The Silent Treatment

Perhaps the most hurtful thing you can experience in a relationship is being ignored. Confrontational arguments and occasional verbal jabs cause damage, yes. But being treated like you don’t exist means there is no relationship. And, worse yet, there is no hope of repairing a broken relationship if either person decides to shut down.

A Look in the Mirror

We can be very offended when others ignore us. But before we start judging too harshly, we need to take a close look in the mirror by asking ourselves a probing question- how does God feel when I ignore him? Does he care? The answer is yes. He cares very much.

Notice his response to the lukewarm attitude of the church at Laodicea.

I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot.
Would that you were either cold or hot!

So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold,
I will spit you out of my mouth.

For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing,
not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.

Revelation 3:15-17

They said they didn’t need God. Whether they spoke out loud or just thought it in their hearts, God knew. God knows very well what it feels like to be ignored. He knows when we have become smug and self-satisfied. And he warns us to correct the problem before it’s too late.

Stoke the Fire

One simple little word in the Psalms points us to the correct attitude. It is the word, “Oh” (sometimes spelled “O”). It is an exclamation, an address, a sign of excitement or desperation. It’s like waving and yelling, “Hey! Over here!” or groaning to yourself out loud. The Messiah cries to God, “O you, my help” in Psalm 22:19b. David repeats it again and again. And when the psalmists use this little word, they reveal to us the true nature of a right relationship with God.

“O LORD, be my helper!”
Psalm 30:10b

“Oh, guard my soul, and deliver me!
Let me not be put to shame, for I take refuge in You.”
Psalm 25:20

“Oh, that salvation for Israel would come out of Zion!”
Psalm 14:7a; 53:6a

Also in Psalm 7:9; 25:20; 28:9; 36:10; 53:6; 55:6; 60:1, 11
and Psalm 31:19; 34:3, 8-9 81:13

These short, direct cries for help demonstrate to us what true worship looks like. True worship is passionate. We need to be careful and recognize that true worship is much more than mere passion. We can stir up a frenzy of passion by means of all sorts of external manipulation. You can get your heart pumping with good entertainment or some stirring music, all without seeing God for who he truly is.

But passion stirred up by a fresh glimpse of the Almighty God is true worship. When we recognize our position of dependence on God our Creator, we will wear our voices out crying, “Hey! Over here!” because we desperately need his help.

Impossible to Ignore

Cerebral Christianity, or passive Christianity, or mediocre Christianity, or nominal Christianity, is not true Christianity, at least not for long. You can’t stay lukewarm forever. Why? Because God will not allow it. He will not ignore you or allow you to ignore him. If you, as a true child of God, have adopted a blasé attitude towards your heavenly Father, he will discipline you in love.

My son, do not despise the Lord‘s discipline
or be weary of his reproof,
for the Lord reproves him whom he loves,
as a father the son in whom he delights.
Proverbs 3:11-12

God does this because he loves you. He knows your heart, and he lovingly allows testing circumstances in your life to draw you back to himself. He is jealous for your affections. If you have no concern for God, and face no discipline, you need to question whether you are even his child. God cannot and will not ignore his children or respond in kind to their childish ways.

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A New Perspective

For the believer in Christ, properly fueled passion is an excellent indicator of the temperature of your spiritual life. It is the exact opposite of a lukewarm, distant relationship with God.

So the next time someone ignores you, let it be a reminder. Take a look in the mirror. Ask yourself, “Is this how I am treating God?” You can’t ignore God for long. Ask forgiveness for ignoring him if you have, and confide in him your hurt because he knows exactly how you feel. Every day millions upon millions of people ignore God. He gave up his Son, bleeding and dying, for them.

Yet God still stands ready to forgive. So with fresh passion, having experienced Almighty God’s forgiving grace, rise up. Love others. And know that, no matter how others may treat you, the Lord is with you. He will never ignore you.

CP

 

The Superman Complex

Last week I had a surgery, and the recovery has gone well. By the time the weekend rolled around I felt pretty good. However, feelings can be deceiving.

I started playing with my two toddlers on their level, which means a lot of moving, carrying, and running. By the time Saturday night rolled around, I was a grumpy mess. I realized I had pushed too hard, and I needed to rest. But the next day was Sunday, and I had plenty of things to do the second I woke up. By God’s mercy, our church cancelled the evening service due to snow, and Sunday night I crashed again (a thousand thanksgivings for my patient wife!).

I had pushed too hard, and it exposed a struggle I have faced again and again in my spiritual life. I call it the Superman Complex.

It’s a Delicate Balance

Something about our culture rewards business. We tend to think that if we are busy we are doing something important. Or, to take it a step further, we tend to think that if we are doing something important, we can somehow ignore our physical limitations. Late nights and early mornings frequently fill our busy calendars. And it is true, the Bible does teach us to live with self-discipline and self-sacrifice (1 Corinthians 9:24-27). A quick look at Paul’s résumé dispels any notion of a care-free, comfortable Christian life (2 Corinthians 11:12-29).

But we also need to balance those truths with the biblical teaching that our individual bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). We are stewards of our bodies. More than that, all of our labors depend entirely on the Lord’s blessing. While we must sleep, God never does. He is constantly watching over his work.

Unless the Lord builds the house,
those who build it labor in vain.
Unless the Lord watches over the city,
the watchman stays awake in vain.
It is in vain that you rise up early
and go late to rest,
eating the bread of anxious toil;
for he gives to his beloved sleep.
Psalm 127:1-2

 

Rest is a divine gift to you and a reminder of your finite human limitations. It is a tool of humility that God gifted to all his creation from the very beginning (we could learn a thing or two from the animals!). It reminds us that, while we are stewards of our bodies and God’s work, we are only stewards. We are not God, and we still need our Sabbath rest. isabella-juskova-470923-unsplash

Consider this often-misunderstood phrase about the Proverbs 31 woman that has guilt-tripped many a frazzled housewife: “Her lamp does not go out at night” (Proverbs 31:18b). That passage is not teaching that an industrious woman stays awake all night. Rather, it teaches that she prepared well by making sure her “night light” had enough oil and wick to last till morning. Sure, she may be an early riser (vs. 15), but she certainly isn’t superhuman. And neither are we. All of us need rest.

I am Not Superman.

Here’s a healthy exercise. Say, out loud, “I am not Superman.” You women may substitute “Wonder Woman” if you wish. It highlights the lie we too often believe.

We tend to think we can solve problems by pushing harder. If I just spent more time, gave more energy, used more force, I could get things to the next level. But it’s not true. We need to learn our limitations and accept them. We also need to refrain from pushing unfair expectations on others. Let me share a story from my own experience.

I enjoyed my freshman year of college. Since things had gone well, I decided to get more aggressive with my class schedule my sophomore year (push harder). I took over 20 credits, worked a part-time job on campus, and participated in sports, choir, and campus leadership roles (chaplain/chorister).

My daily scheduled looked something like this: rise at 5:30 am, get to work by 6 am, scrub pots and pans in the kitchen until 7:30 am, get cleaned up and head to class by 8 am, continue classes into the afternoon, then attend choir and/or sports practice around 4 pm, then study after dinner until 12 am (mixed with social events). The next morning I would wake up and repeat. My weekends were packed with homework, athletics, social life, outreach in the community, and church.

Half-way through the week I was wiped out. I remembered crashing many a Thursday evening, dreading Friday. I don’t tell you all that so you would think more of me. I tell you that to my shame. I was not being productive or fruitful for the Lord, I was being reckless with my body and destructive to my soul. I struggled with intense depression. I felt like a failure, and my grades, my relationships, my body, and my soul all cried out for help.

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What strikes me is that, through this whole process, no one ever came to me and said, “Do you think you might be doing too much?” I was in a culture that prized that kind of lifestyle. Unfortunately, it is the modus operandi of countless churches, Christian schools, and Christian camps. As a result, we lose scores of pastors, teachers, Christian workers, and college students to ministerial burn-out. They just can’t keep up with the rat-race anymore, so they are placed on the shelf. Or they retract from ministry with unnecessary frustration and hurt. It ought not be this way. And it’s not just people in ministry who face this temptation. It’s all of us.

The Power of Weakness

But there’s a paradox in this whole discussion that needs to be addressed. God told the Apostle Paul that his weakness, his “thorn in the flesh,” was not a liability. Rather, it was a blessing. God used it as a means of  humbling Paul and displaying God’s own power.

So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
2 Corinthians 12:7-10

In light of this passage, isn’t laboring to the point of exhuastion a good thing for Christians? As servants of God, we will suffer “weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamaties.” When we embrace our trials and rely on God’s grace, God uses our weaknesses to magnify his power.

But here’s the issue. God-given afflictions and self-imposed recklessness are two different things. I was 100% responsible for the choices I made my sophomore year of college. I am accountable for how I treat my body. As one person wisely said, “It’s hard to be spiritual when you are not rested.” We drain God’s grace of it’s power when we rely on our own strength and refuse the rest God has given. We also endanger others when we force them down the same path.

We need to balance our lives with biblical truth. What looks good on the surface may not always be as noble as we thought. We need the quiet confidence of David.

In peace I will both lie down and sleep;
    for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety. 
Psalm 4:8

So say it with me, “I am not Superman. I am not Superman.” Thank goodness.

CP

We All Are Ministers

Last week I enjoyed the privilege of traveling with my wife to a Pastor’s Fellowship sponsored by ARCH Ministries. ARCH is a network of likeminded churches and pastors who emphasize discipleship in their local churches towards the goal of planting churches in every county in the United States (or partnering with likeminded churches in every county).

It was my second time attending the National Pastor’s Fellowship. Last year when we came, my heart was heavy with the burden to make disciples. But the seed of discipleship was really planted in my heart years ago when I was a teenager.

Impacted as a Disciple

God used the discipleship focus of my youth pastor to influence me. He took time to pray with me, he taught me how to preach my first fledgling sermon, and he encouraged me through the emotional and confusing years of high school. In so many ways he was a role model for me to look up to and a tangible example for me to emulate.

So when I sat in my first session at ARCH and listened to testimony after testimony of how God was using pastors to reach and disciple the saved and unsaved within their own communities, I wept. It was refreshing to see so many in ministry focused on the same biblical goal. I have always wanted to play a part in a broad, sweeping movement that revitalizes the desire in our churches to make disciples through one-on-one, life-touching-life ministry. And, by His grace God led me on paths I would have never chosen to walk so that I could become a part of this wonderful wave of true discipleship that is taking place all across America and even throughout the world.

At the heart of this movement is a crucial question I think every Christian should ask themselves. Regardless of your position in the church, regardless of your age, regardless of your gender, regardless of your gifts, regardless of your personality,  the question is, “Who is called to disciple?”

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We find the answer in Ephesians 4, a chapter that explains to us the various leadership roles God provided for the church to establish it at its inception and then for its continuation. Verse 11 says, “And he [God] gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers.” But the next verse is equally crucial because it explains how these leadership roles strengthen the entire church. Church leaders are “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.” 

Called to Disciple

The text is quite easy to understand. Church leaders equip saints for the work of the ministry. But in our American mindset, we live as if our Bibles say that church leaders are “supported financially to do the work of the ministry for the saints, for building up the body of Christ.” But that’s not what the text says. Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, tells us that the hard work of church leadership is the equipping process. What tools, what support, what helps, what prayer, what preaching, what giving of ourselves will best equip the body of Christ so that it builds itself up? The church building itself up as a body is the end goal of pastoral ministry. Notice Paul’s conclusion in vv. 15-16.

Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way
into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body,
joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped,
when each part is working properly,
makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.

The radical yet biblical conclusion is this: a healthy church is a self-discipling church. So the answer to our question, “Who is called to disciple?” is everyone! We all are ministers of the gospel. And we do not just minister in capacaties like being a greeter, or singing in the choir, or staffing the nursery. Those are all wonderful things, and our churches need those positions filled, but the church is so much more than that. It is a living organism, connected to its head, Christ Jesus, “from whom the whole body…makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.” Many, many people come and go from church every week remaining spiritual babies because no one has taken the time to teach them how to walk, to eat, and to mature spiritually.

Three-way Discipleship

If you are a believer in the body of Christ, are you doing the work of the ministry? A good place to start would be to evaluate three key relationships in your life.

  1. Am I being discipled?
  2. Am I discipling a believer within the church?
  3. Am I seeking to make a new disciple outside the church?

It really can be that simple. Let someone pour into you. One of the biggest obstacles to discipleship is our own pride and individualism, a maverick mentality that refuses to be vulnerable and embrace the accountability of other wiser believers in our lives (1 Thessalonians 3). The best leaders are humble followers of Jesus.

Then, pour yourself into someone else. You may teach Sunday school or even preach frequently, but nothing can compare with the self-sacrificial imparting of your self to another individual. It is arduous. It is glorious. Paul compares discipleship to the task of a nursing mother; it sounds rosy, but the reality is discipleship and nursing alike are truly labors of love (1 Thessalonians 2). Paul is the model Christian for us in this way. And don’t just pick a family member to disciple; reach outside your comfort zone and look for someone who needs help. For some people, the church is the only family they’ve got.

Finally, befriend someone in your community with the goal of calling them to be ablake-wheeler-233622-unsplash disciple of Christ. While building relationships takes time and effort, it is possible to be salt and light even in your own neighborhood. It doesn’t take anything spectacular; it takes just the opposite. It takes a plodding faith undergirded with prayer and intentionality. The beauty of this calling is that everyone plays a part. In the words of our Lord, we all are to “go… make disciples (Matthew 28:19-20).

If this is going to happen in our churches, it needs to start at the top. Every church leader should be a disciplee, a discipler, and a disciple-maker. This kind of ministry will truly “equip the saints for the work of the ministry.” What are you doing to create a disciple-making culture in your church? We all must do our part.

CP