I regularly eat Qdoba with a good friend and our conversations can go anywhere. One time we were sharing frustration about how we too often find ourselves thinking about pleasing the church culture instead of serving God. We created the phrase "In good standing" to represent the trials and struggles that follows with a life that aims to impress others and win their approval. This can mean wondering how other people see you and wanting be thought of as mature and a righteous person. We lamented but acknowledged that at times we had been a part of that culture and contributed to it. These things that I have described do not have to be bad things, it is an issue of motives.
This discussion I had with my friend allowed me to look back at a stage of my life and see it more clearly. For a long time I was not content to be "In good standing: but instead wanted "In highest standing." I wanted people to know that I was very righteous and oh so pure; even though this was not the case. I did not desire sanctification for my heart or mind; I wanted righteousness that I could wear on my sleeve. It should be no surprise that this pursuit brought no joy or satisfaction, no peace or contentment. I was left scratching my head as all the sinners around me were repenting and learning daily about the grace that God offers. These were people that did not seek "In highest standing" and I am not sure they even knew what I was striving for. They were certainly not examining others like I was; for to be a group of people "In good standing" there must be those who are willing to sit in judgment of everyone. I was very willing......
One of the funny things is that this really impacts who you regard spiritually. I always looked up to those who I thought who were pursuing righteousness and shunning evil. Over time I realize that this has changed a lot. Now I am not looking for those who tell me I am no longer "In good standing" when they see me for the sinner that I am. I look to those who I believe say " Wow Josh you really messed up here.....but I still love you and want to help you through this....let me pray with you and then we will talk about setting up accountability or figuring out how you got here...." These people do seek righteousness and are shunning evil, they just are not wearing it on their sleeve.
I have thought about this for months and finally realized that I provided pretty good descriptions for the Pharisees and for Jesus. The Pharisees were "In highest standing", found pride in their righteousness, and were willing to sit in judgment of others. Jesus was able to love those who were hurting while making it clear that he still loved them, but that they needed to change-"Now go and sin no more."
I would like to suggest that much of the joy or frustration in your spiritual life revolves around two things: which one of these descriptions resemble you and which one reflects the culture of the Christians that you surround yourself with. Don't decide which one you are now because you are probably biased so my question is this......what is your criteria for making decisions?
In Mark 14:53-65 Jesus stands before the Sanhedrin (not exactly the Pharisees but they fit the "In good standing" mentality) and they have a big decision.....what to do with Jesus! But they can't really find one big thing wrong.......so they resort to a new criteria....1. What is the easiest path for me? 2. What can I do so that I come out looking like my hands are clean on this? So that it will look like I had no responsibility for what happened? Then what did they do? They handed Jesus over to be killed! Earlier in the same chapter Jesus is struggling with a difficult decision........what does he do? In Luke 14:32-42 Jesus carves out some personal time for himself, finds those closest to him, and asks them to support him during some hard time in prayer. After a while he comes back and talks to his friends......then he goes and prays again....comes back and talks to his friends....goes and prays again.....when done praying Jesus knows what the Father is calling him to do! So he says "Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet no what I will, but what you will." Then he leaves and goes to die on the cross for my sins.......
I have seen this contrast in decision making in my own life and I am going to step on some toes now....lets talk about church shopping! Lets examine the Scriptures to see how the Pharisees and Jesus interacted with other followers of God. The Pharisees were willing to provide leadership and council to anyone who asked for it but they were not willing to serve anybody! In addition to this it was very important to them that everyone recognized how much they knew about God's Word and how righteous they were. They went from temple to temple but really never connected with any one group of people........but they were totally convinced that this did not reflect on them but instead the people around them. Jesus had a different experience.........Jesus was willing to love and serve everyone that he met......he didn't go from to temple to temple as much as had huge crowds follow him begging for him to minister to them and to teach them. He had close friends that did their best to be faithful to helping him with his desire to bring about transformation in the lives of others.Some of them even wanted him to be King and lead a Jewish revolt of the Roman Empire.......Jesus ultimately decided to die on the cross .
I know a lot people who can't seem to find a church home...they don't like the head pastor/music style/music leader/sanctuary/Christmas program/small groups/people rub them the wrong way/wrong translation/pews vs. chairs/location/time/etc.....Let me make my thoughts abundantly clear on this issue...Get off your Pharisaical ass and be of service to the local church! I know that seems harsh but let me tell you about my church shopping experiences in Omaha....I have lived here in Omaha for 7 years and am on my 3rd church.......what was wrong with the first two? Its kind of complicated so I am going to cut/paste something from earlier in this post that I feel is appropriate while changing some pronouns.....here's what I thought was wrong with those churches......."I can't really find one big thing wrong.......so I resort to a new criteria....1. What is the easiest path for me? 2. What can I do so that I come out looking like my hands are clean on this? So that it will look like I had no responsibility for what happened?" Would you believe that I didn't really "connect" with a lot of people in these churches? The truth is there was nothing wrong with my first two churches that isn't wrong in my current one! My church is good but its not like we are reenacting Acts 2 every week and there are some people that kind of annoy me and I don't love some things we do. I just know that I spent a lot of time at my first two churches waiting for the head pastor to call me to fill in the pulpit or some leadership position while simultaneously ignoring everything in the bulletin about opportunities to serve! Would you believe that I didn't really "connect" with a lot of people in these churches? When I got to the third church I decided to to use some gifts of mine to help out. I decided to commit to a small group, that it was going to be a priority, and that I was going to work harder to get to know other men in the church! Would you believe I have "connected" with some people in my church? I have built some friendships that I really treasure and look forward what is in store for us.The truth is that there is no perfect local church and what you need to do is to try ending some prayers with "Yet not what I will but what you will" and see that how it works out for you. I am stepping off my soapbox now.
One of my favorite things about the bible is that there are certain passages that I connect with certain people in my life. I did not sit under a lot of great bible preaching as a kid so when I got to Bible college I was constantly amazed by my Old Testament Class. I would look at my prof's notes and try to figure out how he found that principle in a passage that I though I had read a number of times. In a similar way I connect the the story of the prodigal son with a blog my sister wrote a few years ago that I am too tired to post but will try to do so one day. But my experience with this story is different as she writes about the loving father who continues to press on his daily work while anxious for his son to return. I tend to identify with the prodigal son in this story and I love the verse that describes his revelation when he gets to his low point......."17 “When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! 18 I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ 20 So he got up and went to his father." I am very stubborn and learned my lesson the hard way also but I eventually learned it and I think about it often. It is what I believe calls the prodigal son home: He realizes that live as a servant of his father is better than anything he can have when he tries to be his own master! I have rambled on way past what I intended to write but I hope that something I have written has challenged you to think about what it means to serve God and to exist in a community that challenges others to do the same thing.