Hard Pressed

We’d been hit. I watched as the color drained from my husband’s face (and for him with his ruddy complexion… this was definitely worth noticing.)

Nothing could have prepared us for the bomb that dropped on us that day. (Okay, not a literal bomb… it was completely figurative… but it might have well as been a real bomb.) We literally could not speak after our visitors left our home. Our boys continued to play for a few minutes and we discussed what was for dinner.

I was not hungry.

My wonderful husband, who holds me up, comforts me in my pain, and puts up with my hormonal blunders jumped up and threw a pizza in the oven to reheat it.

The Bomb

We had seen the signs of the bomb… but we had ignored it.

Why do we do this to ourselves? Bombs (like what I’m talking of) come with red flags and warnings written on them. But we choose to trust (and I mean- really…. who can trust a bomb that’s ready to explode???  Evidently, we thought we could.)

My thought that ran over and over in my mind was this… “Why do I want to love others?” Oh yeah. Because Jesus told me too.

I had listened to my husband, just that same morning, preach on Jesus and his last (new) command to his disciples before his death.

“Love one another. In the same way I loved you, you love one another. This is how everyone will recognize that you are my disciples- when they see the love you have for each other.” (John 13:34-35)

And yet at that moment, I was not wanting to love these people who had just hurt us.  I wanted to scream.  Throw things at the wall.  Grab a shovel, dig a hole, jump in and fall asleep forever in it.  “I am not cut out for this,” was the thought that was running and screaming through my mind.

He Was Waiting

I sat and processed… through the ritual of eating the reheated pizza at dinner, where my boys gabbered like nothing was different.  I processed as I picked up my Macbook and began to type out my emotions, mostly my anger and hurt.  I ran the situation over and over in my head.  And then…

I stopped.  I felt God waiting for me.  Waiting for me to turn to him with all of it.  Waiting for me to run to Him and ask Him questions that included, “Why this?  Why now?  Why?????”  In that moment, I became like a child again.  I gave it all.

He told me that He had allowed us to endure this pain, because something BETTER was coming.  This pain was a good thing.  We were being pruned.  And it hurt terribly.  I hated watching my husband stomach so much pain and hurt.  I wanted to take it all from him.  But knowing that God was in control of the church plant, comforted me.

He Was Betrayed

In that same week, in my BSF class, we discussed the relationship between Jesus and Judas Iscariot.  Judas followed Jesus and pledged himself to Him.  But when Jesus didn’t establish the Kingdom that Judas wanted, he sold Jesus out.  Literally.  Through this time of hurt, I gained some comfort by this.  Jesus was betrayed by one of his “best friends.”  And Judas wasn’t the only one who betrayed Jesus.  Peter did.  THREE TIMES.  Not to mention that all of his disciples, his trusted and loved 12, deserted him when it mattered the most.  John was the only one who stood with Jesus’ mother Mary at the crucifixion.  One.  Out of 12.  And when Jesus returned, alive…. he found them cowering in a locked room.

Jesus knows how we feel when we are betrayed by those we love.  He experienced it more so… since he paid for Judas’ betrayal with his life.

Being sold out by one’s friend to the point of death.  Ouch.  When I look at it that way, our situation doesn’t look as dire.  We are hurt.  But not killed.  It reminds me of the verse in 2 Corinthians 4:7-9,

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned;struck down, but not destroyed.”

Healing

Now, don’t get me wrong.  I still hurt.  The wound is still healing.  I don’t know if it will ever go back to normal for us with those that have hurt us so.  But I do know this.  God has it.  All of it.

2 Corinthians goes on to say later in chapter 4, verses 16-18,

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.  For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”

Looking back now, I realize that we were at a place in our plant, where we needed that bomb to go off.  We needed to be pruned in order to grow.  And we did.

Joys in Planting

Joys in Planting

Although planting is difficult, and sometimes crazy, there are joys that come from growing a new church.

1)People Take Ownership

Something amazing happens when people in your new church see gaps.  And by gaps, I mean areas that need help.  Soon, they’re asking you, “Where can I help?” or they just roll their sleeves up and jump in.

2) It Morphs Into a Family

When you see the beginning stages of a family form, in the name of Christ, you will witness something amazing.  You will almost be able to sit back and watch as people begin to connect and form relationships.  They will soon begin to own the relationships, taking time to check in with each other, providing for each other’s needs, reaching out and asking questions in order to help… basically acting the way a true family should.

3) New Believers

This is the most exciting part of church planting: bringing new believers to Christ who beforehand would never have stepped inside a church.  Church plants are able to reach more people for Christ than stagnant, established churches.  Why is this?  Maybe it’s because most church plants don’t have established cliques or rules that have been in place for hundreds of years (Why can’t kids run through the sanctuary??).  When you share the Gospel with a new believer, something amazing happens and an instant family bond is formed.  It is worthy of a celebration!

What other joys do you find in church planting?  Comment below.

Cancer in a Plant. And Its Cure.

Cancer.

It is the stuff that grows right under our noses without even a shout or snicker to alert us to its presence.  It morphs and grows into killer potential but still stays silent.  Waiting.  Just waiting for the church to discover it.

We, however, continue to ebb and flow in life… picking up forgotten communion bread, grabbing a last minute bite to eat, heading to the soccer fields for yet another practice in the rain.  We have no clue that something is lurking behind the folds of another person’s skin.  Life continues… and the cancer grows.

Months go by and everything on the surface level seems fine.  Smiles.  Laughter.  Positivism.  And yet… something seems to be missing.  An occasional harsh word erupts… and is excused due to stress…. or a bad job situation… or tiredness.  People begin to notice that something is not quite right.

It is not until questions are raised that cancer is even suspected.  And when those questions leave the lips of the person asking, just be ready for the cancer diagnosis.  Almost immediately, you will be shamed with evidence of the cancer that has been growing inside them for awhile.

The kind of cancer I’m speaking of begins as distrust.  It morphs and grows into bitterness and anger and will reveal itself as rage.  The person affected with cancer will begin to affect others’ opinions and soon the cancer will spread.

If you do not remove the cancer, your church will begin to die.  (Notice, I did not say to remove the person!)

Hebrews 12:15 says:

See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled…

I love that the first part of that verse emphasizes that no one should fail to obtain the grace of God.  

But… the author is asking the Church to do this task.  We need to be diligent in making sure that those who walk through our doors and claim to love Jesus, really do understand and have the grace of God.  Without this, bitterness will grow and “cause trouble.”

Ephesians 4:31 also reads to us individually:

Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.

I know that I myself have struggled with all of these.  And to think, that a small amount of any one of these things can spring up and grow cancer.  Enough to destroy a entire church.

So, in our churches, how do we cure cancer?  I think 2 Corinthians 13:11 has something to say about it.

Finally, brothers and sisters, rejoice!  Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace with be with you!

This one verse has what I would call a step by step plan for reconciliation.

Cure It

First: Aim to Restore

We must try to repair our relationships with those who have bitterness or anger growing for us.  Luke 17 give us a clear picture of what Jesus expected from others.  He first asks for us to pay close attention to ourselves,  and then go to the person and confront them.  When and if, they admit to their bitterness, anger and ask for forgiveness, we need to forgive them.  Even if they are repeat offenders: forgive, forgive, forgive.  We need to always try to restore a person to spiritual health, no matter the offense.

If you are one that shies away from conflict… you’re going to have to get over it.  We are imperfect humans… and at one point or another, we will hurt others and others will hurt us.  The best advice I have ever received in confronting someone was to go in to the situation with a humble spirit.  We need to be able to admit our weaknesses and do what it takes to amend if we have offended one another.  We cannot and will not know the peace of God, until we are restored with each other.

Second: Comfort One Another

How do we comfort one another after conflict?  When Paul wrote to the Corinthian church, he had some advice when a believer caused some strife.  2 Corinthians 2:5-8 reads:

I am not overstating it when I say that the man who caused all the trouble hurt all of you more than he hurt me. Most of you opposed him, and that was punishment enough. Now, however, it is time to forgive and comfort him. Otherwise he may be overcome by discouragement. So I urge you now to reaffirm your love for him.

We do not want to cause other believers to become discouraged when we have a disagreement with them.  The New International Version of that scripture translates it into “excessive sorrow.”  How many times have we been discouraged by things that have “gone down” in a church, that we become discouraged and leave?  We should never want that.

It may still be difficult to comfort someone who has hurt you.  But Paul had a few ideas about where to get started with this.  He pointed to Christ’s example:

Philippians 2:1-3

Is there any encouragement from belonging to Christ? Any comfort from his love? Any fellowship together in the Spirit? Are your hearts tender and compassionate? Then make me truly happy by agreeing wholeheartedly with each other, loving one another, and working together with one mind and purpose.

Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves.Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.

You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.

We must look to Christ to be an example about how to love others.  We cannot comfort, if we do not love.

Third:  Agree with One Another

Paul wrote to the church in Corinth because they were having some major relationship problems.  He addresses it almost immediately at the beginning of his letter to them.  Here it is in the Message:

1 Corinthians 1:10

10 I have a serious concern to bring up with you, my friends, using the authority of Jesus, our Master. I’ll put it as urgently as I can: You must get along with each other. You must learn to be considerate of one another, cultivating a life in common.

He is asking them to “cultivate a life in common.”  What does that mean for us as Christians?  Paul points to his “main point” towards the end of the chapter.

26-31 Take a good look, friends, at who you were when you got called into this life. I don’t see many of “the brightest and the best” among you, not many influential, not many from high-society families. Isn’t it obvious that God deliberately chose men and women that the culture overlooks and exploits and abuses, chose these “nobodies” to expose the hollow pretensions of the “somebodies”? That makes it quite clear that none of you can get by with blowing your own horn before God. Everything that we have—right thinking and right living, a clean slate and a fresh start—comes from God by way of Jesus Christ. That’s why we have the saying, “If you’re going to blow a horn, blow a trumpet for God.”

We are not perfect.  We are not Jesus.  We cannot expect our fellow believers to be perfect either.  As Paul states, “Everything that we have (our thinking and living), the fact that we get to start anew, is because of Christ.”  If we can’t agree with that… than what can we agree with?  We need to agree that we are here to show God off to the world.  And we can start by finding things we agree with.

Fourth:  Live in Peace

This may be the hardest step to live by.  We, as humans, have always had in issue with keeping the peace.  Nations have warred against nations, tribe against tribe, man against man.  We are bent, by sin, to be self-centered people.  So, how do we avoid this?

1 Thessalonians 5:12-18 gives us some great guidelines to follow.

12 Now we ask you, brothers and sisters, to acknowledge those who work hard among you, who care for you in the Lord and who admonish you. 13 Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work. Live in peace with each other. 14 And we urge you, brothers and sisters, warn those who are idleand disruptive, encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone. 15 Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always strive to do what is good for each other and for everyone else.

16 Rejoice always, 17 pray continually, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

The last three are probably the ones that I struggle with the most.  Am I always rejoicing?  (Even when my mother is diagnosed with breast cancer?  When I drop a glass lamp that was handed down to me by my Grandma who now has Alzheimer’s?  Am I rejoicing when I know that I will never measure up to my own standards of motherhood?)  No, I’m not.

Do I pray continually?  Man- I wish.  I do talk more frequently with God than I did a year ago… but continually?  Still working on that.

Do I give thanks… in ALL circumstances?  Definitely not.  This probably goes hand in hand with rejoicing always.  I know I have a lot of work to do when it comes to living in peace with others.

I know that by following Paul’s advice to restore relationships in your church, you will build back those relationships.  I know, because I’ve seen it happen many times.

But what do you do if nothing happens?  What if they continue to grow in their bitterness and anger, or worse yet- are unable to forgive you?

Jesus actually gave his disciples advice about this.  He knew that they were going to have to deal with this often, as we all know that humans are indeed imperfect.  He laid out another step-by-step plan in how to address it.  (Matthew 18:15-17)

No matter what the outcome- keep at it.  At the end of 2 Corinthians 13:11, Paul reminds us that: “the God of love and peace with be with you!”  We need to remember that God is with us.  His Love and Peace will be there for us.  We must keep loving God and loving others.

 

Never Retreat

Spiritual warfare.

It’s one of those things that is almost hush-hush in the Christian community.  Even as a minister’s wife, I am sometimes hesitant to bring it up.

But it’s real.  And still at work in this world.

One of the things that has affected me the most this last year have been the attacks that have occurred towards my family, my husband, and myself.  We have seen members of our original team attacked.  And they retreated.  I was attacked… and I retreated.  We watched other churches attacked… and they retreated.

But the one thing I have learned, if anything this year, is never retreat.

Because that is what Satan wants us to do.

When I was in high school, I toured with a traveling Christian choir during the summer.  I was chosen to do a skit with another student about putting on the full armor of God.  I remember having to memorize Ephesians 6:10-18.  It reads:

10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. 18 And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.

My minister when I was growing up, John Green, pointed out, that the armor of God does not cover your back.  God has given you everything to protect you when you are advancing into battle.  But nothing to cover your back if you decide to retreat.  Why?  Because God wants you to stand your ground… and after you’ve done everything… to stand firm.  Your faith in God, is where you will deflect the attack arrows that Satan will undoubtable send your way.

Attacks on the Plant

The week before our One-Year Anniversary, our entire team was hit with spiritual warfare.  Men and women both grew weary, let fears run rampant and many got physically sick.  At this same time, my mom found out she had breast cancer and her father (my Gramps) was diagnosed with dementia and needed to be put in a nursing home.

For two days, I walked around in shock (maybe I should say, sat around in shock… as I don’t know if I left the couch for two days…)  My entire extended family was on their knees, asking God, “What’s next?”  My husband went into “Take Care of Megan Mode” and the boys pitched in around the house.

I just kept shaking my head in confusion.  And then someone said something to me- and my robot response snapped me back into reality.

A woman, I greatly respect, in the middle of a conversation with me said, “I’m just really confused right now… and am not sure what to do.”

My response?  “Well, our God is not a god of confusion.  God will show you what His Will is.”  I immediately froze.

Did I really believe that?  Because my actions right then were not demonstrating my belief.

All of a sudden, it was like my brain and my heart snapped back into alignment.  I realized how little I had been running to God when things were getting hairy.  I picked up my Bible.  Verse after verse confirmed what God had been trying to whisper to me for days.  “I will rescue you.  Just lift up your head to me!  Look for me…  I am just waiting for you!”

I battled depression off and on this year; it is humbling to admit.  There were times when I ached for my home to be just my home and not an open door to everyone in our church.  There were times I fought off urges to isolate myself from impending harm from others, and so I built up walls to protect myself.  There were times when gossip ran rampant through a neighboring church and I literally felt the betrayal anytime we bumped into someone from there.

I wanted to quit.  I wanted to move away and hide.  I almost came to the point where I began to ignore my God.  But something stopped me.

Burgers and Spiritual Warfare

Michael, the boys and I were sitting down at a restaurant we’d never been to before, and a man and his son, sat adjacent to us at another table.  He began to make friendly conversation with Michael about our boys and soon they were asking each other questions about work, our kids, where we went to church, etc.  When he found out we had just planted a church, he began inquiring about it.  Our food came, and the conversation sort of ceased, as we jumped into our burgers and fries.

Suddenly, he cleared his throat.  “Do you ever preach on spiritual warfare?”

I almost choked on my bite.  My husband answered, “I have before… but not this past year.  Why do you ask?”

Yeah.  Why did he ask?  I wondered.  Maybe I am just naive.  But I have never heard anyone inquire about spiritual warfare the first time they’ve met my husband.

He answered my husband.  And it was a legitimate answer.  But it just made me scratch my head.  The Holy Spirit seemed to want me to pay attention.

Later that afternoon, in the middle of worship band practice, our team admitted that they were all being attacked.  Our leader spoke it well when he said, “We need to address this right now.  There is some battles going on right now that we need to take to God… ”  He was right.  We stopped right then and there and prayed.  For our team.  For our church.  For our families.

Our anniversary Sunday was awesome.  God showed up in a big way.  I felt like we were all just spectators watching Him show off.  It was so good.  (I’m getting teary-eyed just thinking about it.)  People walked through our doors and left with huge smiles.  And for the first time in a long time, I cannot wait to see my church family.  Can.  Not.  Wait.  In fact, when we bumped into several of them tonight at the soccer field, I was SO EXCITED.

God is moving at Thrive.  So much so.  When we don’t retreat during attacks by the Evil One, God’s Kingdom can advance.  And it will continue to!

He Will Provide Rest (If You Let Him)

Mark 6:30-31 “The apostles then rendezvoused with Jesus and reported on all that they had done and taught. Jesus said, “Come off by yourselves; let’s take a break and get a little rest.” For there was constant coming and going. They didn’t even have time to eat.”

 

After this past year, when people ask me what the hardest thing about church planting is, I almost always respond with how physically exhausting it is. On a scale from 0 to 10 (with 10 being high energy), here is how I rate things.

 

10: Childhood Energy: This is waking up every morning as though your pajamas are on fire… “CAN. NOT. STAY. IN. BED. ONE. MORE. SECOND!!!”
 9: Vacation Energy: This is that energy you get from no responsibilities, no worries and no distractions. It’s that ocean breeze energy that just relaxes you.   You go to bed relaxed and wake up relaxed. Ahhhhhhhh……….
 8: Disciplined Energy: This does not matter what age I am, but if I am exercising, eating right and going to bed by 10 p.m., I have no problem with my energy level. I am awake before my alarm goes off, and sleepy by 9:30. Life is good.
 7: High School Energy: I could wake up to an alarm with no problem… no snooze needed… but could also sleep in every single Saturday until 11 a.m. (or until my mother hollered downstairs, “Megan! It’s 11 a.m.!! You have chores to do today!!”)
 6: Lock-In Energy: How I survived several lock-ins in my high-school career, I’ll never know. But the next day, my entire body seemed to be shaking, oh so slightly. I didn’t seem to be able to drink enough water or eat enough food to contain it… and yet, just a quick nap in the afternoon is all I needed to get my energy back.
 5: College Energy: Somehow, you can pull all-nighters and write an amazing 20-page research paper (for which you receive an A) and all you need is a short 45 min nap and normal bedtime that night to “catch up on your sleep.”
 4: Established Ministry Energy: When in ministry, you are always on call (even on your days off) if you do not establish boundaries. You also are working with human beings (and we are all imperfect.) At times, you are put on a pedestal… and other times, you are critiqued for your every move. For some reason, at this time in my life, I began hitting the snooze button. Pretty much every day, except Sunday. 
 3: Overseas Mission Trip Energy: I seem to drag myself out of bed only with the aide of two cups of coffee and an amazing adrenaline rush that courses through my veins the entire day. “Mission work is AWESOME!!!” I do, however, crash immediately at sundown, and sleep like a rock until morning again.  And forget about when I return home… let’s just say I sleep for several days to recover.
 2: After Baby Energy: There is nothing else quite like this. I function more like a zombie, shuffling around with no shower, but making sure every single one of my baby’s needs are taken care of… with neglect to myself. My baby’s screaming and sometimes the occasional knock on the door by the mailman is the only thing that seems to jolt me awake.
 1: Church Planting Energy: Not only am I mentally and physically exhausted (try painting, cleaning and setting up a building with only a month before launch), I am also dealing with strange things that don’t occur in an established ministry. In example: “Wait- did someone get communion bread?” “If something fails— just blame the planter…” and “Why is the electricity off?  We have service in 20 minutes!”
 0: Is this death? Or near death? Not sure…

Planting has broadened my understanding of God in so many ways. Maybe its because when we first said “yes” we were young and naïve and God was giggling because He knew how hard it was going to be. Maybe it’s because we put ourselves out there to solely rely on God’s opinion and His Will for us in the church plant. HOWEVER…

 

He is good.

He is with us.

He is going ahead of us, making the way for us.

He is faithful.

He is who He says He is.

AND…

He provides rest… you just need to accept it.

Recently, Nexus, our wonderful church planting network, sent all of its church planters to a four-day retreat in the Smoky Mountains (thanks to an anonymous donor). Now, this was a retreat… as in… no schedule (except for scheduled breakfast and dinner) and no responsibilities. We were free to just enjoy our families and each other’s company. (I’m actually excited to say that I didn’t even take my laptop on the trip… and I barely answered my phone. IT WAS INCREDIBLE!)

The only catch? We just had to get there. Michael and I decided almost immediately, that we would get there… although we weren’t sure how we could financially. So, we gave that worry to God.

And, of course, He came through. The Arkansas Church Planting Network called and told us that they would pay for our gas to get out there.

Amazing. God is so, so good.

We just had to take Him up on his offer of rest.  And He provided all our needs.

This is something that I never learned from school… or even from bible college. We need to rest from ministry. We need to rest from life! We were created to rest… and if we don’t? We will crash and burn. (I’m talking from my own experience here.)

Be waiting: He will provide opportunity for rest.  So, don’t grab another cup of coffee and miss it.

Life can be hard. Make sure to rest.

Book Worth Reading

I rarely have chances to read these days, so when I do, I am choosy.  After reading Michael Cheshire’s first book, “How to Knock Over a 7-Eleven and Other Ministry Training,” I thought– this guy is hilarious and so blunt.  And I loved it.

When I saw that he had written another book, I bought the e-version and decided to open it up one night after an exhausting ministry day.

Why we eat our own

I was floored.  This man was writing down everything that I’d been thinking of the “Church”… I mean, everything.  Here’s a quote:

For far too long, while we have been waging a war within our own foxholes, the real enemy has had the run of the place. He has been unchallenged because Christ’s army is too wounded from friendly fire to even crawl to the battlefield for the real fight. And an enemy who is unopposed is no longer your enemy. He has actually become your ruler.

Cheshire, Michael (2013-06-19). Why We Eat Our Own (Kindle Locations 293-296). First Punch Press. Kindle Edition.

You need to read this.  It’s good.  And it hit me square between the eyes.

 

Here’s a link to buy yourself a copy.  Enjoy!

Why We Eat Our Own