I’ve traveled to the Holy Land many times over the past five years. There is much “religion” in the land of our Lord. Today you can hear the Muslims praying during their routine prayer times. You will find devout Jews praying at the Western Wall. Not to the wall, but facing toward the site of the Holy of Holies. With both, sincerity can never be questioned.
Back home in the land of the free and the home of the brave, we see an overwhelming majority of Americans who consider themselves Christians. Yet less than 5% of those who make this claim spend any time in prayer. No routine, no discipline, just praying that centers on Lord bless ME, help ME, use ME, give ME… You know the drill.
It seems, if I read my Bible correctly, that serving God means serving God, not calling it one thing when in reality it’s something else. As long as it’s about ME, it can’t be about HIM. Service implies a servant spirit. Yes, we are sons, but we are also told that the greatest is the one who serves.
Somewhere we got off track. We get the prodigal spirit. We want what’s ours, and we want it now. You can enter the far country from the front pew. You don’t have to leave to go to Vegas. It doesn’t have to be in a bar, a strip club, or a casino. You can be a prodigal inside the walls of the church.
The far country is not measured by miles; it’s measured by the mind. Where your mind and heart are, there you will be. It’s your attitude about the things of God and your place in the kingdom. It’s your affections for attention, power, recognition, the platform, a class to teach, an office to hold, etc. Simply put, it is rebellion against the will and Word of God.
You can be a prodigal and be committed to prayer, religious work, teaching a class, or singing in the choir or praise team. That, in fact, was the condition of the other brother in Luke 15. He stayed home, but his attitude stunk. He resented His father’s free forgiveness of the one who went to the pig pen. He thought the father was unfair. He may have thought he was serving the father, but he wasn’t enjoying it. He really was serving himself and resented the father paying attention to the “prodigal.”
I’ve met countless people who started out seeking the Lord, but they got sidetracked. They started serving something that looked almost as good. They settled for being a deacon, a leader in the church, being on a prominent committee, being the featured soloist, ad nauseum. For each one, there is a common denominator. It becomes about ME. Some people get their kicks in bars, some in the church.
Maybe it’s time we stopped encouraging our people to serve and started talking more about their spirit. We could get more done if we could get our people right with God and one another. As Vance Havner said, “Simply recruiting more Ephesians to do more works and more labor without their first love only worsens a situation that is bad enough now.”
Too often churches have battles and conflicts and lose opportunities to witness for one simple reason: they say they are doing the Lord’s will, but it’s their own will they are doing.
One case in point. When I was serving on staff at a church in South Carolina, our pastor was having some serious health issues. It required that I fill in and preach for him on a number of occasions. There was a men’s Bible study teacher there who was very protective of his class. He was also a longtime deacon (men full of faith, wisdom, and the spirit), which you will see were not characteristics of his life.
In fact, he had taken the old wooden theater seats when the church renovated and bolted them down in his room just like he wanted them. On the staff, we called him the chocolate covered spider because he was kind on the outside but deadly on the inside. If you crossed him, you could see wrath and vengeance in a heartbeat.
During that time, we needed to reshuffle some classrooms. We had small classes in large rooms and vice versa. One of the classes we needed to move was this man’s class. It would take me several pages to explain to you what ensued. Suffice it to say, he organized meetings to picket his own church and demand their rooms back. He called the local TV station to let them know they were going to take the platform one Sunday morning. It just so happened the morning they were planning this, I was preaching. None of this panned out, and we moved on. But his true colors and the true “god” he was serving were revealed.
God wants self before substance and service. We seem to have this all reversed. We try to find our niche, our place, ourselves when what we need to do is die to self. It might not hurt to find that Scripture that says if you want to save your life, you must lose it…
We’ve got personality profiles, spiritual gifts tests, etc., and they are all good. But first and foremost, we need to die to self. We are a living sacrifice according to Romans 12. The problem is, we keep crawling off the altar. Like Isaac, we need to be willing to let God slay us. This might even mean you don’t need to be singing anymore until you are singing for Him instead of the applause of men. It might mean you need to resign your class until it becomes the Lord’s class again. You might need to step down from leadership until you can lead with a servant’s spirit.
Over the course of my ministry, I’ve watched people leave the churches I’ve served. It always grieves me. No shepherd wants to lose his sheep. But when I see them leave because they won’t heed biblical counsel and they want to appease their flesh, it breaks my heart.
Some leave because they don’t get enough solos. Their god is the platform. Let me sing, let me be seen by men. Let me have the lead song in the pageant. If another great singer comes along, they feel threatened and jealous. They begin to compare the number of times they get to perform. For them, worship has become a self-centered performance, not an emptying of self in worship and adoration of the Father. The song of their heart is, “I gotta be me.”
So they leave and go to another church where people will ooh and aah over their wonderful voice. Their pride will once again be stroked. They will worship at the altar of self-indulgent religion. Their works will become wood, hay, and stubble.
Others leave because they don’t get a position they want. In the church I currently serve, a man came to me once and said, “I want to be the chairman of a significant committee.” He was known as one who was against everything. A wise man once said, “You’ve got to be for something. You can’t be against everything.”
When I wouldn’t give him a position, he took his $200 a year “tithe” and left to join another church. From day one, he was bugging the pastor about serving on the finance or personnel committee. The bottom line—it’s all about him, it’s not about Jesus. He doesn’t want to serve Jesus, he wants power.
When you confront these carnal people (and I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt that they are even Christians), they bow up and try to rid the church of this pastor that’s “ruining our church.” They are living, breathing evidence that we still have the Pharisees and Sadducees with us.
The reason the Pharisees and Sadducees hated Jesus was He was a threat to their system. They had their plans in place and didn’t want anyone upsetting the apple cart, or turning over their neatly arranged tables in the Temple.
Messiah was a threat to Judaism in the first century. The High Priests and others had become rich with gouging prices for sacrifices at the feasts. Bribery, threats of violence, and even beatings were common. If Messiah were to come, it would threaten their offices, lifestyles, and bank accounts.
While they were going through the rituals of the feasts and sacrifices and memorizing the Torah, they, in fact, were fleshly enemies of God in flesh. They despised and rejected Him. They mocked his miracles. They questioned His authority. They rebuked Him for doing ministry on the Sabbath. They tried to incite the people to revolt against this Jesus of Nazareth. If they could have killed him without Rome’s permission, they would have.
So, my friend, when their ancestors (and they have some in every church) rise up and want things to go their way in THEIR church, just remember, you are not alone. Jesus said the poor you will have with you always. You’ll also have the hypocrites, self-serving and Pharisees. The older brother will always want an appointment with you to tell you what you are doing wrong.
Keep your eyes on Jesus. Keep your motives on the altar. Keep preaching the Word. Stay on your knees. Love the Lord with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. Just make sure your service and motives are pure. You have to be courageous. Don’t be a wimp, be a warrior. Put on the full armor of God. Stand on the truth. Being kind doesn’t mean being a pushover. If we’re afraid of people like this, what will we do when the real trials come? My fellow servants, trust God. He’s been dealing with these jerks for thousands of years. Until Jesus comes, the jerks won’t go.