Church Cliques (part 2 of 2) – Trust, Distrust, or Misunderstanding

It was humbling to me that one of the revelations I received while reading through the four gospels would be the Circle of Trust that Jesus surrounded himself with; however, it was also just as revealing in that Jesus did not support Cliques, which can sometimes develop and evolve from Circles of Trust (He actually detests Cliques). 

I have heard it said that if Jesus were here today, He would need to learn how to do church. If He were physically with us, what would He say to us directly/vocally about the church? I believe that one of the things He would tell us is that people need each other, and God’s design is for our aloneness needs to be met within the context of a healthy church body. God abhors cliques because they leave too many people feeling isolated and alone. This aloneness is antithetical to the principles of Gods plan. Here is what God wants a church to be like:

“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer……….. All the believers were together and had everything in common…………… Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” (Acts 2:42-47)

Unfortunately for some, after being welcomed with open arms they are kept at arm’s length. The church gives an impression of being a near-impenetrable bunch of passionate believers. They are very selective about who they let into their Clique. Cliques repel new believers who are seeking to establish themselves in fellowship. Even worse – Cliques appear to validate the reasoning of some who say they are not Christian because of so many hypocrites in the Church. The cancerous effects of church cliques marginalize many members of the body, and in the worst case, will force members out. When trying to get plugged in, little else can be as frustrating (or even aggravating). So eventually you leave, looking for a place that will not only welcome you with open arms but really embrace you. 

A study by Balswick and Layne revealed that there are generally 4 types of cliques within a local church (they refer to them as clusters): the Conjugal cluster, the Christian Education cluster, the Established Member Cluster, and the Prominent Member cluster.

It was somewhat surprising that Balswick and Layne found that theological differences were not a factor in clique formation. Those within these cliques generally have a very weak theological and doctrinal foundation. They are not interested in having the most knowledgeable or capable people but rather the most capable clique members. The depth of Bible studies, for example, does not progress beyond the popular teachers of the day. The theology of these clique members, generally, is representative of the feel-good, narcissistic culture we see around us. Many of those that are the informal leaders of these cliques may also be the “showman/woman” – those that look for attention or influence by their actions rather than their spiritual value. 

Jesus caught flack from the Pharisee’s (the cliques) because He was hanging out with those considered to be socially unpopular. One example is his relationship with Zacchaeus the taxman (Luke 19:1-10). This successful tax collector got assurance of his spiritual restitution because Jesus saw a change of heart and his commitment to make financial restitution where/if called for. Jesus doesn’t ask him to quit his lucrative career (or sell all he had and give it to the poor), Zak was just elated to be accepted by Jesus and pledged to operate honestly. I believe this to be the same of most church members who simply do not understand how to fit in. 

People tend to associate with others who are most like themselves. While this behavior ministers to aloneness, those outside the Clique are alone and hurting. Every church is full of hurting people. Some are hurting more than you and could use your kindness, prayers and mentorship. God can meet so many needs in your own life as you serve someone else. Search for those in the congregation who need your help and support. Serve somewhere in a church ministry. 

In the case of a clique, the first response must always be prayer. We need to lift up these individuals in prayer, and seek God’s will to be done in the situation. Praise God for his sovereignty because as we are told in Romans 8, He works all things for good for those who love him. Many times these cliques will be lead by one strong alpha-type individual; pray for that person particularly, that God would open his or her eyes to submit to His holy Word. The Pastor or Elders may not even be aware that there is a problem. Oftentimes there are others who recognize the problem, but fail to speak up.

Finally, if one finds themselves falling victim to a clique culture that is bringing discomfort, bitterness, hurt/offense, or aggravation/frustration, it is encouraged to follow the rules outlined by Jesus in Matthew 18:15-17. First speak with the individual one on one. If that does not work, then speak with the individual with one or two witnesses. If that still does not work, then take it to church leadership. In some cases, it is possible that the individual does not realize the harm they are causing and the issue is resolved with humility and civility. This is what we should be praying for.

 


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Building a Godly Relationship

Eph 4:1  As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.

Not long after being born again. I had struggles. Even after experiencing a few miracles and awesome displays of love from God, I was still overcome by the world. The instability of my past was slowly being replaced by the stability of the Kingdom of Heaven. Over the years, I struggled to live a life worthy of the calling I had received. The trauma of my past, both received and delivered, haunted me. People strained my edgy temperament. It was really hard for me.

Some of us are impeded from living up to Christ. It may be a troubled childhood, a tough marriage, difficult children, or, having seen too much evil.

To each of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it (Eph 4:7)

It doesn’t happen just because we really, really want it or because we can master the will power. Rather, grace means letting the Holy Spirit supply what we need. The Holy Spirit is the gifter needed so that we can participate in His divine nature. Walking in Gods purpose, peace, power. Signs and wonders will follow those that believe.

I was a skeptic, then a seeker, then a believer.  You can lose a lot of things in life and get them back if you keep your confidence. The devil cannot take your calling. God does not change His mind when you lose your way. Since the devil cannot take your calling, he attacks your confidence. If he can take your confidence then he can keep you from functioning in your calling. Do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. You need to persevere so that what you have done the will of God, you will receive what He has promised.

In early 2017, I knew that I needed to work on my relationship with Jesus. I needed to know more about who He is and who I was in Him. When I felt that it was time to invest time into a  structured program, my wife challenged me with answering the question  – why?  She had watched me spend three years on a secular doctorate degree and appreciated the time commitment. As a knowledge seeker, it was paramount that my time be spent getting to know Him and build my relationship. Knowledge for the sake of knowledge was not adequate.

Because I took this seriously, it took me almost three months to sincerely answer this question – why? 

When asked by God to lead His people out of Egypt, Moses initially responded “Who am I to do this….?”.   Since connecting with Jesus, I have often asked myself who am I to be a member of His family, or, convincing myself that I was not worthy.  I have a passionate hunger for spiritual things, I am hungry to commune with God.   I sense a drive to do wonderful things in the name of the Lord but I also felt a shortcoming in my preparation.   I am a person wired to learn more things, yet without a deep relationship with Him I have nothing to apply.  I have been out of balance with expectations.

In February 2017, I was awakened to the reality that “Christian” knowledge by itself can be dangerous without “spiritual” revelation. I have always been fully aware that wisdom is the application of knowledge, but I was neglecting revelation.  I would read the scriptures, but I was still missing it because I was treating it like a book study. It was then that it was revealed to me that I was looking for answers on who I needed to be rather than anticipating who He is.  I then found a teaching where I determined that one cannot get the experience of God simply by study, it must come by the revelation of who He is. This revelation led to a secondary revelation that I need to read and “reflect” on scripture (meditate/ponder), this will in turn lead me to wisdom and “revelation knowledge”.   I simply need to be who I am, God is ok with me.

I am a veteran that thrives on structure, I am also a frequent consumer of knowledge.  I am a vessel and a vessel is what it contains; I contain the gift of the Spirit through Jesus Christ. To balance my Spirit with my soul, I required a program of revelation that is structured and planned. I know how to learn at every level of secular academics, under His guidance, I am expanding this vessel (me) to the revelation knowledge of who I am in Jesus Christ.

My wife challenged me to answer the question “why?”.  He who speaks from himself seeks his own glory, so I will provide what the Holy Ghost has given to me.  Who am I?  I am a vessel for Christ to impart his knowledge to those in need of His word. I am a vessel of wisdom to speak with those that are hard headed and out of balance with who they are in Jesus.  I am a vessel that has plenty of space to increase my own revelation knowledge of who He is.  When the Lord called Samuel, he answered “Here I am!”, but he did not know it was God; this was me. He later answered the Lord, after being guided by Eli “Speak, for Your servant hears.”  Who am I?  I am the Lord’s vessel to impart revelation knowledge on others. Here I am Lord.

Isaiah 6:8 – Then I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?” Then I said, “Here am I. Send me!”


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God’s Approval

Galations 1:10 (NIV) Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.

God is calling us to gain His approval, not the approval of people. People will only approve of us when our performance meets their expectations, but once we slip below the minimum line, we are out.  When our performance becomes the standard for other people’s approval, our dignity is reduced to a performance goal or an objective. Most people conform by learning how the system works and give other people what they want: performance.   However, the bible also tells us in Galatians 5:13 that we are to serve one another humbly in love.  I am not trying to please people with my performance, but I am also not to use this “freedom” to indulge lashing out at people or being judgmental. If we work with and help each other, we can humble ourselves by loving our neighbor just as we love ourselves.

Simple obedience is the secret to pleasing God.  Jesus did not die so that you can get away with “whatever” on a regular basis; He died to save your spirit.  The Bible tells us to “Have Faith”, but its not just telling you to have faith, it is telling you to believe in your heart. When you have faith in Christ, the love of God is so real that you feel you could do anything for Jesus.

To believe, you need to experience Jesus more. To experience Jesus more, you will have to become friends with the Holy Spirit.  It is these moments with the Spirit that will change you, not a one line message on Facebook, twitter, or Instagram.


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A Public Resolution and Key to Identity

I have a resolution I would like/need to declare and share. It has been burning in my heart and spirit for almost a year but I had been blocked by fears and concerns about how it would be received, or perceived, by those that have known me or think they know me – a coming out if you will. Some will read this and understand and agree, while others will “mock it or ignore it”1; some will even roll their eyes and possibly break our connection. Some will believe that I am being true to myself and in some cases others will believe me to be in some form of crisis or have somehow gone out of my mind. Please understand that I am not in crisis. It has taken me a bit of time to gain the courage, and the confidence, to be who I was intended to be as a professional and who I need to be as a person – it is intermixed. While always a courageous person, I have allowed my truth to be clouded by what I perceived the reality of the world to be and those who I have connected with in the past, I have been afraid of what some would think. I have come to the conclusion that I cannot progress in who I am unless I share this. Whether you support my calling or not you may still agree that regarding my caring about what others would think- “How stupid is this”? No more, I am to be real to who I am, a man of Christ. Christ wants me to be courageous. He wants ALL men to be courageous.

As a non-believer for the first 39 years of my life, I held myself accountable to what others thought of me or tailored my actions to what I thought others wanted me to be and how they measured success (professionally). I was also holding myself accountable to what my father had convinced me of throughout my youth, that I wasn’t worth it (his perspective changed when I was an adult and he later accepted Christ before he passed away). Simultaneously, I allowed my desire (my mind) to accomplish the mission at the sacrifice of my desires for relationships (my heart) and what God had planned for me. My “orphaned” identity would constantly shift based on my worldly surroundings or to what mattered at the time. This allowed for a bit of collateral damage in my life.

I was wrong and have known that I was wrong for many years. Yet the shifting orphan identities I had created for myself were dominating my life and the life of my family. While I made a dramatic shift towards the Lord almost 10 years ago, it has been a process to change and rewire almost 40 years of thinking and 40 years of beliefs, to what I now know to be THE TRUTH. I had been holding myself to my own accountability on the outside (my thinking); on the inside (my heart), however, was a different story. My heart was in constant conflict with my attitudes and how I treated others and my surroundings. I know now that my identity is a son of God and that is the identity I now endeavor each day to be. Far from perfect, but I work towards excellence and the Lord knows this. I have made many mistakes and I will likely make more. But I know that the Lord will be there to pick me up. My accountability is to the Lord first and primary, anything else comes second at best. But oh man, there is constant temptation to backslide!

“We are all accountable for our positions and the influence we have on our friends, our families, and work mates. We should be a model on how to walk with honor and integrity and treat others with respect”1 – value everyone. “We need to be responsible to live our lives for what matters in eternity”.1 Instead, some of us are living our lives with an identity of self and are holding ourselves accountable to the way the world views us and the way others look at us. This isn’t courage, this is adapting. The world should not shape us, the Lord is our architect and our creator. In my orphan identity, I had seen firsthand the hurt and devastation that a life without God brings to a family, to the work space, and to the community, to our nation even. “This is because we are living recklessly and following the same patterns of irresponsibility that many of our fathers have shown us”1 – carrying their wounds while also adding our own wounds as we forget, or neglect, who we are and are supposed to be.

Every child desperately needs a father; there’s no way around this fact. As adults, I believe that our Father is in heaven, serving as our counselor, our comforter and our exhorter. Additionally, the Lord designed us as relational beings, we need and require relationships with others to live fruitful lives. As some know, 7 years ago my family endured the tragic loss of our son, Christoffer. Over the last few years, his death has forced me to realize that not only had I not taken advantage of the priceless time I had with him, but that “I did not truly understand how crucial my role was as a father to him and our other two children”.1 I have been extremely hard on myself regarding Christoffer and my relationship with him, I even blamed God (really??). Nonetheless, over the last few years, “I’ve asked God to show me, through His Word, how to be the father that I need to be, what kind of husband that I need to be”1, what kind of son “of God” I need to be, and what kind of man I need to be.

I believe that “God desires for every man to courageously step up and do whatever it takes to be involved in the lives of his children”1, to be united with their wives and love them unconditionally, to be good stewards of the prosperity the Lord provides, and “to be the man of courage that the Lord has designed us to be. More than just being there or providing for their families, men are to walk with them through their lives and be a visual representation of the character of God”.1 Have the courage to stand up and support the Godly convictions that you know to be the truth for our society today. We must also live the example in our work environments, in our local communities, on the stage, wherever it is that we find ourselves. I believe too many men have neglected God given responsibilities and have forgotten who they are truly accountable to – going back as far as a century and more, getting progressively worse. I believe this is the root of our problems in our nation, and world, today. “Men of God should stand up, take up the mantle of courage”1 to show the world what a true believer in Christ is, and feed the roots of our true heritage as sons of God.

“A father should love his children and seek to win their hearts. He should protect them, discipline them and teach them about God”.1 A husband is to love his wife unconditionally, honor her, pray with her, and readily receive her guidance. “While so many mothers have sacrificed to help their children survive, they were never intended to carry the weight alone. We thank God for them”.1 Men must walk in unity with their wives – there is a power in a communion that is recognized by God. Men should be proud of who they are in Christ and live the plan that He has for them. Where it is missing, bring God back into our families and into our communities.

Some men will read this and mock it or ignore it, I mentioned this earlier. “But I tell you that as a man, you are accountable to God for the position of influence he has given you. You can’t fall asleep onlyto wake up one day and realize that your job or your hobbies have no eternal value”1, but the souls of your family and our fellow man does.

“Some men will read this and agree with it but have no resolve to live it out themselves. Instead, they will live for themselves and waste the opportunity to leave a Godly legacy for the next generation. But there are some men who, regardless of the mistakes we’ve made in the past, regardless of what our fathers did not do for us, will show strength and live the rest of their days to loving God with all that we are”1 [and to work with other men to do the same], and, whenever possible, to love and mentor other men who desperately need help and direction. The good news is that the Lord gave us all free will, a choice; I just pray that we stand up together and make the right one.

Choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD. Joshua 24:15

Note: this resolution was inspired from a speech given in the movie “Courageous”. While most parts of this are mine, some words have been highlighted from the speech. While credit is to be given to the writers of this movie and the final push I needed to put this out there, ALL credit is given to the Holy Spirit for His guidance in my version of this resolution. I pray that this resolution lights a fire in the lives of other men (even if only one), just as it has aided and inspired me to share the parts that are relevant to me in my life. If this only catches the positive attention of one man, then the glory goes to Him. God bless.

 

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