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An Open Letter to the “Done”

A few weeks back, a member of our local church body posted an article that caught my attention. It has to do with a group of people being called “Dones,” as in folks who haven’t walked away from faith in God, but have decided to no longer associate with the church. Not just the church they were part of before this decision, but any church at all. To get some perspective on the rest of this post, you might want to go read that article here.

In a nutshell, the article speaks of folks who were very active and participatory in their communities of faith prior to making the decision to leave the body, and gives church leadership some questions to ask in order to try and keep folks plugged in rather than affording them reason and/or opportunity to step away. While some of these questions can and should be asked as a common sense way to continue the process of edifying the body and growing people into a more mature faith, I have real trouble with the premise of having to ask them in order to keep folks from leaving the body with no real reason for doing so.  To that end, I choose to speak to the “Dones” directly.

Dear “Dones,”

I get it. You’ve served tirelessly for years. Perhaps decades of your life have been given to the local church body, only to be asked to serve a little more, give a little more, change a little more… You’ve heard messages on almost every topic ever thought of, and have read the Bible cover to cover several times. You’ve participated in almost every all-church event, fundraiser, work day, building project, children’s musical, worship night, and potluck dinner. You’ve also heard all the junk “behind the curtain” as you’ve worked alongside other leaders and team members. Perhaps you know some of the struggles your leadership has just to get things moving at a snail’s pace, much less a pace that generates excitement and energy for the congregation. You’ve been the 20 in the 80-20 rule for years, and you’re just… well… DONE with it all.

I’m guessing the Billy Sunday quote that “going to church doesn’t make me any more a Christian than standing in my garage makes me a car” resonates with you deeply. Trust me when I say as a pastor that it resonates with me too from time to time. I have moments where I would much rather stay home and spend time doing something else instead of serving the body if it were not my profession. That’s the luxury you have as a volunteer, and I can completely understand why you might choose to exercise that opportunity.

Even so, there’s one glaring issue in your decision: It goes against Scripture.

Faith is Corporate

Hebrews 10:23-25 – Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

Colossians 3:15-16 – Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.

Acts 2:46-47 – Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

These are but a few of the verses devoted to the corporate nature of faith in Christ. The passage in Acts 2 is right after Pentecost, when the Church was founded! It doesn’t say they accepted the gift of faith and then went home. It says they continued to meet together and God added to their number daily! How are we to teach and admonish one another if we are not meeting together corporately? How can we possibly spur one another on to love and good deeds if we have given up the habit of meeting together? The truth is, we can’t.

Being done goes against Christ’s character and example

Philippians 2:3-8 – Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!

Being a “Done” is not an option if those who claim the name of Christ are to exude His character and actions. Is the Church a messy place? YES! Do pastors get it right all the time? NO! Does that give one a valid reason to leave it all behind and go it alone? NO! Even so, our obedience to Christ means we follow His lead. He had every opportunity to stay in Heaven and leave humanity to rot in sin, but chose instead to live among humanity and sacrifice Himself for us. He had countless moments where He could have simply slipped away from the disciples and done it all by Himself, but it is precisely His love, compassion, encouragement, rebuke, and presence with the disciples through which God turned the world upside-down. After Jesus ascended, those men were the ones who caused the ripple effect we still feel today. Think about how many lives you might miss touching… how many men and women who might go on to change the world if you stick and stay… 

Being done harms the body

1 Corinthians 12:12-14 – Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.

Romans 12:3-5 – For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.

Anyone who has dealt with the loss of a limb will tell you that it changes how everything works. Normal tasks that take mere moments for a fully capable person end up taking much longer for someone who is less than whole. This is not a knock by any means on those who have disabilities, but rather, an object lesson for those who claim Christ. When you’re “Done,” it is effectively like amputating a part of the body and expecting it to function properly without that part. The Church is an organism, not an organization. No organism functions correctly when one or more parts is missing. Every one of us is uniquely designed to perform a specific function within the local church setting, and when we are missing, it becomes that much harder for the body to function and complete the task of going, making disciples, baptizing, teaching, and witnessing.

The bottom line

Being “Done” is selfish. Not only that, it is unscriptural, which makes it a sinful act. It stunts the growth of the Church, the growth of the Kingdom, and even more so the growth of the individual that has unplugged from the body.

I understand some will see this as a pastor who is worried about his job security. If you’re one of those, I would say that’s an unfortunate point of view to hold. The God I serve owns the cattle on 1000 hills, so I’m not concerned with where my next meal is coming from. What I AM concerned with is your spiritual growth and maturity. Unplugging from the local body of Christ only serves to allow less opportunity for spiritual accountability, maturity, & growth, and more opportunity for the evil one to get a foothold in your life. Christians can be some of the most difficult people to work with and serve with, but the Church is God’s Gospel distribution plan, and He has called every one who claims His name to serve and work together. There’s a spot on the rope for you to grab hold and pull together. The question is, will you take it?

A Word from Watson

Anyone who is around me long enough figures out I’m a huge sports fan. As a Northeast Kansas guy, the Royals, Chiefs, Sporting KC, and Kansas State are among the teams I root for. After being planted in South Central Kansas for a few years, Wichita State basketball and baseball are also on my list. Even as much as I cheer my heart out for these teams, one thing that will cause me to become unsupportive is cheating in any way.

The subject of cheating in sports isn’t a new one. Pete Rose has been trying to get reinstated from a lifetime MLB ban for betting on baseball while he was involved with the sport. Alex Rodriguez just came back this year from a 215 game suspension for using P.E.D.’s. Members of the New Orleans Saints football team were fined and suspended for putting dollar amounts on the table for taking out opposing team’s players, and the latest infraction is the wonderment of “Deflategate” with the New England Patriots.

Benjamin Watson is a wonderful man of God who also happens to play football as a tight end for the New Orleans Saints. Being part of the NFL, he is in the midst of this latest round of cheating. While he chose to address the issue on his Facebook page, he also spoke to something bigger. Here’s what he had to say:

My father once told me that sin takes you further than you want to go, keeps you longer than you want stay, and costs you more than you want to pay. I seemed to learn this the hard way over the course of my life. Even the most “innocent” diversion can have lasting and devastating consequences that not only effect the transgressor but those he or she is in relationship with. 

As a professional football player I’ve been monitoring the developments of what we have come to know as Deflategate. The secret, intentional deflation of footballs below regulation for an NFL playoff game has the American sports world in a frenzy, as it should. While the collective response is strong the individual responses differ tremendously, varying on their opinion of the competitive advantage created to the severity of punishment that has been given. One thing is certain though, this recent report is the latest chapter in a series of reported infractions committed by the New England Patriots Organization, leading to an even greater disdain from some, and conversely an even greater loyalty from others, for the team that has enjoyed overwhelming success while seeming to habitually skirt the rules. While, according to investigator Ted Wells, it’s “more probable than not” that quarterback Tom Brady knew about or encouraged this violation he has not admitted guilt and until he does or evidence is conclusive I will withhold judgment. It is quite clear, however, that members of the organization blatantly cheated and have subsequently been punished. And IF Tom was one of them he is rightfully included with the rest. What seemed like no big deal at the time has taken them further than they wanted to go, kept them longer than they wanted to stay and cost them more than they wanted to pay. What was done in secret was been brought to light, and what was a thrill at the time has brought shame on the innocent, whose hard work, dedication and accomplishments are once again shadowed in doubt. 

Current and former Patriots aren’t the only ones whose hard work on the field is in question either. We are all facing similar scrutiny. The questions abound. I mean, EVERY athlete bends and breaks the rules for competitive advantage right? 
The comparisons are made. Was this punishment in line with all the others? The New Orleans Saints endured multiple lengthy suspensions for allegations that were undoubtedly more egregious, but had no more hard evidence that they ever occurred then Deflategate. Ignorance of infractions was even declared by the NFL to be “no excuse”. How is that fair? And since we are on this subject, doesn’t EVERY team in the league break rules until they get caught? What a tangled web, of finger pointing and rationalizing, our disobedience weaves for us and others!

I tell my children daily, that their disobedience removes them from my protection. When they “innocently” jump on the couch, when they’ve been told not to, falling and bumping their head is a natural consequence that they must endure because they have stepped out from under my covering of protection for them. This is true for all of us. Romans 6:23 says “the wages of sin is death”. Any infraction, any word thought attitude or deed that is contrary to the heart of a just God invokes natural consequences in our lives. Broken relationships, physical pain, lost wages, unreceived blessing, unmet potential, wounded children, guilt, fear, restlessness, can all be direct consequences of our sin. Spiritually our sin severs us from His life giving spirit and deafens our ears to His voice. Eternally, our transgressions condemn us to eternal punishment and eternal separation from God. BUT…”the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord!” Romans 6:23

Unfortunately we can’t choose the natural consequences for our sins. Once we disobey, we are beyond the security of the harbor, out to sea in dangerous waters on our own. Like league discipline it sometimes seems unfair, but unlike league discipline our sin carries with it eternal ramifications. Because of their actions, the Patriots have brought upon themselves a storm of controversy and repercussions that will make the next several months more challenging. 

Closer to home, though, we must all deal with our own rule infractions and the storms they have created in our personal lives. No matter how small they seem to us, they make us fall short of His glory. Contrary to popular belief, there is no “entry level” to rule breaking that makes it acceptable. Either you’re a cheater or you aren’t. If we break even one law we are lawbreakers. Scripture says,
“For the person who keeps all of the laws except one is as guilty as a person who has broken all of God’s laws.” James 2:10

Sometimes I rank my transgressions in tiers, comparing them to the perceived “curve” in my sphere of relationships. And while its true that certain tiers warrant more costly consequences, it is also true that even the most minor infraction qualifies one as a lawbreaker worthy of punishment. WE are not each other’s moral standard. Only God and His word have that distinction. 

When situations like this happen in sports we love to speculate about the long term health of the football legacies involved. I have no doubt that over time, the Patriots will continue to be regarded as one of the all time great dynasties of American football led by one of, if not THE greatest quarterback and coach of all time. As well they should. While this is important, the legacy we are creating with our children, marriages, and friendships is far more precious than that of an NFL team or player and when it takes a hit, it is no less resilient and reparable if confronted with repentance, forgiveness and most importantly God’s grace. 

I love Tom Brady, and consider him a friend. I feel for him at this time for many different reasons. We may never know for certain the extant to which he was involved in this illicit behavior, but unfortunately even the appearance of evil is something scripture warns us to be mindful of because it damages our reputation and our witness. At our best we aren’t very good teammates, co workers, wives, husbands, fathers, mothers, leaders or followers. But in our weakest spiritual, physical, emotional, or vocational hour, His strength proves the greatest! His grace is forever and always sufficient! 2 Corinthians 12:9

I’m not one for predictions but I do expect that ashes will turn to beauty for the Patriots, and next season will bring yet another playoff run as this punishment is masterfully retooled as coal to fuel their desire to prove their invincibility. Though not undoing the immediate consequences of our wrongs, how much greater will God’s grace and love remove our guilt and shame, give us a new heart, a new vision and lift us to new heights if we, through the blood of his Son, turn from our wickedness and follow Him!

War and Peace

My wife and I are at an interesting time in life with our kids. With one in the pre-teen stages, another almost in double digits, and a third that’s half the age of the first, things can get sideways really quickly. Each of them has similar traits originally belonging to their mother and I, and yet each of them is distinctly different. Combine all of us together, and you’ve got 5 unique personalities trying to coexist in an 850 square foot 2 1/2 bedroom house. That makes for some “fun” on occasion!

In all honesty, we do pretty well with each other most of the time, but there are “those moments” when stuff happens: something is done or said, someone gets emotionally or physically hurt (with two of my kids being boys, rough play is going to happen!), and it spirals down from there. My wife and I are also not immune to this. We get on each others’ nerves, get in each others’ way, and have moments of miscommunication that cause strife between us.

With this in mind, we’ve been working on how to function more cohesively as a family unit, and what better way to do that than to look into what God’s Word says! Now, we could have gone to the whole “children obey your parents” section, but that’s been overused in many homes on many occasions. Plus, it doesn’t tell adults how to act, other than not exasperating their children… and let’s be honest here… exasperation happens on both ends of the deal! No, rather than sticking with the old faithful (and most likely tuned-out) message, we looked elsewhere and found a word that spoke to all of us regardless of age or household status.

Ephesians 4:1-3 – As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.

Colossians 3:12-15 – Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. 15 Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.

Both of these verses cut deeply into our “right” to be angry over the actions of another. My wife and I are committed Christ-followers, and therefore, called to be examples of Christ-likeness to our children. Our two oldest children have accepted Christ into their lives and are learning how to follow His example. How will they learn? By watching their mother and I. Our youngest is beginning to ask questions about what it means to accept Jesus and be baptized. How will he learn? By watching his parents, his brother, and his sister. We must “clothe ourselves” with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. We must bear with each other, forgive quickly, and love deeply. Does that mean there won’t be consequences for actions? By no means. Part of loving our kids is allowing them to learn from their mistakes. BUT… it does mean that we extend grace and make the effort to live at peace with each other.

What would it look like if the Church could live this way? Far too often the wants, thoughts, desires, agendas, and personal preferences of individuals (be they pastors, lay leaders, or congregation members) become stumbling blocks for others. A word is said, an action takes place, a decision gets made, a direction is taken, etc… and it causes division among the members of the body whether it was intended to or not. Our western American culture tells us it is our right and duty to become offended… to shout angrily in public… to degrade the character of another… to do whatever it takes to get the offending party to capitulate to our way of thinking… and if they don’t, then we take our toys and go home. Dirty laundry gets aired in public forum, reputations get blasted in private, people get un-friended and blocked on social media sites, and on and on…

This behavior is not just childish or rash. It is damaging to all parties involved. It is dangerous and long-lasting. Not only that, it is un-scriptural and degrading to the Bride of Christ, His Church. The world is watching us to see what we will do, and they are ready to pounce on anything that doesn’t look or sound like what the Good Book says Christ’s followers are supposed to look and sound like.

Are we human? Yes. Will we fail from time to time? Yes. Should those failures define us? No. A single incident should not. BUT… if a pattern of wrong behavior emerges, then what recourse do we have to come against their judgment? I can only pray we are able to live out the words found in Ephesians 5:1-2 – Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

My prayer for my wife and I is that we will live in a way that honors and worships Christ all day, every day, in every way. My prayer for my children is that they will see our example and do the same.

My prayer for the Church is that every member of her body across the globe would live in a way that honors and worships Christ all day, every day, in every way. My prayer for the world is that they would see our example and do the same.

Let it be so if that is Your Will, Lord. Amen.

Good Friday

As a follow up to the Maundy Thursday post yesterday, I felt it was important to take a look at Good Friday as well. Interesting that the Church calls it “Good Friday,” when at the outset, there doesn’t seem to be anything good about it at all. Thursday night, Jesus was betrayed and arrested. Friday he was accused, wrongly convicted, beaten, whipped, humiliated, hung on a cross, died, and was buried. Why in the world would we call this “good?”

It is good because it was God’s plan of salvation.

God used Christ’s sacrifice to bridge the gap created between Himself and His sinful, broken, lost creation – Humanity.

Oh, God tried to live in harmony with His creation in other ways. He walked in the cool of the day with Adam in the garden of Eden… that is… until Adam and Eve believed Satan’s lies and transgressed God’s command.

God set up the nation of Israel through Abraham to be a light and an example unto the rest of the world as to how they should live in harmony with their Creator… but time and time again, Israel willfully walked away from the covenant promises of God.

He rescued Israel from captivity in Egypt. He led them across the sea on dry land, with walls of water on either side! He fed them from the heavens. He showed His presence with a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night… and yet, when Moses went up the mountain to receive the Law, the Israelites got tired of waiting and made a god of their own out of gold…

He granted their request to appoint a king as His vessel of presence with prophets to guide, but Israel fell into disarray, eventually leading to two separate kingdoms, and finally, captivity once again.

Judges were used to rescue Israel when there were no kings to govern, and yet the people still fell back into their selfish ways…

So, God was silent for 400 years… and then, a baby that grew into a man who shook the entire world to its foundations with God’s revolutionary love, grace, mercy, and justice in the flesh. Jesus was God’s final play in the plan of salvation. In the sacrifcial system, only the blood of a spotless and blameless animal could cover or roll away one’s sins for a year. Christ’s act as the spotless and blameless sacrifice for all humankind didn’t just roll away our sin… it washed it clean.

The Apostle Paul told us as much in Romans 5:6-11 – “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. 
7 Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. 
8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 
9 Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! 
10 For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! 
11 Not only is this so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.”

Through Christ’s death, we now have the opportunity to experience reconciliation and eternal life with our Creator! Christ’s death, while mournful, provided a “light at the end of the tunnel” for all believers: Hope of a complete restoration of our relationship with the Father.

So, how do we claim this light and hope as our own?

Do do so, first we must trade our disbelief for belief.

Jesus, when comforting the Disciples during their final meal together, spoke these words in John 14:1-7 – “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.”

Jesus also spoke of God’s love for all humanity during His conversation with Nicodemus in John 3:14-18 – Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15 that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.”16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.”

It takes belief in Christ to obtain the hope God gives on Good Friday. Without belief in Jesus, the rest of the story is simply an interesting fictional account, barely worthy of a glance from Hollywood. Christ’s sacrifice opened the door for any and all to be reconciled to their creator and spend eternity with Him.

Secondly, we must trade our disobedience for joy.

Titus 3:3-7 – At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.”

Adam and Eve’s disobedience is what allowed sin to enter God’s world. The Israelite’s disobedience is what caused Christ’s entrance into the world and subsequent death. Our disobedience keeps us at arm’s length from the very One who sent Christ to die for our transgressions. We must believe and accept that we are justified by God’s grace through faith in Christ, and trade our disobedience for joy in the good news of salvation.

Third, we must trade our betrayal for love.

Lest we think we have not betrayed Christ in the same manner as Judas or Peter, Paul brings a sobering word.

Romans 3:9-18 – What shall we conclude then? Do we have any advantage? Not at all! For we have already made the charge that Jews and Gentiles alike are all under the power of sin. 10 As it is written: “There is no one righteous, not even one;11 there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. 12 All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.” 13 “Their throats are open graves; their tongues practice deceit.” “The poison of vipers is on their lips.” 14 “Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness.” 15 “Their feet are swift to shed blood; 16 ruin and misery mark their ways, 17 and the way of peace they do not know.” 18 “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”

Sounds pretty bleak, right? It would be, were it not for God’s unfailing love for us. Though our earthly manner is one of selfish ambition, God’s Word gives us the antidote.

Deuteronomy 6:5-6 – Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts.

Jesus Himself quoted this Old Testament passage when asked by the Pharisees what the greatest commandment was.

Matthew 22:34-40 – Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. 35 One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: 36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” 37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Good Friday is indeed a somber time as Christians all over the world take time to intentionally consider the sacrifice God made through Christ. However, it is indeed a “good” time as well, for through Christ’s substitutional atonement for our sin, we have the opportunity to trade our unbelief for belief, our disobedience for joy, and our betrayal for undying love.

The best news? In the words of acapella group Take 6, it may seem bad on Friday night, but Sunday’s on the way… Amen.

Maundy Thursday

This is the time of year on the Church calendar called “Holy Week,” which is book-ended by Palm Sunday on one side and Resurrection Day (Easter Sunday) on the other. Sandwiched between these two are the events that culimated in Christ’s betrayal, arrest, death, and crucifixion. To remember the events of this period, many church congregations have end-week worship experiences for Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. As these experiences are fast approaching, it is important to take a look at them each in turn. In this post, we will concentrate on Maundy Thursday, which commemorates the events spanning the hours between the Passover meal with the Disciples in the upper room to Jesus’ betrayal and arrest in the garden.

Most scholars agree that the word Maundy comes from the Middle English/Old French word mandé, which is derived from the Latin word mandatum, meaning “mandate.” Well, what is mandated? Scripture shows two things during this moment in time which still speak to us today.

First, Jesus mandated the act of Holy Communion. Luke 22:19b-20 states that “he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.”

This mandate is confirmed later by the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 11:23-26. “For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, ‘This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.’ For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.”

Christ observed this experience with the Disciples as a remembrance of what He was about to do for them (and us). Paul takes it a step further and states the experience proclaims Jesus’ sacrifice publicly until He returns. In view of this mandate, it is important that the followers of Christ observe Holy Communion as an act of rememberance and thanksgiving for the work Christ completed upon the cross at Calvary.

Second, Jesus mandated that His followers be loving servant leaders. John 13:34-35 states, A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

Jesus explained this mandate in more than just mere words. He explained it with his actions.

John 13:3-5 – Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him. 

Peter and Jesus have a bit of an exchange after this passage, showing very clearly that Peter still had no concept of what Jesus was trying to teach. And so, just a few short verses later, Jesus completes the explanation.

John 13:12- When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.

Jesus mandated “washing feet.” Now, this is not necessarily the actual act of washing another person’s feet, although that may very well be the case from time to time for each of us. Rather, his act demonstrated humility, submission, and servanthood. Just as Jesus chose to demonstrate these characteristics, we are called to do the same.

This is made clear in Ephesians 5:1-2 – Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. 

What are we to imitate? Scripture has a good list.

1. Be at peace with each other (Mark 9:50)

2. Wash one another’s feet (John 13:34)

3. Love one another (John 13:34-35; 15:12,17)

4. Be devoted to one another (Romans 12:10)

5. Honor one another above yourselves (Romans 12:10)

6. Stop passing judgment on one another (Romans 14:13)

7. Accept one another, just as Christ accepted you (Romans 15:7)

8. Serve one another in love (Galatians 5:13)

9. Carry each other’s burdens (Galatians 6:2)

10. Be patient, bearing with one another in love (Ephesians 4:2)

11. Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ (Ephesians 5:21)

12. In humility consider others better than ourselves (Philippians 2:3)

 

As we approach Maundy Thursday, it is my sincere hope that each of us will pause for a moment to share in Communion with Christ, and will imitate His actions with the Disciples by being loving and willing servants, imitating His characteristics. Amen.

God’s Way, or My Way?

The Church is not about us. The Church has never been about us. The Church will never be about us. The Church was designed by God to bring restoration between Creator and Creation through sharing the Gospel of Christ. The only part we play is in giving God glory and honor by loving Him with all we have and all we are, and loving everyone else just like we would want them to love us. Scripture backs this up in many places.

Unfortunately, human nature all too often supplants the true selfless nature of the Church with its own selfish nature, causing derision and strife over inconsequential things… mountains out of molehills, if you will…

I call this the “Burger King Effect,” and I have yet to see a human that doesn’t fall prey to this monster of a problem at one time or another. In today’s ever-increasing instant gratification society, it is almost too easy to get exactly what we want when and how we want it. The internet has made shopping online so much more convenient than having to drive to the store that places like Radio Shack, Sears, Best Buy, and Guitar Center are either downsizing to minimize losses or filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. eBay, Amazon, Etsy, and other online warehouse suppliers are driving physical store locations out of business. You see, instant gratification is convenient, but it has dire effects on others.

Likewise, folks don’t have to write checks or use cash and empty their bank accounts for major purchases either. The rise of the credit card as a means of payment has put Americans under a crushing debt load. According to Dave Ramsey, the average American family spends 125% of their annual income every year… How is this possible?  Little rectangular pieces of plastic that allow you to get what you want right now, and only charge you an 18% “convenience fee.” “Can I afford it” no longer means “do I have the cash on hand,” but rather, “can I make the monthly payment?” For many, as the minimum payments pile up and the collections agencies keep calling, the answer is no. But, they sure do have neat stuff! You see, instant gratification is convenient, but it has dire effects on you, too.

This desire for what I want when I want it seeps into the Church as well. We get bent out of shape when they don’t sing what we consider to be the right songs and they play the songs they do sing too loudly. We’re rankled when the trappings of our precious worship space change. We don’t like it when change happens, because we weren’t consulted. We didn’t give our input, so therefore we didn’t have a voice. And, since we didn’t have a voice, we’re going to complain as loudly and as boldly as we can to anyone who will listen until it changes back. Not only that, but we’re not going to give another dime to this place until we get what we want how we want it… and we sit back and wonder why 1500 pastors leave the ministry every month…

You see, instant gratification in the Church is of major concern, because it has dire effects on congregants and pastors. It effects congregations because it takes their attention off of what the Church was meant to do and places it directly on things that have no salvific value. It shows unbelievers that Christians don’t really care about them because they are too busy fighting amongst themselves for what they want. It changes the Church’s focus from going out into the community sharing the love of Christ and instead focuses it inward toward personal agendas, wants, and desires. It pulls a pastor’s attention away from edifying the saved and evangelizing the lost and places it on putting out brush fires amongst the congregation. It steals a pastor’s time away from study and preparation. It gnaws at a pastor’s confidence when in the pulpit. It chews into a pastor’s family.

As the body of Christ, we must put the Burger King Effect to death, and decidedly so. If we are to return to the true nature of the Church as God designed it, personal agendas and instant gratification tactics must be buried deep in the ground and never exhumed again. I leave you with Paul’s words to the Church at Colossae:

Colossians 3: 1-17 – Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your[a] life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming.[b] You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. 11 Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.

12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

15 Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. 16 Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. 17 And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

Do You Love Me? Feed my Sheep.

I was reading my morning devotional a couple of days ago, as I normally do, but was oddly struck by the content. Our Lead Minister had just given a message on John 21. This is the passage where Jesus comes and restores Simon Peter after he denied Christ three times ahead of the crucifixion. Jesus had predicted that Peter would do so, and Peter rejected Jesus’ words out of hand. He basically said, “There’s no way I’m going to deny you, Jesus! I’m too strong to do that!”

And yet, just as Jesus had predicted, Peter vehemently denied Christ. The lowly crow of a rooster in the dark marked His words as true to Peter, and he realized what he had done.

Like so many of us, Peter was zealous for Jesus when it was easy, but folded under the pressure of persecution for what he believed in. Pastors are not immune to this issue either. Many of us go into ministry with zeal in our hearts, only to be crushed by the weight of church politics, spread wide by lay leaders who want a piece of us for their projects, and stabbed by those we hold close when we don’t see eye to eye. The zeal fades, fear sets in, self-preservation takes over, and ministry comes to a screeching halt. There’s no rooster to crow, but the cry of a battle weary pastor and his family certainly fill the role.

While the Bible does not specifically tell us how Peter felt in the aftermath, it does tell us what he did. Rather than continuing on as a disciple, he went back to the family business. He returned to fishing for fish instead of fishing for men. I’m sure he still had a love in his heart for Christ, but the grind had gotten to him. He believed, but his abject failure crushed his desire to continue the work. Breaking his back on the fishing grounds was preferable to being broken into submission to what Christ had called him to do.

Pastors, I know there are days when this is where I live. I’ve come up short, and have been called on the carpet for it by leadership/team members/fellow pastors/congregation members/etc… Sometimes it has been warranted, sometimes it hasn’t, and sometimes I’m just not sure what’s going on. I also know I am not alone in this feeling.

In his book, “Why Pastors Quit”, Bo Lane shares some glaring statistics.

Most pastors are overworked.

90% of pastors report working between 55 to 75 hours per week and 50% feel unable to meet the demands of the job.

And 70% of pastors feel grossly underpaid.

Most pastors feel unprepared.

90% feel they are inadequately trained to cope with the ministry demands and 90% of pastors said the ministry was completely different than what they thought it would be like before they entered the ministry.

Many pastors struggle with depression and discouragement.

70% of pastors constantly fight depression and 50% of pastors feel so discouraged that they would leave the ministry if they could, but have no other way of making a living.

Wait, this is huge. Let’s pause here for a moment.

This means that half of the 1,700 or so pastors who leave the ministry each month have no other way of making a living. Their education and experience is wrapped up solely in the work of the ministry.

So, not only do pastors struggle with their choice to leave ministry, they have to worry about how they are going to feed their families.

Speaking of families, most pastor’s families are negatively impacted.

80% believe pastoral ministry has negatively affected their families. 80% of spouses feel the pastor is overworked and feel left out and under-appreciated by church members.

Many pastors are lonely.

70% do not have someone they consider a close friend and 40% report serious conflict with a parishioner at least once a month.

And then there is this:

50% of the ministers starting out will not last 5 years. 1 out of every 10 ministers will actually retire as a minister in some form. And 4,000 new churches begin each year while 7,000 churches close.

These statistics are disheartening, but God is a God of healing, restoration, and renewal. John 21 shows us the story of Jesus coming to Peter. Three times He asks, “Do you love Me?” and three times Peter answers “Lord, You know that I love You.” And Jesus said, “Great! Glad we’ve got that cleared up. Off you go then…”  Nope, Jesus said “Feed My sheep.”

Jesus restored Peter to a place of authority within the kingdom because there was work to be done, and Peter was specifically called to do it. While there are folks who step into ministry with self-gain as their agenda, there are many more who do it because they have been specifically called. Even as tough as the pastorate can be, God called them to do something specific. He called them to “feed His sheep.”

This brings us back to my devotional time. Oswald Chambers says, “Jesus has some extraordinarily peculiar sheep: some that are unkempt or pushy, and some that have gone astray! But it is impossible to exhaust God’s love, and it is impossible to exhaust my love if it flows from the Spirit of God within me. The love of God pays no attention to my prejudices caused by my natural individuality. If I love my Lord, I have no business being guided by natural emotions – I have to feed His sheep. We will not be delivered or released from His commission to us.”

Dear pastors, if we are truly called by God to be His shepherds on earth, we must feed His sheep and allow Him to feed us.

Dear sheep, please pray for your shepherds. Encourage them. Love on them. Share your wisdom with them. If you step on each other, do your best to make it right together. Don’t let the sun go down on your anger. Trust that God has best intentions for both of you in mind.

Above all, LOVE!