Religious Complaining

This week’s focus has been about complaining and how it affects our various relationships. The previous articles this week centered on complaining about things like the weather, job, bills, etc. Today we will consider “Religious Complaining,” meaning we are complaining about our perceptions of another’s service to God.

To begin, let’s look at Martha the sister of Mary and Lazarus.

But Martha was distracted with much serving, and she approached Him and said, “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Therefore tell her to help me” (Luke 10:40).

In other words, Martha said, “I’m all alone in the kitchen, Mary’s not helping, and Jesus You don’t even seem to care.” Jesus had to remind her that Mary was right where Mary needed to be. Mary wasn’t idle or neglecting her duties. It was Martha who was troubled and worried about many things, and it would serve Martha well to follow her sister’s example and sit at Jesus’ feet for awhile (Luke 10:41-42).

Next up, Elijah:

So he said, “I have been very zealous for the LORD God of hosts; for the children of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars, and killed Your prophets with the sword. I alone am left; and they seek to take my life” (1 Kings 19:10).

Elijah in his genuine discouragement, thought he was all alone. A lot of what Elijah said was true, but he wasn’t alone. God reminded Elijah of His presence and power, and of the fact that there were 7,000 others who faithfully served God (1 Kings 19:10,18).

Elijah was discouraged and Martha was distracted, but both came to the same conclusion: “I’m all alone.” Sometimes we may complain because we look around and perceive that others are not working for the Lord like we are. We set ourselves up, whether out of arrogance or just plain discouragement, as the judge of how others are serving God.

When we begin to make judgments about the quality of another’s service to God, we become the judge instead of God. The disciples of Jesus did this to the woman who poured out the expensive oil upon Jesus. They set themselves up as the arbitrator of how she could have better used her resources for God. Jesus told them to leave her alone because she had done a good work for Him (Mark 14:4-6. We can do good works, like hospitality, and begin to grumble. “Why aren’t others doing the same? I wish others would appreciate what I’m doing!” (1 Peter 4:9).

Our assessment of the reward we should get for all we have sacrificed becomes overblown. We overvalue our service and undervalue the service of others. How much I served gets compared to the “little” someone else has served. Jesus talked about this mentality in the parable of the Landowner (Matthew 20:1-16). The basic lesson there is that the first shall be last and the last shall be first.

Let’s be careful about religious complaining. James wrote, “Do not grumble against one another, brethren, lest you be condemned. Behold, the Judge is standing at the door!” (James 5:9).

Religious Complaining

Really, this is ultimately what the disciples were arguing about among themselves. “Who is the greatest?” In the very presence of Jesus, the Son of God, they argued about who was the greatest! When we begin to do our religious complaining, then we are sounding just like the disciples in arguing who the greatest is (Luke 22:23-27).

Finally, take a moment to thank God for all of the faithful people around you who are serving God every day. May we ask the Lord to remind us that there are many things going on in service to God everyday that we have no idea about. There are many great servants of God doing many wonderful things, and they are not sounding a trumpet about it. Only God knows. Let’s continue to pray for humility and a mindset of service simply to do the job God has called us to do…and do it with thankfulness.

Took their stand with him

And from all their territories the priests and the Levites who were in all Israel took their stand with him (Rehoboam). For the Levites left their common-lands and their possessions and came to Judah and Jerusalem, for Jeroboam and his sons had rejected them from serving as priests to the LORD. Then he (Jeroboam) appointed for himself priests for the high places, for the demons, and the calf idols which he had made. And after the Levites left, those from all the tribes of Israel, such as set their heart to seek the LORD God of Israel, came to Jerusalem to sacrifice to the LORD God of their fathers. So they strengthened the kingdom of Judah, and made Rehoboam the son of Solomon strong for three years, because they walked in the way of David and Solomon for three years (2 Chronicles 11:13-17).

Jeroboam, the first king of the Northern Kingdom of Israel, began making significant religious changes. This left the faithful people of God in that kingdom in a serious dilemma. They continued to follow God’s law and to stand for God, and because of this they were “rejected.”

God’s faithful remnant needed a new home, a welcome place to serve and worship the God of Israel. Notice the priests and Levites left all their property and possessions behind. This property was God-given to the priests and Levites (Numbers 35:1-8), but they were forced to leave it. Maybe King Jeroboam seized their assets as part of his religious intimidation. At any rate, they left for Jerusalem to worship the God of Israel. Just like the Hebrew Christians, being faithful to God was more valuable than holding on to possessions (Hebrews 10:32-34).

Many of the people of Israel who were faithful to the Lord also left and came to Jerusalem. These citizens of Israel had “set their heart to seek the Lord God of Israel.” During this brief time, for 3 years, they found a welcome home with King Rehoboam in Jerusalem. They helped the King and Judah stay faithful and strong.

Took their stand with him

So, with whom are we making our stand? It is clear that not everyone left Jeroboam in Israel. Most folks stayed and lived with the changes. They took their stand with Jeroboam. Their choice was to be safe rather than sound.

Are we willing to leave behind precious possessions and relationships in order to be part of a congregation that holds fast to God’s word?

Is our congregation a welcome home for the faithful? Even in this culture where many churches are abandoning God’s word for better entertainment and political correctness, there are still believers who care more about being faithful to God’s word. But what about our congregation? Are we more concerned with revenue, numbers, and drawing in the crowds? Or are we focused on the spiritual matters, simply following what Jesus and the apostles told us to do?

Jesus was rejected by men, just like those faithful few in Jeroboam’s kingdom. But to God, He is chosen and precious (1 Peter 2:4). May the same be said of us. We don’t belong here anyway, our hearts should be set on the heavenly kingdom. Let’s learn a lesson today from these rejected priests and Levites who took their stand with God and His faithful people.

Some are givers, some are takers

Some are givers, some are takers…which one defines us? The passage we are going to look at today showed two very different agendas. The Jewish leadership was at the temple to take (steal, really). They had turned God’s house into a den of thieves, according to Jesus.

That day, Jesus restored the temple back to its original purpose. He drove out the corrupt money changers, and He began healing the blind and the lame. Children were running around praising Him as the Messiah. Because of Jesus, the temple once again became a place of healing, a safe place for the broken, and a haven of praise.

Then Jesus went into the temple of God and drove out all those who bought and sold in the temple, and overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves. And He said to them, “It is written, ‘MY HOUSE SHALL BE CALLED A HOUSE OF PRAYER,’ but you have made it a ‘DEN OF THIEVES.'” Then the blind and the lame came to Him in the temple, and He healed them. But when the chief priests and scribes saw the wonderful things that He did, and the children crying out in the temple and saying, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” they were indignant and said to Him, “Do You hear what these are saying?” And Jesus said to them, “Yes. Have you never read, ‘OUT OF THE MOUTH OF BABES AND NURSING INFANTS YOU HAVE PERFECTED PRAISE’?”(Matthew 21:12-16).

Some Are Givers, Some are Takers

Because Jesus came to serve, the blind and the lame found a welcome place in the temple. When our attitudes at the church building are all “me-oriented,” then the broken will not come to us. We wouldn’t even notice it anyways, because if we are “me-oriented,” the broken can offer us nothing.

So, when we go to worship services this Sunday, what is our agenda? Do we view it like a movie theater, we pay some money, sit down and are entertained and then go our way? Is my expectation for a perfect service, flawless music, awesome sermon, and for everyone to treat me perfectly? Are we full of ideas and critical of how the doers are doing things? If so, that’s a taker’s attitude.

Or do we see this as an opportunity to serve and to help heal? Do we come with our sleeves rolled up and ready to offer our assistance? Are we on the search for the brokenhearted? Do you look for new faces? What about taking a young college student or a struggling mom out to lunch? Take note of that widow who faithfully comes every time the doors are open, but doesn’t say much. Build a relationship with that dear elderly brother or sister. Notice that preteen who comes with her grandparents that may seem a little distant. Try to create conversation and show her you genuinely care.

Jesus came to serve, the other Jewish leaders came to take. Let’s decide to follow Jesus’ example.

Thus he left all that he had in Joseph’s hand

The LORD was with Joseph, and he was a successful man; and he was in the house of his master the Egyptian. And his master (Potiphar) saw that the LORD was with him and that the LORD made all he did to prosper in his hand. So Joseph found favor in his sight, and served him. Then he made him overseer of his house, and all that he had he put under his authority. So it was, from the time that he had made him overseer of his house and all that he had, that the LORD blessed the Egyptian’s house for Joseph’s sake; and the blessing of the LORD was on all that he had in the house and in the field. Thus he left all that he had in Joseph’s hand, and he did not know what he had except for the bread which he ate… (Genesis 39:2-6).

This morning, take time to think of Joseph’s character as a servant to Potiphar. Also, consider how Joseph’s behavior created the environment of trust within Potiphar. Joseph was made the “overseer” of all Potiphar’s house. He was given “authority” over all that Potiphar had.

In order for a man to put everything he had under the oversight of another, what kind of trust had to exist? If you are going to hand the keys to your house and the account numbers to your bank over to another, you would completely trust that person’s character first.

That is what we see in the relationship between Joseph and Potiphar here.

Thus he left all that he had in Joseph’s hand

I want to consider two questions and directly relate this to our relationship with the church family.

Am I like Joseph?

Can the leadership in our congregation completely trust me to follow through with the responsibilities given to me? When I say I will do something, do I keep my word? Do the elders/shepherds in our congregations see this quality of Joseph within us? This is the same kind of mindset that Paul saw within Timothy; Paul knew without a doubt he could count on him (Philippians 2:19-23).

Am I like Potiphar?

I know the focus of this passage is on Joseph, but I see a great quality in Potiphar here as well. He was willing to delegate and completely hand over the reins of certain matters to Joseph. He did not micromanage Joseph. If we are in a leadership position, are we looking for those Joseph-minded people in our congregations?

Are we willing to let loose of some control in order to let others oversee certain affairs? This relationship is a two-way street. Joseph could have all the greatest character in the world, but if Potiphar was not willing to let go of control, Joseph would never shine in his new given responsibilities. Letting go of control is very hard for us, isn’t it?

Take a lesson from Potiphar here, and look for the Joseph’s in your church. Let them thrive and grow and be challenged. This is the same thing we see of the apostles in Acts 6:1-7. The apostles appointed seven Joseph-like men to take care of the widows and gave them “oversight” in this matter.

Let’s be a Joseph in our work, but let’s also be a Potiphar in how we delegate responsibility to others.

Until Christ is formed in you

My children, with whom I am again in labor until Christ is formed in you–
(Galatians 4:19).

What was Paul’s labor? His intention and purpose was to work with the Galatian brethren until Christ was formed within them. That means this is a process. This implies growth. It carries with it the idea that one who becomes a Christian has not “arrived.” We never come to a point where we can tell ourselves, “I don’t need to grow anymore.”

As Christian men, we need to understand this concept for ourselves, and we need to understand this for those we are teaching. Growth is a process. Remember most of all that God is directly involved in this transformation.

He Who Began a Good work

Look also at the next two passages and see the same principles taught and repeated by Paul.

Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Faithful is He who calls you, and He also will bring it to pass (1 Thessalonians 5:23-24).

For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus (Philippians 1:6).

In the passage from 1 Thessalonians, Paul’s desire and prayer is that God would “sanctify you entirely…spirit and soul and body.” God is cleansing us and transforming us so that we look like Jesus. This is a “good work,” as Philippians 1:6 says, and God will perfect it. He doesn’t start a work and then walk away from it. Until the day of Christ Jesus…again the idea that this is a process, and it takes time. God is loving and longsuffering with us as we grow into the image of Christ.

This is not to say that God doesn’t accept us until the full transformation process is completed. We don’t want to have the false idea that only when we are flawless that God will accept us. John reminds us that as we walk in the light the blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin (1 John 1:7). That gives us the security and grace we need – a healthy environment for real growth.

Keep this in mind today, becoming like Jesus is a process. Be patient with yourself. God is. Be patient with others. God is.

Do all that is in your heart

Listen to your heart. Follow your heart. That is the advice that is often given to people in a number of different avenues of life. Do all that is in your heart.

In some areas, everyone would agree that this bad advice. For example, if your friend comes up to you and says, “I am thinking about robbing a bank,” you wouldn’t respond with, “Listen to your heart and follow it.”

But what about when someone seeks to do what is clearly in our minds a “good work” for God? Would we see a problem with giving the advice, “Do all that is in your heart”?

Read the following interaction between King David, Nathan the prophet, and the Lord.

Now when David lived in his house, David said to Nathan the prophet, “Behold, I dwell in a house of cedar, but the ark of the covenant of the LORD is under a tent.” And Nathan said to David, “Do all that is in your heart, for God is with you.” But that same night the word of the LORD came to Nathan, “Go and tell my servant David, ‘Thus says the LORD: It is not you who will build me a house to dwell in'” (1 Chronicles 17:1-4).

Put yourself in Nathan’s sandals for a moment. Here is the man after God’s own heart, King David, and what does he desire to do? What is in David’s heart? He wants to build a temple for God! David is humbled by God’s blessings. He is observant and sees how he is living in a palace, while the ark of the covenant is still housed in the tabernacle (movable tent).

For me, I can see how Nathan quickly responded the way he did. Sure, David, go for it! God is with you! Do all that is in your heart! Who wouldn’t want to be a cheerleader for David in such a situation? Isn’t this a good work for God?

Do all that is in your heart

The problem with that is this: Nathan didn’t ask God first. Nathan gave the religious green light to David, but God came to Nathan and told him to go back to the king. Nathan gave approval for David building the temple, when God didn’t want David to build the temple. Solomon, David’s son, was going to build this sacred house for the Lord.

Here is a quote from a dear sister in our congregation as we were studying this text on Wednesday night in Bible class.

“Before we follow our heart, we should go to God and make sure we are following His heart.” Amen, Linda.

Let God and His word, not our hearts, define what a good work is. The heart is deceitful, Jeremiah wrote (Jeremiah 17:9-10), especially when we are considering how to live for, serve and worship God. Our intentions, like David’s, may be pure and noble. God honored and richly blessed David for having this in his heart. However, for David to be pleasing to God, he had to follow God’s voice and allow Solomon to build this temple.

Let us “do all” that is in God’s heart, not ours.

God’s Word: Its Value and Power, part 5

We wrap up our look into Psalm 19:7-11 this week, “God’s Word: Its Value and Power, part 5.” Friday’s theme for our blog is “the church family.” Let’s consider this passage in light of that theme today.

On Monday, we saw that the word of God has many aspects to it (law, decisions, witness, etc.), and all are valuable and profitable to us. Tuesday we looked at how David loved and cherished God’s words. Wednesday’s focus was on what the word of God is (perfect, sure, right, etc.). On Thursday we considered what the word of God does (restores the soul, rejoices the heart, enlightens the eyes, etc.).

Today we should simply consider the question: What is my response to God’s word?

GOD’S WORD: ITS VALUE AND POWER, PART 5

Fifth observation – Our response to His word.

Verse 11 says, “In keeping them there is great reward.” All of these wonderful benefits come when I commit to living out what God asked me to do. The value and reward is realized not in merely reading and reciting God’s word, but in keeping it.

Take a look at the rest of Psalm 19:

Who can understand his errors? Cleanse me from secret faults. Keep back Your servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me. Then I shall be blameless, and I shall be innocent of great transgression. Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Your sight, O LORD, my strength and my Redeemer (Psalms 19:11-14).

David’s heart is exposed here as he fully opens his heart to the Lord and His word. He is vulnerable, transparent and accountable to God, asking God to expose his sins. David wants the Lord and His word, not his sins to rule over him. He wants to be blameless and innocent before God. His prayer is that his words and even his deepest thoughts will be acceptable in God’s sight. That is the heart of David. This is why he was called a man after God’s own heart.

Finally, to be the men today God called us to be, we must have that very same mindset toward the Word. Keep it in our homes. Follow it at work. Seek to influence and encourage our church family that they also do the same.

“In keeping them there is great reward.”

Lovingkindness and truth have met together

Surely His salvation is near to those who fear Him, that glory may dwell in our land. Lovingkindness and truth have met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other (Psalms 85:9-10).

Take some time to meditate upon Psalm 85 this morning. If God’s salvation is near to those who fear Him, then what qualities of God have to come together? If God only was a God of truth and righteousness, then we all would be hopelessly lost and condemned. Since we have all broken the laws of God, we have nothing to look forward to but punishment and justice.

It may go without saying, but His truth and His standards of righteousness are absolute. This is what defines sin, it is a breaking of the law (1 John 3:4), a violation of truth. The offer of salvation and mercy means nothing if there is no such thing as absolute truth. How could we be guilty of violating any law if there is no such thing as truth to establish laws? As C.S. Lewis said, “A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line.” Because God’s truth is asbolute, mankind is absolutely lost because of our wholesale departure from His truth.

Lovingkindness and truth have met together

Thankfully, God’s mercy met together with His truth, and His peace “kissed” righteousness, as the Psalmist wrote. That is such a beautiful concept. Righteousness and peace kissing. God’s mercy walking together with His rules. Our Lord looks upon us all and seeks to offer kindness and compassion, even though we all have broken His laws and forsaken His truth. He reached out to us through Jesus and the cross to be reconciled to us.

Let us give glory to God first and foremost for this indescribable gift (2 Corinthians 9:15)!

But then, we must turn to our fellow man and ask if we are behaving like that to others? Are we all about the rules, with no mercy or does mercy walk with the rules in my heart? Have God’s standards kissed God’s peace in my life? Am I eager to reconcile with others or I am eager to deal out condemnation and judgment? It shows in how we treat others, doesn’t it?

Maybe God’s mercy needs to take a walk with the truth in our hearts today. We might need to take God’s rules out on a date with God’s compassion. They need to get to know each other better.

What Now Lord?

Thanks, Andy Harrison, for sharing this article about Ralph, entitled, What Now Lord?

 “Whom have I in heaven but You?  And besides You, I desire nothing on earth.  My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”  Psalm 73:25-26

Over the last few years I’ve gotten to know an old man, let’s call him Ralph.  Don’t worry, he wouldn’t be offended, he’s in his 80s and calls himself an “old man”.  Ralph is really nothing special to look at and in many ways is just your average elderly person.  He’s got white hair and wrinkles and has been in a wheelchair for a number of years.  He is soft spoken and his voice can get a little shaky when he talks.  Ralph lives in a very modest assisted-living facility with a few other elderly people.

But when Ralph was younger…oh man, that was different!  He was a pilot in the Air Force and retired with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel.  For those who don’t know that is just a couple ranks away from a Brigadier General.  After his military service he found a home in the financial sector, responsible for significant sums of money.  One of Ralph’s passions in life was raising prize-winning Doberman Pinschers and he has pictures and trophies testifying to his accomplishments.  There was a lot about his life that one could envy.

But, as with all of us, time caught up with Ralph.  His wife got ill and died a number of years ago.  He started to lose muscle control in his legs and was forced to use a walker.  It wasn’t long until he deteriorated to the point of needing a wheelchair.  Because of Ralph’s physical condition, he was no longer able to take care of his dogs and he had to find them new homes.  Speaking of homes, he had to sell his and give up his freedom and space for a single room in a small assisted-living facility.

I suspect Ralph’s story is not that different than a lot of people in their 80s.  If I live long enough, I’m sure my decline will have a number of similarities.  What has impressed me (and humbled me) is his outlook and attitude throughout these stages of life.  So many people meet the loss of status and power and physical health and freedom with anger and bitterness but Ralph has embraced these changes with one simple question, “What now Lord?”  In every situation he sees opportunity to continue working for the Lord.

When he was forced to sell his house he spent time in prayer and decided that if the house sold he would use the money to support the preaching of the gospel.  He has confidently stated, “When I die I don’t want one cent left to my name.  I want it all used up for the Lord!”

When Ralph found himself lying in bed one night, shortly after moving into a small assisted-living facility he went to God in prayer and said, “Here I am.  What now, Lord?”  Shortly after that he realized that there were lonely people in that facility nearing the end of their lives and he could be a comfort and an encouragement to them.  He got busy and he shared Jesus.

After Ralph could no longer support his weight with the walker he was forced to stay in a wheelchair.  Many of us might consider this a greater restriction but Ralph turned it into an opportunity.  At worship he took his seat with him everywhere he went, all over the auditorium.  Instead of sitting in the same place, next to the same people, week after week, Ralph wheels around and sits by different people all the time.

Ralph is the very definition of a servant and he realizes that the Lord’s people don’t “retire”.  Wasn’t Moses 80 years old when God called him to lead Israel out of Egypt?  Ralph is not stuck on “how things should be” or “this wasn’t part of MY plan”, he simply does the work that is in front of him.

Now here is the kicker and a little bonus lesson in humility that I received.  I started my relationship with Ralph thinking, “Now there’s someone that could use some attention and encouragement.  I should be a ‘good Christian’ and help that lonely old man.”  Maybe it didn’t sound just like that in my head but you get the picture.  A few years have gone by and I don’t know if I’ve helped Ralph but one thing I do know:  I have learned a ton from him.

“Whom have I in heaven but You?  And besides You, I desire nothing on earth.  My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”  Psalm 73:25-26

He inquired of them

Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him.” When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. Gathering together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for this is what has been written by the prophet: ‘AND YOU, BETHLEHEM, LAND OF JUDAH, ARE BY NO MEANS LEAST AMONG THE LEADERS OF JUDAH; FOR OUT OF YOU SHALL COME FORTH A RULER WHO WILL SHEPHERD MY PEOPLE ISRAEL.'” Then Herod secretly called the magi and determined from them the exact time the star appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the Child; and when you have found Him, report to me, so that I too may come and worship Him” (Matthew 2:1-8).

Happy Holidays, men! Have a great time with your friends and family!

Here is one thought that I wanted to share with you today from the above passage. King Herod the Great was a wicked and paranoid man, and the news of a “King of the Jews” deeply troubled him.

What I find amazing is that even a man like Herod the Great knew where to find answers. He sent for the Jewish teachers and leaders and asked them where the Messiah was to be born. They quoted the prophet Micah who foretold that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2).

Herod, trusting that 700 year old prophecy, sent the wise men to Bethlehem. To me, that’s saying something. Even Herod had enough understanding to trust the validity of Scripture!

He inquired of them

This is just a simple reminder for us that the answers are in God’s word. God’s word has given us “everything that pertains to life and godliness” (2 Peter 1:3). We just have to search for it. You see, we can even learn a lesson in Bible study from a guy like Herod the Great.

I hope that you all have a wonderful holiday! Meet you in 2017! Happy New Year! The next post will come out, Lord willing, on January 2.