Saturday, November 16, 2019

Spies and Their Lies

Let’s examine the spies’ report to Moses about those scary inhabitants of the Promised Land: 

But the men who had gone with him said, “We can’t attack those people! They’re too strong for us!” So they began to spread lies among the Israelites about the land they had explored. They said, “The land we explored is one that devours those who live there. All the people we saw there are very tall. We saw Nephilim there. (The descendants of Anak are Nephilim.) We felt as small as grasshoppers, and that’s how we must have looked to them.” (Numbers 13:31-33)

The spies’ report says three key things that scare the people as they listen.  (I wonder if Moses was doing an eye-roll while all of this was being said.)  The first one is:

·         FACT:  We can’t attack those people, because they are “too strong.”

Fair enough.  Warriors in all their gear can be very intimidating.  Put tall people in armor, and everyone starts shaking. Let’s take a quick trip into the future and watch the Israelites as they encounter a giant whose name we know: Goliath.  He’s tall, all armored-up and intimidates everyone.  But, David who knows what kind of God he serves, is not afraid.  Let’s watch as a tall bully made the Israelite warriors afraid.  Think how Moses’ bunch feels:  they are not warriors! 

Here we go:   

A champion named Goliath, who was from Gath, came out of the Philistine camp. His height was six cubits and a span. [over 9 feet—NIV Study) ] He had a bronze helmet on his head and wore a coat of scale armor of bronze weighing five thousand shekels [about 125 pounds] on his legs he wore bronze greaves, and a bronze javelin was slung on his back. His spear shaft was like a weaver’s rod, and its iron point weighed six hundred shekels. [about 15 pounds] His shield bearer went ahead of him. (1 Sam. 17:4-7)

Big, bad and heavily geared up.  And a big-mouthed braggart at that:

Goliath stood and shouted to the ranks of Israel, “Why do you come out and line up for battle? Am I not a Philistine, and are you not the servants of Saul? Choose a man and have him come down to me. If he is able to fight and kill me, we will become your subjects; but if I overcome him and kill him, you will become our subjects and serve us.” Then the Philistine said, “This day I defy the armies of Israel! Give me a man and let us fight each other.” On hearing the Philistine’s words, Saul and all the Israelites were dismayed and terrified. (1 Sam. 17:8-11)

You’ve got King Saul, his army and everyone else all shaking in their sandals.  Saul’s men are trained professionals, and yet the enormity of Goliath’s ego and armor puts them to shame.  The weight of it all bears down on their spirits.

Enter the shepherd boy David.  He is ordered by his father to take food to his brothers who are in Saul’s army.  This puts the young David smack dab in the middle of the action. For forty days, Mr. Big Mouth has come out every morning and evening to taunt the Israelites.  King Saul has had enough and offers a bounty for Mr. Big Mouth.  No one in the ranks has responded.  Fear has gripped them, just like Moses’ bunch.  

We are no different: Fear in the face of overwhelming circumstances can paralyze us. 

David overhears the men talking and asks:

“What will be done for the man who kills this Philistine and removes this disgrace from Israel? Who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?” (1 Sam. 17:26)

Go David!  He is focused on God and His chosen ones.  This Goliath is not under God’s covenant protection; he stands only in his own power.  King Saul and his men are standing with the mighty God of Israel.  In their fear, they forget this, until a mere shepherd boy reminds them. 
David offers to fight Goliath, and King Saul advises against it; he’s too young and inexperienced.  David then recounts his killing of a lion and a bear as he guarded his sheep.  He gently reminds the King that Goliath’s shouted daily defiance at God’s covenant people is aimed at God Himself:

“Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear; this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, because he has defied the armies of the living God. The Lord who rescued me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will rescue me from the hand of this Philistine.”  (1 Sa. 17:36-7) 

David knows who he is in God’s eyes; he has seen God’s mightiness before and utterly trusts God for it happening again. God is his champion.  David’s focus is on God’s qualities of unfailing love and mercy.  David could have ran out and met Goliath in his own power. But he did not.  He also refused to wear Saul’s armor; he took his sling and stones and went out to meet Goliath.  David fearlessly said,

“You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. This day the Lord will deliver you into my hands, and I’ll strike you down and cut off your head. This very day I will give the carcasses of the Philistine army to the birds and the wild animals, and the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel. All those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the Lord saves; for the battle is the Lord’s, and he will give all of you into our hands.” (1 Sam. 17:45-47)  [emphasis mine]

Boom!  There it is: “The battle is the Lord’s”!  As codependent folks, we feel the battle is ours, and the Lord is there to simply rubber-stamp all the good we are doing.  We use other people’s armor, or use the armor we have been dragging around since childhood.  It fits no better than Saul’s did on David, but that doesn’t stop us from rushing into battle.  We have fear in our hearts, and like a scared dog running into a road with cars coming, we see only the need in front of us.  The consequences are not important to us as we try to fix the situation.
Let’s return to our spies giving their report to a non-warrior group of people about the strong people inhabiting the Promised Land.  First up, they say,
·         Fact:  The people in the land are “too strong”

OK.  Now, instead of remembering how God judged the strongest man (in terms pf power) in Egypt and his mighty army, with the Red Sea sealing the deal, these spies then embellish the situation.  They do what unhealthy people do all the time in their fear:  they go into survival mode and lie.  Their fear becomes the people’s fear.  Let’s see what they said and how inaccurate it is:

·      Lie:  The people are unable to attack the inhabitants.  (What?  The people didn’t attack Pharaoh’s army either, but they carried the day because of God!)
·      Lie:  The land “devours” people.  (What?  How does this happen?  The people have been in some of the harshest conditions around, so how could this land be any worse than a barren desert?)
·      Lie:  The people are “very tall.”  Well maybe.  But so what?  (The Pharaoh’s army wasn’t populated by bored hobbits.)
·      Lie:  “We saw Nephilim there.”  The Nephilim are “men of renown.” (  ) Big bad dudes, in other words.  (Maybe.  But like any good fish story, the fish that were caught are getting bigger and bigger.)
·      Lie:  “We felt as small as grasshoppers.”  (What?  Small, maybe, but not squish-on-the-kitchen-floor small. Size, ability and fighting prowess of these Hebrew slaves was never factored in God’s victory over the Egyptians.  God alone will fight and conquer the Hebrews’ enemies; He did it then and He will do it now.) 
·      Lie:  We feel small, so we MUST look small to our enemies.  (What?  What your enemies think is of no value. God’s opinion of you matters.  Only His.  Period.)

So, yup, we have a crisis here.  But who created the crisis?  The spies and their lies. (Good movie title…)  The people are sucked in to the lies and react as if the spies are speaking the whole truth and nothing but the truth. 

Let’s see how we can apply this to our need to rescue.  The lies of our spies (our reactions to others and situations) have triggered our co-dependent reaction. Let me stop for a moment, and comment here.  Unhealthy people, in their fear or manipulation, will shade the truth, outright lie or engage in delusional thinking.  People who are not codependent will ask questions, wait awhile and be somewhat skeptical about the situation until they gather more evidence that either supports what they are told or calls it into question. 

Being codependent, you and I will act immediately upon what we hear; we do not ask questions, reflect or wonder if the person is in touch with reality. We will be triggered by the story the person is telling and wanting nothing more than to help the person to overcome the adversity. 

The spies knew that the people listening were former slaves, with no real knowledge of the world.  The spies knew it wouldn’t take much to get the people to agree with them, and sit out this whole Promised Land thing. 

Unhealthy people know you and I are codependent.  How? The unhealthy person is so desperate that he or she will zero in on anyone who is capable of helping without any limitations or questions.  

Healthy people sense that this person’s report of the Promised Land is questionable. 

You and I end up alone with this person, listening and absorbing the fear of it all, because of our deep need. 

In the next post, we will continue to examine the spies’ report and how unhealthy people derail us. 

Friday, November 8, 2019

Are There G.I.A.N.T.S. in Your Promised Land?

The book of Exodus is a wonderful demonstration of God’s power and mercy.  He releases His people from slavery and also shows how powerless the gods and the Pharaoh are. The children of Israel ended up as slaves in Egypt because Joseph, one of Israel’s (Jacob’s) sons was sold into slavery by his jealous brothers.  Joseph, despite his rough start, ended up becoming a high-ranking leader in the Egyptian government.  He forgave his brothers. Joseph’s life shows us how God can use our circumstances to bless others. 

Joseph’s descendants did very well in Egypt.  So well in fact that when a new Pharaoh arose, he was afraid of the Israelites, because of their numbers.  He enslaved them, worked them without mercy and ordered that all baby boys born to them were to be killed. 

Enter Moses.  Pharaoh’s own daughter saved Moses as a baby, after he was sent adrift on the Nile.  Moses was raised a prince.  Eventually he was called by God to deliver His children from bondage.
God passed sentence on the Egyptian gods and the Pharaoh himself with the Ten Plagues.  God wanted to show His covenant people that He was the one true God.  They had been in Egypt for over 400 years, and needed a powerful demonstration of the God who had called their ancestors, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and had covenanted with them to be their One and Only.

After the final plague, where Pharaoh’s own son perished, he relented and let the people go.  Pharaoh, once Moses and the people left, he changed his mind.  No one was going to get the better of him!
Moses and the children of Israel had one last epic encounter at the Red Sea, when Pharaoh’s army attempted to follow the people across the Red Sea, which had parted.  It closed over his army.  Moses and the people moved safely into the desert. 

The people grumbled and disobeyed every chance they could.  But God’s mercy never ceased; He provided for all their needs.  Even Moses defied God’s orders.  He could not enter the Promised Land.  That privilege fell upon Joshua.  The disobedient desert generation passed away.  Their children would be the ones to enter the land, conquer the tribes living there and possess it.  The Lord had promised this land to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and His covenant to His people is forever:  

"After the death of Moses the Lord’s servant, the Lord spoke to Joshua son of Nun, Moses’ assistant. He said, “Moses my servant is dead. Therefore, the time has come for you to lead these people, the Israelites, across the Jordan River into the land I am giving them. I promise you what I promised Moses: ‘Wherever you set foot, you will be on land I have given you—from the Negev wilderness in the south to the Lebanon mountains in the north, from the Euphrates River in the east to the Mediterranean Sea in the west, including all the land of the Hittites.’ No one will be able to stand against you as long as you live. For I will be with you as I was with Moses. I will not fail you or abandon you. Be strong and courageous, for you are the one who will lead these people to possess all the land I swore to their ancestors I would give them. Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the instructions Moses gave you. Do not deviate from them, turning either to the right or to the left. Then you will be successful in everything you do. Study this Book of Instruction continually. Meditate on it day and night so you will be sure to obey everything written in it. Only then will you prosper and succeed in all you do. This is my command—be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:1-9 NLT)

Not only to honor the covenant made with the founding fathers of the Hebrew faith, God also tells Joshua another reason why the land is given to him and the people:  “Remember what Moses, the servant of the Lord, commanded you: ‘The Lord your God is giving you a place of rest. He has given you this land.’”  (Joshua 1:13) [emphasis mine]

Isn’t that lovely?  The Promised Land was a place of rest.  No more slavery; no more babies killed and no more endless toil in the hot sun.  The children of Israel now have the freedom to worship the one true God of Israel.  He Himself is shalom—peace itself.

A place of rest…wow.  Does your Promised Land—the place where you dwell in Jesus because of the forgiveness of sin—full of peace and promise?  Sadly, when you are in “CoDeMo,” (Co-Dependent Mode) you are never restful or peaceful.  There is always something either happening, going to happen, or you are trying to recover before the next episode hits you. Why?  Because when we constantly engage with unhealthy people, and completely immersed our lives and energies into theirs, we are never at rest.  They are slaves to fear and they identify so much with chaos that they create it wherever they go. When you are in CoDeMo, their chaos becomes yours. 

You are now in bondage to your own fear—fear that they won’t like you or that you are not Christian enough if you don’t rescue them. 

Fear begets fear.    

But, you must realize that Jesus Himself is our rest: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matt. 11:28-30 NIV)

The writer of the Book of Hebrews phrases this way:

"For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken later about another day.  There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from their works, just as God did from his. Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will perish by following their example of disobedience." (Heb. 4:8-11)
Our Sabbath-rest is in Jesus.  He saves us from our sinful selves and sets our feet on a path of peace.  But when you are CoDeMo, you are far from rest.  So what happened here?  God’s message to our hearts seems so far removed from our reality.  Because there are G.I.A.N.T.S. in our Promised Land, that’s why!

What kind of G.I.A.N.T.S.? Let’s go back to Word.  Moses sent out spies to search out the land, and bring back information about it and its inhabitants:  

"Forty days later, they came back from exploring the land. They came back to Moses, Aaron, and the whole community of Israel at Kadesh in the Desert of Paran. They gave their report and showed them the fruit from the land.  This is what they reported to Moses: 'We went to the land where you sent us. It really is a land flowing with milk and honey. Here’s some of its fruit. But the people who live there are strong, and the cities have walls and are very large. We even saw the descendants of Anak there. The Amalekites live in the Negev. The Hittites, Jebusites, and Amorites live in the mountain region. And the Canaanites live along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea and all along the Jordan River.'  Caleb told the people to be quiet and listen to Moses. Caleb said, 'Let’s go now and take possession of the land. We should be more than able to conquer it.'

But the men who had gone with him said, 'We can’t attack those people! They’re too strong for us!' So they began to spread lies among the Israelites about the land they had explored. They said, 'The land we explored is one that devours those who live there. All the people we saw there are very tall. We saw Nephilim there. (The descendants of Anak are Nephilim.) We felt as small as grasshoppers, and that’s how we must have looked to them.” (Numbers 13:25-32)

The men sent out to see what the Promised Land was all about come back with a dire report.  They are upbeat about the fruit, but then their fear bursts through and all they can focus on are the inhabitants.  The big and scary ones.  Only two men, Caleb and Joshua, have the confidence to go and take the land, because they know what kind of God they serve.  They saw abundance and a good land.  The people in it were fearsome, but Caleb and Joshua remembered God’s mighty hand against the Egyptians; a few Canaanite tribes were no match for their God.

The giants in the land did not cause Joshua and Caleb to fear.  They saw this as a chance for God to be glorified. 

What are the G.I.A.N.T.S. in our Promised Land?    

I would like to think we are more akin to Caleb and Joshua, and see God’s abundance and power rather than the “inhabitants” that cause us to fear.  But as CoDeWo’s (Co-Dependent Women), these G. I.A.N.T.S. inhabit our promised land—the one where we should be at rest in Jesus.  But faced with the overwhelming need to rescue others, here’s what we really experience:  

·         Guilt:  I must rescue this person/situation, because no one else will.  I will then feel a sense of bondage.  Because I see only myself as capable of helping others, I start to feel a kind of spiritual pride.  So my guilt that it is my responsibility to rescue someone and my pride that says only I can do it, puts me in bondage every time.

·         Identity:  I feel empty and I only know myself as I serve others.  I will then feel     confusion and disbelief of who I am in Christ.  I will resent the freedom other Christians show.  I don’t know who I am unless I am deeply involved in others’ lives.

·         Anxiety:  I must step in, but I am not sure if the person will listen and follow through with my help.  I see their poor choices and failures as my fault.  I will then step in again (and again), feeling a false sense of control over others and their choices; the consequences will be mine again to fix.  This cycle of rescue and worry causes me great anxiety. 

·         Needy:  All I see is need everywhere and in everyone one, including myself.  I will then feel I am not able to rest.  I put off my own healing due to all my frenetic activity.  I will always have a sense of impending doom:  Who’s next to be helped?  I want to hide away, put I don’t want to disappoint Jesus, so I am burdened all the time by the need of others.

·         Tolerance:  Despite my need to rescue, I never hold anyone accountable for what they do.  I am afraid to be truthful with them.  I fear their reaction.  I will then always be in unhealthy relationships.  My need to be needed defines any friendship I have.  I put up with a great deal in others, but allow no mistakes on my part.  I ignore the sin in others, their inconstancy and their dysfunctional reality in order to rescue them.  I want to speak truth and freedom, but fear their disapproval.  So, I tolerate a great deal all the time.

·         Sorrow:  I just can’t help everyone and I am utterly burdened.  People come to me with the same problems over and over, seemingly to never move forward.  I am constantly burdened.  I will then feel sad and depressed each day when I rise.  I want better for people than they want for themselves. 

Let’s summarize this up: 

G.I.A.N.T.S in your promised  land

OK, admit it:  you know what I am talking about as a CoDeWo.  It’s a kind of club we are in, and although we may feel special that we alone know what is best for people, it’s a lonely and fearful club, too. We think we are the only ones facing such mighty inhabitants, but listen to Joshua and Caleb:  These G.I.A.N.T.S can be defeated!

Sunday, November 3, 2019

Let's Start a Journey

What is a normal family?  What is a normal childhood?

If you were a goldfish in a pet store, swimming around in a crowded tank and having big faces loom up and gaze closely at you all the time, well, to you, that is normal. But what if someone told you about a beautiful blue lake where you could swim around practically forever?  You would rarely see another fish and no looming faces would come into view.  Food would be all around you.  You would not have to wait for a few flakes to float on the top of the water to eat.  In this lake, you would have freedom.

Would you believe what you were hearing?  No.  

Why?  What this person is describing to you is so far from your personal experience that you would be skeptical, knowing that such a place could not possibly exist. Once you were done listening to this person, you would swim away, bumping into your fellow fish and wondering about what you had heard. Could such a place exist?

If you had told me, as a child, teen, young adult and middle-aged woman that I did not have to rescue everyone by using my time, talents, money and Christian love, I would have been very skeptical. Are you kidding me?  That was all I knew in my world.  It started with my alcoholic mother.  My earliest memories were trying to make her happy so she wouldn’t drink.  I tried to be good all the time.  I sought her approval as I tried to be good, and yet, despite my efforts, she drank. 

I tried meeting her emotional needs by always watching to see how she was doing and what I could do to help.  She attempted suicide twice, and each time, I felt powerless.  No matter what I did, she lived her life her way.

I was primed for co-dependence.

My brother was mentally unstable.  He hated my parents and punished them with bad behavior.  He was violent towards me and would hit me whenever he could.  One of my earliest memories of him was him saying, “Let’s commit suicide by eating this medicine.”  I had no idea what he meant, but I went along with him.  I admired him even though he scared me.  I took the blame for his destruction of my parents’ property.  I was so upset to see them upset that I was willing to say that I did it so we could get back to normal.  I was punished all the time, for my brother would not stop being destructive. I did whatever I could do to appease my brother.  I felt powerless.  No matter what I did, he lived his life his way.

I was primed for co-dependence.

My earliest memories of my father was a fun, funny guy who seemed to enjoy me and my brother.  He built us go-carts and passed the football.  Later as he climbed the company ladder, and became an executive, he became more and more distant.  He was either golfing, visiting clients or at work, even on weekends. He didn’t seem to like us anymore.  I did all I could do to be a good daughter: I got good grades, listened to his stories and carried his emotional baggage about his unhappy marriage to my mom.  He was very critical of everyone.  Woe unto me if I came under his critical gaze.  My father seemed to make everyone else happy but never had anything left over for us.  Why would he?  My brother was out of control, my mom drank and drank, and I was doing weird things to his house (my brother was the culprit; he never knew that) so I was that kid. 

I once tracked in some oil on my shoes from playing handball in the alley behind our house.  I didn’t know it until my mother found it.  She was upset.  My dad yelled and went into my room and broke all of my plastic and glass horses that I loved so much.  He wanted me to feel what it was like to have your possessions disrespectfully treated.  He would later go in, on another occasion, and destroy my brother’s drum set.  Oftentimes, my dad would talk to me and make me feel important.  He seemed to be the only one who cared, but he would also just disappear into his work. As the years went on, he would just talk about himself, relaying all of his unhappiness about his marriage to me.  I worried about my family each and every day.  My only escape was school, which I loved. 

My dad, every time he achieved a new rung on the company ladder, would become more and more distant.  One day, he took me for a drive up the California coast to tell me of his new life, his new love and how he would be leaving my mom.  I felt powerless.  No matter what I did, he lived his life his own way.

I was primed for co-dependence. 

I became a Christian at the age of 14.  All of my searching for peace and answers about life was over; I never felt alone from that point on.  I attended a church filled with sweet saints, who became my surrogate family.  They made me feel that I actually had a place in the world.  I loved church:  choir, Bible studies, prayer meetings, youth group, youth events, and time spent talking with my elders made my first years as a Christian rich and fulfilling.  I slid my Christian morality and beliefs right over my drive for co-dependence.  I was always available to help others, even at the expense of myself.  I could never say no without feeling guilty, so I spent endless hours talking with people.  I saw everyone as a victim who couldn’t change their circumstances, so I did whatever I could to help them. 

I got involved with unhealthy churches and their leaders (I had no idea how deeply broken these leaders were or if I got an inkling, I ignored it) and I was blamed by these leaders when things went wrong.  I tried to fix broken people.  I felt guilty when I pursued my own gifts; I always deferred to others.  I helped them but was resentful when no one helped me.   

I was the Queen of People Pleasing.  I smiled, laughed and was a good friend, even when I wanted to leave.  But I felt secure when church people loved me.  I became lost in the chaos of other people’s lives, thinking I would be the one to fix the problems.  I had no boundaries.  I was always available, no matter what.

Now, at age 59, I have reached the end of my tether.  I now know I cannot fix people.  I cannot save them.  I cannot make them want to follow the Lord I love so much.  

Unhealthy people are every where and I cannot help them all. 

I am beginning my journey to a life of freedom in Christ:  only doing what He asks me to do:  Nothing more and nothing less. 

Join me.  You may discover, that although our lives are different, that the same shackles that are on my wrists are on yours.  We both want freedom in Christ.  We want to help others but not at the expense of ourselves.  

Let’s pursue a healthy and Christ-like way of interacting with others, serving God and making sure we are not lost in the process. 

Saturday, October 26, 2019

Overcoming Christian Co-Dependence

Dearest Readers:

Time for a shift in subject.  The modern church blows me away with its failure of not being led by the Word, but I feel I have blogged enough about that for now.

I want to focus on a problem I have lived with for years, and am now just overcoming at age 59:  Christian co-dependence.

It's a journey that many of us are walking.  We love the Lord, so we want to help everyone we meet. 

In fact, churches unintentionally encourage co-dependence.  Because we are taught that everyone who does not know Jesus is lost (true) then it is our job to rescue them (false). Notice I did not say, "Share the Gospel."     

\Wait a minute, Cramer (I can hear you saying) we are the share the Gospel by our actions as well as our words.  
Yes.  But here's an uncomfortable question:  Have you ever been serving or helping someone, in the name of Jesus (so eventually you can share the Gospel) and the Gospel never comes up?  What does come up is that niggling feeling that you are being taken advantage of; the person doesn't want to change; you are taking on more and more of managing of their lives, emotions and consequences.  The person has no real concern for you and is very focused on themselves.  They have lots of time to talk about their woe, but they must go if you turn the conversation to yourself.

In other words, am I enabling them to continue in their pattern of self-defeating behavior and narcissistic view of the world?

You help someone when the person reaches out and genuinely seeks a solution to their plight.  They are looking for answers and it is then you can talk about the emptiness in their lives and how they have filled it with everything but Jesus.
In contrast, you enable someone when the person reaches out and wants you to help them continue in a lifestyle that is either contrary to the Word or is self-destructive.  They want you to rubber-stamp all that they do.  When it comes a-tumbling down, they have you to blame.  They jump into their kettle of woe again.  And again.  And again.
Years ago, I would have viewed these words as heartless and very un-Christian. Yet, how many people did I help, only to find out later that I was deceived about their desire to change?

I found that they wanted someone to blame for their failures: me.  They wanted someone to feel sorry for them and never question how they went about their lives: me.  They wanted someone to listen to them for hours and hours about the same issues and allow only a few words here and there: me.
They didn't think they had a problem.  Woe to someone who suggested that they might be wrong: me.
They wanted someone to clean up the mess that their bad decisions caused: me. They wanted someone to serve the church but really serve them: me.  They wanted to guilt someone into helping them with time, money or resources: me.

All these years later, I look back, and I can honestly say I don't think my efforts ever proved fruitful.  Am I being bitter?  Am I being cynical?  No.  Deep fear and insecurity was the operating principle in the people I tried to rescue, whether they were friends, pastors or family members.  Their fear and insecurity was a poison coursing through their souls, brought on by a deep brokenness from long ago.

These people were in full on survival mode.  I was not helping them to break free; I was enabling them to use their long held ways and means to just survive.

Let me give you an analogy.  How often have you seen a terrified dog running around a busy street?  People are calling to it to come to them; we see the danger that the dog is in.  It senses the danger but is so scared that it keeps running and will not come to you and to safety.  You try to grab it, lure it with treats or herd it into some area where it cannot get hurt.  But still it runs and may even, despite your best efforts motivated by the best intentions, get hit or possibly killed.

My sister in the Lord sent me a sad picture a while back.  She lives in Oregon and was driving on a rural road.  A mama deer had just finished crossing and its fawn was following.  The mama disappeared and the fawn did what all fawns do when mama goes away:  it laid down in the middle of the road.  Right in front of my sister's car.  It was in its tight little posture, huddle and feeling safe.  But it wasn't.  Not at all.  Cars and predators could have had a field day with this little one. Good luck trying to convince that little fawn that its very survival mode was actually endangering it.

Do you see my point?  The people I helped over the years laid down in the road after a fearful encounter with life.  They had survived up until now; why change?  Some ran about the road, exerting their control over the situation, terrified that someone would see their inadequacy.  So, they kept running, convincing themselves they had this thing.  Woe to anyone who said that the car of reality could take them out.

Join me as we confront something that has plagued me and my time in church for years:  How do you reach out in Christ's name and speak truth in love to those who come to you?  Can you really fix someone?  Is everyone in church wanting to grow?  Are pastors honest with themselves in their motivation as they serve others?  Can I love someone and watch them get hit by a car, so to speak, despite my efforts to warn them?  Is their failure then my fault?  How do I love my brother as I love myself?

Do I even love myself?  Is it that failure to love myself that draws me in time and time again to relationships where my fear of rejection and my insecurity motivate me to help someone, despite my doubts as to their sincerity?

Deep stuff, but I am excited to share what the Lord is showing me.  Let me conclude with a scripture:

"No temptation [testing] has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted [testing] beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted,[tested] he will also provide a way out ["exit" in Greek] so that you can endure it."  (1 Cor. 10:13)

In our walk, we will be tested to help, rescue, talk truth, ignore truth, downplay sin, ignore certain verses, etc.  It happens to us all.  But, and here is the exciting and liberating part:  He will give us the what I call the "exit strategy"--how we cope and carry on so we may honor Him.  

If you are in the Co-Dependent house and it is on fire, Jesus comes in like a Firefighter, reaches for your hand and leads you to the exit that He can see, but you can't through all that smoke and flames.  

You have a choice:  either grab His hand or stay in the house, looking for you own exit.  

I am now choosing to take His hand and go with Him to the exit I would not have chosen in my unhealthy state, but now realize there is no other way.

Bless you as we walk together!


Thursday, October 17, 2019

When Leadership Blows It. Big Time.

The other night, while preparing for worship practice, my wonderful worship leader, Nicole, made an interesting observation:  that it only took 40 days for the leaders of Israel to have fully blown it.

Blown what?

They dined with God and then helped the people build a golden calf to worship.


Let's look at the Word and set the scene:

Moses, Aaron, Nadab and Abihu along with seventy elders, are being invited to come to the mountain of the Lord. Only Moses is allowed to approach God, while the others must remain at a distance.  The people are not invited.  Moses then goes and tells the people all the instructions given by God for them to follow and they say they will obey.  Moses writes everything down.

The next day, Moses builds an altar and sacrifices are made.  He splashes the blood against the altar and reads the Book of the Covenant.  They people say they will obey.  Moses splashes the people with the remaining blood and tells them that this seals the covenant the Lord has made with them.

So far, so good.  Covenant conditions are stated and both sides commit to keeping it.  The ceremony is then followed by a meal, and Moses, Nadab, Abihu and the elders dine with God.

What?  They dine with God?  Yes.  They are not struck down and He shares the meal with them.  Wow.  God then instructs that Moses must come and receive all of the instructions that God has written out for the people.  I find it fascinating that God literally has the final word:  these instructions are not written out by Moses, but written on stone by God Himself. 

Then:  "When Moses went up on the mountain, the cloud covered it, and the glory of the Lord settled on Mount Sinai. For six days the cloud covered the mountain, and on the seventh day the Lord called to Moses from within the cloud.  To the Israelites the glory of the Lord looked like a consuming fire on top of the mountain. Then Moses entered the cloud as he went on up the mountain. And he stayed on the mountain forty days and forty nights." (Ex. 24:15-18)

Moses' task?  To receive all of the instructions pertaining to the Tabernacle: its furniture, the Ark, how the priests are called and how they are to dress and all the accoutrements that the Tabernacle will require to operate.

When God was finished, Moses descended the mountain with the two stone tablets in hand, inscribed by the very finger of God. (Ex. 31)

Moses had earlier told the elders/leaders to wait for him: "Then Moses set out with Joshua his aide, and Moses went up on the mountain of God. He said to the elders, “Wait here for us until we come back to you. Aaron and Hur are with you, and anyone involved in a dispute can go to them.” (Ex. 24:13-14)  So, the elders are to wait and Aaron and Hur are to settle disputes.  In other words, they are privileged to be part of this utterly awesome experience, but they also need to attend to the needs of the people.

People and life goes on outside our prayer closets, meetings and time spent before God when we are leaders.  But God is a Father of detail, and knows the people should not be leaderless, so He has Moses make provision for them while Moses is to be away for awhile. 

Now to the ugly part: 

"When the people saw that Moses was so long in coming down from the mountain, they gathered around Aaron and said, “Come, make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don’t know what has happened to him.”

Aaron answered them, “Take off the gold earrings that your wives, your sons and your daughters are wearing, and bring them to me.” So all the people took off their earrings and brought them to Aaron. 4 He took what they handed him and made it into an idol cast in the shape of a calf, fashioning it with a tool. Then they said, “These are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.”

When Aaron saw this, he built an altar in front of the calf and announced, “Tomorrow there will be a festival to the LORD.” So the next day the people rose early and sacrificed burnt offerings and presented fellowship offerings. Afterward they sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in revelry. (Ex. 32:1-6)

What?  Aaron was appointed to settle disputes among the people.  Period.  But instead of telling them of the wonder that was to come, and how they had already covenantially promised to obey God, he assists them in making an idol.

Was he afraid of the people rioting?  Did he lose faith in Moses and think something bad had happened to him?  Did he...  Who cares, Aaron!  You dined with God.  Pure and simple. 

How could a man who had been in God's very presence, dine with Him, talk with Him and share a covenant meal that symbolized God's protection over His people just simply forget all of that, and bow to pressure to build an idol?  AN IDOL? 

So, instead of reminding the people of their pledge to obey (twice!), and all the power and mercy God displayed in their deliverance from Egypt, Aaron gets to work, indulging their basest longings.  The idol is made from the wealth they had plundered from the Egyptians, and then they bow to it, exclaiming that it and other gods had delivered them  (Ex. 32:3-4).

Aaron?  Elders?  Nadab?  Abihu?  WHERE ARE YOU?  Why the silence?  Why the duplicity?  One minute you are dining with God and soon, so very soon, you are aiding and abetting what God will call "corruption." 

It gets better: Not only does Aaron suggest the method (collect all the gold) of making the idol, he fashions it himself. He hears the people proclaim that the idol is their deliverer, and then: "When Aaron saw this, he built an altar in front of the calf and announced, “Tomorrow there will be a festival to the Lord.” So the next day the people rose early and sacrificed burnt offerings and presented fellowship offerings. Afterward they sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in revelry." (Ex. 32: 5-6) 

So a leader goes ahead and indulges the people's basest desires:  idol worship, food, drink and orgies.  He then does the coup de grace:  He decrees that tomorrow they will celebrate the Lord. 

How often do church leaders, who have the Word, indulge their congregations' basest desires:  They do not take a stand on sin; they wow the people with signs and wonders and encourage their people to engage in such disorderly conduct; they dilute the Gospel to make it more culturally acceptable; they personally are not living lives "above reproach"; they have an ego that either made them seek fame or it grows because they receive so much fame; they keep people entertained with stories, videos and everything but an uncompromised emphasis on the Word.  

What is God's reaction to all of this unfolding beneath His mountain?  

He tells Moses of the people's behavior and how it is corrupting them.  He is furious.  He wants to destroy them.  But Moses, like our Jesus, intervenes and reminds God of His covenant with their ancestors, and how the world will wonder about their destruction.

God relents in His mercy.

God relents even now in His mercy, while His bride capers to the melody of the world and its melody of what is acceptable. 

Let me close with His word:  "Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. (Heb.4:14-16)

Amen, Bride.  

Thank you, Nicole for your inspiration for this blog!

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Welcome to the Modern Seeker-Friendly Church: Laodicea (Rev. 3)

I became a Christian in the 1970's at the age of 14.  The "Me Decade":  huge rise in the divorce rate (my parents were in that vanguard); Roe v. Wade; Stonewall; disco; STD's; the break-up of the Beatles; end of  the Viet Nam war; ERA and Women's Lib.

Wow. What a line-up.  But what strikes me, looking back, was that the world and its confusion, chaos and selfishness was that it was out there--in the, well, the world.  I could walk up the street to the small Nazarene church in Santa Monica, California, and the world was outside the door.  Inside, we were learning the Word, praying and gathering to prepare ourselves to take the Gospel to the "out there" and lead others to the Lord.  We were, in Peter's words, "Quietly trust yourself to Christ your Lord, and if anybody asks why you believe as you do, be ready to tell him, and do it in a gentle and respectful way." (1 Pet. 3:15)

Now, lo these many years later (I will be 60 at the end of January) I see something that deeply worries me.  The doors of the church have swung open and the world is alive and well and influencing how church is done.

The narcissism of the last few decades (the Me Decade never really left us) has influenced how church is done:  mega churches (bigger is better); mega pastors (where everyone knows who you are); mega worship teams (recording deals and big money) and mega culture (it's all about you: your needs, your desires and your prosperity are top priority).

When asked to give a response to what celebrity Christians and churches believe, especially about homosexuality (the test for whether or not you will be acceptable to the world) the answers are vague, diluted and personal.  No quoting of Scripture and no acknowledging that you are committing infidelity against the Lord you claim you follow by being unwilling to stand up for Him: "Adulteresses! Don’t you know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? So whoever wants to be the world’s friend becomes God’s enemy." (James 4:4)

No vague answer there.  Can't have both.  The world and its values (mega everything including "live your truth") is incompatible with the values of His church, where love and grace, sin and forgiveness and obedience to His truth is paramount.

So, let's come to a Sunday morning service at The Laodicea (we don't use the word "church" because that is off-putting to the world).  Let's walk in with Jesus, and survey the goings-on through His eyes. He is our "Amen,—the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God’s new creation."  He is the only one we must please.

He says to us, as we walk into a huge sanctuary: “I know all the things you do, that you are neither hot nor cold. I wish that you were one or the other! But since you are like lukewarm water, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth! You say, ‘I am rich. I have everything I want. I don’t need a thing!’ And you don’t realize that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked. So I advise you to buy gold from me—gold that has been purified by fire. Then you will be rich. Also buy white garments from me so you will not be shamed by your nakedness, and ointment for your eyes so you will be able to see. I correct and discipline everyone I love. So be diligent and turn from your indifference."

Wait, Lord!  Look at all the people!  Every week we have thousands! (Are they the same committed people every week, or do people come and go--we don't know--as long as the worship center or better yet, auditorium, is full!) 

Hot or cold?  Well, heat soothes and heals and cold refreshes...only your Word and the love you offer through your people can accomplish that.  But You say we are lukewarm--but we want the world's approval so we can influence it!  We want to be influencers.  Oh, wait, You call us to be disciples--committed and standing on Your Word.  I guess lukewarm is just another way of saying we are self-centered:  just enough of You to be spiritual, but not all-in.  All-in would mean hostility from the world, less seekers, and more persecution.  Hmmm.  Lukewarm is safe.

But Lord, we are rich!  We have enormous budgets, programs, and outreach.  Are we making a difference or just growing the brand?  Oh.  I guess we are clothed in our own pride, not in Your righteousness, which can mean if they hated You (and they did) they will hate us.  But that seems so old-school.  We are striving for tolerance.  Oh.  I guess we don't see how naked and blind we are, because we use the world's standards to judge our success. We are seeking the approval of men, aren't we? Paul's words are convicting: "You can see that I am not trying to please you by sweet talk and flattery; no, I am trying to please God. If I were still trying to please men I could not be Christ’s servant." (Gal. 1:10)

Over time, and with self-centered churches, we will become indifferent. For the self is a beast that can never be satisfied. We need not a better self, but a new heart: "I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh." (Ezek. 36:26)

We need to live with Christ moving in and through us. Our self has to be crucified, not life-coached:
"I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me." (Gal. 2:20)

Lord, if You are inviting us to open the door, that means You are standing outside of what we are doing.  Our modern churches are open to the world but closed to You.  How ironic.  

We need Your discipline today:  “Look! I stand at the door and knock. If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in, and we will share a meal together as friends. Those who are victorious will sit with me on my throne, just as I was victorious and sat with my Father on his throne." 

Help us to hear You, Lord:  “Anyone with ears to hear must listen to the Spirit and understand what he is saying to the churches.”


Friday, September 27, 2019

Letter to leaders: Philadelphia (Rev. 3)

This letter is very encouraging to all who serve the Lord and yet run into opposition.  Here we go: 

"To the angel of the church in Philadelphia write:  These are the words of him who is holy and true, who holds the key of David. What he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open. I know your deeds. See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut. I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name. I will make those who are of the synagogue of Satan, who claim to be Jews though they are not, but are liars—I will make them come and fall down at your feet and acknowledge that I have loved you. Since you have kept my command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come on the whole world to test the inhabitants of the earth.  I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take your crown. The one who is victorious I will make a pillar in the temple of my God. Never again will they leave it. I will write on them the name of my God and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which is coming down out of heaven from my God; and I will also write on them my new name. Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches." (Rev. 3:7-13) 

After reading that, I could just end here.  Wow!  Let's mine out the nuggets that we will hold in our hands as leaders.  Jesus is "holy and true" and thus are His words.  He is the forever King, Who is mindful always of the saints who serve Him.  He knows the life of a sparrow.  He knows our lives equally intimately:  our struggles, our tears, our sorrows and our joy.  Leading the Body is all of these, and we need to stand on Jesus and His words:  

“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.” (Matt. 7:24-27) 

You cannot stand on a foundation if you don't know what it is or what it is made of--so knowing the Word is essential to standing on it.  Sadly, many leaders today pick out a verse or two, and then spend the rest of the message telling stories, showing clips and doing just about everything but help their followers to really know the Word.  Better yet, do we apply it to our lives?  Do we know it and model it well enough for others to know the Word is an integral part of our lives? 

Jesus emphasizes hearing as well as doing.  

So, when all hell breaks loose in the marketplace, and competing gospels scream for attention, the culture demands preeminence over Scripture and leaders are trying to be hip and relevant, will they or anyone in their congregation still be standing when the cultural Hurricane Dorian is done? Jesus even expressed deep concern for those living in the End Times:

“Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other,  and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved." (Matt. 24:9-13)

Why has the faith of the faithful grown cold? False teachers, pure and simple--people who are liars. Those who pretend to be of Christ but are really of Satan's congregation. But our Philadelphia church has "kept my word and have not denied my name." 

How we deny Him?  

Look at Peter: He denied Jesus out of fear of the authorities and their power to inflict pain and suffering. He hung back in the shadows, hoping that following Jesus could be a more private matter.  

Look at Judas:  He denied Jesus' words about His mission to be crucified and resurrected and instead re-imagined Jesus as a conquering king.  He tried to force Jesus' hand, by putting Him in a predicament that would demand a show of royal power to the ruling and oppressive authorities.  Jesus did the opposite.  

Look at Paul:  He denied the Messiahship of Jesus, for he thought he had this whole religious thing figured out, with all of his training and his devotion to Judaism.  He wanted these blasphemers harried and killed, all in the name of what he thought was right.  That spill off that donkey and the Voice quickly dispelled his "wisdom."

Look at you.  

Look at me.  

How do we deny Him?  Do we avoid His uncomfortable words?  Do we just want a gentle hippie Jesus, whose anger in the Temple makes us uncomfortable?  Do we want a culturally relevant Jesus, Who desires only to be our Cosmic Life Coach, therapeutically saving us and not doing the deep healing that our sin nature demands?  

We who stay true to Him, His Word and His love, will be pillars in the New Jerusalem.  We held up His name here and we will hold up His praise there.

As leaders, we must measure everything we do and say by His Word.  No compromise.  No new spins or having the Word more as an add-on than a central and foundational core to what we are and do.

Our brotherly love is desperately needed in this world, and only His Word can do the job:  

"For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For the Scripture says, 'Whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame.' For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek, for the same Lord over all is rich to all who call upon Him. For 'whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.'  How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they are sent?" (Rom. 10:10-14)

Let the church leaders listen to what His Spirit is saying to the church.  

Monday, September 16, 2019

Jarrid Wilson's Suicide

I would like to comment on Pastor Jarrid Wilson's suicide.  In our effort to quickly answer the question of his eternal destiny, we are missing a lot of what will happen here from now on, from his wife, his children, his church and those contemplating suicide.

His heaven will lead many to a hell on earth.

Let me explain.  My family is a testimony to the long-term effects of suicide.  My grandmother shot herself in front of my grandfather after he accused her of having an affair.  That was in 1941.  My mother was just 12 years old.   She walked in after it occurred and so did her younger sister.

Strike one. 

My grandfather, who was an eminent cardiologist, ended up losing his license to practice medicine due to his increasing use of alcohol.  He married a nurse to care for his children.  My mother hated her and wished her dead.  When this woman died of ovarian cancer, my mother never forgave herself.  My grandfather died of cirrhosis of the liver when I was three, again devastating my mom. 

Strike two.

My mother's alcoholism destroyed her marriage of 23 years. My dad divorced her when I was 16.  By the time she died in 1984, the frontal lobe of her brain was merely interstitial fluid. Her alcoholism had destroyed her brain.  I cared for her in the last year of her life, watching her became an infant. 

Strike three.

Her sister also drank herself to death, leaving two daughters behind.  Her older brother shot and killed himself as an adult, leaving three daughters behind. 

My brother started using drugs and alcohol at a very young age, to numb the pain of our very unhappy home.  He married twice and alcohol and drug use destroyed his marriages.  He fathered three children and was estranged from them.  He died this year at the age of 62, severely mentally ill, and although he did not commit suicide, he spent the last six mouths texting his children and me that we should join him in doing so.

My family has felt the reverberations of that one day in 1941 for over 80 years. 

So, in trying to make nice with suicide, these well-intentioned pastors and commentators seemed to have forgotten the long road that now faces Jarrid's wife and sons, his church members and all of those who knew and loved him.

Grief is a balm.  It numbs the pain of loss and we do everything we can to comfort those who grieve.

But grief wears off.  Anger shows up.  Then those ugly questions arise and demand answers:

Why did Daddy leave us?
Did Daddy not love us?
Could we have stopped Daddy?
Why didn't my husband come and say he was at the end of his tether?
Why didn't we go to our pastor and tell him to take time off and really focus on healing?
Did our pastor do absolutely everything he could to ease the pain?  Do he see a therapist?  Did he take medications?  Did he engage in any therapeutic procedures (like EMDR)?  Was he seeing anyone at the time of his death?
Why didn't Dad follow his own rhetoric?  
Where was our church in all of this?  Didn't they see this coming?
Where was God?
Why did Dad do this to Mom?
Why did Dad do this to us?
Couldn't God, if He is so mighty and loves us so much, have stopped Dad?

Those questions will never be satisfactorily answered on this side of heaven.  This kind of abandonment is shattering. It shatters faith, families, friendships and fellowship for years and years, and even effects those not yet born.

Why aren't our well-intentioned pastors preaching on that?


Friday, September 13, 2019

Letter to Leaders: Sardis (Rev. 3)

"Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches."  (Rev. 2: 29)

This quote is the most significant counsel we can receive as followers of Christ and those of us who lead the Body. Jesus is the Head and we follow Him.

Jesus' economy is different from the world's.  

The world says numbers mean success:  a movie with a huge opening weekend; a man with millions or billions; a company that explodes and garners the market.  In our capitalist system, money equals the dream of having made it; of being admired; of being in control and having access to all the world offers.

But Jesus talks about counting the cost of following Him; losing your life to find it; being meek and inheriting the earth (not buying it); denying self; carrying a cross; having faith like a child and going through the narrow gate, as opposed to taking the wide road.

Totally opposite of what the world would say.  Yet, today, we have megachurches with big everything:  celebrity preachers; powerfully influential worship bands; millions and millions of dollars spent on buildings, programs, jets, houses, and a lifestyle that would be hard to distinguish from Park Avenue residents.

All in Jesus' name.


When you go deeper into Revelation, you will find the city whose values are luxury, conspicuous consumption and adultery:  Babylon.  Yes, adultery.  Literal, to be sure, but when God's people lust, unite and live out the world's values, they are committing spiritual adultery.  Back in the Old Testament, we read:

"Then they said, 'Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves..." (Gen. 11:4)  

Arrogance, self-sufficiency and pride runs through this quote:  It's not about God, it's about us.  Our city is gonna be amazing.  People will come from miles around and marvel at what we have done.  We will get the honor and the glory.  All our admirers will think about, as they walk around, is our greatness. Our values get stuff done, buildings built, and something for everybody.  No commitment, no humility...just a sense that as you walk in, you are part of something BIG.  Yup.  That's gonna be our sign right outside the city gates:  WELCOME TO BIG.

Sound familiar?  I wish this only applied to secular America. 

Our next church is Sardis:  "These are the words of him who holds the seven spirits of God and the seven stars. I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have found your deeds unfinished in the sight of my God. Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; hold it fast, and repent. But if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you.  Yet you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes. They will walk with me, dressed in white, for they are worthy. The one who is victorious will, like them, be dressed in white. I will never blot out the name of that person from the book of life, but will acknowledge that name before my Father and his angels. Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches." (Rev. 3:1-6)

Wow.  I find the word "reputation" significant here.  That's what people know about us.  So, people know of Sardis' reputation of "being alive."  How so?  What's the evidence?  Amazing services?  Amazing preaching?  Friendly folk?  But the reality doesn't fit the reputation.  All of the externals point to life in this church, but Jesus is looking deep in the heart of the people there, of the leaders there, and sadly, He finds a moribund church.

If we walked into this church today, with a worldly measuring stick of success, we too might find Sardis a happening church. In fact, its very reputation might be the draw; who doesn't want to go to a church where it's all about an experience?  A previous church I attended renamed the Sunday service, "the Sunday experience."  Yup.  That puts Sunday squarely in my lap: if I have a good experience, then it was a good service.  If I don't, then it wasn't and the church needs to know about that.  Nothing about what I bring to God; nothing about serving Him (serving the church, yes) and nothing about a humble offering of adoration and praise.

Solution?  "Wake up!"  Do the work God has called the leaders to do and do it.  No rocket science here.  Focus on the foundation:  what you have heard and received from Jesus and the Word of God.  Jesus is the Word of God and the only foundation that can sustain His Body here on earth. No big productions, stories, video clips, props and anecdotes have the power to bring forth faith.  Just preach the Word: 

"How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?  And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, 'How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!'  But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, 'Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?'  So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ." (Rom. 10:14-17) 

No story, production or awesome worship band will bring someone to a deeper relationship.  It will be an experience, but we stand on Him, not good feelings.

How do you grow a church?  Preach His Word.  Walk in His righteousness alone, for He is enough:

"Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: 'Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.'" (1 Cor. 1: 26-31) 

Jesus' economy is based on Him and our humble acceptance of what He did for us.  

Wake up American churches! 

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