Wednesday

Please Stop Bashing the Church

Almost every day I see a social media post about what’s wrong with the church. College students are leaving by the thousands. Young adults say the church has damaged them forever. People are hurt, they’re never coming back, and they want everyone within their social media circles to leave with them. I hear you. I feel what you feel. I’ve lived some of the stories you’ve lived. But I will never leave the church. And neither should you. As kindly as possible, I have one thing to say: 

Stop bashing the church. 

I’ve been a Christian for more than 30 years. I’ve attended large churches, small churches, and medium-sized churches. My husband and I have been members, lay leaders, and staff. 

Between the two of us, we’ve served in every volunteer position imaginable, from janitor to Sunday school teacher, nursery worker to youth minister. We’ve scrubbed toilets, tables, and toddlers, and prayed, played, and paid. We’ve invested our time, money, and energy into this thing called the church, and we love it. We believe in it, and we plan to serve it until we die. 

Here are five good reasons why: 


1. Because Jesus Christ loved the church and gave himself for it (Eph. 5:25). He didn't love online communities, parachurch organizations, or social clubs. He loved the church—so much that He died for it. In my opinion, that's reason enough to stop bashing it. 

2. Because churches are made up of imperfect people like you and me. Immature, selfish, inconsiderate, and sometimes rude. Loving, caring, sacrificial, and sometimes beautiful. We are flawed and frail, but little by little, God is changing us and making us more like Jesus. You wouldn’t leave a hospital because there were sick people in it, and you shouldn’t leave the church because there are sinners in it. Sick people go to a hospital because they’re sick, and sinners go to a church because they’re sinful. The transforming power of Jesus is the only hope we have for change, and Jesus does his best work through the church. 

3. You cannot separate Jesus from the church. When Jesus left the earth, he told his disciples to remain in Jerusalem until he sent the Holy Spirit. Then he instructed his apostles to evangelize and plant churches in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the uttermost parts of the earth. Through divine inspiration he gave them instructions for church government, discipline, and worship so they could do everything “decently and in order” (1 Cor. 14:40). The book of Acts is a glorious testimony of how Christ sent disciples everywhere to establish local congregations of believers, complete with leadership and governments. 

4. People have died for the privilege of meeting together to worship God. Our forefathers dedicated their lives to birth a nation that granted its citizens the freedom to attend church. Generations of brave men and women have died on foreign battlefields to defend our religious freedoms and protect our country from godless attacks. Believers in China, Saudi Arabia, India, and North Korea risk their lives daily to meet together to worship and study the Scriptures. To forsake the free exercise of our right to assemble as a church is a slap in the face to those who long for and died for this privilege. 

5. The church was God’s idea. Jesus told Peter, “... you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church” (Mat. 16:18). He promised to sustain and protect it, “and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.” Through salvation Christ initiated believers into a universal church, but he also placed them in local churches. As in the book of Acts, he continues to grow the church. “And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved” (Acts 2:47). 

I know atrocities have been committed through the ages in the name of God and the church. Some churches have strayed from the tenets of Scripture and morphed into cultic caricatures as far from the true church as cardboard fa├žades are to marble mansions. Ministers and churches have neglected their duties, betrayed their members’ trust, and abused their power. Congregants have wounded their sisters and brothers with cruel actions diametrically opposed to the teachings of Scripture. 

Much wrong has been done in and through the church, but thousands of good, pure, sacrificial, and lovely acts have also been done. These actions trump and triumph over Satan’s pitiful attempts to misuse, malign, and misrepresent the Bride of Christ. 

We need the church (Acts. 12:5, Heb. 10:24-25). Now more than ever, in a culture increasingly hostile to people of faith, we need each other. Persecution is coming, and like the unsuspecting lamb is vulnerable to a wolf’s attack when it wanders from the flock, so are we dangerously unprotected from Satan’s schemes when we forsake our flock and go it alone. 

The church is vital to help us grow in our faith, hold us accountable, pray for us, and help us in our time of need. If you've ever experienced the love of a local church during a time of tragedy, sickness, or loss, you know there is no greater expression of God's care on earth than that of a body of believers rallying around its own. 

In our 30+ years as believers, local churches have support us when my husband lost his job, counseled us when our family struggled, and comforted when we experienced the deaths of two sisters, a brother, and a grandmother, all in the same year. 

But not only do we need the church, the church needs us (1 Cor. 12:28). God could easily do his work on earth by himself, but he chooses to let us be part of it. By serving others through a local church, we participate in the work he's doing in the world. As we spend our time, money, and energy serving others, God blesses us in ways we could never imagine. Best of all, we become the hands and feet of Jesus. 

Is there a lot wrong with the church? Yup. But there’s also a lot wrong with us. Until we reach perfection (which won’t happen on this earth), can we legitimately hold a body of similarly imperfect believers to a standard we can never hope to attain? 

If you attend a local church that loves God deeply, serves God sacrificially, and shares God liberally, rejoice. If you attend a church that falls short of Christ’s plan for his body, extend grace, forgive as you’ve been forgiven, and look for ways to make it better. And if you honestly feel there’s too much wrong in your local congregation to redeem, find another place to worship. God’s people are everywhere, and they’ll be glad to welcome you in. 

But whether you choose to stay or choose to go, 

please, stop bashing the church. 



This article first appeared on Crosswalk.com, June 1, 2016.




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Sunday

Knowing God Like a Surfer -- A Guest Post by Jean Wilund



Today I invite you to welcome my friend and writing partner, Jean Wilund to Hungry for God. Jean's passion for the Word of God, for excellence in writing, and for humor make her one of my favorite writers. Thanks, Jean, for sharing your thoughts with us!

Waimea Bay on the north shore of Oahu, Hawaii hosts the spine-crunching big wave surf competition known as The Eddie.
Before this invitational can be scheduled, the waves must be at least 20 feet high. This easily translates to surfing a 40-foot wall of water that wants to crush you.
That’s where our daughter took us to spend the day body surfing. To the home of the Eddie.
The Eddie.
That’s why, on that warm December day, when everyone ran in, I ran away.
Fear the Wave
The waves weren’t even close to Eddie-worthy that day, nevertheless, I wasn’t about to let them pummel me like they did that one lady. They tossed her about like a puppy with a chew toy.
The number of souls who dove into those waves astounded me.
The ones who commanded them mesmerized me.
They rode with confidence and joy, as if they had no idea they were riding at the mercy and within the grip of a liquid sledgehammer.
Confidence like this comes either from sheer stupidity or great knowledge.
Those who live to ride again most likely fall into the latter group.

Fear Can Be a Good Thing
The best surfers—and wisest—approach the crushing power of big waves with fear.
Not the run-shrieking-for-your-life type of fear I feel when I face waves, but the well-founded awe and respect type of fear.
They study and know waves—really know them. They memorize their mechanics, the effects of wind and topography on how they develop, and the impact of their break on the human body.
A surfer needs to be able to anticipate a wave’s every movement if he wants to master it.
And go where others fear to tread.

Eddie Would Go
Eddie Aikau, Waimea Bay’s renowned big wave surfer and lifeguard, inspired not only the surf invitational, but also the phrase, “Eddie would go,” because he would go after waves others wouldn’t risk.
In big wave surfing, things can go horribly wrong really quickly.
Surfers who aren’t prepared will likely panic and put themselves into an even more dangerous situation.
Prepared surfers like Eddie remain calm and patient. They’re more likely to come out of the crisis with their lives intact—and actually enjoy the ride.
But even the strongest and brightest surfers can fail and lose it all.
Despite having saved over 500 swimmers and surfers in his career, Eddie lost his own life out at sea. After the ocean voyaging canoe he and others were piloting capsized about twelve miles from shore, he paddled out on his surfboard to get help. He was never seen again.
Life is Like Surfing
Like surfing, life can be an unpredictable and thrilling ride. But it can go horribly wrong quickly.
Even the strongest and brightest can fail and lose it all.
No matter how learned we are or how great our support team is, we can’t control waves –or life.
We can respond using our education and our mad skills when trouble hits, but in the end, we can’t force waves or life to conform to our will.  
He alone has limitless power, knowledge, and control. We don’t, but we can know and trust in the one who does.

May You Be Strengthened with All Power
What we know and believe about God determines our ability to respond properly when life crashes over us.
If we don’t know God or the truth of His nature and character, we’re likely to misunderstand what He’s doing. We’ll either view Him as cruel or as powerless.
But if we’ve studied Him to know Him—truly studied to know Him—through the Bible and not simply our experiences or others, we’re best able to ride out the wave. We’ll rest in His strong arms, confident in what we know about Him.
Even as life crashes down, we can remain calm and obey Him, knowing God has the power to bend all things to His will for His glory and our good.
We’ll be strengthened with all power according to His glorious might for all endurance and patience with, yes, even joy.
Cowabunga!
May you be strengthened with all power
according  to his glorious might 
for all endurance and patience with joy. 
– 
Colossians 1:11


Jean Wilund is a writer, Bible teachers, and speaker passionate about coffee, comedy, and Christ. She blogs at www.JeanWilund.com to help women fall in love with God and His Word and laugh while doing it. She lives in Lexington, SC, with her husband. Their children live scattered across the country. 

Wednesday

That Fiasco on the Mountain -- How to Hear God's Voice


The fiasco on the mountain was truly a pathetic scene. Desperate to prove the superiority of their false god, the prophets of Baal worked themselves into a frenzy. They danced. They sang. They called out. 


After hours of such nonsense, Elijah’s patience with their theatrics wore thin. He began to taunt them. "Shout louder!" he said. "Surely he is a god! Perhaps he is deep in thought, or busy, or traveling. Maybe he is sleeping and must be awakened" (v. 27) 

Humiliated, the prophets renewed their efforts to attract their god’s attention. They cried louder. They cut themselves until the blood ran in rivers down their arms. 

And heaven’s voice was silent. No thunder clap from the clouds. No bolt of lightning. No booming voice declaring their god’s presence. Just silence. And, perhaps, a snicker from the lone prophet who watched their antics with disdain. 

This big-screen showdown between Elijah and the prophets of Baal is a familiar story. Captured in all its glorious detail on the pages of 1 Kings 18, the epic battle (which wasn’t a battle after all) between the God of the universe and the gods of this world ends just as we expect it to. God displays his power with miraculous signs and wonders, vanquishes his enemies, and leads even the unbelieving to testify, "The LORD – he is God! The LORD – he is God!" (v. 39). 

But what prompted God to show up? A two sentence prayer from Elijah: 


"O LORD, God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, let it be known today that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant and have done all these things at your command. Answer me, O LORD, answer me, so these people will know that you, O LORD, are God, and that you are turning their hearts back again" (vv. 36-37). 

Two sentences comprised of mostly one- and two-syllable words. A simple, heart-felt plea from one of God’s children. 

If you, like I, find God’s willingness to respond to simple prayers amazing, we’re not alone. The prophet Amos also marveled at how available and accessible God is. “He is here: the One who forms the mountains, creates the wind, and reveals His thoughts to man” (Amos 4:13). 

He is here. 

Think on this for a moment. The God who forms the mountains and creates the wind . . . is here. Where we are. With us

But it gets better. 

Have you ever sat in a room with someone who is physically here, yet a thousand miles away? Shrouded in mystery and silence, their thoughts were as incomprehensible as a Supreme Court brief to a first-year law clerk. 

But, wonder of wonder, our God isn’t like this. He doesn’t require us to employ dramatic and extreme measures to get his attention or discern his thoughts. Our mighty, all-powerful God is not only with us, but also, in the words of Amos, “longs to reveal his thoughts to us.” 

What other god is like this? 

If you, like Elijah (not the prophets of Baal) would like to experience God’s power, and if you, like Amos, want to understand God’s thoughts, it’s not hard. 

First, seek God earnestly. 

“You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:13). 

Second, talk to him in prayer. Prayer isn’t elaborate or ostentatious. It’s a conversation. Moses talked to God “face to face,” and we can, too, (even though, for a time at least, we’ll have to imagine God’s face). 

“The LORD is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth. He fulfills the desires of those who fear him; he hears their cry and saves them” (Psalm 145:18-19). 

Third, allow God to speak to you through his Word, the Bible. “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly” (Colossians 3:16). 

As we approach God earnestly, talk to him in prayer, and allow him to speak to us through his Word, we’ll come to understand his heart and mind. No shouting, dancing, or bloodletting. Just a conversation with the God of the universe who longs to reveal his thoughts to us. 

Imagine that.






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Sunday

Are "Ordinary" Christians Exempt? What Qualifies Us to Speak for God?"



Imagine this – you’re in the Jeopardy hot seat, and the Daily Double flashes onto the screen. 

The category? Men God Used to Write the Bible. Wager everything and produce the correct answer, and you win it all. Flub the question, and you go home broke and ashamed. 

I’ve got this, you think, scrolling through the Who’s Who of Biblical Authors: Maybe the answer is a prophet like Moses or Elijah, or a king like David. Or maybe they’ll ask for a scribe like Ezra. This is Jeopardy, and it’s the DAILY DOUBLE. The answer has to be someone important.. 


“Contestants, here’s the question: Name the fig farmer/shepherd who wrote a nine-chapter Old Testament book of the Bible.” 

Dee dee dee dee Dee dee dee Dee dee dee dee DEE dee dee dee dee dee Dee dee dee dee dee dee dee DEE dee dee dee dee dee dee. 

“For the Daily Double and the win, your answer please?” 

“Uhhhhhhhhhhhhh . . .” 

I’m sorry. The correct answer is, ‘Who is the prophet Amos?’” 

Amos? Amos? A fig farmer/shepherd wrote a book of the Bible? Who ever heard of such a thing? God uses big name stars, not nobody shepheherds. And a FIG FARMER? Named Amos? You’ve got to be kidding me.

But it’s true. 

Backstage you scroll through your Bible app on your phone and read the truth in the prophet’s own words: 

"I was neither a prophet nor a prophet's son, but I was a shepherd, and I also took care of sycamore-fig trees. But the LORD took me from tending the flock and said to me, 'Go, prophesy to my people Israel’” (Amos 7:14-15). 

The Daily Double notwithstanding, Amos’ story is our story, too. 

“Think of what you were when you were called,” the apostle Paul reminds us, 

“Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. “But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things-- and the things that are not-- to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him” (1 Corinthians 1:26-29). 

Many of us think, because we haven’t been to seminary, earned a Bible degree, or have a ministerial title behind our names, we’re not qualified to share God’s words with others. But Amos (and believers from the dawn of time) prove this thinking wrong. 

Most of God’s ambassadors were minding their own businesses living quiet lives until God tapped them on the shoulder and said, “It’s time. There’s a person who needs to hear the message I’m going to give you, and you’re the one to deliver it.” 

That co-worker who opened up last week in the break room? It’s not a coincidence that she talked to you. 

That curious teenager sitting across from you in Sunday School who finally dared to say out loud what he’s been thinking for months? Not an accident that he chose you to unburden his heart. 

That young mother struggling to believe that God can change people when her husband disappoints her day after day, week after week. Not a random event. 

Just like God used Amos the fig-farmer/shepherd to deliver his words of love and warning to the nation of Israel, so God uses us, wives, mothers, nurses, teachers to share words of hope, faith, and beauty with those in our circles of influence. 

With a few exceptions, most of the people God used to write and speak his words were untrained people who said yes to his call. 

The result? They delivered God’s message to the people who needed it at just the time they needed to hear it. 

With the exception of Jonah. He said no at first and had to spend three days in whale jail before he repented. Thankfully, God gave him a second chance. 

Slinging whale slobber and seaweed, he reluctantly marched himself into the city of Ninevah and delivered the message that brought about a city-wide revival. 

Imagine that. Only God. 

So how about you? Who is God calling you to share his words with? 

Don’t look to your credentials to decide whether to obey. Look to God’s call – that still, small voice of the Holy Spirit that nudges your heart and makes you aware of the spiritual needs of those around you. 

Then open your mouth like Amos the fig-farmer/shepherd and watch what God will do. 

“Seek good and not evil so that you may live,” Amos proclaimed, “and the Lord, the God of Hosts will be with you, as you have claimed. Hate evil and love good; establish justice in the gate. Perhaps the Lord, the God of Hosts, will be gracious” (Amos 5:14-15). 

Now it’s your turn. 

When have you sensed God calling you to speak out in his name? Did you obey? What happened? I’d love to hear your story. Leave a comment below and share with us all. If you’re reading by email, click HERE to visit Hungry for God online and comment.



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Wednesday

Running from Sin Like We're Running from Samson


The first inkling I had of my future as a track star was the day I sprinted across the yard with Samson close at my heels. 


Samson was every newspaper delivery girl’s nightmare. His shaggy black fur made the perfect backdrop for his pearly white fangs. Kinda like diamonds on black velvet, except much scarier. 

And he snarled. Samson sounded like a cross between a pig in a food trough and the Tasmanian devil. He was so mean his owners kept him in a pen with a latched lid. 

The lid, unfortunately, was secured with a simple eye hook, which meant if he lunged against the top hard enough and angrily enough, he could sometimes work the hook loose. 

And chase the paper girl, who infuriated him by coming onto his property every afternoon at 3:30 pm. 

As soon as I’d turn the corner onto Oliver Street, I could hear him barking. The knot in my stomach formed. The closer I got to his house, the tighter the knot would grow. And when I’d round the corner of his house for the long walk to the back door, a mere 20 feet from Samson’s pen, the knot became an icy hot poker that didn’t melt until I was once again safe on the sidewalk. 

On that particular day, the day I tried out for the track and field Olympics without planning to, I rounded the corner cautiously. Don’t let him see your fear, my Dad’s voice rang in my head. And whatever you do, don't run. 


Resisting the urge to bolt down the driveway, fling the newspaper into the space between the storm door and the inside door, and run back, I sauntered instead. At the first glimpse of me, Samson erupted into a slobbering, demonic rage. Crazed that I would dare set foot on his property, let alone approach him, he lunged against the top of the pen. 

BAM. His head crashed against the lid as it lifted. 

BAM. The hook held, and the lid crashed back down.

BAM. His head crashed against the lid again. 

BAM. The hook held, and the lid crashed back down. 

BAM. His head crashed against the lid as it lifted. 

Click. The hook slid from its hook. 

Squirm. Slither. Grunt. Snarl. Samson wormed his way out of the pen and lunged for his prey – ME! 

That’s when I accomplished my record-breaking 20-foot dash. Knowing speed was my only defense, I cast Dad’s advice to the wind and ran with all my might toward the apartment door. I knew if I could beat Samson to the door, I might live to run another day. 

And I did. 

But there was a flaw to my desperate plan. As soon as I flung the screen door open and reached for the inside knob, I knew I was in trouble. 

The door was locked. 

I was 12 years old at the time and skinny as a branch on Auntie Bea’s weeping willow tree. My middle-school classmates teased me mercilessly. Even my dad called me String Bean. Usually I hated my figure-less figure, but that day, I was thankful to be skinny. 

In a final, feeble attempt to escape Samson’s snapping jaws, I turned myself sideways, tucked my newspaper bag between me and him, and shut myself into the minuscule space between the two doors, yelling like I was about to be devoured – which I was. 

Samson’s barking and my screaming attracted quite a crowd. One neighbor grabbed him by the collar and pulled him away from the door. Another slapped a leash on him and dragged him back to his pen. The homeowner finally opened the door from the inside, causing me to tumble backward and land in a blubbering heap at his feet. 

I was safe. 

My only regret is that this event happened during the era before security cameras. I sure would have liked to watch a replay of the best race of my life. 

I thought of Samson recently. Nightmare experiences never vanish completely, I guess. But unlike the walking-up-screaming-drenched-in-a-cold-sweat replays I sometimes experience, this reminder came in the daylight – during my quiet time. 

I read 1 Corinthians 10:13, one of the first verses I memorized as a young believer: 

“No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.” 

This verse continues to remind me that God doesn’t send us into each day without protection. Instead, he always provides a way of escape. We don’t have to sin. 

Thankfully, most of us won’t face a snarling, slobbering threat like Samson, but sin and Samson are a lot alike. 

We can sometimes grow complacent or overconfident about our vulnerability to sin, thinking we’re immune to its destructive nature. 

Sin can catch us unprepared, without a plan to protect ourselves. 

If we fail to prepare, sin can injure, scar, devour, and destroy us. 

Samson taught me several valuable lessons that day. You don’t have to be a newspaper delivery girl to benefit from them: 

1. Know your enemy. What’s your weakness? Your besetting sin? Sexual temptation? The tendency to abuse alcohol? To go along with the crowd? To gossip? To lie? Knowing Samson was always waiting for me helped me be ready when the threat came. 

2. Know when to call for help. We can fight some battles alone, but others are too big. Don’t be prideful. Ask a godly friend to pray for you and hold you accountable. 

3. Avoid temptation whenever possible. Put hedges of protection around your vulnerabilities. 

4. Look for the way of escape and take it. God promises it is always there. 



Three years after my foot race with Samson, I joined the high school track team and lettered in hurdles. I never again came close to my personal best time that day at Samson's house. But then, he never chased me again. You'd better believe, though, every time I rounded the corner to his house, I was 
watching and ready to run. 

May we be similarly ready for whatever danger comes our way and run from sin like we're running from Samson.












Are you hungry for God, but starving for time? 
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Because busy women need to connect with God in the craziness of everyday life.