Waking and Responding to an Unwanted Era

Several weeks after 9/11 I went with a team of leaders gathered by the American Association of Christian Counselors to New York City to minister to pastors, their spouses, their fellow church leaders and various ministry leaders who’d served their city and congregations after a tidal wave of terror hit their shore. I can still picture their faces. Some of them had not yet wept. Others had not ceased to weep. We’ve come to speak often, with appropriate awe and appreciation, of the first responders among civil servants in outbreaks of violence or tragedy. The leaders who’d gathered in that sanctuary to be served and comforted after 9/11 were first responders among church servants.

Many of the pastors who met with us that day had done what their seminary training could hardly have prepared them for. They’d conducted a mind-numbing succession of memorial services for members of their churches. “With no bodies,” one pastor murmured, his face almost as pale as death, his eyes hollow. We do not normally think of a casket as a tangible mercy in our grief but we realized that day with horror that cold metal can be warm comfort in terrible times. There was a pause, a giving way to the silence, a pleading for the Holy Spirit to plunge to the depths where no man can go, to intercede and bring a comfort not of this world to His very own servants. That day was a day for speaking the unspeakable. They could say anything they wanted or needed. They could voice feelings they were fighting that could not responsibly be uttered in such raw form to their congregations. Those of us serving them did our best to speak when speaking was appropriate. We held in our arms the ones who wanted holding. We sat near those who did not want to be touched.

As we search for words for what has befallen us, maybe 9/11 is the closest we can come to marking the birth of a different era, one distinguished by, of all horrific things, terror. Birth by stillbirth. Life in what we called a civilized world with a fire-breathing dragon of death coming out of hibernation. Terror from without and within. Global. Domestic. Evil. Environmental. We are not nearly as scared of death as we are of being scared in death. These things are unthinkable yet we must think of them. They are unspeakable and yet we must speak.

Wise, responsive action must be taken in coming days. There are outcries for legislation that need to be heard and reasonable measures to be taken for church security but this is an outcry for the fortification of the souls of our people. This is a plea for an awakening to the demands for responsible discipleship in the generation that has been entrusted to us, for training up and equipping strong, able Jesus-followers, sturdy living stones, tenderized by the love of Jesus, strengthened by His divine power.

I’ve thought over and over in the last five years, “we’re unprepared for what has befallen us.” Our discipleship, generally speaking, is not matching the demand of our violent, unstable days. We who follow Jesus were timed for this exact era on earth. God thought we were capable of serving it or He would not have planted us in this bloody soil at this moment in history. He’s a strategist. We leaders and teachers and mentors and communicators can either embrace what has been entrusted to us or answer for it when we see Him. We have churches doing no discipleship at all which would have completely flummoxed first century church planters and begged the question “Why bother?” Few of us have the patience or time to address for the millionth time all the ways we’ve flung our church doors open to the pandemic narcissism of our culture. Show them a good time. Do not dare call out sin or call for service or sacrifice or, God forbid, actual commitment. 

Those are tired discussions and I’m not in the mood to have them this morning. The discussion I’m in the mood to have is about revisiting the paradigm for discipleship in the early church where Jesus-followers were equipped to both suffer and rejoice. Not one or the other. Both. Take a look back at Matthew 10 and Luke 10 where Jesus sent out His followers and warned them what kinds of conditions they’d encounter. Look back at Paul’s letters to the Thessalonians. They were taught to serve one another in extreme hardship and that it would not finish them. Rather, it would flourish them. If it killed them, well, they’d be in the presence of the Lord. They were equipped for the inevitability of affliction and not just how to survive it but how to abound in it. This is the heritage of the saints. New Testament believers were trained – not just told but trained – to weep together and laugh together. To remember Christ’s death together. To live out authentic resurrection life that could not be explained in natural terms. They were taught to battle demonic powers and principalities. They were taught how to grieve with hope. They were taught how to repent and be restored. How to turn from the sin that was hemorrhaging their witness and their tenacity in Christ. They were trained in prayer and taught how to keep the faith. They were taught to anticipate with great joy the vivid life awaiting them in Christ on the other side of death and that these are mere shadows compared to the substance to come.

The church in America is dying for this kind of discipleship, for the real, live fly-in-your-face thing that results in lives that matter greatly in their communities. I’m not pounding on something that I’m unwilling to put to practice. I have a long way to go and a lot to learn but I’ve made increasingly strong adjustments in Bible study curriculum in recent years. I hope the call to steadfastness, sacrifice, strength, love, faith and defiant joy in times of extreme duress and distress is blatant in the studies on James, 1st and 2nd Thessalonians, 2 Timothy and, most recently, The Quest. I want to be like Paul described Epaphras who was “always struggling” on behalf of those he served, that they might “stand mature and fully assured in all the will of God.” (Col.4:12)

There is so much good news. Such a fresh embodiment of the increasingly disembodied Body of Christ. I’ve watched a slack-jawing awakening of service and sacrifice in churches in my own city in the wake of Hurricane Harvey. I have no doubt Floridians would say the same. I marveled yesterday as our pastor told us what our next phases of ministry would be. It included things like dropping off new mattresses in homes where beds were destroyed and families were sleeping on floors, hanging sheet rock, helping people fill out insurance claims. Serving in Houston has looked more like rebuilding a community after a war than the church of my young adulthood. What is this world we’ve awakened to???

It is our world. The only one we have for now. I’m the furthest thing from a pessimist but I don’t think it’s going to get better. I think we may get reprieves of mercy but I fear we have entered a travail we will not soon escape and that it will intensify. Here’s where my optimism comes in handy: I may not think our conditions are going to get better but I think the church is. Jesus-followers have what it takes to serve this world. We have the Holy Spirit. Now we need the training on how to allow Him to work effectively and fruitfully among us. We need discipleship fit for our days. We need the Scriptures. We need to be taught in our churches not only how to deal with our personal suffering but how to deal with our community suffering as a people.  We need to be taught our right to joy and how it flourishes most beautifully and colorfully in a landscape of difficulty.

I’ve run out of writing time and I’m sure you’ve more than run out of reading time. I’ve got no great ending to this post. Just earnestness. We wish things were different. They’re not. But we can be different. We can be disciples. Real ones. Trained ones. Tenderhearted ones. Fortified ones. Effective ones. Strong ones. Joyful ones. Courageous ones. Compassionate ones. And the world will be the better for it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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73 Responses to “Waking and Responding to an Unwanted Era”

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Comments:

  1. 51
    Lisa Lisa says:

    if I hear you correctly, our call, now, is to comfort the hurting, encourage our fellow Christians and make disciples? Anything else? Politics is not my thing. Discipleship is, though.

  2. 52
    Lisa Lewis says:

    Your Word, O Lord, says that You will establish my steps! Holy Spirit lead the way! Beth has lit a fire under my bottom! (Last comment, I promise)

  3. 53
    Shelia Kensinger says:

    Amen. Well said. Thank you so much for your ministry. Pray for Cornerstone Christian Counseling Louisa, inc.

  4. 54
    Susan Duggins says:

    I feel this is a confirmation of what the Lord is speaking to me.We need to be lights by the way we live not Just what we say. A lot of times we don’t need to say anything. People will still know we are different and they will ask us why?

  5. 55
    Erick Hoversholm says:

    An awesome Christian friend introduced me to your blog-this thought is spot on!

    Christian’s of all ages and backgrounds need to wake up and listen to the Lord. We have a mission-the world we live in make this mission more important than ever before. The world is broken and searching for truth in the wrong places. We have a great responsibility. Thank you for speaking the truth, may God Bless this ministry.

  6. 56
    Cindy McLaughlin says:

    Oh, Beth, you are so right on so many levels. One of our friends lost their 25yr. old son just a few days ago. Yesterday they had to go ID his body & they are still working on funeral arrangements. We lost our daughter of 32 years, 06/23/16, and praying with this family and staying by them is like going through it all over again, yet, it is what God planned. “For such a time is this” I always quote that from Esther. You don’t want to be that person in your church, but when God puts you in that place, step up and be that person. Walk in His grace & mercy for it is His glory that is truly what others need to see. No matter what your pain is, Jesus can take it & give you His words to share. Walk in the light of His glory & let the path of Jesus Christ light the way for all. God Bless everyone who is helping those in need, big & small, it is all a blessing & praise to our Father in heaven.

  7. 57

    Thank you for “putting pen to paper” so to speak. Just…thank you.

  8. 58

    May I also add how much I appreciate your written words above. In particular… “We wish things were different. They’re not. But we can be different. We can be disciples. Real ones. Trained ones. Tenderhearted ones. Fortified ones. Effective ones. Strong ones. Joyful ones. Courageous ones. Compassionate ones. And the world will be the better for it.”

    AND ALL GOD’S PEOPLE SAY, AMEN!

  9. 59
    Kandy Woodard says:

    Thank you for this!! I know I need and want training. I want to be used. To have solid faith. To know how to minister. Please. Direct me to training.

  10. 60
    Robin says:

    Amen Sister Beth! I have been doing your bible studies for years, (breaking free x3). Believing God and the Patriarchs grounded me in God’s word. Those biblical stories are a part of my story now! Started the Siesta Sister Memory challenge in 2009, 2011, 2013, and 2015. I cannot tell you how much I have been discipled through these things. Those verses I have memorized and prayed are a deep part of me. I don’t know how God will use me in the future, but the deep discipling I have received from your ministry is preparing me! Bless you Beth!

  11. 61
    Deanne Alsup says:

    Thank you Beth for everything you said in exhorting us to be true disciples of Christ!

  12. 62
    Jackie A says:

    Driving through my neighborhood coming home from work yesterday. Santa Rosa fires. Suburban wildfire. Blocks and blocks of ash heaped lots. Friends grieving the loss of a favorite shirt, a child’s kindergarten photo pre digital age. A community that will never be the same. The finality of fire. Nothing to repair. Only Jesus can fill this empty.
    And the day prior four of us drove through those vineyards reflecting on Sacramento LPL. 24 hours later one of us had lost everything. So much loss. No caskets, no stability in living in various hotels for almost a month now. And work we all must keep on.

    • 62.1
      Media says:

      Oh, Jackie. So sorry to hear about the great loss your friends and community are experiencing. Praying for the Lord’s nearness, comfort, and peace during this difficult time.

  13. 63
    Maureen Chabot says:

    Thank you Beth! I have, no words…but God…

  14. 64
    Rebecca Fisher says:

    In response to Beth’s teaching on the Church being unprepared for these times, I’m looking for some feedback and encouragement and correction where needed.

    I’m pretty new to the town and state I live in. Moved here with my husband three months ago. For the past few years, God has been showing me in my studies that the focus of the Church is off. Stolen away by a hunger for bigger and bigger numbers. For success. For recognition.

    Back in the state and city I called home all my forty years, my husband and I struggled with the intense focus of resources and attention on programs in the church and extravagant building projects, while forcefully rejecting discipleship. Bible study is a bad word. Everything started to feel like a big production. I’m forty. I ain’t old. I love music. I love cool lighting and creative teaching. I love to laugh. But honestly, everything started to feel produced. Rehearsed. Practiced. Insincere. There was always a new initiative to raise funds for this building or that, for this program or that. Jokes relevant to the news or culture. Here we are, new state, new town. A few weeks in, we heard a similar sermon with the EXACT SAME story to teach about taking the log out of our own eye. Exactly the same. Some woman with a dirty window. A little Windex goes a long way. A few weeks later and we were in a “permanency initiative”. The slides for each family’s contribution came from a big church that our previous church borrowed from on programming and building initiatives. I started to get the feeling that churches have some central source for messaging and growth planning. I felt sickened. Do pastors rely on God for sermons anymore? I cried at the LPL I attended in Oakland last month when Beth explained that she waits on the Lord to give her a Word. Even until the morning of. I’m telling you, this isn’t happening everywhere. The messages are comfortable and digestible, and unfortunately from what I’ve experienced, re-used.

    Exodus is the teaching for this current growth plan. The fundraising for a building here in town is being compared to God bringing His people to the Promised Land. Will we be like the unfaithful Israelites and wander? Or will we take the land He’s promised us here in town? I honestly didn’t know He promised us land in town. I’m not being sarcastic. Please tell me where that is in the Word. Please.

    Jesus said not to store up our treasures here. They will be stolen; destroyed. Is pouring millions into a building for programming and numbers and growth, storing up treasure here? Is it misguided? Is the comparison of a church “permanency initiative” to Moses and Israel and the Promised Land grossly out of context? Will there soon come a time when meeting in buildings isn’t an option? What will we do? How many will fall away under that level of persecution? Is the lack of training and equipping a red flag? Is the use of “effective” sermon series what Jesus had in mind for His church?

    He keeps directing me to Revelation 2 and 3. Where do we fall? What is His letter to us? God help me, I want to tear my clothes and sob. Cover myself in ash and lie face down until He brings me home.

    Sorry, sisters. I’m hurting and frustrated and lonely and scared. I need to know if my feelings are off. I’m desperate for sisters who are as moved as me by Him. His word makes me feel alive in a way I can’t describe. I often ask Him in tears why I ever want to be doing anything else but meeting Him in His Word. Why He would have me do anything else. Laundry? Dishes? Teaching English? Getting my nails done? Eating food? It all seems like such a waste when I’m in that moment with Him. It makes me want to throw the door open and scream it out loud. Grab ahold of everyone I see or Facetime and tell them. Trust me, my family suffers the consequences of these moments. It just comes pouring out! God bless them, they never cut me off. My dad listened to me for half an hour once and then told me I should be a minister. He doesn’t go to church. It made me laugh.

    For some reason He has brought me here and is letting me sit in loneliness and grief. He hardly lets me work. I teach an hour a day and then study, read the news, eat food. Maybe a dish here and there. Some cat vomit for sure. I beg him for sisters who know and love Him extravagantly. Sisters who understand. Sisters who can help build me up, teach me and guide me back.

    I’m so grateful for these online Bible studies. Beth, you are my far away sister in Christ. Honestly, He often uses you to affirm what He’s already told me or to prepare me for what He will show me. I love that about Him. He knows me and loves me anyway. I have a brokenness that requires reassurance and when it comes to His Word and His promises, He always gives it to me. I want and I need training in sharing in the suffering of Christ. I want and I need training in faith in the midst of persecution. Thank the Lord for access to His Word. Thank you, Beth for sharing freely what He gives you. Thank you, ladies for listening.

  15. 65
    Mary Jane says:

    Amen! The call to steadfastness was definitely blatant in your recent studies. Thank you for being faithful to share what God has taught you or is teaching you. Your willingness to share has blessed me more than I could ever explain. Thank you for the encouragement to press on…even though it is harder and will continue to be…God is present and will enable us to be stronger disciples until He takes us home. Much love!

  16. 66
    Monica Smith says:

    Amen!

  17. 67
    Shelly says:

    Thank you for this word, Beth. So true and so needed. May discipleship become a priority in our churches again, and may there be an appetite for it among those of us who call ourselves Christ followers. May we be committed to persevere by the power of the Holy Spirit in these difficult days. I pray God continues to bless you and the ministry entrusted to you.

  18. 68
    Jenny says:

    Your message here of a call to church discipleship aligns with a video session that I am watching this morning, “To Hunger and Thirst for God.”

    I am glad that your messages are intense.

    Our intensifying global climate is a signal for the church to muster and unify in prayer, the kind of crying out to God that He responds to with His Spirit at work through all the people, even long-term discipleship.

    I am hungry and thirsty for God. Having married and moved two years ago from a vibrant mountain church to a stoic prairie community, Christian fellowship has gone from plump to scrawny. Waves of violence hit the world news as regularly as the tide, local wildfires devour our land and lifestock, and there’s a lack of regular, love filled, Holy Spirit-led prayer gatherings.

    Thankfully, my husband and I have recently begun attending a church in the poorest neighborhood in town, and have found it to be rich in love, prayer and outreach to the hurting.

    Our lead pastor just returned from a dangerous delegation to Iraq on behalf of the Kurds, to help draft a long awaited constitution including religious freedom. The bishop of the Orthodox Christian Church in Iraq, originally founded by Thomas the Disciple, has seen the slaughter of many of his congregation by Isis. He himself recently escaped capture and death within minutes, attempting to gather scrolls dating back to 100 years AD from their ancient church building before it was completely destroyed. He said, “Isis took everything, but they can’t take our Jesus!”

    When the attending delegation heard his story, a pastor asked what should they should tell the Western church. The bishop replied that they wished we would treat them as good as we do our dogs and cats; our commercials show us taking such good care of our pets, yet the Middle East church is our elder brother and sister in Christ, and they are dying, living amid great persecution.

    Overwhelming. I feel so sad and scared.
    While al this stuff is way too big for us, nothing is too hard for our Mighty God! But we have to first admit our need and ask our Father for help, just like you’re saying, all together. I’m so weary of pretending like we’ve got it all together.

    God bless you, Miss Beth.
    Love, Jenny

  19. 69
    Dot Dunaway says:

    Wilmer,AL
    Hebrews 4:16. NIV

    Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

  20. 70
    Doris Brown says:

    Verse 22 yay! I can round the999 out to 1000. I have been memorizing and have my little notebook,but I am terrible at posting. So good to hear that others are memorizing,too. The righteous are always in remembrance( from Psalm112:6)

  21. 71
    Becky Specht says:

    I read your blog post for Nov. 6, 2017. I totally agree that we need to be trained and taught how to live out our faith. Do you have any formal training/discipleship programs that we could use in our church? -Something that would direct us how to bring people from baby Christians to mature Christians?

    Thank you for your leadership and handling God’s Word with accuracy.

  22. 72

    I have had such a renewed desire for discipleship this past year…my own and the discipleship I could offer. Most of my opportunity still lies with my own five children, but every Sunday I either engage with or teach our K-5th graders. I resisted this particular ministry for probably nine years…though I was serving in it (!) as I struggled with how I was ministering compared to what I thought I’d be doing. But I prayed like crazy that God would change my heart, because no matter what kind of ministering I do, His Word, His commission – discipleship, they remain no matter the who , what, when… I have loved God’s Word since I first cracked open my Teen Study Bible 21 years ago, and I sit here this morning, opening the Bible my dad just sent me for my birthday, I long with my whole being to read it again with the eagerness of those days 21 years ago! Then to live it, then to share it, and i pray with my whole heart that my children and those I teach will come to desire and love His Word more than gold – that they will learn it and then go be a living example of it in their days! I have let so much of life fade my excitement and eagerness in some ways; I need once again to come to Him as a child, eager to be with Him and just as eager to get up and live out what I’ve read and studied. This time around, though, with more wisdom and humility than I had those twenty something years ago:). I very much want to be a disciple fit for these days, and to be a part of making disciples fit for their days. Jesus!

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