Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. Matthew 4:1
The church in America is in the wilderness. That’s not such a bad place to be. It’s a difficult place, often a painful place, but it’s a place God often leads his people when He has some difficult lessons to teach them or preparations to be made. And the American church certainly has some difficult lessons to learn. Moses learned in the wilderness, as did Elijah. The people of Israel learned in the wilderness. And Jesus went there as well, where he experienced some critical “perspective builders” in the form of temptations. The American church, while in the wilderness, is experiencing temptations as well. That story would go something like this…
Tempted to Manipulate Numbers
The devil said to them, “If you are the Church of God, tell these people to become members.” As bread represents a basic necessity for our body, believers (i.e., members) represent a basic necessity for the Church. It is, in fact, one of the first descriptors most church leaders use in describing their own church. It is one way we measure our effectiveness in mission. We measure every evangelistic outreach this way. In our rush to “success”, the temptation here is to move as many bodies as possible from the “prospect” category to the “member” category as quickly as possible.
The temptation is to use emotional pleas, scare tactics, or other forms of manipulation toward an all-important “decision”. And what the church is left with, especially over the long term, is a membership full of non-committed non-believers. At that point, none of the promises God gives us about His church are any good anymore. This temptation of getting people to check the correct box on our …
I have a sort of recurring day dream about my first appearance before God at Judgment time. It’s probably horrible theology on a number of levels, but I just can’t seem to shake the picture, and it is all because of a cool little comment Jesus makes in John 17:12… While I was with them, I protected them and kept them safe by that name you gave me. None has been lost except the one doomed to destruction so that Scripture would be fulfilled.
I am haunted by those words, “…none has been lost”. I have this embarrassing picture in mind of my standing in my bath robe in front of God and Him asking me about all the people He placed under my influence in the church and who left the church at one time or another and I never heard from them again. I’m talking about members of Sunday School classes, choir members, committee members, etc. for whom I had some leadership responsibility (or at least a friendship) and who have disappeared from the church’s radar screen. Oh, how I wish I could look up and say (with Jesus) “None has been lost.” But I cannot. Can you?
It is what Jesus was referring to in Matthew 18 in his parable of the lost sheep. The context in which Matthew recalls that parable is a very different context from how Luke uses it. Maybe Jesus told the parable more than once. In Matthew, Jesus is clearly talking about the church and “sheep” who wander off. Jesus poses this question: what kind of shepherd would not leave the entire flock in order to go after the one lamb who wanders away? Of course, it makes perfect sense in that scenario that any of us would do that. …
Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. 1 Peter 5:8
Want a chuckle for today? Check out this Wiki article on 7 steps to survive a lion attack. Yeh, I’m not altogether certain about those seven steps. I have a question or two about them. For starters, do I try to recall these steps before I wet my pants or after?
I love that Peter uses this illustration to make his point about our enemy. It is perfect for so many reasons.
Consider, for example, how a lioness hunts. She is capable of following a herd of animals for days, even weeks, stalking and studying. She watches to learn which of the members are the weakest and the most likely to fall behind the rest of the herd. You see, when it comes to lion attacks, there is protection in the herd. The lioness watches for lame or young or otherwise “slower” members of the herd who are more likely to make decisions that tend to “distance” them from the herd…decisions that might make the protection of the herd more and more tenuous.
The same is true of our enemy. He watches the church (the “herd”)…stalking and learning. He watches for those members most likely to distance themselves from the church…most likely to forsake the spiritual protection of God’s people. You see, being created for community means we actually need each other’s diligent protection against the schemes of our enemy. We really must let friends get close enough to us to protect us. We must make arrangements with brothers and sisters who will love us enough to ask us some hard questions about our choices. That, my friend, is what “accountability” means.
I’m a bit of a movie buff, I’ll admit. It’s been over 20 years since I’ve seen a movie with an “R” rating, so I have definitely missed a few otherwise good movies since then. Nevertheless, I’ve seen plenty of great ones.
My favorite “lawyer” movie? That’s a tough one for me because there have been some really great ones. 12 Angry Men, The Verdict, The Juror…to name a few truly great ones. But my favorite single cross-examination scene is a no-brainer: Tom Cruise cross-examining Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Men. (I apologize for the profanity at the very end of this clip…I do not endorse that portion of it, nor do I know how to edit it out). Remember this scene?
So often in church conflicts, one side or the other (or both) fight under a banner that says, “We just want the truth to be told.” Maybe you have been a part of that group before. It seems right enough. After all, only a guilty party would be against telling the truth, right? “We just want the truth told about the pastor.” “We just want the truth told about that group of people.” “We just want the truth told about us.” Etc., etc…you get the picture. But here is what I have learned about pretty much every church fight (including yours): there is the very shallow truth involved in your particular issue, and then there is a much deeper, more profound, larger truth about your conflict. And in so many cases, a church either cannot or will not handle that larger truth.
The larger truth about your church’s conflict is an ugly truth about the relationships in your church. They are not what God wants them to be. The larger truth is, …