Commitment


“Your mission, should you choose to accept it . . .” Brings back some memories, doesn’t it? Jim Phelps sitting at a table in some exotic location with a small reel-to-reel tape player and an envelope filled with photos; the disembodied voice describing some clandestine goings-on that require the Impossible Mission Force to correct for the safety of the world and the American way; and closing with the warning that the tape would self-destruct in 10 seconds.

Everyone has a mission. Ours may not be as thrilling or adrenaline-pumping as the ones accepted weekly by the IMF back in the 1960s, but it is important. Our mission is set foundationally on the groundwork laid by Jesus’ own mission. His mission—the most difficult of all—was indeed one that was impossible for any other person who has ever lived to accomplish.

In the Garden, just before His final hours, Jesus surrendered (again) to the mission that His Father set for Him. I could not accomplish it, even if I had wanted to. You would never live up to the task, even if the idea crossed your mind. So aren’t we glad that Jesus found and completed His impossible mission. That way we can live up to the mission we have been assigned through Him.

“My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”  —Jesus, Matthew 26:39b

We often refer to the prayer that Jesus used to teach us to pray as “The Lord’s Prayer.” However, there is a better example of Jesus’ prayer to give that name to. We find Jesus’s prayer in John 17. In this prayer Jesus prays about His mission, His disciples (who are with Him), and those of us who would believe because of the testimony of these disciples.

Jesus not only gives an example of how to pray, but He begins by showing us what we ought to prioritize in our prayers—God’s direction for our life. When was the last time that you or I prayed for God’s will to be done in our life? Sure we say the words—even quoting the Model Prayer—by saying “Thy will be done.” But think it through, when was the last time that we really, genuinely, and earnestly sought the direction that God wanted us to go?

My guess (including for myself) is that we gave a head nod to God, and went on about our business as usual, without taking time to consider the full impact that God wants to make on the world through us. Nor do we pause to consider the price that following that path of obedience would require.

Even so, as costly as following Jesus is, as difficult as taking God’s direction might be, it is well worth the effort.

Let us, today, pray with our Master, “Thy will be done.”

“Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.”  —Jesus, as recorded in Matthew 6:10

In the devotional book, Voices of the Faithful, a missionary shares how her prayer in the midst of a dark-of-night burglary (that could have and probably would have ended in her physical violation and even death) was answered by God striking fear into the hearts of her assailants. Although bruised and scratched from the encounter, she remained alive with her purity intact. Her faith had grown to the point that she shares, “Even if I had not been delivered, He is still trustworthy and faithful.” (p. 33)

Where is our faith and commitment today? Are we ready, in the middle of a dark moment, to pray for deliverance? Even more, can my commitment to God hold fast if He chooses a different path for me than deliverance as I understand it?

Graciously, most of us will not be face to face with death by a violent means. My prayer is that we, in even our simply uncomfortable tests of commitment, will join this Christian worker in the understanding that God is trustworthy and faithful even when deliverance this side of Glory does not look like we expect it to look.

 “But even if He does not rescue us, we want you as king to know that we will not serve your gods or worship the gold statue you set up.” Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, Daniel 3:18

Three months ago, I received a proof copy of Thom and Sam Rainer’s new book Essential Church? So I’m finally getting a gander at the pages between the covers. I’m hoping to find some usable material as I try to develop the heart and mind of a mid-Western congregation. One of the questions that keeps coming back to me whenever I read books like this is: What is the most important part of Christian Discipleship? The answer, quite frankly doesn’t re-echo with church attendance.

Before you lambast me with a good amount of proof-texting, I am aware that Christ intended for the church to gather—and I believe that the local congregation for the most part is the expression of that gathering that is intended. At the same time, I get a little curious as to whether Christ intends for us to be more consistent with our church attendance or with our Christ-like demeanor.

And now to the purpose of this entry: one of the biggest hurdles to overcome when reaching a new generation who doesn’t seem to have the brand-name embroidered on its lapel is what I would call inadequate answers. You know about those inadequate answers—they’ve been around as long as people have been asking questions. What makes the answers inadequate is that, though they make complete sense in the mind of the one giving them, they lack foundational trustworthiness in the heart of the hearer.

“Why do I have to clean my room?” is answered with “Because I’m the mother and I said so!”

“Why do we have to learn this?” finds a retort from the exasperated teacher, “because it’s part of the curriculum.”

One of the most difficult for me to swallow was one that I encountered over my extended years of singularity. People would constantly inform me that I would know when the right woman came along. I would badger them with the constant refrain of the single person, “How will I know?” The most inadequate response always returned, “You just know.” Today when I’m approached by a single friend who would like to get married and have a family (it’s the same with men and women alike), and they ask the age-old question of how they might be able to discern whether Mr./Miss Right Now is Mr./Miss Right or not, I know that they are searching for the answer as to whether or not marriage is even a possibility for them or not. I feel the creeping fingers of inadequacy wrap themselves around my throat as the words escape my lips, “You just know!”

So how does this relate to the church and keeping our younger generation from bolting at the first sign of an open door? It has to do with inadequate answers. I am convinced that we as the church are guilty of only halfway fulfilling the Great Commission. I know that it is evident in my own denomination. Check out the (ESV) statement of the Commission from the book of Matthew:

18And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

As we go, we haven’t any problem making new disciples, nor do we really have any difficulty running them through the baptismal pool, but we are the worst lot at teaching. Consequently, the younger generation, while they have been led to Christ, and have accepted him as their savior, following up with “Believer’s Baptism” we have neglected to teach them how to grow. This means that when they ask, “Why should I make church an active part of my life?” we only come back with a weak, “Because you ought to,” or “It’s good for you.” Inadequate answers.

Until our children start seeing that church involvement (and following Christ for that matter) is more than just religious activity in our lives, until they notice that there is a difference for us, we will continue to say to them, “We miss you at church, won’t you come back?” And until we teach with our words and our actions that Christ following is more than just church and that church is more than just an event to pass uncommitted time, they will continue to find other avenues to occupy their energy.

What do you think?

It was in a revival meeting—you know, those extended meetings that evangelicals schedule and claim to be revivals—that I got to know the old saint of a man who was the long-time pastor of one of the smaller congregations in our association of churches. He was a small man, full of fire and energy (especially in the pulpit). I recall many things from that particular series of meetings. I recall the night that he threw a hymnal at the church music director because he was either asleep or simply not paying attention. I remember the night that he locked his keys in his car and two or three men spent the better part of two hours trying to get the car opened. It was on that particular night (toward the end of the week) that he sang—I remember because he commented on both his ability to sing and his inability to get his keys out of the car—an old song that I had almost forgotten from my childhood:

Get the new look from the old book

Get the new look from the Bible

Get the new look from the old book

Get the new look from God’s word.

The inward look

The outward look

The upward look

From the old, old book

Get the new look from the old book

Get the new look from God’s Word.

It’s inspiring still to think back on that night’s service. His encouragement was one that I try to practice each day—get a godly perspective from diving into His word daily.

Here’s what else I remember from that particular situation. The church from which this pastor came to preach our revival meeting had the reputation of being very evangelistic and highly successful at their efforts in evangelism. Knowing the man, I suspect that the great success that the church had rested mostly on the shoulders of this fiery preacher who was full of evangelistic fervor. The church itself also had a reputation of never growing.

This is the thing that happens in many of our churches today—even those who are exercising fantastic evangelistic muscles. Even though we have reports of numbers of people coming to know Jesus, these same people are not becoming part of the church. We’ve missed the point of the song altogether. We don’t want the new look from the old book, but the old look from the old way. We have neglected the outward look and the upward look. We have become highly skilled in looking inward toward ourselves.

We worry about buildings and budgets. We concern ourselves with our wants and wishes. And we’ve stopped looking [upward] to the Master for the direction we should go—which by the way is outward.

What do you think? Is the evangelical church evangelical? Or are we just happy with ourselves?

Whenever we encounter Jesus, He says so much more than we comprehend. We ask questions for which we listen for the answer. He answers our questions and so much more.

The Pharisees set up a political situation in which they asked a political question with which they hoped to catch Jesus in a trap.

Then the Pharisees went and plotted how to entangle him in his words. And they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are true and teach the way of God truthfully, and you do not care about anyone’s opinion, for you are not swayed by appearances. Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why put me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the coin for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius. And Jesus said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” They said, “Caesar’s.” Then he said to them, “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” When they heard it, they marveled. And they left him and went away. (Matthew 22:15-22, ESV)

Their thought was to catch the Master in a dilemma which would either estrange Him from the crowds where He had developed a massive following, or to tie Him to a controversial statement that could be used as fodder in a treason charge against Him. They had Him in a no-win situation and He turned the tables on them. His response could be taken as neither blasphemous nor treasonous. He spoke the truth in such a way that it confounded their question.

Simply they asked, “Do we have to pay taxes?” Simply, He answered, “Yes.” And this is the way that preachers (including this one) have addressed this passage time and again—as an answer to whether it is lawful for God’s people to participate in the tax system or not.

Often preachers will expand that we are to give to God our hearts as well, but we neglect to see the main point of what Christ is saying. Look again at the passage—what is His focus? If this statement of Christ is anything like many of His recorded sayings (especially in the book of Matthew), then He is centering on God and His Kingdom. On the surface, Jesus takes the object lesson of a coin and points out that Caesar’s image is etched into the coin, implying that it belongs to Caesar. With this in mind, Jesus tacitly suggests that we look at what God has burned His image into, and that we surrender that to God.

For those who need a hint, here’s what all of the Pharisees would be familiar with: Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”
So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.
(Genesis 1:26-27, ESV)

The emphasis is not so much on the political message that we (and the Pharisees of Jesus’ day) see, and what made them walk away bewildered—what is much more important—is what we give over to God. And according to the Lord that should be our very selves.

It’s eerie sometimes how the flow of things manages to curl in on itself. While I often enjoy surfing the ‘Net, I’m not a surfer in the true sense of the word, but I have watched many hours of Hawaii 5-O and plenty of Gidget movies. What I’ve observed about the incoming tide is that sometimes it comes so fast that it curls in on itself—then the expert daddy-o can ride the pipeline. Well today, I’ve been riding a pipeline in conversation. While I was enjoying my weekly visit with other preacher-types over a local McCoffee, we started talking about brands and brand loyalty. Then I saw this guest post over at Ken Hall’s Buckner Prez. It’s well worth your time.

I’ve been noticing over some great amount of time that branding and brand loyalty are not what they used to be.

For instance, during my seminary days I heard the story from one of our faithful church members how he had given A&P almost thirty years of his life. He’d built a career. He’d been faithful to his company. Then, just as his stability seemed to be with him, the company began selling out (this was the early 80s). He lost his job at a time when getting another would be difficult to impossible. When he thought he had been loyal to the company that would be loyal to him, he was disappointed.

I’ve watched as professional athletes went from being part of the team to developing a free-agent society, as record labels moved from being the house for an artist to picking new voices and bidding for winners, as actors signed on for a movie because of the box-office prospect instead of signing onto a studio contract for the long-haul. Businesses have begun to think only of the business and not of the employees or the people the business is supposed to serve. The new business centered around the “head hunter” has developed as a big business—finding the best and brightest and stealing them away from one company to another. Our society has become a free-agent society right in step with the sports, music, movie, and business arena.

This is not to say that branding is either good or bad, but there is a question as to whether or not there is something to be loyal to. Fifty years ago we could characterize the typical family or teenager. Then 25 years ago as I began serving churches in the capacity of Youth Minister, we were told by the experts that there was no “traditional” example of the teenager, but that the typical teenager was to rebel against typicality. The result was that all the teens looked the same without being the same: a same uniqueness or a unique sameness. Now we are told that the typical young person is one who questions anything and typically commits to no brand at all.

I wonder if the SBC will still be around in the years to come. My personal observation (as I made it this morning) is that the convention will be here 100 years from now, but will bear a strong resemblance to the churches that have plateaued or died over recent years. Partly because of the lack of brand loyalty, partly because newer generations will examine the genuineness of Christ in the practice of the people and will move to where they see more reality in the people.

I wonder also, if other “brands” of Christianity are seeing the same trends, making non-tradition the new tradition.

What do you see?

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