Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Habits of this Highly Effective (But Lost) Church Lay Leader: Part 9 - Personal Holier-than-thou-ness: My stuff doesn't stink, but yours sure does!

"But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him." - John 4:23 (ESV)

So.... Where were we???? Ah, yes! We're nearly finished with this series on the heart of the worshiper. (Is it one "p" or two???? I've always thought it to be two "p"s but the ESV says one.... We'll go with their spelling.)

We've all slept since then, so here's a quick review of just some of the things we've discussed... We've talked about things like Absolute Abandonment, Being Real with God and Others, Meeting needs of folks who are different from ourselves... We've talked about making Jesus our treasure first, and then all else will fall into place... And we've talked about numerous other things...

Deep breath. We've got to tackle one of the biggest topics of all this week.... Personal Holiness.

Ok. Before we go any further, allow me to say that this is a topic that doesn't excite me when it comes to writing about it. Why? Because it probably is the one area that trips me up the most! If I go too far with it, I can fall into pride and become extremely judgemental of others. If I don't go far enough with imitating Christ and trying to live the way He wants, I fall into the trap of relying on myself to set my own rules rather than relying on God. Scary thought, huh?

We already know what kinds of consequences those types of attitudes result in.  And in either direction, the issue is clear: personal holiness can easily become personal holier-than-thou-ness... And the biggest question is where is the line drawn?

I think what we have to do is ask ourselves some hard questions. Am I trying to impress others more than I desire to please God with the way that I live? Do I talk about the kinds of things that I do for the kingdom publicly, in order to receive praise from others?  Do I look for ways that others fail and bring them to their attention more than I consider my own failures? Do I hope that God "looks the other way" when I deliberately fail Him? Do I look for ways to rationalize my own faults and sin? Is my heart still tender toward God, and do I still try to please Him according to His word? Or am I making up my own rules and hoping that will do?

For my own life, prior to having a relationship with Jesus, I was very quick to jump to the judgement of others, while failing to see my own sin in my own life. I thought that as long as I didn't do something really bad, God would look the other way... and that He was okay with me. After all, I was in church, and I was reading the Bible and goodness knows, I was doing all sorts of things in His church! And wasn't that good enough to get me into His kingdom, or certainly within His good graces?? I thought I was the golden child!

Uh, yeah. Right.

Listen, friends. The Bible says that our righteousness to Him is as filthy rags! (Isaiah 64:6) None of us has arrived spiritually speaking. We are a fallen people, living in a fallen world. And it's only because of the grace and mercy of Almighty God that any of us even have the ability to stand before Him!

Which brings me to something that has been bugging me. A restored worship pastor friend of mine told me recently that after a moral failure, there were some folks with the attitude that he could never serve in a leadership role in that church again, because "there was a need to protect the bride."

News flash! Jesus said that He would be the One Who would present the Church as a Bride, without spot or blemish. It is not our job as the Church to present the Church without spot or blemish to God. The Church cannot present itself as spotless or without blemish to Christ because it consists of a fallen people and a fallen people cannot represent themselves as spotless or without blemish. Only Jesus can do such a thing, and to think otherwise makes Jesus' sacrifice on the cross needless and without merit! (Who needs a Savior, if the Church can save herself???)

Truth factor: Each one of us has scars. Every last one of us has sinned. Every last one of us has failed God in some way. That is not to say that following the moral failure of a leader that we don't have to go through the biblical path for restoring a fallen brother or sister in Christ. But if we, the church, take the attitude that a fallen brother or sister in Christ is now permanently disqualified from serving in leadership forever, even after having been through the process of restoration, then I would submit that no believer would be able to serve in leadership roles! And that's just not biblical. (Don't believe me? Look at the story of King David. The guy slept with another man's wife, tried to cover it up, and then had her husband killed when his plan didn't work out. And yet, after all of that, God still called him a "man after His own heart!")

As a believer, I have no right or standing with God that gives me permission to judge another based on my own ideas of morality. I have no right to stand judgement on any other believer. Period. I only have the right to judge my own behavior based on the Person of Jesus Christ and my own actions based on the truth of His Word. Period. The standards of the Bible are not there to question the hearts of others but to question my own heart! And to see where I line up with God....

What about if we go the other direction? What if we kinda make up our own rules as we go along? The Bible calls this "carnality..." That's when we live only by opting for the flesh, our human nature and fail to live by God's standards. Again, this finds its roots in self-serving attitudes. Often, we don't dive into carnality head first. It usually begins with simple longing, a lack of satisfaction with Christ, and then we search for it with the eyes, then we allow the mind to be engaged. The heart follows suit. And BINGO. We're in the middle of a mess that we had no idea that we created for ourselves!

It's in those times of carnality that we finally willfully defy God, and we only pray that He will turn His head away and let us slide. But nothing escapes His sight! And we know it. So finally we either do one of two things: we return to God, and do things His way, or we begin to make up our own rules to live by.
Sometimes that means that we try to change the rules to suit our own fancy with our own sin. Sometimes it means that we even go so far as to attempt to dismiss the existence of "sin" as a whole from our culture... and then that removes the need for a Savior... We then become spiritual, without being Godly. We become religious without a relationship with the Living God. We search for truth in all but Christ....

But Jesus said, "You shall know the Truth and the Truth shall set you free!" (John 8:32)

So, then how do we combat these areas of failure?

First, I think we remember Jesus, and imitate His attitude...

1 If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, 2 then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. 3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. 4 Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. 5 Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: 6 Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, 7 but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death-- even death on a cross! 9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.  - Ephesians 2:1-11

Second, we need to grow up in our faith in Christ, and find our freedom and our satisfaction in Him. From Colossians 2:

6 So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, 7 rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness. 8 See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ. 9 For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, 10 and you have been given fullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority. 11 In him you were also circumcised, in the putting off of the sinful nature, not with a circumcision done by the hands of men but with the circumcision done by Christ, 12 having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead. 13 When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, 14 having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross. 15 And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross. 16 Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. 17 These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ. 18 Do not let anyone who delights in false humility and the worship of angels disqualify you for the prize. Such a person goes into great detail about what he has seen, and his unspiritual mind puffs him up with idle notions. 19 He has lost connection with the Head, from whom the whole body, supported and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows as God causes it to grow. 20 Since you died with Christ to the basic principles of this world, why, as though you still belonged to it, do you submit to its rules: 21 "Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!"? 22 These are all destined to perish with use, because they are based on human commands and teachings. 23 Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.

Finally, I think we can learn to use the scriptures to only judge ourselves, not others.

1 "Do not judge, or you too will be judged. 2 For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. 3 "Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 4 How can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye. 6 "Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and then turn and tear you to pieces. - Matthew 7:1-6

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