When Church Culture Meets Needs!

-Haunted By A Scripture!

I grew up in a church culture that did relatively nothing to meet “physical” needs! It was argued that if you gave people money that they’d just spend it on booze & cigarettes & drugs. So, don’t give them anything, we were told! We had no food pantry to provide for the hungry in our city! We had no benevolent funds to assist with other needs! And, yet we thought we were being faithful to God’s Word.  But, there’s a scripture, in James, that always haunted me as I read it:  “Pure and undefiled religion before our God and Father is this: to look after orphans and widows” James 1:27.  What do you do with that?

-Playing The Legalist!

How can we just dismiss that? Or, play the “legalist” and limit the spirit of the text to caring for orphans or widows exclusively. At the same time, we cannot just be preoccupied with physical needs and omit the sharing of the Gospel! That’s the problem with many socially-minded churches! If we limit our care, for them, to physical needs & never share the Gospel, with them, all we’ve accomplished is to keep them alive longer, only to prolong their ultimate meeting with God @ the judgment, whereupon their unbelief will be exposed! It’s not “good deeds” or the “Gospel.” It’s not an EITHER-OR! It’s a BOTH-AND decision we must make!

-What Is Pure Religion?

To James, pure religion is not the RESULT of good deeds; but, RESULTS in good deed! We don’t take care of the orphan, the widow & the poor in order to ATTAIN pure religion! Rather, when our religion is the pure Gospel, of Jesus Christ, we become Jesus “in the flesh” when we meet the needs of the orphan, the widow & the poor! “Not by works of righteousness that we have done; but, by His mercy He saves us” Titus 3:5.  Salvation is “…not of works, so no one can boast…” Ephesians 2:9.  But, when we humble ourselves & trust Christ’s atonement work, on the cross, He changes us inside & the Holy Spirit gives us the heart of Jesus! As we are sanctified & grow, in our faith, we’ll want to meet the physical & spiritual needs of the down-trodden, of our world, just like Jesus did! This ought to be a core ministry value for the church!

-A Change That Includes Service!

Look again at that verse in James; but, this time let’s back it up one verse & see how it flows, in context, from one verse to the next:  “If anyone thinks he is religious without controlling his tongue, then his religion is useless and he deceives himself. Pure and undefiled religion before our God and Father is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself unstained by the world” James 1:26,27. Notice how James lumps together 3 very practical evidence of pure religion; or, 3 areas of obedience that evidence genuine saving faith— 1) Self-control in your speech; 2) A Ministry of Compassion to the needy; and, 3) Practical holiness. See that? Inspired by the Holy Spirit, James places ministry to the needy & cleaning up a potty mouth on an equal plane as living a holy life! More on that next week!

 

The Humility Of Jesus!

-Our Lack Of Humility!

Our general failure to serve others, as Jesus did, stems from our failure to humble ourselves as Jesus did! As Jesus washes the feet, of His disciples, He finally comes to Peter— “Then He came to Simon Peter. And Peter said to Him, ‘Lord, are You washing my feet?’ Jesus answered and said to him, ‘What I am doing you do not understand now, but you will know after this.’ Peter said to Him, ‘You shall never wash my feet!’ Jesus answered him, ‘If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me.’ Simon Peter said to Him, ‘Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head!’ Jesus said to him, ‘He who is bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean; and you are clean, but not all of you’” John 13:6-10.  Peter’s words express his shame; that, he had been unwilling to humble himself & wash the feet of the disciples, “Lord, You’re not going to wash my feet, are you?” His words express a brokenness among the disciples now.

-Overcome By Selfishness!

They were overcome by their individual selfishness & humiliated by their pride that kept them from washing each other’s feet! And, the occasion provided Jesus the opportunity to exhibit true humility! That seems to be Jesus’ intent when He tells him,  “…you don’t understand now, but you will know after this.”  “Peter, you’re protesting because you’re ignorant,” Jesus was saying, “I’ve been telling you, for 3 1/2 years, that I came to minister to people, not to be ministered unto. I came to be humiliated & humbled! Someday you’ll understand.” After Jesus’ resurrection, Peter did understand. He had observed the total humiliation & humbling of Jesus on the cross.  But, not now! As Jesus washed his feet, the complete picture, of what Jesus came to do, was not evident yet to Peter. He still thinks Jesus is about to launch His Kingdom! This is the King— “What are you doing down there washing my feet, King Jesus?” “Peter, you’re just not tracking with me,” Jesus was saying, “I must humble myself! That’s why I came! And, if you won’t let me humble myself, in your place, you can have no part of Me! If I don’t experience the ultimate humiliation of death, on the cross! If I don’t take your sin & the sin of the world! If I don’t make atonement for your sin, you can have no part of Me! You’ll never spend eternity with Me!”

-I’ve Given You An Example!

He finishes washing their feet & says, “You call Me Teacher & Lord, and you say well, for so I am. If I then, your Lord & Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you” John 13:13-15. The “example” He gave was NOT the practice of foot washing! The example He gave us was HUMILITY!  His ministry, as a SERVANT, didn’t appeal to the religious leaders! Serving others made Him weak, in their estimation. He couldn’t possibly be the Messiah! Judas Iscariot came to the same conclusion! So, he determined to cut his losses & make a little profit from his wasted 3 1/2 years with Jesus! How sad they missed the Servant King!

 

Called To Serve!

-A Day Away From Crucifixion!

Jesus began His ministry quite impressively! The gospel accounts reveal that He kind of burst on the scene! He attracted huge crowds because He spoke differently than anyone had ever spoken before! Especially Israel’s priests and other religious leaders! When we get to chapter 13, in John’s gospel account, Jesus is a day away from His crucifixion. By now, the crowds have abandoned Him, in part, because He began preaching a message of sacrifice & service!

-Take Up Your Cross!

He told them they needed to crucify “self” and take up their cross daily if they wanted to be His follower! He preached an upside down kingdom where those who led must serve! That the way to be FIRST was to be LAST! He turned the world’s leadership style on it’s head! This was what His church would look like! And, many of His original followers, wanted nothing more to do with Him! They had followed for selfish reasons! But, Christ’s kingdom would be a selfless one! So, Jesus is left with 12 followers— and, one of them, Judas Iscariot, would betray Him! So, they’ve met back in Jerusalem, in an upper room, to celebrate the Passover together.

-Jesus Washes His Disciples Feet!

And, John writes this:  “Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that His hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end. During supper, when the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray Him, Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside His outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around His waist” John 13:1-4.  Their feet were dirty from their trip. It was common, for most travelers, to walk. A horse or burro was an expensive luxury for most! “Roads” were little more than dirt paths! They had no sidewalks, or bike paths, as we’re accustomed to! Depending on the weather, you either moved through inch thick dust; or, liquid mud caused by rain. It was impossible for sandals to keep the dirt out! Most Jewish homes kept large vessels of water, near the front door, for every visitor to wash their feet. It was typical, in this time period, for a slave to wash the visitor’s feet.

-Jesus Serves Like A Slave!

But, when the disciples get to the upper room, there is no slave! No servant is prepared to wash their feet & no one volunteers to wash feet! In fact, this is the same group that Luke tells us (ch.22) had been fighting over who was the greatest among them. Who would sit at Jesus’ right hand & left hand when He setup His kingdom? So, with that going on, what were the chances that any of them would humble themselves & wash the feet of the other disciples? The bowl of water was there! The towel was there! Everything needed to serve was there! But, no one was willing! The text seems clear that they were in the middle, of their meal, when Jesus rises from the table (v.5) to show them what it means to serve!

 

The Interests Of Others!

-We’re Too Bratty & Hard To Please!

Is it just me? Or, are Christians far too easily offended? It seems like there are an awful lot of really “thin-skinned” believers; and, modern culture & technology provide them this unprecedented number of places to vent their wrath—social media & reality TV & the internet & talk shows all offer a platform to puff-up our feelings of self-importance & fuel our self-righteous attitudes! It seems incredibly reflective, of our idolatrous society, that even Christians have become bratty & hard-to-please! I’ve eaten out  at a restaurant, with a Christian friend, who berates a waitress for bringing them the wrong dish & decides to write a scathing online review for everyone to read! Where is grace & mercy?

-It’s Embarrassing!

It’s really embarrassing when compared to the real persecution that believers face in other parts of the world! I mean, what else might be on that poor waitresses mind? A severely ill spouse? Up all night with a baby? Why aren’t we asking— with genuine concern— if they’re okay? Why not offer to pray with her? This stuff is epidemic; and, surveys are revealing that one of the main reasons the lost aren’t coming to church is because of the conduct of those who claim to be following Jesus! Instead of enhancing the Gospel of Christ, as Jesus intends, we’re part of the problem!

-We’re Too Easily Offended!

Right now, one of my best friends, in the ministry, is fighting a battle for his pastoral life because he “dared” to lovingly confront a mom & dad over their out-of-control toddler, who screams during the entire Worship service; and, they refuse to take him out of the service! They were “offended” that he would ask them to remove the screaming child for the benefit of the rest of the faith community! We were talking about this in our Thursday morning men’s Small Group & one of our members mentioned that of all the people he’s known, who’ve left the church over the last 20 some years since his conversion, he thought that no more than 3 or 4 actually had Biblical grounds for leaving! The rest left over purely selfish reasons! And, they will stand one day before the One who was beaten, mocked, spit upon & finally hung on a cross to die— “You left your church over that? Really? Go get a cross & deny yourself!

-Loving Others!

We need to beat the drum to LOVE OTHERS! We need to preach that message better and more often! Because most in the church, today, just don’t get it! We need to preach & teach the church how to love others selflessly & assume personal responsibility to deal with personal sin, resolve conflict & restore wounded relationships! The Apostle Paul wrote the Church of Philippi: “Do nothing out of rivalry or conceit, but in humility consider others as more important than yourselves. Everyone should look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others” Philippians 2:4. That last line is perhaps the most significant! If we’re going to be part of the solution, church, we have to “…LOOK ALSO FOR THE INTERESTS OF OTHERS.” Don’t just focus on your own interests, Paul says. We need to be rescued from our idol of narcissism, church!

 

What Jesus Calls Great!

-Wouldn’t You Like To Know?

Have you ever given thought to what it would have been like to be one of Jesus’ disciples & just walk through life with Him? To literally walk through life with Jesus! Because that was the most common method of transportation in that day! And, to hear Him speak God’s wisdom into every situation they encountered! Mark, who wrote the Gospel of Mark, tells us about a time when Jesus & His disciples were on the road, going up to Jerusalem; and, Jesus gets real serious with them & begins to tell them that the Chief Priest & the religious leaders would condemn Him to death! That He would be mocked & spit on & flogged & killed! And, it was weird— like they didn’t even hear what He was saying— but, 2 of the disciples, James & John who were brothers, approach Jesus immediately after He dropped that “bomb” on them & ask if they could sit on each side of His throne in Glory!

-Great To Jesus Is Service!

That really ticked off the other 10 disciples! Mark records it like this:  “Jesus called them over and said to them, ‘You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles dominate them, and their men of high positions exercise power over them.  But it must not be like that among you. On the contrary, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant,  and whoever wants to be first among you must be a slave to all.  For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life—a ransom for many” Mark 10:42-45.  In so many words, Jesus was teaching them that if you’re GREAT in God’s Kingdom, that this world probably won’t even notice you!

-Jesus’ Leadership Model!

What Jesus calls “GREAT” and what the world says is “GREAT” are generally 2 entirely different things. Jesus calls you great when you reject the world’s leadership style (v.42). Those who lead, in this world, dominate or lord it over anyone in a “subordinate” role, Jesus says. Having a “position” of power is of great significance! But, that’s not the case in Jesus’ Kingdom! If we follow Jesus’ leadership model, we have to reject the world’s style of leadership. Instead, Jesus calls you great when your ministry is measured by the people you serve (v.43).  “…it must not be like the world’s leadership style…” among believers, He says!

-Do You Want A Title?

In the ministry of the church, Jesus says it’s not about having a “title.” Do you want a title? If you’re an “ELDER” you SERVE! If you’re a “DEACON” you SERVE! If you’re a Sunday School Teacher, a Small Group Leader, an AWANA or NURSERY WORKER you SERVE! If you’re a WORSHIP TEAM MEMBER— it’s NOT A SHOW! Jesus doesn’t care about your title! He cares about your SERVICE! You want to be GREAT? You want a TITLE? Take the title of “SERVANT”, Jesus says! And, then, Jesus calls you great when you humble yourself & become the world’s slave (v.44).  Some versions render the word “servant.” But, that’s not right! The word is “doulos” in the original Greek language; and, the only correct way to translate it is  “slave.” Jesus meant for us to take on the humility of a slave when it comes to our ministry & service to others!

 

Give Up Your Life!

-Great In God’s Kingdom!

In my last post we talked about the kind of life that Jesus called great! We picked up on His conversation, with the disciples, after two of them— James & John— asked if they could sit in the seat of power, next to Jesus, in His Kingdom.  “Jesus called them over and said to them, ‘You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles dominate them, and their men of high positions exercise power over them.  But it must not be like that among you. On the contrary, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant,  and whoever wants to be first among you must be a slave to all.  For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life—a ransom for many” Mark 10:42-45.  In so many words, Jesus was teaching them that if you’re great in God’s Kingdom, that this world probably won’t even notice you!

-Slave Or Servant?

Jesus calls you great when you reject the world’s leadership style (v.42). He also calls you great when your ministry is measured by the people you serve (v.43).  But, there are 2 more points I’d like to draw out, from this text, related to what Jesus calls great.  He also calls you great when you humble yourself & become the world’s slave (v.44).  We touched briefly, on this point, in our last post.  The word is “doulos” in the original Greek language; and, it can only be translated accurately as “slave” in the English. So, while the Holman version actually translates it “slave”, many translations choose to use the word “servant.” And, while they can be credited with sensitivity for choosing to translate the word as “servant” because the history of slavery, in America, is so repulsive & offensive, we probably ought not change the word Jesus used.

-The Humility Of A Slave!

He meant for us to take on the humility, of a “slave,” when it comes to our ministry & service. In this way, we actually serve like Jesus did:  “Make your own attitude that of Christ Jesus,” the Apostle Paul wrote, “who, existing in the form of God, did not consider equality with God as something to be used for His own advantage. Instead He emptied Himself by assuming the form of a slave” Philippians 2:5-11.  In other words, Jesus didn’t use His title— GOD— as a BIG STICK! In His incarnation, He took the form of a SLAVE!

-Suffering For Others!

Finally, from Jesus’ words here, we discern that He calls you great when you give up your life to suffer for others (v.45). Even Jesus suffered for others, willingly, all the way to the cross! He served ‘til it hurt! ‘Til it killed Him! And, you image Jesus when you live your life similarly! That’s probably not going to get you a fancy TITLE; or, the corner office in the big corporation! But, it will get you a “Well done, good & faithful servant” from Jesus! You may have noticed that the focus, in this post, was not on spiritual gifts, the reason being, that, the greater emphasis, in Scripture, is on the heart attitude toward ministry rather than giftedness or knowledge! Jesus emphasis humility over giftedness; and, the power is never said to be in our GIFTS; but, in the Holy Spirit! So, how will you respond to needs around you? I hope like Jesus did!

 

How To Measure Generosity!

I’ve Left For Some Vacation Time!        Next Post June 13!

-I’m Naturally Selfish!

I confess to you that I’m not naturally a very generous man. I mean, by that, that I’m prone to be selfish! It is almost never my 1st inclination to give financially to meet a need. I have to be prompted by God’s indwelling Holy Spirit. His Spirit prods me to commit a generous “act”; but, constant generosity just doesn’t flow instinctively from me. It’s not one of my gifts! So, I’ve had to ask the Lord to plant generous thoughts in my heart.

-Not The $100 Bill!

I remember one time, during a worship service, that I felt the Lord elbow me to give the bill in my wallet to whatever ministry was participating in our service. When I opened my wallet I saw that it contained a $100 bill—now, I want you to know that’s not a regular thing with me—but, that day I had a $100 bill; and, in front of it a $20 bill. “Lord, certainly you mean for me to give that $20 bill, right?” But, I felt a very distinct impression that He wanted me to give the $100 bill; so, reluctantly, I did!

-I’ve Never Missed What I Gave!

Through the years I’ve felt similarly pressed to give, sometimes more & sometimes less. But, here’s my testimony—I’ve never missed what I’ve given! It has always been absorbed by God’s abundant generosity; so, I’ve always had enough! Here’s what I hope to get across to you in this post—when you give, from a generous heart, it costs you nothing! In other words, you won’t lose what you give away! But, the person who hoards & selfishly holds onto his money, when the offering plate is passed, tends toward poverty! That person lives with the constant struggle to make ends meet. “One person gives freely, yet gains more; another withholds what is right, only to become poor. A generous person will be enriched, and the one who gives a drink of water will receive water” Proverbs 11:24-25. To paraphrase, using The Message, “The world of the generous gets larger and larger; the world of the stingy gets smaller and smaller.” God measures our generosity by our sacrifice! That doesn’t make sense to the unbelieving world. The world says, “If I want to have more, I have to KEEP more.” But, that’s not true in God’s economy—”If I want to have more, I have to give it away!”

-You Can’t Outgive God!

There’s a principle here that says you can’t out give God! Now be careful here! Don’t draw an unbiblical conclusion like those who twist Scripture & preach a “Health, Wealth, and Prosperity Gospel.” God is NOT an investment broker! Don’t expect to put a $100 bill in the offering plate & get $1000 back. Giving that way is not generosity, it’s GREED! The God who knows our heart also knows the motives behind our giving! He measure our generosity by what we sacrifice to give; and, it’s not a sacrifice when we expect to get something back! No, it’s the world of the generous that gets “larger” and “larger.” It might be extra cash in your pocket; but, probably not! Like God extending the life of the Israelites robes & sandals to last 40 years in the wilderness, He may bless us with the extended life of our appliances & vehicles & health!