For Sale:One Cross
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I have a good friend who pastors a church not far from ours. Not only does he pastor, but he and his family also own several small, but very successful, businesses in the Atlanta area with about 20 employees.
One day, while on our way to lunch, I asked him how his businesses were doing. Without hesitation, he replied that God could do nothing but bless his businesses.
He went on to explain that if our life, family, business or our ministry has been committed and dedicated to Christ, as well as directed by the Holy Spirit, God can do nothing but bless them. He told me that everything he has, has been established on and directed according to the principles set forth in scripture. The foundation of everything that God had entrusted to him is the Word of God.
The point he was making is simple yet profound. In his business, family and church, he has relinquished all control to God. He wasn't suggesting that there hasn't been problems, or that problems won't arise in the future, but God is in control.
Another thing that I truly admire about his business practices is that every morning, two hours before the doors open, he and all of his employees meet for prayer, Bible study and daily devotion. No employee is exempt from this service. If you work for him, you must attend. Through these daily meetings, many in his employ have been led to the Lord.
If you think about it for just a minute, I'm sure you will agree that these are all basic elementary Christian principles. Yet, for the most part, these practices are not only overlooked in most churches, but the opposite is being promoted. It seems that we have slowly, but surely, slipped away from a true biblical foundation, into the realm of secular marketing. My friend had done everything he could to incorporate the principles of God's Word into his secular business. His sole purpose was to insure God's blessing, His presence and His glory in his company. Because we lack the same zeal for God, we seem to think that in order to increase church growth, we must incorporate the principles of secular business and marketing into our churches.
To accomplish this we must abandon the leadership of the Spirit and imitate the carnal business practices of the world. So, we now offer a product; a church, a ministry, a gospel, a Jesus.
In order to get our product into the hands and homes of a consumer oriented culture, we must continually brain storm for new and innovative promotional strategies. Our new goal is that the unchurched will not only find our product useful, but also non-threatening.
We must also be mindful that our product is continually promoted at a price that is competitive with the other churches in our area.
Sadly, many of America's churches have become little more than a religious business. And at what cost?
Like most pastors, my mailbox never lacks advertisements from Christian marketing companies. We are continually bombarded with offers of demographic research, mailing lists, eye-catching mailers and door-hangers, pens and pencils, all to aid us in the marketing of our church.
It seems, we (pastors) have become consumed with our church. Building it, re-building it, dressing it up and making it attractive enough to draw people. All of our time, energy and resources are committed to this one goal. If someone was to ask us what our vision is for our church, we could answer in one word; BIG!
In and of itself, there is nothing wrong with a big church, although this question still remains. At what cost? The focus of big business is not necessarily on their product. The product is just a means to an end. The focus is, and always has been, profit. If their product does not generate revenue and cannot be improved or modified to re-peak the consumer's interest, it will soon be discontinued and forgotten. In the business world, success is always measured in dollars and cents.
In the religious world, it seems our focus is also dollars. We may never admit it, but nonetheless it is true. Many promote a gospel that is void of the power to change lives and yielded to a gospel that will attract numbers. Numbers, in the business of religion, always translates to revenue.
Hence, a new church/ministry bookkeeping term; "Giving Unit". No longer are we church members with a face and a name. No longer are we considered important to reach because of our spiritual needs and desires. No longer are we wept over and fasted for. However, you can find us on the bottom of the monthly financial report under "Giving Units".
SOMETHING IS MISSING
Not long ago, I read an article by a pastor who made a tremendous point while teaching on Jesus' message to the Church of Ephesus in Revelation 2.
Jesus commends these people for all of their sacrificial labor and dedication in building a strong and prosperous church.
He took notice of their hatred for evil and false doctrine. He also appreciated their desire for spiritual discernment as it pertained to those who claimed to be apostles, but were later found to be liars.
As the leaders of the Ephesian church read this letter, their eyes may have brightened and smiles of approval begin to spread over the faces of the listeners.
However, with Jesus' commendation, also came a word of rebuke and warning, because to whom much is given; much will be required. In verse 4 Jesus tells them, "Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love."
The word left is translated from the Greek word aphiemi, it means to leave, to forsake or to put aside. I have heard many misquote this verse and say that the Ephesians lost their first love. They didn't lose it, they left it! To lose something is an accident. To leave, forsake or put aside something is deliberate.
It is also important to understand that they hadn't left the object of their first love (ministering the Gospel). Jesus acknowledges that in verses 3. "...and for my name's sake hast laboured, and hast not fainted."
However, they had forsaken the fervency and the intimacy with Jesus that they once had held so dear and important in their relationship with Him.
It reminds me of a time, many years ago, my wife and I had gone to a restaurant to eat supper. At the table across from us was an older couple, maybe in their late 50's or early 60's. We watched in amazement as they sat there through the entire meal and never spoke a word to each other. We couldn't believe it. They had probably been married for many, many years, but now there was no excitement, nothing to talk about, no mutual interests. Their fervency and intimacy for one another had been forsaken.
Maybe this man's focus had turned to his career. He had to make a living, he had to supply the needs of his family. Now the relationship with his wife had to take a back seat to him becoming a successful businessman.
Maybe the hard work and long hours of motherhood and housekeeping and all the things that go with it had robbed her of her desire for time with her husband.
Many pastors and others in ministry, as well as much of the laity have fallen into this same quagmire of spiritual indifference. We have gotten so caught up in doing for Jesus, He has had to take a back seat in our relationship. Our focus, our time and all of our natural strength has been committed to the ministry rather than the God of the ministry. We must understand that this is not an acceptable order of priorities with Jesus. Anything that we put in a priority before intimacy with Him becomes our god. He is a jealous God and will not take second place to anything or anyone. He makes this abundantly clear in verse 4. "Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent."
How sad, how frightening this verse should be to us in ministry as well as to every born-again believer. Jesus says. "thou art fallen." The church at Ephesus was not falling, according to Jesus they had already fallen. Jesus was no longer the most important thing in their lives. He was no longer the sole object of their affection or their time. They no longer came to Him for direction and instruction. Now they held board meetings and church growth committee meetings.
Now they voted on everything and the majority ruled. Now they set goals and called it vision.
Their source of inspiration and direction was no longer scripture, but now self-help books and church growth seminars have become their guides.
Because of Jesus' love, His grace and His mercy, whenever He rebukes us, He will always give us the opportunity to repent and return to Him. The choice is always ours. We can hear and obey or remain in our sin. If we repent and return there is restoration, rejoicing and a new direction. If we decide to remain and follow our own instincts and will, there is judgment. The natural law of physics tells us that, "For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction."
In the case of the Church at Ephesus, their rejection of Jesus' command to repent and return to their first works, would result in His removing their candlestick. "...or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent." (Revelation 2:5)
Notice the wording, Jesus did not say He would remove the candlestick out of it's place. He said, his place. The candlestick is a representation of a real person. The candle stick represents light. Who is the light of the world? Who's Word is a light unto our path? Who's entire countenance is light? JESUS! He is warning us that if He does not build the house, we that labor, labor in vain. Because He will remove His presence - His Holy Spirit. Without His precious Spirit we are left on our own, void of His direction, wisdom or divine purpose. Without the presence of His Spirit we are no longer a living, breathing spiritual organism. Now we are little more than a religious organization or business.
The point that caught my attention by the author of the article was his insight into how a local church operates, remains together and even grows in number, once Jesus has removed His Spirit.
It was simple, they have to incorporate secular business fundamentals as the foundation of their church, because the sure foundation (Jesus Christ) has departed. With it every aspect of evangelism and ministry is operated as a Fortune 500 Company.
Listen, I am not implying that every church that has succumbed to this type of church administration is void of the Spirit of God. However, I can stand on this, "According to the grace of God which is given unto me, as a wise masterbuilder, I have laid the foundation, and another buildeth thereon. But let every man take heed how he buildeth thereon. For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ." (1 Corinthians 3:10-11)
We can also challenge one another to examine our foundation, our motives and our fervency for intimacy with Jesus.
DO THE FIRST WORKS
As I began to study what Jesus was saying about doing the first works, I read Matthew Henry's commentary and found it to be straight forward and to the point. Instead of losing anything he wrote I want to quote him.
"They (Church at Ephesus) must return and do their first works. They must as it were begin again, go back step by step, till they come to the place where they took the first false step; they must endeavor to revive and recover their first zeal, tenderness and seriousness, and must pray as earnestly, and watch as diligently, as they did when they first set out in the ways of God. This advice is enforced and urged, by a severe threatening, if it should be neglected: I will come unto the quickly and remove thy candlestick out of his place." (Matthew Henry, Commentary of the Whole Bible, Hendrickson Publishers p.2465 )
Individually, we must return to the time when Jesus was our all. We must take ourselves back to the place where we never made a decision unless we were sure Jesus had directed us. A place where our words and our actions were not a parroting of another's ministry, but had been dictated from the throne room of God. We must return to a place and time when pleasing God and bringing Him glory was more important than pleasing or impressing man.
Several years ago I read a popular book by the pastor of one of the largest churches in America. He has been referred to as the father of the Church Growth Movement.
He began his church by first surveying several hundred families within the community. His question was, basically, "What are you looking for in a church?" And so, his church was founded on giving the people what they wanted or were looking for in a church. The plan: give the people what they want and they will come; and they did!
When I read that I got excited. Wow! The answer to church growth; give people what they want; "be all things to all people." It sounded logical, even spiritual.
One day, while in my office the Lord reminded me of an old tape I had heard from the Times Square Church.
The tape was recorded back in the mid 80's, when Times Square Church was in it's infancy and their attendance was around eighty people. In the message an interview is related that David Wilkerson had with a local radio station about him starting a church in the center of New York's Times Square. Times Square, once an attractive area and a focal point of New York City had deteriorated to the point of becoming a cesspool of bars, adult book stores and roaming prostitutes.
When asked by the radio host what his (Pastor Wilkerson's) plan was to change Times Square, he was quick to answer, "I don't have one!"
What? No plan? No goal? No Vision? This would have been our response. Brother Wilkerson went on to explain that the Holy Spirit had sent him to Times Square and that the Holy Spirit would tell him what to do and when to do it. Today Times Square Church's membership exceeds 8,000. And in the Times Square district of New York City the topless bars and adult book stores are gone and with them the prostitution.
God had a plan, it wasn't a plan to build an 8,000 member church! It was a plan to bring the Gospel of salvation and deliverance to the people of New York City. And He found a man that would seek Him and obey Him by depending solely on the instructions of the Holy Spirit.
What were the first works the church at Ephesus was founded and organized on? These works were intimacy and obedience. This enabled them to hear the voice of the Holy Spirit so they could successfully bring the Gospel to the pagans at Ephesus. They didn't go to build a church, they went to enlarge the kingdom of God. In much of the church world, these two words are not synonymous. There is no doubt it came into being by the dictates of the Holy Spirit like the first church in Acts 2:42-47. "And they continued stedfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers. And fear came upon every soul: and many wonders and signs were done by the apostles. And all that believed were together, and had all things common; And sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need. And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart. Praising God, and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved."
In verse 42 it says, "And they.."
Who were they? According to verse 41 they were the first church, about three thousand of them. They were not drawn together because of a survey. They were drawn together by the Holy Spirit. When Peter saw this mass of unchurched people he did not reduce the Gospel to a cultural exchange. Look at the makeup of this group; Parthians, Medes, Elamites, Mesopotamians, Judeans, Cappadocians. Others were from Phrygia, Pamphylia, Egypt, Libya, Cyrene, Rome, Crete Arabia not to mention the local Jews and proselytes. The pure Gospel of Jesus Christ is the only power that can transcend and penetrate every culture, every language and every socio-economic group on this planet. But it must always be delivered under the power, direction and guidance of the Holy Spirit.
When Peter spoke he repeated words that the Holy Spirit had put in his heart. The result is found in verse 37. "Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do?" (Acts 2:37)
The word pricked is translated from the Greek word katanusso, it means to pierce thoroughly or to agitate violently. This is Holy Spirit conviction of sin, it is unheard of in many of today's churches, but without it you cannot be saved.
To every man of every nation and culture represented, the answer was the same. "Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost." (Acts 2:38)
When the Holy Spirit has departed, or we refuse to seek His direction and guidance, we will always offer a Gospel void of the power to transform peoples lives. We will always fall into the trap of promotion because we lack the Holy Spirit's power of proclamation.
Peter tells us in verse 38 that if we will repent and be baptized for the remission of sins we will receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. Today the Holy Spirit is one of the most overlooked and neglected members of the Godhead. Yet, He is the one who gives us (ministers) the Words from the throne of God that He wants us to convey to our congregations.
The Holy Spirit empowers us for every area of ministry. He is the one who draws the lost and leads the saved. Why won't preachers seek His power to proclaim the Gospel without compromise?
The sad, but true fact is our focus is no longer on Jesus. The promotion of our churches, our ministries, our books and tapes and on and on and on have stolen our devotion and dedication. We praise, but we don't pray. We talk about a God that we don't know intimately. We make time to do everything we want, but have no time to seek Him or His will. It seems we have been sidetracked to the point of being consumed with the peripherals of ministry.
This is evident in a mailing I received several days ago. It was a free sample of 24 sermon outlines, sent to me hoping I would purchase a yearly subscription. The subtitle on the front page read, "For Busy Preachers."
Think about this for a minute. As a pastor, if I am too busy to seek the Lord in order to find out what He wants to say to our church at any given service, I am too busy! The chances are, my daily life in His Word and on my knees is nonexistent. What a disservice I do to myself and to those eternal souls that Jesus has entrusted to me. What judgment do I have to look forward to.
At one point, the apostles found themselves with a similar problem (being too busy). In Acts 6:2-4 Luke writes, "Then the twelve called the multitude of the disciples unto them, and said, It is not reason that we should leave the word of God, and serve tables. Wherefore, brethren, look ye out among you seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business. But we will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word."
The disciples had been sidetracked by the peripherals of ministry. It was consuming their time with the Lord. They knew that without their daily entrance into the presence of God, they would eventually lose His presence. They were well aware of the fact that without it there would be no power, no peace, no joy. They knew that in the presence of God was where they would hear His voice and see His works. It was where His glory dwells and consumes all those who would endeavor to enter in.
Without the presence of the Holy Spirit pastors must rely on entertainment, oratory skills and religious gimmicks.
What has sidetracked us? Is it building a ministry? Playing golf or other sports, family and friends, laziness, secret sin?
Do we rely on what others are preaching for our inspiration? Do we only open our Bibles to find a sermon? Without The Holy Spirit's presence for church and ministry direction, many have had to add the position of pastor/minister of "marketing" to their staff in order promote themselves. The early church and the remnant church of today continually rely solely on the Holy Spirit.
O B O
In the south when an individual wants to sell their car, they will park it in a location that offers the most visibility and write their asking price on the windshield. Many times beside or under the price they may write the word Firm. This lets the prospective buyer know that the seller will not deviate from the posted price. Or the seller may write the letters OBO, which means or best offer, that tells the prospective buyer that the seller is willing to compromise the asking price just to sell the vehicle.
Have we compromised Jesus' FIRM asking price by settling for the best offer in order to sell our church? Are we responding to the seeker with, No sacrifice? No problem! No holiness? No problem! No sermons on sin, judgment or hell? No problem! Come as you are - leave the same way? No problem!
If the seeker is truly trying to find the God of the Bible to commit and conform his life to, why would we offer him a false god that seemingly has conformed his will to that of the seeker?
Jesus set a firm price to those who would be His disciples when He said, "He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth me, is not worthy of me. He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it." (Matthew 10:37-39) And the apostle Paul warns the church at Rome with, "I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: by be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God." (Romans 12:1-2) The one and only offer of discipleship that is acceptable to Jesus Christ is that our life be surrendered and conformed to His will and for us to be set upon the only firm foundation of Himself and His Word.
The church described in Acts 2 knew this, so they followed, continually and without wavering, the doctrines given by the Holy Spirit through the apostles (Acts 2:42).
They prayed continually and stedfastly (verse 42).
They were consumed with a godly fear of the Lord (verse 43).
They were filled and led of the Spirit and signs and wonders confirmed the Holy Spirit's presence (verse 43).
They were in unity because they were led by the Holy Spirit (verse 44).
They gladly supported the church and the needy (verse 45).
They went to church EVERY DAY (verse 46).
They were a church of praise and a church respected by the community (verse 47).
They were a committed soul winning church that was trusted by God by His adding to this church on a daily basis (verse 47).
These are the first works Jesus is speaking of to the Ephesian church. We must return to this standard of devotion and intimacy.
We must understand that true ministry is not about our great preaching, or our anointed praise or worship team. Its not about our youth ministry or Sunday school program. It is all about Him (Jesus Christ).
It is all about our desire and willingness to find His will and do it. Its power and success emanates from our intimacy at the foot of His cross. The early church understood this. In the beginning so did the church at Ephesus, but was sidetracked into works without the intimacy of Christ.
Our church may be great in numbers, we may very well have the most anointed praise and worship team. But will it burn as wood, hay, or stubble at the Judgment seat of Christ? Or will it be an honor to Him on this earth?
Let us return to our first works, those works generated by complete dependence and devotion to Him as our source of strength and power. Let our focus be turned to the manifested presence of Jesus Christ in our life and church, for without Him we are no longer a church, just another religious organization.