Christ-Followers Are the Scum of the Earth!

Throughout history, the underground, the underbelly, the minority, and the remnant have always been the most potent force of change for the better.  I’m really into the study of counter-cultural movements.  It’s why I’m deeply interested in Jimi Hendrix, bands like Nirvana, Martin Luther and Martin Luther King Jr., St. Francis of Assisi, John Lennon, and Sartre.  They changed the cultural norms and flitted in the face of the status quo to the point where everyone tried to copy them and birthed a status quo reversal!  It’s not that I resonate with the ethics of every person I mentioned (though some I deeply agree with!).  It’s more that I see how great change is always birthed in the underbelly.

With sincere Christ-Followers it’s always been this way.  I guarantee that the apostle Paul wouldn’t have gotten a book deal, or been invited to speak in impressive forums for pay & prestige.  It’s not that he wasn’t capable, but he wasn’t interested in notoriety for anyone except Christ, and was sacrificing all for that.  In fact, he was combatting people called “super-apostles” that were using their faith in Christ to promote themselves to celebrity status.  Paul was a misfit.  He did write most of the New Testament, so we wrongly elevate him to a celebrity status in First-World church culture- because we love celebrity.  But here’s what Paul said of himself in defense against people who were elevating celebrity over true discipleship…

Already you have all you want! Already you have become rich! Without us you have become kings! And would that you did reign, so that we might share the rule with you! For I think that God has exhibited us apostles as last of all, like men sentenced to death, because we have become a spectacle to the world, to angels, and to men. 10 We are fools for Christ’s sake, but you are wise in Christ. We are weak, but you are strong. You are held in honor, but we in disrepute. 11 To the present hour we hunger and thirst, we are poorly dressed and buffeted and homeless, 12 and we labor, working with our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; 13 when slandered, we entreat. We have become, and are still, like the scum of the world, the refuse of all things. (1 Cor. 4:8-13)

Paul was speaking harshly to God’s people in the ancient city of Corinth, who were obsessed with celebrity, status and influence.  Paul was showing the true way to influence- to lay down all for the sake of Christ who laid down all for us.  I think we as pastors need to learn to become like the scum of the earth- yes- even in American church culture!

How often are you willing to stand for what’s right even when no one agrees?

How often do you refuse materialism and greed even when it’s possible for you to partake all you want?

How often have you been willing to do the most lowly, undesirable job just to live as an example for those you’re serving with?

May we actually reflect the God of the Bible to a culture who is dying to see Christ-followers who actually seek to live like Christ.

Being Meek in an Anger, Result-Driven Church Culture

Angry Cartoon

There may have never been an era where the modern protestant, evangelical church (though it’s hard to know what to label it these days) in it’s most obvious American expression, looks more like a corrupt institution that is more obviously influenced by hip, entrepreneurial business “ethics” than what it needs to be according to scripture.  There are many great gatherings of Christ-followers all over the world- big, medium, little, underground, and mega-size, that are filled with richness, depth, and humble leadership.  But my concern in this post is with the trend I’m too often seeing in some organizations.  It’s sad to even see the downfall of great movements all because of a lack of humility, character and poise.

This is most obvious in the approach of leaders who desire to accomplish results through un-Christlike approaches of fear, control, guilt, force, threat, intimidation, bullying, and overwork.  This type of approach certainly gleans temporary results. But we’re now beginning to see just the front end of many churches that will rise up to great heights and flame out, because they are so result, innovation, and productivity driven, that they replace the sweetness and gentleness of Christ with these things and begin to slowly drift away from His heart.  There will be many churches that rise and fall in the next twenty years that appear to be the most impressive on the outside, but like an amazing mansion with an exterior of gold and rotting walls on the inside, these churches look the best on the surface but are inwardly rotting with many silent viruses- sickness of pride, stress, sin, burn-out and frenzy.  It’s sad to see it happening.  Never has there been a time more when “the meek” of whom Christ spoke of, are needed.

Matthew Henry’s Commentary talks about the words of Jesus in Matthew 5:5, which says “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.”, and states:

III. The meek are happy (Matt. 5:5); Blessed are the meek. The meek are those who quietly submit themselves to God, to his word and to his rod, who follow his directions, and comply with his designs, and are gentle towards all men (Titus 3:2); who can bear provocation without being inflamed by it; are either silent, or return a soft answer; and who can show their displeasure when there is occasion for it, without being transported into any indecencies; who can be cool when others are hot; and in their patience keep possession of their own souls, when they can scarcely keep possession of any thing else. They are the meek, who are rarely and hardly provoked, but quickly and easily pacified; and who would rather forgive twenty injuries than revenge one, having the rule of their own spirits.

If you’re a follower of Christ and find yourself as a pastor in a situation where there is provocation, anger, and impatience deeply embedded into the culture of the staff you work in- take courage and be gentle and loving.  As a pastor friend of mine once reminded me; “The Lord will lift up your head if you bow it”.  Be humble.  Be meek when no one else is.  It may be that the gentleness and love of Christ will act as a balm of healing towards the situation through you.  If you’re becoming overwhelmed by the culture and unsure of what to do next, I highly recommend reading Ed Stetzer’s article here.

Confidence Vs. Arrogance in Leadership According to Jesus

At the beginning of Jesus’ most famous address, He was recorded to say;

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

(Matthew 5:3-10)

I thought it would be interesting to use write the negative version of this and see what it says to us.  For the sake of not being too severe, we’ll replace “blessed” with the antonym “unfavored” instead of “cursed.  With this in mind, these verses would say;

“Unfavored are the spiritually assured.  They don’t know the Kingdom of Heaven.  

Unfavored are are those who fail to mourn over their own flaws and sin, they won’t be comforted.

Unfavored are the arrogant, they won’t inherit the earth.

Unfavored are those who think they’ve quenched their thirst and fulfilled their hunger for righteousness, for they will never be satisfied.

Unfavored are the merciless.  They won’t receive mercy.

Unfavored are the impure in heart.  They won’t see God.

Unfavored are the unnecessary conflict causers, they won’t be called sons of God.

Unfavored are those who never take any heat for what is right.  They don’t know the Kingdom of Heaven.”

I didn’t want to write this to be negative and condemning.  But I think that spiritual and personal arrogance are a definite problem in the church these days- especially among leaders- of which I am included.  We need to be held to task by the words that Jesus says, and consider the implications of not abiding by them.

Our culture has eyes on us and many who don’t follow Jesus have an idea of His character, and probably too often wonder why we don’t wish to emulate Him.  Ours is an era where swagger, entrepreneurialism, innovation, and leadership are highly prized, and of course this is a passing phase like any other that will last no more than a few years at best.  All these things are good things to some extent, but if they become the end of our spiritual and personal pursuits, we will be left as hollow shells when the fad passes to another set of criteria.  We need a deeper connection to the Vine that is Christ (John 15)

If we decide now to truly follow Jesus and submit to His ways, rather than be “children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, and by craftiness in deceitful schemes” (Eph 4:14), we will ascend to a maturity that is beyond all the trends, fads and passing inconsistencies that our culture throws at us and the church so quickly adopts and obsesses over, at the loss of seeing the whole picture of all that God can do in our lives.  We will display not only strong leadership, confidence in Christ, innovation and creativity, but also humility, gentleness, graciousness, and desperation to truly know the real Risen Christ.  This is something our culture desperately needs to see us doing.

My Heroes Are Rejects

We live in a celebrity addicted culture in America.  Social media presents a plethora of heroes that saturate all of our minds, whether they be rock stars, movie celebrities, writers, artists, pastors, CEOs, youtube phenomenons, or world leaders, we all naturally cling to heroes.  We even live in a culture that immortalizes those that are no longer alive by being able to present their entire archives before our very eyes.  We all need heroes.  On a human level, I personally love John Lennon as a musical hero, Timothy Keller and Erwin McManus as pastoral, theological figurehead heroes, and also Tom Hanks as a movie celebrity hero (mostly because of his role as Forrest Gump the biggest fictional idiot genius of all time in my opinion).

But this obsession with heroes lends itself to danger when it comes to being a follower of Christ, especially for those who have a large platform of influence.  Of course I don’t personally have that kind of platform, so I can’t begin to understand the temptations and issues that come with that.  But I do know how our Master and Savior Jesus Christ answered the eternal enemy in these matters:

Again, the devil took Jesus to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” 10 Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written,

“‘You shall worship the Lord your God
    and him only shall you serve.’” (Matt. 4:8-10)

The temptation from a platform that is given to point people to Jesus is to dilute the gospel with saccharine and use one’s public image as a way to gain Facebook followers, Twitter likes, website hits, sermon views, and attendees.  It’s to live duplicitously and present a false public image that doesn’t fit with the person behind closed doors.  This is a version of the devil’s temptation- to offer us as Christ followers “all the kingdoms of the world”.  We would never go so far as to say that we would bow down and worship Satan to get more influence.  But essentially, we are getting in bed with him for a little kiss when are motives are distorted and not entirely centered on pointing people to Christ in every possible way.

This is why I’m trying to adopt rejects as heroes.  They are the street ministers, the missionaries, the martyrs, the unseen. They are those that may never have a spot in the limelight or a book deal, but what they do have is integrity before the King of Kings that seeps down into the very core of who they are.  They will forsake all, they will give all, they will lay all down at the altar in order to give Jesus honor.  They are advocates, they are leaders of leaders, they desire to raise others up above themselves to shine more than them.  They live in ghettoes, suburbs, third world villages, and rural farmlands.  They are willing to see the beauty of God’s creation in the eyes of prostitutes, sex slaves, drug addicts, forgotten ones, lost ones, greedy and despondent ones, those that think they have it all together, and those that are shattered to their very core… They won’t sell out the integrity of the gospel for popularity and celebrity for a moment, and join our Messiah and Redeemer in shouting at the enemy of souls; “Be gone Satan!  For it is written, You shall worship the Lord your God and Him only shall you serve.”

Seeing in the Mirror Clearly

“It’s not my fault for getting angry!  If my staff would just do their job I never would…”

“I would be a better husband and Father if the demands of the church weren’t so high.  I guess I just have to continue to sacrifice for the call.”

We live in a toxic realm within our minds as church leaders.  It’s the realm of natural excuse making.  We are excuse-makers. The real, present, poisonous nature of our gig as pastors is the fact that we are spokesmen for a perfect God and His perfect Word, and yet we are imperfect and constantly making mistakes.  However, if our knowledge isn’t deep, and our humility is lacking, we will struggle to see clearly in the mirror, and may even spiritualize our sin.

Our first ancestors were excuse-makers as well.

And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?” 10 And he said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.” 11 He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” 12 The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.”13 Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”(Gen. 3:8-13)

God had consequences for Adam and Eve for eating from the knowledge tree of good and evil- they ended up entering into a curse that would affect many generations of those who would follow in their footsteps of disobedience and self-justification.  But I love the fact that the natural consequence was also a restoration of the relationship, and Adam and Eve continued to love God through it and beyond it.

But there is a greater promise beyond drowning in the abyss of the curse.

21 So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. 22 For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, 23 but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. 24 Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? 25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin. (Rom. 7:21-25)

So the next time we’re on the verge of justifying something that we know is wrong- and making it seem as if we’re following God in the process, we need to stop ourselves in our tracks, repent from it, look in the mirror clearly, and apologize to the offended before the toxicity of self-justification seeps in more deeply.