Friday, November 2, 2012

What Does Your Church Bulletin Tell You About Your Priorities? (Insights from Genesis 28:13-22)

Tape Measure by Leo Reynolds source cc-by-2.0
We measure what matters.  Here are some examples.
  • Right now we are daily treated by news outlets to polls tracking how Americans will most likely vote in the presidential election.  
  • We watch our favorite teams closely, our enthusiasm rising or fading as we measure their success by the score board.  
  • We see how much closer we are to retirement by looking at the amount in our investment portfolio.  
  • We examine the growth of our children by lining them up against the wall and placing pencil marks flush with the top of their head, marking the date.  
  • We step up on the the weight scale hoping the needle is at a lower number than the last time we placed ourselves on it.
We do this because we measure what matters to us.

In our journey with Christ, as people of discipleship and church communities, we do the same...we measure what matters.  The question we need to ask is, are we measuring the right things?  Are we measuring what matters to us or are we measuring what matters to God?  Here are realities we measure, reflected in these common questions asked by the church: How many people attend your church?  How much money is in your collections?  How many children's programs do you have?  How large is your building?

What we measure is a SURE indicator of what is important to us.  As we continue in God's Story of Grace, I want to look at Jacob-like priorities versus God-like priorities.  Then we will look at a sure way to measure what matters to us as disciples of Christ.

What do you need to know?
What matters to God is making people His followers throughout the earth.  As we have seen, Jacob was a man, who with his mother, had conspired and tricked both his father and brother out of the blessing and birthright of the first-born. (Genesis 27:1-40)  Because of his self-absorption, he lacked the ability to see the pain he was causing his older brother and father.  He deceived and stole without conscience, perhaps justifying his actions as fulfilling the promises of God.  He could not see beyond any higher value than getting his own way, at whatever cost.  He lacked empathy and compassion for the pain of others.   As a consequence, he put his life at risk of death and ran.  (Genesis 27:41-45) But in Jacob's flight from the consequence of his sin, the Lord in His Grace, gives Jacob an unconditional promise of His continuous presence and protection on his journey to his uncle's land and ultimately back to the Land of Promise, Israel.  In this promise, look at what ultimately matters to God...
“I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac. I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying. Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east, to the north and to the south. All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring. I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” (Genesis 28:13-15) 
Here is what God measures as success...
  • All peoples of the earth blessed
  • Descendants of Jacob inheriting the land of Israel 
  • Fulfillment of His promises He originally made to Jacob's grandfather (Abraham) and his father (Isaac) which started in Genesis 12:1-3.  
As a consequence of God fulfilling this, he would take care of Jacob personally and physically.  "I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go..." 

What matters to Jacob is covering his own hide.  Jacob is too self-absorbed to get the importance of this promise.  What matters to Jacob is not walking in the journey of God's larger Story of Grace and seeing the nations "blessed."  What matters to him is feeding and covering his own skin.  Look how Jacob responds to God's promises...    
Then Jacob made a vow, saying, “If God will be with me and will watch over me on this journey I am taking and will give me food to eat and clothes to wear so that I return safely to my father’s house, then the Lord will be my God and this stone that I have set up as a pillar will be God’s house, and of all that you give me I will give you a tenth.” (Genesis 28:20-22)
Here is what Jacob measures as success...
  • Food to eat
  • Clothes to wear
  • Safety on his trip  

Incidentally, God was with Jacob and physically provided everything he needed.  But what is telling is that Jacob requires God to fulfill all these demands before Jacob would allow the Lord to be his God.  Do all these things I ask and "...then the Lord will be my God..."  Is this not the height of self-absorption?  But do we do this today?  "Lord, I will serve you, once you meet these conditions: Give me a good paying job, the woman that I want or the man; bring my husband/wife back home to me; heal my body, straighten up my finances, save all of my children; then, Lord, I will serve you!"

Here is the question for us...what do we measure in our discipleship and church?  It indicates what matters to us...        

What you need to do?  
Design your discipleship around God's priorities, not your expectations.   What do you measure as ministry/discipleship success?  Look in your weekly church bulletin or brochure.  It reports what the leaders regularly measure.  What does you bulletin report?  What is featured most prominently?  

Is it...(God-like priorities) 
  • Numbers of people being baptized into a life of discipleship  
  • Numbers of people participating in real discipleship  
  • Numbers of people coming to faith in Christ  
Or is it...(Jacob-like priorities)
  • Amount of financial contributions (90% of which usually pays for overhead costs) 
  • Numbers of people who showed up on a church service 
  • Debt reduction level for recent building expansion
Design your prayer focus around God's priorities, not your expectations.  What is at the center of the prayer concerns listed in the weekly bulletin?  What people are asking God for is another indicator of where their priorities lay.  We ask God for what we believe is most important for Him to give us.

Is it...(God-like priorities)
  • For people to come to faith in Christ  
  • For discipleship to grow 
  • For deliverance from oppressive evil in your community  
 Or is it...(Jacob-like priorities)
  • For people to get feeling better who are sick 
  • For someone who needs a job  
  • For a good weather at the annual church picnic  
  • For traveling mercies as people go on vacation or "snow birds" heading south  (somewho lives in the cold American north heading to the warmer south during the winter)  
I am not saying we should not pray for these.  We should!  My question is: Are the physical concerns to be the priority of our prayers?  

We measure what matters.  What matters to you?