Monthly Archives: July 2006

Likeness to Jesus

It is not great talents God blesses so much as great likeness to Jesus. A holy minister is an awful weapon in the hand of God.

This quote from Robert Murray McCheyne is one of my favorites. I guess I often wonder about my skills, my talents, my gifts … am I really qualified to carry out the high calling of a minister of Jesus Christ? McCheyne reminds that it isn’t really about my gifts or talents in the end. I pray I might be enough like Jesus to make some difference.

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A Surprisingly Sinful Preoccupation

John Seel wrote in the (now out-of-print) Evangelical Forfeit, that “we must confess our preoccupation with making a difference rather than being different” when it comes to being the church. How often has the former led to arrogance and pride? How many churches have become about something other than the Cross of Jesus because they wanted to leave a legacy, make an impact, or something powerful? Seel’s critique of the church was aimed at the uncritical use of the tools of modernity into the work of the church – a choice that he felt would one day require the evangelical soul. The church might look good, but, in fact, be dead or impotent.

Being different will take humility. Humility doesn’t always stand out – in fact, few seem to notice. Yet being different will make all the difference. Peter wrote:

Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation. 1 Peter 2:11-12 (ESV)


Impressing Jesus

In Luke 21 we are provided an interesting juxtaposition of narrative. The disciples were impressed with Herod’s Temple. It was an impressive building, truly excellent. Jesus’ response? “It’s going to be destroyed.” He was more caught up with the beauty of a poor widow who put two small coins in the offering.

I’m trying to remember who pointed this out to me. I think it was Doug Webster in Selling Jesus but I failed to note the details in my journal. Whatever the source, the thought is important to remember. I find it so easy to be impressed with big things, nice things, “important” things. Jesus looked much deeper. This week I’m going to look for some small things like the widow’s gift that really impress Jesus. I won’t commit to doing any of those small things myself … I’m thinking that to do so might rob it of the very thing that matters. I’m praying that my redeemed heart my move me to quietly care about the right things.

mites.jpgNow here’s something somewhat ironic. I was looking for a picture of the widow’s coin (left) and found that I could actually buy widow’s mite jewelery from $199 – $599. I understand the dynamics … anything sells. I wonder if Jesus is impressed.


Only conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ,

Prior to these verses in Philippians chapter one, Paul led us through a discussion about his own circumstances. 

Now he emphatically (“only”) changes direction …from himself to the Philippians as a church and calls on them to live out a specific lifestyle — a lifestyle marked by behavior that is worthy of the gospel of Christ. Lost in some of our translations of conduct yourselves is the meaning “to conduct yourself as a citizen.” This is a bit different than more usual word Paul uses “to walk”.  He basically calls them to perform their duty in a manner worthy of a citizen of that place that originates the Gospel — Heaven.

This is a powerful word to these Philippian Christians. They lived in a colony of Rome with a special relationship. They were actually considered Roman citizens and had their names on the citizen rolls in
Rome.  The soil of Philippi was considered Roman soil, though it was 800 miles from Italy.  The Philippians in general were quite proud of the colony relationship, their Roman citizenship, and Paul’s point is 
essentially “you are loyal to your city and country, then how much more should you be of your heavenly kingdom”

Apparently Roman soldiers had a great responsibility to represent Rome well wherever they served. They were to bring Rome to whatever duty station they were sent, not succumbing to the local customs that might conflict. Remember that Paul is chained to a Roman soldier. The combination of Philippi’s status and the civic responsibility of the soldier may have caused him to use this metaphor in calling them to a “worthy walk”.

Even today, our soldiers are to conduct themselves in such a way that “they do not bring discredit upon the armed forces” which, I’m told also includes behaving properly in foreign ports.  Failure to do so may lead to being Court-martialed  for conduct unbecoming of an officer/soldier.[1]

What Paul writes to the Philippians we too must take to heart. We are not citizens of this world …

Philippians 3:20
For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ

How does Paul illustrate what that looks like? We just need to keep reading verse 27:

… so that whether I come and see you or remain absent, I will hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel;

 Now you’re meddlin’ Paul!


Ordinary

We don’t know what Jesus looked like. I suppose most of us have some kind of image of him tucked away in our mind, but we really do not know. Now think of this … except in a few, mostly implied, situations, we don’t even know what anyone he interacted with looked like either. they may have been: 

Short,
Fat,
Thin,
Bald,
Hairy,
Beautiful,
Plain,
Tall,
Handsome,
Athletic,
Scary looking,
Wimpy.

But, whatever their appearance, Jesus had time for them all! He called them to Himself. He encouraged them to follow. He touched them, and spoke to them. The outside really doesn’t seem to be important as to whether Jesus had time for them or not.

But how often have we focused on looks or possessions as a standard for greatness and importance. For years as a youth pastor I watched kids make immature choices based on those unimportant things. Sadly, I’ve watched adults do the same. Worse, I’ve done it myself! Sometimes we make it about personality or life skills (ministry skill in the church?), but it would appear that Jesus was not too concerned about any of those things either. Again, except in a few cases we just don’t know much about the people with whom he interacted.

Actress Gwenyth Paltrow wore a “fat suit” for her movie Shallow Hal. She apparently wore it to a mall one afternoon and found people avoiding her and averting their eyes. She was quite shocked at how many people were put off by her appearance and said something to the effect that “it shouldn’t be like that.”

I wonder how often we in the church find ourselves deciding about relationships based on externals.  Jesus had time for all and seemed quite willing to use even the weak and the “inept” – while he encouraged them to grow.  His workers did not have to be richest, or the best looking or have everything together. He sent them on missions when they were not expert. They just had to be willing to follow – whether they had much or little, whether they were overweight or crippled, even if they were just average, Jesus engaged them, used them, loved them. I’ve often heard in ministry circles something like “this guy’s really sharp, someone should use him,” or, “that woman is really successful and strong, she should …. “

The late Mike Yaconelli once said that
The power of the Church is not in its super-preachers, or its mega-structures, or its large institutions. The power of the Church is in its individual people whose sacrifices throughout everyday life have an authority no expert can match”

I guess what I am very randomly musing on today is that the power of the church is in the ordinary…not the extraordinary. And maybe if we figured that out we could all be a bit more real, put on a pose less often, and love more broadly.

“For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:26-29, ESV)


About Salvation

Mark Dever asks the question that seems to go unasked when it comes to conversions – especially those made in response to evangelistic “altar calls”. On his post over at Together for the Gospel he writes,

Sometimes I get the feeling that people think there’s something wrong with questioning the reality of a profession of faith.  It’s legalistic, or judging, or holier than thou.  Or something.

“Easy believism” often coupled with manipulative emotional pleas to make a decision for Jesus continue to confuse and confound the truth. I agree with Dever’s concern that “conversions professed are conversions possessed.”

I just spent an hour trying to answer a young woman’s email question that came to our church office. She is experiencing grave doubts about truth. She believed in Jesus as a young teenager, but now she’s not sure its true, but she wants to know  whether she would still go to heaven if she died today with her doubts. Since I don’t know much about her or her situation I hesitate to jump to conclusions. But part of my answer had to do with whether or not she had truly believed in the first place. I know some who would consider that unkind. I think not. I was a youth pastor for 25 years and know how many students accepted the “youth group” or the “acceptance of the youth group”, or even the “idea” of Jesus — only to walk away when something “better” came along — not unlike Jesus’ parable of the soils in Matthew 13. They need to know the truth … they are most likely not saved. Their eternity is at stake. Kindness on our part will be honesty.


Church Thoughts

I’ve been thinking about the the church. Actually, I often think about the church – what it should look like, how it should grow, its purpose, its mission, its call from God. Ten years ago I noted a couple of still timely thoughts in my journal.

Marshall Shelly wrote in The Consumer Church that “Christian community is simply impossible apart from Christian truth.” It would seem that in just a few short years many have forgotten this truth and we’ve made coffee and comfortable foyers the gold standard for “community.” Now I like good coffee, and enjoy comfortable places to enjoy drinking it (in fact, I helped to build such a place in our church), and especially enjoy doing so with God’s people. But that really isn’t community in the fullest sense. It is enoyable, but it isn’t deep enough, and without a mutual commitment to truth it just won’t last.

Richard Halverson said (somewhere) that “in the beginning the church was a fellowship of men and women centering on the living Christ. Then the church moved to Greece where it became a philosophy. Then it moved to Rome where it became an institution. Next it moved to Europe where it became a culture. And finally, it moved to America where it became an enterprise.” It is easy to forget that we are a dynamic organism uniquely alive by the Holy Spirit, and not another franchise following the instructions of the latest successful church growth expert.