“Next to our free salvation in Christ, our attitude is the most important thing we possess. Attitude is more important than circumstances, the past, money, successes, failures, our gifts, other’s opinions, even the ‘facts.’
We all have a choice every day regarding the attitude with which we will embrace the day. It is up to us to make a positive volitional choice. A positive attitude like Paul’s in prison, is a solid step toward success.
Two men looked through the bars. One saw the mud, the other, the stars.
What do you see?” (Kent Hughes, Liberating Ministry From the Success Syndrome)
There is an Exodus 32 a pretty frightening story. It is a story of idolatry; a story of perversion. Yet, for our contemporary audience it seems a bit silly.
Here is the backstory: God delivered his people (Israel) from slavery in Egypt and provided for them as they began their journey into the promised land (Exodus chapters 1-23). In Exodus 24, God called Moses up on Mt. Sinai for a 40 day and 40 night discussion. He laid before Moses how He would be worshipped by the nation of Israel and what was expected of them. This discussion carried on from chapter 25 through chapter 31.
In chapter 32, the people of Israel grew restless. Moses had been gone too long and they decided to take matters into their own hands. As Moses was meeting with God, learning what He expected of His people, the Israelites decided to craft for themselves another “god” in the form of a golden calf. They even went so far as declaring that this “god” (made with their own hands) had delivered them from the oppression of the Egyptians. Aaron (the priest) made an altar before the golden calf and the people brought sacrifices. They worshipped and celebrated at the altar of the golden calf.
I know what you are thinking – “how could they be so stupid”? How could they have seen God’s hand at work, witnessed him meeting with Moses on Mt. Sinai, and devolved into worshipping a golden calf?
These were the same questions I had when I read the text. However, I quickly realized that we worship “golden calves” as well. They are just a bit more sophisticated and subtle.
God desires to commune with us (like he did with Moses) but all too often we are content with the golden calf. As I reflected on this reality I came up with a couple of personal and corporate “golden calves” that rob us of true communion with God.
Personal “Golden Calves”
1. We believe that the primary place where we commune with God is in church. Many believers have this perspective. Have you ever heard this said: “I attend church on Sundays to get my tank filled up before I head into a new week?” Being a part of the body of Christ weekly is vital to our growth as believers but it is impossible to “fill up our tank” on Sunday and expect it to last all week. The reality is that we should come to our weekly gathering having communed with God for the previous 6 days. I firmly believe one of the reasons God does not do more in our weekly gatherings is that we have not communed with him through the previous week. Just imagine what our services would be like if every believer had communed with God during the course of the previous week and showed up ready to worship and serve out of the overflow of what God had been doing in their lives during the previous 6 days!
2. We equate knowing about God with knowing God. This is subtle but so easy. I know having spent years in school studying Scripture and theology that it is very easy to equate knowing about God with knowing God. It is easy to be consumers of information about God without transformation. Communing with God is less about what you know about Him than it is having an intimate relationship with Him. Many people in history who have experienced deep communion with God were not learned scholars. They were ordinary people who had a passion to live in communion with their Heavenly Father. We should desire to know all we can about God but knowledge means nothing apart from a deep and abiding relationship!
Corporate “Golden Calves”
1. We equate singing songs and listening to preaching as communing with God. It is entirely possible to participate in a weekly worship gathering and never commune with God. We have the guarantee that “where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them” (Matthew 18:20) but is it possible for God to be present in our services and we not truly commune with Him? Consider this – do we really mean the words of the songs that we sing to and about God? When we have the invitation and sing “I Surrender All” do we really mean it? When we hear a sermon do we become “doers” of the Word. David said in Psalm 51 that he would not offer sacrifices to the Lord because that is not what God desired – God desired from David a pure and contrite heart. Are we just going through the motions in our services or are we communing with God?
2. We believe busyness for God equals communion with God. Is it possible that we have become so busy doing things for God (programs, ministries, etc.) that we have no time to meet with God? The cold, hard truth is we can have a church calendar that is filled with activity after activity, program after program and completely miss communing with God. I’m always convicted when I consider that Jesus consistently stepped away from the busyness of ministry to commune with his Heavenly Father.
God desires to commune with us and I honestly believe that most believers want to commune with Him. Yet, we can fall into the trap of worshipping the “golden calf” just like the Israelites did and completely miss communing with God. The good news is God’s grace is free flowing even in our idolatry. Instead of wiping out the entire nation of Israel and starting over he disciplined them in love and agreed to go with them into the promised land (Exodus 33:14). That same grace is extended to us by our Heavenly Father who loves to commune with his children. Will you commune with Him today or remain content worshipping the “golden calf”?
I’m frustrated. I’m discouraged. I wish I could read ministry blogs and twitter feeds without encountering harsh rhetoric and personal attacks. You may have no idea what I am talking about (if so that is good) but I fear many of you have witnessed this divisive obnoxiousness. Christian leaders are being tarred and lit on fire in front of our eyes on twitter and various blogs. This should not be so! When did it become ok to shoot our own, especially when they are already wounded? How can we justify launching grenades into the barracks of our comrades?
Brothers and sisters, our mission to make disciples is too urgent to waste time on such trivial matters. Before we are tempted to write scathing blog posts about various Christian leaders or attack them on twitter, may we heed these admonitions:
1. Speak the truth in love.
We must speak the truth. We need to call out error. But we must do it in love. If we call out sin in a believer it must be in the spirit of Galatians 6:1 – “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.” We must get this! Too much of what I have seen and heard lacks even the hint of gentleness.
The Internet has made it possible for people to do and say things online that they would never do or say in person. In situations like these, that is a curse. Speak the truth but do it in love. Expose error with gentleness and genuine concern for a fellow brother or sister in Christ.
May the words of Paul in Philippians 4:8 guide us as we think and write: “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” There are too many true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and praiseworthy things that we can think and blog about without thrashing about in the gutter of contemptuousness.
2. Remember the world is watching.
It saddens me to consider that the world is watching us castigate our own. We often demonize those in Washington for backbiting and viciousness but have no problem imitating that behavior in our own little Christian ghetto. This is not what we want to be known for!
We should be known for our love for one another. We should be known for our humility. It is impossible for us to be salt and light in the world when we have forfeited our saltiness in favor of harsh rhetoric and snuffed out our light in favor of self-promotion. It is no wonder that a lost world looks at us inquisitively, wondering why we say one thing and live another.
3. Consider the depravity of our own hearts & magnify God’s grace.
We are way worse than we ever imagined! It is amazing to me how I can easily spot sin in someone else’s life without seeing my own. Jesus warned us of this very thing in Matthew 7:3-5 – “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” When was the last time you read a blog post attacking a Christian leader that began with the author of that post confessing his or her own personal sin?
Every believer has experienced amazing grace. We have all been saved out of depravity and darkness (Ephesians 2:1-3) and yet we often forget that reality. I am not advocating morbid introspection of our sin (Jesus’ grace delivered us from a life characterized by sin) but it is helpful to remember exactly where we were when God saved us. We can and should boast of nothing except the cross of Christ and God’s amazing grace!
Pray before you write. Pray before you speak. If a Christian leader is in error, pray for them. Pray for God’s convicting truth to pierce their hearts as the Holy Spirit works. Pray that God would raise up leaders in their life to guide them to truth. Pray, pray, pray.
Then pray for yourself. Pray that God would help you remain true to His mission of making disciples instead of focusing your attention on someone else’s failure. Ask God to give you a passion for encouraging others and lifting them up when they are down. Ask the Holy Spirit to search your heart for areas of unexposed sin and bitterness.
I’m convinced that if we spent half as much time praying for Christian leaders as we have spent discrediting and disparaging them, we would realize very little good comes from personal attacks. The last thing the blog world needs is another critic – be an encourager. Be an intercessor.
The reality is that God has not called us to be “Holy Spirit Jr.” When we take on this role in someone else’s life we elevate ourselves as gods and it was that exact promise (“you will be like God, knowing good and evil”) that Satan used to deceive Eve in the garden. May we trust God to work his process of sanctification in the life of every believer (especially Christian leaders) to conform him or her into the image of His Son. There is no doubt he will accomplish this mission (Romans 8:29-30)!
“In the nineteenth century, a group of pastors were organizing a citywide evangelistic campaign. As they discussed who they should invite to preach, the name of the noted evangelist D. L. Moody was brought up. Reluctant to have Moody preach, one minister protested, ‘Why Moody? Does he have a monopoly on the Holy Spirit?’
The question was then followed by a long silence. Finally, another pastor spoke up, saying, ‘Moody, Moody, Moody…does Moody have a monopoly on the Holy Spirit?’ One of the others answered, ‘No, but it seems that the Holy Spirit has a monopoly on Moody.’
No greater point could be made for any preacher.
God works through His servants in whom His Spirit is mightily empowering. Regardless of a preacher’s resume or ministerial credentials, the Holy Spirit is the One who, ultimately, makes the difference in any preacher’s ministry.
When it comes to your preaching, does the Holy Spirit have a monopoly on you?” (Steven Lawson, The Kind of Preaching God Blesses)
“But let me hasten to slay another myth, namely, that reading books will of itself guarantee growth and success. Not so. Reading is only the key that opens the door to the vault. Assimilating what you read, relating it to what you already know, and practicing it where you serve put the treasure to work paying dividends. It’s tragic to open the vault and stand there empty-handed. Readers are leaders only if they turn their learning into living. To change the metaphor, reading a book is like eating a meal; but if you eat and don’t exercise, you’ll get overweight, and you may die.” (Warren Wiersbe, On Being A Servant Of God)
“Praying in Jesus’ name is not some kind of magical password that can be used indiscriminately to get our way. Prayer in Jesus’ name is effective only when we are praying in a manner that is both consistent with our relationship to Christ and God’s will. Prayer involves adjusting and even relinquishing our expectations and plans to the will of the Father.” (David Alan Black, 7 Marks of a New Testament Church)