Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Nicodemus; What Does it Mean for Us To Follow Jesus?

But no one had the courage to speak favorably about Jesus in public, 
for they were afraid of getting in trouble with the Jewish leaders.  
John 7:13 NLT

Today, is a long blog.  The more I wrote, the more I knew something BIG was on God heart.  The restoration of His leaders.  

Before you start this journey with me in pondering Nicodemus ... get a cup of coffee and let's think about what we can learn from Nicodemus' inner struggle .... to follow Jesus.

When persecution comes around the life of someone we know fear tends to take over .... and so does our need to self preserve.  

I am talking about persecution within the church family or community.

The tendency in our flesh is to do everything we can to keep ourselves safe, to put ourselves first - before others.  

We do so, for many reasons. Most of all - because we want to preserve our role and our position.  Our flesh, apart from God, tends to pursue our own selfish ambitions rather than to truly seek the will of God in a given situation. 

I've been reflecting on this passage above since my friend Mark Godshall spoke at Bayside Church on Good Friday.  

His message was on Nicodemus .... and Nicodemus' view on Holy Week and the inner struggle in himself  ... to follow Jesus.  

Not just in secret ... but in public.  

The monologue in the church service .... illuminated Nicodemus' inner struggle.  It was so powerful.  I could relate to the inner dialogue on so many levels.

I am hoping to get a video copy of it so I can post it here! 

I mean - it was REALLY powerful.  

What would it have meant for Nicodemus to follow Jesus -  100%? 

To do what was right in God's eyes - despite the religious leaders murderous thoughts and actions towards Jesus.

Yes, to follow Jesus, would put him at risk with the religious leaders.  

But no one had the courage to speak favorably about Jesus in public, 
for they were afraid of getting in trouble with the Jewish leaders.  
John 7:13 NLT

What would it mean for us to follow Jesus today ... with our religious leaders? 

For Nicodemus, this risk meant everything to him.  It was his livelihood. It was his community.  It was his spiritual family.  

Everything he knew in life ... for his whole life .... would be lost if he made his growing faith public.

He would be cast out of his community.  

He would be disowned.  

He would be shamed.  

He would lose his title and position and all his years of hard work and the study that was required for a religious leader.  

His whole spiritual identity would be taken away ... in one moment of standing up to follow Jesus.

In one moment of saying, I am going to do what is right and stand up and live by my convictions.

For the Jews, being a religious leader was their identity.  

Their spiritual life was everything.  

However, the Truth is -  they couldn't become children of Father God apart from Jesus ... because Scripture is clear when Jesus says .... 

"You can only intimately come to know God as Father through me!"  John 6:44.

The whole concept of being born again and God being "Father" was rocking Nicodemus' world and his theology. 

Nicodemus might even be put to death, for believing in a heretic like Jesus.  

One who would dare call the Sovereign God, Abba?  Daddy.  

The Pharisee's couldn't comprehend intimacy with their Creator.  

Yes, Nicodemus might also, be beaten, mocked, spit on and tortured.  

All the flogging - well, that might be for him too! 

Was he willing to be persecuted by doing what he knew was right in his heart?

The more Nicodemus went away and talked to Jesus, the more his faith began to grow.   The lesson here - if you need your Faith to grow or are struggling to know Truth - spend time with Jesus in God's Word

Slowly, Nicodemus' convictions were getting stronger.

Although the fear of being cast out of his community lingered, hovering over him like a dark cloud.

What would he choose?

The inner struggle in Nicodemus was possibly tormenting.  

I know for me, it has been.  

Especially when I am not obeying something God is asking me to do.  

When I know I am not living 100% - for Jesus. 

Fear always brings torment ... until we walk in obedience to God ... empowered by faith ... and we chose to step through that veil of fear to do what He is asking us to do.

For Nicodemus, Truth kept nudging him towards Jesus.  

Truth kept calling him.  

Nicodemus, in his heart - wanted to know the Truth.

I am sure - if Nicodemus chose to follow Jesus - he would be labeled as rebellious ... as a heretic ... as one who is not in unity with belief system of the Pharisees.  

For Nicodemus, because of fear and this inner struggle - he would come to visit Jesus at night.  

In secret.  

When no one else would know or see. 

Struggle.  We all have it.  

What is the struggle we are in today?

Can we hear the voice of Truth?  

Can we do what God is asking us to do?

Will we be unmovable in our convictions?

Will we speak when God asks us to?

Will we step into someone's persecution and mark them with more condemnation .... or with grace?  

How will we show up and how will we live Christ in our relationships within the church?

As I have pondered Nicodemus all month and I have reflected back through my 17+ years in ministry - on people I have seen in the church .... who for some reason or another - have been a target of persecution.  Some of the most loving and powerful leaders - mistreated and discarded by the church.  Some forced to move out of state in order to avoid the pain and to start fresh with God again. 

And some of it has been pretty nasty.  I've sat with people in horrific pain ... driving for hours on end ... listening to them as they processed their loss and as they try to sort out the chaos and the confusion.

And the pain they experienced ... was never due to what happened .... but how unloving and how unChristlike .... it was all handled.  

The pain was always in the loss.  The loss of everything they knew and all the relationships they had formed.  

I've been asking God this month - where in all those moments I have witnessed  .....  have I been faithful to follow you Jesus into that mess in order to do what was right and honoring on behalf of the one being hurt .....  

..... and where was I simply too fearful to stand up and to speak the truth in love? To hold people to being true to Biblical love?  To stop ungodly chatter and to stop the mocking of others leaders?

Where have I been too fearful to cross through the veil of fear of persecution in order to bring the power of God's grace to others?

Where did I fail to remove the stain of blood off the shepherds staff and to heal the wounds of the beaten up sheep ... when God had asked me to be available to Him to do so?

To confront ungodliness and to call leaders to repentance ... of course, when led by God's Spirit, controlled by His love.

Whether that persecution has been one of slander, gossip, hatred, jealousy or murderous envy ... or whether it is seeing people being fired or let go from serving within their church community.   

Sometimes the letting go of people was due to sin .... and sometimes it was simply because the leaders didn't like the person ... and they honestly wanted something new and different.

I have heard leaders say, "we will hire people only if we like them and then we will find a position for them" rather than truly seeking the will of God and calling forth those anointed for a specific task - called by God to do it.  

Even if that person might slightly rub us the wrong way.  

I've also had been in meetings with leaders who have said that they only want to hire people with a "world wide name" so that they can take their ministry to the next level.  

Again, while never seeking the will of God and who God has called into ministry.  

I think at times we get things a bit backwards in how we approach ministry and spiritual leadership.

Either way - the issue was never about what needs to be done - it is all about what is the will of God in what we are doing.   Truly seeking God in the decisions that we make and asking God how do we show up and represent His name well in our interactions with people.

What does God want us to do and how does God want us to love people well in the midst of all the decisions that we have to make as spiritual leaders?

And, are we going to be like Nicodemus and follow Jesus.

I've seen people fired for issues of sin .... and no one - ever went after those lost sheep to help in their restoration process.  

These are God's lost leaders - people who have a calling on their life - in the fight against the Kingdom of Darkness!

They need to be restored to their calling.  They need to be pursued.  They need to be marked by grace.  

They need their spiritual weapons back ... in order to defeat the powers of darkness that are trying to destroy people ... and to keep people from knowing Jesus Christ and knowing the power of His healing and restoration!

We need to help find the lost leaders and to build them back up to Christ and to ground them in God's love, and to mark them with grace!  To empower them once again and to bring them back onto "Team God" and our battle for people's souls! 

Believe it or not - God's love is not just for the lost and broken!  

It is for God's leaders too!  It's for those leaders who have gone astray - who have been taken by the wolves and isolated from the flock! 

Those who have fallen or those who have been cast aside.  

Either way - if they are in the mouth of a wolf - what are we doing to save them?

Restoring God's church is not about buildings.  It is about lives!  It is about getting God's church (people) flowing again - meaning, the Holy Spirit flowing in people again, in the way God created them to flow!  

All people.  All leaders.  

Yes, everyone was created by God to good works! 

There is an army of leaders - God is wanting to find and restore.  

There is an army of leaders who have been hurt by the misuse of our leadership staffs.  

A whole army of scattered sheep leaders! 

What are we doing - to restore one lost leader sheep?  

Do we even care about that one lost leader?  God does! 

This is where the quote ... "the blood of the sheep is on the shepherd's staff" comes into play.  

What are we doing as God's leaders to make sure our leadership staffs are free from the blood of the sheep?  

Are we willing to take a season to look at our staff, to humble ourselves and to ask God to purify our leadership?

I seriously believe that phrase is on the heart of God in this season!  

I believe this is so important to God in making sure His church is pure and spotless and prepared for His second coming!  

God wants a pure and spotless bride and it always begins with us as God's leaders.  

Who we are and how we show up - will reveal a God of love or not.

A flock will only be as healthy as it's shepherd.

This has been God's message to ME - I am just sharing with you all - my recent conversations with Him.

To follow Jesus .... means ....

Do we have the courage to speak up in any environment to say - we are beating a sheep with our ungodly words or actions  - and there is blood on our staff  and "we must stop what we are doing?".    

Can we risk our positions in order to restore people to their calling?

The question rolling around my heart - is as God's people and leaders - how do we respond and follow Jesus .... in the midst of persecution WITHIN the church? 

I am not trying to answer this question in this blog.  I am merely posing the question for God to answer for us.  

As we personally seek Him on this topic.

It is a question for us to take to God personally.  To turn to Scripture and ask Him to show us how He wants to mold us and grow us into His image by how we relate to people on our ministry teams and to those we are called to lead. 

How are we going to show up and what does it mean to follow Jesus?

Are we willing to die to self ...and to lay aside everything for the sake of someone else? 

Are we going to keep our minds and hearts pure and Godly when thinking of others?  

Are we going to see people through the eyes and heart of God, through Jesus' finished work on the cross?  

Are we going to hold every thought captive to Christ - when thinking of our brothers and sisters in Christ? 

It is much easier to run into the mess of life ... with people outside of the walls of the church ... 

..... but what can we do better in order to run into the mess inside of the church to bring about true Biblical reconciliation, to be messengers of hope, and to mark people with the love and grace of Jesus Christ?

To see who is being slandered and persecuted and then, instead of isolating them - we run into relationship with them?  

What can we do to reveal the loving-kindness of God to people on our leadership teams?  

How can we build intimacy and Biblical love into our ministry teams?

What are we going to do to purify our conversations about people while in bed with our spouses?

Jesus hears all and He sees all.  Nothing we do or say is hidden from him.

I am not sharing this with a heart of condemnation at all.  I am sharing this with a heart of conviction.  These are questions God has been posing to me all month - and really asking me some firm questions about my heart, my fears, my insecurities and my lack of courage.

Sometimes, God talks to us as a loving and firm Father.  As One who needs to have those difficult conversations with us - in order to lead us back to being life-giving pencils in his hand.  

Pencils that write LIFE over people's lives rather than stabbing people to death with the power of our words or our actions.

What can we do to purify our hearts in how we relate to the people who are serving in the ministry trenches with us?

What can we do to see those people as sacred onto God?  

As holy children of the Father?  

As brothers and sisters in Christ?

As ones who are all on One team - fighting the Kingdom of Darkness?

True unity is heart issue.  

True unity is about seeing that our bothers and sisters in Christ are part of one family, working to build God's kingdom while working as one to destroy Satan and his desire to destroy the lives of people.

Can we - when we see evil emails being written to us about people - can we stop and confront the evil words being spoken from other leaders and pastors?  Even when we use the pastor card - "well, we need to know these things about people"?  

Really, do we?  Or do we need to pray and seek God's Word for his perspective of the broken sheep?  To truly see the broken or bloody sheep and to seek God' will in how to restore it.  Do we illuminate the darkness or do we bring the sheep into the light and into grace and into love?

To seek God's wisdom through His Word on how to deal with a tough issue? 

Can we - when sitting in meetings and listening to people or leaders being mocked ... even jokingly - can we speak up and confront the ungodly chatter?  Do we know how to do this in love?  

Can we - when we know that a real ungodly injustice us being done - can we speak up and bring truth to the circumstances - even if that means - we might be persecuted?  

Can we speak into the fear and the control and the intimidation that is on our midst? 

Even if things might get twisted around and it looks like we are the trouble maker because we are merely trying to bring light to something that is dark? 

This is the nature of spiritual abuse - it doesn't want to be seen so it will destroy others before it is ever exposed - read the book listed below if you want to understand the nature of spiritual abuse better.

Just what does it mean to follow Jesus?

I've been meditating on Mark's message all month - because it was a powerful one on Nicodemus. 

And I am reading the book again called "The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse" because it really illuminates the nature of the Pharisees and their misuse of spiritual power and authority.  It really helps to show more of Nicodemus' inner struggle with it (even though the book does not talk specifically about Nicodemus - you can see how he would struggle to follow Jesus).

The interesting thing about spiritual abuse - is none of us are immune from it.  

It we lead anything, in any role - even as parents - we will have the temptation to abuse the power that has been given to us by God.  

The temptations of control, manipulation and power will hit us all - and as God's leaders - if we don't understand the nature of spiritual abuse ... and know how to guard our hearts from it and walk in strong accountability with others and talk openly about it on our teams - this sin that is crouching at our door - will have it's way in us and through us - to hurt others. 

We will begin to think we are above accountability and we will not listen to the voice of those that we lead for Truth.  We will seek truth within ourselves and our own understanding rather than seeking God and wisdom through His Word and through the counsel of others.

Do we understand the nature of spiritual abuse?  I mean, really.  

Do we know how it seeks to flow through us to hurt others?  

I know for me, due to the prophetic nature of my gifting - the enemy always seeks to use my mouth and my emotions as a means to hurt people.  

I've had to learn and mature into knowing that I have to process my heart fully with the Lord before I respond to something.  I want to be sure I am in the Spirit and not in the flesh before I respond.  To me, this is the nature of self-control.  We don't respond until we know God and His love have control of us.  

Do I do this perfectly?  Heck no!  But I know - where I am weak and I desperately know where I need the work of God's grace in my life!  There have been times, where it has taken me years to respond to something because it has taken me this long to get back into alignment with God's heart and character on an issue.  

So,  if right now .... have a part of Nicodemus' inner struggle going on with us .... let's ask - what does it mean for us to follow Jesus?  

Are we called to be a bridge of Biblical reconciliation?  

To bring about a Biblical Truth to a chaotic circumstance? 

To speak life and to build up the life of another broken leader?  

What gossip, slander and evil have we been listening to - that we are not stopping?  

What one lost sheep does God want us to run after?  

Today, I am asking Jesus how can I follow Him - 100%.  No more partial obedience.  I want to be all in again.

I mean, really asking that question and being willing for him to show me where self-deception has had it's way in me! 

Today, I am asking Him where I have deceived myself due to my own fears and insecurities of religious leaders?  Where am I lacking courage?

But no one had the courage to speak favorably about Jesus in public, 
for they were afraid of getting in trouble with the Jewish leaders.  
John 7:13 NLT

Where am I bound by fear? 

Today, I am asking Jesus to make me bold - and to overcome any inner struggles similar to Nicodemus and to do what is right.  

No matter what the loss and no matter what the cost.

For all of us - we have the voice of Truth whispering something to us all the time.

Question is - are we listening?   

It has been telling us to do something and yet, we like Nicodemus have kept in the shadows due to fear of speaking up and standing up for Jesus. 

To be His voice and His light in the midst of our religious structures.

We need to follow Jesus into uncomfortable waters.  

Even if that means we lose everything in this world in order to be obedient; led by our passionate love relationship with Him!

To say yes to Jesus and no to what is not God honoring  - will ALWAYS come with risk and loss.  

We can't have Jesus and do what hurts ourselves and others.

But .... compared to what we lose - we gain SO MUCH MORE.   

We gain the One who created the heavens and the earth and the One who will always be on our side!  

The One who calls us child.  

The One who calls us His beloved.  

The One who gave His life - to mark us with grace and to keep us as His own!  

We might not have anything that this world has to offer ... we might have lost everything .... but we will gain God Himself in our choice to follow Jesus. 

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