Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Take Heed

I found out something by accident the other day that has left me profoundly saddened and thoughtful. There is a pastor from whose teaching I have benefitted in the past, and I happened to know, because I followed him on Twitter that he had preached through a book of the Bible recently that I have been reading. I had heard his first several sermons in the series some time ago via podcast, and when I finished reading through the book I went to look up the rest of the series since I thought it might be helpful to listen to it. When I pulled up the church website, I was astonished to read a statement on the front page that this man is no longer a pastor or elder at the church and has been disqualified and to contact the church if you require more information about the situation. I cried. It truly grieved me to read that statement, and to see that all of his sermons have been taken off the church website, including the series I had gone to find. I really and truly did not expect such a thing. I do not know what happened or what he did, and I don’t need to know, but I do pray for the whole situation. I may not know, but God knows it all, and I pray for restoration and healing and for the health of a church that is left grieving and hurting in the wake of whatever it is.

I’m not naming this man or even speculating on what happened, because this is not a gossip blog or a watchblog, and you probably don’t even know who he is, and who it is isn't all that important to the rest of this post. He’s not a certain big-name pastor who has been all over the evangelical twitter verse and blogosphere and who many of us are not surprised to see in the predicament he is in. No, this is someone else less famous, but who I’d heard of through another ministry I listen to and I had appreciated what I’d heard of his teaching. I told my husband that I’m surprised at how much this unexpected news bothers me, and how sad it makes me. He wasn’t my pastor, I’ve never even been to the city where his church is or heard him in person. But in this internet age, I had listened to his teaching, read one of his books and very much liked it, and learned from his contributions to the other ministry where I had first come across him. Here are some things that this has served to remind me and that I’ve been thinking about as I ponder just why it bothers me so much:

  1. Be careful not to hold any man or preacher or teacher in too high esteem. Even the best man is only a man at best, and capable of disappointing. It is Jesus we worship, not any teacher or preacher, no matter how much we may like them.
  2. Never assume you know a public figure or know what is going on behind the scenes. Learn from men who preach the Word well, respect your leaders for as long as you have no reason not to, but ALWAYS be like the Bereans and search the scripture for yourself to be sure what someone says it means is really what it says. Let it be the Word of God that draws you, not the charisma of a preacher.
  3. PRAY for your pastors and elders and church often. Ask God to guard their hearts and to keep them true to the command to pastors to guard their life and doctrine closely. Pray for them diligently to stay true to Jesus and His word and to steer clear of anything that would bring dishonor to the Kingdom, the Church, and the Lord.
  4. PRAY for yourself and your family. We need God’s grace daily for persevering faith. Never assume that we can stay faithful in our own strength and never assume that we are immune from temptation or deception of various kinds. Pray for wisdom and grace to persevere and steer clear of any appearance of evil and any wrong thinking that would dishonor our Savior. Stay humble before Christ. Stay close to Christ and in His Word daily.
  5. Trust in Jesus to bring restoration and reconciliation when sin occurs. The gospel is the power of salvation to those who believe. He saves us to make us holy. May we live increasingly holy lives before Him, by the power of the Holy Spirit.
  6. Rest in Christ. It is to Him that I answer. I do not have to impress anyone with my words and actions. I have to live every day as unto Christ. He is my Savior, Lord, and High Priest. Don’t try to overthink things. Stay in the Word and follow Jesus. 

I think two of the biggest things I keep thinking about are the need to pray for our pastors and to personally walk humbly and obediently before our God. Think! Let what we say and how we act match who we are, publicly and privately. God knows our hearts, even the secret things we think are hidden. Guard our hearts against spiritual pride or presumptive attitudes toward God’s grace. His grace IS amazing, but it is NEVER an excuse to be lax about sin in our hearts and behavior. Let every one of us take heed lest we fall. It is only by God’s grace that we stand. This is true for everyone, not just public figures like pastors. The verses in Timothy that exhort guarding one’s life and doctrine are written to the pastor, but it is a true exhortation for every believer. Guard your life and doctrine. Stay true to the Word. Pray daily for the grace to cling to Christ as He holds you in the faith that saves.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Thoughts on a Fall Morning

Wow, have I let this poor little blog slip away. I never meant to enter into blog silence, but it sure seems I have. I blame Facebook. That vortex of time wasting has ruined my blogging ability. There are days I wish I'd never given in to the invitation to join it, truth be told, but there's something about it that seems to lead to a no going back once you've been seduced by the siren song. You do know that the sirens in mythology were calling sailors to their own destruction, don't you? All that said, I find myself more and more wanting to tune out the song and turn it off. I am not at all convinced that having a smart phone has been overall a good thing. But ask me if I'm ready to give it up completely.

All that said to say that I miss the old-fashioned blog days a bit. I miss having something to say that took a little more thought than what tends to fill my typical status update these days. I'd like to walk away from momentary and time-wasting repeated scrolling of the news updates and get back to thinking through more regular blog posts. I am not, however, naive enough to make any sort of sweeping promise of a new post here every day for the next 30 days or anything, because I know myself much too well for that. But I do want to come back home and use this space to rejuvenate my writing bug, because I want to pick up my writing projects again and regain what I've lost to the mental energy drain of Facebook and constant connectivity. Ok, that's much more on this topic than I even intended to say when I sat down to write this post. There is a beautiful picture up there in the left corner that I've ignored in order to get these thoughts off my chest, so now, here's the post I meant to write when I sat down:

I have admitted here and elsewhere that I've found living in our new community challenging in some ways. Challenge isn't necessarily bad. It's good to stretch out of my comfort zone and learn to live a little. I didn't say easy, but I did say good. It is good because my good and faithful Redeemer, Lord, Savior, and God has placed our family here for such a time as this and for His glory and for our good. How do I know this? Because we are here. In the midst of a fairly stressful challenge recently, I was able to say to my husband, "You know, if we had not been here, this year, we would not have caught this and dealt with it when we have. Better now than later, and I'm thankful for it." Friends, that is God's grace. I am so thankful that He has brought me to the place where I can view challenges in this way and trust Him with it, realizing I am not 'all that' and that I need Him. How I need Him. We can see His hand and I'm so thankful that we can also trust His heart.

You know I grew up in Florida, and because of this, I had never seen a glorious, full-blown gorgeous Fall until I was in my twenties. I had, of course, read about the leaves changing, and I've always loved the season, but now that I have been able to live in parts of the country that actually experience the turning of the leaves for the past 5 or six years now, I have to confess to you that I never get tired of the beauty of this season. When I walk in my neighborhood full of old trees and drink in the vibrant colors, it just gives me a joy, because what I think every time I see these beautifully breath-taking colors, and what I often tell my kids, is that I am awestruck at our Creator God. He could have just made a functional world for us to live in, but He didn't stop there. No, He made it heart-achingly beautiful, too. What love and kindness He has shown to His creation! Every season, every different topography has an exquisite beauty to it that leads me to sing praise for His creativity and glory. If you have eyes to see and ears to hear it, the heavens declare the glory of God and His creation speaks to us of how glorious He is. Such thoughts ought to turn us to His word so that we can look deeply into this awesome God who would stoop to create such beauty.

And when we do look into His word, we see just how much love He has shown us, sinful, poor, wretched, and blind as we are. Because not only did He create us and design His creation to sustain us and delight us with its beauty, but He stooped to come down and walk among us in the person of Jesus Christ, fulfilling His law on our behalf, which we have broken in so many myriad ways, and He became the sacrifice for sin that our wretched state required, and made the way for us to be reconciled, made clean and right, with Him. He has opened the way for us to enter into the Holy of Holies as we pray, because we no longer have to fear His wrath when we have repented of our sin and placed our trust, our only hope, in Jesus, the way, the truth, and the LIFE.

I received a treasure in the mail yesterday from Truth for Life, Charles Spurgeon's Morning By Morning, and as I read the devotion for this morning, I came across this thought: "Constant wrestling  in prayer with God is sure to make the believer strong - if not happy. The nearest place to the gate of heaven is the throne of heavenly grace. Often alone, you will have plenty of assurance; seldom alone with Jesus, your faith will be shallow, polluted with many doubts and fears and not sparkling with the joy of the Lord. Since the soul-enriching path of prayer is open to the very weakest saint, since no achievements are required, since you are not invited to come because you are an advanced saint but freely invited if you are a saint at all, see to it, dear reader, that you are often in the place of private devotion. Be regularly on your knees, for in this way Elijah drew the rain upon Israel's famished fields." 

I got to thinking, why is prayer so hard? Why do people try to make prayer into something it isn't? How offensive I find it when people talk about 'sending prayers your way' or 'sending positive energy your way' as if prayer is some mystical, ephemeral, indefinable 'energy' we have power to send toward someone. That's offensive and it's foolish.  At least, if you understand what prayer actually is rather than making it some new-agey spirituality positivity thing, that is. Prayer is just us pouring our hearts out to God. Prayer is people who know God talking to Him, worshiping Him, and bringing requests to Him on behalf of people we care about. It isn't mystical energy we send around, and those misunderstandings make me so sad to hear and read. I understand they are written or said by people who mean well, are trying to say something positive and encouraging, and who just don't know the truth, and that makes me sad.  We who are in Christ have an awesome privilege in coming to our Father in prayer, and isn't that, ultimately, much more encouraging? To know that we can talk to the God who created all that is, and we aren't just hoping in some uncaring 'universe' as we try to send 'energy' around? And we have an awesome privilege and responsibility to share the good news of the gospel with our lost friends who only have hope in some 'positive energy' that ultimately has no power at all.  May I be a more vocal sharer of that good news. Days when we are reminded of His glory in such a way as I was when I took that picture ought to remind us to know His word and spend time with Him in prayer.