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.

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.

 

Thrive

Two years ago, when the beginnings of a church plant formed in my husband’s mind, it was just the thought of a church that would share truth, give grace and love others.  It wasn’t until our family was driving down our city’s freeway (at rush hour) that a name for our church even crossed our minds.

“What about Thrive?” my husband leaned over slightly in his seat, his hands on the wheel, his eyes squinting slightly with that crooked half smile on his face that means he knows he onto something.

“Really?”  I tried to act nonchalant about it.  “I mean… just Thrive?”

But it stuck to us in a way that hasn’t gotten away from us.  It was, in essence, exactly what we wanted to communicate with the community that flowed around us.  When people would ask us, “Why Thrive?” our response was always to point them towards John 10:10 where Jesus was speaking to the Pharisees, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”  

Here’s the thing about the Pharisees.  They were the “religious and pious” people of the day.  People looked to them for spiritual guidance.   As far as they were concerned, they did have life to the full.   They were extreme and followed the Law down to the letter, but they missed the Messiah when he was standing right in front of them.  They had become stagnant in their faith… and self-righteous in their lives.

When looking back at my own crazy life, I realize how stagnant and self-righteous I had become.  You cannot pretend to be connected to God and still thrive.  You cannot not just attend church and think that you are connecting with those you share a pew with.   I had become comatose in the daily life of laundry, wiping up messes, and smoothing over emotions.  In my complacency, I chose to judge others when I should have been reaching out in encouragement.  I looked down upon the down-and-out, when I should have been extending a helping hand.  I had gossiped and lied to my friends, when I should have been dropping to my knees asking God for help with my bitterness.  I am completely guilty of all of this and more.  But several years ago, Jesus opened my eyes to the life He wanted me to live.   Instead of harshly pointing out my flaws, he pointed to what could be.  If I chose, I could be a great friend to all; one who gives grace and aims to trust, before being suspicious.  I could be someone who is actively looking for ways to show Jesus’ love for others who don’t know Him through serving them selflessly.  I could give… and give… and give… of my time to mentor newly married younger women.  I could stop being selfish when it came to Sunday mornings… and volunteer in the Kids’ Ministry.

When I began choosing these things (to connect with God and with those who believe in Him) I finally learned what it meant to thrive.  Sure, I don’t thrive every single day… I am human and still have my messes (including my large basket of laundry I have yet to put away!!) but I am making progress.  Christ has led me here.

It’s not just surviving anymore… We can begin to thrive, and live life to the full!

Three Things to Pray

Our church plant just celebrated it’s One Year Anniversary!  (Praise Jesus!)  We celebrated with a cookout, sand volleyball, and football in the park.  As I looked around, I saw a true family.  People were laughing, hugging, and cared for each other through their words and actions.  It seemed surreal.  But none of this would be possible if our team had not been in prayer for our church and each other.

Here are 3 things we have prayed for our church:

 

#1:  For God to go ahead of us

This may seem simple but it is not.  Too many times as humans, we believe that we can do it on our own.  We cannot!!!  If we are going against God’s will, we will just end up banging our heads on the wall in frustration!  Our poor decisions and choices will return harsh realities.  (This is true in our personal lives as well.)  We must ask God to go before us and to lead us where He wants us to go.  Deuteronomy 31:8 says:

“The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.  Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.” 

#2:  For God to send workers

Now, when you begin to plant a church, you are just happy when people walk through your doors.  Any people.  But a church needs good leaders and workers to be able to be sustainable.  You will not be able to minister effectively to non-Christians, new believers or their families if you do not have enough hands that are willing and able.  It’s okay if minor things fall to the back burner at a church plant… but not having someone to take care of babies on a Sunday morning in the nursery is a problem.  Luke 10:2 reads:

He told them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.  Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”

#3:  For God to protect the flock

Many on our team began to recognize when God was beginning to work within our church and through our church.  Why?  We were all hit hard with spiritual warfare.  (See previous post.)  When we realized that Satan was doing everything in his power to distract us, we buckled down and dropped to our knees for protection.  In these times, we cannot become focused on the negative things that are developing around us.  They are being used as a distraction device.  Our God is not a god of confusion.  Remember that.  There are several verses in the Bible that talk of God’s protection.  Here is one of my favorites: Psalm 91:1

Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.

Keep praying for your church.  He hears you.

Check out: Psalm 18

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!