Tuesday, February 25, 2014

After the Honeymoon

  Life of Christ 31

Mandy and I leaving on our honeymoon
          I vividly remember thinking, as my brand new wife and I drove away from our wedding in my five-speed Honda Prelude with the moon roof open, how wonderful it was that I didn't have to drop her off and go home. We were with each other now, and home was wherever we were. We traveled first to Deep Creek, Maryland, and then on to Williamsburg, Virginia, and we had a grand time, being together, taking in the sights. We were young. We were in love. We were on vacation. I mean, who doesn't love a honeymoon, right? But all honeymoons end, and then the real work of building a relationship begins. In the process we inevitably see who is committed and who isn't.
          In Jesus' ministry we see an initial burst of acceptance by John the Baptist and his disciples, by the crowds in Judea at the first Passover and immediately afterward, in Samaria, and by the crowds in Galilee at first, who had seen His miracles at the Passover (John 4.43-45). But all honeymoons end, and we will see in just a few short days the people of His own hometown try to kill Him. Continuing on, we will see that this response was not isolated to Nazareth alone, but that the initial acceptance was quickly swamped by a rising tide of rejection, ridicule, opposition, and hate.
          My question today in this blog is this: How do we keep the honeymoon from ending? How do we make sure that what happened in that day doesn't happen in ours? I do not mean in a national way, for I believe that America has already turned a corner as a nation and rejected God, corporately. No, I mean in a personal way. If you love Him today, and I hope you do, then how do you make sure you don't ever stop loving Him? Let me offer you, kindly, four answers to this question that I have drawn from the life of Christ. 
          First, make sure you don't love Him just for the miracles. The purpose of miracles, as we have seen, was to publicly authenticate Jesus. Certainly, along the way they helped people and produced some excitement, but that was not their goal. I believe in having a personal relationship with God, but when I personalize it to the point that He exists for me rather than me for Him I have personalized it too far. This is one of the great errors of the prosperity Gospel and of the seeker-sensitive church model. Yes, God does amazing things for us something, but if those amazing things become what we follow Him for we will cease to follow Him when He doesn't do amazing things for us. And He won't always do miracles for us. His people do get sick and die. His people do go broke. His people do have children rebel. His people do get fired. Indeed, if we only follow Him so long as He completely smooths the way for us we will soon enough have sufficient reason to throw in the towel. So many of the Jews who followed Him initially did it because of the excitement and blessing of the miracles, but when those dried up or were done elsewhere the glue holding them to a nascent Christianity loosened, and they dropped away.
          Second, we must continue to make time with Him and not just for Him. Paul said it well in I Corinthians 3.9, 'We are labourers together with God.' One of the greatest weapons the devil has in his arsenal is the weapon that keeps us busy serving God but not being with God. I am a tremendous believer in the importance of serving God via a local church, but Jesus said that Mary, who chose to spend time with Him instead of just for Him, 'hath chosen that good part' (Luke 10.42). When our Christianity becomes only what we do for Him at church, and there is no time with Him, all alone, during the week, sooner or later, like old soldiers, we will fade away.
          In 2007 the Francis A. Schaeffer Institute of Church Leadership Development surveyed over a thousand pastors. They found that 70% regularly considered leaving the ministry, and 57% said they would immediately if they had a better place to go in secular work. Across America, 1500 pastors leave the ministry every month, and most statistics that I have read say that at least 60% of those who enter the ministry post-seminary will not be in it ten years later. Only a fraction will stay in it for a lifetime. Why is this? In my humble opinion, perhaps the biggest reason was also cited in that 2007 Schaeffer report: only 26% of pastors said they regularly had personal devotions. Preaching is feeding people, like a mother bird who brings food back to the nest for her hungry hatchlings, and it is eventually incredibly painful to try to feed and minister to people when you are spiritually starving yourself. A Sunday School teacher is not exempt from this, neither is a choir member, a soul winner, a nursery worker, a musician, an usher, a children's worker, or anybody else. If you don't spend time with Him, sooner or later, you will quit on Him.
          Third, be very careful to whom you listen. In a sense, you can say that Eve's great mistake in the Garden was listening to someone who was leading her astray. This is the same mistake that so many young people make when they reject the advice of their parents and spiritual leaders, and embrace the advice and opinions of their worldly friends. It was also the mistake that Jesus' generation of Jews made. When you look at the entire arc of Jesus' life and ministry you begin to see trends and patterns reflected. One of these is this: the whole question in Jesus' day was which shepherd were the common sheep of Israel going to follow – Jesus or the Pharisees? They answered, in reality by Matthew 12 and formally at the crucifixion, with the Pharisees. In essence, Jesus' generation chose to listen to and follow the wrong shepherd.
          Some of you won't like that I say this, but it doesn't change the truth of the matter: I've got friends in the ministry who won't be independent Baptists in ten years and I can already tell it. They are listening to the wrong preachers and reading the wrong books. Of course, changing from independent Baptist to some other branch of orthodox Christianity doesn't mean you have left Jesus, but it does illustrate the fact that people change loyalties based on the ones to whom they listen.
          One of the most important decisions, often completely overlooked as being important, you make in life is the decision of who influences you. Choose that influence with great care. Don't just look at the content of the individual sermon or book or blog. Look at their life. Look at their crowd. Look at their doctrine. Look at the direction of their ministry. Look at the lives of others who have followed them. If you are currently following Jesus the devil is right now making plans to cross your path with some version of the Pharisees, and he will seek to insert their influence into your life in order to get you off track. Look beneath the surface before you allow anyone to influence you, including me. If you choose the wrong influence you will inevitably fall away from following Jesus.
          Fourth, when what He does doesn't make sense, trust Him anyway. When you look at the people to whom Jesus ministered who chose to leave Him you will find that it was not only because He stopped doing miracles for them, or because they listened to the wrong leaders, but also because sometimes He said and did things they didn't understand. For instance, in John 6 He made what was a very difficult statement for the Jews of His day to understand and accept: 'Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life'. The reaction to this was plainly puzzlement, even by those closest to Him: 'Many therefore of his disciples, when they had heard this, said, This is an hard saying; who can hear it?' (John 6.60), followed by, 'From that time many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him' (John 6.66). Yet His core group, the Apostles, stayed with Him. Why? Because they continued to trust Him even when what He said or did made no sense to them: 'Then Jesus said unto the twelve, Will ye also go away? Then Simon Peter answered him, Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life. And we believe and are sure thou art that Christ, the Son of the living God' (John 6.67-69). In a difficult spot they continued to place their belief in Him.
          I pastored a man once, a good man, who loved the Lord in His own way, and was a great blessing to our church. Very sadly, his son was murdered, and when he couldn't reconcile that with the goodness of God he quit church entirely. With respect, I call people like this hubcap Christians. They hit a bump and go spinning off into the weeds never to be seen again. I promise you that God is going to do something to you that will deeply test your faith, and possibly do it several times in your life. When it comes, the only and right answer is to always trust Him.
          A whole bunch of Jews were initially very excited about Jesus, but only a few of them followed Him for a lifetime. I want to be one of the latter, not the former. I think you do to, otherwise you wouldn't be wading through this blog with me. May I gently encourage you to consider the implication of these four suggestions, and to implement them appropriately in your own life.
          Thousands upon thousands gladly received His ministry at the beginning, but there were only 120 in the Upper Room at the dawn of the Church age. Be one of the 120, not one of the thousands who just enjoyed the fun on the honeymoon.

If you would like to hear the audio version of this blog you will find it here on our church website. Just press 'launch media player' and then choose We Preach Christ 14, 'The Honeymoon.'

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