Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, and he led the flock to the far side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up…“Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.”Then he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” At this, Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God. Exodus 3:1-2, 5-6
When Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the two tablets of the covenant law in his hands, he was not aware that his face was radiant because he had spoken with the Lord.When Aaron and all the Israelites saw Moses, his face was radiant, and they were afraid to come near him. Exodus 34:29-30
Sometimes, I find myself concerned about how easily we as church leaders throw around the notion of God speaking to us. It seems to me that we are often guilty of speaking about that possibility as if we’re describing what we had for breakfast. In scripture, when God makes an appearance and speaks to one of His servants, or when one of His servants has just come from being in the presence of God, it is never a small thing. It is something that forever changes that servant, and that change is evident to the rest of God’s people.
So, as I ponder Moses’ friendship with God, I come away with a few observations that I find …
The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life. 1 Timothy 1:15-16
Does it matter whether or not Paul was in fact the “foremost sinner” before coming to Christ? Or, is the more important point that he perceived himself as such? Yeh, I think so too. It is the self-perception on this issue which matters most.
I think two of the biggest problems for most Christ-followers today is (1) having a false sense of who God is, and (2) having a false sense of who we are without him. The gospel is difficult in the American culture because there are so many in this culture who, frankly, do not feel the need for a savior. What’s worse, the church has become less effective as those of us in the church have tended to forget for ourselves just how desperately we need a savior. Still.
Churches, you see, can have a false sense of self just as well as individuals…we can actually stop remembering who we are without God. We can get so wrapped up in “doing church” that we lose sight of what matters most. Specifically, here are five ways I have seen us have a false sense of self…here are some lies we sometimes believe about our church:
1. We’re better because our music/preaching/buildings/programming/resources are better. Truth is, we are probably not better at all. ButIF we are better, it is only because of the work of the Spirit among us. All the stuff we do…is just stuff. …
“If you have raced with men on foot, and they have wearied you, how will you compete with horses? And if in a safe land you are so trusting, what will you do in the thicket of the Jordan? Jeremiah 12:5
Church leadership, especially the pastorate, can feel a little like the plight of Sisyphus…forever pushing that boulder up the hill with little or no results to show for it. They won’t pray…they won’t listen…they won’t volunteer or help…they won’t commit. But, oh, how they will complain! Sometimes you just feel like giving up.
I think every pastor who feels oppressed and burdened and stressed to the point of giving up should take a break and study Jeremiah’s ministry…really try to crawl around in Jeremiah’s skin. I promise, you will feel much better about your own circumstances!
Jeremiah spent 40 years obediently delivering a message nobody wanted to hear. Nobody. At all. He pushed and he pressed. He obediently spoke, again and again. He was ridiculed, beaten, imprisoned, and his own family scoffed at him. And through it all, to the very end, he was so very, very alone. And at the end of 40 years of these tireless efforts, he had not a single conversion to show for it. None. Jeremiah prayed and he begged God to change his assignment. He cried and he pled. He wished he had never even been born. And at one particularly low point of his depression, God’s response to him was something along the lines of “You think this is bad? The hard part hasn’t even started yet!”
But Jeremiah’s plight teaches us something important about how we measure our “success” in answering God’s call (and, just as importantly, how we should NOT measure our success). Maybe there will be amazing results to …
“As for the prophets who lead my people astray, they proclaim ‘peace’ if they have something to eat, but prepare to wage war against anyone who refuses to feed them. 6 Therefore night will come over you, without visions, and darkness, without divination. The sun will set for the prophets, and the day will go dark for them. 7 The seers will be ashamed and the diviners disgraced. They will all cover their faces because there is no answer from God. ” Micah 3:5-7
This passage from Micah has something to say to us about pastoral authority. And so does professional baseball.
They say that, among the various professional sports skills, hitting a major league baseball pitch may be the most difficult. I’ll buy that. And as far as I’m concerned, nobody practices that skill any better than Josh Hamilton. I honestly think he has maybe the sweetest swing in baseball. Last year, his four-home-run performance against the Orioles became just another illustration (just to put that in perspective, that has only been done 16 times in all of MLB history…that makes it even more rare than pitching a perfect game). But let’s be clear about those home-runs. They do not happen because of Hamilton’s amazing backstory, and they do not happen because of his title or his position as a major league player, and they do not happen because he has somehow earned the respect of his team mates or of opposing players. Those home-runs happen because of many long hours of perfecting a swing and then repeating that swing perfectly under a variety of circumstances. It is about sticking radically to that perfection and not wavering from it even a little bit. When Hamilton does that, when he sticks …
Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?”
And I said, “Here am I. Send me!”
He said, “Go and tell this people: “‘Be ever hearing, but never understanding; be ever seeing, but never perceiving.’ Make the heart of this people calloused; make their ears dull and close their eyes. Isaiah 6:8-10
Believe me when I tell you there are parts of my work as an attorney which I do not like. Likewise, there are parts of my work as a church mediator which are hard and not very rewarding. Likewise, there are parts of my various assignments as a church leader which I would definitely rather not do…things I definitely do not feel “gifted” to do, but which my leadership requires nonetheless.
Isaiah’s calling was almost certainly not to do something he enjoyed doing. It was a calling to do a very hard thing…for over forty years…with practically no visible return whatsoever.
So, I hope my pastor friends will understand when I tend to look with some skepticism at their desire to just do the part of pastoring which they enjoy doing. Some would like to just focus on the preaching and teaching without having to bother with the “pastoral care” parts. Others would like to focus on the administrative aspects without having to do so much preaching and teaching. Still others could be content just doing hospital visits all day long and never having to attend another insufferable committee meeting.
Shepherding God’s people includes all of those things. You don’t have to be good at all of them…but you do have to do all of them. If you don’t feel called to visit sick people and to counsel grieving people…you probably are not called …
“Everything they do is done for people to see: They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long…” Matthew 23:5
When I was in High School, my Dad gave me a Ryrie Study Bible. I wore it out. I was proud of that Bible. It wasn’t just the huge size of it (it was a larger Bible than the hard-back “Living Bible” so many of my friends carried)…it was all the commentary in it that made me proud. It was a little unusual for my circle of High School friends, so it drew some attention. And when friends opened it up to look at it, it just screamed “THE OWNER OF THIS BIBLE IS A BIBLE SCHOLAR AND A TRULY SPIRITUAL PERSON!” Seriously. You could hear it. The advantage, of course, of having that Bible was that I didn’t have to tell anyone anything about me in order to manage their perception of me. They need only have seen my Bible. I liked that.
In 1984, on my 24th birthday, my Dad gave me a “preaching bible”. It was black, with a very thin profile. By then, I had grown mature enough in my Christian walk to be a little embarrassed by my huge Study Bible(s). (I actually had several of them by then.) This “Thin Line” Bible was understated. When friends saw it, it said (in a very low key, nonchalant voice), “the owner of this Bible has so much scripture crammed into his brain, he doesn’t really need a big study Bible.” My attitude toward Study Bibles had changed. Actually, I think I heard a Christian comedian make a joke about huge Study Bibles and how pretentious they were and it changed how I saw them. I certainly did not want to …
My brothers and sisters, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas”; still another, “I follow Christ.”…Brothers and sisters, I could not address you as people who live by the Spirit but as people who are still worldly—mere infants in Christ. I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere humans? For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not mere human beings? 1 Corinthians 1:11-12; 3:1-4
The milk/solid food metaphor was apparently popular in the early church. Paul used it. The writer of Hebrews used it. Peter used it. Some metaphors just work so well, they “catch on” and make the rounds, I suppose. It strikes me that this metaphor probably conjured up different images for the early church than it does for us today. When we think of babies drinking milk today, we may have images of bottles or sippy cups going through our minds. But in the days of the early church, I suspect the images were more of babies breast-feeding or perhaps of baby animals being fed by their mother. It was the very natural process of the mother digesting the solid food for the babies and then passing it on to them through her milk. Bottom line: being on a milk diet was the most helpless, immature form of existence.
Another interesting thing about this metaphor is that, when you or I read it in scripture, …
Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. 1 Corinthians 12:27
If the goal of worship is to connect with God, then there are only two “grades” you can give a gathered worship experience: “A” or “F”. It is pretty much a pass/fail thing. That is because there is no such thing as connecting with God and it being anything other than amazing and wonderful…and if you are in a worship experience and you are NOT connecting with God, then, well…fail. I had to get all that said before I take up today’s topic, just so you know that I know…because today I am giving our culture’s gathered worship experiences a grade somewhere between pass and fail.
Last year, I attended a corporate worship experience at a church in the town where my daughter goes to school. It was well produced, but lacking in one way. Other than my family, I did not know a single person around me. Sadly, that was still true even as we were leaving. That just seems wrong to me.
The truth is, it was an amazing worship atmosphere. Very contemporary in style (I am blessed to be comfortable worshiping in almost any “style”), with a casual feel and lots of technology to help the worshiper stay focused on the message and on the theme for the day…great, introspective music, wonderful sermon, innovative communion. To their credit, I thought the worship leaders did a fairly good job of keeping the focus OFF of them on ON the Lord. That’s not easy to do in this consumer-oriented culture. But there was one element missing for me…and frankly, it is missing in the vast majority of corporate worship experiences I’ve ever seen or heard about. …
Tuesday Re-mix – This is a popular post from last year, updated and resubmitted for your consideration and comments.
My impression is that the church in America is getting LESS Biblically literate, not more. I don’t have any scientific data to support that impression. Maybe the Barna Group or someone like that has researched it. I’m just saying that, when we compare the evangelical church of today to the one that existed 50 or 100 years ago, I have a distinct impression that our understanding of the God of the Bible is not deepening–rather, it is getting shallower. I believe we are becoming a Biblically illiterate church. I would welcome your impression on that issue.
If I am right about that, then here is what is really mind-boggling: I suspect we are graduating more students from our theological institutions than ever before. I mean, I strongly suspect that there are actually more theologians among us today than we have ever had among us at any other time in the history of the church. Moreover, the church in America has groomed and perfected the art of preaching beyond measure. We have truly amazing, gifted teachers and preachers in the American church, and their lessons and sermons have never been more accessible than they are right now. Anytime I desire, I can go on line or tune into the radio and listen to Charles Stanley, Andy Stanley, John Ortberg, John MacArthur, Max Lucado, Chuck Swindoll or any of hundreds of other great preachers. You want choices? The church in America has choices galore!
So here is the critical question: how is that we have so much fantastic preaching and so many really smart theologians in the church today but we are actually less Biblically literate than ever?