When Being Right Might Be Wrong

owners manualI was on a plane recently and picked up the in-flight magazine. Skimming through the pages, I happened across a large quote featured on a particular page. It was by a Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright, who said, “You got to be right with yourself before you can be right with anybody else.”

If that statement is really accurate, we’re all in a whole lot of trouble. Not one of us is “right.” We’ve all been tainted by sin.

There is a pervasive idea in our culture that we need to learn to love ourselves. Actually, the people I have met who are the most “right” are the ones who are most focused on others. There is a strange and wonderful fulfillment that occurs when we set our sites outwardly rather than inwardly.

And that makes sense because when we follow God’s ways – considering others as more important than ourselves, for example – instead of what our culture says, then there should automatically be more fulfillment, right?

When I use my lawn mower according to the manufacturer’s directions, it will work better than if I decide to use it in ways in which it was never intended to be used. Similarly, when we follow the manufacturer’s Instruction Manual, although everything may not go the way we want, there will be a sense that we’re on the right path because we’re doing what He told us to do.

The self-centered me-focus is everywhere in our society. As followers of Christ, this shouldn’t be our mindset.

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Flawed Leaders

leaders not perfectI’ve lost track of the number of people I have met who have left congregations because of some sort of flaw – or at least a perceived flaw – in the church leadership. Perhaps the pastor didn’t visit their uncle in the hospital. Maybe the leadership disagreed with their perspective on a particular issue – usually a non-scriptural issue. I’ve even met people who left because the leadership spent too much time with one group in the congregation and not another.

Don’t expect church leadership to be perfect. It won’t happen in this lifetime. In fact, it’s never happened in the history of the Church.

In the very early days of the Church, Peter acted hypocritically at one point, and, consequently, was rebuked by Paul. (see Galatians 2:11-14) Later, Paul, who wrote so much in his letters about the unity of the Body, had such a sharp disagreement with Barnabas that they parted company. Their traveling ministry days together ended because Paul refused to forgive John Mark. (see Acts 15:36-41)

Both Peter and Paul had major blind spots. They were both far from perfect. Yet, if either of those men walked into one of our gatherings today, we would, without question, afford them the highest possible respect.

So, why do we so often not do this with the leaders God has given us today?

Someone somewhere made the decision that October should be clergy appreciation month. As such, maybe this would be a good time to let the leadership of your church know that you are standing with them. And while you’re at it, why don’t you pray for them? I think God would honor that.

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Committed to One Another

Biblical CommunityLast week in our Sunday morning service, the preacher suggested to us that the ideal congregation would be one where the members are just as committed to one another as they are to Jesus. That’s a radical thought, isn’t it?

If you think about it, that’s really the Lord’s heart for His Church. As His body, we represent Him. We are His hands and feet here on earth. So, of course, we should be as committed to one another as we are to the Lord.

Jerry Bridges, in his book, Biblical Community, said, “For many years, I took an individualistic approach to the Christian life. I was concerned about my growth as a Christian, my progress in holiness, my acquisition of ministry skills. I prayed that God would enable me to be more holy in my personal life and more effective in my evangelism … But as I learned more about true fellowship, I began to pray that we as the body of Christ would grow in holiness, that we would be more effective witnesses to the saving grace of Christ. It is the entire body – not just me – that needs to grow.

“Of course, we cannot ignore our individual, personal responsibility to grow in the Christian life. The body grows as each member grows. But the ultimate focus of our concern should be the same as God’s: growth of the whole body. I should be as concerned about the other members’ growth as I am about my own.”

Our society says that everything is just about the needs and desires of the individual. But that’s not a biblical perspective.

“Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” (Philippians 2:4)

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Connectedness: God’s Design

connectedness“For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” (Matthew 18:20) Over the years, I have often used this passage to teach about the presence of God being among us in a congregational worship gathering. I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t fully understand how an omnipresent God can be more present in some places than in others. But that’s what Jesus said. It seems to me that it’s perfectly okay to leave room for some mystery in our interactions with the Lord. If we could fully and adequately explain everything about Him, maybe God wouldn’t be infinite after all. Yet, He is.

Recently, though, I’ve started looking more at the first section of this verse. “Where two or three are gathered in my name…” There is apparently something different – something special – about gathering together with others. It’s not wrong for us to be alone at times, even to pray and worship. But Jesus indicates that the rules change as we gather with others.

It’s not that He isn’t with us when we are by ourselves. Clearly He is. He promised, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5) The Lord is always there. Yet, Jesus’ words give us a clear indication that something is different – the atmosphere is transformed – when we gather with others.

In Psalm 133:1, we read, “Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!” The final words of that chapter point to the idea that God’s blessing rests, not where someone is flying solo, but where His people are dwelling together in unity. That seems to be similar to the idea of gathering together with others. The Lord is present; God gives His blessing.

Jesus sent His missionaries out two by two. In the book of Acts, it was when they were all gathered in one place, in unity, that the Holy Spirit was poured out. Later, the apostles always seemed to have a traveling companion and fellow-minister. There is something profound and God-ordained about being connected with others. The Lord apparently likes and wants that.

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You’re Dead!

cemeteryWilliam was tired of telephone solicitors. They would always seem to call at inopportune times, offering products or services that held no interest for him. Nothing seemed to dissuade them. So, he changed his tactics.

“May I speak to William, please.”

“Actually, you can’t. William died.”

“Oh … I’m so sorry” Click.

The number of calls has diminished dramatically.

Now, you might think that such a tactic is deceptive, but, in reality, it was true for William. Colossians 3:3 tells us, “For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” William really is dead. And, in all honesty, I think William is on to something.

As Christians, we have two natures. There is the sinful nature – the old Adam – and the new nature through Christ. Both are real. Both are present. But we get to choose which one we feed and nurture.

If someone else – or even your own inclinations – tries to entice you to be involved in some sinful activity, you can respond, “I can’t. I’m dead.” Romans 6:11, tells us, “So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.”

The most potent weapon we have to overcome sin is the Word of God. There are few verses that offer more practicality than these. We’re dead to sin. We have a new nature.

When sin comes knocking at your door – or when your conscience is riddled with guilt – remember: you’re dead.

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Do You Have God’s Attention?

Isaiah 66-2The second half of Isaiah 66:2 causes me to wonder. “But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word.”

Humble. Contrite in spirit. Trembles at His Word. Those are the people to whom God looks. It literally means that God will turn His attention toward such a person.

Let me be uncomfortably candid for a moment. I am rarely any of those things.

My “natural” default setting is toward pride, not humility. I find it much easier to be haughty and arrogant rather than humble.

According to my dictionary, the word “contrite” means “filled with a sense of guilt and the desire for atonement; penitent.” Certainly I repent of sins regularly, but I don’t think I am often “filled with a sense of guilt” and rarely a true “desire for atonement.” I’m pretty sure that contrition should be my companion much more frequently than it is now.

And I’m not entirely certain I have ever trembled at God’s Word. Sure, I’ve been amazed at the greatness and holiness and majesty of God. But trembling at His Word? Not so much.

Yet those character qualities are the people toward whom God turns His attention. He looks at people like that. They have His interest.

May we – you and I, both – conform more to the Word of God.

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Big Buildings and Small Coins

Solomon's TempleOne day, Jesus and His disciples were leaving the temple area. We’re not told which one, but one of the guys commented, “Look, Teacher, what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!” (Mark 13:1) At least one of the disciples was clearly captivated by the grandeur of the temple.

Granted, it was a magnificent structure. You can read about the design and construction in 1 Kings 6 and 2 Chronicles 3 and 4. The temple in Jesus’ day was about 50 feet tall, the equivalent of a five-story building. That’s pretty impressive for not having the use of modern machinery.

Yet, it’s important to look at this story in context. Immediately prior to this scene, Jesus had just commented to His disciples about the woman they watched put two small copper coins into the offering box. It was a pittance from a monetary standpoint, but Jesus said, “This poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box.” (Mark 12:43) Jesus was telling them plainly that the actual dollar amount wasn’t all that significant.

The juxtaposition of these two scenes makes me wonder. Could Jesus have been thinking, I just told you that money – material possessions – are not really that important, and you think I’m going to be enamored with an impressive building?

I’d like to ridicule that disciple – and, honestly, each of them from time to time. Yet, I can too often empathize with them. It would likely have been me asking Jesus about the temple. How many times do I hear His Word, and then, with my next breath, ignore it?

Lord, forgive me.

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