Hidden Heroes

Sometimes leaders get too big for their britches. The consequences for their followers are painful when God eventually pulls the rug out.  Headlines like, “Church Disbands After Lead Pastor……” represent damaged hearts on a grand scale.  The problem is, it’s a subtle and easy thing to allow myself, as a leader, to try and occupy a higher position than the role God’s given to me.

In the next few posts, I’m examining some leaders from the Bible that don’t receive quite as much attention as guys like Moses, Joshua, Joseph, David and Paul.  The people I’ve selected are great leaders also, even though their spheres of influence were smaller or their season of leadership shorter.   What attracts me to them is that each one possessed a quality of spiritual greatness that I believe every leader should seek to emulate.  Today, I am dazzled by John the Baptist and his humility.

I remember when I led a thriving Bible study that dwindled because a chunk of my participants chose, one year, to attend a large, nondenominational, intensive Bible study at a nearby church. Instead of being glad that these women grew to the point that they wanted some serious Bible meat, I felt rejected. (My study was geared for young believers) Thankfully, God interrupted my pity party and pointed out my skewed perspective.  I didn’t celebrate the fact that they wanted to follow Jesus more deeply, I felt jealousy that they weren’t with me anymore.  I allowed God to change my attitude and continued to lead the beginning group for several more years.  I’m grateful he didn’t take it from me entirely and give it to someone else.

First, a few facts about John the Baptist, taken from Baker’s Bible dictionary.  When you realize the significance and honor God bestowed on him, it’s even more amazing that he didn’t think he was all that plus a bag of chips.

  • His birth is recorded in detail. (Luke 1)
  • His birth is also framed by angels and divine intervention, like Jesus. (Luke 1)
  • God chose him to be the first prophetic voice after 400 years of silence. (Isaiah 40:3-5)
  • God chose him to announce the beginning of Jesus’ ministry and the plan of salvation. (Matt. 3:2)
  • People from Jerusalem, Judea and that entire region journeyed out into the wilderness to hear him preach. (Matthew 3:1-17)
  • He baptized Jesus, the Son of God. (Matt. 3:13-17)
  • His preaching and teaching were carried all the way to the ears of King Herod. (Matthew 14:1-12)
  • His disciple’s prayer lives were so significant that one of Jesus’ disciples asked him to, “teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” (Luke 11:1)
  • The Apostle John dubbed him “the witness of the light.” (John 1:6-8)

So, how hard might it be to remain humble if you were the pastor of the first A.D. mega church that baptized Jesus Christ, along with being the ­first prophet to speak after 400 years of prophetic silence?   I’ve observed leaders with much less on their resume act like they are God’s special bonus to the church.  The truth is, God designs his leaders to be gifts to the body of Christ.  The problem with too many of us, is that we get to thinking that our piece is a little more important than some other pieces on God’s chessboard.  When a leader becomes careless with their cloak of humility, they leave a wake of damaged hearts and tarnished credibility not just in the kingdom of God, but in the lost world around them.   

I want to be like John the Baptist.  Check out his responses in the first few chapters of the Apostle John’s book, to Jesus’ fast-growing ministry on a hillside near John’s own.

“I am not the Messiah.”

                “I am the voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord.’”

                “He is the one who comes after me, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.”

When John the Baptist’s disciples became very concerned that they were losing members to Jesus, they spoke to him about it.  He replied,

I am not the Messiah but am sent ahead of him.  The bride belongs to the bridegroom.  The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete.  He must become greater; I must become less.”

John expressed true joy at Jesus’s ministry success.  He didn’t view him as a competitor but instead recognized that although God chose him to occupy a very key position in kingdom events, it was time for him to recede into the background as Jesus’ ministry rose in prominence.  Oh, that every leader could possess that kind of humility.

It’s almost impossible not to run into a competitive vibe amongst spiritual leaders when you put a herd of them together.  I’ve wrangled with it every time I’ve been involved in a combined church, community event, even struggling with it sometimes in my own heart.

How differently might we come across to the unchurched and each other, as individual believers and local bodies of Christ, if our spiritual gifts and achievements could only be seen under our cloaks of humility?

 

Righteous Uprising Part Three

I used to live on a gerbil wheel.   Packing my days from early mornings, (I naturally wake up somewhere around 4:30 or 5:00 a.m.)  until late bedtimes, I left little time for rest and quiet.  Instead, I felt proud of how much I could accomplish in a day, a week, a month.  Unfortunately, I’d get commitments and tasks spinning so fast, I couldn’t keep up with the pace of my own life, at which point I’d tumble off the wheel entirely.

Usually, my off times included colds, flues and other sicknesses that come when we run down our immune systems due to stress, lack of sleep, poor food choices and the like.  I left people in the lurch consistently, scrambling to fill all the holes I left because of my sudden absence from everything.

I didn’t recognize this pattern in my life until God started confronting me about it one day during a long recovery from a surgery.  Finally, I used this time to reflect on my life, my choices and the speed I insisted on maintaining.  I noticed a repeating phrase in the gospels along the lines of “and he retreated to a quiet place alone,” referring to Jesus.

Hebrews 4, and its theme of “enter his rest,” became a plumb line.  My life then, fell very short.  I needed to learn how to live in a place of peace and rest while still doing the kingdom work God gave me to do, like Jesus.  We know that Jesus stewarded all his resources perfectly, but how?  How did Jesus balance rest and work?

In his book, “Sparkling Gems II,” Pastor Rick Renner states that if we add up all the events and passages of time mentioned in the gospels, we are only told what Jesus did for about 27 days of his three-year ministry.  This is why the apostle John said, “Jesus also did many other things.  If they were all written down, I suppose the whole world could not contain the books that would be written.”  John 21:25 NLT.

Jesus packed his days with ministry to people, yet he still found the time to be alone, rest and receive fresh anointing for the next thing.   He shares his secret with us in John 5:19. “I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by Himself.  He does only what he sees the Father doing.”  In other words, Jesus worked where God made provision and prepared the way.

When we consider our energy use and what kind of accounting we want to give to the Lord, it’s easy to put ourselves on gerbil wheels.  That’s not God’s way.  A great perspective on how to find balance in energy stewardship is the business phrase, “Don’t work harder, work smarter.” For believers, “smarter,” means, do only what God gives you to do in the way He wants you to do it.

A story from Luke 5 shows us what that looks like in real time.

When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, ‘Now go out where it is deeper, and let down your nets to catch some fish.’  ‘Master, ‘Simon replied, we worked hard all last night and didn’t catch a thing. But if you say so, I’ll let the nets down again.’  And this time their nets were so full of fish they began to tear! A shout for help brought their partners in the other boat, and soon both boats were filled with fish and on the verge of sinking.”

Did Simon and his crew work hard the night before? Yes.  Did it produce anything valuable?  No.   Did they work hard again when they followed Jesus’ instructions?  Yes.  Did it produce anything valuable?   Yes, and there’s the difference.  We can always find things to do that need do be done and make us feel important and productive. The secret is discerning the difference between good things and God things. I can, potentially, burn up all my energy doing a lot of stuff that makes me and others happy, happy, happy and entirely miss my God-given destiny.

If I want to see a righteous harvest and please God with my energy, I must choose to spend it only on those things God leads me to do.  There will still be lots of hard work, but instead of falling away in exhaustion with alarming regularity, I will work steadily.  God knows my limits and resources, and although he may push me out of comfort zones, he will never call me to do unfruitful work.  He will call me into rest throughout each day, if I listen.  He will do this for any believer.

Some of us head into Sundays, vacations and sabbaticals in such a state of weariness, we collapse once we get there.  That’s not God’s design.  We need to stop making busyness a badge of honor, as if constant movement and overly full schedules make us more acceptable to God.  Unfortunately, I think the reverse might be true.

I think it hurts God’s heart when I don’t take time to listen and discern his plans. He’s probably sad when I keep fishing on the wrong side of the boat and then sob because I can’t catch any fish. Additionally, I no longer possess the energy to do the stuff that matters to God.  Peter and his crew could have probably hauled in that big load of fish if they hadn’t exhausted themselves the night before. It might have been somewhat humiliating for these tough, seasoned fishermen to call in extra help.

Thank God for grace and many second chances. If, if only we could keep a firm grasp on the truth that God is always running team meetings with the latest info about where to fish, what lures to use, what time to go and everything else we need to know.  When we skip meetings and don’t take the time to listen quietly, we miss a lot of memos and changes.

How are you doing achieving the balance between God’s sabbath rest (which is not just for Sundays) and accomplishing the work he’s assigned to you?  Maybe you need to shut down a gerbil wheel in your life and become an active listener to be able to better manage your energy resources.  As Henry Blackaby says in his book Experiencing God, “Don’t be in a hurry. Don’t skip over the relationship to get to the activity.”

 

 

 

Righteous Uprising Part Two

“Nope. Can’t help. I’ve done my time at church.”  This rebuttal to my request for volunteer help, left me fumbling for words. I stumbled out something like, “Okay, well, I’ll be sure to take you off my call list for the future.”

For the next few minutes, I engaged in a conversation with the air spouting things like, “Done my time?  DONE MY TIME?  So, being involved in ministries is a prison sentence?” Worse yet, this wasn’t my first time to hear this reason for not serving.

Several folks patiently explained to me that people under age 50 should carry the load of volunteer church ministry.  Funny thing is, I received better responses from folks 65-70 and older who couldn’t necessarily get down on a floor with kids but eagerly served at funeral lunches, contributed baked goods, set up classrooms, washed nursery toys, folded bulletins, tended grounds, and performed many other necessary tasks, faithfully.  Their kids?  Not so much.

In America, we are witnessing the daily passing of the folks labeled “The Greatest Generation.”  These are fighters that survived the Great Depression and World War II and then created an epic boom in our nation’s economy and population.  The youngest age of this generation is currently 94 years old.  Back in my volunteer recruitment days, they were in their sixties and seventies.

This age group’s values merit a closer look from younger generations, specifically in the ways they contributed the valuable resource of time.  Hardships during their formative years, formed steadfast, self-sacrificing characters. It’s impossible to calculate the world-wide impact of those who left families, careers and homeland to serve and die in places as far-flung as the beaches of Normandy and the Japanese prison camps of the Philippines. Men and women on the Homefront, endured family separations, rationings and shortages. Many women left their homes and young children to take grueling jobs in factories producing military supplies, all for the greater cause. Ultimately, many families made the supreme sacrifice of losing their loved ones in battlefields abroad.

When World War II ended, these courageous people continued the same sacrificial mindset into their homes, workplaces, communities and their churches. Sometimes, I’ve shared volunteerism refusals that I’ve heard, with friends from my grandparent’s generation.  Their reactions are typically a head-shaking, incredulous disbelief.  You see, for them, serving was never about what was comfortable or fit into their schedule. For the “Greatest Generation,” it’s always been about finding significance through meeting other’s needs.  That sounds a lot like the kingdom of God to me.

Meanwhile, many people in my age range, the “Baby Boomers,” are still searching for significance in their lives. Sadder yet, many of us, in our attempts to provide better lives for our children, dubbed “The Millenials,” unintentionally communicated to them, that the world spins for their sole pleasure.  The result is that most church’s volunteer ministries are grossly understaffed.  Ask any pastor.  Here’s a few “reasons” for not serving, that came to me over the years, and not just by one or two folks, either.  You can’t make this stuff up.

“I’ve got (aerobics, pottery, knitting, photography) class on Wednesday nights.” 

“Our family spends the weekends traveling for (fill in band, soccer, etc.) and we just need to come to church and rest on Sundays. Well, Wednesday doesn’t work either cause the kids all have practices.” (or rehearsals or clubs, etc. etc.)

“Well, we like to go up to our cottage most weekends, May through October. When we do come to church, we just want to sit in the service and enjoy our church family.”

Now, hear my heart, none of these mentioned activities are evil, of themselves.  The activities are not to blame. We are the ones who rank them more highly than we ought. I am so proud of my parents putting up a boundary during my high school years that inspired other parents to follow suit. My brothers and I could be part of teams, clubs, plays, etc. if it didn’t interfere with our Wednesday and Sunday service attendance. The director of our high school plays changed rehearsal schedules when I, and other Christ-following friends, shared our parents’ boundaries with him.  We took a risk that could have knocked us out of something we really loved for something greater. It felt awkward and embarrassing at the time, but thank God, my parents placed high value on stewarding our time.  My brothers engaged in exhausting football and marching band practices and rehearsals but didn’t skip youth group or sleep in late on Sundays and miss Sunday school.

When did faithful ministry and church attendance fall so low on our priority lists, that we only serve when it fits around all our other pursuits?

If you’re squirming as you read, understand there’s no judgement coming from me.  I’m a strong believer in God’s sowing and reaping principles.  What you might be feeling, if this post is troubling you, is the Holy Spirit encouraging you to take a fresh look at your schedule and priorities.

The battle lines between good and evil are becoming starker as the day of Christ’s return approaches.  We are called to advance the kingdom, which takes time, quality time. To close, here’s another parable I’d like to share to help you understand Jesus’ perspective on our use of time.  It’s similar to the Parable of The Talents from last week, but in the Parable of The Minas, Jesus is speaking of time, not money.  Please notice that in the talent’s parable, the servants are given different amounts of money, representing the different skills, gifts and such God gives to each believer.

In the mina’s parable, each servant is given the same number of minas, to symbolize that we are all given the same number of hours in a day.  Note also how differently the servants are treated in the two parables.  With that in mind, I encourage you to read Luke 19: 12-26 with fresh eyes. Let the story marinate in your heart to give the Spirit an opportunity to speak to you through it.

For “The Greatest Generation,” their service to the kingdom wasn’t a convenient pleasure cruise. They weren’t afraid of weekly, nitty gritty work like changing diapers, pouring out hundreds of little communion cups, washing pots and pans after a church supper,  scrubbing windows and floors on congregational clean-up days and the like.  The difference is, between them and too many in younger generations,  their expectations were completely different. How about we stop trying to find ourselves and instead lose ourselves in service to others?  Luke 17:33

 

 

Righteous Uprising

I used to welcome destructive relationships into my life.  They ran perpendicular to God’s word and nature and deep down, I knew it.  Nevertheless, I invested myself in them heavily for years.  How is it that I could love God deeply, serve him wholeheartedly and still commit myself to things that served as opposition forces?

I’m not speaking about human friendships. The associations I refer to, turned out to be more destructive in my life than any person could be, even though, in and of themselves, they weren’t evil. (Well, a couple were!)  I squandered time, money and emotional energy on them consistently, resources God expected me to use for his kingdom. The King James Bible uses a strong term for them and calls these things “unfruitful works of darkness,” in Ephesians 5:11.  That sounds harsh, but I want you to consider this truth. Anything that nudges Christ out of the center of your life’s throne, by default becomes an opposing force towards God.  

“Whoa,” you say.  “Sorry, you got messed up in bad stuff, Sharon, but that doesn’t describe me.”  Oh? Are you sure? Developing affection for worldly pursuits can be a very subtle, gradual slide, especially if other believers are sliding with you.  Allow me to pose some questions, not to attack you but perhaps to awaken you.

For decades, I’ve listened to church folk (and myself) criticize and complain about the immoral behaviors of their societies.  Brothers and sisters, the decline of morality in any culture cannot be blamed on the unsaved.  Lost people will behave like their master.  The fault for moral decline lies entirely with the body of Christ inside any society.  We are called the salt and light.  So, let’s stop railing at the darkness for a moment and contemplate our own realities.  Please, read on and be open to the possibility that like me, your lifestyle and habits might need a good dose of righteous cleansing.

  1. Would you watch your current favorite shows with your Nana or your pastor on the couch? Would you be comfortable reading aloud to them from your current recreational reading books?   I used to read tons of horror books that would have scared the soup out of my grandma, and don’t get me started on the list of dark movies and shows I used to watch regularly.

 

  1. Does your checking account demonstrate faithful tithing to your local church? What about offerings for missionaries and folks in need? Here’s a nice piece of irony.  For a few months in seminary preparing for ministry, Ken and I decided we didn’t have enough income to tithe. We did, however, find money to eat out and go shopping.  Hmmmmm………

 

  1. How much time do you spend on your appearance each morning compared to the time you spend in Bible study and prayer? I shudder to think of how long it took me to structure my large 80’s hairdo’s back in the day. 

 

  1. How much time do you commit to your church home or a parachurch organization in volunteer ministry compared to the time you invest in social media, video games, vacations, concerts or other entertainment? I’ve met so many people that tell me they don’t have the time to commit to a volunteer ministry, yet they still find space in their schedule for hours of entertainment pursuits, pictures of which they proudly post on social media.

 

  1. Are the schedules in your home so full, that skipping church and sleeping in on Sunday mornings seems reasonable? This is a growing and disturbing phenomenon in the American church. When you’re on vacation on a Sunday, how do you honor God on his day? Whereas a generation ago there might have been too much legalism surrounding Sunday activities, I’m not so sure that we haven’t now overreacted and adopted the world’s mantra that “Sunday is Funday.”

 

  1. Do family events, athletic practices, business meetings and such, take a higher priority in your schedule then participation in a small group Bible study, youth group, or attendance at a midweek service or children’s program? Another disturbing trend in the American church is the notion that Sunday morning worship attendance alone, checks all the boxes for being an engaged member of a local body of Christ.

 

  1. Are your conversations with others wholesome and fruitful or are crude language, off-color stories, useless chatter, gossip or negativity a regular part of some of your relationships? How much would our words change if we understood the truth that God listens to his children intently, like every minute of every day? 

 

In the next few posts, I want to challenge you to examine how you are using every resource God’s entrusted to you. How much resource might we be unintentionally committing to “unfruitful deeds?”  Let me end this post with a familiar parable.  It’s long, but please read it with an open mind.  It puts a holy fear in me and I hope it does in you too.

“Again, the Kingdom of Heaven can be illustrated by the story of a man going on a long trip.  He called together his servants and entrusted his money to them while he was gone.  He gave five bags of silver to one, two bags of silver to another, and one bag of silver to the last- dividing it in proportion to their abilities.  He then left on his trip.

The servant who received the five bags began to invest the money and earned five more.  The servant with two bags of silver also went to work and earned two more.  But the servant who received the one bag of silver dug a hole in the ground and hid the master’s money.

After a long time, their master returned from his trip and called them to give an account of how they had used his money.  The servant to whom he had entrusted the five bags of silver came forward with five more and said, ‘Master, you gave me five bags of silver to invest, and I have earned five more.’ The master was full of praise. ‘Well done, my good and faithful servant.  You have been faithful in handling this small amount so now I will give you many more responsibilities. Let’s celebrate together!’

The servant who had received the two bags of silver came forward and said, ‘Master, you gave me two bags of silver to invest, and I have earned two more.’  The master said, ‘Well done, my good and faithful servant. You have been faithful in handling this small amount, so now I will give you many more responsibilities. Let’s celebrate together!’

Then the servant with the one bag of silver came and said, ‘Master, I knew you were a harsh man, harvesting crops you didn’t plant and gathering crops you didn’t cultivate.  I was afraid I would lose your money, so I hid it in the earth.  Look, here is your money back.’  But the master replied, ‘You wicked and lazy servant! If you knew I harvested crops I didn’t plant and gathered crops I didn’t cultivate, why didn’t you deposit my money in the bank?  At least I could have gotten some interest on it.’  Then he ordered, ‘Take the money from this servant, and give it to the one with the ten bags of silver.  To those who use well what they are given, even more will be given, and they will have an abundance.  But from those who do nothing, even what little they have will be taken away.  Now throw this useless servant into outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”   Matthew 25 NLT