By Joe McKeever
“Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not the things I tell you” (Luke 6:46).
“If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them” (John 13:17).
I apologize for the title. There are wonderful churches filled with faithful disciples of Jesus Christ who are getting these things right; I don’t mean to imply otherwise. But that does not negate the fact that untold thousands of churches still exist primarily for themselves, have no vision outside their doors and no compassion for anyone knocking on those doors.
If none of this fits you or your congregation, give thanks. If it does, you are hereby assigned to take the lead in reversing matters. However, do not miss our notes at the conclusion.
1) We keep forgetting the second commandment is a command.
We want our religion to be private, just “me and the Lord.”
Jesus refuses to play that game. He said, “And the second is like unto it. Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself” (Matthew 22:39). This is a command, not an option, an opinion, a wish, a Facebook “like,” or a good idea. To love one’s neighbor strongly is a key component of the kind of witness Jesus envisioned His people extending to the world.
So, why don’t we obey it? We have found it inconvenient, difficult, and demanding. When we love people–truly care for them to the point that they know it–they might need us and that would interfere with our schedule. It’s much easier to love the lovely, to care for the appreciative, and to reach out to those who need little or nothing.
2) We keep forgetting two things about His command to feed the hungry, clothe the needy, visit the sick, etc., in Matthew 25.
First, we forget that this is a command and is not optional, something the Lord hopes we might find time to do along life’s way while attending to more important matters. Jesus honestly expects His people to do this. I’m happy to report many churches are taking this seriously, and are involving their people in strong ministries to the down and out, the voiceless, the forgotten.
Secondly, when we do these things “unto the least of these my brethren,” He takes it personally. We are to do good to everyone, but brothers and sisters in Christ have dibs on our assistance. Paul said, “As we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Galatians 6:10).
A side note: Nowhere–underscore that–nowhere! does the Bible tell the church to take care of all the poor of the world. It gets tiresome hearing people say that the government would not have to get involved in welfare if the church did its duty. (It’s almost ludicrous to imagine Jesus telling the handful of disciples in Jerusalem they were to go into all the world and meet the physical needs of the billions. He did not do this. Let us give thanks.)
3) We forget that loving people and loving the Lord is all about action, not emotion.
When our Lord told us to “love your enemies” in Luke 6:27f, He immediately explained that what He’s calling for is action: do good, bless, pray, give, etc. Throughout the Upper Room discourse (John 13-16), Jesus emphasized that whoever loves Him keeps His commands. Words are important, of course, and emotions can be, too. But nothing packs more punch than actions, the works we do. The Lord said, “Whoever hears these words of mine and does them is like one who builds his house on a rock” (Matthew 7:24).
No one can command his own emotions–fear, anger, love, hate, etc–to the point of being able to turn them on or off at will. So, if love is merely a feeling, in calling on us to love anyone (God, neighbor, family, disciples, enemies) the Lord is asking for what cannot be given. Fortunately, what He is calling for is far more manageable and doable. We can give, pray, bless and/or help others. To do so–regardless how we feel about it!–is to do a loving thing.
4) We keep forgetting the Lord told us to expect to be treated badly.
“An hour is coming for everyone who kills you to think that he is offering service to God” (John 16:2).
God’s people keep expecting to be loved and appreciated by those to whom we minister and often end up getting blind-sided by their hostility. We wonder, “Why are they treating us this way? All I was doing was helping and blessing.” “Where is God? What’s wrong?”
Answer: Nothing is wrong.You are right on schedule.
We have forgotten Matthew 10:16-22 and similar passages where Jesus warned we would be hated “by all for (His) name’s sake.”
I run into disillusioned ministers who were badly treated by churches, and are angry at the Lord who called them into this work but seems to have no place for them to serve. Some no longer go to church. You wonder if these people don’t read their Bibles. Don’t they see that Scripture warns us to expect trouble from inside the church as well as outside? (Acts 20:28 for one.)
5) We keep forgetting He told us to love our enemies.
This point follows on the heels of the previous ones for good reason. They treat us badly and how are we to react? We are to love them, not nurse our anger, bear grudges or protect our resentment as though we now possess a get-out-of-jail-free card entitling us to despise them.
Anyone who spends even a few minutes on Facebook reading the posts of professing Christians will come away horrified at the hostility some of the Lord’s people express toward other religions, worldly pleasure-lovers, and wayward politicians.
6. We no long remember we are commissioned to throw parties for the undeserving and undesirable.
“When you give a reception (banquet), invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, since they do not have the means to repay you; for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous” (Luke 14:13-14).
These people have our Lord’s heart. They are special to Him. “He who gives to the poor lends to the Lord,” Scripture says in Proverbs. The closer we are to Jesus, the more such ones will matter to us, too. (If you haven’t read Tony Campolo’s “The Kingdom of God is a Party,” then get it and dive in. Tony has a way of hitting us between the eyes with the 2 x 4 of God’s love.)
7. We conveniently forget that “Jesus saves.”
We know He forgives and we love to sing about it. What we have pushed to the back burner however is the fact that He came to save sinners (see Matthew 1:21 and Luke 2:11 for starters) and that is to be our business too.
We who devote ourselves to feeding the hungry and clothing the naked and so forth, sometimes think we have fulfilled our assignment. Not even close. We fail people when we give them bread but keep silent about the Savior who can meet their true needs, fill their deepest hungers, and heal their greatest hurts.
8. We forget that with Jesus, change is the norm.
Luke 5:36-39 presents new wineskins as the Lord’s pattern for His disciples: strong, flexible, faithful, growing, etc.
We do love our status quo. Physicists call it “inertia,” the tendency of a body to go on doing whatever it’s doing at the moment, moving or remaining stationary. However, the Lord does not play this game with us. He is forever calling us out of our comfort zones, away from our customary methods, into new ways of seeing and doing and achieving. No one unwilling to constantly be changing and adapting can follow Jesus Christ for long.
9. We keep forgetting that the object is not to keep rules.
The object is obedience to the Lord, not slavishly keeping the rules. Many of the Lord’s well-intentioned children miss the fine line between those two.
“The letter of the law kills, the Spirit gives life (II Cor 3:6).” Anyone who requires a demonstration of that proof needs only to drop in on a legalistic church and hang around a few weeks. They will be heartbroken over the way rule-keepers “omit the weightier matters” in order to “tithe mint and dill and cummin” (Matthew 23:23).
Recently, while I was preaching in a church located near a sizeable Amish community, the pastor had stories about the interesting ways of these neighbors. One man had disinherited his adult sons for buying a car. Yet, that same man would hire a car and driver to transport him to Nashville where he would board planes to take him all over the world.
To the legalists who were twisting God’s laws into shackles for their neighbors, our Lord said, “Man was not made for the Sabbath, but the Sabbath was made for man” (Mark 2:27).
I say without fear of contradiction that every church in the land has members (and often leaders) who need constant reminders of this.
10. We keep forgetting to read all the Word and not take a verse or two out of context.
“Here a verse, there a verse.” I stand before you today to confess that I’m as guilty as anyone I know. We do love our verses, don’t we? They fit so conveniently on bumper stickers and in our tweets.
How many people know and love Jeremiah 29:11 (“I know the plans I have for you….”) and claim it as their own but have no clue what’s going on in that chapter and to whom it was given.
Here’s another: In Luke 9:3, Jesus said to the disciples, “Take nothing for your journey, neither staffs nor bag nor bread nor money; and do not have two tunics apiece.” Clear enough, right? Wrong.
Not long ago, a distinguished Christian columnist quoted Luke 9:3 as the basis of God expecting poverty from Christian workers. However, the Lord reversed that command in Luke 22:35-36.
It’s an easy mistake to make unless you are a diligent student of the Word.
All of which proves once again that His thoughts are not our thoughts, neither are His ways our ways (Isaiah 55:8).
We do like our religion easy and palatable, comfortable and undemanding with instant rewards and no room for outsiders unless they quickly become like us.
Now, you read this and conclude your church is guilty of forgetting the Lord’s teachings and is existing primarily for itself. What to do?
1) Consider yourself a committee of one to begin to reverse matters.
2) But you must never ever become angry at your fellow members and begin to harass them for their negligence.
3) Instead, begin showing compassion (that is, doing deeds of love) to everyone around you.
4) Then, after, say, four months of such active love, you begin to speak to a few friends in church–perhaps your Sunday School class or your fellow deacons–on your concern, giving your own testimony. See that? “Your testimony.” Do not tell anyone what they are to do. (It’s such a temptation, but squelch it.) Just tell what the Lord burdened you with and what you have decided.
5) Then, wait on the Lord. Keep close to Him, pray constantly for your leadership and the membership, and stay obedient.
6) Be patient. The decline did not set in just last week and the rotten wood in the church did not occur overnight, so reversing it will not automatically take place just because one member got his heart right.
The Lord bless you and give you great joy in serving Him and blessing others in the name of Jesus.
I leave you (and this subject) with one of the most powerful and overlooked scriptures on this subject: Jeremiah 22:16.
“‘Did not your father (that would be Josiah) eat and drink and do justice and righteousness? Then it was well with him. He pled the cause of the afflicted and needy; then it was well. Is not that what it means to know Me?’ declares the Lord.”
Joe McKeever is retired missions director for the New Orleans Baptist Association. Before that Mr. McKeever pastored churches in Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and North Carolina.