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.”


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