“Not by bread alone we live,
Thy good word our life shall be;
Not for all the earth can give
Shall we worship ought but thee;
Nor the word of promise bend
E’er to tempt our God in heaven;
Never for unholy end
Was the gracious promise given”
(Faint and Weary Jesus Stood by Walter C. Smith)
It’s in our human nature to assign blame. We want to know why something happened and who was responsible. This is true in our legal processes as much as within our own relationships and family life. If something has gone wrong someone is to blame.
These tendencies are amplified when your community is facing big challenges. Presently, evangelicals are facing big challenges. Very few evangelicals are looking at the future and seeing bright and vibrant possibilities for the evangelical faith.
People are giving a multitude of reasons for the declining influence of evangelicals. For those outside of the community the culprit is the right-wing politics. Evangelicals would be better off practicing their religion and leaving politics alone. In fact if evangelicals did this many outside of the community might change their judgments from negative to just quirky.
For those inside of the community the reasons tend to be legion, but there is a tendency to say that such things are happening to us rather than to say that we are causing such things. Without a significant unifying figure like Billy Graham many evangelicals are breaking into a kind of tribalism. With various people picking their favorite way of practicing faith or doing it the right way. This has spawned a whole social media industry of blame.
So, what has actually gone on?
“Seek first the Kingdom and His Righteousness.” How are we doing with such a focus when it comes to wealth, fame, and mission.
There is a tendency for posts like this to descend into a sort of blame game as well. But I submit to you that God calls us to discernment not to sit in judgment of specific people. Ultimately judgment belongs to the Lord and such a thought should cause us each to tremble. I know it does for me.
As best as possible we want to keep our judgments sober, modest, and in line with helping to extend the mission of the church as it is united with Christ. With this kind of charitable spirit let us look at some hard issues.
Perhaps there is no challenge greater in the present church than the role of money. Beyond the sermon to give generously we don’t talk a lot about money. Yet, our day to day is dominated by needing to navigate finances. Money can buy material goods and we’ve even developed a special term for when our relationship with money is going well: financial well being.
Pastors are not immune from how our society grapples with money. And you can see this play out in the life of the church. From lavish amounts being spent to make sure the church keeps pace with the business world or not enough being spent keeping pastors in unnecessary hardship. We run the gamut from pastors who charge exorbitant speakers fees and fly private jets to those who never save for retirement. In our community you would be hard pressed to say we handle money well. The words of Jesus come to mind if you can’t handle the riches of this world who will give you the riches of the kingdom.
Scriptures are clear you can’t serve God and money. Money is not morally neutral. It’s not what you do with it, it’s what hold it has on your life and ministry.
Without the proper spirit on money, money easily rules the life of many evangelical Christians.
Perhaps we have seen our witness squandered in part by the way we’ve handled ourselves with money. It’s one of the unspoken areas of church life. Money often determines our comfortability with risk in the kingdom, should it really be that way?
This is a harder one to talk about, but in some ways as pervasive as a dynamic as wealth.
We live in a celebrity culture and evangelicals are not immune from such tendencies. In fact many crave attention and recognition. The problem is that seeking fame is not the same as seeking the kingdom.
If one wants to seek fame they might actively brag about their access to the corridors of power and influence. Yet the kingdom is not impressed with such things. The riches of the kingdom surpass the riches of any temporary fame. The way of the cross and salvation is not the way of cultural glory.
We should hold those who embody a holy life in high esteem. If that leads to recognition so be it, but let us all be on guard for the temptation to seek recognition for its own sake.
Seeking first the kingdom means seeking those things of the Father in all places and at all times. It requires peace of mind, awareness, intense prayer, and a deep love for others. This should be what motivates our focus, when such things are lacking we are falling short on Christian mission and in some ways we should consider refraining calling things that don’t resemble Christianity, Christian.
Mission creep is certainly very present in the evangelical world. So let us return to a passion for the mission of the kingdom in all of its rich forms.
The point is not to just say see look at three areas that aren’t normally talked about it is to actually encourage a turn and repentance in order that we might more fully seek the kingdom.
Repent, turn, and actively turn from the old ways. This is true for me as for you. Don’t just say I repent demonstrate repentance with actions that match a truly turned heart. Ask what God would have you do even if it is sell half of your possessions to atone. Have sorrow for how things have happened and move towards the heart of the kingdom. Seek the true treasurers. Don’t wait the time is now. Amen.