Well Done…

Christians hope to hear one thing at the Judgment: “Well done, My good and faithful servant! Enter into the joy of the Lord!”

That tells us that something must be DONE. (Not to acquire salvation, but to show the fruit of its reality.)

But, among all the things we might possibly do on earth for good or bad motives, what can unequivocally be termed by Jesus as “well” done?

The New Testament identifies one thing that, by definition, will never fail to be done well: agape (pronounced ah-gah’-pay) love.

Faith may be called little, weak, strong, great or dead. Works may be good or bad, obedient or disobedient. Love may be of four varieties, but only agape never fails.

But, you ask, Is love something we do? Aren’t we expected to just HAVE love for everyone?

If it does not translate into a characteristic of Jesus, then it is not agape love. Love must produce some spiritually profitable result in order to be categorized as agape love.

For example, “But whoso hath this world’s good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love [agape] of God in him?” (1 John 3:17) And “… though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not love [agape], I am nothing.” (1 Corinthians 13:2; see also vv. 3-7)

You and I have only two commandments for this life; they are so inextricably linked that they amount to one: love with agape love.

Without agape love, nothing is done well in the eyes of God

Distinction Without a Difference?

How is your life different from the lives of worldly people?

Are you addicted to entertainment, as they are, or have you kicked the entertainment habit for the ways of God?

Are you affected by a desire for social status, as they are, or are you free from the trap of needing to be socially significant?

Do you give yourself to worldly identification, being entangled in political issues and rivalries as they are, or do you identify completely with Christ and His Kingdom?

Have you made secular education your hope for future opportunities, as they have, or is God’s word your textbook and the Holy Spirit your Instructor and Life Coach?

Is money the solution to most of your problems, as it is with them, or is Jehovah Jireh your Source and Supply?

Are comfort and financial security your measures of success in life, as they are with them, or have you turned to godliness with contentment?

Are reason and common sense your decision makers, as they are with them, or does love for God direct your path?

The “us” and “them” dividing line is not something concocted by religious legalists; it was God who said, “Come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, And touch no unclean thing; And I will receive you.” 2 Corinthians 6:17 And it was He who said, “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” 1 John 2:15

We are to be a peculiar people – meaning, a people beyond the usual – because of His indwelling presence with us.

The dividing line is already drawn between followers of Jesus Christ and the world. They are not enemies, but the lost, who need us to reflect God’s light rather than reflect the trappings that already furnish the cells of their prison.

To Know Him is to Love Him is to Know Him…

If you say you know God, know this: that if you know Him you love Him; otherwise, you do not know Him. And if you love Him you will do His will. (1 John 2:4) The way you know that you know Him is if you love Him. No love means no knowledge of God.

The next thing you must know is that if you truly love Him, you can enter a cycle in which your love moves you to know Him more. Moreover, once you know Him more, you will love Him more, and consequently, on loving Him more, you will desire to know Him even more. And all this time you will be doing His will toward the lost, the hurting and hungry. Knowledge of God is the fuel and love is the fire. And happily, the fire generates more fuel to make the fire more fervent, and so on.

If you are not experiencing this cycle, or it stops, you merely need to love God more. That is a choice of your free will, and only your love for your self and the world will hinder this love cycle in God. If you cooperate, you will never reach the end of this cycle until you get to heaven, where you will know even as you have been known, and love as you have been loved.

Love God and know Him until the cycle begins and then follow the love.

Closer to God

Have you ever wondered why some are closer to God than you, and why they hear His voice more clearly?

I have, and always the answer comes: You are as close to God as you have desired.

Calvinists may say that nothing is up to you, that God controls all, even your desires. Perhaps there is truth there. But, for myself, when I desire something, I begin moving toward it, no matter whether it’s a genuinely good thing or something that has little or no intrinsic worth.

I don’t know how that might work from God’s standpoint, or a Calvinist’s, but I know that it is up to me whether I cooperate with the urging and drawing of God.

I am as close to His heart as I have desired. And the distance remaining is due to my lack of desire, not His. The question is, Do I have the will and capacity to draw nearer to God? The Bible tells me I do.

“Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you.” James 4:8a

At times, I have to confess, I did not desire to be closer to Him than I was. And more than once, He has drawn me nearer to Himself without any proactive decision of my own that I could recall.

At other times, I have desired it and purposefully set aside time to come close to Him. And I did come nearer.

Again, I don’t know to what degree God controls my life, but I know He gave me a command. And I know He would only do that if He intended for me to obey it. That command was to love Him with all my heart, all my mind, all my soul and all my strength.

I don’t see any wiggle room in that command, no room to love the world or anything in the world, as I have disobediently done.

He has left it up to me to draw myself to Himself, but He has – by drawing near to me – let me know He is there, as though saying, Are you going to reciprocate?

There is no room in His command for me to love things such as home, car, fame, land, position, money or even my own will. The room that stands between me and Him is due to the fact that I have not desired the closeness that He commanded.

When I pursue things in the world, I am revealing my desire to ignore His commandment. Can I close the gap between my love for God and His love for me? It’s such a huge gap, I don’t know how possible that is, but His command tells me to give it my all. All.

I do have control over my will. I can cast down thoughts and imaginations and bring every thought into alignment with God’s will, knowing that my words and actions have their genesis in my thoughts. And I can do it more effectively when I ask Him for the grace to do so.

I think those who are closer to God than I am have done that. And I can do more than just admire their desire.

If…

If people care as much about the name of Jesus as they do about the American flag, they will object vehemently when others trample on it.

If people care as much about communicating with God as they do about using their cell phones, they will spend at least as much time in prayer as they do in texting and talking.

And further,

If people care as much about God’s provision as they do about America’s economy…

If people trust God for their health as much as they trust doctors and medication…

If people trust God’s version of prosperity as much as they do the stock market…

If they listen for His voice as much as they listen to media…

If they want His peace as much as the peace they get from cigarettes and drugs…

If they want His love and acceptance as much as they want it from their peers and society in general…

If they expect justice from God as much as they do from the government…

If they value God’s grace as much as they value it from a court of law…

If they love eternal life as much as they love this life…

If they value heavenly citizenship as much as they value American citizenship…

Do you see where this is going?

When Distraction Becomes Idolatry

Entertainment can be – and is for many – idolatry.

Years ago, I had a dream to write, but I never seemed to have the time. I was frustrated because I knew God had given me a gift and that things were inside my heart that needed expression, but getting them out seemed impossible because of the limited time I had.

One day, the Holy Spirit spoke to my heart, How much time do you spend watching TV every week?

I didn’t know, but I knew I watched every day. I began to take note of my habits.

My daily routine was that, after working hard, I would come home tired, wanting only rest and peace. I habitually turned on the TV while I made myself something to eat. Then I would sit in front of the tube to eat. But I stayed there, switching channels until bedtime. On weekends, I watched sports or old movies.

After approximating the time I spent being entertained, I saw that I had averaged about 30 or more hours weekly. When I realized it, I sensed the Lord saying, That’s three-quarters of a full-time job, and you say you don’t have time to write.

I was stunned to see entertainment from that perspective. I was wasting my life! How many years had I wasted? Too many! Suddenly I saw TV – which was my most prominent distraction – as my enemy, and turned it off. I began writing, instead. Since I had no computer at that time, I wrote in thick spiral notebooks, and after a few months of working hard, I had the first draft of a novel.

I say this, because I was blind to the fact that I actually had plenty of time to do what I believed the Lord had called me to do. And I know He has put in every person giftings that He wants to benefit the kingdom of God.

Like the people of the parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30), we can either use His gifts for His glory or bury them under distraction such as entertainment, which can manifest as video games, cable TV, social media, movies, Internet surfing and the like.

When the things of the world distract us from time with God, they become idols that feed our flesh until we become captives, reviving the old self that was crucified with Christ. Entertainment is a huge idol in first-world countries. I suspect many believers have let entertainment steal their gifts from God, and justified it by the need for peace and rest – which He freely offers in His presence.

The question each Christian ought to ask is: Has entertainment – or some other distraction – become idolatry in my life?

If so, the good thing you are seeking through it in small measure, your Father offers abundantly through the fruit of the Spirit in His presence.

Turn to Him for your needs, instead of to distractions.

The Two Churches

The church of Christ as a body really has two identities.

The one is the institutionalized, formal exterior church that many “attend” weekly. It is a business, with all the trappings of hiring, paperwork, committees, schedules, professionals, slogans, publicity, programs, properties and holdings, top-down communication, events intended to produce cohesiveness and motivational, self-help teachings. It is charismatic in mode in that it operates on the personal charisma of the pastor, who, as long as he can keep things interesting and exciting, holds this kind of church together. When he is not there for a “service” or when he fails in his motivational input, people do not attend; when he is at the top of his game, people attend and are supportive.

Efficiency of organization requires that sub-ministries be in place and that each be managed by an associate pastor who is in agreement with the vision of the senior pastor. Goals and/or standards are set for each ministry that are intended to contribute to the overall growth plan of the church. And evaluation assessments are scheduled to ensure that goals are on track for success.

This is a numbers-driven business. Minimum attendance and giving supports basic salaries, a mortgage, utilities and maintenance for a building planned to accommodate an optimum number of seats (temporarily optimum, until growth requires expansion). Attendance beyond the minimum number supports salary increases, vehicle expenses, travel and upgrades to facilities. And if the maximum attendance is reached, there may be funds available for missions and benevolence.

Tithing and giving into the general church fund are the lifeblood of this model, because without steady cashflow, it cannot be sustained. This model spawns mega-churches whose major focus is producing a culture of worldly prosperity, so that the manufactured needs of this model might benefit.

The Spiritual Church

The other church model is the vital, interactive and dynamic, living church that exists in a network of interpersonal relationships, all connected intimately with the Holy Spirit of God. It survives sometimes inside the institutionalized model, and sometimes, completely outside it. But, to be sure, the institutionalized church is not, of itself, the true church.

This true model is personal, relational and driven by love for God and love for one another. Love energizes faith to produce good works that further the kingdom culture. Love is simply the lifeblood of this model. Everything, from meeting the needs of its members to spreading the gospel, results from the vitality of the members’ love/faith/works character. Finances are merely a tool in true church, serving primarily to feed the hungry and further the preaching of the gospel, done with as little diversion to buildings and programs as possible within the bounds of love and compassion.

Exhortations with regard to money are toward a culture of giving freely what one has received rather than consuming resources on one’s own lusts, and specifically such giving as may be done as freely through the congregational coffers as through giving directly to the need because the focus of the leadership is the same as that of the individual giver: love a and compassion toward others.

In the organization of this church exist pastors, teachers, elders and those whose giftings involve evangelism, administration, giving, teaching, prophecy and helps. All are encouraged to use their gifts as the Holy Spirit directs, whether within the congregated body or in individual daily walking. The focus is on body ministry with oversight by leaders rather than on leadership ministry with no interaction by the body.

Because of body ministry, people do not so much “attend” church as “be” the church. If body ministry is not allowed to occur, it is because leaders feel they must maintain control, which means they have not done the job of training people, but have, instead, spoon-fed them, to maintain charismatic individual ministry.

Sub-ministries do indeed exist, but with the primary oversight of the Holy Spirit and without lofty titles and inducements to serve that necessarily rely on salaries so much as liberal provision by the congregation.

The latter model may seem to some to be too far from present realities to be attainable, and so they do not set it in their sights. However, it was far from realities that existed under the Mosaic law, and yet the Holy Spirit was enabled to accomplish it among the first church because of willing and obedient hearts.

Will people accustomed to the first model resist the second model? Certainly. Will numbers drop? Probably. Will buildings have to be sold! Possibly. But one has to ask, Is it more important to build fewer people even though it requires great love, patience and trust through the Holy Spirit, or to build large crowds that require large amounts of money to perpetuate facilities?

Jesus focused on building a few people who, each, would, in turn, build more.

The Hardest Job in the Church

What’s the HARDEST job in the church?

Is it being a pastor? (I have often thought so.)

Is it working in the nursery? (At times, I was sure this was the hardest.)

Maybe it’s leading worship? (Is it possible to really lead more than a small percentage of congregants in genuine worship at any given time?)

The truth is, we ALL have the hardest  job in the church, because the job is not a position or title. It is a condition of heart.

It is: to love God with all the heart, all the mind, all the soul and all the strength – the greatest commandment and the very heart of God’s will for every follower of Jesus. And that doesn’t mean just any love, but agape love, defined in the thirteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians.

Agape is the job description for every position or title in the church, regardless of how exalted or how low.

What about love makes it the hardest job in the church?

Your FLESH. Your old man, the carnal mind, the selfish life.

Agape love is impossible for the flesh. (Yes, it sounds unspiritual to call love a “job” until you consider the impossibility of living it without God’s direct involvement.)

That’s why Jesus said, if any man will come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross and follow Me.

To follow Jesus means, first and foremost, following Him in character and condition of heart.

His incarnate character and condition of heart were shaped by fervent agape love.

Regardless of position or title, you will be an abject failure if you do not master the job to love God fervently.

In and of ourselves, you and I might sound good and look good, might appear to do our churchly tasks with excellence and according to the ostensible job description. But without agape love, you and I are nothing.

No matter where you serve – everything is secondary to the love of God. Why? Because if you love Him fervently, you will move to increase your faith, you will hunger for His word, you will share the gospel; that kind of love will motivate you to humble yourself and serve.

Agape is JOB ONE in the economy of God.

When you do master that love, your greatest desire will be to please Him.

You will love Jesus so much that the love you have for your family will, at times, look like hate. The love you have for your own life will look like hate. (Luke 14:26)

You will deny yourself, take up your cross and follow Him. You will be willing to forsake all for His sake. And as Jesus said, if you love Him you will obey Him.

If you don’t love Him that way yet, begin now. Your service in the church congregation is great training for loving Jesus in the person of those who come through the doors. (Training, because most people coming in, though they may be ogres, are on their best behavior for their brief visit. The real test of love comes Monday through Saturday.)

Loving God is the hardest job in the church (within the walls of a building or outside them) but once you deny yourself, fully crucify your flesh and renew your mind, it can make any task the easiest job in the church.

Don’t vie for a church position or title. Vie for the agape of God.

Pure Lust

Pure lust.

It sounds like an oxymoron, but it is not. At least not in this case.

The word, lust, has been backed into a corner and given meaning that is only a narrow slice of its real definition. It has been typecast as a raunchy, vulgar word reflecting the baseness of humanity’s craving for sexual pleasure. But in reality, it can reflect the polar opposite: i.e., the overwhelming desire for the presence and life of God in our hearts.

Christians ought to understand the full spectrum of its meaning: the purest, the raunchiest, and all that is in between, because when we think of the word with regard to the world and man’s misguided dependence on it as having the capacity to make life worth living, we may begin to see how misplaced our lusts are.

John said, “For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.” (1 John 2:16) In that statement, he revealed the stark choice mankind faces.

Will we lust for the things of God or will we lust for the things of the world? Will we give ourselves to the true riches of God, which last forever, or will we give ourselves to the temporal riches of the world, which never truly satisfy?

We might say, “Oh, I have given myself to God,” without taking into account our seemingly insignificant life-quests for higher social position, greater wealth, the addiction to entertainment, the lust for sights and experiences to fill voids, the hunger for exotic and palate-pleasing foods, the extravagant plans for leisure and self indulgence, on and on.

So, if we could place a percentage on the time and attention we give to every portion of our lives, knowing that the dichotomy is either for God or the world, with nothing in between, what would be the percentage dedicated to God and His pleasures and purposes versus the percentage dedicated to the world and its pleasures and purposes?

Do we understand that God purchased one hundred percent of each true believer in order to take us out of the world into the kingdom of God, and that He has a right to the entirety of our lives, unless we have not agreed to that bargain? Do we understand that even a little flirtation with the world is unfaithfulness to Him?

The Spirit of God directs us: “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” (1 John 2:15)

We can only give God what He rightly deserves and owns if we lust after His life and presence so fully that there is no room for the lusts of this world.

Indispensable Obedience

Genuine faith presumes obedience. Let me say that clearly: if your faith is true Bible faith, you will practice obedience to God’s will as expressed in His word.

Should that come as a shock to anyone? Not if he or she reads the Bible.

Jesus said, “If you love Me, keep My commandments.” James said, “Show me your faith without works and I will show you my faith by my works.” Paul said that the purpose of his apostleship was “for obedience to the faith among all nations.” Romans 1:5

Obedience to the will of God is Job One for professing Christians. If we do not do God’s will, how can we call ourselves Christians? We cannot.

So, is there anything more important in this life than doing the will of God? Absolutely nothing!

The first question you and I need to ask of the Lord is, What is Your will for me? Now, if we read the Bible, we know that His general will for every follower of Christ is to love Him with every fiber of our being and, from the overflow of that love, to love our neighbors to the same degree as we love ourselves. And that is no ordinary love, but agape love, as defined in 1 Corinthians thirteen.

Once you do that you will have no problem discovering the specific will of God for your life, meaning, how He wants you to express His general will in service to Him.

What? Did you not know that you are to serve Him?

Neither faith nor agape love is to be expressed in words alone, that is, without corresponding action. If faith or love exists without active expression, it is useless, counterfeit.

Consider that Jesus gave up His powers and privileges of deity to inhabit a human body, living solely by the power and reality of the great Holy Spirit of God in order to fulfill His Father’s assignment. The reason? He loved His Father with all His Being. And through that love, He loved His neighbor as Himself. Thus, the general will of God was expressed specifically in the mission His Father assigned to Him.

Your specific assignment from God will be somewhat different. Instead of being literally nailed to a cross, your assignment includes  becoming “a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.” As you follow Jesus in serving God you are to be “transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.” Which, in everything you do, will be motivated by agape love.

Are you performing the general will of God, in love for Him that makes Him and His specific will the absolute priority of your life?

If not, then do not be surprised at the Judgment if He says to you, Depart from Me; I never knew you. Departing from His presence for eternity will be the natural and logical consequence of having departed from Him in heart during your temporal life.

That need not occur, however. Give yourself fully to serving God in obedience to His Holy Spirit and His word. That is your reasonable service.