“Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.” Matthew 6:1
People who do not want anything to do with the church often accuse it of being “full of hypocrites”. I have a theory about why they say that…
I have at least a couple of observations about Jesus’ words above..observations that apply directly to us as church leaders.
1. This is not a word for you to apply to someone else…this is a Word from Jesus to you ABOUT YOU. Even though I do get it wrong from time to time, I consider myself a student of grammar. With all due respect to Mrs. Harris, Mrs. Stephens and Mrs. Seitz (my first three English teachers in high school) it was Ms. Peak, my 12th-grade English teacher who really convinced me that good grammar and good communication are related. So let’s take the English translation of Jesus’ sentence in Matthew 6:1 and do some simple diagramming, shall we? (Is there anyone else out there who remembers diagramming sentences?)
“Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them.”
Anybody know the subject of that sentence? Anybody?
If you said the subject is implied and that it is an implied “You”…you get a gold star for today! This is a word to “You”. It is not a word about “them” or about “him” or “her”. It is for you, and it is about you.
I once heard someone say that God’s Word is always more effective as a mirror than as a magnifying glass. I love that concept. It is perfect. I believe we would all become better scholars of Biblical …
And they exceeded our expectations: They gave themselves first of all to the Lord, and then by the will of God also to us. 2 Cor. 8:5
I think we, as church leaders, are guilty of making excuses for our people and their occasional luke-warm commitment to kingdom activity.
I did a radio interview last year about Trusting God’s People…Again, the book I co-authored with Debbie Williams. The interview request kind of caught me by surprise, since it had been a few years since we launched that book. I was grateful for the opportunity to do it, because that is still very much a topic about which I am passionate (people wounded by the church). Thanks, Shane Finch, for that fun opportunity!
It was one of the more interesting radio interviews I’ve done. Shane asked me a few questions I was not at all ready for (I’m hoping he had the mercy not to run my answer to, “What song do you wish you had written?”–wow, how embarrassing was THAT answer!). But one question really brought me under conviction: “What do you see the Lord doing through you in the year 2020?” I knew what my answer SHOULD be. It should be, “Whatever He wants to be doing through me.” That should be how all of us answer that question, because, as Christ-followers, we should all be do totally given to Him that He is doing absolutely everything and anything He desires to do through us.
That, I believe, is what Paul meant in his letter to the Corinthians about the Macedonian believers who had given so very much out of their poverty and persecution. They gave themselves first of all to the Lord… I think I have a pretty fair understanding of what …
“Therefore, holy brothers, who share in the heavenly calling, fix your thoughts on Jesus, the apostle and high priest whom we confess.” Hebrews 3:1
I have been blessed with only a limited amount of genuine grieving in my life. Frankly, I’ve done a whole lot more consoling of others than I have needed consoling myself. But you don’t have to be an expert on grief to know that it has a profound effect on our ability to see truth. In fact, a part of the healing process is learning to look through the pain to some larger truth which, difficult as it may be to grasp in spite of the pain, still has a way of guiding us.
But did you know that the grief process is not reserved only for individuals? Churches grieve also. They grieve the loss of a much-loved leader, the loss of a ministry or program, the loss of a “way of doing things”, the loss of unity…all of these can cause a type of grieving process for a church. And like the grieving process for an individual, a church’s grief can be unpredictable and unrelenting. It can last a few days or a few years, perhaps even an entire generation. It can cause the church to do and say things it doesn’t mean to do and say. But most of all, just like the grief process for anyone else, it is painful…unbearably so.
Moreover, grief has a way of disorienting us, both as individuals and as congregations. It turns up into down and right into left. It leaves us not even knowing which way to look for direction. It is chaotic and complex and confounding.
So, it is in the pain of real grief where we are often left with little orientation …
I believe that loneliness is sweeping our culture in epidemic proportions. I also believe the church is uniquely positioned and empowered to cure loneliness. We just need to figure out what genuine friendships look like in the face of life’s most painful circumstances.
I have not yet met a pastor or a church leader who thinks their church actually has too much community or too much in the way of genuine relationships. The truth is, all of us are always looking for ways to develop a deeper sense of community among our members. We all understand that there simply is no richer, deeper, more fulfilling sense of God’s love and grace than to be fully known and fully loved, i.e., to have someone know our darkest secrets and struggles and flaws and still love us!
I have found that kind of community in our church’s support group ministry. It is the absolute best way I have ever seen to say to hurting people, “We understand you and we love you anyway!” I have come to believe that the more church members we can get involved in it, the deeper our sense of community becomes. Here is a great example from that ministry:
The underlying message behind support groups is the same message which is at the heart of all genuine community: you are not alone. My church’s support group ministry is built on two simple foundational pieces: (1) God’s Word, and (2) friends who share your pain. There seems to be no limit to how much healing can take place with those two elements working together in a person’s life.
Of course, there is much more to a good support group ministry than that. But that is the core of it. Anything about this message which …
The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to him all they had done and taught. Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.” Mark 6:30-31
The sending out of the twelve in Mark 6 was the disciples’ first real taste of ministry. Up until then, Jesus alone bore the burden of having crowds pressing in around him with their pains and brokenness. But for this short time, Jesus filled the disciples with the miraculous powers of the Spirit. Suddenly, they were casting out demons, healing the sick, speaking amazing words of wisdom and drawing the crowds. Quite apart from Jesus, each of the disciples were, for the first time, feeling the long hours of bearing the burdens of broken people following them all day long insisting on miracles and healings and words of wisdom. For the first time, the disciples had to deal with the utter exhaustion of personal ministry. No surprise, then, that Jesus addressed their exhaustion when they gathered back together for their debriefing. Jesus’ very first words to them were words of wisdom to every pastor and minister today…
“Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.”
Every leader in the church, EVERY LEADER, must take seriously these words from Christ.
Even the secular world has figured out this eternal truth. Nobody wants a surgeon operating on them when that surgeon is in a state of exhaustion. Nobody wants a pilot flying their airplane when that pilot is sleep deprived. Nobody wants truck drivers operating 18-wheelers on our highways when they are falling asleep at the wheel. When none of …
Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving. Col. 3:23-24
My dear friend, Dr. Ann Farris, taught me that in this world there are 4 kinds of people: those who ask “What?”, those who ask “How?”, those who ask “Why?” and those who don’t ask any questions but just like to party. Every good task force or team needs each of these types of people. I so get that! Of all the different “temperament” and personality profile studies I have done and seen (isn’t it shocking how many very bright people over the centuries have devoted themselves to dividing humanity into four categories?) this one may be my favorite. I like it because it explains so much. And I like explanations…
…because I am definitely a “Why?” person.
In every job, with every assignment, even in every game I play, I just need to understand the “why”. If I don’t, then I’m not very useful, not very effective. Motivation is everything to me. That is true in my work with churches (I really do insist that the church understand WHY each of its ministries exists) and it is true in my individual life as well. Life is just too busy to engage in activities with no purpose at all.
And so it is with our work. Having a strong work ethic has everything to do with having a grasp of WHY we do it in the first place. If the best reason you can muster for showing up at work everyday is “to collect a paycheck” (and by the way, I strongly suspect this …
In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you, brothers, to keep away from every brother who is idle and does not live according to the teachingyou received from us…We hear that some among you are idle. They are not busy; they are busybodies. II Thessalonians 3:6, 11
The last time my studies took me into Paul’s letters to the Thessalonians, it was Thanksgiving time a couple of years ago. I remember stopping and thinking about his counsel in those letters and how it might hit the contemporary American church. I found some things for which I was thankful then, and I am still thankful today. Today’s “Tuesday Re-mix” replays those Thanksgiving thoughts.
The American church is probably loaded to the brim with idle Christians. We are a fat, happy bunch of church-goers for whom convenience is among the highest of values. Prayer meeting on Wednesday night? Not very convenient. Sunday night worship service after a full day of church stuff? Not very convenient. Missing soccer games or band practice or sleeping in on Saturday in order to work at the homeless shelter? Not very convenient. Being the “consumers” we are, we just want our Spiritual lives to stay within the very small slice of our week which we have designated for that and, above all, we want God to stay convenient to us.
If Paul visited the American church today, I think he might just have a heart attack when he observed how low a priority our Spirituality has become in so many cases. Don’t get me wrong. There are many, many churches who are getting it right. But let us be honest here, it has been about a hundred or so years since genuine revival swept across our country or since the American …
In my law practice, a bit of my litigation work is in the area of construction litigation. Large construction jobs seem to have more than their share of contention among the players. It seems that the job the design team (i.e., the architects and engineers) envisions and the job the contractor actually finds in the field are often not the same job. That difference leaves lots of room for lawyers, if you know what I mean.
But it is a real benefit for an owner with a dream for a building to be able to go to a design team of architects/engineers, tell them what he/she in wanting to do, and have that team of professionals produce a blueprint for getting it done. After all, that owner may or may not have any experience building buildings. They need someone who can take their “dream” and draw up a set of detailed plans for making it happen.
That, it seems to me, is exactly what every church needs for ministry.
If you have followed this blog long at all, you know how strongly I believe in an empowered laity in the church. I believe every believer (i.e., every church member) has at least one assignment, one ministry. I believe all of us are supposed to be pouring ourselves into others through at least one ministry mechanism. Frankly, it is why we are still here on this earth.
But I’m not so sure all of our churches have really embraced that reality. I wonder if all our churches are really ready to hear ministry ideas from their laymen? If the Spirit of God so moves in someone in your church and that person comes to your leadership with that idea, that passion for ministry, are you ready to receive …
“The world can do almost anything as well or better than the church…You need not be a Christian to build houses, feed the hungry, or heal the sick. There is only one thing the world cannot do. It cannot offer grace.” Philip Yancey (What’s So Amazing About Grace?) quoting Gordon MacDonald
In his book Purple Cow: Transform Your Business by Being Remarkable, Seth Godin teaches that a business (and I would contend every organization, every group, every institution, every movement and every individual) must find a way to set itself apart in order to stand out in its industry, like a purple cow standing in a field of Holsteins. I believe his metaphor introduces an eternal truth, one which it would behoove the church to understand and embrace.
Thinking about what the Christian church has to offer the world, what it’s “purple cow” must be, it really has to come down to one thing: forgiveness. That is the “felt need” the church can address. If the church is serious about making disciples, if it is serious about introducing a lost and broken world to the only Savior Who really can save, then the church must get very, very good at the whole concept of forgiveness. Paul, talking to the church at Corinth, speaks of both the message of reconciliation (i.e., that God loves you and forgives you) and the ministry of reconciliation (i.e., that we do too). I believe Paul would say that, if we are not demonstrating forgiveness in our relationships with each other (the ministry of reconciliation), then our message of the gospel is meaningless.
The irony in this is that, for the most part, the church proves itself week after week to be surprisingly bad at forgiveness. Our relationships often do …
I am currently in South Africa with a team of trainer/facilitators from my ministry. For the names of the team members and our respective schedules, click here. Please pray for us!
For my Thursday posts during this time away, I am featuring thoughts and writings from one of my favorite South African pastors/writers, Andrew Murray, who pastored churches in South Africa from 1850 – 1917. Two of his works which I have loved are Abide in Christ and With Christ in the School of Prayer.
So You Will Have Power in Prayer
“If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you.” John 15:7
“Prayer is both one of the means and one of the fruits of union with Christ. As a means it is of unspeakable importance. All the things of faith, all the pleadings of desire, all the yearnings after a fuller surrender, all the confessions of shortcoming and of sin, all the exercises in which the soul gives up self and clings to Christ, find their utterance in prayer. In each meditation on abiding in Christ, as some new feature of what Scripture teaches concerning this blessed life is apprehended, the first impulse of the believer is at once to look up to the Father and pour out the heart into His, and ask from Him the full understanding and the full possession of what he has been shown in the Word. And it is the believer, who is not content with this spontaneous expression of his hope, but who takes time in secret prayer to wait until he has received and laid hold of what he has seen, who will really grow strong in Christ.” A. Murray, Abide in Christ