Monday, September 20, 2010

Are We Having Fun Yet?

"He who loves pleasure will become poor; whoever loves wine and oil will never be rich." Proverbs 21:17

We live in a society that is completely enamored with entertainment. From American Idol to the News, we are constantly looking for someone to entertain us. We celebrate athletes, actors and singers because they entertain us. Our educational system is based around making learning "fun" and people often focus on whether they enjoy their jobs. Let's face it, we are so busy having fun that it is a wonder that anything gets done in this world.

However, if this is indeed the world in which we live, then it has to affect our view of God and how we serve Him. Instead of worship, we have productions. Instead of fasting, we have feasts. Instead of discipleship, we have recreational small groups. Fun is the order of the day and we are getting plenty of it.

The issues stated above are just the symptoms of a larger problem. Worship is my response to what I value most. If I most value entertainment and "fun" in my life, then I will naturally order my priorities and values around it. Even God will become a source of entertainment to me. Fun becomes and idol.

So we have to ask, "What do worship and service at the altar of fun look like?" First, it must bring fun into my own life, so I will demand that my church and my God make me happy. If my church does not "meet my needs" then it is perfectly suitable for me to find a better source of entertainment and say "God was leading me  to this church" when what was really meant was "I really liked the coffee bar, basketball court, entertaining praise band and motivational speaking that is passed off as preaching."

Second, after my needs are met and I am being entertained, I will naturally want to serve my "god" and thus will want to bring entertainment into another person's life. So, I will learn guitar, sing specials at church, start a recreational small group, and hang-out as much as possible with others so I can prove just how "fun" Jesus really is to those who don't know Him.

Third, my discipleship will not consist in quoting and understanding scripture, but in following the latest pop-Christian singer. We will trade our theologians for those who are especially gifted at entertaining us and marvel at how God is using them in miraculous ways.

The problem with all of this is that it doesn't look or function any different than the world. We just chose a different kind of entertainment. Less sex, less materialism, more God talk, more positive thoughts, but in the end, it is based on the same value system: my entertainment.

Now, don't get me wrong, I enjoy Christian artists and creativity as much as the next person. Truly using a talent that God has given you is what we all should be doing. What I am talking about is our value system as American Christians. Do we strive to achieve "virtue" or fame? Do we serve humbly or do we look for celebrity status. There is a line between enjoying a Christian artist, field, or art form and making it into an idol and currently I fear that the church in America is on the wrong side of the issue. Worship is about far more than having a killer praise band, a slick visual presentation and an entertaining message. Worship is about giving ourselves to God, praising Him and serving Him according to His desires and not ours.

Lets look at a couple of people in scripture and see how much fun they had.

The Apostle Paul
Whipped, stoned, beaten, shipwrecked, starved, imprisoned, abandoned, and killed for his faith in Jesus Christ. Somehow, I don't think he would be too impressed with the worship wars over contemporary and traditional music. Paul's concern was not with being entertained nor with entertaining others. In fact, Paul went out of his way to make sure that he preached the Gospel, "not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power." Paul made sure people were not drawn to his entertaining speech (as was custom in his day) but to the actual message of the cross.

The Prophet Jeremiah
Jeremiah was a young man when God called him. He spoke about the sins of Judah and warned them of impending disaster. He was hated, maligned, thrown into a pit, blamed, and ultimately alone because of God's message. He saw the destruction of the city that he loved and wrote a lament over the city that became a part of our Bible. (Lamentations)

Now, I am not saying that fun is bad. I like to have fun. But it cannot be at the expense of discipleship. We cannot refuse to STUDY our Bibles because it is "boring." We cannot church-hop because we aren't being entertained enough. We cannot allow our worship of God to be hindered because it isn't the style of music we prefer. If you can't worship God to a particular style of music, then you aren't worshiping God. You should be able to sing praises to the creator, sustainer, savior God to the sound of an out of tune piano and a banjo and mean it just as much as you would if it were your favorite artists in the world.

We must repent of this dependence upon entertainment as the driving force behind our worship and service. It is absolutely the truth that God is going to call you to a lot of things that are not fun at all in your life. You must submit to them. God is going to call you to sacrifice. God is going to call you to serve in tangible ways and not just in ways that spread more entertainment.

Read again what Proverbs 21:17 says about over-valuing entertainment "He who loves pleasure will become poor; whoever loves wine and oil will never be rich." Spiritually we are becoming poorer and poorer all the time in this country. It is time to shift our values back to the pursuit of God and virtue and rise Above Reality.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Find Your Purpose: Service

When the hammer hits the nail, that is when we know something is getting done. As we have seen, we are called to Discover God, Find our Purpose and finally to share the journey. As we continue to look at ways that we find our purpose in life, we will find that it will almost always involve giving, sacrificing, and effort. What's is the old saying: "Nothing good ever came easy?"  In the Christian lifestyle this is always true. God does not call us to the good life of ease and repose. He calls us to good old fashioned sacrificial service. There is no other way around it. If you want to know God, you will have serve people. 

In 2 Corinthians 4:5 the Apostle Paul wrote: "For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake." Paul says that he did two things. He proclaimed Christ and he served. We must come to see these two as inseparable. The two sides of the evangelism coin. If we want an avenue to share the gospel, we must serve. If we want people to hear our words, we must serve. If we want to know God better we must serve. If we want to experience true community, we must serve. 

So what is service? It is work done by one person or a group of people that benefits another. See, it is a person getting outside of himself or herself and doing something for the good of someone else regardless of personal return. Service means I do it simply because it will help you and I am not looking for ANYTHING in return. In fact, the best servants on this earth are the ones you have never seen. They are invisible. They serve without fanfare and without recognition. This is what God calls all of us to do. Serve. 

The tricky thing about service is that we often like to pat ourselves on the back for our service and, thus, lose the entire concept. In the Gospel of John the disciples begin arguing about who is the best. You know the kind of arguments John is talking about. The kind of arguments that overlook personal shortcomings and emphasize the faults of somebody else. The kind of arguments that allow a person to talk big and yet do nothing. Yeah, those arguments. 

Jesus will have none of it. Does he join in the argument? Nope. Does he declare one side the victor? Nope. What does he do? He serves. He takes a towel and some water and washes every one of their feet. Here is Jesus, the Word, the Logos of God in flesh PERFORMING the lowest of tasks. He is serving His disciples. How embarrassing. Think about it. You are one of the disciples who has been railing against your brothers, building yourself up, sitting on your ivory tower when suddenly, you see your master at your feet washing off the dirt you had ignored. 


You see, it is only when we realize that there is no job below us and we have no right to any recognition that we are truly ready to be used by God in any real sense. It is when our loving actions of service match our words that we are true witnesses.

The sad thing about many of today's Christians is that this is precisely where they check out. They draw near to God and experience His wonderful, life-giving presence. They love what He has done and then God does the unthinkable. He says "Serve..." 

And then nothing. 

We search for any and every reason why God couldn't be talking to me. I mean, I work all week, I have to take care of the kids, I go to Church on Sunday, when do I get a little me time? God's response? "Serve..." We respond by telling God "I'll worship on Sunday, that's my service." So we worship, but for some reason, the feeling begins to fade and we find that the church I go to just isn't meeting "my needs" any more so we look for another church that makes "worship" a little more exciting. Then, when we find it, we are satisfied for a short time, that is, until the new wears off and then suddenly, we find ourselves without the motivation to worship and stop going to church altogether. Was it God's fault? Nope. It was mine because I refused to serve. 

When we refuse to serve we will inevitably come to see God as being there to serve us. My happiness will become what drives my life and a funny thing will happen: I won't ever be truly happy. Service keeps us from getting lost inside ourselves. It keeps us from becoming selfish. It makes us thankful for God's blessings. Instead of focusing on all the things I'm missing that could make me happier, I will see all the wonderful things that God has given me. 

Service. It is necessary to a healthy spiritual walk. If you truly know Jesus, you will learn to serve as he served. It must be sacrificial, which means your service will COST YOU SOMETHING. If your "service" to God is simply going to church and staying awake during the sermon then you know nothing of service. Talk to any mature Christian and they will have stories about how God wore them out serving other people at different points in their life. But watch as they smile, experience peace, and reflect on how wonderful it was, even when their hammer hit their thumb. You see, when we serve, we find contentment. We find fulfillment because our lives are no longer about my elusive happiness, but about obedience to our Creator. The Creator who loved and served. 

Find Your Purpose and Serve God because Service will help you rise Above Reality.