Yesterday Debbie and I made a trip to Birmingham to see the surgeon who gave her a new knee last year. Debbie was having some pain in that knee and wanted to know it the new knee was still OK. The appointment was at 3:30 p.m. so we hoped we would get out of there before the afternoon work traffic. We didn’t, of course and it was–let’s say a challenge in both patience and hope–that we could even get on the Red Mountain Expressway. Getting onto the Expressway was difficult because of all the traffic. To make a long story short, we finally managed to get on it, and after several minutes, we were moving right along. And what does this have to do with The Kingdom Life? Glad you asked!
On the front porch this morning, thinking about yesterday afternoon, I remembered what is commonly called “The Story of the Rich Young Ruler” (see Matthew chapter 19). He was in a traffic jam of a different sort. He was trying to find real life. According to the Talmud there were 613 rules. Now that’s a lot of rules for one young man to follow. It’s worse than Expressway and Interstate work traffic! So, he came to Jesus trying to get out of his traffic jam with one statement and one question:
“All these things I have observed from my youth. What do I still lack?”
Matthew chapter 19 verse 20 from the World English Bible
You see, this young man thought there was one more thing he needed to add to his plate. Since the 613 rules weren’t giving him what he longed for, then there must be Rule Number 614. But instead of adding Rule Number 614, Jesus told him to let go of everything and follow Him. Jesus doesn’t want to be another thing added to your plate called life. He wants us to wipe the plate clean, and simply follow Him into the life our hearts long for and know it was created for. Not adding another thing–but get rid of everything! And how does this young, successful man respond?
That was the last thing the young man expected to hear. And so, crestfallen, he walked away. He was holding on tight to a lot of things, and he couldn’t bear to let go.
Matthew chapter 19 verse 22 from The Message
Is you life like that congested Red Mountain Expressway in work traffic? Trying to squeeze in one more thing? Are you trying to fit Jesus into an already overcrowded life? How’s that working out for you? Why not do what Jesus said and scrape all that’s on your plate and allow Jesus to be that plate? Love God with all your heart. Love others the way Jesus loves you. And make sure all the glory goes to HIM!
At the beginning of this Journey I wrote that I did not know exactly what would happen or where it would lead. I compared it to a class Syllabus that a college professor wouldn’t reveal until each lesson began. I realized this is true–but like most things in life–I didn’t know how true. And this morning a word settled itself into my gray matter.
That word is Priorities! It’s been there all along–it’s just this morning it came into clearer focus. From every Monday eveing until Wednesday evening, Dad has been my priority–as it should be. He has his routines that he wants–finds comfort even in them–and my role is NOT to do them for him, but to assist him. And along the way, other priorities still need my attention. For example, my Tuesday Night Facebook Live Bible Study. Though Dad doesn’t have an internet service provider, thanks to my Samsung phone I have a hotspot so that I can do my preparations between serving Dad.
And the rest of the week I still have other priorities. This Journey has pushed me into evaluating all of my priorities. In this time of year, one of my planned priorities had been deer hunting. Usually by now I’ve been hunting a dozen or more times. But this year I’ve only been 3 times. Two of those wouldn’t have happened but one of our grandsons, Hampton, came down to see us and go hunting. And as much as I miss sitting in a stand enjoying the solace and beauty of God’s amazing creation–it’s not high on my priority list right now.
Priorities do change. It’s the nature of this beast called life on the third rock from the Sun. Saturday, December 11, priorities changed for hundreds of people as that tornado swept across 6 states. They went from planning Christmas and New Year’s Day events to planning funerals and planning how to get through just another day. While before Christmas pictures show neatly wrapped gifts–symbolic of the daily life we want where everything is pretty and neat–life is more like after those presents are opened. Paper, gift bags, boxes, tissue paper, and glitter everywhere. A mess!
How we react and what we do with all those priorities will determine IF will we still be standing at the end of the day or not. This is why we need Jesus so much and why we should be calling out to The Holy Spirit to help us sort through the crumpled up wrapping paper to find what matters the most. Finding what matters the most causes the other “so-called” priorities to fall in place–or vanish all together. Trust God to help you in the aftermath–of both literal tornadoes and the other kinds of tornadoes that upends our life.
Count on God being with you every step of the way. You should and you can depend on God. This is one of the many lessons that Christmas tries to teach us. Be confident in Jesus even if–nay–even WHEN it seems that life is spinning out of our control. Remember–please remember–that the name of Christmas and the name of life every day it happens we need to remember is EMMANUEL–which means God is with us. If Jesus would enter THE world by means of a smelly, dirty stable–and He did–then He will step into our world to help us do the one thing that we can only do–take the next step. My next step–your next step–is determined by our priorities. Make your top priority the live completely surrendered into God’s Love, Grace, and Mercy. My prayers are for the survivor’s of this most recent tornado; and for those going through personal tornadoes.
Just 3 days ago, it was T.G.I.F., THANK GOD IT’S FRIDAY! Leave the work world behind and have some fun! This morning the song has changed to Oh, Lord! It’s Monday. During the season when I was the Community Spiritual Director for the New Covenant Emmaus Community I was inspired to write a weekly devotion by this name. And I was inspired to write a book–I started it, but I haven’t finished it yet. And that got me to thinking why so many dread Monday! I am going to attempt tackling this issue every Monday–the things that make us dread what we are facing in a new week. Have your trays in the upright position. Put away your electronic devices and fasten your seat belts. We are about to take off!
One of the things that will give us that Dreaded Monday Attitude is Unfinished Tasks! And I have several of them. I promised a friend I would help him finish a project. Administrative work I should have already done. Tuesday night Facebook Live Bible Study. Another message to finish. A doctor’s appointment–two actually. Debbie is having a chemical stress test on Thursday. And my book–which I have been putting off way too long. And here’s the thing–of all the tasks I’ve mentioned I’m sure I’ve forgotten at least 5-6 others.
Maybe I’m not the only one who is overwhelmed by Unfinished Tasks on this dreaded Monday. Being overwhelmed by Unfinished Tasks happens for at least a couple of reasons. The first being we haven’t prioritized our time. We’ve put second, third, sixty-seventh things ahead of what matters the most. And we get behind. I need to get my priorities arranged–and that will happen when I stop giving procrastination the top priority in my agenda.
The other thing that makes us feel overwhelmed by Unfinished Tasks is we think that it’s all left up to us–us and us alone. We never think about the best help of all–The Mind, Power, and Presence of God. Paul wrote in Philippians Chapter 1, Verse 6–“And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.” I can rely on God to help me finish all these tasks–when I make Him my Constantly Top Priority. And so can you!
When we rely on God–allow Him to set our priorities–and trust that HE is always present with us, and IN us–then we can say: Good! It’s Monday! What shall we do together! Now, if you will excuse me–God’s got some things HE needs me to finish!
We see these ads multiple times from different organizations every day. And NO! I am not against any of these organizations who run these ads. Their work is closer to the work of the Kingdom of God than many church programs and ministries. However, do wonder about a couple of things. Why $19 a month? And does $19 a month really show you care when you’re in a nice, comfortable home or driving a really nice car all while compromising your integrity?
Granted, they do a great job at pulling at our heart strings when showing us pictures of things like abused animals. Don’t get me wrong–I am against the abuse of animals. But I am also against the abuse of humans. They show the worst conditions that some animals live in. BUT. . .for only $19 a month you can change it AND get this limited edition T-Shirt that shows you care.
But what about unborn children? Why don’t we see ads of children being aborted because someone doesn’t want to be a parent, or because the child may have a birth defect, or because the child is the wrong gender, or simply because they changed their mind about being a parent? If we, as a nation, really care about the neglected, abused and abandoned, then $19 a month for a magazine subscription, a T-Shirt or a throw doesn’t cut the mustard when THE MOST VULNERABLE are allowed to be discarded like yesterday’s trash.
Here’s my point–$19 a month, just pennies a day will NOT change our culture as long as an unborn child isn’t protected. An expectant mother who uses Meth is arrested for abuse. But, if the day before she went to an abortion clinic to have an abortion, it’s OK. I think not. If you feel like you are a better a better person for wearing that T-Shirt or wrapping up with that blanket, go right ahead. But it takes more than $19 a month to really care. Think about James 1:27
True spirituality that is pure in the eyes of our Father God is to make a difference in the lives of the orphans, and widows in their troubles, and to refuse to be corrupted by the world’s values.
(The Passion Translation)
If $19 a month, just pennies a day makes you think you really care–then you have been corrupted by the world’s values.
The Tyranny of the Urgent by Charles Hummel is a
small booklet with a big punch. Written
for the business world its message rings true in the Kingdom Life. As a pastor I understand how the urgent
becomes a tyrannical dictator of my time.
There have been times I felt more like a firefighter in the church, than
when I was in the fire department; running here and there putting out fires
caused by human friction. At other times
I felt more like a referee than a coach, separating players rather than
directing them. If for no other reason,
I understand how mothers and fathers can fall victim to the tyranny of the
There is one sentence which really hits me hard, and maybe some of you. And it’s the one thing you must remember this morning:
Don’t Let The Urgent Take The Place Of The Important In Your Life!
Charles Hummel, The Tyranny of the Urgent
For you mothers, let me give
you some examples of the urgent: getting
supper on the table on time; the unexpected guest who arrives at supper time;
those stacks of clothes by the washing machine; that spider web in the corner;
paying bills; the Mom Taxi; and in the summer time putting up those vegetables
for later consumption.
These are a few of the
urgent things which we think require our immediate attention. Believe me, the urgent will really fight,
claw and scream for attention. It will
plead for our time and make us think we’ve done the right thing by calming our
nerves when we give in to the urgent.
But the tragedy of this is
that while you and I were putting out the fires of the urgent, the important
was left in a holding pattern. It’s Interesting
To Me That The Tyranny Of The Urgent Will Scream And Shout For Attention, But
The Important Is Neither Noisy Nor Demanding. It patiently and quietly waits for us to
realize its significance. In this
moment, let’s forget the urgent and ask ourselves: “What’s
really important to me?” Say
it out loud.
This is a big question,
maybe one you need some time to think about. It’s one I need to think about often, but not
until I get so many irons in the fire that I find myself like the person
standing on the stairs wondering, “Was I going up or down?” Then I have to separate the important from
Let me give you some insights into real life:
1. We tend to lose vitality as individuals and as the church rather than gain it as time passes.
2. We tend to give greater attention to what we WERE rather than what we are BECOMING. It’s easier to look back and smile on yesterday’s accomplishments rather than look ahead to the future and think about tomorrow’s possibilities.
God’s people are not meant
to be museum pieces placed and anchored on a shelf to collect dust. We are
alive, moving and active people called by God to make an impact on a world that isn’t quite sure which end is up
and it certainly doesn’t ask for our help, and often treats our help with hatred
and contempt. To move forward
as a family and as The People Of God, we need to determine to keep our lives in
step with where God is active and moving!
Look at today’s
passage: 1 Thessalonians 2:1-13 (NLT)
Even though Paul’s visit was
brief, his coming was not a wasted effort.
It may have been brief, but it was not in vain. Paul pinpoints the characteristics of his
life and ministry there. In doing so, he
gives us 4 essential steps for every mother, parent, in fact, for all of us.
1. Our First Step Is To Be
Biblical. verses 2-4
You know how badly we had been treated at Philippi just before we came to you and how much we suffered there. Yet our God gave us the courage to declare his Good News to you boldly, in spite of great opposition. So you can see we were not preaching with any deceit or impure motives or trickery.For we speak as messengers approved by God to be entrusted with the
Good News. Our purpose is to please God, not people. He alone examines the motives of our hearts.
I am confident that there was a constant barrage of urgent needs pounding away in Paul’s mind, but he made sure that his life and ministry were firmly fixed first and foremost, on the Scriptures. Did you catch his thoughts as we read:
►When he faced strong opposition, it was the Gospel he proclaimed. ►His motives were not impure but driven by The Truth Of The Word. ►And he considered The Word Of God something entrusted to him and that Word gave him such peace and confidence that he didn’t feel the need to be a people pleaser.
Even though it may sound old
fashioned, the first and most significant step we must take is to make the
Scriptures a part of our lives. A Word
mentality is the secret to being able to turn a deaf ear to the shouts of the
urgent, and hear the soft voice of the important. We must daily soak ourselves in the Word—not
by dissecting it piece by piece, but by seeing the magnificence of the whole
For sure it’s rare, and it
leads to a great deal of self-examination.
But did you catch the end of vs.
4? “He alone examines the motives of our hearts.” As we soak up the truth of God’s word, it
goes to work on us. It goes beyond what
the surgeon’s scalpel can touch—the soul, the spirit, thoughts, attitudes—the
very essence of our being. God uses His
truth to shape us and mature us in our walk with Him. Be determined that we are not going to allow
the tyranny of the urgent to steal from us all those important moments with God
in His Word.
2. The Second Step Paul Gives Is
Be Authentic! Verses 5-6
Never once did we try to win you with flattery, as you well know. And
God is our witness that we were not pretending to be your friends just to get
your money! As for human praise, we have
never sought it from you or anyone else.
For a moment, Paul moves the
emphasis from the Message to the messenger.
Even though he was an apostle, a genuine first century big shot, he did
not push for the spotlight. He resisted
being a power abuser. He used the
authority of Truth, Wisdom And Experience.
This was the type of leader Paul was.
He did not take advantage of his role.
Right alongside his desire to be biblical was his desire to be
The dictionary defines authentic by suggesting 3 things it is NOT:
►it’s not imaginary;
►it’s not false;
►it’s not an imitation.
Today we would say that being authentic means not being phony; free of the hype that so permeates our world. Let’s make this a priority in our homes and our churches. In the midst of all that’s called fantastic or super or awesome—let’s work hard at being real.
This means we are free to
question; to admit failure or weakness; to confess wrong; and to declare
truth. Great mothers, great Christians,
great saints are not those who look super pious. Dr. David Naglee, in whose classes I learned
so much about the Bible, once said: “The more I study the Bible, the more I
realize how much I don’t know!” You
don’t have to be perfect or expect perfection, just be real. Authentic people enjoy life more. They don’t take themselves so seriously. They actually laugh and cry and think more
freely because they have nothing to prove—no image to protect—no role to
play. They have nothing to
hide. As we study the Word, let’s also
be committed more to being authentic and less to being superficially pious!
3. The Third Step Is To Be
Gracious! Verses 7-11
Don’t you remember, dear brothers and sisters, how hard we worked among
you? Night and day we toiled to earn a
living so that we would not be a burden to any of you as we preached God’s Good
News to you. You yourselves are our
witnesses—and so is God—that we were devout and honest and faultless toward all
of you believers. And you know that we
treated each of you as a father treats his own children.
Paul had a Grace-Filled
Spirit! Did you hear his word
pictures? He cared for them like they
were his children. He didn’t want to
dump a truckload of theological data on them.
He wanted to share not only the Gospel, but his life with them as
well. As parents, and especially as the
church, we have to be careful not to become so judgmental that we forget to be
compassionate. Yes, there are times to
be firm, but we must remember to weave the thread of grace into our talk and
We must remember that people
are far more important than rigid rules and demanding expectations. Somehow, we must regain The Idea That People Are More Important, PERIOD! If my children can’t remember all the rules I
laid down, that is all right—as long as they can remember the sound of laughter
in our home. This point was driven home
when Leslie once wrote an essay for her high school English class, on ME! It ended up in the teen section of the Times
Daily. Now, I don’t remember exactly
what she wrote, probably because I chose to forget it—but I do remember the
laughter we shared over it. Be
gracious! Now, one more step to bind all
4. Our Fourth Step Is To Be Available! Verse 13
We never stop thanking God that when you received his message from us,
you didn’t think of our words as mere human ideas. You accepted what we said as the very word of
God—which, of course, it is. And this
word continues to work in you who believe.
Make yourself available
wherever people are. If we are going to
reach our children, grandchildren and society in this 21st century,
we must make our presence a high priority!
That’s exactly what Jesus did. He
met people as they were, not as they ought to be. Angry young men, proud politicians, loose
living street walkers, dirty and naked victims of demonism, and grieving parents
all received equal time, and because He did, they hung on every word Jesus had
Even though He could have
blown them away with His power and authority, Jesus intentionally related to
them on their level. And I am concerned
that it is we, the Church, who have hauled His cross out of sight. It is we, the church, who have left the
impression that the cross belongs only in the sophisticated halls of academia
or surrounded by beautiful stained glass.
We must bring the cross out where people live! Before God can raise them up, we must reach
out to them on their grounds—to literally take the cross into the world!
Now, let’s go back to something I said at the beginning:
The Tyranny Of The Urgent Will Scream And Shout For Attention, But The Important Is Neither Noisy Nor Demanding. It Patient And Quietly Waits For Us To Realize Its Significance.
The tyranny of the urgent will always out-shout the essential nature of the important—if we let it! The secret in is taking the right steps:
Set a firm foundation—Be
Apply the truth of
Develop a compassionate
Meet people where they are—Be
When we do this,
Christianity becomes something that is absorbed, not just worn. It is more than believed, it is
incarnated. Are you imprisoned by the
tyranny of the urgent? Then be set free
by what’s really important—this life in Christ—the Kingdom Life!
Are you consistently taking
all 4 of these steps? If not, God
invites you to His altar to confess it—agree God is right; and to repent—turn
away from it. If you are not already
doing it, come and renew your commitment or make your first commitment
to—Scripture, Authenticity, Graciousness, and Availability—the children in your
life, and to a world that desperately needs you to be this!
This I have noticed, not all of the “Hard Sayings” of Jesus are hard because they are difficult to understand what He means. Speaking for myself, I find many of them hard—not because they are hard to understand—they are hard because they are easy to understand. The difficulty is in what they demand if we are going to really going to be saved. Such is the case in today’s passage, Luke 9:57-62 (NIV)
57 As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” 58 Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”
59 He said to another man, “Follow me.” But he replied, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” 60 Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”
61 Still another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say goodbye to my family.” 62 Jesus replied, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.”
OK, let’s go ahead and apply the First 2 questions when dealing with the tough things Jesus said:
Is It Possible?
Is It Consistent With The Principles And Message Of The Kingdom?
We are dealing with 3 separate situations but there is a single answer for all 3 situations. It’s found in Matthew 16:24-25 (NIV)—Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.” Jesus lived out this model of following God and He expected no less from anyone who followed Him. So, the answer to both questions is YES. This means it’s a Word we need to take literally because it has authority over us.
I am so very thankful that Salvation is Free. It’s pure Grace that delivers you and I from the penalty of sin. And it’s pure Grace that delivers us from the dominion of sin because God gives each one of us who trusts in the Cross of Jesus a new heart—literally a new life. This new life comes with the promised indwelling of the Holy Spirit who helps us resist Satan’s attempt to bring us back under the dominion of sin.
And it would be much easier if following Jesus was only about getting saved, then just wait for the trip to heaven. Don’t you agree? Just go to the local terminal, find your gate, have a seat and just wait for them to call you flight number and take you home. But it’s not; there is much more. Jesus came in a time when getting to heaven was all about keeping rules and rituals. The problem with keeping rules and rituals is that they do not fill the heart with what for which we are created—That Relationship and Partnership with God.
And many people who listened to Jesus realized this, because their hearts longed for more. This concept of being saved by The Gift of God, wonderful! No more worrying about the Rules and Rituals. So people came running towards Jesus, wanting this wonderful Gift. And in today’s passage, we find 3 typical people wanting this Gift but without the cost of authentically following Jesus.
Think about this: What good is wanting salvation without the cost of following Jesus? A word missing from church today is a big word like mahogany: DISCIPLESHIP. This is a word that invokes the response from the movie The Princess Bride where Montoya Inigo says to Vizzini who frequently says “Inconceivable”— “I do not think it means what you think it means.”
Here’s the definition of DISCIPLESHIP—“It Is The Process Of Learning, Applying, And Sharing With Others The Teachings Of Jesus.” Learning for yourself, Applying to yourself before Sharing with others is what marks the difference between those who are “Christian” in name only and those who are Christian in heart, mind and life. Salvation is free, but Discipleship is costly. Here is why it’s Costly:
1] It Costs Personal Comfort
As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” (Vs. 57-58)
Here’s a man like us. He wants to follow Jesus. Promising idea, right? And immediately Jesus challenges him where we all live: At the level of comfort. You work hard to be comfortable; if you have a family, you work hard for them to be comfortable. And many want to be comfortable following Jesus. But Jesus isn’t offering us Comfortable.
I’m thinking about David when God’s avenging Angel was about to destroy Jerusalem. David had ordered a census and the reason was David wanted to know how many men there were available to fight. After all, David is a Warrior, and a warrior needs to plan. But there’s a problem: David hasn’t consulted God about it. God gives David an option on his punishment and David chooses 3 days of an angel of devastation. As that angel gets close to Jerusalem, David wants to intercede for Jerusalem and offer God a sacrifice, in hopes of finding mercy and grace with God. The farmer Ornan offers David his plow for the fire and oxen for the sacrifice and all for free. But David responded, “No, I insist on paying you for it. I will not sacrifice to the Lord my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing.” Unfortunately a lot of people who occupy the pews only want to sacrifice to God what costs them nothing.
You must give up personal comfort—to try even at the risk of failure. Jesus is demanding and following Him is even more demanding. Discipleship means we risk everything for Jesus. Right now, I’m thinking about our Mission Team Leader, Shelley Jones. Before she retired she was a computer programmer. Everything was about 0’s and 1’s–the binary code make it predictable. But as Mission Team Leader, she will tell you, she is way outside her comfort zone—but nonetheless, she’s engaged in Discipleship. You can’t follow Jesus in your comfort zones.
2] It Requires Immediate Commitment!
He said to another man, “Follow me.” But he replied, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” (Vs. 59-60)
The traditional view of this part is that his Dad wasn’t even dead yet. So, it’s just an excuse to postpone. “Jesus, as soon as my Dad dies, I’ll follow you.” This makes Jesus sound less harsh. But in the Talmud, their Bible and Book of Discipline (for you United Methodists) rolled into one stated: “He who is confronted by a dead relative is freed from reciting the Shema, from the eighteen benedictions, and from all the commandments stated in the Torah.” The Shema is like their pledge of allegiance and it comes from Deuteronomy 6:4-5
4 Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.5 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.
The 18 benedictions were their prayers at morning, midday and evening, so they were relieved of praying. And they were released from obeying all the commands in the Torah. In other words, according to the rules and traditions, nothing is more important than a funeral. But Jesus shocks this man and the whole crowd. Jesus says, “Nothing is more important right now than The Kingdom of God.” Jesus is saying that the old way of doing things is long gone.
John McNeill, a well-know preacher in Scotland during the late 1800’s and early 1900’s tells this story. He was scheduled to begin a series of meetings in England. His father died in Scotland on the day the services were to begin. He was told that it would be OK to cancel the services, everyone would understand. But hear John’s reply: “This same Jesus stood by me and seemed to say, ‘Now, look. I have you. You go and preach the Gospel to those people. Would you rather bury the dead or raise the dead?’ And I went to preach.” There are no excuses for postponing your discipleship—learning, applying and sharing the Good News!
3] It Involves Unlimited Commitment
Still another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say goodbye to my family.” Jesus replied, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.” (Vs. 61-62)
Jesus wants you to make up your mind. There is a strong trend in our culture to want “Jesus Lite”. A cartoon showed a church building with a large billboard in front that proclaimed:
It’s not unique to our time; we clearly see it when Jesus walked His creation. People were always looking for an easier way to get into heaven. Following Jesus Lite can make you feel better about yourself, but it does not make you a Christian and it will not bring transformation to your culture.
Each of these men had an excuse—the last 2 were more direct. Did you catch the words that are the 3 Most Telling Words Of All?
First Let Me.
In trying to have a relationship with Jesus, do you have a First Let Me? What is your “First Let Me”? Your excuse?
(This is from my current sermon series on the Hard Sayings of Jesus. Feedback welcomed and encouraged)
There is a tendency among us “church-goers” to focus on the kinder and gentler Jesus. We love the Jesus that is kind and gentle because, well, that’s what we really need. For one reason, we live in a world that is harsh and unkind. Another reason is that we recognize our own shortcomings and we need that kind and gentle Jesus to correct us when we’re wrong. So, we focus on the kindness of Jesus and bypass what I can only describe as the Tough Jesus. Jesus was at times Abrasive, and I’m not talking about how He dealt with the Scribes and Pharisees. So I need to begin this series with a, call it, a Disclaimer:
Jesus said some things that can be difficult to handle. Most of us don’t want to deal with that part of Jesus. But if we believe that Jesus is the Son of God who came to teach us the truth about God, then we need to listen to everything Jesus taught, even if it is harsh or difficult to understand. If Jesus said something, I believe that we need to pay attention to those words.
To understand what Jesus says, we need to get a grasp on Jesus the Communicator of The Truth. First, He was a great Story-Teller, using ordinary things to describe the extraordinary truth of the Kingdom. Second, He spoke direct authority, meaning we should take them as having authority over us.
A final communication tool of Jesus was his superb use of Hyperbole. The definition of Hyperbole is an obvious and intentional exaggeration, embellishment or magnification. Here’s an example: “He’s older than dirt.” That can’t be because we came from dirt. It just a way of saying, “Man, they are really old.” Here’s an easy hyperbole of Jesus: (Matt. 7:3 NLT)—“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?” We know that a plank won’t fit into an eye socket. Maybe some people’s big mouth, but not their eye socket, OK?
When it comes to the meaning of the words of Jesus, we simply do not have the luxury, nor the authority, nor the wisdom of choosing an understanding that simply makes us feel better about ourselves or about Jesus. Let’s take a moment to lay some groundwork that will carry us through the rest of this series, and through those passages we will not be able to address at this time. How do we sort through what is hyperbole and what is authoratative? Here are 2 steps to guide us in this determination:
Is It Possible? Back to the speck of dust and plank story. It’s simply not possible to walk around with a plank sticking out of your eye. Not possible?Then it’s hyperbole. If the answer is Yes, then go to Step 2:
Is It Consistent With The Message And Principles Of The Kingdom? Jesus will never contradict Himself. If it is not consistent with the Kingdom Message, then it’s hyperbole.
If the answer to either of these is No, then there is a very high degree of confidence that Jesus is speaking in hyperbole. If the answer to both questions is Yes, then there should be an even higher confidence that Jesus is speaking literally. Then our response is clear: do what Jesus said to do. But if He is speaking in hyperbole, how do we get to the truth? 3 steps that help us find the truth:
What Is Happening Just Before Those Words?
What Happened Or Was Said Right After Those Words?
What Is The “Point” Jesus Is Trying To Make? What is the Kingdom principle Jesus is teaching? Sometimes it comes with Jesus explaining it directly, sometimes it’s more subtle. This step may take a while.
Our first passage is from Luke 14:25-35 (NIV)
25 Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said:26 “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple.27 And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.
28 “Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it?29 For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you,30 saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.’
31 “Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Won’t he first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand?32 If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace.33 In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.
34 “Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again?35 It is fit neither for the soil nor for the manure pile; it is thrown out. “Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.”
Wow! Is it just me, or does Jesus come down hard on our concept of family values? Yet there it is, in black and white, unless you have a red-letter edition of the Bible. Here’s the one thing you need to remember, and it’s directly from Jesus: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple.”
Maybe the NIV translators did a poor job with the Greek and Jesus didn’t really say “hate your family”. But, nope, it’s there even in the KJV. Why would Jesus say such a thing? Maybe He was just having a bad day, or He was just tried of walking, or maybe tired that all those people were following behind Him and He simply wanted to be alone. Or better yet, maybe this is that hyperbole thing going on—He didn’t mean it literally—He was just exaggerating. Hyperbole isn’t meant to be taken literally. But when Jesus uses hyperbole, He really is making a point and we need to understand the point Jesus is making. Is today’s passage a hyperbole or is Jesus saying something literally?
Now, let’s apply the first 2 questions to today’s passage:
Is It Possible? Matthew 12:46-49—46 As Jesus was speaking to the crowd, his mother and brothers stood outside, asking to speak to him. 47 Someone told Jesus, “Your mother and your brothers are standing outside, and they want to speak to you.” 48 Jesus asked, “Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?” 49 Then he pointed to his disciples and said, “Look, these are my mother and brothers.” Now let’s apply the 2nd question
Is It Consistent With The Message And Principles Of The Kingdom?(Mark 8:34-35)34 “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross, and follow me. 35 If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake and for the sake of the Good News, you will save it.
OK, the answer to question 1 is YES and the answer to question 2 is YES. So, we must conclude that Jesus isn’t speaking in hyperbole, but literally. But why should we love God so deeply, even more than our closest relationships? Why would Jesus tell us to set aside everything, including family, and follow Him? Here’s what I see Jesus saying why we must set our families aside in order to put our love for God ahead of every other relationship:
1) Our God Is A Jealous God!
“For you must not worship any other god. For the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God.” Exo. 34:14 (NLT)
God is unwilling to accept any divided loyalty. Anything can come between us and God. Usually we think in terms of stuff coming before God. Those trinkets called idols—like money, that job, that house, that car—physical things. But it’s not just the physical things that can get between us and God.
Some think it’s the bad stuff—the sinful stuff—like another religion, drugs, pornography, politics. No doubt this bad stuff can become more important than God. But it’s not just the bad stuff that can get between us and God.
Good stuff can AND will get between us and God. Have you ever thought that the good stuff gets in the way of following Jesus? God refuses to play second to anyone and we dishonor Him when anyone takes priority over Him.
2) It’s The Difference From Following Jesus As A Disciple And Following Jesus As A Spectator
Then he said to the crowd, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross daily, and follow me.” Luke 9:23 (NLT)
Here’s the approach many people take. “OK, I have this, this, and that to do this week, so where can I fit Jesus into my calendar?” When we look for places to fit Jesus in, we are no longer following Him as a Disciple, but as a spectator. There was this crowd following BEHIND Jesus. But they were NOT following WITH Jesus. Here’s an example from Mark 3:21-34. That woman had a health problem. She decided that if she could just touch the hem of his garment she could be healed—and she was.
Now here’s the point—Were there others in that crowd around Jesus who had problems that had physical contact with Jesus? More than likely she wasn’t the only one with issues. But only she was made whole. Why? She wanted more than to be around Jesus—she wanted the power of Jesus in her life—and that took direct contact of her heart and her faith in Jesus!
We cannot give our families what they really need unless God is more important to us than them. In our culture, we need a realignment of priorities. This is the whole point of what Jesus is teaching then—and especially teaching now! It’s important for families to understand this—because we are the front-line battle formation for the reclaiming and restoration of God’s Creation.
And remember to Love God with all your heart. Love others the way Jesus loves you. And make sure all the glory goes to Him!
Probably my shortest blog, but a message that is unfinished in me and I long for the day when this prayer has perfected the work in me. It came to me, and I know it is from The Holy Spirit, as I was doing my morning stroll around the yard and praying. I want to share this prayer with you this morning and invite you to pray this prayer as well. Who knows, perhaps this will begin the transformation that my nation and culture most urgently needs:
Holy Spirit, I need You to walk WITH me because I need your presence to guide me and encourage me. Holy Spirit, I need You to walk THROUGH me because my church, community and culture urgently needs Your presence.
Holy Spirit, I need you to talk WITH me because only You have the Words that will give me the life that the Father longs to give me. Holy Spirit, I need you to talk THROUGH me because I know my words can sometimes be critical, false and unhealthy. But my church, community and culture needs to hear the Life-Giving Words only You provide.
Holy Spirit, I need you to work WITH me because the mirror of my daily life doesn’t always reflect Jesus and I want it to be so in me. Holy Spirit, I need you to work THROUGH me because there is a spiritual war happening all around me, YOUR church, my community and my culture and I do not have the strength, courage nor weapons to successfully defeat The Enemy, but YOU do!
And I now thank you Jesus, that your life, death and resurrection has opened the way for me to boldly come with this, the desire of my heart, the heart that YOU have given me. Amen and Amen!
For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven…A time to be quiet and a time to speak. (Ecclesiastes 3:1 & 7 N.L.T.)
I’ve been in this time of blog silence. For the past 2 months, with a couple of exceptions, I have avoided this blog and even reading a lot of the blogs I follow. To my blogging friends please do not be offended. God has been leading me in what Solomon calls “a season”. It started out as a season for me to focus on God’s vision for the church I serve. But God added another purpose–it was a season for me to focus on ME. Please do not think I am self-serving and narcissistic. Over these many years I have encouraged caregivers to take time to care for themselves. Self-care is not a sin; it is essential. Well, I have attempted to take my own advice. The demands of church, community and family have been especially pressing in this season. So it’s not like I haven’t been doing anything. Yet, it the middle of all the pressing life-issues, I have managed to spend more time ALONE with Papa, and that is always a good thing, and a great use of our limited time.
This time to be quiet has been a learning time. One thing I’ve learned is that I need to be silent and still before God. But here’s the thing: I’m not good at being silent, and even worse at being still. I do admit that I could probably be diagnosed as adult ADHD, oh look! A squirrel! And I keep repeating to myself David’s insight from Psalm 46:10–“Be still, and know that I am God!I will be honored by every nation.I will be honored throughout the world.”
And what I have learned in this season is that when I’m not still, my spirit doesn’t grow and when my spirit doesn’t grow I get distracted from the life that honors God. The struggle continues to be still and quiet but I am becoming more disciplined in it. And in this time to be quiet, God has been affirming and confirming my role at this stage of my life, which is to completely become a Kingdom Pastor and not a hospice pastor. Maybe I need to explain that statement.
A hospice pastor is very much like a hospice chaplain. A hospice chaplain provides comfort to a patient, their family and friends as they near the end of this life. A hospice pastor does the same thing, except it is offering comfort and ministry to a group of people known as the church, a dying church, but a church nonetheless. And after decades of service in the Kingdom, they need to be affirmed for their history and given gentle care as they slowly pass away. And they need someone to help them grieve. This is a hospice pastor.
A Kingdom Pastor is one who is called to be God’s instrument of transformation into a new paradigm which is actually an old paradigm, a couple of thousand years old paradigm: bringing the Body of Christ back to our roots of being involved in the story of The Kingdom of God and not the history of a local congregation. At times I admit I am overwhelmed by the risks involved. There are already those who think it’s time for me to leave. I admit I get a bit uneasy, OK, SCARED, at this journey. But I keep remembering (actually it’s the Holy Spirit that keeps reminding me) that those first disciples of Jesus took great risks. And here’s another thought, from The Spirit of course: the greatest risk of all was taken by Jesus when He died for me and then called me to be this pastor and preacher. With all the uncertainty that still remains in my mind, I am now ready to take the greatest risks ever in my life for the ONE who took the Greatest Risk of all eternity FOR my life.
Face it, change not only can be frightening, it IS frightening. The urge to be like the Hebrew children who were so close to God’s Promise but wanted to go back to Egypt, is the urge we all must fight. But remember Caleb–we do not fight this battle alone, but with the ONE who is Faithful to keep The Promise! And remember, love God with all your heart. Love others the way Jesus loves you. And make sure, very sure, that all the glory goes to HIM!
(I thought this one was worth sharing with all of you…certainly is thought provoking….)
EIGHT SIGNS YOUR CHURCH MAY BE CLOSING SOON
We call it the death spiral. I know. It’s not a pleasant term. I can understand if it causes you to cringe. By the time I am contacted about a serious problem in a church, it is often too late. The problems are deeply rooted, but the remaining members have been blind to them, or they chose to ignore them.
There are eight clear signs evident in many churches on the precipice of closing. If a church has four or more of these signs present, it is likely in deep trouble. Indeed, it could be closing sooner than almost anyone in the church would anticipate.
There has been a numerical decline for four or more years. Worship attendance is in a steady decline. Offerings may decline more slowly as the “remnant” gives more to keep the church going. There are few or no conversions. Decline is clear and pervasive.
The church does not look like the community in which it is located. The community has changed its ethnic, racial, or socioeconomic makeup, but the church has not. Many members are driving from other places to come to the church. The community likely knows little or nothing about the church. And the church likely knows little or nothing about the community.
The congregation is mostly comprised of senior adults. It is just a few years of funerals away from having no one left in the church.
The focus is on the past, not the future. Most conversations are about “the good old days.” Those good old days may have been 25 or more years in the past. Often a hero pastor of the past is held as the model to emulate.
The members are intensely preference-driven. They are more concerned about their music style, their programs, their schedules, and their facilities than reaching people with the gospel. Their definition of discipleship is “others taking care of my needs.”
The budget is severely inwardly focused. Most of the funds are expended to keep the lights on and/or to meet the preferences of the members. There are few dollars for ministry and missions. And any dollars for missions rarely include the involvement of the members in actually sharing the gospel themselves.
There are sacred cow facilities. It might be a parlor or a pulpit. It could be pews instead of chairs. It might be the entirety of the worship center or the sanctuary. Members insist on holding tightly to those things God wants us to hold loosely.
Any type of change is met with fierce resistance. The members are confronted with the choice to change or die. And though few would articulate it, their choice by their actions or lack of actions is the choice to die.
Churches with four or more of these signs have three choices. They can embark on a process of change and revitalization. Or they can close the doors for a season and re-open with a new name, a new vision, and some new people.
Of course, the third choice is to do nothing. That is the choice to die.
Thousands of churches will unfortunately do just that the next twelve months.
17 As he went out into the street, a man came running up, greeted him with great reverence, and asked, “Good Teacher, what must I do to get eternal life?” 18-19 Jesus said, “Why are you calling me good? No one is good, only God. You know the commandments: Don’t murder, don’t commit adultery, don’t steal, don’t lie, don’t cheat, honor your father and mother.” 20 He said, “Teacher, I have—from my youth—kept them all!”
21 Jesus looked him hard in the eye—and loved him! He said, “There’s one thing left: Go sell whatever you own and give it to the poor. All your wealth will then be heavenly wealth. And come follow me.”
22 The man’s face clouded over. This was the last thing he expected to hear, and he walked off with a heavy heart. He was holding on tight to a lot of things, and not about to let go.
Mark 10:17-22 (The Message)
I do not want this edition to become a battle arena of which experience of tragedy is the worst. All tragedies are painful and that pain is real and must never be minimized. We are not in a spitting contest folks. I am not even suggesting that your individual tragedies are unimportant, because they are. I have wrestled and struggled over this post more than any other. But could it be that the greatest tragedy is to love Jesus, but on our terms?
The focus of this blog, and the reason the Spirit prompted (more like pushed me kicking and screaming) is to take our focus off of what we think it means to be a real Christian by making the story of our life bigger than the story of our local churches by entering the narrative of the Story of The Kingdom of God. And today’s edition is about asking the question: Do we love Jesus, but on our terms? How you and I answer this question determines how big, or how small, the story of our life becomes. Does the narrative of our life tell a story as big as the Kingdom of God, or is our story as small as the small amount of real estate our life covers?
Look again at this passage we call “The Story of The Rich Young Ruler”. He is called rich, meaning he has experienced financial success in life. But his wealth is not mentioned until the end of this encounter with Jesus. Look at his initial encounter with Jesus. The Message says he shows “great reverence” and other translations says he “kneels” or “bows”. It is obvious, at least to me, this young man recognizes at the very least that Jesus is someone special because he senses that Jesus holds the answer to the deepest need of his heart: “How can I find unending life?”
I know the translations say eternal life but the Greek word used here is interesting. There are two particular Greek words translated as “life”, bios—which means physical life; we get our word “biology” from this word; and zoe—which means life that is full with purpose and meaning. What I am trying to say is that this man is not asking “How do I get into heaven?” He is asking Jesus, “How do I find life that has lasting purpose and meaning that begins right now? I don’t wait to wait until I get to heaven. I need it NOW!”
Others had been around Jesus but no one asked the question that He loves to hear: “How do I find unending life that has purpose and meaning starting right now?” And when this young man came to Jesus with that question pay close attention to how Jesus responds: “Jesus looked him hard in the eye—and loved him!” Can’t you see the great big smile on the face of Jesus? Finally, someone asks the question that is at the core of why Jesus became one of us. Jesus came as one of us so that any of us, all of us could experience zoe life to the max.
Obviously this successful young man loved Jesus because he brought the question of his heart to Him. But when Jesus gave him the answer, it wasn’t the answer he wanted to hear. In that instant this young man realized by while he loved Jesus, it was on his terms. And when Jesus upped the ante and raised the bar, this young man knew he was unwilling to let go of his bios life in order to take hold of the zoe life. Look at how he leaves the presence of Jesus, the presence that once offered him hope: “This was the last thing he expected to hear, and he walked off with a heavy heart. He was holding on tight to a lot of things, and not about to let go.”
This is the epitome of the greatest tragedy. This passage from Mark’s Gospel has led me to believe and become convinced that the greatest tragedy in life is to love God but on our terms. And here is why:
1. He turned away from the only Hope!
Everything points to his quest. He knew the life he was pursuing would not get him to where he needed to be. There is only one hope to find this life. He choose to walk away from that Hope for life that could be rich with purpose and meaning.
2. He rejected the only Cure!
The Message puts this man’s spiritual condition with very clear words: “He was holding on tight to a lot of things, and not about to let go.” He could not “fix” what was wrong with his heart, but Jesus could. Yet he chose to reject the cure for his pain and emptiness.
3. He walked away from the only Life!
He accepted a life that he wasn’t was designed for, a life that did not meet his created purpose. His created purpose, and our created purpose, is to join in with all that our Heavenly Father is doing.
Any experience that meets the definition of “tragedy” is awful and painful. But I see that the greatest tragedy for any human heart is to love Jesus but on our terms. Why do I call it the greatest tragedy? Because Jesus will not accept us on our terms and this means only one thing. We do what this rich young man did: we walk away from Jesus. To walk away from Jesus is to walk away from the only One who loves us enough to die for us. And that, my friends, is the greatest tragedy—to be so close to the zoe life, one word from zoe life but walk away from it. Jesus will never accept love on our terms. He is too good, too holy, too majestic for such a love. Such a love, a love on our terms, is unworthy of The Eternal One!
We cannot experience the life for which we are created by loving Jesus on our own terms. Those who know me know that I love to ask questions, even to the point of being annoying. But I must ask you, the reader, as I often ask myself: Do you love Jesus, but on your own terms?
Love God with all your heart; love others the way Jesus loves you; and make sure all the glory goes to Him!
Most of the time, well, practically all the time, the title of this blog is spelled with an extra “t”–“Don’t be a butt!” What we usually mean by this statement (putting it nicely) is “Don’t be so critical!” “Don’t be so ignorant!” “Don’t be so mean!” “Don’t be so judgmental!” “Don’t be so stinky!” Well, that’s not the word I’m using, but the meanings could be applied to my thoughts today. So be forewarned, I could become offensive. And if this post doesn’t offend you, keep reading future posts because I will get around to you in due time.
No, I am thinking about a certain passage that has this left-handed right-side-brain pastor with some more musings about The Kingdom of God. The passage is Luke 9:57-62 and it sounds like this from The Message:
57 On the road someone asked if he could go along. “I’ll go with you, wherever,” he said.
58 Jesus was curt: “Are you ready to rough it? We’re not staying in the best inns, you know.” Jesus said to another, “Follow me.”
59 He said, “Certainly, but first excuse me for a couple of days, please. I have to make arrangements for my father’s funeral.”
60 Jesus refused. “First things first. Your business is life, not death. And life is urgent: Announce God’s kingdom!”
61 Then another said, “I’m ready to follow you, Master, but first excuse me while I get things straightened out at home.”
62 Jesus said, “No procrastination. No backward looks. You can’t put God’s kingdom off till tomorrow. Seize the day.”
Most of the time we “backwards collar types” (that means preachers for the uninformed) use this passage to talk to those who are “lost” and need to make a decision for Jesus right now. And the Grace Pharisees like to use it in the same way. What? Grace Pharisees? Isn’t that an oxymoron? Sounds like it, but there is a new Pharisee in town, actually in the church, who feel it is their duty to determine who is worthy of Grace. Ain’t that a hoot! Worthy of Grace! They must have fallen out of the stupid tree and hit every branch on the way down. Oops, I may have just offended someone. Oh well, if the shoe fits…
Today, I want to apply this passage to the Churchians and the Tenured Pew Sitters. Only someone who has their head buried in sand cannot see that the Western Church is in serious trouble, which is what inspired me to even start this blog. In all fairness to the Churchians and the Tenured Pew Sitters, I do believe that they want to see this downward spiral (because it has become more than a trend) stop and reversed to significant growth. They sincerely want to see the sanctuary full every Sunday. They want to see every classroom in use and full of Sunday School students of all ages. They want to see more programs and more than enough volunteers to handle a myriad of ministries. They want to see people outside their church oohing and aahing over all that’s happening at their facilities; so much so that they will just rush in to join and be a part of it. BUT…
But don’t change anything as it is now
But make it like it was in 1960
But don’t make me give up what I like
But don’t ask me to get out of my comfort zone
But don’t expect me to do it
But don’t fill this place up with all “those” people
But don’t expect me to fast and pray
But make it easy
But don’t make me give up my sin because it’s not all that bad
But give us a pastor and staff who can be successful doing it our way
But, but, but, but….(can you think of other “buts”? Add them to the comments below)
Some may think I’ve gone on out a limb, a very thin and fragile limb, this time. BUT there are those comments by Jesus: “First things first. Your business is life, not death. And life is urgent: Announce God’s kingdom!” And “No procrastination. No backward looks. You can’t put God’s kingdom off till tomorrow. Seize the day.” Did you find it? God’s Kingdom! You cannot add a “but” to God’s Kingdom. Either He rules completely over your life, your activities and your congregation or He doesn’t rule. In which case, it is no longer God’s Kingdom in your congregation, but YOUR social club.
Do not be a BUT! Jesus is right! (Isn’t He always?) Our business is life and it is urgent! So seize the day! Love God with all your heart. Love others the way Jesus loves you. And make sure that all the glory goes to Him!
A careful examination of the focus and operations of many struggling churches reveal that one of the significant causes of their declining membership, attendance and impact on community is that they simply have endorsed and embraced the wrong priorities. And what breaks my heart the most is that those churches sincerely think they have the right priorities. Churches with the wrong priorities are not deliberately attempting to kill their church. The sad fact is they believe, believe with all their heart, that by their strict adherence to these wrong priorities, somehow there will be a turnaround in membership, attendance, and impact on their community. They are looking for leaders who will have the skill sets to gladly and proudly march them backwards to the 1950’s, when membership, attendance and community impact were at the highest.
There is only ONE priority that any church really needs to change the current downward spiral. Do you know what it is? I think I just heard someone say, “Put God first!” In congregations that have plateaued or declining if asked they would say that they are putting God first but continue to decline. I’ll have more to say on this later, but for now, suffice it to say that the #1 Priority for the church should be The Kingdom of God. Some of you just said, “But isn’t that what I said when I said the one priority the church needs is to put God first?” Maybe I’m just being my Annoying Self when I put this out there for your consideration. Who knows, maybe I’m turning into a heretic in my old age. But what did Jesus have to said about what should be our ONE priority? Let’s look at Matthew 6:24-34 from the New Living Translation:
24 “No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and be enslaved to money.
25 That is why I tell you not to worry about everyday life—whether you have enough food and drink, or enough clothes to wear. Isn’t life more than food, and your body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them. And aren’t you far more valuable to him than they are? 27 Can all your worries add a single moment to your life?
28 And why worry about your clothing? Look at the lilies of the field and how they grow. They don’t work or make their clothing,29 yet Solomon in all his glory was not dressed as beautifully as they are.30 And if God cares so wonderfully for wildflowers that are here today and thrown into the fire tomorrow, he will certainly care for you. Why do you have so little faith?
31“So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’32 These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs.33 Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.
34 So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today.”
The cause of the decline of the Western Church, again this is how I interpret what I see, is that first word, rather the lack of seeing that first word–seek! According to Strong’s Concordance, the Greek word used was zēteō. It has several usages and the one that caught my eye is this one: “to seek after, seek for, aim at, strive after”. In these latter years I have this deep sense from God that we are missing so much, too much, by overlooking that phrase, “The Kingdom of God”. A Kingdom requires a King but here in the good old U.S.A., we fought a war so that we would be free from a King. And so, we have this problem of declining membership, attendance and influence and the reason I see is that we tend to operate the local church more like a democracy and less like the Kingdom.
I realize that some of my fellow pastors can act like a ruthless dictator, but the fact remains that God has called us into HIS Kingdom, not our democracies. What does all this have to do with the wrong priorities? Glad you asked, and I will gladly give you an answer. Churches that are losing in membership, attendance and influence are 99% of the time churches that have forgotten the purpose of the Kingdom of God. Jesus came announcing that the Kingdom of God is at hand. And the purpose of this Kingdom is defined by Jesus when He declared in John 10:10
The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life.
If we follow the example of Jesus, giving life happens when we come to know their deepest needs and then offering what we have to meet those needs. If they are hungry, give them food. If they are homeless, give them shelter. If they have trouble reading or can’t read, we teach them how to read. If they are lonely, we build relationships with them. Everything about the Kingdom is externally focused on others, those outside the Kingdom, those outside the church. And herein lies the problem.
The wrong priorities seen in declining churches is that its members see themselves as the consumers of what the church offers. I dare say that you, the reader, have heard someone say, “Well I quit that church because they just weren’t meeting my needs.” The pastor, the programs, the staff, the music, the ANYTHING–it’s all about them consuming what is produced in the church buildings. They do not seem themselves as the “providers” of mission, but the consumer of services.
Every program, every ministry, every mission, every activity is to be focused on them, the members. When the pastor and/or staff fails to serve them, it is time to get rid of them and find someone who will. Consumption, consumption, consumption! All this consumption has led to the decline in membership, worship attendance, and most of all, community impact. Programs are not to serve the members. Staff does not have the responsibility of serving the members. And the Mission does not exist to meet the needs of the members. When the focus is inward, it is leading to the eventual death of a local congregation.
But there is good news: When the focus is outward, when the local congregation readies itself to meet and welcome those who are not in church YET, the decline is reversed. We are called to serve the Mission of the Kingdom of God, not be served by the Mission. We are called to become the providers of Mission and not the consumers of ministries. To become once again people who impact communities with the power of the Kingdom of God we have to change the focus–from self to others. When our focus is outward and outside the walls of the local congregation and on those who are among the least, the last and the lost, the local church will grow in membership, attendance and best of all, grow great in impacting their community with the Gospel. Of this I am confident, absolutely confident, because our King said so:
Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.