How God Used the Church to Save Me.

“A bruised reed He will not break
And a dimly burning wick He will not extinguish;
He will faithfully bring forth justice.”

– Is 42.3

Four and a half years ago my life fell apart.  Everything I had ever worked for was gone.  Jobless.  I was alone.  Homeless.  Literally half-way around the world from my home and community.  I had spent twenty years of education planning for a specific career and life which I was fortunate enough to spend four and a half years practicing, but then it all came to a screeching halt; completely outside of my control.

I was raised in a Christian home and attended Church and youth group regularly, learning the personal spiritual disciplines of the faith.  When I was in High School my family began attending a church that focused on the love of God as His major attribute.  Yes, “God is love” and it is indeed a wonderful truth to know and cling to concerning His character and relationship to us (1 John 4.7).

I learned in theory and through the teaching of the Bible how the Church was commanded to take care of one another in our moments of struggle and need.  As a naive teenager I watched as we fed the poor through a food pantry, clothed them at the local mission, embraced our friends and their families when teenagers were killed in car accidents and threw lavish events to invite the neighborhood to hear about Jesus.  These people clearly had a variety of needs and we were doing our best to “be the hands and feet of Jesus” (1 Cor 12).  And even though I loved my friends at Church, even though I loved God, I was never truly desperate for them, or for Him.

Studying science and music at a liberal arts university broadened my perspective to the blossoming narcissism that we now know as millennialism.  This worldview was in stark contrast to the strong work ethic and independence I had learned at home, but the Spiritual and emotional needs of my generation and our world become more real and my understanding of how we need to love one another and serve each other – specifically as Christians – deepened…to some extent.

Grad school was a whirlwind of excitement which led me to my dream job.  It was becoming a reality.  I attended a vibrant Church who loved me and their immediate community and had a heart for the world – the likes of such I have not seen since.  Then I moved half-way around the world to live on a tropical island working as a tour guide trekking through the jungle amongst Muslim and animistic people.  I maintained my relationship to that Church, having no local one abroad, and they cared for me and I cared for them in a “long distance relationship”.

Then the bottom dropped out.  Then came the day that I needed God to survive.  Then came the day that I needed the Church.  And in that day the Church truly exemplified the love that God is towards me.  Those old adages became my reality:  I saw that the love from the community I had in the church was real.  What was most real, however, was the fact that they did not stand beside me blindly.  They were concerned first and foremost with my Spiritual well being.  I did not handle myself perfectly through those days, and neither did they, but there was full grace for sins confessed and together we came before the throne of God.

For weeks on end I needed only to survive.  I spent sleepless hours in the Bible and prayer, listening to sermons and learning to trust God when nothing made sense.  Church leadership and friends checked in on me.  They held my hands.  They prayed with me.  They counseled me.  They cried with me.  They hung out with me.

However, I still needed a job.  I still needed to get back on my feet.  The elders, the Church body and my parents were my strength as I searched and found work half-way across the country.  Just months after the shock of my world ending, I packed up and moved 1,100 miles away.  I did not want to move so far, as the Church was the only thing I had at the time, and I floundered a while in search of my new community.  I was so raw and broken, in fact, that I had none of the normal pleasantries polished.  I often wonder what those poor unfortunate souls who crossed my path in those days thought of me.

When I finally found that new body, the transition was smooth.  My new church picked up where my old church left off.  It looked different, as I did not have the history with them, but they learned my story and paired me with a mentor who had walked this path before.  God used this new season to rebuild and restore a broken and crushed heart, and to establish a faith that understands from experience that He is indeed sovereign in every situation and works all things out for the good of those who love Him (Rom 8.28).

In those days I was the bruised reed and the dimly burning wick.  But God is always faithful and will never break the bruised reed and will fan the flame anew as long as the spark remains (Is 42.3).

This, friends, is why God gives us the body.  Scripture teaches us that true religion is to care for the widow and orphan (James 1.27).  But we also learn that God has given each believer special gifts, abilities and measures of faith – and those are all for the service of one another (1 Cor 12).  Yes, we are commanded to love the world and to care for the lost, but we are given one another the body first.  We need one another to push one another on to holiness, to meet one another’s needs, to support one another when the bottom falls out.

“Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary.  So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith.”

– Gal 6.9-10

We, as believers, are guaranteed suffering.  It is, in fact, through suffering and trials that our faith is purified and refined.  This is why we must be open and vulnerable to our faith community, so that those who have gone before us can encourage us on the path.  So that those who are walking the same path will be encouraged to keep going, and those who come behind us can follow our examples.  God is faithful and will always be present, and sometimes we need one another to push us on and remind us of those truths we have read so many times.

“And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.”

– Rom 5.3-5

God loves His church, and He has given it to us as a gift to carry, encourage and love one another through this journey we call life.  Find a Church.  Love your Church.  Build strong and real community.  Push one another on to holiness.  Carry each other through the difficult seasons.  Rejoice with those who rejoice.  Mourn with those who mourn.  And in this way you are serving Jesus (Matt 25).

“Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.”

– Rom 12.15

Just worry about yourself.

Image result for life is not fair

We live in a relatively narcissistic society.  Everyone is typically out for himself, we work our circumstances for our own best interest and call it human nature.  We naturally focus on ourselves, right?  I was watching a show this weekend with my husband and the narrator joking stated that when a friend has good news we celebrate that good news for a moment and immediately begin evaluating our own circumstances in light of that good news. How will their change affect us?  How do we line up against their newfound success or change?  We can even find ourselves bemoaning their good fortune because we desire the same for ourselves and would prefer others to not experience it before us.

The Bible has much to say about how we should interact with one another.  God has purposefully and intentionally created us for community.  Much has been written and observed about this community:  We as Christians are the body of Christ, we each have specific gifts and abilities that were given for the sake of serving the church (1 Cor 12.12-27), and we should consider one another regularly – putting each other before ourselves and pushing one another on to good deeds (Phil 2.3, Heb 10.24).

In response to our natural bent towards comparison and self-righteousness, however, Jesus commands what seems to be the opposite.  Jesus called twelve men to follow after Him.  One of those men denied Him and hung himself, and the remaining eleven plus Paul were those by which God built the Church.  Of these men, there were three with whom Jesus was the closest – they are often referred to as the “inner circle”.  These were Peter, James and John.  Peter is often known as the vocal one and John, who wrote the Gospel of John, is referred to as “the one whom Jesus loved” (John 13.23-25).  During Jesus’ final night before the crucifixion Peter declared his unwavering commitment to Jesus and yet Jesus predicted that Peter would deny Him three times before the sun rose the next morning.  And Peter did exactly that (Matt 26.34).

Peter felt extremely guilty for denying Christ.  However, unlike Judas, he did not kill himself and was restored by Jesus.  Jesus met the disciples on the beach and had a one-on-one conversation with Peter to restore and forgive him.  Three times Jesus asked Peter “Do you love me?” and Peter stated that he did.  Jesus commanded Peter to feed and care for the Church (John 21.15-17).  He then prophesied that Peter would die a martyr’s death.  In the very same breath, Peter turned around and saw John walking behind them on the beach and asked Jesus “What about him?”  Jesus’ response was simple and profound:

“Jesus said to him, ‘If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you?  You follow Me!’”

– John 21.22

Jesus actually said, “What is that to you?”  Peter, do not waste your time or energy worrying about John.  You just follow me.  Do what I have told you to do, focus on what I have taught you, and let me worry about John.

It sounds very much like a father disciplining a child, does it not?  “I will take care of your sister, you just do what I have told you”.  And when does this chastisement typically come?  When the child has cried out “That’s not fair!”  or “Why do I have to and she does not?”  A parent never has to discipline a child to focus on his own task and forget a sibling’s when the child feels he has been shown favor, it is when he feels he has been slighted and the sibling is receiving an extra benefit.

And even as adults we do that with God.  We compare ourselves to one another.  We wonder why so-and-so got the promotion, was born into a wealthy family, was given extra comforts or abilities that we were not.  We tell God that it is not fair and we gripe about our lowly circumstances when we feel slighted.  And Jesus simply says to us, worry about yourself.  He has a purpose and a plan for so-and-so, just like He has for each one of us and we need only to trust Him in His plan for us.

“And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.”

– Rom 8.28

Each one of us has a unique personality, and unique personal disposition and unique Spiritual abilities and gifts.  God has purposefully and perfectly established a plan that will bring about our Spiritual maturity and Spiritual best in His timing and in His way.  He does place us in in community so that we can push one another on to maturity and to know and love God, but He also teaches us not to compare ourselves to one another.

Life is not fair.  God never intended it to be.  He intends for us to trust Him and His perfect plan for our own lives, and to rejoice with one another in successes, blessings and abilities.  So, in the words of all of our mothers, “you just worry about you” when you are concerned that you are being overworked or given the short straw.  God has a plan.  God is in control.  He is working your circumstances out for your best and His glory.  He is working my circumstances out for my best and my glory.  And while it may appear that so-and-so is getting special treatment, remember that we do not know the full story and God’s plan is bigger than anything we can imagine.

Jesus loves His church more than you do.

church

Are you excited about life?  Your church?  Your community and the things God is doing all around you?  Do you ever get frustrated?  Tired?  Worn out from pouring into people, ministries and efforts that seem to just fizzle and die?

I love change.  Even though I am an introvert by disposition and need to have some quiet time to recharge, I love meeting new people, I love going new places, trying new things and experiencing life.  I love to move.  Just like most who share my disposition, I see the best in people up front and am excited to engage in new communities.  However I find it difficult to see potential and I often resign myself to consider situations to be how they will be forever, thus once things are broken it feels impossible to make them right.

In my Spiritual immaturity and involvement in a vastly superficial youth group, this disposition led me to a level of disdain for the Church.  God radically changed my life and disposition through the tragic loss of a non-believing friend and a year at a Christian university twenty miles from any outside influence.  He simply ingrained the truth in my heart that He loves His Church, and if I want to be His follower I must love the Church as well.

In my adulthood, this disposition has led me to despair when I see the gross failures of our leadership and members:  those people we love and respect abandoning the faith, giving in to unthinkable moral failures and leading the body into Spiritual inactivity and uselessness.  But walking through these trials God has simply affirmed me that nothing is outside of His control and He loves His Church more than I ever could.  He is not surprised by our circumstances, in fact He ordains them for the growth and maturity of His Church.

In short, God loves the Church and will work everything out for her best and her holiness.  He love the Church more than you or I ever could, and He has a perfect plan for her, even when things look grim.  God will work all things together such that He can present the Church – the bride of Christ – to Jesus on that final day as perfect.  She (we) will be spotless and without wrinkle in our wedding dress, holy and blameless, and that because He died for us to wash away our sins and is continually washing us and purifying us through the Word:

“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless.”

– Eph 5.25-27

In Scripture the Church is often called Christ’s body.  We are taught clearly that Jesus Himself is the head of that body and we all have roles to fill in the local body where we meet.  No one is the head of the local or universal church, not the pope, not a pastor, not a team of elders, no one.  Only Jesus is the head.  He is in charge, He makes the final decisions, and He has a sovereign plan over all of our endeavors and will sanctify us and make us holy.

“For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.”

– Phil 1.6

“…for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.”

– Phil 2.13

Jesus loves His own body, just as we love our own bodies.

“…for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church, because we are members of His body.”

– Eph 5.29-30

It is important to function as a part of the body.  We have been commanded to and if we do not serve the body with our gifting and skills that God has given us, the body will suffer.

“For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ.”

– 1 Cor 12.12

“For the body is not one member, but many.  If the foot says, ‘Because I am not a hand, I am not a part of the body,” it is not for this reason any the less a part of the body.  And if the ear says, ‘Because I am not an eye, I am not a part of the body,’ it is not for this reason any the less a part of the body.  If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be?  If the whole were hearing, where would the sense of smell be?  But now God has placed the members, each one of them, in the body, just as He desired.  If they were all one member, where would the body be?  But now there are many members, but one body.”

– 1 Cor 12.14-20

“For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.”

– Rom 12.4-5

Jesus died for His body.  He gave Himself up for her (us) so that she might be saved and made holy.  He knows what is best for her (us) and He will work all things out together for His glory, for her good and for or the best of the Church (Rom 8.28).  If you are struggling with frustration towards the Church, remember that this is God’s chosen instrument of bringing His love and the Gospel to the world.  He loves her, and therefore you must too.  If you are discouraged by tensions within the church, by failures of leadership, by the type of music or  color of the carpet, remember that God loves the Church infinitely more than you ever will, and He is working these situations out both for your maturity and sanctification as well as for hers.  It is His Church, not ours.

Yes, there are times that churches die.  This happens because sin creeps in and goes unchecked.  Thankfully Jesus has commanded us clearly how to handle sin and push one another on to holiness and maturity.  There are times that a church becomes so inward focused and neglects the commands of Scripture that God removes His hand from that congregation and they dwindle.  Take note of these trends as you work through your feelings towards and about a Church, and always pray.  Ask God if He is at work in this place.  Ask God if this is your body where you should serve.  As God if this is a branch that is alive and bearing fruit or one that has withered and will be cut off.  And let’s get busy loving that which Jesus loves, pushing through the hard times and rejoicing in the sweet times.  And let us commit to invest as long as God continues to lead, not giving up when the going gets rough.

So your spouse had an affair. Now what?

broken trust

When you are young and in love, you are dating your best friend and could never imagine a major problem coming your way.  You have a magical engagement experience, you spend months planning the wedding of your dreams and going through premarital counseling to make sure that you are prepared for this major life change.  You take thousands of pictures.  You spend every moment together.  You say “I do” and then go away on a lavish vacation to spend your first week together as husband and wife.  You envision a lifetime of bliss, building a life with your love.

As the newness wears off, you grow comfortable with one another, you develop habits and routines and you settle into life.  Some bad habits might form.  You get busy with work and children.  You have your hobbies, your spouse has hobbies, and time just continues to pass by.

Then the unthinkable happens.  You get the news that will forever change the way you view marriage, love and life.  Your spouse has been unfaithful to you.

Now what?

We, as the Church, need to not only talk about this, but be ready and prepared to help people walk through this tragedy because it is happening every day.  People are crushed.  Lives are shattered.  Dreams are lost.  It is happening outside of the Church, and it is happening within the Church.  It is now almost a daily occurrence to hear about a pastor or a Christian leader confess to infidelity.  People who are in the Church will need to be supported and encouraged in the aftermath, and if we learn to love well, people outside of the Church can come to find salvation and healing within our communities as well.

There is no greater breach of trust than infidelity.  Even if the marriage relationship is sick or imbalanced, the covenant that was made at the beginning offers a sense of hope and security.  But when one partner in a marriage enters into an inappropriate relationship outside of that marriage, the damage caused and the pain inflicted is unthinkable.

And we must be ready to respond.

First and foremost, we must turn to Jesus.  I know it sounds cliche, but God is the God of all comforts, He will wipe every tear away, and He can heal the brokenhearted.  If your spouse has been unfaithful to you, know that it is good and healthy to respond emotionally and to grieve.  You will be angry, you will be hurt, you will be mad, you will cry, you will want to lash out.  God hates sin, God punishes all sin, and He does not cover up or make peace with sin.  It is not only normal, but it is right for you to hate the sin of infidelity.  It would be wise, however, to find a safe place where you can process these early emotions – with trusted friends or family, who will let you process in whatever way you need to process and still point you to God.  That way you can be angry, but not sin in your anger:

“Be angry, and yet do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not give the devil an opportunity.”

– Eph 4.26-27

It is important to not make any major-life decisions in the emotional response of the news.  Give yourself time to get yourself together, and let those trusted friends and family members support you and hold you accountable.

Once the shock wears off, you then have to decide what to do.  If you are a Christian, then the Bible is your authority and you must understand what God has to say about forgiveness, infidelity, divorce and remarriage.  Infidelity and divorce are discussed much more clearly than remarriage, but it is extremely important that every decision we make we do so with a clear conscience and direction for the Lord through Scripture.

What does forgiveness mean?  Is this something you can move past?  Will you remain in the marriage?  Are you Biblically allowed to leave the marriage?  Will you marry again?

Forgiveness is a difficult topic, especially when discussing a grievance as gross as adultery.  Biblical forgiveness is the reconciliation of a relationship that was broken by sin or an offense.  You can read more extensively about that here.  We see, therefore, that God does not forgive everyone – only those who confess their sins and repent, asking for forgiveness.  If this were not the case, then no one would go to Hell.

Does that mean we are justified in refusing to forgive?  Unfortunately, no.  We are sternly warned that as believers, if we do not forgive one another then God will not forgive us (Mark 11.25-26).  Part of the salvation experience is recognizing our guilt before God and experiencing His forgiveness which we do not deserve.  When we recognize the gravity of our guilt and the price Jesus paid to buy our pardon, we will respond in forgiving one another.  It may take time, and it will not look the same for everyone, but if the cheating spouse asks for forgiveness and repents, then we must forgive the offense.  If the cheating spouse never confesses or repents, we still must be ready and willing to forgive.

Does this mean that we have to remain married?  Jesus clearly taught that infidelity is grounds for divorce:

“…but I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except for the reason of unchastity, makes her commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.”

– Matt 5.32

Interestingly enough, the word that Jesus uses for “unchastity” is Greek term that means any kind of sexual immorality, such as fornication, prostitution, adultery, incest, etc.  Thus we clearly understand that adultery is not limited to an ongoing emotional and sexual relationship.  It could be the employment of a prostitute, getting a happy ending at a massage parlor, or a one-time offense with a known person or stranger.  Many even argue that it could also include an addiction to pornography and masturbation.

We know that God hates divorce, but God also knows that not only is it a reality, sometimes it is the only way to move forward.  I argue here that divorce is not a sin, but a reality for which God gives clear instructions in utilizing.  Thus, if you are in a marriage and your spouse is unfaithful to you, it is a Biblical and understandable response to leave the marriage.  It is expected by God to forgive – to intentionally and deliberately “release feelings of resentment or vengeance (a psychologistst definition)” towards your spouse, but you are not required to remain in the marriage.

You may, however, choose to forgive and restore the marriage.  Some people are able and willing to move beyond sexual infidelity and restore that relationship.  Perhaps you have been married for years, you have many children, and the damage caused by breaking everything apart would be too much to bear on top of the infidelity, and the spouse is genuinely repentant and willing to get help!  Jesus does not command divorce in the circumstance of infidelity, He merely allows it.

We see, in fact, that God uses the example of a man who forgives his cheating spouse as an example of the love that He has for us:  with Hosea and Gomer.  You can read more about that here.  Restoration of a broken marriage will be a long road.  It will require trust to be rebuilt, it will require accountability and vulnerability.  The offending spouse will need to be ready and willing to answer questions, find someone to regularly check in and hold him accountable and intentional effort on both sides to move forward in relationship.  It will not be easy, but it is possible.

What about remarriage after divorce?  This is where Scripture speaks less, and thus there is great controversy.  The Old Testament allows for a person to be remarried, but can never return to the original spouse.  Jesus obviously assumes remarriage when He discusses divorce:

“…but I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except for the reason of unchastity, makes her commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.”

– Matt 5.32

One would only be committing adultery if she marries after an un-allowed divorce.  To remain celibate, obviously would not be adultery.  This is also why Paul gives the extra teaching that if a couple separates for reasons other than adultery (or abandonment), that they should only come back to one another when the differences are reconciled (1 Cor 7.10-11).  Paul also teaches, however, that if a marriage is lost because of abandonment, then the believing and abandoned spouse is free to remarry:

“Yet if the unbelieving one leaves, let him leave; the brother or the sister is not under bondage in such cases, but God has called us to peace.”

– 1 Cor 7.15

Thus, it seems clear that in the situations where the covenant has been broken by infidelity or abandonment by a non-believer, one would be free to remarry.

Processing the pain of infidelity and divorce is worse than losing a spouse to death.  In death, the remaining spouse is confident of the love that was shared, and is left only to grieve the loss.  In infidelity and divorce, the offended spouse has been hurt on the deepest levels of betrayal on top of grieving the loss of the spouse.  While there are many helpful books and tools already written, this grieving process will look different for everyone.

We, as the body of Christ, need to be intimately familiar with the Biblical teaching on these difficult topics.  Infidelity, sexual promiscuity and divorce are rampant in our culture.  We must learn how to respond to both the offender and the offended in these situations out of Biblical truth and love.  We are tempted to gossip and to judge the situation, but we must chose to love and encourage instead.  The person whose spouse has left will lose many friends because people do not want to take sides, they are uncomfortable hanging out with a single person, or they just don’t know what to say or do.

We, as the Church, must always take sides against sin.  This does not mean that we alienate or condemn a repentant believer, but we always fight against sin in our own lives and in other’s lives.  Otherwise it will kill us.

So let’s get dirty.  We all know the reality of infidelity and divorce.  Most of us have witnessed it within our own families.  It is going to happen, so let’s be prepared and not shocked when we see it.  Let us intentionally offer a place to stay and a place to grieve to those who have been hurt.  Let us intentionally offer a place of counseling and healing for those who have fallen and repented.  And let us intentionally hold accountable those who have sinned and choose to remain in that sin.

If it happens to you, I pray that you have a healthy Church family who can and will embrace you and support you.  Press into God, give yourself time to grieve and process what is going on, know the Biblical truths, prayerfully process the next steps for you and your family, and intentionally fight the overwhelming temptation to sin in response for how you have been sinned against.  Find solid, Biblical counseling (I highly recommend the ACBC), and remember that God is in control, He is the God of all healing and comfort, and He will give you peace.  You will smile again, I promise.

“Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.”

– Matt 11.28

“The Lord is near to the brokenhearted
And saves those who are crushed in spirit.”

– Ps 34.18

Bear One Another’s Burdens

bear burdens

The community of faith is one of the greatest blessings God has given us in the local Church.  We meet for weekly worship, we gather for Bible study and community, and we rally around one another in the midst of a crisis or life change.  Meal trains are established after surgeries and babies, and those most intimate communities pull together finances for one another when a sudden need or trauma arises.

We bear one another’s burdens.  
Or at least we should.

But have you ever stopped to consider the context of that commandment in Scripture?  Where Paul teaches us to bear one another’s burdens?

“Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted.  Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ.  For if anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself.  But each one must examine his own work, and then he will have reason for boasting in regard to himself alone, and not in regard to another.  For each one will bear his own load.”

– Gal 6.1-5

It is good and right that we know one another well enough and that we care for each other enough to help meet needs and comfort one another during times of difficulty and suffering.  God is a God of comfort, and He gives us one another to help ease some of our momentary suffering (2 Cor 1.3).  He loves His Church, we are His bride, and we are commanded to look out for the needs of those within our local body first.  Before we seek to meet the needs of those outside of our body and the unsaved:

Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary.  So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith.

– Gal 6.9-10

This is not permission to overlook anyone, we are indeed commanded to take go the extra mile for anyone who would take advantage of us, to love our enemies, to meet the needs of the poor (within and without of the Church), but just as Christ’s first priority is the Church, so should our’s be.

The context of this specific command, which we so regularly quote, however, is to bear one another’s burdens of sin.  John Piper eloquently teaches us,

“A sinful act is vastly more harmful that any…other burden, and if [we] love them, [we] will not only comfort them in their troubles, but confront them in their sin.”

For most of us it is easy to go visit someone in the hospital and take meals to a family who is struggling or expending their energy taking care of a sick family member.  For many of us it is easy to listen, offer a hug, and to console someone who is suffering a loss of some sort.  But not everyone in the Church who is bearing a burden is a victim.  Some people are bearing the consequences of their sin.  Some people are stuck in an habitual sin.  And sin is the most dangerous burden, and that from which we should be most intensely seeking to help one another escape.

Scripture is clear that if we continue in sin after confessing Jesus as our Lord, there is no hope for us.  This is a terrifying situation:

“For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a terrifying expectation of judgment and the fury of a fire which will consume the adversaries.”

– Heb 10.26-27

Therefore, if we have been commanded to do good and to take care of the body of the Church first, and if the greatest threat to our well being is sin, then we must be diligent about confronting our own sin and holding one another accountable.  It is the greatest act of love – from a fellow Christian – to help me in my sanctification process and to conquer a sin.  We should never just write a brother off, we should never simply react to one another’s sin, we should never refrain from saying anything out of fear, or because “it’s just not my business”.  It is your business.  It is my business.

Is someone in your community stuck in a sin, or blind to a sin in his life?  It is your responsibility to humbly, in love, help bear that burden.  And when someone approaches you to confront a sin to which you are blind or needing help to conquer, remember that this is the greatest act of love a fellow Christian can give you.  He is looking out for your soul and eternal well being.  Let us embrace accountability and community.  Let us press one another on to good works and maturity.

“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds…”

– Heb 10.23-24

 

The Lone Ranger Christian

lone ragner

There are two types of Christians out there:  leaders and followers.  Some people come to faith and are overwhelmed at the size and depth of the Bible, and they are content to let others teach and direct them.  There are so many truths contained within Scripture that they can be fearful to take a stand because they do not have the entire canon memorized and do not want to be disproven or made to look foolish.  These are followers.  We are all followers to an extent – we will all continue to learn and grow throughout our Christian life, none of us will ever have all of the answers and will find our belief system developing – sometimes in large measure, sometimes only minutely.

There are also leaders.  Leaders are those who find pleasure in learning everything that they can about the Scripture and are excited to share it with others.  Leaders see doctrine, theology and ecclesiology as a matter of discipline and discipleship and want to grow on their own and help others along the way.  Leaders can be tempted to rely on their own strength, however, and can find it difficult to rely on others and follow the leadership of others.  All believers will find themselves as leaders at some point in our Spiritual development and life.

With the continual development of our mindset that we have autonomy to define our own truth, and our distrust for authority and claims on absolute truth, we are seeing a new phenomenon within our churches, at an alarming rate, and that is – what I like to call – the “Lone Ranger Christian”.  John Wycliffe began translating the Bible into English in the late 1300’s, and after the Reformation began when Martin Luther posted his 95 thesis on the Wittenburg Castle Church in 1517, he translated the Scriptures into German so that everyone could read the Bible on their own and have a personal interaction with God.  John Wesley and others also translated the Bible into common languages.  Post-Reformation Spirituality became personal, and with that came a variety of denominations – based on these predominant leaders:  Lutheran, Wesleyan, etc.

Throughout the years, congregations and factions would form within these larger denominations – and churches would split and smaller denominations would be formed.  Thus we have 1st Baptist Church and 2nd Baptist Church, 1st United Methodist and 2nd United Methodist within many towns.  Sometimes these splits were over doctrine or belief, and sometimes they were over interpersonal issues.

But the current generation and culture is marked by self-definition and autonomy.  Some (the unhappy leaders) dress it up as missional and call it “Church Planting” while others (the unhappy followers) just give up on everyone else and call their faith “personal”, and alienate themselves from a Church Body.  “We want to have a first-century Church”, they say, “We want to look like the early church”.  And since we cannot walk into an established body and reform it quickly to the principles we see taught in Scripture, we stomp out the door and seek to start our own or give up on everyone else completely.

It is true, our Christian traditions have been developing for nearly 2000 years.  A gathering in Jerusalem in 60 AD would look dramatically different than a gathering in Dallas Texas today.  There are a few things that we must remember, however, when observing that reality.

Firstly, the early Church did not do everything right.  After Jesus returned to Heaven and the apostles began the work of Church planting, the early church had a multitude of problems.  They were immediately plagued by legalism and Judaizers seeking to impose the Old Covenant Law on top of the Gospel.  They also suffered intense persecution which scattered many of them across the known world, and some verbally denied Jesus while others affirmed Him – and many who stood firm under persecution called those who denied Him in a moment of weakness non-believers and heretics.  There were some who taught that Jesus was not a man, He was only God; there were others who taught that He as only god and not a man.  The heresies and false teachings were countless, and the entire New Testament was written to counter these false teachings and develop right doctrine.

Secondly, we must understand that our Church and worship gatherings are almost completely cultural.  Jesus taught the disciples how to pray, how to live daily lives and how to make disciples, but He never said, “When you have a Church service, do this.”  Paul gave very loose instructions about the gathering of believers:

And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord; always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father; and be subject to one another in the fear of Christ.

– Eph 5.18-21

“Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God.”

-Col 3.16

“What is the outcome then, brethren? When you assemble, each one has a psalm, has a teaching, has a revelation, has a tongue, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification.”

– 1 Cor 14.26

We understand that God us given us one another as a body, He has gifted each of us differently to serve the body and push one another on to maturity – some as teachers, some as hands and feet, and when we gather together we are taught to encourage one another with music and teaching and worship God.  We also are taught to remember Christ through the Lord’s Supper by eating together and feeding one another.

That’s it.

Scripture does not teach us to gather for an hour.  There is no outline for Sunday School.  Yes, we are instructed to sing hymns, psalms and Spiritual songs – that means we should sing those truths of old and continue to write new songs of praise to our Lord.  But the Bible never says which instruments we are to use (or not use), it never instructs us on how many songs, or how many preachers!  We are to be marked by prayer, singing and admonishing/teaching.  We all, throughout the ages, have adapted these principles to our fellowships through tradition and through our culture.

And quite frankly, the Early Church suffered much more than we do for lack of accessibility to Scripture and teachings.  We, today, have the completed Scripture at our fingertips and in our language, with 2000 years of scholarly study and theological refinement all collected on google.

So what does all of this mean?  Our culture values independent thought and critical thinking.  This is good, healthy and valuable – because we all must confess our faith personally.  Our parent’s faith, our community’s faith, our pastor’s faith will not save us.  It is also detrimental, however, because we are hesitant to submit to one another, to put each other’s desires before our own, and if our personal fancies are not tickled then we would prefer to just walk away.  This ought not be.  God created us for community and gave us to one another to push each other on to righteousness and obedience.

“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.”

– Heb 10.23-25

If you are a Christian, you must be a part of a local body.  It is not an option.  God did not call us to be lone-ranger Christians, He called us to serve one another, to love one another, to encourage one another, and to go out and make disciples together!

Now hear me, I am not advocating blind submission.  If you are in a body and it is infiltrated by false prophets or the leadership begins teaching heresies – it is our responsibility to seek to right that false teaching, and if the body as a whole will not submit to Scripture and truth, then we should find another body.  False prophets are dangerous, and one of Satan’s tactics is to infiltrate the Church and lead people astray.  We all must be on guard against that danger.  But we must love Christ’s bride as He loves His bride and fight for her.  We should not walk away from a body quickly, but we should plead with her, pray for her, and fight for her.

And Church planting is a necessary and beautiful form of growth!  We see it often on the micro-level in small groups.  When you have a gathering of believers that meets regularly, and new believers are brought in consistently – as they should be – there will quickly come a time that the group is too big for intimate discipleship and accountability.  Those baby Christians will mature and get to a point where they are capable and ready to lead a group on their own!  This is good, right and healthy.  The same is true on the bigger scale.  Churches cannot and should not grow indefinitely.  Pastors should be raised up and trained, Churches should be planted and our footprint broadened.  We ought not be in competition with one another but partners to reach our community, the lost and the world.

This is healthy growth.  Splintering and segregating because of personalities or insubordination is unhealthy and wrong.

So let us check our hearts today.  Are you a part of a local body?  Are you sacrificing your time, energy, finances and autonomy for the sake of other believers?  Are you serving the body, utilizing the gifts and talents that God has given you for the sake of the local Church?  Or are you sitting back and just getting fed?  Do you listen to podcasts instead of attending church?  Are you frustrated about this or that and therefore pray and worship on your own and have written off the local body?

Jesus has created you for community.  You need the body, and the body needs you.  Without the body we will not have fellowship, accountability, encouragement, or an effective witness.  And perhaps most importantly, we are being disobedient if we are not actively serving and participating in Church.  So know the Lord.  Learn the Scriptures.  Find a body and test its doctrine against the Word.  But lay aside your preferences and remember that our gatherings are cultural by in large.  If Scripture does not forbid what your body practices as worship, then embrace it – as it is facilitating worship for others.  If Scripture does forbid what your body is practicing as worship, then address it and identify the sin or false teaching.  And if you must leave out of conviction, then find another body.  There ought not be any lone-ranger Christians.

Where two or three are gathered…

huddle

God has blessed believers with a wonderful form of community known as the Church.  There is the Universal Church which encompasses every believer who has ever and will ever live, and there is also the Local Church, those believers who live geographically near enough to one another to gather corporately to worship, study, serve and make disciples.  Some people hate the church.  They have this ill-conceived notion that if someone goes to church, he must be perfect and is disappointed when that person is not perfect.  Some people hate the church because they hate authority and they think that faith and religion is personal – not meant to be practiced corporately or with accountability.  But if you are a Christian, God has created you to be a part of the Church and given you a special gift and role in to play in the body.  Jesus is the head, and you are a body part.

Many, when considering the Church, quote Jesus in an effort to claim His authority or His presence in their agenda.  We all know the verse well, and when someone begins the sentence, often times we finish the thought or stop listening because the point has been made:

“For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst.”

– Matt 18.20

But have you ever stepped back to examine the context of this passage?  We quote it most often in prayer meetings and mission trips.  Here we are, setting out to do something great for God or to pray and ask something of God, and we are going to affirm ourselves that we will be successful because there are at least two of us.  Therefore Jesus is in our midst.  We cannot fail.

But Jesus made this profound statement at the end of His outline for Church discipline.  A person who calls himself a believer has sinned.  Jesus commands us to go to that person one-on-one and confront him about the sin.  If he repents, then the issue is over.  If he will not repent, then the confronter is instructed to take two or three others with him to confront the sin again.  This ties into and relies on the foundation of the Mosaic Law – that no one could be condemned on the witness of one person alone – there must be two or three.  It also works directly with the human conscience.  If a group of trusted friends points out a sin or pitfall in one’s life, it is difficult to refuse and not listen to a group whereas you can just shut out one friend.

Lastly, if he will not listen to a group, then Jesus commands us to take it to the church.  This level of accountability shows publicly that the person is either unwilling to submit to God’s law and definition of sin and therefore not a believer, or this person will repent and change when the entire church knows of his sin.

Jesus gave us this outline so that we would protect one another from allowing sin to take root in our lives, and He also gave us this instruction to help weed out false believers:  wolves in sheep’s clothing.  It is the work of the Holy Spirit to convict us of sin, and if we do not respond when someone confronts us about a sin in our lives, then we are proving the Holy Spirit to not be active in our lives (John 16.8).  We are not born again.

Jesus says,

“If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.”

– Matt 18.17

In short, kick him out.  Have nothing to do with him.  Paul says that this is turning him over to Satan, with the hopes that he will repent and be saved (1 Cor 5.5).  But Paul also defines this exclusion as not even eating with such a one (1 Cor 5.11).

Now, Jesus knows that this is difficult.  It is hard for us to condemn someone and kick them out.  We see our own guilt, we have compassion, we are friends with this person.  It is not, and it should not be an easy thing to kick someone out of the church.  And because of the gravity of such an event, Jesus affirms us:

“Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.  Again I say to you, that if two of you agree on earth about anything that they may ask, it shall be done for them by My Father who is in heaven.  For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst.”

– Matt 18.18-20

Jesus gives the church a level of authority in the Spiritual realm.  Spiritual accountability and repentance is always the goal within our community and relationships.  God gave us one another to encourage and exhort one another while serving the poor and making disciples.  And if we see that one is not submitting to God, we must “bind him”, we declare him as not one of us, and we must “loose him”, we remove him from the church – all with the hopes that this will lead to his salvation.

This is a blessing.  If someone is functioning in the church and is not a believer, but we are too afraid to call him out for his sin, then he might live an entire lifetime convinced that he is saved and going to Heaven when he dies.  He will be devastated on judgment day when Jesus says, “Depart from me, I never knew you” (Matt 7.21-23).  But if this person is held accountable, then he has an opportunity to be saved and to be made right with God before meeting Jesus as the judgment seat.

This is why Jesus affirms us as two or three to hold accountable a brother.  When we stand up against sin, Jesus has our back.  We are not guaranteed that the response will be repentance and restoration, but we are guaranteed that we stand on Scripture and when we fight against sin as a unified body, He will support and endorse it.  Standing up for Biblical truth will be honored and upheld both on Earth and in Heaven.

Scripture does indeed teach us that when we are born again that the Holy Spirit resides within us.

“Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?”

– 1 Cor 3.16

“I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances.”

– Ez 36.27

“But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.”

– Rom 8.11

And we know that when we gather as a body that we are honoring God and fulfilling part of our purpose.  But the promise of Jesus in our midst, affirming our decisions and actions is given to encourage us when standing up to fight sin in one another’s lives.  He does not give us a flippant approval just by nature of gathering together.  He does not say that we will be successful just because we are working together with other believers.  He promises to uphold His standards and statutes and will fight against sin boldly, with us.

So let us gather with other believers.  Let us be vulnerable with our community.  Let us confess sins and allow the Holy Spirit to convict us and change us.  And let us follow the outlines that Jesus gave us for holding one another accountable so that many will be saved.  And let us claim with joy and thanksgiving the promise that Jesus supports accountability.

And let us also be careful how and when we claim Jesus’ authority.  Many have been hurt and disappointed by not understanding well His promise and provision.  Let us ask Jesus to reveal to you His will, His path, His plan.  Let us not assume His blessing just because a few of us have united in pursuit of a specific goal.