Less Hype. More Humility.

Please. Embedded in our consumeristic culture, there is the assumption that newer is better than older–though I prefer aged beef and cheddar to new. There is the assumption that grand and renovated and powerful is preferable to meek and lowly and weak.

The church often adopts this form of communicating in an effort to gather people into its doors. “God is doing awesome things here at Church _______.” The fact is that God is doing awesome things everyday and everywhere. He’s sustained your life. He’s given you sight and hearing and legs. And if you have none or only one of these, he’s still given you life and a mind to engage the world around you. Truly miraculous. What is more, is God not also doing something in the old, decrepit church that meets faithfully every Sunday? Is God not at work in the mundane? Is the changing of laundry and washing of dishes and working through an argument devoid of God’s presence?

I see so many churches trying to drum up excitement about the latest outreach or project, when what our culture needs is the staying power and sobriety of faithfulness in the ho-hum drudgery of going to a job you hate or a marriage that is contentious. What we need is not more hype, but more humility. More service and less heavy-handedness. We need more gentleness and less power grabs.

If we don’t, what then becomes of the senior citizen who is tired? What becomes of the baby who is sleeping? What becomes of the unemployed and outcast and burdened? They are forgotten. They are seen as less valuable because they aren’t producing the kind of energy requisite for assumed faithfulness to the disciples’ call.

In reality, we need less loud voices and red faces and sweaty brows and more silence and calmness and a deep well of contentment.

“Hearing & Healing” – Mark 1.29-39

Mark’s gospel is notorious for narrating with urgency. Throughout he uses the word “immediately.” In doing so, there is a direct movement (a bee line, if you will) to the cross. He is at pains to show Jesus’ authority in preaching and teaching and healing. This authority is paramount in understanding why Jesus’ crucifixion matters. These happened all the time, but what is it about this particular “criminal’s” actions that merit his death at a different qualitative level than those that were on his right and his left?

There is an inextricable link between the proclamation of the Gospel and the actions of the Gospel. Preaching without the actions of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection is merely a fiction. The Gospel is Good News about a reality…the Kingdom of God among us. Yet, action without the interpretation of those action (i.e., preaching) is short-sighted and passing away.

The Hearing of the Gospel

Why such movement in Mark’s gospel? In 1.38, Jesus gives his rationale for moving from town to town: “Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out.” It ought not get lost on us the layers of reason Jesus gives:

Let us go on to the next towns
in order that I may preach
for that is why I came out

Of particular note, we see that Jesus came out to do this. Where was he coming from? From within the synagogue (v.29) and from his private communion with his Father (v.35). It is clear that communion with God must give way to communion with people. The place of learning must give way to action.

We can often content ourselves, and fool ourselves, into thinking that cognitive knowing is equal to true knowing. This way is easier, and we see it all the time. Those that are overly careful in parsing the details of their theology, are oftentimes lax in doing what it says. Jesus says, “If you love me, you will obey me” (John 14.15). Doctrine must always compel us to go into the highways and byways to love and proclaim the Good News that God offers forgiveness to all those who repent and believe. But we mustn’t stay in the places of learning and parsing for knowledge puffs up but love builds up. Christianity has always been a public faith. Not in an “I told you so” sort of way, but in a disposition of service to others. Instead we say, “God has given me forgiveness and life, and he offers the same for all people.”

The Healing of the Gospel

This integral nature of the proclamation of the Gospel and healing of the Gospel can be seen at the juxtaposition of Jesus’ comment in v.38 and what Mark tells us in v.39: Jesus went out and preached and healed.

These healings are both confirmation of Jesus’ authority as well as a demonstration of who Jesus is: God incarnate. In the Lectionary we read from Psalm 147 and Isaiah 40 that reminds us that God is the Creator of all. He calms the storms and he stoops to give strength to the infirm. What does it look like with God arrives? Freedom for the oppressed. Wholeness to the disintegrated. Strength to the weak.

But from Jesus’ very example we see that the healing of the Gospel is the very manifestation of the Kingdom of God. God’s original Creation had been marred ad broken. When he comes to his creatures, he restores. Freedom and justice and health are freely given.

Two Implications

The purpose of the miracles is to show that in Jesus all Creation obeys its Makers and his original intention for Creation. To be a place free from suffering and oppression. To be a place where humans can reflect the image of God and flourish in the cultivation of the earth and others. The miracles point to the good, original intention of God’s good creation. They lift our eyes up to what it looks like for God’s Kingdom come, his will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

Our Call to Righteousness

As his representatives on earth, who have been freed from sin and death, he calls us to cultivate his Creation. To be the image bearers we are.

Each of us have gifts and passions. Could it be that God has placed these loves in our hearts so that we can be his representatives of compassion and change on earth? Could it be that your love of finance could be used in service for others to help them balance their checkbook? Could it be that your love for dressing wounds could be used to bring wholeness to others? This service is inherent to who God is as the One who slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.

 

We oftentimes look like the preacher who came upon a car wreck. The victim is bleeding and in pain. We share the Gospel of salvation by grace and call them to submit their lives to Christ. The ambulance shows up on the scene and the person dies. We celebrate and are thankful for the opportunity to share this Great News with this person before they died. And then the EMT turns to us and said, “This young lady would have lived if you had just applied pressure to the wound.”

Our Call to Pray for Healing

Too often we put a premium on the spiritual over the physical. We denigrate the very bodies God has given us. We forget that we are redeemed people in spirit and in body. The resurrection of the body. We will be flesh and blood for eternity with our souls.

We cannot get around the fact that Jesus healed people. He heals people. Too often faith healers lay emphasis on the faith, or lack of faith, as to why people are not healed. This misses the point. The healing comes from God’s good pleasure and good purposes. And so, God calls us as his ministers to pray for healing and to expect it. Yes, we have doctors and nurses and surgeons and MRIs and medicine. And God uses these means for healing. We also believe that God can heal without these. We pray and we go to the doctor. But…we still pray and ask for healing.

There is no guilt here. This is a plea for us to expand and experience an even greater joy in giving our lives away. In using these gifts and passions in the service of others. To see God at work in the service. By serving others in God’s strength, our hearts are expanded as we are expended. Laying our lives down for others. As Christ has done for us. This does not earn our salvation, but confirms, demonstrates, and is inherent to our being saved. We obey as a natural overflow of love for God.

To Consider

Where can I speak the truths and beauties of the Gospel to others?

What avenues has God given me to serve others as a demonstration of God’s love for others?

What passions and loves do I have that could meet the needs of others?

Who might I pray for right now who needs physical healing?

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Called to Servant Leadership

This past Sunday Rev. Al Phillips, Director of the Greenville Baptist Association, preached my installation service from 1Peter 5.1-4 and 1Timothy 5.17-21. It was a humbling time to be with the people God has been gathering together at Christ the Redeemer to celebrate what he has done and to be soberly charged together. One of the things I made mention of at the beginning of the service is the beauty that everything does not depend on the pastor of a church. Once this happens, then the healthy of the church has been compromised. Indeed, the call of the church is to individually make disciples of all nations, tongues, and tribes. It is essential that the work of the ministry not be relegated to those being paid or only to the leaders.

What is more, after the sermon it is important to note that there are two charges given (both at the bottom of this post). The emphasis for the pastor lay in the equipping the saints for service. The emphasis for the congregation lay in the proclamation and making of disciples.

In his message, Al gave several admonishments that I relay to you

Charges to Matt

Walk closely with God

It is imperative that I walk with God and keep in step with his Spirit as he leads. It is important for me not to merely hear from God for the benefit of the church (though that is key), but more importantly, to hear from God for the benefit of my own soul.

Lead courageously

It is easy to let things coast. It is easy to gravitate toward comfort. Redeemer needs me to take risks and press us to step out of our comfort zones.

Feed God’s people

Not only am I to model what it looks like to walk with God in humility, but I am to feed God’s people from God’s Word. This is the sustenance by which his people will grow and be nourished spiritually.

Equip the saints for the work of ministry

Following Paul’s words in Ephesians 4.11, pastor-teachers are intended to equip God’s people to do the ministry. The vitality of the church is not up to the pastor alone. He plays a part in leading, but the actual labor is done by the congregation of being salt and light in their communities.

Charges to the Congregation

Follow

This is not a blind following. Rather it is to maintain a disposition of following as the Spirit leads through Matt and the leadership of Redeemer. Too often Satan gets a foothold in a church and divides the congregation into camps due to petty arguing and compromising and contentiousness and preferences and not thinking the best about each other–and specifically looking askance at the leadership as though they are power-hungry or just don’t get it. Imputing motives that are not there. The congregation needs to follow and encourage the leadership to take steps of faith.

Hold leadership Accountable

It is vital to the health of a church to be able to admonish and help its leadership to follow closely to the Lord. If something is not in accord with Scripture, it behooves the congregation to talk with the leadership. This ought to be done in a way that does not divide the church. But it needs to be done in humility and in love–knowing that the leadership are disciples on the way (always learning and always growing) as well.

Care for your pastor

Stemming from 1Timothy 5.17 and the reference to double-honor, it is important for the congregation to bless its pastor and leadership generously. Instead of keeping them “just trusting God” without taking care of their needs is analogous to driving an oxen team so hard they collapse under the stress. This care does not only equate to finances, but also to the spiritual nurturing of the pastor and his family.

Do your part

The church is the Body of Christ. Each person is vital to the health of the life of the church. If a foot is injured or is lame or refuses to walk, the rest of the body suffers and is not able to do their part. Each of us are integrally connected to each other and need each other to fulfill the individual call of God in our lives.

Give your pastor the freedom to fail

Matt is going to fail you. He is not your Savior. He is not perfect. He will let you down, just as you will let him down. This is inherent to what it means to be part of a family and community.

Charge to the Pastor

Leader: Before God and this assembly of His people here today, I charge you to seek the Lord daily with your whole heart, to shepherd the flock of God that is among you, leading, serving, feeding, protecting and caring for the people of God, and equipping the saints for service, to live a blameless life that will model Jesus before a watching world and to glorify God in all you are and do. Will you here today promise to fulfill this charge by the grace of God?

Candidate: I promise to fulfill this charge by the grace of God and in answer to His call.

Charge to the Congregation

Leader: Before God and His witnesses here today, I charge you to seek the Lord daily with your whole heart, to follow the leadership of your pastor, to grow together in doctrine, unity and faith, to respect and provide for your pastor, and to work together as a body to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ and to make disciples of all nations until Jesus returns in glory. Will you here today promise to fulfill this charge by the grace of God?

Congregation: We promise to fulfill this charge by the grace of God and in answer to His call.

Shingles on a Church

Or you could title this “What makes me sick.”

I drove by a rather large church building this week that was having it’s roof shingles redone. Now it’s fine that this church have its property maintained…maybe it got a new roof from a hail storm. Who knows? What I do know is that this church is dying. No amount of sprucing up is going to bring it back to life. That is, unless there is a concerted effort on the church to be the church. To be loving its neighbors as individuals.

We are a breaking point in the church in the United States. 

There has been a seismic shift in what the church is and does. When so many of a previous generation believe that if you have the right program and if you have savvy marketing and if you have a really good music ministry, then people will come. Granted, having these things does attract people. But they do not a disciple of Jesus make. Rather, this exacerbates the consumeristic culture so indicative of our society. The church becomes a series of goods and services. What differentiates one church from another is wrapped in music genres and preaching styles and the cool or traditional outfits of the congregation.

All the while, the world merely needs faithful men and women to love them as them.

Church: Gone are the days of people coming to your free event. Gone are the days of people coming to your service because they ought to. They don’t need hip music or relevant sermon series or an authentic greeting team with magnets and other wares.

What our world needs now are disciples of Jesus who lay down their lives for others. Who act and talk and think differently. Not in the weird Christian way we’ve always done it–with our particular phrases or strained attempts to make every conversation an awkward Gospel conversation. Rather, we need disciples who think and talk and drip with the Gospel of grace. Giving with nothing in return. Loving with no strings attached. Struggling. Weeping. Laughing. Enjoying the gift that is life. Please be who God has made you to be rather than bending to fit into the constrained mold you are told to conform to–rather than into the glorious and quirky and beautiful person God has made you to be…with your own passions and loves and perspectives.

By all means, fix your building. But don’t fool yourself into thinking that a new paint job will remedy the crumbling buttress of faithful and mundane taking up crosses and following Jesus.