I was angry? Why angry? I was attending an evening class at Lake Junaluska retreat center along with other church leaders. The speaker was teaching how churches approach the basics of what a church offers to the community through teaching, ministry, missions and programming. His goal was to compare two common church attitudes:
• One attitude focused first on a Godly connection through prayer, Bible study and worship.
• Another emphasized consumer based, cafeteria-style, pick and choose programming.
What I interpreted from the speaker, was the first attitude was desirable while the other was considered undesirable. That’s when I became angry!
I stood and forcefully argued that today’s church really needed both attitudes. “Yes,” said the speaker who remained placid and calm despite my demeanor, “that may be true but on which attitude do you place your priorities?” His point was to urge churches to prayerfully seek an ongoing relationship with God first before rushing to create programs just because people ask for them.
He was right and I knew it, so why was I so upset?
After the class, I took a walk to clear my head. It was cold but I was too preoccupied to notice. I looked up toward the top of the mountain and saw a bright light in the shape of a cross. It took a few minutes of climbing and walking to get there but finally I stood below a brightly lit cross that could be seen for miles. Despite the temperature, I somehow felt warm and secure beneath this shining beacon of light. It was as if Jesus himself was offering me comfort and reassurance.
After a few minutes of standing quietly, I began to understand the reason for my anger. It wasn’t about church attitudes or programs. It wasn’t even the speaker that was causing my anger. The problem was within me. Underneath the glow of the cross, the words of the speaker became a divine warning aimed directly at me. I was the one focusing on creative programming ideas while neglecting my own relationship with God. My priorities were focused on people rather than God: programs rather than relationships. It was so simple, yet I almost missed it.
In the Bible, a young man named Timothy was also struggling and faced many pressures and challenges but an experienced pastor named Paul wrote several letters filled with Godly wisdom.
• Cling tightly to your faith in Christ and always keep your conscience clear. (1 Timothy 1:19)
• I urge you, first of all, to pray for all people. As you make your requests, plead for God’s mercy upon them and give thanks. (2:1)
• Do not waste time arguing over godless ideas and old wives tales. Spend your time and energy in training yourself for spiritual fitness. (4:7)
• Until I get there, focus on reading the Scriptures to the church…
• encouraging the believers and teaching them. (4:13)
• Keep a close watch on yourself and on your teaching. Stay true to what is right and God will save you and those who hear you. (4:16)
The lessons from Paul to Timothy are abundant and clear:
• Cling tightly to your faith — Always put God first in everything we do.
• Pray for all people — Prayer should be the foundation of our life and ministry.
• Train yourself for spiritual fitness — Spiritual discipline is an all-important part of faith.
• Reading the Scriptures — Still the best way I know to discover God’s love and grace.
• Encouraging and teaching others — Emphasis is on relationships not activities or programs.
• Stay true to what is right and God will save you — Putting our ultimate trust in God.
What about you? Maintaining a Christian lifestyle is about so much more than attending church, singing in the choir or serving on a committee. A Christian lifestyle is more about who you are, how you act and Whom you serve.
Questions to consider as you begin a new year: What priorities are you neglecting in your relationship with God? What needs to change in your life? When can you start? How can the church encourage you?
On a cold dark night beneath a brightly lit cross, I received a divine warning and a priceless lesson. At the same time, I felt the love and comfort only a loving Christ can give. I walked back to the hotel with a bounce in my step and a new fire in my heart. But you, Timothy, belong to God; so run from all these evil things and follow what is right and good. Pursue a godly life along with faith, love, perseverance and gentleness. May God’s grace be with you all. (1 Timothy 6:11 & 21) Amen! Thank you, God!