I took a little break from the Gospel of Mark series and preached a very difficult (yet hopefully timely) sermon this past Sunday. The background of the sermon was that our church needs to make some big decisions about its future together. I didn’t give my own opinions of the situation, but shared 5 reminders that I believe God gave me from my reading of scripture.
It is my prayer that these reminders will help you make big decisions in your life and ministry. These certainly aren’t the only factors in your decision making, but I think they are very important. I hope these give you something to talk about, pray about and study your scriptures about.
Reminder 1: Christian Ministry is Hard but Rewarding
The first reminder comes from 2 Corinthians 6:3-10:
“We put no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, but as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: by great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, the Holy Spirit, genuine love; by truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; through honor and dishonor, through slander and praise. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold, we live; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything.” (2 Cor 6:3-10)
The first reminder is this: Ministry is HARD but REWARDING. In my NIV Bible this section is entitled “Paul’s Hardships”. Paul faced a lot during his life – “afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings…”, all because of his love for Jesus and his passion to obey the mission Jesus had given to him to preach the good news to the gentiles.
What I was impressed by in this section was Paul’s response to those hardships – how balanced his thinking was about them. Certainly he suffered, but through his suffering God built in him supernatural endurance. He was stronger because of the suffering he went through. He was on trial, distrusted and attacked – and though all of those trials he was able to see the Holy Spirit build his character, knowledge, patience, kindness and love. He didn’t get jaded, he became more like Jesus. He worked hard to be truthful and simple in his message, not trying to be clever or outthink God, and because of that he saw the power of God at work. There were times he was publically slandered and dishonoured, but it was during those times that he learned to praise and honour God – he learned the source of true joy and peace.
Being a Christian and doing Christian ministry is hard – the hardest thing in the world. Committing your life to Jesus, selling out with your faith, being active in the church, being a Christian who lives out their purpose, puts you into at risk! Demons will swirl around you and try to wreck your marriage, your family, your finances, your attitude, your health… because they want to shut you down. Jesus is always there, always available, and will always defend you… but that means dropping your own agenda and making Him and His your greatest priority.
Being part of a church is HARD, often painful, but is also wildly REWARDING. Paul endured much for the sake of Jesus, the church and the Gospel, and so have many ministers who have gone before us. He also knew Jesus more than any of us. My question is this: If we want the rewards of following Jesus, are we prepared for the hardship?
Reminder 2: Listen to God’s Voice First and Most
The second passage I read came from Mark 7:1-12 which is a story of Jesus confronting the Pharisees about how they care too much about their human traditions, even to the point of disregarding the commands of God. Check out verses 6-8:
“And he said to them, ‘Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’ You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.’’”
Our second reminder is that we must be careful to listen to God’s voice FIRST and MOST… not our own voice or worldly wisdom. We must be very careful not to do things simply because they are traditional or comfortable. The ministry decisions we make, the church decisions we make must come from Scripture first, be supported by the Holy Spirit, and then obeyed wholeheartedly. When we make decisions in human wisdom, because of traditions, or because it is most comfortable, we are being hypocrites and Pharisees. When we default to making our decisions “That’s how we’ve always done it.” Or “We’ve never done it that way before.” we are not obeying God – we are worshipping traditions and comfort!
Obeying Jesus will not always be comfortable. He will be constantly pushing us to grow, change, adapt and renew our hearts, minds and strengths.
The last thing we want to be is people who worship God as our Lord, our Saviour, our Boss, the Motivator of our Hearts, on Sunday morning… and then go back to our homes or come to meetings and turn ourselves, human wisdom and our traditions into our lord and ministry motivators. That’s called idolatry.
Reminder 3: It is God Who Raises Up and Lowers Down
Psalm 75 was another passage God lead me to. Inside this chapter I found an important reminder for us in verse 7. It says:
“…it is God who executes judgment, putting down one and lifting up another.”
All over scripture we are reminded that God, for His own reasons, in His own time, for His own glory, raises some people up and brings other people down. It is God who RAISES UP and LOWERS DOWN.
“He changes times and seasons; he removes kings and sets up kings.” (Daniel 2:21)
“The Lord makes poor and makes rich; he brings low and he exalts.” (1 Samuel 2:7)
Listen carefully: It is not for us to hold up by our own power things that God has brought down… and it is not for us to give up on things that God is raising up. Both are acts of disobedience. We do not have the power to stop God from doing what He wants to do, but He seems willing to let us miss out on blessing because of our own stubborn hearts and lack of faith.
Wouldn’t it have been nice to buy stock in Microsoft or Google when they first hit the market? Wouldn’t it have been nice to have gotten out of Nortel before it crashed and burned?
I believe with all my heart that God, through His Word and His Spirit, gives us insight beyond our abilities, to allow us to know what to do and when to do it. He gives us warning when to walk away, and gives us strength to hang in there. He gives us wisdom to know when to let go, and tenacity to know when to stick to it because breakthrough is just around the bend.
We need to be spiritually sensitive to what God is doing, come alongside Him, and then, with joy, fulfill His will with all our hearts, souls, minds and strengths – united under one banner of faith.
It is wrong, and idolatrous to set up anything in place of God. We cannot make our jobs, church building, our leadership style, our constitution, our ministries, the Sunday School, the musical style, or anything else more important than listening to God. We must not create idol in place of God by keeping something going (giving it our energy, money, and attention) when God is opposing us and wants it shut down. And we cannot stop doing something (take away our money, energy, and attention) when God wants us to keep going. We do not want to oppose God’s will. We don’t want to be like Paul, “kicking against the goads” or like Balaam beating his donkey to go straight when he should have turned. We must, in faith and trust, follow God’s will wherever He points us.
Reminder 4: Wrong Fear Makes Us Lose God’s Blessing
My fourth scripture 2 Samuel 6, which is the story of David celebrating while bringing the Ark of the Covenant into Jerusalem. You’ve probably heard this story and you’ll remember that Uzzah put his hand on the Ark to catch it when it was going to fall. It was commanded that no was to touch the Ark and it says the “anger of the Lord was kindled against Uzzah, and God struck him down…”
What struck me was David’s response to what happened. In the beginning, David was so happy to have the Ark coming to Jerusalem that he had organized a huge party. But when Uzzah was killed by divine judgement, he went from happy to terrified in a split second. Verse 10 says that
“David was not willing to take the ark of the Lord into the city of David. But David took it aside to the house of Obed-edom the Gittite. And the ark of the Lord remained in the house of Obed-edom the Gittite three months, and the Lord blessed Obed-edom and all his household.”
Consider that because of David’s fear, he lost out on God’s blessing. WRONG FEAR makes us LOSE God’s blessing. The blessings was giving to someone else, the house of Obed-Edom, instead… because of fear. My Life Application commentary says that David’s fear wasn’t a “wholesome fear and respect for the Lord but an anxiety arising” inside himself. His anxiety over what happened to Uzzah led him to a wrong fear, which led him to make a foolish decision (something he did a lot during his life), which made him lose out on blessing.
When we are deciding things for our church, our lives or our families, we must not be motivated by fear, unless it is fear of God alone. We cannot do the wrong things (or avoid doing the right things) because we are afraid (that we might fail, that someone might misunderstand our motives, etc.). We also shouldn’t make decisions (or avoid decisions) and perform actions (or neglect to act) because we are afraid (that the church might close, that we might lose friends, that things might change too much, or whatever it is that is preventing us from obeying the voice of God). Wrong fear must not be the motivating factor in our decision making.
Reminder 5: The Greatest Answer is “That Which Shows The Most Love”
The Christian Church is an organization whose fuel is love, just as an individual Christian’s fuel is love. When we are loving God and one another, we have lots of gas in the tank, we will see the blessing of God, we will know His will, we will flee temptation, we will know peace, we will hear His voice, we will worship more and better, we will have more friends, we will grow spiritually and numerically, we will be more like Jesus.
When we are not loving one another well, we will have no gas in the tank. Ministry will be hard and lonely. We will not see God’s blessing. Decisions and meetings will be drudgery and decisions will be difficult. We will avoid each other and fall into greater temptation and sin. We will argue more, concentrate on trite things, and put ourselves first. We will not hear God’s voice. Our worship will be stale, repetitive and uninspiring. Our spirits will shrink and so will our numbers. Worst of all, we will be more like Satan than Christ because Jesus is the King of Love and Satan hates it (and Him).
The final scripture is from 1 Corinthians 13:1-3:
“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.”
It is so easy to start asking ourselves, “What do we need to do?” and get caught up in all sorts of fruitless busyness. Everyone in every church has a dozen brilliant ideas for what needs to happen for their church to grow.
- We need to get more people into the church.
- We need to advertise better.
- We need a new pastor.
- We need a new board.
- We need a new constitution.
- We need a better band.
- We need to get rid of the pews and get chairs.
- We need to have more dinners.
- We need to have less meetings.
- We need to get into the community.
- We need to have more prayer meetings.
- We need to join another church.
- We need to go knocking on doors.
Every individual is chock full of ideas for how to make their life better too:
- I need a new job.
- I need better friends.
- I need a new resume.
- I need a new church.
- I need to spend more time with my family.
- I need to spend more time building my brand.
- I need to learn an instrument.
- I need to give to charity.
- I need to save more money.
- I need to start a hobby.
- I need to read more books.
Dozens and dozens of ideas, but which is the right one?
The Greatest Answer is “That Which Shows The Most LOVE”.
Not that which brings the most people, opens the most doors, costs the least amount of money, takes the least effort, requires everyone to do it, has food, or is my favourite.
We have no business calling ourselves a Christian or a Church of Jesus Christ, if we are not all about love! God first, our family second, the Christians who are part of our church third, and the community fourth.
Nothing we do in church matters if it is not primarily motivated by love. The music, the sermon, the coffee, the outreach, the meetings — none of it matters if we are not experiencing the love of God and sharing that love with others. It literally means… nothing. If we do not have a Christlike love within us – a love that dies to self – then we are a dead church! We are dead Christians. We are hypocrites who are merely play acting the faith.
A church is only alive when it is full of love for God and love for one another. Let us never get caught up in believing that there is any magic ministry, perfect decision, or miraculous plan that will pay our bills, make everyone happy and keep us going. It doesn’t exist. The only answer is the daily work of love.
What every one of us desperately wants and needs is for the people around us to show us real and practical acts of love. If we have a love for others that only exists for 3 hours on Sunday, then we are not a church of Jesus Christ. If we are not investing in each other’s lives, sacrificing our time, energy, talents, finances and all the rest for one another, then we are not being Christians.
In Acts 2:42-47 we read that after hearing the word of God preached by the Apostle Paul, thousands of people came to Jesus and the Holy Spirit was poured out in power. This new church’s response to the movement of God was:
“And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.”
That is a church full of the love of God, a love for Jesus, the love of the Holy Spirit, and a sacrificial love for one another. That’s the church in its purest and best form. And I believe each one of us wants to be part of a group of believers like that.
It starts with us. We must make the choice to make the church a priority – to make a sacrificial act of loving devotion to the Christians around us. To talk to them during the week, even when we don’t have the time. To get to know the people we don’t know. To ask what their needs are and to seek to fill them. To chase them down when they are sinning, and encourage them when they are doing well. To spur them on to love and good deeds. To honour one another and greet one another often. To forgive and make peace with one another. To never let a bitter root grow between us. To not pass judgment on one another or be a stumbling block to one another. To be gentle with one another, bearing with one another in love. (Here’s some more.)
That is practical love, and it is the Greatest Answer to our deepest questions.