Another time Jesus went into the synagogue, and a man with a shriveled hand was there. Some of them were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched him closely to see if he would heal him on the Sabbath. Jesus said to the man with the shriveled hand, “Stand up in front of everyone.” Then Jesus asked them, “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” But they remained silent. He looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts, said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was completely restored. Then the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus. (Mark 3:1-6)
How do you measure your ministry success? Do you measure it by the number of seats that are filled in your auditorium on Sunday morning? Do you measure it by the number of likes and follows you boast on social media? Do you measure it by the number of people who wear a t-shirt branded with your logo?
As strange as it seems, there is a culture of ‘success’ permeating the sacred walls of ministry. At what point did we buy into the lie that successful ministry is calculated by how ‘liked’ we are by the masses?
As the idea of relative truth continues to mold and dictate our culture, our society is quickly becoming known for their, “what is good for you, is good for you” mentality.
Will followers of Christ succumb to this ‘safe’ belief and, in so doing, reject the life of persecution and judgement Jesus actually experienced while on this earth?
I recently found myself struck by a glaring truth.
Jesus loved the least of these, healed the sick, cared for children, embraced the marginalized, and spoke out for justice. And yet, even after all of this, whispers arose in dark corners as humanity crafted a plan to murder the most generous, kind, loving individual of all time.
Why was this? Why is it that the most influential man in all of history was so polarizing?
How is it that His life of radical, intentional ministry ended in abandonment, abuse, and death?
And why do we expect to be welcomed and cheered in our communities while claiming to follow the One who was rejected and murdered?
As I consider these questions, I am forced to reflect on my own life.
Am I crafting my life and ministry based on the teachings and life of Jesus Christ? Or am I blindly reorienting my goals to a worldly perspective of success by chasing the approval and good opinion of people?
How often does our ministry come from a place of selfish ambition, self-promotion, or worldly gains?
As followers of one of the most polarizing individuals of all time, we must wrestle with the fact that a radically surrendered life may lead us to experience the judgement, disapproval, or even hate of the very people we are striving to love.
How do we overcome our human desire to please the masses and succumb to a relative truth culture while also working to be known for our love as Jesus teaches (John 13:34-35)?
There are two steps we can take as we train ourselves to emulate the life and ministry of the greatest leader of all time.
1) Value Authentic Love Over Shallow Kindness
C.S. Lewis wrote, “Love is something more stern and splendid than mere kindness.”
So often, our culture confuses authentic love with shallow kindness. They claim holding a belief that calls their behavior ‘wrong’ and labels us ‘unloving’. However, they are actually describing a shallow kindness rather than an authentic love.
Shallow kindness says, “I don’t care what you do, I approve of it all.”
Rather, the love that Jesus modeled was much more than just a ‘kind love.’ Jesus’ love drove Him to flip tables in the Temple, confront the religious elite, demand a surrender of all possessions from the rich young ruler, declare the definitives of right and wrong, and, ultimately, sacrifice His own life to save ours.
Jesus embodied a ‘stern love.’ He taught that there is a right and wrong. He loved people fully and authentically. This love drives His desire for us to live according to what is right, because it will lead us into the absolute best life for us. However, His love is not conditional on our behavior.
Love is not an easy or lackadaisical action.
Rather, it is a stern emotion that always values the life and future of others over self.
2) Speak Truth with Discernment and Intentionality
Truth is important and essential in the life of a disciple of Christ. We are called to be beacons of absolute truth in a world of lukewarm belief systems and grey-scaled love.
However, Jesus’ life and ministry, as recorded in the Gospels, displays a discernment and intentionality that was essential to His method of sharing truth.
Jesus always led with selflessness. He always communicated the purpose behind His truth. The truth He presented was always meant to set His children free and invite them into a life of joy and abundance.
However, one of the reasons our world is hesitant to accept truth is due to centuries of individuals who have used truth as an excuse to judge and blame and accuse, promoting themselves and their white-washed righteousness in the process.
If we truly want to turn our world back towards truth, conviction, and authentic love, we must communicate truth for the sake of another, and not for ourselves.
Whenever we allow our selfish pride to inform our behavior or conversations, we are sure to misrepresent the truth Jesus lived and died for.
Rather, before each opportunity to speak boldly for truth, we must examine our motives. Begin with the question, “Am I communicating to this individual the desire I have for him or her to experience freedom and abundant life? Or am I exuding judgement in an accusatory manner that promotes myself at the expense of an individual deeply loved by God?”
When we ask this question, we put a check on our emotions and begin to align ourselves more and more with the heart of Jesus and the reason behind His passion for truth.
It is always about others. Always.
Our culture will not always accept us or like the truth we stand on. And if that is the case, we are in good company.
But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth. By oppression and judgment he was taken away. Yet who of his generation protested? For he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people he was punished. He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death, though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth. (Isaiah 53:5-9)
May we become a people known for our authentic love as we communicate truth with selflessness for the sole purpose of bringing glory to God and offering freedom to His people. Then, we will know our life and ministry is truly a success.
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