This past week, respected church leader and consultant, Thom Rainer wrote, “It’s time to stop accepting sporadic attendance as normal and to expect our church members to be committed to gathering every week.” (https://thomrainer.com/2020/04/what-if-all-our-church-attendees-showed-up-at-the-same-time-five-thoughts/)
How in the world is that ever going to happen now after so many weeks when people slept in, didn’t go near a church facility and watched an online service at their convenience in their pajamas or stretchy pants? Is it even conceivable we could somehow go from a global crisis to greater commitment in the church?
One thing’s for sure. We can’t do it the way we were doing it. It would take more than people just showing up. It would take wholehearted surrender.
Is that even possible?
The Bible knows nothing of the concept of partial surrender. That’s why for years we’ve told people, “Partial surrender is no surrender at all!”
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in his classic, The Cost of Discipleship said, “If our hearts are entirely given to God, it is clear that we cannot serve two masters; it is simply impossible – at any rate all the time we are following Christ.” He went on to say, “Our hearts have room only for one all-embracing devotion, and we can only cleave to one Lord. Every competitor to that devotion must be hated. As Jesus says, there is no alternative – either we love God or we hate him. We are confronted by an ‘either–or’: either we love God, or we love earthly goods. If we love God, we hate the world.”1
The sad state of affairs in too many corners of contemporary Christianity is that a large number have adopted a both/and version of discipleship, where they can do whatever they want and as long as they say, “We love Jesus,” they’re good. Rather than the “either/or” version which both Scripture and Bonhoeffer describe.
The Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) stands in stark contrast to much of what is being taught today. Re-read that sermon and see if you can find a verse where Jesus says, “Just give this a try and that’ll be great, okay?” Or, “I know I’ve raised the bar pretty high here, so just take it one step at a time.” Or, “I get that I’m asking a lot. So, if now’s not a good time, I’m okay with that, too.”
Tim Kimmel said, “There is a major problem in many Christian homes, and it feeds a child’s inclination toward spiritual rebellion. It’s the presence of a faith that doesn’t cost much. It’s a belief system that fits comfortably into our personal agendas. It doesn’t demand much time or sweat or cash. And it seldom puts our egos at risk. Comfortable Christianity only hears what it wants to hear. It believes only what it wants to believe. And it serves only when it feels like it.
A comfortable faith believes it’s okay to edit the Bible ... It allows for the harboring of grudges and an occasional evening of the score … Comfortable faith is clearly easier and cheaper, at least on the surface.”2
The problem comes when the focus of our faith becomes you and me and not God. We make it about our comfort and convenience, our ease and expectations, our needs and wants. Jesus becomes our servant instead of us serving Him. Instead of self-denial it becomes all about serving ourselves, our self-esteem and self-fulfillment.
How in the world is that going to happen now after so many weeks when people slept in, didn’t go anywhere near a church facility and watched an online service at their convenience in their pajamas or stretchy pants.
Several years ago, Max Lucado wrote a book called, You’ll Get Through This. It was timely then and even more so now. Here’s a small sample of what he shared:
“The lesson we learn from Joseph is surprisingly simple: do what pleases God. Your coworkers want to include a trip to a gentleman’s club on the evening agenda. What do you do? Do what pleases God. Your date invites you to conclude the evening with drinks at his apartment. How should you reply? Do what pleases God. Your friends hand you a joint of marijuana to smoke; your classmates show you a way to cheat; the Internet provides pornography to watch - ask yourself the question: How can I please God? ‘Do what is right as a sacrifice to the Lord and trust the Lord’ (Ps. 4:5 NCV).
You don’t fix a struggling marriage with an affair, a drug problem with more drugs, debt with more debt. You don’t fix stupid with stupid. You don’t get out of a mess by making another one. Do what pleases God. You will never go wrong doing what is right.”3
I love what Jim Cymbala said in his book, Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire. He was talking about one of the distinguishing marks that made the disciples in the first church so effective — boldness. He said, “The apostles’ prayer in Acts 4 provides our next benchmark: ‘Enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness' (vs. 29). What the disciples wanted was not numbers but an essential quality that would keep them being the church God intended.”
He went on to say, “New Testament preachers were boldly confrontational, trusting that the Holy Spirit would produce the conviction necessary for conversion. They were not afraid. Listen to Peter on the Day of Pentecost: ‘You, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross’ (Acts 2:23). This was the last thing the crowd wanted to hear. If David Letterman had a Top Ten list of things not to say to a Jewish audience, number one would be ‘Guess what – with your own hands you just killed the Messiah, the one Israel has been expecting for centuries.’ But Peter’s boldness did not drive the people away. Instead, it stabbed their consciences. By the end of the day a huge group had repented of their sin and been converted.”4
Not only do we need boldness and courageous trust in God to get through this current crisis, but we also need boldness and courageous trust to stir one another up to wholehearted surrender to Christ and His Church once it's over (Hebrews 10:24-25). Only then can genuine revival be possible.
But can we really expect that? What would it take to get all of us to wholeheartedly surrender to the Lord and faithful, consistent service in His Church? Actually, it might be pretty simple. All we really would need is four words …
Do what pleases God.
© 2020. Barry L. Cameron
1 Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. The Cost of Discipleship. SCM Press, 2015.Pages 176-177.
2 Kimmel, Tim. Why Christian Kids Rebel: Trading Heartache for Hope. Thomas Nelson, 2004. Pages. 147-149.
3 Lucado, Max. You'll Get through This. Tommy Nelson, 2013. Pages 39-41
4 Cymbala, Jim, and Dean Merrill. Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire: What Happens When God's Spirit Invades the Heart of His People. Zondervan, 2018. Pages 122-124
Barry L. Cameron has been the Senior Pastor of Crossroads since 1992 when the church was averaging 188 in morning worship. Pastor Cameron and his wife, Janis, have three children and two grandsons. He’s the author of the bestseller: The ABCs of Financial Freedom, Contagious Generosity, and The Financial Freedom Workbook. The Cameron family has been completely debt free since November 2001.