Church Division

I’ve held off on writing this for awhile, partly cause it’s way over my head in a lot of ways and partly for fear of other people’s opinion. The latter is a common struggle, you probably already know that about me.

I want to tread lightly here because people have strong feelings regarding Theology, Doctrine, etc. when it comes to the Christian Church. I want to be clear though, I am only speaking about the Christian Church. Some may differ on opinions about who is or isn’t true believers. But that’s a rabbit trail I don’t want to go down right now. I’m talking about those that believe that Jesus is the Messiah. That by His death we who believe in Him have forgiveness of sins, and through His resurrection we have the hope of eternal life with Him. Those that believe we are saved by grace through faith and not a result of works, but that works flow out of our faith. I could go on, but I think that will suffice for now.

I’ll jump right to the point. You have Pentacostals and Methodists, Lutherans and Calvinists. There’s Presbyterians and Anglicans, Armenians and Non-Denoms. People follow John Piper, John MacArthur, N.T. Wright, Karl Barth, C.S. Lewis, Charles Spurgeon, John Calvin, Martin Luther, Francis Chan, Matt Chandler, Tim Keller, R.C. Sproul, blah, blah, blah… There’s an overflowing amount of pastor’s and theologians out there today, and for most of them, we have their teaching right at our fingertips. On one hand it is incredible that knowledge like that is so accessible, but on the other, divisive.

My first thought is the names we give our Churches and ourselves. Yes, it does give other believers the quick and easy reference as to what I or you or a church believe. But if you really think about it, why would that matter? (Remember I’m talking about those who fall under my description of a Christian from paragraph 2). If you were moving to a different city and wanted to do a little research on the churches in town, I get why you would want to scout out their doctrine and align yourselves with a church that believes like you. But let’s stop right there. I think that is a major problem, aligning ourselves with people like… ourselves. Why couldn’t we be amongst other believers, like those I described in paragraph 2, and challenge each other. I know that through a careful study of Scripture of the years some of my dogmatic beliefs have changed a bit. And I hope I can have the humility to say I have yet more to grow, and possibly grow some areas of thinking that line up more with my view and less with the Lord’s. I believe we all have room to grow, but how can we if we stay in our own little box or bubble. Joining forces, living in community with, and sharing the gospel with other’s that we may not exactly see eye to eye on regarding issues, may help to pop that bubble we live in.

Secondly, most of you know that we are approaching the 500th Anniversary of the 16th Century Reformation. An amazing time in our Christian history where brave followers of Christ helped rid the notion of justification by works and made it easier for the lay person like you and me to dig into the Word for ourselves. What seems to have sprout hundreds of years later though is this “I side with him” talk. Not to say you can’t. I mean I do the same thing often. My thought here is this, what if when we think we are following Christ, we are really following Christ through so-in-so, the exact thing the Reformers tried to abolish in time past, yet we are now doing it to ourselves. I know what your saying, we need those who have poured their life into the Scriptures to help us interpret. Correct! However, be careful in how you follow and how much emphasis you place on the person or movement. A good test would be to see how well you handle conversations with others who don’t think like you. Is there anger or arrogance?

Let’s take Paul’s words from 1 Corinthians 1:10-15 “I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgement. For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers. What I mean is that each one of you says, “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Cephas,” or “I follow Christ.” Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, so that no one may say that you were baptized in my name.”

My aim is not to encourage you out of studying theology or growing in knowledge. My hope is that we all do this, but with a careful eye. That we don’t lose sight of our own study of Scripture, the Holy Spirit’s work in our hearts, and ultimately our own relationship as God’s son or daughter. That our pride won’t hinder relationships or frightfully our ministry.

I will leave you with this. A great friend shared this with me recently when talking about this subject. It’s from Deitrich Boenhoeffer’s book “The Cost of Discipleship.” It’s a page from the introduction. I’ve highlighted a few things but I think the full read within the blue is needed!

CostofDiscipleship

-Michael

 

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Yesterday I cut and taped and tied bows around boxes and bags for a group of precious mommas in the fight of their lives… the fight to cling to Jesus to heal and fill their emptiness so they can be mommas that choose the better portion.

when my sweet friends told me their idea to shower these women with gifts, I jumped in… cause although our lives may seem really different from those in a sober living home with court cases for custody, ive been there before. and I see myself in their eyes. the loneliness and ache can seem to reach out and beg me the question “am I seen? am I loved? despite all my brokenness and neediness, can I do this hard thing?”

Christmas morning a few years ago we stole away to a mountain and I drove down 45 minutes with my 3 babes strapped into their seats, all of us as sick as could be with no voices and fevers and all out hot messes, so their daddy, states away in a detention center could whisper merry Christmas to his girls over a collect call. I hoped we would make it in time so we wouldn’t miss the scheduled call, even as I struggled over the reality of leaving the cozy cabin on this day that was supposed to be a certain way. never in all my mind had I imagined this day would ever hold these memories.

I pulled into a deserted parking lot of a grocery store. all the signs reading merry Christmas and closed up so families could gather and celebrate the season. the loneliness and ache threatening to make my throat close even tighter than the tonsillitis had swollen it already. moments after I parked, waiting and watching the phone to be sure not to miss the call, the truck full of my family pulled in behind us.

“as soon as you left we thought, how could we not come? of course we want to wish Michael a merry Christmas too!”

the weight of this moment hits me afresh this year.

what more meaningful gift can we give than our presence? don’t we all ache to know that we are not alone? and of course, what hope we have in knowing the Christ child, the baby born in the manger, the stable fit only for animals that housed the King of the world for His birth, He CAME. and He brought LIFE and He brought HOPE and He brought the peace that our souls so desperately crave.

but there is something really powerful when we as the body of Christ SHOW UP and offer our presence to one another in our tired, hurting places.

God started stirring my heart at the beginning of December to not miss the places He would be found…to not miss the ways HE wants me to give this Christmas. He has been so faithful to show me where His heart is. Yesterday, as I watched 16 beloved women open gifts put together in a collective effort from the generosity of the body of Christ, the deepest kind of joy filled my heart.

He is in the lonely places. He is with us, Emmanuel. with YOU… in your wondering, in your pain, in your places of mourning and brokenness. Take heart. He came and HE IS COMING.

The Daystar, the literal ‘Light-bringer’, He came and is coming again, to all our darkness.

Glory to the Light of the World.

take a moment and go listen to this beautiful song by Christy Nockels.

Advent Hymn

 

-Bryana

 

Oh be careful little fingers what you type…

Spend more than 2 seconds on social media or any sort of news outlet and its a guarantee that something about the upcoming election will come across your eyes. I’m not one who has really followed very closely (at all) the details of it, mostly because I get entirely overwhelmed by the seemingly hopeless plight and exorbitant amount of information at our fingertips these days thanks to the world we live in. And here I go… adding yet another voice to the deafening roar. Except, this really has nothing to do with politics and policies and stances and voting. Because, as a million people have already made such good points,  my individual opinion really holds zero weight in changing someone else’s mind.

But there is something that is grieving my soul. And so I’m going to process it out on here and maybe it will cause a few of us to at least do a little examination of ourselves and invite the Lord to speak to us, however He would, wherever we are at. This comes from a place of uncomfortable conviction. God’s been mercifully opening my eyes to my own hypocrisy and pharisaical ways. Y’all can take it for what its worth. I won’t assume that anyone reading this has the exact same struggle as me but I do know that we all have similar heart ugliness and if you are reading this, you are alive on this earth and that means you are still in process too and therefore not perfect either. So just try to not let your panties get too bunched up over my personal thoughts if you disagree.

What is it that when we deem someone’s brand of sin or position or more frankly, level of evil-ness as such that is so much more extreme than our own, we exercise the opportunity to declare them too far gone, out of the reach of God’s grace, and simply an open target for hurling whatever insults or name-calling that we decide is warranted?

I’m alarmed. I remember my parents warning me of the dangers of saying things over instant messaging, email, or text that I wouldn’t be comfortable or ever dare say in person. I think this warning stands for the way we discuss all things on social media. We wear a fake-brave face taking resolute stances “for what we believe in” and we give not a care to who it bowls over in the process. Its so different than having real-life, face-to-face conversations with real-life, flesh and blood people. but THATS who reads our words! Real-life, real-feeling, flesh and blood HUMAN BEINGS.

I know. The arguments can be that so-and-so signed up for this kind of scrunity and they opened themselves up to all of it when they stepped out into the lime-light. Can we maybe make one thing NOT about them for a second though? What about the everyday people reading our rash words and absorbing every “freedom of speech” exercised right that we take? Friends. We are wounding real people. There are stories and heartaches and choices and history that we don’t know, that we haven’t walked and that we can’t possibly understand. I can feel it now, the defenses rising and those panties getting all twisted into circulation stopping knots. BUT WHAT ABOUT THE TRUTH?!?!? what about whats right and what God says and what we believe?!

This is what God is showing me. He never changes. His truth is absolute and steady and everlasting and I praise Him for who He is. But what we must learn, what we must consider if we actually want to have any winning influence on people, if we actually want to treat people the way Jesus would, is that the way we communicate His truth is crucial. And I think that the heart of Jesus would be found in boldly proclaiming His truth with tears on our cheeks, dirtied and messy with blood from the wounds of those made in the image of God, kneeling in the trenches with them. Not slinging words and ideas and judgements around with our nose in the air up high where we just keep hoping to not get touched by the complicated, dysfunctional world around us. It breaks my heart to see the Church silenced BY ITS OWN doing. Of course, the Lord will not be mocked and we are not too far gone for Him to change us. But how many opportunities will we miss?

I think most people could pretty well deduce on their own where I stand on most issues. And I have yet to be shocked by the opinions or stances of people that I actually know in real life. What I’m not saying in this thing is that I think people shouldn’t share thoughts or communicate their heart on these issues. OBVI, I kinda am a cheerleader for such sharing. I guess my point is just that we ought to be careful with our words. I’ve read people who do this so marvelously! really, it encourages my heart when I see people being kind and gracious and firm in their convictions. It gives me a great example of how to do it when its so confusing to me. But more often, I’ve seen it done the other way and it is such a tragedy to me. God, please humble us!

There is danger in holding so tightly to our opinions and positions that we lose sight of where the actual battle is. It is possible to acknowledge and hear other people’s differing views  and still believe something to be the right thing. Because as much as we would love every thing to be cut and dry and vastly black and white, it simply isn’t. My acceptance of the fact that circumstances can feel really grey doesn’t mean that I don’t believe in absolutes. Because I absolutely do. It just means that I get that sometimes what seems like an easy decision on one side, feels anything but from another. Hearing people out and acknowledging them doesn’t mean you agree with a compromising choice of theirs, it just helps to see them as people and not vile, murderous monsters. But in a world of “get the last word in” and communication getting grossly misunderstood over words typed instead of spoken, its nearly impossible to actually feel heard.

So here I am feeling all sorts of a hypocrite in putting this out there “in typed words” when my heart longs to exchange real spoken words over coffee, next to you on a couch where I can look you in the eyes and say “life can just be so hard, huh?”…. will you give me grace and reach out if you feel misunderstood by me? Seems a little risky to just shoot my cell number out to the entire internet(although you could probably find it anyway if you tried lol) so email me for it if you wish. I would genuinely love to talk using real spoken words with you.

Lastly, I’m just ever more grateful that I follow a sovereign, intimate God who knows me by name and governs the entire universe with loving hands. I don’t have to believe my feelings when the King of kings and Lord of lords has proven throughout eternity how faithful and able and trustworthy He is. May we the Church live like we believe that.
-Bryana

When the mask is removed

I couldn’t bear to look at my wife’s face. She was sitting on the couch adjacent from me with tears falling from her eyes into a puddle in the palm of her hands.This was the moment I’d feared for who knows how long. I was sharing the darkest parts of myself to the woman I’d been married to for five years. I somehow thought I was doing her a favor all this time by sparing her the pain of my hidden life, but actually I was only adding black powder to the bomb that was imminently going to blow up. The world we knew was about to be forever changed. The exposure of disastrous lies made me think this was about to be the death of me. And in so many ways it was. It was the death of dreams I had, the death of certain friendships, the death of an image I tried tireless to uphold, and not least the death of a lifestyle.

I always thought it was my appearance that mattered. Now it’s my shattered appearance that draws me to Jesus. As I write, so many emotions are overwhelming my heart. It’s weird because I never was that guy that wore his emotions on his sleeve. I was too tough for that. I was a real man, ya know? It all changed when reality really, I mean really, dawned on me that I was a completely broken, needy person, that was behind the bars of sin. It was humiliation of a shattered appearance that brought me to my knees. In May of 2012, the walls I’d built up, the fortress I’d created, the masks I wore, it all fell. As I sat in front of my wife confessing, I thought for sure our marriage was over. Behind the mask was a man who spent ten years relying on pornography to meet his deepest need. A constant let down. A man that had been married for five years and had multiple affairs. A man that visited strip clubs. A lying, manipulative, secretive, self-seeking man that thought he had it all together. A man that went to church and professed Christ outwardly, but inwardly was a prisoner to sexual sin. A man whose identity was wrapped up in playing basketball at the University of Kentucky.84158576 My appearance was in tact, but inside I was a mess.

I quickly learned growing up that people liked me more when I was successful in sports. They talked to me more, smiled at me, patted me on the back and told me I was really going to be something someday. I mattered most when I was the best and everyone was talking about it. Not narcissistic at all right? I mattered when my performance was above the standard. I desired deeply to matter and I knew how to achieve it.

I didn’t know it then but I was structuring my life to have significance based on what others thought of me. So I learned to manipulate and manage my persona to appear worthy of one’s praise. I was faking an image so I could be valuable to another. Living behind this mask I learned to impress, but no one ever told me that impressing is not the same as connecting. Yet connecting is what I yearned for. I wanted to be important and affirmed because of me, not simply for what I could do. Impressing others kept others at arm’s length, sometimes miles away. Connecting meant being known by another individual.

As I continued to grow up, I feared being known because I felt the real me was sick, weak, perverted and worthless. On the inside I believed the most shameful parts of my life would define me if they were ever exposed. On the outside I played an Oscar-winning role as the confident hero. I saw porn for the first time at age 12 at a friend’s house. I knew something was horribly wrong with it and it weighed heavily on my conscience. But there was something about this fantasy world that drew me in. I understood correct church morals: no cussing, no drinking, and always be polite and respectful. The best part for an image-conscious person like me was that secret porn allowed me to protect a public image. While some of my friends had no shame about porn, I acted like I was above it. Sin was more a sin to me when done or said around others.

By high school I really began enjoying the attention of girls. A smile, a flirtatious comment, a hug or a touch spoke volumes to me. Female attention made me feel awesome, manly and courageous. So along with sports I added “girls” to the affirmation list. In the fall of 2002 Bryana Malone and I developed a friendship that we knew was something more. She wore my football jersey every Friday night. I loved her free spirit, her love for Jesus and her strong convictions. I genuinely thought I could respect her boundaries (and wanted to at first) but I was still addicted to porn. Not only that, I had already experimented sexually with other girls. It was difficult enough being a 16-year-old boy with a beautiful girlfriend, but because I never let anyone in on my struggles my chances of success were basically zero.

I lived with constant anticipation of my next sexual experience with Bryana. Our sexual sin always delivered on its promise of pleasure, even if only for a brief second. Eventually our desire overtook our will power and we were crossing boundaries we never thought we would. Bryana always suggested we talk to someone, get help or be held accountable. But my pride wouldn’t let me. We would do better next time, I always reasoned. I thought I could push through this (just like I had in sports). I became more and more deceived by how helpless I truly was. I would talk to God about this but I was certain He was just fed up with me. Though my athletic accomplishments made me appear successful on the outside, on the inside I was crumbling because I kept failing to please God by the standards I presupposed Him to judge me by. This pattern continued on into college and then marriage.

Living 2,500 miles away from Bryana during my first year in college, I took advantage of this independence and took up a life of sleeping around and partying. People must have been perplexed by the extreme hypocrisy in my life. I hid it all from Bryana. We got married the summer of 2007. I thought the struggles I had (I use the word struggle loosely. I felt guilty but struggle would mean there was two opposing forces. I just gave in to my sin constantly) would go away because of marriage. Seriously, I really thought that. I was sure the freedom of being able to have sex whenever and not feel convicted would cure my problems. And it did for a while. Then reality set in and my old life slowly crept back. I began to find ways to hide parts of my life. It worked­–until I got caught. All my flaws and weaknesses were exposed. On one hand I felt relief, but on the other hand vulnerabilities pain just about overtook me.

I always thought a weakness meant being a failure and failing was not an option. I knew I could “out grit” anyone or anything and accomplish the task in front of me. I saw toughness as godly and flaws as weakness. So I bolstered my strengths and hid my weaknesses. I thought God was looking down on me, ready to call me a wimp or be angry if I backed down from a fight or didn’t push through a challenge. So I never did.

Now I shout my weaknesses to the world. There’s a story in Luke 8 about a woman with a hemorrhage. For 12 years this uncontrollable flow of blood plagued her. One day, in what seems to be a last-ditch effort, she reaches out to Jesus. In the Message Version, Luke tells it like this: “When the woman realized that she couldn’t remain hidden, she knelt trembling before Him. In front of all the people, she blurted out her story–why she touched Him and how at that same moment she was healed (8:47-48).” It’s crazy how much I relate to this story. When I used to read the Bible I wanted to relate to David slaying Goliath or Peter walking on water. But the lady with the hemorrhage? Really? Oh well…brandon20bradley20-20broken_dreams[1]In May of 2012, when I realized I couldn’t remain hidden anymore, I knelt trembling before my Lord. For the last four years, I choose to blurt out my story. Not because it feels good. Oh, absolutely not. It sucks really. It’s painful. But the magnification of my ugliness leaves an immense amount of room for the magnification of God’s glory. I get to share the healing power of our Lord. It’s not that He made me perfect. No, I am far from that. It’s that He has shown me I am perfectly complete in Him. And the best part about the end of Luke 8, Jesus replies with “you took a risk in trusting Me, and now you’re healed and WHOLE.” I always thought that I had to come to God “put together” for Him to be proud of me. Now I know it’s the broken Michael He desires. “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise” (Psalm 51:17).

Psalm 69:33 says “For The Lord hears the needy and does not despise His own people who are prisoners.” While I literally did spend time in prison because of my sins, I believe this is talking about those incarcerated to their sins. When I finally cried out to God, when I told Him that He could do whatever it took and I didn’t care what it would cost me, He was faithful to rescue, to bail me out. When I finally valued the presence of Christ in the darkest room of my heart over what people would think of me, over future pursuits, over appearing like a godly man, the chains of sin lost their power.

I always thought it was best to keep my struggles to myself, ya know, between me and God. Now I think that the prayers of a righteous person have incredible power and my struggles need to be confessed to those individuals. Only when I am courageous enough to allow others to dive into the depths of my darkness, am I able to experience the freedom of the light. The ironic thing about our life is that generally we think for our light to shine bright we need to make sure everything in our life looks good and spiritual and healthy. If it’s all in place people will be like, “wow, look at him!” And I’m like “yeah, look at me.” But if people were to see the broken things in me and see God work gloriously in and through them, people will be like “wow, look at God!” And I will be like “yeah, look at Him.” But too often I want people to look at me. But I can’t make much of God and me at the same time. “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30).

Through the pain and near-intolerable consequences Bryana suffered for my sin she showed me grace. This grace and patience she extended to me could have only come through her intimate knowing of Jesus. She spent many days having to play the role of a single mother. She should have left. She had every right. But I am so thankful for her decision to seek the Lord’s guidance in calling her to stay with this broken man.IMG_0517

Now, four years removed, I am thankful my life fell apart. I’m not proud that I hurt so many people in the process, but the work God does in the broken places has proven Him faithful. It was His gentle discipline in my life that gave me the assurance I was one of His own. I still have to be on guard for my blindness. It is still a struggle to live a lifestyle of vulnerability. This vulnerability requires total dependency on Christ and the distractions of daily life often pull my focus away from that dependency. I rely on Jesus more and more for my purity, but I also remind myself constantly to be connected and frighteningly open with a small band of brothers.

I still care too much about what I look like, sound like and perform like. But I am free now to allow others into my weaknesses. My marriage is healthier than it has ever been, yet we still have much to work through. I still crave affirmation, significance and worth, but I am learning to find that first in my Father God. All my life I’ve seen God through a veil of shame, standing on the other side of my big pile of sin. Now I know He is forever by my side loving me even in my failure. He wants all of me, not just the parts I deem worthy.