The Pursuit of God

Serious Topics for Serious Christians

Buttering Up in the Name of Jesus: The Church’s Use of Carnal Strategies

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AUDIO VERSION: YouTube  Podbean

The reality that we need money and manpower to minister in this world has led many of us to the flawed conclusion that God won’t mind if we get those things by any means necessary. Now the world has offered us several marketing strategies that are tried and true. Getting out the super glossy paper and colored ink, we splurge on mailers that show off our ministry efforts in the prettiest way possible and we riddle our letters with guilt provoking lines that are meant to drill our readers with conviction. When the donations start flooding in, we fire up the database and assign everyone a rank: miser, mediocre, or heavy tipper. Then we zone in on the writers of the hefty checks and whip out every ego petting trick in the book. We send them letters gushing with thanks and pride puffing compliments, doing all we can to transfer the burden of our finances onto their obviously capable shoulders so that they will feel morally compelled to keep giving in the future. We bribe people with “free” gifts and cheap books in order to get them to give again. We exploit the suffering of kids by taking pictures of their tear stained cheeks—anything to yank a little harder on those heart strings. Maybe our methods are a bit worldly, but it’s all for the glory of God.

As Christians, we’re supposed to be trying to help each other stay on the righteous road and resist the temptations of the flesh. It seems rather dirty, then, for us to be intentionally trying to manipulate each other by fanning the flames of carnality. Yet when we want someone to start or to keep on doing something for our ministry or our church, far too often we resort to gushing over them in inappropriate ways.

Now there’s nothing wrong with expressing sincere appreciation. But there are right and wrong ways to go about this. Interrupting God’s worship time so that you can exalt some member of the congregation is wrong. If we were really walking our talk about glorifying God, we would never urge the congregation to applaud, whoop, and cheer a fallen human being in the middle of Sunday service. Do we even listen to our own sermons? Everything we have is a gift from God. That includes pretty singing voices, swift fingers on a piano, and skill with teaching the kids in Sunday school. Before the last chords of “You alone are worthy of praise” have faded, we start going on about Brother Bob’s exceptional service in the mission field, or how honored we all are to have Sister Susan singing with us this morning. No, we’re actually not honored by the presence of any particular human being, we are honored by the Presence of God. Nor are we impressed by anything a fallen human does, because without Divine empowerment, he can do nothing.

Who cares if Susan sings like an angel or croaks like a frog? If she’s on stage to show off, she has no business being there. If she’s trying to keep a grip on humility, then we’re being jerks for making her struggle all that much harder by showering her with ego stroking applause. Sometimes it seems we Christians leave our brains at the door and put on a blindfold when we attend church. We seem to universally forget Who we are there to honor and we do the most obnoxious, God-insulting behaviors. When did God ever say, “I’m happy to share My worship with human beings,” or, “It thrills My heart when you give people the glory for something I did”?  How quickly we forget that this is the God who said His Name is Jealous.

Let the unsaved sit around glorifying athletes who kick balls around a field. Let them scream praise for the talent of musicians in a band. A lot of them don’t know any better, but we Christians are without excuse. We all had the same “aha” moment when we came to God for salvation: He’s awesome, we’re not. Given that we can’t even breathe without God’s help, how can we justify taking the bows for anything? Sure we do good works, which God prepares in advance for us to do and with the strength that He provides. In any situation, if something spiritually productive got done, it is God alone who deserves the glory.  Mere mortals are never deserving of glory. It is not our place to rake in the accolades on earth, it is our place to heap them onto God. He in turn commends us for obeying and honoring Him. There is no greater reward than God’s commendation.

We are all engaged in an ongoing battle against our pride. Pride is like a weed. Remembering we can do nothing good on our own is like pouring Round Up on that weed. Getting the glory for something God did in us is like applying some mega fertilizer. The weed shrivels or thrives accordingly.

Do you care about your brothers in the Lord or not?  If you care about them, then why would you sabotage them by fertilizing their pride with applause, oozing compliments over them, and publicly exalting them in the eyes of others? Why would you tempt them to donate money to your ministry in order to glorify themselves via some gold plaque on the wall of your building instead of to honor God?  Applause is bad for humans. Worship is toxic. We weren’t created with the ability to handle it. It transforms shrinking violets into gorging pigs who are never satisfied. It really irks the Holy Spirit when we gather together in the name of honoring God and then interrupt His hour, His message and His worship to gush over some silly human being.

Most ministry efforts end up with regular bills to pay. If you can’t get the needed money without appealing to people’s egos, then you need to realize that God is done using your little ministry and it’s time to close the doors. We can’t serve God better by imitating those who hate Him, and this is what we’re doing when we try to use worldly tactics in order to keep afloat some ministry effort which God initially called us to. God works in seasons. No ministry is eternal. When times get tough, we need to ask the Holy Spirit—not our own egos—if it’s time to wrap things up. It’s only natural that we get emotionally invested in the work God has for us, but if we’re not careful, we’ll slip into an unhealthy addiction to our little organization and get our identity all tangled up in it until we just can’t stand the thought of letting go. Then before we know it, we’re practically bowing down in front of people as we plead for more financial assistance.

Christians are quite literally God’s servants. Our position is to take orders from God and to do as He asks. At the end of the day, our reward is His satisfaction and pleasure. A good servant doesn’t fantasize about being equal to his master. He understands that some lines can never be crossed. It is the same with us and God. There will always be a vast difference in status and rank between us and Him, and this should bring us comfort, not envy. We were created to find joy in serving God, and the more devoted we become to pleasing Him, the more it will upset us to see Him getting dishonored while His servants are exalted above their stations. Ask the Holy Spirit to increase your desire to please and honor Him. Ask Him to show you how you can encourage your brothers and sisters in a way that does not rob Him of any glory. We all need some cheering on as we try to run this race well. God will gladly teach us how to treat both Him and each other properly if we are willing to learn.

FURTHER READING:
Understanding Why God Calls Us to Serve Him
Encouraging Christians in a Way that Honors God

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