You're the ONLY Christ Most People Will Ever See

Okay! I realize that I’m never going to build a consistent gang of readers if I continue teasing and not providing. I am sorry about that — I promised you a post last Friday and here it is Wednesday and I’m finally getting around to it. I’m working on being more consistent — at this point, I can only beg your forgiveness and ask you to bear with me as I try to grow up in Christ.

Announcements first:

1) Look for a new series starting on Fumbling, entitled “Grace is the Answer to Apathy.” I’ve had that sentence percolating on the back-burner fo two months now. I don’t have a ton of doctrinal disagreements in my neighborhood, and I think there are several important blogs addressing them anyway. The biggest problem I see in my local Christian family is apathy, and I believe that a deeper, rounder, fuller understanding of grace is the only real answer to it. It will be a long, slow answer, to be sure: but grace doesn’t snuff out smoldering wicks and it doesn’t break bruised reeds. Too many other so-called solutions do exactly that, and the last thing I want to do is drive someone away from Christ who is barely hanging on as it is. Sometimes the devil takes the appearance of apathy and lays it over someone who is hanging onto their faith by their fingernails, and a gust of motivational banter or a blast of self-righteous indignation will sweep that desperate soul right out of the kingdom. Grace, liberally applied, might save them — that’s the business I want to be about.

2) The 52 Greatest Stories of the Bible, by Kenneth Boa and John Alan Turner, is a stellar devotional resource and guidebook. These guys took on the unenviable job of selecting 52 absolutely essential Bible stories, and framing each for a week’s worth of study, lectio, and prayer. My amazing wife Carly and I are going to start eating this book in public next week, right here on Fumbling. I don’t know yet how we’re going to do it — candid posts from each of us, or one post where I take our responses and weave them into one short story. If any of you have tackled this sort of couple’s challenge, we’d love to gather wisdom from your experiences.

Finally — I think that the title of today’s piece comes from Patrick Mead — one of my favorite storytellers and servants of the risen Christ. He answers several questions every week at Tentpegs (I believe it’s up to 180+ now), and has also earned the trust of the local schools in the Metro Detroit area, so he is often invited to speak for Christianity in their Comparative Religions classes. No script, no reading the questions in advance — just prayer and grace and years worth of walking with Jesus and learning the tough lessons of grace.

When we pray the Lord’s Prayer, if we’re brave enough to pray it and mean it, it means that we are the only Christ most of our neighbors and co-workers and “strangers on the bus” will ever see. That’s the way our God has shaped his kingdom, so that it slips into the cracks of a broken world with His healing presence in our little clay-jar bodies. WE are his testimony — his law of unconditional, self-sacrificial love and compassionate truth-telling written on our hearts — we radiate the healing grace of His Spirit into every place we go.

Or we can. But usually we don’t, do we?

If we are clay jars full of fire (like Genesis 15), why are we so invisible?

Have we taped ourselves together with so much busyness, so many “important things”, that the cracks through which God’s light might shine are plastered over?

Have we wrapped ourselves so tightly in the clothing of this world that only our own radiance shines forth?

Maybe we don’t trust God’s power very much (this is me, I think) and so we’ve mixed the fire of God’s Spirit with some stuff that we think will make it burn better! Then it ends up smoking and smoldering, but we like the stink — we call it holy stink even as it chokes the needy people we draw towards it?

Whatever it is, I do believe Patrick is right — we ARE the only Christ most people will ever see — and we need to pray and walk and talk like it. Amen.

in HIS love,

nick

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About Nick Gill

orphan-poet-adoptee-soldier-prodigal-servant-husband- counselor-desperate seeker after my Father's face "I feel my body weakened by the years as people turn to gods of cruel design. Is it that they fear the pain of death, or is it that they fear the joy of life?" - Toad the Wet Sprocket

Posted on 10 June, 2009, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. In our Wednesday night ladies’ class I usually try to bring the topic around to how we can show Christ’s Love to others the way the woman we studied did (or didn’t). And the phrase “you need to shine your light because it might be their only chance to meet Jesus,” comes up a lot. We know that and yet we might not always practice that. But we’re trying to remind each other.

  2. My fear is that when most of us say, “let your light shine…” what we mean is something related to the morality of the box. We build a box, usually with walls labeled DIET, DRESS, and DAY (that’s the way our spiritual ancestors did it, and we pretty much imitate them), and we climb inside them. Our “light” tends to be our adherence to certain patterns of behavior.

    At work, people will know I’m a Christian because I’ve got a Bible on my desk, I don’t laugh at the dirty jokes, and I don’t go smoke with everyone else at break-time.

    At school, people will know I’m a Christian because I wear a WWJD bracelet and Christian T-shirts, I can’t party on Saturday nights because I’ve got to go to church on Sunday, and I won’t drink or smoke.

    Those are the kinds of things by which we identify ourselves as good people. Did Jesus have to die so we could do them?

    Jesus’ measure of goodness is our compassion, plain and simple. Those who show mercy — those who rescue — those who reach out a helping hand.

    The morality of the box is inherently divisive — we lob our tracts and judgments over the walls of our box, and the closer to the center of the box we are, the better we are.

    One of my professors wrote this about Mark 7:1-15 —
    (from Encounters with Christ by Mark E. Moore)

    “Why on earth would the biblical authors choose to tell us about Jesus’ table manners? So he didn’t wash before he ate, big deal! Apparently it was. The religious teacher at the time were meticulous about ritual washing before meals. Understand that this was not for good hygiene. Germs hadn’t even been invented yet. No, this had nothing to do with science. It was all about religion. You see, they believed that some kind of spiritual defilement could be purified with ritual water. So they drew up specific rules as to how one should go about this ceremonial washing. In essence, they were not purging germs, they were building fences. These religious fences defined who was in and who was out. Jesus is assailing the whole fence, not just breaking a board of it.

    Morality for the Jews [of Jesus’ day] was all about the fence. It made a box. At the center of the box was pure and undefiled religion. It was a kind of contest to see who could get closest to the center of the box. The more rules you kept, the closer to dead center you were. Jesus came along and proposed a new kind of morality. Instead of fences, he suggested compassion. Here’s the problem: the fences effectively kept people out (Mt 23). Compassion, however, required that the fences be dismantled. The truly religious person then left the compound and purposely sought out the very scalawags the fences once kept out. Thus, Jesus is not tweaking their ethical system, he is demolishing it!

    Formerly, one was religious by abstaining from food. Now one is religious by what comes from the heart. Before, religion was external. Now it is internal. Within the fence, one is constrained by rules. Outside the fence, one is compelled by love. The difference is colossal. This new mode of ethics is both liberating and frightening. And frankly, it is dangerous. It is dangerous because it has fewer controls. Who can know what sort of people might be welcomed into the fellowship? Who can control their illicit behaviors without clear rules? Why, they might smoke in the bathroom at church or pierce body parts that only show up in the baptistery. Furthermore, you never know where compassion might take you. Simply put, compassion is not prudent.

    Our own list of rules, strikingly similar to that of the Jews, is a good list. After all, smoking is bad for you. Body piercing is a bit macabre. Drinking is dangerous, and church attendance is good. So what’s so bad about a few good rules?! Why is Jesus so violently opposed to morality by lists? Because bad men keep good rules and it makes them feel good about their evil hearts. We freely commit these sins Jesus lists because we artificially keep a moral list of our own making. Thus bad men appear good because their external morality shrouds their inner iniquity.

    There’s something more. When Jesus declares all foods clean, the topic turns out the be ethnic groups, not food groups. By the time Acts rolls around, this passage surfaces again. It is interpreted apostolically (cf. Acts 10:9-15). Guess what: the context is not about table manners, but table fellowship. Had it been merely food, it wouldn’t be worth the bother. Since it is about people, it is embedded in Scripture. Listen to Jesus’ conclusion: “From within, out of men’s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance, and folly. All these evils come from inside and make a man ‘unclean.'” The bottom line is this: Our moral lists wind up separating us from the very people who need compassion. Then, as if it weren’t bad enough, we justify sinning against these very people in the ways Jesus just mentioned. Why are we so blind to our own attitudes and sins? Because it’s hard to see much from inside a box.
    Ponderable questions: Can you think of a time that your behavior was “kosher” but your heart was not right? Describe the moral boxes of your church that artificially define what is good and what is bad. How do these boxes keep outsiders away from God? How do they fool us into thinking we are good when, in fact, we are being offensive to God?
    Considerations for Prayer: Ask God to grant you prophetic insight into his priorities for his people without being obnoxious, cynical, or critical of the church which is his bride.

  3. Well, shoot, you should have saved that for a new blog post. 😉

    Okay, maybe “letting your light shine” is a phrase we should reconsider. I think, though, when we discuss what this means to us, because we’re applying what we learned in class to how we’re going to live the next day and the next, I think we are not too far off. It seems like our themes are to do good to others, show compassion to all, and not judge or think too highly of ourselves. Maybe I could even stand to discuss “being a good example” MORE, but usually we are talking about what we can do for others, like Jesus would have done for them. Or how we can be like Mary Magdalene and follow Jesus everywhere, even if it means having to witness firsthand the suffering of Christ, or like the woman who anointed His feet, who gave herself TOTALLY to worshiping her Savior.

    Can you think of a time that your behavior was “kosher” but your heart was not right?
    Oh yeah, mostly when I’m hoping that by doing the right actions (the service I want to want to do, in order to please God), my heart will eventually follow. (The double “want to” was intentional.) Don’t we sometimes have to do that?

  4. That’s superb! I love the PHRASE, “let your light shine” — it is a Jesus gem! But a lot of times, we just fill it with the wrong meaning. It sounds like your discussions are healthy and growing, though.

    I love the idea of following Jesus everywhere, and especially the woman in Luke 7 who bursts into the feast at Simon’s house. I often wonder, if she was indeed a prostitute, how many of her clients were there as well? AND, (again, IF she was a prostitute) if she gave it up and joined the group of women that Luke talks about in the very next breath (Luke 8:1-4), following Jesus and aggravating the social mavens.

    And to answer your question: Yes, we often have to “act as if” (a good AA phrase) in order to grow into the people we need to be. But we have to consider: are we “acting as if” to impress other people (pretending to be better than we actually are), or are we “acting as if” because we really want to be more Christ-like than we are? I think it is the pretending part, the trying to impress others, that I struggle with. I am trying to grow out of trying to impress God and into trusting His love.

  5. I heard Mark Moore speak at the National Missionary Convention in Tulsa last November. Very thoughtful and good speaker.

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