Sunday, April 29, 2012
Boasting and Bragging. We all do it. Sometimes, on purpose. At other times, we have done it for so long that we have actually perfected a ‘spiritual air’ about it – trying to “sound humble” in the process when in reality we are doing nothing but “Bragging and Boasting” about our own accomplishments for the Kingdom of God. Oftentimes, we accomplish those ‘successes’ by taking the same principles found in business and are used ‘in the world system’ and simply redressing them so they will now fit in the ‘religious realm’ in which we operate.
Need some examples? They are numerous in the land of Christendom – here are just two. Monthly or Yearly ‘brag sheets’ regarding the amount of money we have given (with how much, where and to whom it has been dispersed), the number of “souls” we have baptized and/or ‘led to the Lord’, the numbers we have ‘run’ in various services, the list goes on add nausea. Or the hushed and ‘unspoken’ belief we so often embrace, exalt, and promote is, the ‘bigger the numbers’, the more ‘successful we are’ for God’s glory (whatever the particular form of ministry may take), and in doing so, we fail to realize just how unbiblical our thinking is. We fail to look inwardly, deep within our souls to discover our true motives of ‘why’ we are actually doing what we are doing ‘for God.’ Perhaps, most of the time, deceiving ourselves.
It continues on from there. Look at the average ministry webpage or newsletter, etc. and you will find the following. ‘Jesus’ almost becomes a by-word that is ‘tacked on’ here-and-there. We have this driving need for people to know WHAT we are doing for Jesus, and to make sure others know ‘WHY’ we are doing it, and how ‘God is blessing our particular ministry.’ However, upon taking a closer look we will notice that within those presentations, that that particular ministry, or those who are in leadership position, that we often find ‘their’ names outnumbering the mention of Jesus at least “five times-or-more to one”. It’s almost as if we feel a necessity that people must know ‘what God is accomplishing is directly related to them’ so that people will continue to support the ministry financially so they can continue their work for God, as well as expand it.
Now, don’t misunderstand my words. This is not a spiritual indictment on ‘larger’ ministries. The same structure, mindset and thought process can be seen in, what we would deem, “smaller congregations or ministries” as well as ‘large’ (depending on the relevance of the number we choose to ascribe to it.) And it is characteristic of both ‘big and small’, infecting both those ‘in the pews’, ‘behind the pulpit, and ‘leading a ministry’. It is a spiritual cancer in our souls that needs to be eradicated so that the true glory of Christ can really shine through us the way He desires.
For some reason, somewhere along the way; in adopting the ‘methods of modern-day ministry’ we seem to have embraced the mindset that we are really ‘nothing’ to God or His Kingdom unless others know it. For some reason we find the need that we have to ‘prove to others’ our level or spirituality, worth, or accomplishments ‘in the name of Christ and for our God’. We included in that thinking also, that, ‘the more we do’, the ‘more successful we are for God’s Kingdom’; the more we ‘do’, then the more pleased He is with us, the more important we are to His Kingdom. And therefore (whether it be conscious or unconscious) the better we are known in the spiritual circle in which we run, then not only do we have a bigger chance of making an impression for God in this world (among the brethren), but the more ‘spiritually self-important’ we feel, thus as if we were making God a respecter of persons.
So what is our problem and how did we end up here? What brought us to this precipice? Why is it our ministries seem 100 miles wide and only an inch deep? I believe it is one of ‘identity’. Of our failing to realize who we really are in Christ.
In his book, Look! The finished work of Jesus, Mike Mooney states the following, “It is easy for us to think it is a noble and good thing to boast in our zeal for Jesus, but the Holy Spirit shows us that what we might really be doing is actually boasting in our own greatness. Boasting in how much we love Jesus comes out of being ‘self-focused’ in our faith.
[Note: It was John Maxwell who said, “If you have to tell someone that you are the leader, you are probably not one.” Carry that over into the spiritual realm, if we have to ‘tell people’ how ‘spiritual we are’, then we probably aren’t. If we have to tell people how much we love Christ, then we probably don’t. If we have to ‘brag or boast’ about all we do for Him, it is probably not truly for His glory.
In the Amplified Bible, in 1 Corinthians 8:3, we find these words, “But if one loves God truly [with affectionate reverence, prompt obedience, and grateful recognition of His blessing], he is known by God [recognized as worthy of His intimacy and love, and he is owned by Him].” To me, it seems that you would think that a person who walks passionately and intimately with a loving Abba Father would not need to ‘boast’ in anything, but Him.
Mike goes on to say, “It is when we turn our eyes upon Jesus and become ‘Christ-focused’ that we begin to stop boasting in our love for Him, and start to boast in His love for us! As Christians, we need to recognize our boast is not meant to be in how much we love Jesus, but in how much He loves us. Similarly, our focus should not be in how much we doing for Jesus, but in how much He has done for us.” [Emphasis mine] What tremendous words.
He continues, “Why would you want your relationship with Jesus to be based on how much you love (and serve) Him? If the relationship is built on the foundation of your love (and service), then it is broken every time you fail to love (and serve) Him perfectly. However if your relationship is based on how much Jesus loves you, as it actually is, then your relationship with Him is never broken because although you may fail the Lord, He will never fail you. This is the true foundation God wants you to build your relationship with Jesus upon. It is one that will allow you to walk in the blessing of full assurance of faith, because it is based on the perfect love of Christ.
It is to here that I have been brought. I, along with so many others, failed to realize it is not about me. It is ALL about Jesus. Our life, our essence, our ministry, our testimony, the very breath we breathe, every beat of our hearts, who we are, what we do or don’t do, our very essence and purpose is all IN Christ and BECAUSE OF the magnificence and Person of Jesus Christ. It is HIS supremacy. HE is Lord. It is HIS love. It is HIS mercy and grace. It is ALL because of HIM and HIM ALONE. It is not how much I love Him, but how much He loves me. It is not about my service to Him or trying to please or appease Him, but rather my standing and perfection IN HIM. He is my all-in-all, because He Is.
Now, if we are not careful, we will miss it. We will stay ‘busy’ for Him, embracing the so-called, self-centered focus, religious so-called Christianity that has been pawned off on us leaving us frustrated, burnt out, dissatisfied, discouraged, and tired. All because the ‘strength’ of our “trying to live the Christian life” has been fueled by ourselves in ‘the name of Christ’ but doing so with ourselves as the center and focus and just ‘tacking Christ on’ in the process. Religion can do that, you know.
I believe that one of the most freeing moments in the Christian life is when we come to the realization that we don’t have to ‘burn out for God’. That we don’t have to ‘manufacture’ working for Him somehow subconsciously, ‘proving our worth’ to God, but when we learn to truly begin to understand, as Paul said in Ephesians 3, the “height and width and length and depth of the love of God” that He pours continuously out upon us and in us, and as we truly learn to embrace, rest in, and bask in His unconditional love for us, the pressure is removed, the feelings of wondering if we have ‘done enough for The Master’ will finally subside and we then the Holy Spirit will produce His fruit in and through us, out of a relationship with God that He planned and desires. Or as Mike states again in his book, “When you allow yourself to rest at the feet of Jesus and enjoy His company, you will always end up outworking God’s will in your life because the Spirit is free to move in you as He desires. And as we trust in Him, He does all of the work in and through us and He gets ALL the credit.”
In John 6 Jesus is asked, what is the one THING, the one WORK that we can do that God requires of us and that will please Him? Ask most ministries or religious institutions, and the list(s) you will receive will vary in both number and description. And most of the time those lists will have a ‘bent’ toward the vision and goals of that particular institution or ministry (all in the ‘name of God’, of course). But what is THE work that God wants? The answer may surprise us. And He doesn’t leave us ‘clueless’. It is found in verse 29, Jesus answered, “The work of God is this, to believe in The One He has sent.” And that One, is Jesus Christ.
What a difference. That is not what the religious crowd of Jesus’ day
expected to hear (nor probably wanted to). It flies in the face of most of what is being presented out there on ‘how to please and work for God.’ [The principles are endless.] However, when our spirit truly rests in His grace; when we truly believe in Him; as we fix our gaze upon Jesus, (as Hebrews 12:2 states, “Looking unto, fixing our gaze/eyes upon, intently beholding Him, who is the Author and Finisher of our faith…” When we truly do so, that is when the Holy Spirit will produce His work and fruit in us. Paul said it best when he spoke these words; “It is no longer I who lives, but Christ who lives in me.”(Galatians 2:20)
Again, I quote Mike Mooney, “We can sometimes fool ourselves into believing Jesus expects so much from us, when He only asks us to do one thing – believe. If you do this one thing right, Christ in you will do everything else right on your behalf. You will be filled with the fruit of the Spirit, he will accomplish good works in you, and you will be able to give all the credit to Jesus.”
Now, think about what we have discussed and let’s compare that thought process with the two sisters mentioned in Luke 10 - Mary and Martha. Martha, the one working excessively, sacrificially, and tirelessly for the Lord’ – we find her complaining about Mary’s ‘lack of service and commitment level’. We find Martha bragging and boasting about all she had done for and was doing for the Lord (humbly and spiritually of course – in today’s time, she would have reported her service and results to her denomination, or published it in her ministry letter or webpage, so she and others would know just how spiritual she really was). Martha also reminded the Lord ‘how much she was doing for Him, her tireless service and sacrifice. Because of the wrong focus of her heart, Martha could easily criticize Mary. And yet, Jesus lovingly reminds her, “Martha, Martha (speaking to her heart), you are troubled, worried and upset about many things, but Mary has chosen what is far better, and it will never be taken away from her.”
Listen with me to Mike Mooney, “Don’t fool yourself into thinking Jesus wants you to fill your life up with ‘ministry works’ in order to please Him. He would much rather you simply sit at His feet and trust in Him, like Mary who wanted to see the reality of Jesus.
Our so-called ‘Christian Religion’ of today has promoted the Martha-mindset for years and produced an army of Marthas. We are reaping what we have sown. Scarily, it has become so deeply ingrained and imbedded in our hearts, minds, souls, and the ‘Christian culture’ of today that we have adopted it as the ‘norm’. But it must be rooted out. As one author said, “Busyness can be (and should never be) a substitute for Intimacy.”
Listen again to the words of Mike Mooney, "Mary was not trying to be someone great…She was not trying to ‘work for’ Jesus in order to please Him; rather she rested in His presence with joy and thankfulness. Martha thought Mary was simply being lazy, but Jesus explained that Mary was ‘doing’ exactly what God desired.
“When you allow yourself to rest at the feet of Jesus and enjoy His company, you will always end up outworking God’s will in your life because the Spirit is free to move in you as He desires…As we trust in Him (Christ), He (The Holy Spirit) does all the work in and through us. (Because) we receive all the benefits of a transformed life…we can give Him all of the credit with joyful hearts. And for me, I have found that that ‘outworking’ of the Spirit of God who indwells me, as I fix my entire gaze and life upon Christ, that His ‘outworking’ is far different than the religious, institutional, traditional, typical, comfortable of what-we-are-used-to, churchy mindset we find as Christians today. And you don’t care if anyone else knows. Why? Because God does and it is ALL about Jesus Christ. I don’t have to ‘prove my spirituality or service to you’. I don’t have to impress you, or for some reason ‘justify myself before you.’ I don’t have to ‘brag or boast’ because it is no longer about me. Am I perfect? Do I no longer make mistakes? Of course not. Positionally I am perfect IN CHRIST. The Holy Spirit shows me how to practically and daily walk that out IN HIM.
I like the way 2 Corinthians 10:17 states it, “As the Scriptures say, "If you want to boast, boast only about the LORD.” (NLT) Paul also captured that same truth in 1 Corinthians 15:10 where he states that all that he is, is solely because of Jesus Christ and His grace. Even that which was accomplished through his life was a result of the grace of God operating within him and not something he manufactured himself. Paul’s entire focus was always on and about Jesus Christ.
Steve McVey states, “Religion complicates and confuses people by its demands and harsh scrutiny of our behavior. The grace of God stands in stark contrast to religion by assuring us that because of the finished work of Jesus, we are not only in good standing with God but are actually cherished by Him. Grace frees us from trying to prove anything to Him, to others, or even to ourselves…There is nothing left for us to do other than live out the reality of His finished work. [Both before and after salvation, Religion will always try to sell you the lie that God wants to relate to you based on your ‘works’, but the Gospel proclaims the truth that God actually desires to relate with you based on the finished work of His Son]. (God desires) to set many people free from the prison of religious performance and usher them into the rest that only comes by living in His grace. Or as Wayne Jacobsen says, it is learning how to “Live loved.”
So let me ask this question. Who or What are you ‘learning about’? Since, “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” what is truly in your heart? We can know by asking the question – what is coming out of your mouth? Is it your ‘church’? Your pastor? Your accomplishments? Your Praise Team? Or something else entirely? Your [you fill in the blank’. Who or What do we find ourselves ‘bragging or boasting’ about the most? The answer may both shock and surprise us. But whatever it is, that is the true focus of our hearts and lives. Is our complete focus, fully about and on JESUS?
One of my favorite passages of Scripture is Matthew 11:28-30. Listen to the very heart of Jesus…
28Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy-laden and overburdened, and I will cause you to rest. [I will [o]ease and relieve and [p]refresh [q]your souls.] 29Take My yoke upon you and learn of Me, for I am gentle (meek) and humble (lowly) in heart, and you will find rest ([r]relief and ease and refreshment and [s]recreation and blessed quiet) for your souls. 30For My yoke is easy and wholesome (useful, [t]good--not harsh, hard, sharp, or pressing, but comfortable, gracious, and pleasant), and My burden is light and easy to be borne. [Emphasis mine]
Let’s ‘look’ to Him. Let us realize that all that we are or ever will be, is all because of Him. Anything done through us is only because of Him and His grace. HE is the Author and Finisher of our faith. He is our everything – it is all because of His love, His finished work, His Person. The ONLY thing in life and in eternity that I will ever have to brag or boast about is no one but Jesus Christ.
Tuesday, March 27, 2012
Mable walked slowly down the aisle, as the rays from the morning sun made their way across the room. “This place sure is dusty, why you can see the dust just floating in those sun beams,” Mable said to herself.
As Mable made her way down the aisle, as she had done so many times before, her mind spoke “How long has it been? Well, this old mind doesn’t work like it used to. How many years now? Well, ‘ol girl, Mama started bringing me here, what was it now? Yes, that’s right, ever since I was three years old. This church seemed so big back then. And the memories. Sunday School, Vacation Bible School, all kinds of preachers over the years – some good, some, well, not so good. “Mama used to say, it’s okay Honey, God will bring us somebody better.” I remember how my little hand felt so secure in Mama’s hands. “Lord, it was right here, that I grasped Mama’s hand for that last time. But it was different. I was older, and now her hand was cold and lifeless. Mama wasn’t really here. That’s the last time I saw Mama here on this earth,” Mable thought to herself.
As Mable turned, (if someone had been there to see her, they would have noticed, as they always do), those tired, aged hands preciously holding ‘The Book’ close to her heart. Edges cracked and curled, a book whose pages are well known to her, some tear-stained, some worn from where fingers have followed along ever so gently, passionately as she read. “Such good words, loving words,” her voice echoed off the walls. Words that have brought her hope, and comfort in good times and bad throughout these long, yet “Why, it seems so short at times,” years, Mable again spoke out loud. Not to anyone in particular. Unless you listen to people talk. If asked, they would tell you that “It seems like Mable’s been talking a lot to herself lately.” Mable would hear their whispers, bits and pieces of their conversations and simply smile. She knew. Let them think what they want. It seems that some Christian people just don’t understand. After all, Mable knew that she was talking to Someone very dear and special to her, a very personal Friend Who often spoke to her mind and heart.
Mable eased herself down into ‘her’ pew. A welcome place. Some will tell you that Mable and her Mama, and her Daddy those last few years of her life, had sat in that same spot, ‘why it seems like forever’, or so they say. He eyes purposefully moved about the room, at times, settling a few moments here, a few moments there, as sweet memories flooded her mind of ‘those special times’ within these old walls.
“Lord, I have so many good memories here. I was baptized in that baptistery. It was here in this pew, all those years ago, I began my journey with You, as your Spirit spoke to my heart and soul, and You poured out Your love for me. The love of my Savior. Remember Lord when I got up and walked right down here, to this old altar. And I met You, my precious Jesus. Right here Lord, You became my Savior.” Tears were streaming down Mable’s face, now, but not of sadness but rather from joy. Mable wiped her eyes with her handkerchief when she suddenly found herself in that very spot, kneeling where she had so many years before. “And like I have so many times since, too. Goodness gracious, how did I get from that old pew down to here?” she laughed out loud. “Maybe I am losing my mind. Well if I am, then so be it!”
Mable purposefully retraced each step as she made it back to ‘her spot’ in the pew. “These ‘ol bones don’t work like they used to,” she smiled. As the oak creaked beneath her, supporting her weight. And yet, it was almost as if a greater weight sat down with her.
Mable was troubled. “Lord,” you know, we have a problem here,” she said.. “There are a lot of new people coming. All kinds from all walks of life. Why we’re bursting at the seams. And I sure do like to see the excitement of all the children.”
“But Lord, Your body seems to be divided. There are those here who don’t want to leave this place, this building, it’s almost as if it’s become an idol. But the others aren’t much different. They are looking at the new facility as an end in itself. I guess it bothers me that It seems as we’ve lost our focus. All I hear people talking about is one of the two buildings, or their preference in styles of music, or some other dang thing. Oops, I’m sorry Father. It’s just I don’t know what to do.”
As Mable’s heart quieted, a stillness came over her. Almost, as if unseen loving arms embraced her and held her close. It reminded her of the times she used to crawl up in her daddy’s lap and he would wrap his arms around her when she was little. She felt safe and loved there. And the best part was she could see her reflection in the smile and warmth of his eyes. And as she placed her head against his chest she would hear and feel his heartbeat. Mable knew this moment. One that she daily came to cherish, of being in her Heavenly Father’s lap and feeling His loving embrace.
“Mable”, said The Voice.
“Yes, my Lord,” Mable responded
“Mable, you have realized that the precious times we have spent together, here in this location, are not because of this building, service or programs. My daughter, it is not because of this place, or any place. It is because of a Person, and My agape love.
“My children have become confused and deluded by embracing religion over Relationship. For ages now they have built large buildings thinking that they honor Me. Presenting these structures to My creation as if this is where I dwell, and that these edifices somehow represent Me. And yet, My Son said, “No longer does God dwell in buildings made with hands. For you now are My temple and the place where I dwell. My children worship their buildings, visions, and goals just as Israel worshiped the serpent, that My servant Moses lifted up in the wilderness. Their ‘religious rituals, objects, and expectations’ have replaced Me.
“My people attend programs, conferences, and numerous Bible studies believing this makes them more spiritual and better disciples. And yet My Son has told you, “By this will all people know you are My disciples, if you love one another, just as I have loved you.”
“Mable, out of the abundance of their heart they speak. I AM no longer on their lips because I AM no longer truly in their hearts. Even in this fellowship that you attend, listen to what is most important to them. What excites them is shown by what they talk about. Everything is substituted for Me. Just as a small child cares more about their gifts and toys than the parent who gave it to them.
They are blinded and do not know it. They are zealous and say they embrace the truth, when The Truth is My Son. They have unknowingly left the passion of their first love.”
“I know Lord. I was that way for so many years. Until You broke through my ‘Christian Religiosity’ and broke the crust of this old religious heart and soul and brought me back to Your loving heart and arms,” Mable said as tears streamed down her face. Overwhelmed by The Voice that enveloped her.
“Mable,” The Voice responded, “Even through those times, I was always there. My love for you has never diminished or changed. I just had to woo you back to Me. To open your eyes and heart so you would stop performing for Me out your desire to please Me, thinking you could earn My favor and love - Instead of just living loved. To responding to my love, voice, and heart. You have always been in my embrace and arms, always close to My heart, and always will be. I just had to remove the religious garbage in your life in order for you to see Me again.”
“Lord, I am so unworthy. Why me?”
“Mable, I AM no respecter of persons. This relationship with Me is for all. For some, the control of religion has a very strong hold on their lives. Sadly some have chosen ‘Doing Church’ over their ‘Being My Child’. For some, it takes a while to break through the religious facade so they can see My face again,” The Voice said.
“Lord, what am I to do?” Mable asked.
“Continue in My love. And as My Spirit nudges your heart, share the awesomeness of My love with them. Allow Me to break through those barriers, and you just abide in My love – let them see the difference of the joy of walking with Abba Father over the hollowness of performing religious duties and obligations.”
“But, Lord, what if they won’t listen?” Mable asked.
“Lives are touched and changed, one at a time. Just as on the cross, I was in Christ reconciling the world to Myself. I am still continuing to do so today. Religion will never change anyone, but My love will.”
“I love You, Lord,” Mable spoke from the very depths of her soul and heart.
“I know My child. And Mable, I have and will always love you. I look for the time we can be together.”
A single tear fell down Mable’s face on to her Bible. “I don’t think that will be much longer, Father,” she said. “I look forward to it, too”
Overwhelmed, Mable sat there for a few more moments. The light was lower now coming through the windows. Mable began to gather her things and as she started to rise, she heard a creaking sound behind her. She turned her head to see the old wooden church door open and someone cautiously stick her head in.
“Mrs. Mable, is that you?” A petite young mother asked as she made her way down the church aisle, with a small child holding onto her hand, rubbing her nose.
“What is it dear?” Mable asked. “Sit down.”
The young mother sat down pulling the little girl on to her lap. “Mable, you know I’ve been coming here for some time now. I grew up in this church. Got married here. Trusted Christ here. I know I’m God’s child.
The young mother’s shoulders quietly slumped as if burdened with a heavy load while a tear trickled down her face. “I’m so tired. You know our family faithfully attends here we are so busy and involved. Children’s Church, Sunday School, Men’s Meetings, Ladies’ Meetings, Conferences, Services three days a week, witnessing, Praise Team Practice and Worship, Doctrine and Membership Classes. It seems like the list goes on-and-on. I don’t want God mad with me. I’m almost afraid to say this. But we are so busy doing things for God, I feel like I’m missing Him. I have no time with Him anymore. Is it supposed to be like this? Sometimes I just want to scream. The pastor says it is. After all, ‘Serving God is serving His Church.’ he says. But when it’s all said and done, we go home exhausted. And we’re so busy, it seems most of the time we feel empty. And sometimes we don’t even want to come. There is no rest. God sometimes seems like such a taskmaster. Is there no hope? And on top of everything else, we’re supposed to move into the new building in a few months. Now we’re being told there are more planning meetings, and…” the young mother’s voice trailed off.
“Mable, something is different about you. There seems to be such a peace, almost glow about you. What is different about your life?” the mother pleadingly asked.
As Mable sat there, she felt that well-known familiar Nudge in her heart and smiled. And with one hand on her Bible, she placed her other hand ever so gently on the young mother’s shoulder. Wiping the tear from the young mother’s eye, she looked at her, and said, “Honey, let me share with you about the awesomeness of God’s wonderful love”