Tuesday, May 22, 2018

The First Step To Spiritual Ruin Isn't What You Think

Timothy, my son, I am giving you this instruction in keeping with the prophecies previously made about you, so that by recalling them you may fight the good fight, having faith and a good conscience. Some have rejected these and have shipwrecked their faith.
1 Timothy 1:18-19

     How many licks does it take to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop? If you don't remember that famous line, Google it. Here's a more important question. How many steps in the wrong direction does it take to shipwreck your faith? They say that every journey begins with the first step. That's really all it takes. One step.
     One of the greatest pastors I've ever known ended up on the rocks. Friendship became a look. A look became a thought. A thought became adultery. His downfall didn't begin when he and the other man's wife disrobed, or even when friendship became flirtation. It began when he isolated himself from relationships that would have provided accountability.
     One of the wisest women found her ship stuck on the beach. She was so confident in God, but began to worry about her business. Worry became fear. Fear became workaholism. She withdrew from God and the people of God. She worked harder and harder, and one day this paragon of faith confided, "Some days I wonder if there even is a God."
     There were two others. You should have seen them. Every moment of every day they were either discipling their families, serving their church, sharing their faith, praying to their God, or reading His Word. One had a lukewarm wife who wanted more and more of the world. The other one had a friend he was trying to win to Christ. Working to please the spouse and compromising to keep a friendship got them. Both say they still believe, but you won't find them wearing out their Bible's today. You won't find them wearing out a pew, either. 
     The stories are so numerous. You have probably found yourself occasionally stuck on the sand, just like I have. There's one more I want to relate, because it's a warning to those of us who think we're still doing well. She's always been passionate and intense about the Lord. She still prays, reads, teaches and serves in her church, but, oh my soul, is she bitter. It's hard to believe she loves Jesus, because she clearly does not love His people. Passion for God is essential, but so is love. Passion without love becomes bitterness, and bitterness bites. Somewhere along the way she took a step, stopped being an encourager, and became an enforcer. She's shipwrecked, but blames the people in her church who aren't doing what they should. 
     So, what's the first step to ruin? Is it adultery, unbelief, workaholism, compromise, bitterness? The first step to is any step that takes us anywhere that Jesus isn't going. And, the first step off the rocks is the one that is toward Christ. John recorded the words of Jesus to the church at Ephesus, "But I have this against you: You have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember then how far you have fallen, repent, and do the works you did at first. Otherwise, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent." (Rev. 1:4-5)
     Don't expect God to refresh your passion for Him there on the beach. He doesn't bless drifting. Don't expect to be passionate about Him again while you're drinking the lukewarm milk of the world. Repent, then do what you used to do. The passion for Christ will return only if you don't keep walking where you're walking. Do the first things. Prioritize prayer, reading, studying and hearing the Word of God, serving your local church, and making disciples. The passion and peace will return once you have, because you will have returned to the source.


Monday, May 14, 2018

When Dissed, Deflate

Credit Below
       Have you ever watched a child, not yours of course, disrespect a parent or an adult? Maybe you smile it away, but inside you probably want to step in and say, "Hey, want me to handle this? Please, let me handle this."
       There's something about disrespect that's different. We can excuse a mistake, but disrespect is not a mistake. It seems to reveal a superior attitude, a self-promoting, judgmental, dirty little heart. Was I too strong there? Well, if I was, then answer me this. How do you feel when you're disrespected?  Look, I'm not having a Carly Simon moment. I don't think you're vain. This article isn't about you, but I want to ask you. How do you feel when you're disrespected, and how should you feel?
       So, I was sitting here in my study thinking about a situation and I felt disrespected. I had a little conversation with myself (not out loud, since that can get you in trouble). I started having a self-protecting, self-justifying conversation. You know how it goes. No one is there but you, but you're more than enough to form a committee and justify yourself. In the middle of all of this a question came to my mind, "Why don't you just deflate your self-importance?'
       I paused, and then immediately thought, "The problem isn't the disrespect I perceive from others. The problem is my inflated sense of self-worth." Once again, you may disagree with me, but hear me out. As I pondered that thought, I thought about Jesus. I don't have the greatest memory in the world, but I just couldn't remember a single time he ever said to someone, "You will NOT talk to me like that!"  Yes, he rebuked Peter when he tried to get him to avoid the cross, but Jesus was not self-defensive of his ego.
       Then I remembered the letter Paul wrote to the disciples in Philippi, and that passage in chapter 2 that says,  "Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves." Well, that's certainly deflating to my offended ego. "Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the from of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men."
       There it is. It appears that even when Jesus was disrespected, it didn't affect his worth. He had already deflated himself, since he had no need to inflate himself. He is not only love embodied, but humility epitomized. And, it seems the Holy Spirit was saying to me that when I am offended by disrespect, I should take the opportunity to recognize my own over-blown sense of worth. I should recognize my pride and give God thanks for the opportunity to deflate myself, since my goal is to be like Christ Jesus; Jesus who, though God, laid off the glory of Heaven to put on flesh.
       The next time you hear a kid speak disrespectfully to a parent, they may need severe discipline. But, so may you. The next time someone disses you, they may be wrong. But, you may simply need to deflate that pride.

PHOTO: The photo of the upset Capucin was taken by Encarma Saez Gonalons & Victor Martinez Moll, and has been modified. It is used as public domain, and its use does not indicate that they agree or disagree with this article.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

It Is Hard To Serve God, Because It Is Hard To Serve People

The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears, and rescues them from all their tribulations. The Lord is near the brokenhearted; he saves those crushed in spirit. One who is righteous has many adversities, but the Lord rescues him from them all.
Psalm 34:17-19

       We who serve the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, are guided by the Bible. It is a description of perfection. We follow Jesus, the perfect One, and his teachings with a desire to become more and more like him. So, perfection is ever before our eyes, except, it seems, when we look at the world around us and those we serve.  
       It's impossible to serve God and not serve people. It doesn't matter if you're the preacher, the teacher, the greeter, or the bottle-washer. All of us, not just the pastors, elders & deacons, serve one another. As a matter of fact, if you follow Jesus you must serve his people. And, serving people is hard. It's hard because people are imperfect.  
       Sometimes we don't even think about their imperfections, because their character defects seem minor. Sometimes, however, their imperfections are far from minor. Either way, it doesn't matter. We live in a world with people who are not yet perfected. And, we follow a Savior whose love compels us to serve them. Their imperfections aren't just a reality. They're actually the focus of our service. We serve to build up the body of Christ, "until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of God's Son, growing into maturity with a stature measured by Christ's fullness." (Eph.4:13) Pay special attention to the word, "until."
       Their imperfection, coupled with Christ's love within us for them, results in suffering. Service produces some measure of suffering. Sometimes, though, our suffering is caused by our own expectations. Since we are striving for the measure of Christ, we expect that of others. When they are not able to produce, and their failure adversely affects us, we suffer. It's not wrong to be disappointed, but the depth of that disappointment is often the result of faulty expectations. If our expectations for perfection lead us to stop serving, then our expectations need urgent adjustment. Remember, no one we serve is perfect. If you have been disappointed, or perhaps even crushed in the service of Christ, I want to suggest three helps.
       First, keep your eyes on Jesus. He's the only one who is perfect, the only one who will never fail, and the only one who will never disappoint. By the way, if he has disappointed you, then you have wrongly judged him. Even then he will save your crushed spirit and rescue you from your many adversities.
       Second, with Jesus ever before your eyes, take a good look in the mirror. When you do, you'll be quickly reminded that you also are not perfect. The troubles you have when you serve the imperfect are part of God's plan to perfect you. When you serve others, and their imperfection makes that difficult, give God thanks for the trial that is perfecting your faith. Every trial is an opportunity for your growth.
       Third, serve them anyway. If you don't serve, you don't follow Jesus. If you follow Jesus, you will serve. It's better to follow Jesus. I think Teresa of Calcutta put it well when she wrote,

People are often unreasonable,
irrational and self-centered.
Forgive them anyway.
If you are kind, people may accuse you 
of selfish,  ulterior motives.
Be kind anyway.
If you are successful,
you will win some unfaithful friends
and some genuine enemies.
Succeed anyway.
If you are honest and sincere,
people may deceive you.
Be honest and sincere anyway.
What you spend years creating,
others could destroy overnight.
Create anyway.
If you find serenity and happiness,
some may be jealous.
Be happy anyway.
The good you to today,
will often be forgotten tomorrow.
Do good anyway.
Give the best you have,
and it will never be enough.
Give your best anyway.
In the final analysis, it is between you and God.
It was never between you and them anyway.

(Photo is the painting Lavement des pieds de Saint Pierre par Jesus, public domain.)