The Sneak and Attack

The serpent waits in the shadows. He watches and observes every slight movement you make, decisions, interaction with others and words that comes out of your mouth. Waiting.

Waiting for that perfect moment when he can use your words against you. Waiting to divide the flock, isolate and then separate you from the flock.

And then in a swift movement, he will come crashing in. He will use miscommunication, other people’s fears of being called to the carpet, and half- truths to try to cut your legs out from under you. Most of the time, it will be petty issues.  Sometimes, it can mean the difference between a person having the capacity to serve or not.

He will twist and discolor people’s thoughts about you to try to confuse and cause division with those who should trust you.  And so, you find yourself, pushed to the outskirts, while people bristle and are frustrated with you. They will blame, finger-point or worse- remain silent while others belittle you.

Now, if you’re like me, this kind of thing needs to be processed for a couple of hours. I nod and listen while they rip me to shreds (or accuse me of something that is not entirely true). They may stomp off in frustration or saunter off in accomplishment, while I try to maintain control and continue about my responsibilities at the church.  Hours later… I crumble.

I overanalyze, play the conversations over and over… until my true feelings rise to the surface. My shock wears off and then I’m either sad, mad or frustrated… sometimes all three at once. I usually internally scream to God, “Really? I don’t have time for this kind of crude right now!” (I know- right? So eloquent… and completely disrespectful.)

 Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings. And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen.
1 Peter 5:8-11

The Thing about Satan

Here’s the thing about Satan. He’s crafty. He’s got these tactics DOWN. 

 Satan is motivated by pride and hatred toward God and the people of God. So, he intimidates with power encounters (as a roaring lion does) when he is stalking his prey.  He even uses Scripture to twist the truth and accomplish his agenda… by only using part of the verse… or ignoring the context of the passage (look at the Temptation of Jesus in Luke 4:1-13). He turns people against God or God’s people against each other. He confuses the truth and frustrates the plans of the Church. He is also the Accuser; He will even contradict himself to confuse and frustrate you. Ever heard the voice in your head, “It’s okay, just this once. God will forgive you.”

Yeah. I’m gonna say that’s probably not the Holy Spirit.

Here’s the deal: if I’m being attacked spiritually by Satan, then I can be assured that other believers are out there being attacked as well.  And most of us will never speak up. Most of us will take it on the chin and not speak truth so that others will hear it.

I’m not talking about gossip.

I’m not even talking about going to the person you have beef with. (Yet.)

First: Drop to Your Knees in Prayer and Humility

I’m talking about dropping to your knees and going to God with it. This is PARAMOUNT. If you go back two verses in the 1 Peter 5 passage, Peter asks those he’s writing to, to humble themselves and cast all their anxieties upon Him.

Without God’s help, you will not see through Satan’s lies. You will not find peace to be able to forgive the person for their part in the issue. Without God’s help, you may screw the situation up worse- and cause massive division in your relationships… whether in the church, in your home or in your workplace.

Second: Ask for Prayer

Ask a godly mentor for prayer, a person outside of the situation that you trust to pray for wisdom for you (see James 5:13-20.) Don’t ask your neighbor next door… or your friend at church who knows the person- that’s tacky and a little behind the back.

Third: Go to the Person

Go to the person who came to you with accusations and talk to them about it. Acknowledge what is truth- and what was misunderstood. Ask for forgiveness for any part that is on you- and work toward reconciliation. (Click here for more on how to reconcile.)

 

Fourth: Don’t Listen to Satan’s Lies

If you still wish to “take it on the chin” just know that slowly Satan will trick you into believing that God’s calling for your life isn’t real.  He’ll tell you that maybe you aren’t meant to be the person needed at this job, in this ministry or at that organization at all.  He tells you that you are just the one who stands in the back and supports everyone else. (Do you see how he takes good and twists it?)

Fifth: Focus on Christ

If any of those above statements ring a bell, I urge you to stop allowing Satan’s whispers into your heart. You have been called and chosen for a task far greater than standing in the back in support. Focus on Christ, His promises and His call.

Hope for Unity and Reconciliation

What gives me extreme hope is that last verse in 1 Peter 5:10:

“And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.”

He will restore us.  He will give us the strength to hold firm and to be steadfast in truth.

 So, speak up… in truth, with grace and forgiveness.

Hum-Drum

Hum-Drum

There are cloudy patches in church planting.  The clouds roll in; but it doesn’t rain. The air gets thick with humidity, your hair frizzes and suddenly you have curl in your otherwise straight hair. The cloudy nothingness seems to be burdened with dark waters just waiting for something to set them off. You hold your breath waiting for the clouds to burst and pour upon your dry soil.

And then nothing happens.

Just like life, huh.

And all I can think is… why now? Why, when we were just picking up steam? People were actively seeking God out… families were finding healing… lives were being changed because of Jesus’ sacrifice. And then… nothing.

It is so frustrating.  And disappointing.

And in these moments, I ask God, “Why now? What is the point of this cloudy nothingness? Is there a storm brewing? Do we need to hunker down and prepare for battle? Or is harvest around the corner?” (Can you tell I struggle with impatience? And the need for control?)

He whispers, “Wait. Abide in Me.” Because at the end of the day… week or month… that is all we can do. Wait for Him and His timing. And most importantly, abide in Him.

John 15:1-4, “I am the true grapevine, and my Father is the gardener.  He cuts off every branch of mine that doesn’t produce fruit, and he prunes the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more.  You have already been pruned and purified by the message I have given you.  Remain in me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me.

Isn’t that what it is all about?  Realizing that we do not have control over this church plant and its success or fail. Realizing that it is and has always been His Church. Knowing that He can see all and knows all. And TRUSTING in that. Resting in His Presence with our thoughts and actions… and running to Him with our questions and thoughts.

 John 15:5-8,“Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing.  Anyone who does not remain in me is thrown away like a useless branch and withers. Such branches are gathered into a pile to be burned.  But if you remain in me and my words remain in you, you may ask for anything you want, and it will be granted!  When you produce much fruit, you are my true disciples. This brings great glory to my Father.

Am I trusting? Am I truly abiding?

John 15:9-17, “I have loved you even as the Father has loved me. Remain in my love. When you obey my commandments, you remain in my love, just as I obey my Father’s commandments and remain in his love. I have told you these things so that you will be filled with my joy. Yes, your joy will overflow! This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you. There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you slaves, because a master doesn’t confide in his slaves. Now you are my friends, since I have told you everything the Father told me. You didn’t choose me. I chose you. I appointed you to go and produce lasting fruit, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask for, using my name. This is my command: Love each other.

And here is my answer:

In the cloudy times of nothingness…

  • Remain in Christ.
  • Realize, He chose and appointed us for this.
  • Love one other.

Now, to actually do that…

Calm Before the Storm: Part 1

Calm Before the Storm: Part 1

I’ve heard several planters say that at points in establishing the church, they realize that everything is going well… really well. People are coming to Christ. Families are jumping in and joining ministries at the church.  The children’s and teen ministries are growing and expanding with great speed. And then they hold their breath. Waiting… for the storm to begin to rumble in the distance.

And as lightning strikes… they grab onto anything close to them and pray for God to carry them through.  I know, because, we have just experienced this at our church.  There was excitement everywhere at Thrive.. and then a slow ache of complacency creeped in. Doubts formed. Leaders were overwhelmed. And burnout begins to flicker.

The Looming Storm

If we turn to Matthew 8 and Luke 8, we learn how the disciples handled a very crazy storm upon Lake Galilee.  I specifically love the description of this situation in Mark 4:35-41 (NLT).

As evening came, Jesus said to his disciples, “Let’s cross to the other side of the lake.”  So they took Jesus in the boat and started out, leaving the crowds behind (although other boats followed). But soon a fierce storm came up. High waves were breaking into the boat, and it began to fill with water. Jesus was sleeping at the back of the boat with his head on a cushion. The disciples woke him up, shouting, “Teacher, don’t you care that we’re going to drown?”When Jesus woke up, he rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Silence! Be still!” Suddenly the wind stopped, and there was a great calm.  Then he asked them, “Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith?” The disciples were absolutely terrified. “Who is this man?” they asked each other. “Even the wind and waves obey him!”

How did the disciples handle the storm? With panic.  With doubts that Jesus would allow them to perish. By trying to take control of the situation.  So, how should they have handled it? Would they not have remembered King David’s song, where he wrote in 2 Samuel 22:10,

He opened the heavens and came down; dark storm clouds were beneath his feet.”

Their own fears clouded their vision of who was sleeping in the boat next to them.  They chose to panic and distrust rather than put their faith and trust in the One who had created the world.  Yes, maybe they didn’t trust that God would take care of them.  Maybe they didn’t trust that God knew the outcome of the storm.  But don’t we all do that?  When storms erupt in our lives, is our first instinct to trust that the God who created those waves, rain, thunder and lightning? Do we trust that He has the power to keep EVERYTHING under control?  Or do we need some reminding?

Handling a Storm

So, if a storm is breaching the church, what do you do as a leader?  Do you wait it out?  Take cover? (As some storm chasers would say…) Or do you do the unthinkable and drop to your knees?

Something that most people would see as strange when a storm approaches.

Pray.

Instead of running… and shutting people and relationships out… address the storm for what it is.  It is warfare, not brought on by those around you in your church but from the one who is deliberately trying to bring you down: Satan. A minister once told my husband to remember who the true enemy is… not those around you in the church who bring frustrations or issues… but the one who has battled against God since before time.

When issues crop up, address them head on.  Pull those in question to you, point out what Satan is trying to do and then get on your knees together to ask God for a solution… and for His Protection.

Remind Yourself and Your Team.

This is not the time for panic.  Leave all of that behind.  (Take a few breaths if necessary.) Ask God for strength and peace to know how to handle the situation.  Isaiah 26:3 says,

“You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on You, because he trusts in You.”

How do we keep our minds on Him?  The easiest way we know how. Pick up His Word and remind yourself and team of his power and faithfulness to us.  Keep a list of the things that God has shown his faithfulness in the past and reflect on them during these times. Knowing and remembering these things will help you to push through to the calm after the storm.

This verse shouts to me when I am weary and downtrodden.  John 14:27:

“Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.”

Gather your troops and read through scriptures that will uplift and give you strength.  Remind each other of God’s faithfulness.  Then pray and support each other through these times.

 

Stay tuned for Part 2!!

 

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!