ERASING THE LINES OF RELIGIOUS(osity) – SERMON ON THE MOUNT

Do you remember as a kid going to a restaurant with your parents, the waitress brings your food to the table, sets it in front of you and says, “Be careful, don’t touch the plate it is really hot.”  If you are like me, what did you do?  Touch the plate of course.  But why?  To see if it was really hot?  To see how hot it was?  To prove your independence?  After all she can’t tell me what to do.

Pencil erasing a mistake

It is funny, now that I am on the other side as a parent, I watch my kids testing the same boundaries.  The line is drawn and it is our human nature is to see how close we can get to the line or even if we are capable of crossing over the line without any consequences.

On Sinai God lays out the law for the people of Israel for their good.  The lines are drawn.  For centuries, and even still today, questions still arise, games are played.  Questions of how close can I get?  People trying to police the lines and blow the whistle on anyone who getting to close to the line.  People who want to sneak across the line and sneak back, hoping they are not seen by anyone else.  Make sense?  Let me clarify, God says, 13 “You shall not murder. Exodus 20:13 NIV  There is the line.  However, there is a lot you can do to someone without killing them, stopping just short of death.  Correct?  Or for instance, 14 “You shall not commit adultery.  Exodus 20:14 NIV  Then the question becomes what constitutes adultery?  How far can I go?  Where is the line?  How close can I get to it without crossing the line?  Can I cross the line without anyone else knowing?

For the centuries following Sinai, there is a constant testing of the lines, moving of the lines and times of flat out ignoring of the lines.  The Pharisees were great at this.  Not only did they test the lines, they made the lines even more demanding for everyone else.  They wanted everyone to see their piety and live in envy of how spiritually focused they were.  Now remember, it is in the context of this religious system, Jesus is calling disciples to follow him, who are not the “religious elite” of the society.

20 For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 5:20 NIV

Understand, Jesus says, the Pharisees look really pristine on the outside, but they are really messed up on the inside.  They follow “all” the commands, Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, honor your father and mother,’ and ‘love your neighbor as yourself (Taken from Matthew 19).   These are the lines and we have never gone over them.  We may have gotten pretty close, we may have made our own definition but in our eyes and hopefully, everyone else’s, we have never actually crossed the lines.

I have always been taught, Jesus comes along and raises the bar, draws new more difficult lines.  Calls people to a higher standard and he does.  But I wonder if we have missed Jesus point?  Take just a minute and read through the remainder of chapter 5…

Matthew 5:21-48 NIV

If we read those verses the same way we always have, what is one of the first questions we will most likely ask?  What constitutes anger?  What about when it is righteous anger?  Then am I okay?  We immediately hear these words and begin searching for the new line.  Why?  So we know where we stand.  So we know where others stand.  So we have a means to judge.  So I want to pose a few questions and thoughts for you to reflect on.

  1. What if Jesus intent is not to say here is a line, a new higher standard?  One that you cannot even live up to.  Don’t get angry, EVER?  Really?  Never lust?  Ever?  What if the intent is to simply say sin is sin and we all sin.  Whether you murder or you just fly off the handle and lose your temper.  You cannot possibly live good enough to earn salvation by your own righteousness.  What if his intent is not to create a new line to measure our self and everyone else with?  Maybe Jesus intent is to erase the lines, to get us to stop asking am I doing well enough.
  2. Either way you read it, grace becomes essential.  We all sin and the only hope we have is the redeeming love of Christ to cover our life.  The old system is based on the question of how close can I get?  Erasing the lines.  Stop trying to figure out where the line is and start trying to figure out how to get closer to Jesus.  How you can be more like Him.  Stop asking can I do this and start asking would he do this.  Allow His love to transform your heart.
  3. If it is simply about not crossing the line, it is about head knowledge and will power.  The knowledge to know and figure out where the line is and the will power to control yourself, making sure you do not cross the line.  Following Jesus is more about the heart than it is the head.  Lots of people know about Jesus, not as many have surrender their heart to Him.
  4. Whether or not there is a line, there will always be people who feel they need to police everyone else.  There will always be a tendency to compare yourself to everyone else.  To see how you measure up.  The most difficult thing about compassion, you are comparing what you know about you, with what you don’t know about someone else.  Everyone saw the Pharisees as the measuring stick of religious devotion.  Jesus says, they are not the measuring stick, I AM!  You don’t measure up by yourself, but I measure up for you.  It is about you and Jesus not you and everyone else!

Share with me your thoughts.  As you step back and look at the Sermon on the Mount, what is Jesus doing?

P.S.  As I am finishing this post my son who is 4 grabs the potato peeler and is playing with it.  We tell him to stop so he does cut himself.  He says he won’t.  You can’t cut yourself with “this” and proceeds to try to touch the blade to show us it is not sharp…  haha

YOU ARE BLESSED – IMPLICATIONS FROM THE SERMON ON THE MOUNT

Last week a shared Blessed are you – Reflections from the Sermon on the Mount, and this week I wanted to follow up with a few of the possible implications. Like I said last week, much of this is still me thinking out loud and would love to hear thoughts and feedback. Understand we are on a journey, we are learning and growing. So here are a few thoughts from my journey.

sermon_on_mount

After Jesus describes this new righteousness he tells his disciples that following him will not be easy…

Matthew 7:13-14 NIV
13 “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. 14 But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.

Growing up in a Church of Christ, I was basically taught what Jesus meant, those who are a part of the Church of Christ are on the narrow road and those outside the Church of Christ are on the wide road. Which if you take it to its logical conclusion the road then becomes the Church of Christ rather than way of Jesus. Maybe you experienced the same type of exclusivity within your faith tradition. Jesus is confronting within the Beatitudes, a religious system, which was elevated above God. Now of course they would never claim the system was above God, but truth be told, their system was their god. The synagogue, their savior. The reverence awarded them their hope. Their power, their salvation.

It is this system that beats people into the ground, convincing them they are not adequate of being with God. The system conveys to people, until you to become “righteous” like the rest of us, God will not notice you. The system portrays an impossible mountain to be scaled to sit at the feet of God. It is into this religious system which Jesus bring this “good news.” Jesus is challenging the assumption that those who look righteous and those who look like they have it all together, are the ones who are right with God.

It is into this system which Jesus offers hope and speaks with grace. Blessed are those who are beat down by the religious system, who don’t measure up, who aren’t “good enough,” for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn because of their own sinfulness, for they will be comforted. Blessed are those who don’t use positional power to assert their will, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who are truly desire loving God and loving others, for they will be filled. Blessed are those who show mercy to others, who don’t hold peoples pasts over their heads for they will receive mercy. Blessed those who seek peace and unity among other believers rather than creating more divisions, for they will be called sons of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted because they are trying desperately to live righteous lives, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

It seems for the entirety of Jesus ministry, he stood in opposition to the religious organizations of his day. Why? Because their organization valued power over people. It valued prestige over humility. It valued outward appearance over the heart. So, why do the beatitudes still matter to us in 2012, just as they did the day Jesus spoke them on the mountainside to the crowd?

  1. Outward appearance is easy to fix, in fact we are quite good at it in our culture today. In fact our churches are filled with people who look amazing from a distance, but when you take the time to get close, you really start to see the cracks and imperfections. This good news is sent to those who embrace the brokenness.
  2. For church leaders, pastors and shepherd’s it is easy to fix the outside of people. It is an entirely different matter to help them fix the inside. For one it is messy, none of us are as shinny as we hope we appear. When, as a church we try to be, it creates a seemingly impossible mountain to climb to be right with God. As people come into our churches they see something or someone “they” could never be.
  3. Everyone, especially leaders, want to be great at what they do. We want to win; we want the biggest and the best. Ultimately, we want to appear to, at the very least, be adequate before God. We are so conditioned, by the world to live on a point system basis. We are constantly measuring our self. When we measure our self against other people, we are comparing what we know about our self, with what we don’t know about the other person.
  4. No one wants to be broken, and if we are broken we, at the very least, don’t want others to know we are broken. But the good news of blessing was to broken people. It was to the ones who were being persecuted for not playing the religious game. It was to the ones trying to live Godly and righteous lives in the midst of a system built on power and oppression.

The Kingdom of God is built on two simple commands, love God and love people. This is true righteousness. This is to be sought after. To follow Jesus is truly humbling because it means forsaking your kingdom to be a part of building his.

Matthew 5:20 NIV
20
For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.

DEALING WITH DISCOURAGMENT IN MINISTRY

One thing I have learned in ten years of ministry is there will be lots of disappointments.  Especially, for those of us in Student Ministry, discouragement will be abundant.  Students, parents, leaders, members will all let you down and the flip side, you will most certainly let them down as well.  So I am writing this to let all of my friends in ministry know how to fix the problem…..

Ready for it…

Get rid of all the people!

There you go.  If you eliminate all the people in your church, the problem of disappointment will be gone… unless you are a numbers guy.  Now of course I am joking but from time to time we all feel that way.  The problem is people, but this is what God planned.  Think about it, God decided to use broken and messed up people to help broken and messed up people.

So, if discouragement in ministry is inevitable, where is the hope in ministry?  Because, in the illustrious words of the late Charles Siburt, “there is no possible way to contort the human voice to make whining appealing to the human ear.”   So how do you deal with discouragement?

1. Focus on YOUR NEED for the Gospel.  One of the biggest traps I fall into in ministry is focusing on how much everyone around me needs to hear the message of Jesus, because they are broken and messed up people.  When we do we begin to see our self as a practitioner rather than a patient.  Unfortunately, the church has lost sight of this truth, expecting for those in ministry to not struggle as everyone else does. We find great joy in the appearance we present to people.  In doing this it is “self” that is glorified and not Christ.  Paul makes a point to point out his weakness…

 15 Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. 16 But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life. 1 Timothy 1:15-16

People will follow the example we set.  If we are unwilling to admit our brokenness, it is pretty ridiculous to expect those we are leading to admit their brokenness.

2. Surround yourself with a close group of people you can share things with, who can help to encourage and pray for you.  For me there are several different circles.  One circle consists of people in our church, who know me and my ministry very well.  They know where I want this ministry to go.  They offer an open ear and loving voice.  They know my heart and genuinely care for me, not just what our ministry is doing.  These are the people I go to with leadership problems, thoughts, dreams.  I also have a close circle of 5 or 6 friends in ministry, who are in the trenches, we share ideas and dreams. We seek advice and counsel from each other drawing on the experiences of each other.  The most important circle though is my family.  This is also my first and most important ministry.  I have to focus on taking care of this relationship, because the health of this relationship, with my wife and children greatly affects my mindset in the rest of my ministry.

3. Our job in ministry is not to fill people up, it is to empty yourself.  Somewhere along the way someone convinced me it was my responsibility to fill people up to send them out.  They were wrong!  You have absolutely no control in ministry of how people with respond to the message of Christ.  Jesus told us, there would be people who hear this message and want absolutely no part of it.  There would be people who say they are a part of His Kingdom and would continue to choose other things.  So it floors me, that I get so discouraged when people chose other things over Christ.  And just maybe they are following their leader, if we are completely honest.  No matter how badly you want someone to know Christ; they might want nothing to do with Him.

Jesus has called us to build His Kingdom here on earth, not our own.  It is amazing how easily we confuse the two.  Discouragement is something we will always deal with in ministry.  Jesus did, Paul did, the apostles did, and the early church did.  Get use to it, but by all means do not give up on what God has called you to do and more importantly WHO he has called you to BE!

These are just a few examples of what I rely on, and of course there are many other principles out there.  So how do you deal with discouragement in ministry?

THE CORE: DEFINING WHO WE ARE & WHAT WE DO

Are we developing faith within the life of students that sticks?  Are we developing a “Sticky Faith,” a faith that will continue on after the walls of this church are in the rear view mirror?

It is our desire that Westhill would be place where the foundations of a lifelong faith in Christ are formed.  A place of life change, where students are introduced to Jesus and the world around them is radically shaken by the transformation they have experienced.

ENGAGE:
Following Jesus has never been about us, it has and always will be about building His kingdom.  The church was called, then gathered, then formed for the purpose of being sent out.  We are called to go and engage the world with the message of Christ.  We engage the world through serving those around us in our schools, our community and our world.  We share a responsibility to invite people to experience the story of Jesus through our life on display for all to see, as a city on a hill.

EQUIP:
The most important relationship in the life of a student is their relationship with their parents. We highly value this relationship above all other relationships in the life of a student. Since we place so much value on this relationship, we are committed to doing all we can to help equip and assist parents in every way possible.

CONNECT:
We are not simply a Student Ministry we are a part of a church. It is vital for students to find connections outside of our ministry to build relationships with other caring adults who are willing to pour into the life of a student to mentor and disciple them in their growth in Christ.

CREATE:
We strive to create an authentic family atmosphere within WSM.  A place to belong, to feel accepted, loved and a place where they are not judged. We desire to create environments where students develop relationships with other students and caring adults, who will help them to see a bigger picture of what the Kingdom of God looks like here on earth.

EMPOWER:
We want Westhill to be a place which models servant leadership for our students and then entrusts them to serve.  These students are leaders now, in their schools, in their home and in the church. It is our desire for students not to merely be here, but to find a place to plug in and serve. We want to create a safe place for students to lead and a safe place to fail within our ministry. We want to see every student plugged into a ministry within the context of our Student Ministries.  It is our desire as 11th & 12th graders they would serve in the same ministry in the larger church.

LEADERSHIP 101: CREATING CLEAR EXPECTATIONS

I feel like this is a lesson I should have gotten somewhere along the way, in school, grad school or a conference, somewhere but it is a leadership lesson I have been learning on my own.  As a leader what are your expectations for the people you are leading?


Often, I find the people I am leading do not meet my expectations.  Which can be very frustrating for a leader; especially, when they are teenagers.  Typically, we chalk it up to apathy or laziness and dismiss the possibly it could be our own fault they are not meeting our expectations.  This has been a challenge for me over the last several years with our Student Leadership group.  On the flip side there is nothing more discouraging than constantly trying to meet someones expectations you are unaware of.  It can only lead to failure and frustration.

This year, I decided to approach the expectations from a different angle.  I created a covenant for the students and the parents to sign, laying out exactly what I expect from students serving in this ministry.  After I handed out the expectations and asked them to sign and return, I had a conversation with a couple of our seniors in Student Leadership.  They were wondering why this was necessary, not in an upset way but a curious way.  They kind of understood these expectations.  So I asked them specifically, did you know I expect you to…  and I went through the list of expectations.  Several they understood from the beginning, some they had figured out over time and one they did not even know.  So why did it surprise me that my expectations often went unmet?

In leadership, often our greatest frustration comes from unmet expectations.  What if instead of looking at the people not meeting our expectations, we looked in the mirror at the one creating the expectations.  Expectations not being met?  Ask yourself, are your expectations clear?  How do they know your expectations?  Have you communicated the expectations clearly?  There is a great difference between expectations being clear in your head and the expectations being clear in other people’s heads.

So enter the covenant.  Here is what I came up with for anyone in our Student Leadership group.  What are your thoughts and/or feedback on the covenant?  How do you clearly communicate expectations?

Student Leadership Covenant

GREAT WEEK OF HARDING UPLIFT

UPLIFT at Harding is always a great week, although we started a bit shaky but the week end on some great notes.  We left bright and early on Saturday morning but a couple of hours into the drive we had a blow out in van 2.  And yes it is the 666 license plate van.  We have to get that changed before Missouri next month.  Made for a stressful rest of the day; running behind.  Day 2 we spent in the ER with a student we thought was having appendicitis.  She ended up heading back to Cleburne for more testing.  She is doing better.  Day 3 we spent the afternoon at the doctor’s office for a student with Strep throat.  From then on things ran very smoothly.  Day 4 and 5 were great.

Day 5 was the highlight of my week though.  I was done teaching for the week so I got to just hang out with kids that morning.  After lunch I went and hung out with coach Fullerton my college baseball coach.  I had not gotten to see him in several years, so it was great to catch up.  That afternoon we played a lot.  I played in a 3 on 3 basketball tournament with Ben and Trent.  Well, we played 1 game anyway.  We lost 10 to 8.  Then several of us played some volleyball and dominated.  We won 4 straight and then lost our focus and lost our final game.  Britany challenged Makalah to a race so we went out to the track and they raced in the 200 meter which Britany won… and Makalah almost died.  Then the rest of us ran a 100 meter which Taylor won with a blown out knee.  Our group devo that evening was amazing.  It was one of the highlights of the week.  We spent an hour and a half encouraging each other.  Such a great evening!  The evening was topped off with Mary Beth making the decision to give her life to Christ in baptism.

At times youth ministry can be very frustrating because you are dealing with people.  Kids make dumb decisions, things go wrong and summers can be very tiring.  But it is days like Tuesday and Wednesday that remind me why I do love Youth Ministry.  I love hanging out with students, I love seeing them grow and I love seeing them make decisions to follow Christ.

THE SUMMER IN YOUTH MINISTRY

Let’s face it as youth ministers we only work 3 months out of the year (wink, wink, wink).  In youth ministry it can be very difficult to follow any kind of consistent diet, but this is especially true during the summer.

I have always used the summer as an excuse to get away from eating healthy, falling into bad habits and gaining weight.  It is impossible to stay in shape during the summer for a youth ministry, right?  Wrong, it is nothing more than an excuse.  I am great at making excuses, but not so great at honoring promises I have made to myself.  I decided this summer would be different.  This summer I am not going to make excuses and I am going to honor myself by sticking with my goals.

This is making me plan and prepare ahead of schedule.  This week we are at Arlington Work Camp.  Typically this is a week I would just say I can’t stay on track.  I will have donuts at church, burgers or pizza for lunch, there is no way to avoid it.  This week I am not giving in to the excuses.  I have stuck to my diet all week so far.  I have gotten up early and fixed my breakfast, I have taken my lunch box with Shakeology, lunch and an afternoon snack.  Cami has helped out by cooking a healthy dinner.  I have even given our interns a heads up and asked them to help keep me accountable.

I am in week 5 of the Insanity workout, which is a Recovery week.  It just so happen to fall on a perfect week.  I have switched out the Cardio Recovery program with P90X One On One “Fountain of Youth.”  It is a Yoga workout and I am finding it great at the end of a long work day.  So far I am down 16 pounds and I want to keep moving in the right direction.  This summer is about me not making excuses.  I can’t control what others are doing but I can control what I do.  When I get tired and hungry I want junk food.  When I eat junk food I have less energy, I am more irritable and moody.  When I am tired it is more important than ever to eat right and exercise.  You can follow my health and fitness journey this summer at www.garyalbrittonfitness.com