Joe loves his church. Whenever the doors are open, he's there ready to do whatever needs doing. When the preacher stands up to preach, Joe is sitting right in his usual spot, taking notes and thinking of how what is being said applies to his own life.
During worship, Joe is one of those people you can always count on to be an example of someone who loves to worship God. Joe talks to the elders often and knows that if he ever needs a listening ear, or some good advice he can turn to any of the leaders for sound council and encouragement.
Joe is a faithful giver. He looks for ways to be a blessing wherever he goes. Joe prays for his church and the elders often. In fact it's part of his routine. Joe's walk with God is vibrant and he loves to invite people to his home meeting and to the Sunday celebration meetings as well.
Jill tolerates her church, hoping someday it will change. The sermons are boring and the worship is flat. Most weeks, during the sermon, she sits there in her usual place checking the clock on her cell phone and wondering why time goes by so slow when the elders are teaching. Things are a little better for her during the music. It's not that she really likes to sing those songs; it's just that it's a good chance for her to feel good about how much better her voice is than the people up front.
It's hard for Jill to get to church on time, and she almost never makes any of the mid week meetings. Every once in a while, when she feels like it, she'll throw a 5 dollar bill into the offering, but usually not. Why should she? The church has plenty of money without her giving up her hard earned cash.
Jill has never had a conversation with any of the elders. She figures they're busy and besides, she knows everything they would say anyhow. It's not like she was born yesterday. Jill has never invited anyone to church. She thinks: Why would they want to come here?
Both of these people go to the same church! How could that be?
Matthew 10:41 (NIV) 41 Anyone who receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet's reward, and anyone who receives a righteous man because he is a righteous man will receive a righteous man's reward.
This is a scripture that I keep thinking about in relation to so many things. I've thought about it in relation to my role as a Dad with my children. I've thought about it in my relationships with employees and with customers. I've also thought about it in reference to our church.
A common saying is "beauty is in the eye of the beholder" That's not just because people have different tastes, but more likely because of how people decide to view something. Have you ever read reviews for new cars, or new cell phones and noticed that people usually LOVE whatever it is that they have bought until it somehow disappoints them. Then, in a moment's time, they HATE it and want to warn everyone to steer clear of whatever it is that has aroused their wrath.
What I think it comes down to is that people basically have a tendency to see
what they think is there in the picture.
If someone has disdain for a political candidate because they heard something negative about them, it's pretty hard to for them to see anything good in them. Conversely, if they support a certain candidate it often seems that they believe their candidate can do no wrong.
With the two sketches I shared above, it's obvious that Joe had decided that he loved his church and that he was going to make every effort to get the most he could out of that relationship. Jill, on the other hand, had already checked out. She expected to be bored and had no sense of belonging to the church and so was a critical spectator instead of a committed participant.
Thankfully, our church is filled with people who love it- and love each other. The list of truly wonderful things about our church is a credit to the work of the Holy Spirit in all of our lives. Yet I believe that it could be possible that we can gain something by examining our own attitudes about our church, our leaders and each other.
What kind of good expectations do you have about your church? What negative expectations do you have? Is it possible that those expectations, good or bad or even neutral are setting the stage for the way you see things and becoming a sort of self fulfilling prophecy?
An example in scripture sheds some light on the negative side of expectations and how they can keep us from receiving what God may have for us.
Matthew 13:54-58 (NIV) 54 Coming to his hometown, he began teaching the people in their synagogue, and they were amazed. "Where did this man get this wisdom and these miraculous powers?" they asked. 55 "Isn't this the carpenter's son? Isn't his mother's name Mary, and aren't his brothers James, Joseph, Simon and Judas? 56 Aren't all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all these things?" 57 And they took offense at him. But Jesus said to them, "Only in his hometown and in his own house is a prophet without honor." 58 And he did not do many miracles there because of their lack of faith.
What a shame it was for those people. Here the creator of the universe had come to live in their home town and all they expected was the same little kid they had seen growing up along with his brothers and sisters.
They stumbled upon the stumbling stone and missed out on a miracle.
The kingdom of God is filled with things like this that pull both ways. On the one hand, the church should be a place where we are very familiar with one another. In fact, the church is a family. On the other hand we shouldn't think that the we've got anyone figured out or that we know how God wants to use them now or in the future. We ought to be familiar with each other enough to remember back, like the people of Nazareth did, to a time when our lives were not so obviously filled with power as they are today. And when we see that, we ought to be saying something more like: Wow! Praise God for the work He is doing in So and So's life! I remember when he first came to Christ and now God is using him marvelously! Glory to God!
Jesus statement in verse 57 wasn't something that he was happy about or that we should emulate.
But Jesus said to them, "Only in his hometown and in his own house
is a prophet without honor.
In fact, we need to watch out that familiarity doesn't breed contempt. We need to marvel at the work of God in each other's life, and as we do, we can receive the blessing that comes from receiving one another.
2 Corinthians 5:16-17 (NASB77) 16 Therefore from now on we recognize no man according to the flesh; even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him thus no longer. 17 Therefore if any man is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.
When we relate to one another, we need to recognize the work of God in each other and relate to each other on the basis of the new creation that we are.
When we receive a prophet, or a righteous man with honor,
we will be rewarded by the blessing of their gifts!
So, going back to our sketches with Joe and Jill, we can apply these same principals to our church, our friends, our family and even to God! If we relate to God in a truthful way, we will receive the reward of truly knowing him. If our expectation of God is that He is not interested in us and won't speak to us because He is mad at us or too busy for us then it is very hard for us to receive the reward of knowing him day to day.
We will get out of church, or relationships, what we put into them.
That's the law of the Harvest.
Interestingly, the passage of Scripture that talks about that very thing is in the context of our relationships in church. As we read through this passage, try not to just breeze through and tell yourself you've heard this a thousand times, instead let's think of it in the context of showing how our relationships should be working in the church and in our families.
Galatians 6:1-10 (NIV) 1 Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted. 2 Carry each other's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. Watch out for each other, be humble 3 If anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself. 4 Each one should test his own actions. Then he can take pride in himself, without comparing himself to somebody else, 5 for each one should carry his own load.
Look at how these next three verses talk specifically about getting the benefit from receiving instruction in the word
6 Anyone who receives instruction in the word must share all good things with his instructor. 7 Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. 8 The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.
So part of what is being said here is that in order for you to get the most benefit of the instruction is to share the good things with the instructor. This is classic what goes around comes around! You get the word, and you grow in it, then you share that with the brother or sister who encouraged you. Then they get encouraged and it goes on in a positive uplifting way.
9 Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. 10 Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.
And by doing good to all, especially believers, we keep that positive flow going, and we continue to receive each other as the new creatures that we are.
Now, going back to our two friends, Joe and Jill, let's ask ourselves a couple more questions. We can see the need for us to have a positive loving attitude toward each other, to receive each other with honor, to look for ways to do good and to keep sharing that good with each other. In Jill's case, perhaps there are some things that were going on in the church which were not encouraging her to be a part. Maybe she was struggling with something in her past or who knows, but the others around her didn't reach out. Maybe the leadership should have bee more proactive in reaching out or encouraging relationships in the family of God.
So what do you do when you know there are shortcomings in your church? Is everyone supposed to always tow the party line, where never is heard a discouraging word and the skies are not cloudy all day?
The reality is that in every family, there is room for improvement. At times it is very fitting to experience a little bit of discontent, with ourselves, with each other, and with the way things are.
Discontent is not a fruit of the Spirit, but neither is apathy
Perhaps God has given you a holy discontent… and it could be sin to ignore it. What things do you deeply wish for that you don't see in your church?
Perhaps God has put a holy discontentment in you so that you might be part of the solution!
We are not called to criticize, but to pray and obey. The question is, are we willing to crucify our own flesh and pull the log out of our own eye, so that we can then be effective in removing the spec from our brother's eye?
Are we willing to take action to do what needs to be done- to work together with each other to see the kingdom move forward, or are we too comfortable right where we are? Have we become easy chair Christians who sit back and enjoy being comfortable but are never willing to put in any extra effort to make things better?
What do we expect from our church? Same old same old? Or is there a Spirit inspired expectation that God has placed in your heart about his plan for us?
What are we doing to implement the things that God has laid upon our hearts? It may not be that you personally have any specific thing that God has laid upon your heart, but He has given you a role in your local church body. Your part may be prayer support, or it may be running point.
What matters is that we are being obedient to what God is telling us.
Each part of the body should do its own function- not everyone should be an ear, or eye or toenail. God has arranged us in His church for His purpose.
Relationships are very important and that is one of the things I believe that God is going to be working on this year in our church. I would like to ask that as this New Year begins, that all of us would be asking God what we can do to increase His kingdom and to cooperate with Him in building His church gathered here.
I am sure God is asking us to grow and to change. We know that it will take effort to bring change, but any organism that ceases to grow and change is dead.
Let's ask God what we can do and how to do it.
The great commission given to the church of Jesus Christ is to preach the gospel to all nations, to all people, to teach them, to baptize them and disciple them and send them out to do the same. Everything we do as a church relates to that commission, worship, preaching, giving, celebrating, growing in Christ, the gifts of the Spirit… all of it is there to enable and empower us to be witnesses to the world of the grace of God through Jesus Christ.
So let's think about our expectations and make sure they aren't saddling us with any yoke that Jesus hasn't intended.
Let's be sure that we haven't become easy chair Christians, unwilling to exert ourselves for the furtherance of the Kingdom of God. Let's do what we can to hear and obey God's voice because He wants to use us as His hands and feet to further His mission to win the world.
Jesus opened his public ministry with the folowing statement. We as Christians have put on Christ- and in so doing we also must take up His mission through the power of His Spirit.
Luke 4:18-19 (NIV) 18 "The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."