Thursday, April 30, 2009

Under Authority: Blooming Where You are Planted!

I Thess. 5:12
Now we ask you, brothers, to respect those who work hard among you, who are over you in the Lord and who admonish you. Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work. Live in peace with each other.

Hebrew 13:17
Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you.

I Tim. 5:17
The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching.

I am amazed and saddened by the amount of division that I have seen and heard about in churches. Somehow, in this great land of democracy that we are blessed to live in, the general Christian population has the idea that the church is a democracy as well. Deacons run the church, congregations vote in or out a pastor, people up and leave on whim when things don't suit them. After all, they give regularly to the offering, right? I've heard of people threatening the loss of their financial support and pew warming if programs they wanted weren't soon implemented.

How that must grieve the Holy Spirit! Why are the ideas of submission and honor to those in authority so foreign? Why do we feel the right to haughtily question those that the Lord has placed over us to shepherd us? How is it we can feel comfortable about disregarding their advice or reasons because they don't agree with our own? We are elevating our opinion over theirs, sitting in judgement on their God-given position and walking away in rebellion.

Please note that I am not referring to a pastor that does not adhere to scriptural interpretations or that has no accountability. I am not speaking to the exception to the rule but to the average, humble man of God that seeks to protect and lead in humility and godliness. So many good men have burned out before their time because of friction with the body. They give all they have and get little but complaints and whining in return. The door of the church seems to revolve, letting people through that are looking for their needs to be met in their particular way and when that doesn't happen, they go out that door in search for someone who caters to their idea of how a church should operate. We place our own feelings on the throne making our opinion our god.

Jeremiah. 25:17
"But you did not listen to me," declares the Lord, "and you have provoked me with what your hands have made, and you have brought harm to yourselves."

Having been in the church all of my life and having a husband that served as an elder for many years, I am not talking on circumstantial evidence. I have seen the way men of God try to walk with those that struggle, try to help and serve and explain their convictions and positions, only to be left staring at their back (so to speak) as they walk out the door and don't return. Many times their grumbling takes others with them, adding to the division in the body. This can often be "best-case scenario" in which a member actually comes to the leadership voicing their complaint. All too often, members just leave one Sunday and don't come back, no explanation offered.

I know it is our human nature to want to be in control. We chase lustily after that illusion in every area of our life. It seems a safe, comfortable place until circumstances rock our world and remind us of our frailty. But the life of a Christian is the life of dying to self. It is not (as I heard someone rightly state), God making something beautiful out of our sinful lives. It is God crucifying that life and giving us an entirely new one that is diametrically different from the one we had; the one that the world tries to resurrect and dangle before us.

Being raised in the Land of the Free and Home of the Brave compounds the problem. We take for granted that the church is here to serve us, not the other way around. If it doesn't work out, we can go to the church down the street and so on. What do we know about "community"? About Body life? Truthfully, what do we care? We are all wired together through technology and pulled apart by the busyness of trying to keep up with it. Please, don't interrupt! Especially if you are going to step on my toes and get in my business.

We all shrug off accountability with the justification of it not being anyone's business but our own. This attitude damages the church, tarnishes the name of Christ and, in the end, causes us to lose out on growth and blessings that the Lord would have for those that are walking in order within their homes and Body.

One thing I'd like to interject is: what if the pastor makes a wrong decision? (Gasp! You mean he's human?). Again, I am not talking about leadership abusing their position, walking in habitual sin or preaching heresy. But, what if the Lord desires, for example, that the youth group be part of an outreach program and yet the pastor declines that idea? Well, that is between the Lord and the leadership and you need to prayerfully let God deal with them. They must answer to Him, not you. The same is to be said for decisions your husband makes that you may not agree must trust that the Lord will use His Holy Spirit (which isn't you!) in your husband's life on His timetable; don't compound the problem by acting out of line, taking matters into your own hands. Rest in the fact that you are where you should be, the Lord will bless that quiet, content spirit! Content as in: accepting of the answer, regardless of whether it was the outcome you wanted, not grumbling and complaining within yourself. When our reaction is out of line, even when the leadership or our husband may be as well, we now are an added element that the Lord must deal with in setting things aright in the family or the Body.

Our wrong response leaves our pastors and teachers to respond to this rebellion in one of two ways. They may cave and conform to the desires of those that are trying to control the church, running it more like a democracy than a theocracy. Or, they can stand on what they feel the Lord is showing them to be the truth and trust Him with the outcome, although the response to this choice is not always a godly one. Sometimes it leaves them with The Incredible Shrinking Church.

I am not implying that we do not go to the leaders of our church with concerns. Nor am I saying that leaders do not need to listen to the desires and distress of congregants. There is definitely a healthy place for this sort of interaction. It is just so often done in the wrong spirit, with the wrong motives and reacted to with fleshly responses that may be cloaked in spiritual jargon. All to the peril of relationships and resulting in division.

You may be reading this and thinking, "That's not me. I love and respect my pastor. I would defer to his judgement and not act that way, even if I disagreed." I am glad you hold that position and I do as well. However, how many of us (yes, I am the guiltiest of all), listen to our pastor's and Sunday school teachers etc. week after week and walk away unaffected by the message? On Wednesday can you recall what your pastor spoke about the previous Sunday? Have you asked the Lord to make what the pastor shared a reality in your life? Asked how you can apply it to yourself?

This is likely the biggest problem the pastor has with his congregation. Far more insidious than the openly rebellious member. Plain ol' apathy and complacency are a danger we all have been guilty of partaking in. We must realize that the Lord's tool for instruction in the church, His spokesperson and mouthpiece that He uses in a collective way for the edification of the Body needs us to do more than warm the pew and nod in agreement. Passive disobedience is still rebellion...something I try and teach my children but often fail to recognize in my own life.

Jesus is in the business of changed lives. Not just once, at our conversion, but in a continual refining process, known as sanctification, through those that are placed in leadership over us (besides one on one in His word and prayer). When we tune out in church, wonder how long the line will be at Chilis?, when we verbally agree with an, "Amen," and walk away and give no thought of applying what we have heard to our lives, there is great tragedy and danger that is very subtle and so easy to fall into.

James 1:23-25
But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.
For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was. But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues [in it], and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does.

Submission is not the most popular word these days. It is a shame. It is a word that represents great freedom! When we recognize and respect the structure that God has set up in all aspects of our lives, whether that is in our job (that's not part of my job description, why should I do that?), school,(if the teacher gives him detention, I will just go up there and complain to the principal), family (my husband is always late paying the bills, I'm going to start managing the checkbook myself), or church (there's no way I'm helping in the nursery, I paid my dues teaching Sunday school last year), when we see that the place God has us is a place of value, we can find security and true joy despite less-than-perfect circumstances. Our obedient response in these situations glorifies the Lord to those around us, speaking volumes about our walk with Christ.

When we are in line with where God wants us to be, when we are operating in the structure that the Lord has set in place (in our attitudes, not just for show or to get approval), then we are free to enjoy the benefits of God's blessings, walking in the truth that sets us free! When our reactions to authority are fleshly, judgemental and rebellious we open ourselves up to being a tool of the enemy. Furthermore, God will either discipline us or just leave us to the fruit of our own devices (which can have way more repercussions than His discipline!). Either way, it is His tender, patient love for us that will use these tools to get us back where we need to be.

Romans 2:4

Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?

Unfortunately, any behavior can become a habit that can take years to recognize and overcome; in the mean time, it has wreaked havoc in our own lives and that of other believers, pastors included. Prayerfully consider your attitude toward those that God has placed over you. If you are one that has walked away from a church in rebellion and judgement, what should you do? It is not an easy task to humble oneself and apologize for something that may have happened years prior. Thankfully, if the Lord has brought you to the place of recognizing this sin, it is His Holy Spirit that will give you the strength, the humility, the words and timing to repent and seek forgiveness. Jesus is in the reconciliation business! Look what He has done in reconciling sinful you and me to His holy being! Truly nothing is too hard for our Lord, not even years of ingrained habits. He will do the transforming, just respond to His gentle nudging and experience the peace of embracing the place God has created especially for you. Truly we can learn to bloom where the Lord has planted us!

Psalm 81:12-16
"But My people would not heed My voice, And Israel would [have] none of Me. So I gave them over to their own stubborn heart, To walk in their own counsels. "Oh, that My people would listen to Me, That Israel would walk in My ways! I would soon subdue their enemies, And turn My hand against their adversaries. The haters of the LORD would pretend submission to Him, But their fate would endure forever. He would have fed them also with the finest of wheat; And with honey from the rock I would have satisfied you."

1 comment:

Ernie said...

Great job, Heather. A good article, well written, thought provoking and good Scripture references. Keep up the good work


At the Intersection of Creation and Evolution: A Dream

The alliterating story below is based on a dream I had several years ago. Please contact me for permission to reproduce.

Darkness devours me.

I am enveloped in emptiness.

Are my eyes open or are they closed? I strain against this shroud of night and still see nothing.

What is this place?

An image illuminates in front of me. A large, leafy tree streaks past and vanishes.

It deserts me to the darkness again.

In a moment, more images appear. A rapid succession of snapshots and thoughts clamor before my eyes and mingle in my mind.

I see seedlings. Several supple shoots have emerged before me and then swiftly stream away.

“The first trees on earth were not seedlings”, my mind observes. “They were not created as small insignificant saplings.”

That thought is rapidly replaced with a vision of a man.

He’s maybe 30; he is muscular and needs to shave.

He fades away.

In his place I see an infant.

A tiny bundle of pink skin upon a soft blanket flickers briefly in my brain.

“Man was created with age,” is the next statement I hear. “Adam did not begin his life as a baby, he began as a grown man.”

The voice seems like my own.

The thoughts do not.

Reeling before me now is a blur of rivers, forests, mountains and even layers of the earth. It is like a movie rushing rapidly before my retina.

The soundtrack of this epic is proclaiming a peculiarly plain concept:

“The earth was created with age. Creation and evolution are not in total opposition. There is a reason that science finds the earth to be quite old: it was made that way.”

Thoughts continue to tumble through my mind; pictures parade before me. I listen in amazement to what seems to be puzzlingly profound and yet rather apparent all at once.

“Adam was created as an adult. Trees and plants were made fully grown.”

I suddenly feel quite certain that, if I were to chop down some of the trees that had been spoken into existence, I would find a range of rings running through their trunks.

“The earth was brought to life with age built into it… just like Adam. He did not begin life as an infant. The earth came into being with what it would need to sustain the life that was created. It was old when it was young. The world was
made with maturity; it was also produced with purpose.”

These thoughts are thrilling. Why had I not seen this before? It seems so simple. Obtusely obvious. Had others not observed this correlation? If they had, why wasn’t it being candidly conveyed?

In the span of thirty seconds I have been ravaged by a radical revelation. I feel the weight of its worth resting on me; it is tantamount to tangible.

I am neither a theologian nor am I a scientist. I don’t claim that the ethics of evolution are completely compatible with the Bible’s account of creation. But certainly Science can come concurrent to creation and affirm our faith with facts.

Of course, the Omnipotent Originator of the Universe is exceedingly elusive to what our mind could ever envision. Above what science could ever extensively elucidate.

Accordingly, creation is confounding too. Each diverse discovery deems it more marvelous to grasp. Many scientists have reluctantly relented to the theory of Intelligent Design.

That’s why, alongside those facts, we also need faith.

Lying inexplicably at the intersection of those two essential elements is an exceptional endowment: the intermittent insight of our dreams.