they failed to understand is that this approach did not make the woman repentant. It made her ashamed. People who are publicly shamed are more apt to be bitter and hardened to any effect the Holy Spirit might otherwise have.

Therefore, I believe the church, if we must speak of sin, should do so in a way that brings that person to Jesus in private. It is hard to be naked in public, people!

Finally, her redemption happened when everyone else left.

Everyone.

We don’t have to hang over people to see how things pan out after we bring them to Jesus. They will be much better off alone with him than with us anyway. Ultimately, redemption is the work of the Holy Spirit. We can and should present the Word of God without error, and we should pray with and for people. But we are not responsible for anyone’s salvation once we have presented the truth. Their blood be on their own heads. However, if we refuse to share truth because we’re scared of the world’s reaction, their blood will be on us. “When I say to a wicked person, ‘You will surely  die,’ and you do not warn them or speak out to dissuade them from their evil ways in order to save their life, that wicked person will die for their sin, and I will hold you accountable for their blood” (Ezek. 3:18).

Listen, I know it’s uncomfortable. I’ve been dodging this bullet for years. The world is so well-versed on the “Don’t Judge” scriptures. But having read scriptures, we can see that talking about sin is not judgment. Jesus says to help a brother out with their speck after you have dealt with your own. He also addresses the woman’s sin after dismissing the mob. Discussing sin is not the issue! The issue is how we do it! That is where judgment creeps in. When we confront sin with an attitude of superiority, we stand in judgment over our fellow man. When we confront sin with an aim of seeing punishment afflicted, we stand in judgment. When we relish hatred in our hearts toward unbelievers, we are so guilty of judging them. Condemnation is a satanic tool; it resides in the heart of “Christians” who love justice without mercy. We also have to be aware that people are comfortable with their sin, and often love their sin. We cannot destroy them in the process of trying to “help” them. When Jesus said, “with the measure you use it will be measured to you,” he was talking about the measure of grace you extend to others. The measure of mercy. That’s a dangerous thing, church, to mete out judgment! If we aren’t extending love and mercy in our hearts, we are measuring out our own condemnation. That’s scary!

The crux of the matter, then, is this: “Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sin” (James 5:20). This verse right here should be the driving force of any conversations we may have about sin. It is true: you can catch more flies with honey. We have to be aware that quoting scriptures will never be enough. “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up” (1 Cor. 8:1). When we speak it in the authority of of God, with the love of God in our hearts toward people and the attitude of Christ about sin, that’s not judging. Speaking truth in love is a possibility. No, more than that, it’s a mandate according to Ephesians 4:15. For that, we should never apologize. But we should tread lightly and for God’s sake, put down our stones!

 

 

 

Going Through the Motions

Published July 6, 2017 by Dawn

“Now the Israelites went out to fight against the Philistines. The Israelites camped at Ebenezer, and the Philistines at Aphek. The Philistines deployed their forces to meet Israel, and as the battle spread, Israel was defeated by the Philistines, who killed about four thousand of them on the battlefield. When the soldiers returned to camp, the elders of Israel asked, ‘Why did the Lord bring defeat on us today before the Philistines? Let us bring the ark of the Lord’s covenant from Shiloh, so that he may go with us and save us from the hand of our enemy.’

“So the people sent men to Shiloh, and they brought back the ark of the covenant of the Lord Almighty, who is enthroned between the cherubim. And Eli’s two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, were there with the ark of the covenant of God.

“ When the ark of the Lord’s covenant came into the camp, all Israel raised such a great shout that the ground shook. Hearing the uproar, the Philistines asked, ‘What’s all this shouting in the Hebrew camp?’ When they learned that the ark of the Lord had come into the camp, the Philistines were afraid. ‘A god has come into the camp,’ they said. ‘Oh no! Nothing like this has happened before. We’re doomed! Who will deliver us from the hand of these mighty gods? They are the gods that struck down the Egyptians with all kinds of plagues in the wilderness. Be strong, Philistines! Be men, or you will be subject to the Hebrews, as they have been to you. Be men, and fight!’

“So the Philistines fought, and the Israelites were defeated and every man fled to his tent. The slaughter was great; Israel lost thirty thousand foot soldiers. The ark of God was captured and Eli’s two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, died” (1 Sam. 4: 1-11).

Isreal, God’s people, were in battle. Surrounded by the enemy and being defeated mercilessly. They were so sure of victory, they went into battle a little under prepared. We know that because they didn’t even take the ark of the covenant with them. It had been at the forefront of their trials in the desert, their crossing the Jordan and stepping into the Promise Land. All the battles won as Joshua was obedient and conquered the land so the people of God could have a place to call home. The ark went before them, symbolic of the presence of their great and mighty God. They knew where their strength lay … for a time, at least.

Then it happened: they went zealously into battle against a great enemy. The giants in the land – the Philistines. Israel, so sure of victory, went into that battle with nothing more than a grand illusion and lost. They had forgotten to bring God into their plans, and subsequently, their plans failed.

An elder knew immediately what was wrong. The ark wasn’t there. But to the new generation of Israelites, who hadn’t been in the desert, it was only a relic. They went after it, of course, and brought along the “priests” as well, but it almost seems like they just set it up ceremoniously on the edge of the field of battle, celebrated their forthcoming victory and again, went into  battle in their own strength.

It amazes me to think of how it happened: they Israelites even shouted in praise that the ark was there. Their praise was so loud, it shook the ground and got the attention of the enemy. It scared the Philistines, and awakened them to their impending doom. Their solution? Fight harder.

It worked.

How?!

I literally sat here and cried after reading this. It’s just like us, friends.

I prayed to understand, because frankly, I’m sick of being defeated. Here’s what happened:  The Israelites were defeated the first time because they went out high on past victories, in their own strength and completely underestimating their enemy. When they were defeated, someone reminded them that their past victories were due to the presence of God among them, so they went back and grabbed the ark. Sadly, to them, it was the symbolism that mattered, not the reality. They went through the motions and expected that God was in it. He wasn’t … because they hadn’t spent time seeking His will and His way to victory.

The really disturbing part is how their hollow worship scared the enemy into action. The Philistines recognized something the Israelites did not: They had brought gods into the camp. Not God. Little Gs … gods. They had brought their own idolatrous ideas and plans into the camp and worshiped as fervently as they knew how. Their enemy noticed and although they afraid, their fear was based on what God had done for the Israelites. Not what the Israelites had done for themselves. Are you getting this? The Philistines’ fear led them to fight stronger and because the Israelites had a form of worship with no power, they were defeated.

This scares me, church. And humbles me. And suddenly, the continuous battles and frequent defeats make sense. Maybe it’s because, instead of truly seeking God, we’re just going through the motions. Maybe that’s why America’s church is powerless and the world is in chaos. Satan seems to be winning because he is, I’m afraid. Because we’re fighting him with gods; our own ideas and strategies are failing us. We have for so long refused to get still before the Lord and seek His face. Instead, we’ve changed the program a hundred and fifty different ways trying to bring people in, but all this time, what we really need to do is bring God back in. Not with our preconceived ideas of how things need to go, or what people want to hear. People need God. They want to hear God. Not you. Not me. They are dealing with deep calling unto deep, but we’re beckoning them into shallow church services. We’ve reduced the movement of God to a program and put Him in a box we refuse to let Him out of. That’s what Israel did. They went back for the box, but they didn’t open it up and let God do what He wanted to do (technically, they were forbidden from opening the ark, but I’m speaking metaphorically here). They were afraid it would look a little foolish, maybe. After all, they defeated Jericho by walking around the walls and shouting. They defeated the Midianites by breaking clay jars and blowing trumpets. All God’s plans, and let’s face it: it was a little weird sharing the war stories. A little humbling. They couldn’t take credit. Maybe that’s why they went out without Him. Maybe they wanted to actually look and feel like warriors instead of weirdos. How’d it work out? Defeat.

I think it’s time to stop going to war without God. Stop trying to win people to our ideologies and get back to what scripture actually says. Stop trying to make it fancy and give it to people straight. Stop worrying about if they like our worship and just worship. It’s not for them; it’s for Him. Stop candy-coating, or polishing up, the truth and give it straight. It is the truth that sets men free, not a confusing combination of cutesy anecdotes and platitudes. Our sermons have become so devoid of actual scripture, the garbage being fed to the multitudes is quite vomitus. No wonder the world can’t stand the church! God himself would like to spew us out of his mouth, no doubt!

Stop doing your thing, church. Do God’s. And if you don’t know what that even means any more, I think that’s a good indication it’s time to get on our knees and shut up long enough for God to speak. He hasn’t changed. He cannot. He will not. Therefore, we must.