Growing A Church Is Bad For Your Soul

There are many things that we know are bad for us. Candy eats away at our teeth. Bacon clogs our heart (allegedly). Texting while driving takes lives. Smoking gives us cancer and/or lung disease. Isolation brings depression or at least deep loneliness. Anger breads bitterness which births cynicism, hard heartedness, and just plain old meanness. Some things in life should be avoided because no matter how they taste or feel they are just bad for us.

There are many spiritual practices and positions that are similarly bad for us. The avoidance of corporate worship, a rejection of accountability, the judging of others behavior and intentions, the willingness to live disobediently are all things that Christians know are bad for us and should be corrected immediately if we want to have healthy spiritual lives and relationships. Some things just don’t mix and anytime we have more of our own self, our own freedoms, our own flaws mixed with the work that God is trying to do in us we will find self inflicted wounds and perhaps fatal tendencies in our formation. The good things that God gives us often come into conflict with the bad feelings, choices, and habits that we are desperate to maintain our freedom over and that is bad for the Christian soul.

Pastors are no exception to this truth. In fact, we may even be in more danger as we are fatigued by the weight and worry of a church culture that is less and less interested in being a Christian community and much more fascinated in being a Christian club or take out service. We are all in need of salvation and not just from our sins, but from our sinfulness, our selfishness, our self reliance, and our searching for a God that we can make in our own image. Pastors that follow the pattern of cultural trends will discover sooner or later that they are neck deep in the soup that brings sickness to our souls.

It is no secret that the church is in trouble in America. Much of the responsibility could be credited to the misunderstanding and mistakes made by pastors in leading the church and forming disciples. Those two are not the same thing, but that should be aligned or at the very least headed in the same direction. Too often they are not. While there are many reasons that the church is the way it is, it seems that the American church has done a particularly good job of messing up what God began birthing as a beautiful creation. Instead of making disciples and building beautiful community we have been busy enlarging, expanding, and exponentially obsessing on getting bigger, more powerful, financially stable/secure, and way too often chasing relevance as if it was a core value for the New Testament church. Leadership training is more common in churches than spiritual formation. It is easier to convince someone to be a better leader than it is to suggest to them that they should go deeper into discipleship. So pastors pick the more popular and profitable route or message.

This. Must. Change.

Church growth is not only not good. It is bad. Please read that again so that it sinks in on every level. The effects of professional ministers offering professional goods and services in the pursuit of making the gospel popular at all costs has made the church weak, confused, and sick. The prognosis is not only negative, but it is terminal unless we are delivered from our empty philosophy and mistaken identity.

The key to moving away from a church growth mindset and practices is not a change in strategy, but spirit. It does not require a new method, but a new master. To achieve freedom from the weight of promising big things we need a vision from producing small circles of disciples and quality leaders. If pastors are to be saved from the ministry of the American ideal it will necessitate an act of God that is greater than the activity of being professional competent or charismatically capable.

Pastors be warned what I am suggesting is not easy and will not work like an overnight charm. You can not blink your eyes and be transformed from your old habits of multiplying, maximizing, merging, mastering, and making up success stories to alleviate denominational loss and augment the need to be personally glorified or respected. It will be a process. It will be a slow, painful, lonely process, but along the way you will be affirmed in your spirit and you might find pilgrims that are on the same journey you are on.

Many churches will not like what you are saying/doing. It goes agains the grain of there investment over the last 40 years. You may not be voted out, but they may vote to personally leave or they may stay and offer the most apathetic involvement you or they can imagine. Don’t give up and don’t lose heart. Keep at the task of forming disciples and creating a community of faith, hope, and love. Preach the gospel rather than pragmatic principles and let the Holy Spirit show them the “how to’s” of living the Christian life.

God expects you to walk in the righteous way rather than the relevant way. No matter what a book or a Bishop says to you as a pastor the primary leading of a pastor is in the way that Jesus is headed. Anywhere he goes or anything he says is relevant. The world then fits into his agenda. Jesus may have gone to the people and shared in the culture, but it is a mistake to say or think that he acclimated to the Roman way or even the way of popular Judaism. The only relevancy test that we have as pastors and as congregants is based in forsaking this world and following him.

Denominations aren’t likely to lead this change, but they might follow. They also might not. You may not get support from anyone in your tribe that would think what you preach or propose makes sense. Your work might produce the kind of results that gets conference leaders to visit you with questions and concerns. Don’t panic. If pastoral work is to be fruitful it will not be from the hormones of fool proof ideas for breaking the 200 barrier. It will be the product of a long obedience in the direction of God’s leading you to form disciples and call those disciples into ministry.

The vision that God gives to us is not a body that grows bigger and bigger. It is a vision of a church that grows deeper in discipleship and broader in mission. That is a vision that is good for the soul because it leads us to measure our ministry in lives formed in Christ rather than parking spots or programs launched.  A church may very well grow to become a large body of believers, but it is not a healthy church if disciples are not being formed and sent. Any obsession that a pastor has over their work should focus on a passion for being faithful to the gospel and spilled out in Christian service to others.

Growing a church is bad for your soul or at least it can be. Any good doctor of the church would remember often that maybe growing the church isn’t the job of the pastor. That’s the job of the Spirit. Perhaps the reason that growing a church can be bad for the soul is because that is not what God intended us to do. It just might be that the the sooner we get away from thinking we are called to grow a church and get to the work of telling our people not to dream of such things, the easier it will be for us to get to the work God has called us to. That kind of work is forever good for the soul.

 

Mother’s Day Revisited

We all have a mother. There is no getting around it. Having a mother is an intricate part of the procreating process that God dreamed into our earthly reality. While I know that science and social experimentation have tweaked the birthing process since it was first introduced, the genetics of a mother are still required. Without a mother there is no baby. The same is true of a father, but I digress.

What happens following birth though is greatly different from child to child. Some will be placed in their mother’s arms and held tightly until they leave home as grown ups. Others will never be cradled by mom and will long for her touch. Others will find warmth, nurture, and tenderness in the arms of another mother and be forever grateful for her role in their life. Many will reflect on their mother’s touch as hot or cold or as accepting or rejecting. Mothers come in all shapes and sizes as well as perspectives and practices. Hopefully we can all appreciate our mother for who she is rather than what she did for mothers are real people in our life and not just providers of our next meal.

Yesterday across the country millions of people stopped to thank mom. Flowers, cards, gifts, and expensive meals were provided as a gesture of appreciation. Christian congregations ordered their liturgy to reflect on mothers and how they are gifts of God to children and to the family. Sports teams and entertainment venues marketed Mother’s Day as a great time to come out to the ball park or come into the concert hall. Parks and backyards were full of families eating and laughing who get together only two or three times a year to catch up and refocus on the family. Mom was the MVP, MOP, GOAT, and the GDP all in one yesterday and rightfully so. Yesterday was a day for mom to rest, reflect, be revered, and rejoice at the work of her hands. It was her day of reward.

But that was yesterday.

Today is a day for mom to go back to work. You have 364 days until your next free day and every one of them will count. So let’s make the most of the next year. I am writing to every mom on behalf of every kid so read carefully and apply where appropriate.

Mom’s we need you to…

  • Help us to smile, laugh, breathe, and skip. Life takes that away from us at every chance.
  • Remind us of how much you love us, pray for us, and appreciate us. Sometimes you are the only one who does.
  • Teach us to mind our manners, eat right, and behave ourselves. We forget those things that you taught us so long ago.
  • Recount for us the story of our birth and beginnings. That will help orient us time and time again in life when we are lost or confused. Heritage is way more valuable than we sometimes think.
  • Be a person of real faith and certainty that God is at work in all things. No matter what seems to be taking place.
  • Stop worrying about us. Advise us and encourage us, but worry, anxiety, and heart burn only hurts you and us.
  • Show us how to forgive and faithfully love those who hurt us. No one forgives like a mother so teach us please.
  • Stop chasing our childhood and help us navigate adulthood. It is a jungle out here and you know the way. Show us like you showed us how to tie a shoe or wash behind our ears.
  • Take care of yourself. Not with cosmetics and clothes or fads and follies that adorn your outward appearance. Take care of the inside of you – your heart, your mind, your soul. Those are the treasures most important to your children.
  • Tell us that we are smart, we are kind, and we are important. (Thanks Aibileen!) That is all that we ever really need to know as children and you are the greatest source of it on earth.
  • Never give up on us. We are still growing up sometimes even at 44.  🙂

I will likely think of other things for your mom “to do” list, but that is a start. Don’t try and conquer all of it today or this week. Pace yourself as you get back to work. Don’t be overwhelmed by the load. You are a mom and God has made you just a little lower than a super hero (but a much better cook (probably.) You’ve got this and you getting this will make all the difference in us.

We love you. Hopefully it won’t take another year to say that. Let’s talk soon. Now get to work so we can go back to being kids.

You Get What You Pay For

pay

That isn’t a very original thing to say. Everybody has heard it at some point. I didn’t coin the phrase, but I sure believe it to be true. Now that I am looking at buying cars for teenage drivers, new instruments for teenage bandies, and college tuition for soon to be young adults pushed out of the nest, I am realizing that I have choices to make about where and how I spend this money.

Over and over again in life I have gotten what I paid for. At times I have bought something inexpensive hoping to get by or make due. Other times I have broken the bank and splurged for the top of the line and the best in the market. In every purchase or investment I have gotten exactly what I paid for. Sometimes I have been very, very happy with a purchase (new Taylor Made irons) and sometimes devastated by going cheap (upper deck tickets at Minute Maid on opening day 2008.)

The consumer in us has us immediately thinking products or experiences. Getting what we pay for makes us think of blue jeans, boots, cars, haircuts or television sets. It makes us think of vacations to Vegas or cheap hotels at the beach. It reminds us of good food we eat on our anniversary and average food with jacked up prices at the ball park (maybe not an example of getting what you pay for.) What we wear, what we eat, and where we go is directly related to what we have paid for that product or reality.

This saying though applies to many other areas of life if we under “pay for” something in terms other than monetary exchange. Sometimes our payment comes in the form of time or talent. Sometimes it comes in the level of engagement or enthusiasm we have for something or someone. Sometimes we pay by being present and being ready to participate. Our cost in those cases are not measure by a reduction of our bank account, but in the addition or heart, mind, and soul into a scenario.

Think about these “you get what you pay for” realities.

As parents we get what we pay for when we put extra time into the development of our kids character and not just their skill development or athletic progress. Our children understand the value of character better because we have given time and space to the topic with them rather than assuming others will care for that need.

As leaders we get what we pay for when we bring energy to our team and not just work flow charts or new objectives for success. Our team senses that we believe in what we are asking them to do because we are personally involved as we give ourselves all in to the assignment.

As pastors we get what we pay for when we avoid settling conflict in the church, keep doing the same old things all of the time because its easy, and/or refuse to consider how culture is shaping our people more than the gospel is. Our church senses a lack of care and concern for the health of the church and an overall indifference to how lives are being changed.

As friends we get what we pay for when we expect to be the center of attention with every friendship and have the final word on every topic tossed around in conversation. Our friends see us as self absorbed and therefore not trustworthy or approachable with their needs which keeps relationships on the surface and usually on very shakeable grounds.

As married couples we get what we pay for when we make time for each other, listen to what is on each others heart, pray over the big (and small) things in life, and consider our spouses feelings above our own. Our spouse will know they can rely us to be safe, supportive, and so concerned with the relationship that other details of life are always second place.

Of course when we pay very little as parents, as leaders, as pastors, as friends we end up getting exactly what we paid for it. Usually nothing, but rejection, disappointments, failure, discouragement, and/or loneliness. Conversely, by paying big for those things we find that our relationships are healthy, balanced, and usually exactly what we need (or even more.)

How can you get more (or get a better product) by paying more today? Now that is really a pay it forward idea worth pursuing. Don’t delay and don’t keep being cheap. Put your best- your everything – into it. You will be glad you did. You will likely end up getting exactly what you paid for and more.

 

Tell me to what you pay attention and I will tell you who you are.                                                 (Jose Ortega y Gasset)

Rethinking Sunday

thinker

Yesterday I preached  from the following text…

Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him.  And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” So he told them this parable:  “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it?  And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing.  And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’  Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance. (Luke 15 – ESV)

This short story is coupled with similar stories bragging on a God that goes after lost sheep, coins, and sons. Those three objects don’t tell the full story about the things our God is after. He is a reconciling, redeeming God who is intent on embracing everybody and everything with His grace and mercy. Anyone or anything left out will not do. He is in it to win it and more importantly He is in it to win you.

The focus of the sermon yesterday was on calling people to repentance and sharing in the heavenly celebration of each and everyone who God reclaims. It would have been good, but a slightly different sermon to preach about the possible response of the 99 sheep left in the open field or more precisely of the congregation wondering why Jesus isn’t given them more attention. When Jesus tells the story he leaves no room for the 99 sheep to complain or push back, but anyone who has led Christians…I mean sheep…for 5 minutes knows what a fuss and ruckus it would cause if a pastor abandoned 99 to pursue 1. That kind of ministerial math never makes sense and is highly frowned upon. Good pastors focus on the 99 and leave the 1 to find their own way home…or not.

I sometimes wonder if  most people in the church would prefer to hear the passage this way…

Now the good church people were all keeping notes of what Jesus was up to. They began to stir up Facebook and Twitter by saying “This man wastes his time with the wrong people and doesn’t manage the church well and keeps talking about changing things around here.” Jesus told this story in response. “What kind of pastor spends her time hanging out and pampering those who should be mature in Christ? If one person or family is outside of the family of faith a good pastor gives the greater part of her attention to reaching them with the gospel and urging them to return to their faith in God. While she is shepherding lost sheep the sheep who are safe and sound can tend to each others needs and the business of the barnyard.” But the good church people responded with suspicious and critical hearts saying people who abandon God and the church should not be celebrated, but judged. The church is for saved people and the pastor should protect, provide, and predicate everything around them. Jesus urged the good people to have a right spirit about the gift of repentance that God offers us all. Everyone should rejoice when God gives grace for anyone or anything – for those in and those out. However, the 99 persisted in their beliefs and demands that Jesus could do much greater things if he would only tell and retell the stories that they liked to hear him tell…over and over…again and again….softly and tenderly…for those who are living right and keeping their membership covenant only…like the Father intended. 🙂 (Luke 15 – GDB2 version)

Every story that we tell about God should make more of the life and ministry of Jesus and less about the gory details of our shame and suffering as well as our selfishness and stone heartedness. Bragging about God’s grace is much better than bragging about our sinful past. Nor is it important to highlight how good, faithful, decent folk have been born and raised in the church and never needed God to rescue them. This story highlights the seeking, searching, soul saving nature of our gracious God. God is determined to give grace to the sinner and grace to the saint. Everyone gets grace!!!

Repentance is the singular appropriate response to that gift and all of us should practice it…today…right now…in everything. Repentance is for the one who strays, but it is also for the 99 who kept the faith, but maybe got sideways about the church or something else God was doing. Repentance is for the one who makes a bad decision and follows the wrong spiritual leader, but also for the 99 who in their heart values the politics of their party over the Great Commandment or the Great Commission. Repentance is for the one who has life pound them in the ground so hard that they stop believing God really knows them by name, but it also for the 99 who grumble over first world problems and the privileges they think they are entitled to as Christians. Repentance is for all of God’s people – lost and found. It’s a shame that we reserve it only for the really, really bad, shameful, dirty sinner.

Repent today of anything in your heart that might be against or between you and God. To Repent is to confess, turn away from, and abandon anything that does not honor God in word, thought, and deed. You will not only feel better (confession is good for the soul), but your life will be better for it (and so will others.)  You might even hear a song being sung when you do because Jesus tells us “there is more joy in heaven over the 1 who still see their need for God’s grace than the 99 who desire to stand on their own works and ways.” And who doesn’t love good music on a Monday morning?

What Would He Say Today?

king-family
Dr Martin Luther King, Jr, Coretta, and the kids.

So many of the people who have a profound effect on us lived well before we did. People who lived through great challenge and turmoil, but somehow made it through. People who faced tremendous opposition, but somehow kept their cool and control of their words. People who walked a path with little company while calling others to follow or join them. The names of those women and men are too many to list, but today I am thinking about one of them – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

His words, his movement, his life has made a tremendous difference in the lives of Americans now for more than 50 years. While he did not see all that he dreamed of, much of his dream has been recognized with voting rights, improved working conditions, mainstream acceptance in leadership, and an improved equality of life for minorities across the country. This is not to say that has all been accomplished and finished. Nor is it to say that all of the progress has been easy or even willingly achieved. Much has been done, but much is left to be completed. Only God knows when all things will be put to right in our country. Dr. King and the leaders of his movement are details of the American story that we can not live without a high degree of thanksgiving for what their life’s work made possible. He (and they) made us better as a people. Thank you Martin. Thank you Medger Evers. Thank you Ralph Abernathy. Thank you John Lewis. Thank you Rosa Parks. Thank you Corretta Scott King. Thanks to so many others who led in the most difficult of days.

While my life started after his ended I am thankful that his spirited platform is being honored and revisited. Churches all over the country will be remembering Dr. King today with special services. Cities will be having parades in his memory and Universities will have seminars or symposiums. Many government offices and public schools will be closed in recognition of his leadership. All well intentioned efforts to connect a historical figure with a modern need and problem. I can’t help, but see the irony that in the same week that we honor someone for a peaceful movement and reconciliation we will inaugurate someone whose platform either ignored or denied any such vision. No doubt many will see one as a shyster and one as a hero. One will be thought of as a quick tempered, big mouth that divides and conquers while the other is seen as a deeply profound speaker of faith, hope, and love. Sadly that opinion will likely flip flop depending on the political agenda of the evaluator.

I am choosing to remember today what Dr King said to us all – not to some, not to those he liked or approved of, not to those who bought into his agenda. These words aren’t the gospel, but they are good words for how people interested in the gospel applies politics and personal choice to how they live their life, raise their kids, and run their business. They are words that could possibly help us in a week like this not lose hope because the words of the righteous are a fountain of life (Proverbs 10:11).

 
If you will protest courageously, and yet with dignity and Christian love, when the history books are written in future generations, the historians will have to pause and say, “There lived a great people—a black people—who injected new meaning and dignity into the veins of civilization.” 

*  From an address given in Montgomery, Ala., Dec. 31, 1955

“We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people.”

* From “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” April 16, 1963

“I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right, temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphant.”

* Nobel Peace Prize Acceptance Speech, Dec. 10, 1964

“Everything that we see is a shadow cast by that which we do not see.”

* The Measure of a Man, 1958

“Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.”

*From Strength to Love, 1963

What would he say today? He would say the same things. He would not vary or wane with his words or agenda. He would bet big on love and on God’s sovereignty. He would deny the power of people or words that divide and destroy. He would ask the privileged to not consider themselves, but to cast a look at those in need and those without. He would warn us against the lies of men who tell us that others are lying to us or misleading us while they move the pawns behind the scene. He would not bully others, but he would befriend the alien and the stranger. He would not urge the public to trust him, but He would call us all to trust in God who is at work in all things.

Holiness Lost and Found

take-time-to-be-holy

It seems to me that a lot of my good, good friends these days have lost sight of what is most important in loving and leading all of God’s people. And when I say ‘all of God’s people’ I mean ALL – red and yellow, black and white, Democrat and Republican, gay and straight, rich and poor, educated and simple, American citizens and global friends. ALL is not a reflection of one’s faith, but a condition of one’s creative origin in the heart of God for the relational purposes of God to live for the glory of God. All of these people groups matter to us because they all matter to God.

Who I am thinking about and speaking to is anyone who claims Jesus as Savior and Lord. My calling and pulpit is primarily one to the people of faith who are called to not only believe in a higher power in all things, but to live to a higher standard at all times. By ‘standard’ I might say purpose or way or ethic or cause, but I mean the same thing. Christians of all traditions, denominations, ethnicities, and political parties are first called to embrace the kingdom of God that has come and is coming. To embrace such a kingdom is to embrace the way of the king. His way is a way of love. His way is a way of hope. His way is a way of gentleness and meekness. His way is a way of reconciliation. His way is a way of holiness.

But we seem to have certainly lost this way of living together in America and especially in the American church.

Chuck Colson – that politician turned theologian – said that “Holiness is the everyday business of every Christian. It evidences itself in the decisions we make and the things we do, hour by hour, day by day.” I’m gonna add “friendship by friendship, stranger by stranger, thought by thought, word by word, feeling by feeling” to his train of practical holiness. He is right of course. Our job is not to win the day politically. Nor is it to hurl truth bombs to the party that has newly acquired, but temporary power. Holiness is our word, thought, and deed. Any other view of what God has called us to is incomplete and inconsiderate to the hope God has for his new creations.

Perhaps it isn’t so much a problem of believing, but a lack of seeing it in the body of Christ. We have lost a vision of God’s holiness because our spiritual idols and ideals aren’t interested in transformed living at all. The mind of Christ is not attractive to most people. A heart after God’s own heart is not appealing to the populous. Life lived in the power of the Holy Spirit is not nearly as cool as living in the prestige of the creative freedom and force of any generation. Journeying together as the body of Christ is no longer possible because individual choice and philosophy is greater than the good of unity and wholeness in Christ.

Little by little, day by day we are losing our ability as a church to see the way of holiness that is open and available to us as God’s holy people. Not because it is leaving us, but because we insist on pursuing a faith that is forged in the relevancy of our time rather than the righteousness of Christ. We have lost sight on what it means to live peculiarly and particularly.

 

This election and the outcry from the results has gouged the eyes of believers so viciously that we can’t even see the shame we are sharing with our groans and grimaces, our posting and preaching, or our smirks and smiles. We have lost full sight this year on where earthly politics fit into our kingdom way.

I’ll say it again. The way of our king is the way of holiness. But holiness is hard to see, hear, or taste in the after shocks of this election gone wrong. We can’t see a holy future because we have lost sight of what living holy in the present might look or feel like.
Life has happened to us and we have let it blind us and put blame in our hearts for what we have lost. We can no longer see or remember the way of holiness in our church and it shows in our recent attitudes and behavior.

We have lost sight of the way when we divide by party at the cost of being unified in Christ. We have lost sight of the way when we let our labeling of others harm the love we should have for them. We have lost sight of the way when we would rather grandstand in social media with our fears than pray in private because we are full of faith. We have lost sight of the way when we go underground and leave the discussion because we declare all other views stupid, unspiritual, and damning of our future. We have lost sight of the holiness of God when we let our fear and failures, emotions and exchanges, or our aches and pains lead us off of the way of holiness that this kingdom of God has called us to.

Fox News, CNN, the Today Show, the NY Times, the Washington Post, Facebook, nor Twitter will show us that way. None of them are fair and balanced nor are they full of grace or truth. They are a business that is out to make money and shape consumers. We either see them for who they are and lean on God’s Spirit to help us despite them OR we walk blindly into their web to be confused and stirred to anger. We will not find them walking in the kingdom way. They will never lead us on the way of holiness. But don’t blame them because they have a mission rooted in wealth and power. We know what we are getting because we know who they are.

But that is not who we are. We are God’s holy people. Make no mistake about it. Holiness is the way that God has called us to live as a person and as a people.

This way – God’s way of holy living, loving and leading – is a gift to us. Let us find it again together. If the people of God can walk together in the holy way that God has called us and prepared for us, then the ALL of creation might one day see its beauty too. The defense of our way of living or our abided rights is not going to lead us anywhere beyond where we are today. But a vision for and call to the holy way of God will bring our dead and decayed spirits and congregations alive in Christ and full of the purposed activity in every change that comes to our country and our world.

God’s vision for us is greater than any woman or man’s vision for our country. Don’t defend or die for the wrong thing. Don’t lose hope hoping that a President or a party will make us great again. They won’t because they can’t. Trust in God and pursue His way for your life, the church, and our country. On this there is not a diversity of views or positions. There is God’s way and then there is the way of the world.

Let’s find again a vision for the way God wants to lead us as a people…ALL people.

Strengthen the weak hands,
    and make firm the feeble knees.
Say to those who have an anxious heart,
    “Be strong; fear not!
Behold, your God
    will come with vengeance,
with the recompense of God.
    He will come and save you.”
Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
    and the ears of the deaf unstopped;
then shall the lame man leap like a deer,
    and the tongue of the mute sing for joy.
For waters break forth in the wilderness,
    and streams in the desert;
the burning sand shall become a pool,
    and the thirsty ground springs of water;
in the haunt of jackals, where they lie down,
    the grass shall become reeds and rushes.
And a highway shall be there,
    and it shall be called the Way of Holiness;
the unclean shall not pass over it.
    It shall belong to those who walk on the way;
    even if they are fools, they shall not go astray.
No lion shall be there,
    nor shall any ravenous beast come up on it;
they shall not be found there,
    but the redeemed shall walk there.
And the ransomed of the Lord shall return
    and come to Zion with singing;
everlasting joy shall be upon their heads;
    they shall obtain gladness and joy,
    and sorrow and sighing shall flee away. (Isaiah 35 – ESV)

Least, Last, and Living in Reversal

serve him

 

“Here it is again, the Great Reversal: many of the first ending up last, and the last first.” (Matthew 20:16 – The Message)

Service. That is the call that God gives to those who put their faith in salvation through Christ Jesus. Specifically, God has called us to serve others in as many ways and places as we can possibly can. Serving others is not naturally what we want to do, but spiritually becomes our calling because it is what He has gifted us to do. With our faith comes a reordering of the way we have done life up until the moment we meet Jesus. That is where life gets interesting for us. His mission becomes our mission. Our heart begins to beat the same as His heart. Our agenda is transformed by His agenda. Our rhetoric is shaped to be the same as His righteous rhetoric. And yes, our politics should be the same as His politics – which doesn’t have much to do at all with the RNC or the DNC.

According to Mt 20:16 we find that by putting ourselves last we find ourselves first in the kingdom of God. This is not a plan to get ahead by manipulating the words of scripture. This is a life of reordering our priorities, our plans, our place so that God can use us most effectively and most graciously in the lives of others. If we want to be a leader we must take up the towel of service. If we want to be a great church we must be a church that pours into the lives of others (the poor, the lost, the next generation, the alien, etc…) If we want to be a great nation we must learn that service is not measured by community hours or positions of tenure, but by sacrifice, sharing, supporting each other and standing together.

When we serve we do so without expectation or personal gain or standing. We serve because we are convinced that the least and the last belong to the community that God has called us to build. Our focus is not a particular demographic, but a global demonstration of love for others and most importantly a love for the kingdom that God is building. That kingdom is being built with or without us. God is building that kingdom even when we don’t approve of His methods or the membership that He has gathered. His is a kingdom of least and the last as well of the lost and the looking.

That is the reversal that only God can pull off -one that makes the sinner into a saint, a prodigal into a beloved child, and a thief into a servant. A great and glorious action of a greater God who takes pleasure in renewing and rebuilding a world that is beaten down and destroyed. God’s mighty acts of reversing the status quo testifies to both His sovereignty and His love for all creation. Yes, our God is a God that is able (sovereign) and willing (loving) to do exceedingly, abundantly more than we can imagine. Wow!

That kind of God makes me glad/joyful/content to be the least and the last in anything He is doing. Count me in God. I’m with you!