“Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. Luke 18:10-11
There is perhaps no smaller thinking in the church than when we start comparing our church to other churches.
God, I thank you that our church isn’t like those churches who are so traditional and so irrelevant.
God, I thank you that our church isn’t like those churches who are so “culturally relevant” they have lost the real gospel.
God, I thank you that our church isn’t like those churches who use all the wrong versions of the Bible.
God, I thank you that our church isn’t like those churches who are a mile wide and an inch deep.
God, I thank you that our church isn’t like those churches who are uptight and stuffy.
God, I thank you that our church isn’t like those churches whose worship is wild and disorderly and worldly.
God, I thank you that our church isn’t like those churches who welcome homosexuals.
God, I thank you that our church isn’t like those churches who refuse to welcome homosexuals.
God, I thank you that our church isn’t like those churches…
No matter where you find yourself in any of these prayers…
It’s ugly. In the kingdom of God, pride always is.
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Some time later Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us go back and visit the believers in all the towns where we preached the word of the Lord and see how they are doing.” Barnabas wanted to take John, also called Mark, with them, but Paul did not think it wise to take him, because he had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not continued with them in the work. They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company. Barnabas took Mark and sailed for Cyprus, but Paul chose Silas and left, commended by the believers to the grace of the Lord. Acts 15:36-40
I honestly cannot even imagine how difficult being on a mission trip with the apostle Paul would have been. It seems to me you would be hard-pressed to find a more driven, intense “missionary” in the entire Bible than Paul. He seems to have worked tirelessly through very long days and he seems to have pushed himself and his fellow laborers to extremes. Being on mission with Paul would not be for the faint-hearted. So, just between you and me, I don’t blame young John Mark one bit for bailing on Paul in Pamphylia. I am sure that young man felt utterly overwhelmed by it all.
But oh what I wouldn’t give to have been a fly on the wall during that later conflict between the two teachers, Paul & Barnabas, over this very incident. Paul would have argued vehemently that the mission field is no place for quitters and that he had no time to be babysitting when he could be out teaching. He would have pointed out that John Mark literally left them holding the bag when he quit on them in the middle of that mission trip. Barnabas, ever the …
Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help,
who rely on horses,
who trust in the multitude of their chariots
and in the great strength of their horsemen,
but do not look to the Holy One of Israel,
or seek help from the Lord. Isaiah 31:1
I pay $4.00 for a cup of Starbucks coffee, when I could pay half that elsewhere. And I pay with my iPhone. And I follow American Idol (sort of). And I watch ESPN Sportcenter pretty much every day. And I follow secular bloggers, like Seth Godin and Michael Hyatt. I do most of these things because I want to be a part of this culture where I live…I want to understand it and to be accepted in it. I want to have influence in it as well. To be blunt, I want to be one of the cool kids.
I will also admit to you that I want this, even knowing that there are times and circumstances when it is not God’s first and perfect will for me. What I mean by that is…being one of the cool kids may well be more important to me sometimes than it should be. I try to be cognizant of that, but I am certain I sometimes miss the mark. I know that I am capable of looking in the wrong places for my acceptance…making “alliances” for my security other than with the Lord. In this regard, I am definitely still just a work in progress.
Judah did that with Egypt. In the face of certain discipline from God (at the hands of the Assyrians), rather than turning toward God and taking their medicine, they turned toward Egypt for acceptance and security. God’s path for them was going to be difficult and …
Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain. 1 Corinthians 15:58
“So what?” That is a question I always ask when I study the Bible. I just need to know why the writer is telling me this…why it is important to me. Nobody in the Bible answers that question better than Paul. In 1 Corinthians 15, there is a fascinating discourse from Paul about the reality of resurrection. Paul spends this longest chapter of all of the epistles laying out a brilliant apologetic for the doctrine of the resurrection, logically laying out the facts of the gospel, the hope of the faith, and the description of what is yet to come. The perishable becomes the imperishable, the seed becomes the sprout. Verses 1-57 beautifully spell it all out in what would be as complete a sermon as anyone would ever want on the subject of the resurrection. It is so complete, in fact, that one could easily end the lesson there. But I will not. Here’s why…
More than any writer I know, Paul uses the word “therefore” to signal a very important bottom line for him. In fact, even after a long diatribe so beautifully laying out facts and arguments such as he does in 1 Corinthians 15:1-57, you can rest assured that Paul has not yet said what he really came to say until after the “therefore”. That is how Paul signals that he is about to answer the question, “So what?”
In this case, he goes to great lengths to address those in the Corinthian church who were not convinced there would be a resurrection for Christ’s …
“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations…” Matthew 28:19a
I can remember pretty vividly how I felt at the births of both my daughters. Those feelings will no doubt stay in my memory long after the details of the events have left me. In both cases, God made us wait until long after we thought we were ready. So when they came, I was overjoyed and thrilled and excited and so very ready to be a daddy! With Elizabeth, my older, I can still remember taking her little hand for the very first time in Seton Hospital in Austin. I remember thinking, “What a huge responsibility this will be…I can’t wait to get started!” I had an attitude of extreme gratitude for the opportunity God had given me and of sober responsibility for how much work nurturing this child would be.
What if we in the church had a similar attitude about new friendships? What if we saw each new friendship in our lives as a God-ordained friendship and treated it as if God had given us a responsibility for it? What if we prayed expectantly for God to “birth” such new friendships in our lives and then jumped into them with both feet when He answered that prayer? Oh, how that would change the church!
We in the evangelical world often talk about “just sharing the gospel” and leaving the results up to God. I do think that is an important perspective. There is our part in that process and there is God’s part, and it agree that it is important not to confuse the two. But I also think that “just sharing and leaving the results up to God” lets us off the hook of the Great Commission. Jesus did not say, “Therefore go …