Snooze the bad reviews

Philippians 1:12-18
I’m a part of several Facebook groups that focus on social media.

Some deal only with church communications. Others are for those in the business or non-profit worlds. Even though the people represent different fields of work, they all share many of the same goals. In some way, they want to amplify their organization’s online presence and influence. Social media offers such great potential.

The people in the groups bounce ideas off each other. They share new material and ask for feedback and critique. Sometimes, some of them just need to vent–it can be a frustrating job. From time to time, there’s a question that pops up. It’s usually from someone newer to the group. From what I can piece together, most people who ask this question are also new to their social media role.

“Do I delete this negative comment from our page?”

They want to know what to do with bad reviews and comments people leave on their social media sites. You see, what’s good about social media is that it’s for all to see. What’s bad about social media is that it’s for all to see. Online sticks and stones can absolutely hurt a company or a church’s reach.

There isn’t one answer to the question. What you do with such reviews and criticisms depends on who it was from. Was it someone from your community or an internet troll? What is the nature of their complaint? Was it something petty or serious?

Most people want to follow their first inclination. That is to delete any bad reviews or comments people leave on their sites. I could be wrong, but it feels like the church groups really want to avoid all criticism or judgments.

Now, you may not dabble with the intricacies of social media management. But here’s why this is worth your consideration.

Apostle Paul had to deal with this in his own ancient Rome way. There were, of course, no ugly online reviews. Instead, Paul’s critics bound him in jail. As if that wasn’t enough, others sought to increase his suffering in prison (Philippians 1:17).

Paul addresses their efforts in his letters. His approach differs based on the context of his writing. It makes me wonder what kind of social media account he would run. When it’s important to justify himself he will. When he needs to call out someone else he will.

Even then, he always brings the attention back to Jesus.

In Philippians 1, Paul took no real offense at those who preached Christ out of selfish ambition. Neither did he have harsh words for those who sought to make his life more difficult. “What does it matter,” he asked. “Just this, that Christ is proclaimed in every way, whether out of false motives or true; and in that I rejoice.”

That kind of attitude stems from several factors. You need the peace of God, for sure. You need a focused intent on the mission God gave you, too. The answer to criticism is faithful, honest self-evaluation. Make sure your witness isn’t fueling hostility and antagonism. Keep in mind that people criticized Mother Teresa and Mr. Rogers. They killed Jesus, too. Someone will have some negative comment about you or your church. 

Don’t let that steer you from the loving mission God entrusted to you.

Stay blessed…john

Burn it down

Isaiah 1:24-31
I am not a “burn it to the ground” kind of preacher. But some have said I am. Actually, I’m a “rip the band-aid off” person who then wants to do what we say God wants us to do. So, I can see how someone might get that confused.

Over the course of my pastoral ministry, I’ve heard a lot of what churches want to do for the glory of God. My greatest struggle has been watching us muddle toward the details of bringing them to life. We debate and argue over fine points. By the time we make a decision, we’ve lost the joyful desire to make anything meaningful happen.

Something else happens with our dreams. We get caught up in what we’re used to doing that we don’t have the bandwidth to pursue any new direction from God. Churches are bad about letting things go. That’s a strange trait for people who believe in the resurrection to have. In an unfortunate move, as the church has struggled, we’ve intensified our grasp on the familiar.

How much of our struggle relates to our desire to keep things as we like them?

The result of this is there’s no room for what needs to happen. We’re too busy, tired or comfortable with what is before us at the moment. This is where some might think I want to erase all we know at church. But I don’t.

Early on, the Lord impressed on me the value of the local church. Through the power of God, to be cliche, we are a force to be reckoned with! I’m just not sure bake sales rattle the gates of hell all that much. We have a hard time getting our own people in the church moved by what we’re doing. How can we expect Hades to worry?

In the first chapter of Isaiah, the prophet comes out ready to burn it all to the ground. Judah and Jerusalem’s bleak future is all but set. Even an ox knows who its owner is. But the people of God continue to burden God with their religious veneer. The people need to repent.

There are stark aspects of Isaiah’s vision. God says, “I will smelt away your dross as with lye and remove all your alloy.” That’s a burning process. But why does God want to do that? Is it mere punishment?

No, it is a restorative promise.

Although God sees what the people have become, let’s give them the benefit of the doubt. Let’s assume they started out wanting to honor God. They didn’t set out to ravage the poor and create injustice. Over time, though, they mixed so much into their faith they couldn’t see what they had become.

Yes, God will judge. But Isaiah’s vision is more than that. “I will restore your judges as at the first,” God says. God’s true motive is restoration and redemption. God’s smelting process is a refining process.

That’s what we miss about what God wants to do in and through us. If God is going to refine us, things might get hot. We will lose things along the way. But we gain God’s restoration. Do we really want to lose that?

Stay blessed…john

You would cry too

Psalm 126
Throughout the pandemic, me and my preacher friends have asked a few questions. Some church leaders have joined in, too. There are many sides to the questions. So, for example, if we ask if people are coming back to church after the pandemic, there are various ways to respond. When we realize many may not, the easy route is to blame the pandemic or a pastor’s congregational response to the pandemic.

But more of us realize the pandemic only stoked the simmering reality that was already among us. Chances are, I’ve written about that already. I know I’ve preached about it and talked about it on the podcast. Today, I want to offer another side of the conversation.

As a pastor, I have cried for the church.

I’ve poured my heart out into what I do. Many times, I’ve been quite vulnerable, too. To the best of my ability, I have emphasized the joy and blessing of our shared faith in Jesus Christ. Our sharing as the body of Christ should take on many forms of communal growth and outpouring. In so many ways, it does not. Superficial spiritual pleasantries satisfy so many of us in the church today. We’re not willing to go deeper together in prayer, study and accountability. All the while, the faith we share with our children and the world gets compromised and watered down.

At the same time, our families struggle. Our mental health has suffered. People feel lost, lonely, hopeless or not good enough. Many more battle the stress of being overworked and underpaid. And that’s just scratching the surface of what people deal with everyday. 

Now, to be sure, I’m not suggesting faith is a magic pill. You’ll never hear me tell anyone that Jesus takes all your problems away. I like the line my wife has adopted. Her sermon to people is often “You can have Jesus and a therapist.” And speaking of sermons, it bothers me when preachers try to be quasi-therapists. They sprinkle Jesus on shallow emotional therapy. Our task is to present the gospel of Jesus so that the community of faith learns to be more like him.

There are no quick-fix qualities to faith in Jesus. But there is a strong sense of assurance that comes from God that belongs to the community of faith. That’s why we need each other. That’s why we can’t give up meeting together. And that’s why we need to prioritize our walk with Jesus and our life with each other.

What I have longed for throughout the pandemic is for the church to reimagine its calling. Did Jesus die on the cross to give us a pew to sit quietly in on Sunday mornings? No, there’s abundant life to be had in Jesus’ name. Part of that abundance includes healing and joy, peace and wisdom. We are meant to experience those together. So, when I tell you the church needs prayer partners in prayer groups, that’s why. Our young people need mentors and spiritual counsel. We need to go beyond ceremony into deeper discipleship. 

On thinking of his people returning from exile, the psalmist said, “we were like those who dream.” In other words, he couldn’t believe how God had moved for his people. It was an utter shock to see God’s power at work. That’s what I want for the church today. May God refresh a hunger for righteousness among us!

And my hope is the tears I and others have sowed will reap renewed joy and wonder at the work of God.

Stay blessed…john