Christianity 201

August 22, 2018

Christian Service: Joyfully Rendered or Indicator of Bondage?

Readers here know that every time we pass an anniversary — either by date or a significant number of posts, as we did with #3,000 not long ago — I’ll mention that C201 has offered a fresh devotional daily since its inception. But scrolling through the archives for August, 2013 — only 5 years ago — I was reminded that technically that isn’t true. Stuck in the middle of nowhere I had to confront the reality that unless I covered up by backdating an extra post the next day, there would be what I considered an unsightly gap in my perfect blog attendance record. It would be the end of Christianity as we know it. After all, it all depends on me!

Instead, I let the date roll by and posted this the next day. (I even broke a rule and began with an illustration, albeit one I made up on the spot!)

Ritual Versus Faithfulness

I Cor 4:2 ESV Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found faithful.

The Henderson Family very rarely misses a church service, church meeting, or church function. They are what a previous generation called “pillars of the assembly;” people you can count on to be there and to do whatever needs doing in the church. A check of Mrs. H.’s pocket calendar shows a church event or responsibility consuming much of 17 of this month’s 31 days.

Some would say they are being faithful, while others would prefer to think they are in some kind of religious bondage. They could certainly use a copy of the book Boundaries, because saying ‘no’ isn’t in their vocabulary. How do you tell the difference between people who joyfully make the church the center of their lives, and people who serve under duress?

II Cor. 9:7a NIV Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion…

The Bible distinguishes between service and giving which are done joyfully and cheerfully versus that which is done under a sense of obligation.

I thought of this a lot in the last 48 hours when it appeared that I would not be able to post a devotional reading here for yesterday, August 17th. I tried to get online using a rather primitive smart-phone, but it wasn’t to be, as the limitations of the phone met the very limited internet access in the remote area where we were.

‘But I haven’t missed a day here in years,’ I thought to myself. Ah, there’s a religious spirit creeping in. The feeling that I must do this; compounded with the feeling of If you don’t _________ it won’t ________. Not a good place to be in. Instead of God being the center, I become the center. It also shows a misplaced appropriation of my place in the building of God’s Kingdom; a rather self-centered, egotistical sense of my own importance.

In fact, scripture describes ministry as more of a symphony concert than a solo recital:

I Cor. 3:6,7 Message Who do you think Paul is, anyway? Or Apollos, for that matter? Servants, both of us—servants who waited on you as you gradually learned to entrust your lives to our mutual Master. We each carried out our servant assignment. I planted the seed, Apollos watered the plants, but God made you grow. It’s not the one who plants or the one who waters who is at the center of this process but God, who makes things grow.

And then, the worst thought of all, where faulty attitude becomes outright sin: I considered backdating a post to yesterday once I got back online. It wasn’t so much trying to create a false impression of my faithfulness to this, as it was the feeling a curator of a set or collection must have if one of the items is missing. I must restore the museum/gallery to its pristine state. That’s pride.

Matthew 6:1 The Voice Jesus: But when you do these righteous acts, do not do them in front of spectators. Don’t do them where you can be seen, let alone lauded, by others. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.

Amazing how writing a daily devotional blog can cause one to sin, isn’t it? So what would you tell the Henderson family? What would you tell me?


As it would turn out, I realized the same religious spirit — or addiction to a misdirected perception of how to measure of faithfulness — was plaguing my writing at my primary blog, Thinking Out Loud. So last month, when we were heading for holidays, I deliberately left a gap of seven or eight days. It would have been easy to post things ahead (as we did here and on my book trade blog) but I decided the non-stop streak had become a source of pride.

What’s the equivalent in your life?

May 25, 2015

When Love Output Exceeds Love Input

Matt. 7:21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’

We make a point to try to revisit writers who have appeared here before. Such is the case with Mark McIntyre at the blog Attempts at Honesty. To read this at source, click the title below.

water pumpLove, duty and honor

When a pump tries to put out more water than it takes in, it experiences a condition called cavitation. The end result is that the internal turbulence caused by the cavitation tears up the pump and eventually renders the pump useless. The pump only works well when it takes in as much as it tries to put out.

I find a cavitating pump a fitting metaphor for what I’ve observed in churches over the years. The Apostle John tells us in 1 John 4:19 that we love because God loved us first. John also tells us in John 13:35 that love is to be the distinguishing mark of the church. Jesus himself told us that the two great commands are to love God and love our neighbor (Matthew 22:37-40).

We are commanded to love, but the source of that love must be God himself. I have firsthand experience of what happens when the church tries to convey love without relying on God as the source of that love.

Without reliance upon God as the source of love, the church (and the individuals that make up the church) tends to replace love with duty or honor. Duty is a sense of responsibility to others. Honor is an attempt at maintaining a reputation. One is focused outward the other is focused inward.

Both duty and honor are good things in themselves. There is nothing wrong with having a proper sense of responsibility to our fellow man. I see the connection between duty and fulfillment of the second command to love your neighbor. There is also nothing wrong with wanting to have a good reputation. One of the qualifications that the Apostle Paul gives us for a church leader is that he is to be a man of good reputation (1 Timothy 3:2).

The problem is that even these good things are no substitute for experiencing and conveying the love that God has for us. Duty without love becomes a hard, unyielding taskmaster. How many times have I seen people “serving” in church with little joy and even less fruit? Duty without love produces zombie Christians who lurch around but are not fully alive.

Honor without love becomes narcissistic or forces one into very superficial relationships. I cannot let you too near to me if I want to maintain the illusion that I have everything under control. Therein lies the pressure to be superficial. The narcissistic tendency manifests itself in the “look at me” aspect that rears it’s head in churches. People want to be seen “doing ministry” and get hooked on the affirmation that it provides. The smiling face may hide an ugly heart.

Perhaps we all have an inclination toward these false foundations. But I find that when I am properly connected with the love of God, I want to serve those around me because I want them to experience the same sense of God that I have. When I am properly connected with the love of God, I don’t have to worry about my reputation. If I am following God, my reputation will take care of itself. Also, if I am experiencing the love of God, I don’t have to worry that you will see my failures and weaknesses. God knows all about my failures and loves me anyway.

As with the cavitating pump, failure to allow the love of God to be the driving force and the content of our message will cause a life to eventually fall apart. If you have any doubts about this, I point you toward the most chilling words that Jesus ever uttered in Matthew 7:21-23. In this passage Jesus tells us that many who worked for duty and honor will not find entry into Heaven. It is only those who have been in relationship with him and have experienced his love and forgiveness will gain entry.

The stakes are very, very high.

 

August 18, 2013

Ritual versus Faithfulness

I Cor 4:2 ESV Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found faithful.

The Henderson Family very rarely misses a church service, church meeting, or church function. They are what a previous generation called “pillars of the assembly;” people you can count on to be there and to do whatever needs doing in the church. A check of Mrs. H.’s pocket calendar shows a church event or responsibility consuming much of 17 of this month’s 31 days.

Some would say they are being faithful, while others would prefer to think they are in some kind of religious bondage. They could certainly use a copy of the book Boundaries, because saying ‘no’ isn’t in their vocabulary. How do you tell the difference between people who joyfully make the church the center of their lives, and people who serve under duress?

II Cor. 9:7a NIV Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion…

The Bible distinguishes between service and giving which are done joyfully and cheerfully versus that which is done under a sense of obligation.

I thought of this a lot in the last 48 hours when it appeared that I would not be able to post a devotional reading here for yesterday, August 17th. I tried to get online using a rather primitive smart-phone, but it wasn’t to be, as the limitations of the phone met the very limited internet access in the remote area where we were.

‘But I haven’t missed a day here in years,’ I thought to myself. Ah, there’s a religious spirit creeping in. The feeling that I must do this; compounded with the feeling of If you don’t _________ it won’t ________. Not a good place to be in. Instead of God being the center, I become the center. It also shows a misplaced appropriation of my place in the building of God’s Kingdom; a rather self-centered, egotistical sense of my own importance.

In fact, scripture describes ministry as more of a symphony concert than a solo recital:

I Cor. 3:6,7 Message Who do you think Paul is, anyway? Or Apollos, for that matter? Servants, both of us—servants who waited on you as you gradually learned to entrust your lives to our mutual Master. We each carried out our servant assignment. I planted the seed, Apollos watered the plants, but God made you grow. It’s not the one who plants or the one who waters who is at the center of this process but God, who makes things grow.

And then, the worst thought of all, where faulty attitude becomes outright sin: I considered backdating a post to yesterday once I got back online. It wasn’t so much trying to create a false impression of my faithfulness to this, as it was the feeling a curator of a set or collection must have if one of the items is missing. I must restore the museum/gallery to its pristine state. That’s pride.

Matthew 6:1 The Voice Jesus: But when you do these righteous acts, do not do them in front of spectators. Don’t do them where you can be seen, let alone lauded, by others. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.

Amazing how writing a daily devotional blog can cause to sin, isn’t it? So what would you tell the Henderson family? What would you tell me?