What Godliness Means

I’m always conflicted on those rare occasions when someone attributes godliness to me.

There’s not a disciple of Jesus Christ anywhere who would not want to be thought of as godly. But I strongly suspect that anyone to whom the label can be legitimately applied would never in a million years think they qualified.

There is that dichotomy which we see with a lot of spiritual disciplines. With humility, if we think we have it, we don’t. With maturity, if we think of ourselves as mature in the faith, we probably aren’t. And with godliness, one of the features of this most wonderful of all traits is a strong awareness of our frailness, our fallibility, our wicked heart.

That little contradiction gives rise to the silly bit that goes: “If I think I’m humble, I’m not. If I’m truly humble, I don’t think I am. And since I don’t think of myself as humble, I must be.”

Godliness is Christlikeness. The presence of the Lord Himself is so strong within us, we reflect Him to all we meet. The character of the Lord Jesus is exhibited through us in all we do. The love of Jesus–the love of God, same difference–shines forth to all we meet.

And yet, we are no less human than we’ve ever been. We do not “channel” Jesus, as a friend asked me the other day. No, nothing goofy or spooky. It’s simply that the closer to the Lord Jesus we get, the more these two realities grow up side by side: the presence and power of Christ in us, and our humanity, meaning we become more fully the individual God made us to be.

When John the Baptist said of Jesus, “He must increase, I must decrease,” he did not imply that there would come a day when his personality and his individuality would be absorbed into the Almighty Messiah and he would cease to exist, as some have thought. Instead, he would always be John, but would get more and more out of the way while Jesus Christ would be everything to him.

Godliness does not have to be as elusive a subject as we sometimes make it. Think of it as “More of Christ in Me” and at the same time, “I become more the person He created me to be.”

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Why Do People Stay?

We have two kinds of people in our churches today: those who flit from church to church, never putting down roots or establishing relationships and finding their ministries, and those who will stay in a church regardless.

It’s the second group that puzzles me.

Why do they stay?

Like the note I received today: “Our church treasurer stole 60,000 dollars from us. He was a drunkard and the preacher knew it and constantly talked with the man about his problem. But now, the man has left town with the church’s money.”

“Meanwhile,” the writer went on, “attendance in our church has dropped from 70 to around 10. The pastor is retiring and wants a large financial settlement and for us to pay his retirement. What are we to do?”

I’ll tell you what I’d do. I would walk away. With only 10 people coming, there’s hardly a church there anymore. And with the kind of non-leadership they’ve had, from this distance, it would appear that for this church to go out of business is no loss. After all, assuming that church is not in the frozen tundra where there is not another congregation within a hundred miles, it’s not like there aren’t other good churches in the area.

I’d go join one.

Yet, people persevere.

Why do they stay in such dysfunctional churches when they could so easily drive another mile down the road and find peace?

Why do they continue coming to a church that cannot go a month without a fight? Can’t go a year without someone wanting to run off the preacher? Can’t vote on a budget without conflict arising.

Why don’t they just leave for their own peace of mind?

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Solitary Conceit

C. S. Lewis was fielding questions from his audience. Someone asked how important church attendance and membership are to living a successful Christian life. From his book “God in the Dock,” his answer:

My own experience is that when I first became a Christian, about 14 years ago, I thought that I could do it on my own, by retiring to my rooms and reading theology, and I wouldn’t go to the churches and Gospel Halls; and then later I found that it was the only way of flying your flag; and of course, I found this meant being a target.

It is extraordinary how inconvenient to your family it becomes for you to get up early to go to church. It doesn’t matter so much if you get up early for anything else, but if you get up early to go to church it’s very selfish of you and you upset the house.

If there is anything in the teaching of the New Testament which is in the nature of a command, it is that you are obliged to take the Sacrament (John 6:53-54), and you can’t do it without going to church. I disliked very much their hymns, which I considered to be fifth-rate poems set to sixth-rate music. But as I went on I saw the great merit of it.

I came up against different people of quite different outlooks and different education, and then gradually my conceit just began peeling off. I realized that the hymns (which were just sixth-rate music) were, nevertheless, being sung with devotion and benefit by an old saint in elastic-side boots in the opposite pew, and then you realize that you aren’t worthy to clean those boots.

It gets you out of your solitary conceit. It is not for me to lay down laws, as I am only a layman, and I don’t know much.

Yeah, right. C. S. Lewis doesn’t know much. Oh, that I knew as little as he.

Solitary conceit. That one has snagged my attention and will not turn me loose. I see it in Christians who stand aloof from church attendance, in pastors who will not associate with other ministers, and in myself.

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Swat Team: Find the Sleeping Gifted

(Fifth and last in the series “Church Members Extraordinary.”)

A Swat team is a small group of highly trained military or law enforcement people who can go into a tense and dangerous situation, armed to the teeth, able to respond in any way necessary. (The initials stand for “Special Weapons and Tactics.”)

No, we don’t require such combat specialists in the church, as far as I know.

I’m suggesting a different kind of Swat team. Let’s have a small band of church leaders who are constantly on the alert for fellow members who have spiritual gifts which they are not using in the Kingdom, or are under-utilizing them.

Such gifted church members are usually unaware of their spiritual endowments, of the ways in which they could be serving, and of the difference they could make in the lives of others.

Our job–your job, if you are one of those gifted by the Lord for this kind of work–is to find these people, open their eyes to what God has done in their lives, teach them, and then help them find their place of service. Find their calling.

The strange thing is that far more people believe that the Holy Spirit gives spiritual gifts to every believer than believe that there is a place of service in the Kingdom for each person. A rather odd little dichotomy, I think.

Here’s a director of human resources who puts someone on the company payroll and sends them to the plant manager with instructions, “See if you can find a place for this one.” An hour later, the individual returns with a post-it note on his back saying, “Don’t need him.”

If God loves us and saves us, calls us and gifts us spiritually, then has no place of service for us in His work, He is as inefficient and foolhardy as that director of human resources.

If God gifts you for His service, He has a place for you in the Kingdom.

And that, I say to you, is one of the most exciting things in the world.

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Midwives: Find the Lost and the Seekers

(Fourth in the series ‘Church Members Extraordinary’)

I wish for your church a small, dedicated group of people who are called and gifted, trained and faithful, in helping other people into the kingdom of God.

Call them soulwinners or witnesses. I call them midwives. They are not responsibile for the new life, but they assist it in coming into being.

Someone walks forward during the invitation time and tells the pastor, “I’m ready. I’d like to become a Christian.”

Fortunate is the pastor who can turn to a member nearby and say, “Bill, this is Tom. Tom wants to become a Christian. Would you help him?” Bill invites Tom to come with him, and they exit the sanctuary into an adjoining room where they can speak quietly and privately. Bill opens the Scriptures and shows Tom what God has to say about becoming a disciple of Jesus, answers his questions, and prays with him. Then, after Tom is satisfied he has done what he came to do, Bill begins the process of disciplining him–that is, grounding him in the Christian faith.

There are those who teach that every member of the church should become soulwinners, capable of leading others to Christ. In a perfect world, I agree. But the reality is that not everyone is going to do that. Others have gifts and callings, burdens and opportunities, in other directions.

All are witnesses. But not all are soulwinners or midwives.

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Reach the Ugly Woman in the Balcony

(Third in the series on Church Members Extraordinary.)

My wife tells me not to use the term “ugly woman” and as you surely know, for a preacher to go against the advice of his wife is foolhardy. But since we were unable to find a better substitute, it remains. At least for the moment. This program allows me to return and tweak the article. Readers with better ideas should send them this way posthaste!

The story comes from a longtime friend, Lynn. Now, Lynn is a better Christian than almost anyone I know. She has had enough pains and heartaches for several lifetimes. Instead of making her hard and calloused, the trials have driven her closer to the Heavenly Father. Consequently, she is full of mercy and grace.

Her church has wisely made her a greeter for the congregation. That sweet spirit and smiling face draw people in. Every church should have such people out front to welcome worshipers.

Not long ago, prior to the service, Lynn spotted a woman in the balcony. I’m using Lynn’s words when I say that she was ugly. The scowl on her face warned everyone to stand back about 500 feet. And that’s why Lynn did what she did.

She sought her out. Climbed into the balcony and went straight to her, thrust out her hand and said, “Hello.”

The woman may as well have uttered a “bah, humbug!” for she was a living personification of Scrooge himself. She said nothing and turned away.

Now, for most people, that would have done it. They would have written the woman off. But not Lynn. Not even close.

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Leaders: Find the Devil in Pew Number Seven

(Second in our series on the League of Church Members Extraordinary)

Deacons and other mature leaders of the church have a responsibility probably not spelled out in their bylaws, but as necessary as any given them in scripture or by the membership: Be on a constant lookout for trouble and troublemakers within the congregation.

The Apostle Paul told the Ephesian leaders that they could expect deadly threats to the congregation’s survival to arise from two sources: outside and inside. (Acts 20:29ff) The first they would have expected. It is no secret that the devil wants to destroy the church and neutralize its effectiveness, and will use any means necessary to pull that off.

It was the second–enemies arising from within the body itself–that must have surprised them. Had those leaders been as trusting and naive as many of us, they would have expected all the worshipers to be loving and gracious, faithful and trusting, and would have been blindsided by tyrants arising from their own number.

So, Scripture warns us to be alert, to be watchful in both directions.

This is not the pastor’s job alone. Granted, he is charged with this responsibility. But in a congregation of hundreds or even thousands, he needs eyes and ears other than his own. He needs the deacons and Sunday School teachers–note that we are assuming them to be godly and mature–to keep their eyes and ears open, their antennae up, to remain always vigilant.

They are to watch out for the devils in their midst, plainly put.

Rebecca Nichols Lonzo’s new book, “The Devil in Pew Number Seven,” ought to read by every pastor and leader.

In the 1970s, Rebecca’s father went to pastor a small Holiness congregation in rural North Carolina. Everything about it seemed normal at first. The people were warm and gracious, they built a new parsonage, and they appreciated Pastor Nichols’ messages. There was, however, one problem.

The devil sat on the last row, in pew number seven. And he ran this church.

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The League of Church Members Extraordinary

(The First in a Series of Articles on Finding People Within the Congregation Who Need Us)

Yesterday, as the receptionist at the medical specialty clinic checked my wife in for a procedure, she handed me a small lighted gadget. “When it goes off,” she said, “they’re through in the back and will be coming to get you.”

We’re all familiar with these things. What are they called–buzzers? They fit in the palm of your hand, they’re operated by batteries, and restaurants use them for patrons awaiting tables. When they go off, lights flash, the buzzer sounds, and the thing vibrates.

Pretty handy.

Perhaps this is what the Holy Spirit does when alerting believers to opportunities for ministry, something important to note, a critical moment that has arrived.

Lights, buzz, vibrate.

Pagers. That’s what they are called, my daughter-in-law informs me. It brings to mind former days when bellhops would roam hotel lobbies with notes on silver trays, calling out, “Paging Doctor Smith,” or whoever. Rumor held that some insecure individuals actually arranged to have themselves paged that way in order to alert others in the lobby to their presence.

Is there a Bible verse that promises the Holy Spirit will alert us–page us–to opportunities, needs, moments? I’m still searching for that.

But it’s true. It happens. Everyone who goes to work for the Lord knows those moments when the Spirit nudges us. Go back and give to that homeless man. Get up and speak to that lonely soul. Call her back and ask her to forgive you.

“He leadeth me in paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.” (Psalm 23:3)

Now, I’m proposing that every church needs to have at least four teams of workers–probably unofficial, nothing really organized–who will focus on people in the congregation who need our help. As always, be the Holy Spirit who alerts them to the individuals who need them.

What are the four teams? They are four uniquely gifted groups who focus in on four specific kinds of spiritual needs.

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