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Christendom

S0862086

 

CHRISTENDOM

Ten proper Calvinists, keenly apace
Marching adroitly, Left and Right face!
Bearing Ye Answers for Every Last Case,
Neatly rolled up, each one in their place.

Ten sable presbyters, without whimsy or lace
Armed with the doctrines of explainable grace.

Off now to battle, bold banners unfurled
Down from the pulpits – into the world!
Come forth storm and come forth hail
Capture each thought and send it to jail!

Schoolyard and hospice and right scrubbed face
Soap, stitch and nail now the Means of Grace,
Refitting teacher and butcher and baker
Neatly reshelved in accord with their Maker.

All is in order, all is in place
Armed with our doctrines of explainable grace.

~~~~~

Comes now the True Storm, comes now the hail
Ripping out stitch and unfastening nail,
Trestles give way and crossbars fail
As all of Ye Answers turn vague and turn pale.

Crashing of Mystery rends silent the soul
As Passion run floods soak through every scroll.

~~~~~

Ten proper Calvinists, keenly aloof
Marching in circles – up there on the roof.
Back to the pulpit, explaining each proof
And trying again to flatten God.

 

~ C. A. Hutchinson

 

NOTES

Line 5 — TS Eliot, AMr. Eliot=s Sunday Morning Service@
Line 10 — 2 Cor. 10:5
Line 12 — Henry Ward Beecher, endorsing a brand in a newspaper ad: “Since cleanliness is next to godliness, then Soap must be considered a Means of Grace.”
Line 17 — Job 38:1

S0712071 (1)

 

Parson Plummet Says a Prayer*

by C. A. Hutchinson

 

I found my place at the end of the head table and took my seat. A sizable place card sat behind my empty plate, its letters neatly printed by one of those fancy script computer fonts: Mr. Silas Johnson, Vice-President, Trendex Industries. A low murmur began to intermix with the soft, piped-in music as the invited guests each checked the master chart and then made their way to their assigned seats. Attendance was good this year, up at least 20% from last year’s Breakfast, I quickly estimated. I reminded myself to get the exact figures from Bob before I left.

I looked around the room to evaluate the set-up and see how Steve had done. Pretty standard. A nice job as usual. Each of the round tables was surrounded by eight chairs and covered by a fresh, white table cloth. In the middle of each stood a centerpiece reflecting this year’s theme: an upright brass telescope with a forest green placard attached to the top, which I knew read, Where there is no vision, the people perish. I remembered from the planning meetings that each table had one place card with a red dot on the back, the lucky bearer of which got to keep the handsome telescope. I looked over to the middle of the head table, and seeing a telescope in front of the podium, quietly turned over my own place card to see if… but alas, no dot. I wasn’t surprised; I had only been on the committee a couple of years now.

I turned back to inspect the banner of peach and green which hung behind the podium. Welcome to the 7th Annual City Prayer Breakfast. Where were the programs, I wondered? Around the walls Steve had placed some of those motivational Christian posters to break up the monotony of the hotel’s tan panels. The kind with some majestic nature scene coupled with a scripture verse or two. Now that’s a bit much, I thought. Maybe I’d mention it to Steve….

The room was getting full with only a few seats here and there not taken. Most of the guests wore dark suits with bright ties, but a few were in sweaters and button downs, probably newcomers. A very few sported clerical collars under their jackets, a sure sign that our efforts to reach out to the mainline ministers and even the Catholics had met with success. The guests ranged in age from their mid-twenties on up, mostly men, but there were a few sharply dressed women as well, most of whom were quite attractive as things would have it. There was a good representation of African-American pastors and leaders, and I saw that we had done a nice job of splitting them up among the different tables so that folks could fellowship “across the tracks” as we called it. It looked good. Which reminded me; where were… oh, there, sedately in the back. Nestled between two doors I saw a small reporter’s table with representatives from the city’s main paper and perhaps some of the other local rags. Seeing them made me think that we ought to consider contacting the TV stations next year….

“Hey Si! How are ya?” Bob Batson slapped me on the back as he sat down next to me. AHow’s the wife? The kids?”

“Fine, fine. And you?” Bob was a local businessman, and like me, a member of his church board. We had both joined the Prayer Breakfast committee at the same time.

“No complaints. Quite a crowd this year. This is just great.” Bob unfolded his napkin and spread it on his lap, which reminded me to do the same thing.

“So, Bob, how are things at your church?”

“Great, great. The Lord keeps blessing us, and we just keep growing and growing. You know we have over 40 different ministry programs now? We’ve got to find a bigger building, maybe a place with some property, you know? Plenty of parking, nice landscape, all that.”

“Sure; it’s important that we don’t turn folks off for the …”

“Good Morning and Praise the Lord!” I was interrupted by Jake Matthews on the mike. Jake was senior pastor of one of the largest churches in town, and was asked to serve as MC.   “I never thought I’d see this many pastors up this early in the morning! But really, we are blessed to see all of you here today for this exciting event. I am convinced that the Lord is about to do something special in our city. To bring so many of the important leaders together is just really great. By being at this Prayer Breakfast, you demonstrate that you are crucial to what the Lord is doing ….”

Geez, he’s right, I thought; just look at us all in one room! I mean, if a bomb were to go off in this room, could you imagine what that would do to the gospel, the silence that would ensue in the city’s most influential pulpits? The impact would be… I shook my head and looked for coffee. Too many Schwarzenegger movies to be thinking like that that early in the day. Still, there are a lot of crazies out there. Corporations take security seriously; why shouldn’t we?

Jake went on, “Just the other day, I was spending some time alone with the Lord, and I felt Him really speak to my heart that He was going to do something exciting this morning, and tears started to well up and I just couldn’t stop them, and well, I know that many of you have felt the same thing, so let’s get started. We have a lot of ground to cover, so if you’ll take your programs and open them up to… what’s that?

Oh, apparently you do have them — they are under your plates. OK, I guess we goofed there.” I winced. Why did he have go and say that? Oh well. I found my program and looked it over as Jake went on. It was the usual fare: a nice cover with sponsors listed on the back and three to four pages inside with pictures and short bios of the key players. I knew the order of events but double checked anyway on the second page: Welcoming Comments followed by a Prayer of Thanks and then Breakfast.

Someone’s cell phone went off. I glanced up to see the offending party try to sneak out surreptitiously to take the call. I knew that several city and county officials were supposed to be here including the DA, and maybe even the deputy mayor who was vocal about his faith, so I vowed to try not to let those type of interruptions bother me.

While we ate, the head table and other special guests would be introduced, and then a multi-media presentation called Your City for Christ would be shown on a screen up front. I glanced around and surmised that the projectors must be hooked into the hotel’s slide system hanging discreetly from the ceiling between two track lights. After the breakfast, there would be an Award Presentation, followed by the Special Music, a nice little contemporary number sung to a sound track one of the Christian radio stations donated. After this was the main address, Mobilizing Your Ministries for Dynamic Growth, given by a successful pastor we had flown in from the suburbs of Dallas. We would close out the morning with ten minutes of Group Prayer, and still hopefully be done in time for everyone to get to work. Few things are worse for Christian witness than tardiness. I knew I had a staff meeting at 9:15 to get to; my secretary had better have had those reports done….

I heard my name and, jerking my head up, saw that suddenly everyone was looking at me. Jake had finished his welcoming comments and was pointing to my picture in the program. “What, what?” I asked automatically.

“He wants you to give the Prayer of Thanks. Apparently, Dick didn’t make it,” Bob whispered as he leaned towards me.

Now I have yet to forgive Dick for skipping out on us, and I don’t know why he did, but you can bet he heard about it the next time I saw him. The thing is, I hate to pray in public. Almost anything else I will do. Announcements, motivational talks, seminars on efficient ministry techniques, anything except prayer. Pray silently, sure; I do it all day long as if the Lord was sitting beside me, me and Him, my best buddy. (I sometimes even jokingly refer to Him as “My Co-Vice-President,” but nobody gets it.) I don’t know what it is; I just don’t like to pray out loud. So then I was on the spot, and suddenly the track lights pointing at the head table seemed brighter and felt warmer on my forehead. Someone coughed in the back. Now I promise you that I had no idea that my response would result in the subsequent fiasco, and that is the gospel truth. So I blinked a few times, and said the first thing that came to mind, “Why don’t we, uh, honor our senior guests by having the oldest minister here offer the prayer?”

I saw a few smiles and nods from the tables, and people began to look around, but Jake just stared at me, grinning and dumb struck. “Yeah, sure, we can do that, Si. You have any idea who that might be?” He looked down at his watch and licked his lips.

“Well no, but if we ask….” And then I saw him. Sitting at the table closest to the podium, but in one of those chairs facing towards the back, so that the occupant has to constantly strain his neck if he wants to see the speaker without missing his breakfast. The man had turned his chair around as Jake was looking down at his watch and stared directly over the podium into the top of Jake’s well groomed hair. He had a dark, leathery complexion with wispy white hair on the sides of his otherwise balded head. Small, round spectacles sat upon his broad nose which only seemed to highlight all the more his sharp, grey eyes. His lips were sucked in and straight, giving him a sort of vacant countenance which clashed oddly with those artful, attentive eyes. A collection of wrinkles completed the face and though they were not harsh, it looked as though he had borne more worry than he should have in his life. I reminded myself to not be judgmental, that his generation didn’t know the techniques of stress reduction that we have since developed. And he was clearly the oldest man there.

I knew he was a minister from his full circular collar which wound around his neck, a white halo atop the traditional black shirt that most clergy used to wear. Over that he wore a ragged tweed jacket with leather buttons and elbow patches which happened to match his plain, brown shoes. Upon his wrinkled, khaki pants sat a small, black leather Bible which looked as worn as the rest of the package. The old man folded his weathered hands in his lap and waited.

“Um, perhaps there,” I pointed and began, but Jake had already seen the man and smiled. “You sir, what’s your name?”

“Eh, what’s that?”

“Your name, sir,” Jake said a bit more loudly, his smile still fixed and sincere.

“Plummet. Ezra T. Plummet. I do beg your pardon, sir. Jehovah has not favored me with outstanding hearing this particular morning.” He spoke in a clear, alto voice which was overly loud like many who are hard of hearing, so that everyone in the banquet hall could hear his remarks though they were addressed to Jake only ten feet away at the podium.

“Where did this character come from?” Bob leaned over to me again, the back of his hand in front of his mouth. “Obviously from one of the smaller churches in town; I’ve never seen him before,” he continued, answering his own question.

“Rev. Plummet, would you care to offer a prayer of thanks for the food and for the blessings of this gathering?” Jake pushed on, stealing another glance at his watch.

“Eh, what’s that? Prayer? Indeed, don’t mind if I do,” the old minister responded, pushing himself up to his feet, and turning his frail figure round to face the room, his hands upon the back of his chair, as if to steady him.

“Yes, of thanks. A brief one,” Jake instructed, but it was too late; the old man had already closed his eyes tight and begun. And as we bowed our heads over our plates, I swear (and the audio tape can prove) that he then offered word for word the following prayer:

 

O Lord, Great Jehovah, we thank Thee for this fine day, a day like any other in The Day of import, the Day of judgement and the Day of redemption, in which Thy kingdom advances gloriously throughout the world, with or without us. We thank Thee especially for this gathering in which we can make Thy name known, perhaps together with our own, to the world. And so we thank Thee for the manifold blessings of this meeting:

We thank Thee that Thou hast brought together so many of the key-players and spiritual leaders of our city, that the world may see that Thy gospel is not contained to the outskirts of society, but that it is embraced by many who are successful, and influential, and well, normal like them; and that even though Thou carest equally for all people, the needy and the unneedy alike, Thou canst especially use the unneedy in Thy kingdom. And so for all the wise and powerful gathered here this morning, we thank Thee.

We thank Thee also for the blessing of syncretism which we enjoy: the joy of taking the best of both worlds and so deploying them that their synergy is far more efficient together than apart; that Thy Word can be so intermixed with the methods and assumptions of our society as to produce this most relevant gospel, undivided in its substance, if yet confounding her two natures. Oh how blessed we are! For though we are not of this world, Thou hast made us competent in it, and so we give Thee thanks.

And likewise, we thank Thee for the freedom to remain so ambiguous about our beliefs that we may unite with all who profess a general faith in Thy deity; for the freedom to apprehend Thy Triunity as a simpleton unity, the gospel of Grace as a gospel of moralism, and our state of sin as a psychological impasse.

 

Up until this point I had kept my head down and eyes closed as a good supplicant, and I admit, I didn’t really know what in the world he had been talking about. But at these last words I cast a glance up at him, not knowing just exactly what I expected to see, or how that would help explain this most uncomfortable prayer. I noticed several others also opening an eye here or there to behold the spectacle, but all they saw was an old man leaning upon his chair as he prayed. And still he went on:

 

And we thank Thee for Thy Word which Thou hast given for our use; a Word so perspicuous that we may comprehend its meaning at a mornings glance and immediately apply it to all those we run across that day; whose verses are so powerful in and of themselves, that we may freely lift them from all context and attach them to bumpers and strategies, seminars and refrigerators alike. For Thou hast freed us from the dead letter of study, so that our zeal may flourish unhindered by the burden of excess knowledge.    

And yet we thank Thee that even with Thy Word, we are not bound by the tyranny of its Truth, but are equally guided by life experiences and the mastering of our common sense of which we Americans have a particularly generous dose; and that we have testimonies and anecdotes so rich and entertaining that we scarce need to turn to Thy Word for guidance, except to find a verse or two to confirm the conclusions at which we have already arrived.

And so we thank Thee that Thou hast freed us from the endless and impossible struggle of attempting to pursue means which are as godly as the ends Thou hast commanded us. Oh! All thanks be to Thee for unveiling new economies to us, particularly for unwrapping that most remarkable gift of Pragmatism as our unassailable guide: that we might win people to faith by any means which work. For thou hast freed us from that oppressive law of David, that we may count our numbers and so assess the strength of our ministries, that we might not be a burden to Thee nor stand in Thy way for want of effectiveness. For all those Thou givest to our ministries that we might cajole and maneuver to further Thy cause, we give Thee praise. Help us to feed on them in our hearts by faith with thanksgiving.

 

Fully half of the room were now fully erect, eyes wide and mouths agape, wondering why someone didn’t put a stop to this embarrassment, for the old man’s own good, you understand. But no one moved; we all just sat there, watching, the drool of inaction beginning to collect in tiny pools on our plates, as Plummet droned on:

 

We also thank Thee that Thou art a just God, and though we may lose heavenly reward by parading our positions and good works here this morning, yet Thou hast promised that we shall receive our reward in full here on earth and so for the blessings of fame and prestige and influence we give Thee thanks.

And so, for the presence of the press here this morning, we also thank Thee, that this event may receive the publicity it deserves and so gain a hearing in the marketplace of ideas through a two or three inch column and maybe even a picture with a snappy caption. Guide the photographers to just the right people to capture on film, while displaying their best profiles, so that they might have a nifty clipping to put up on their church bulletin boards.

And we thank Thee for the many other blessings which Thou hast rained upon us and of which we can only mention a few in order that this might remain a short prayer: for head tables and head honchos, for titles and telescopes, for car phones and catacombs, for piccolos and peccadillos, for every conceivable Christian trinket currently on the market; and oh, yes, for this food which we are about to receive. Bless it to our use and loving service. Amen.

 

And so ended the breakfast prayer of Rev. Ezra T. Plummet. There then ensued a quiet so long and so total that were it not for our worldly dress, one entering the room in those moments would have thought that he had stumbled upon an order of silent monks enmeshed in some Ancient Rite of Sacred Dumbfoundedness. Jake just stood there behind the podium, his expression one of pure shell shock, for once having forgotten about his watch.

Finally, from somewhere in the back, the calm was broken by a simple: “What was that?”

Bob responded with what was perhaps his most profound statement of the morning, “Whatever it was, it sure as hell wasn’t my prayer!”

Rev. Plummet turned to him and spoke, simply and quietly, “Make sure of it, sir.”

And then a most remarkable thing happened, subtlety at first, but then more distinctly, almost as if it had been predetermined. Every one of the gentlemen and ladies who were sitting between Plummet and the entrance way began to shift their chairs until an unobstructed pathway was created to the door, lined on either side by a row of unrelenting eyes. The old man was still looking at Bob, but when he shuffled around, he saw their unmistakable invitation.

Jake saw it too and quickly leaned down to the podium mike, his hand grasped around its flexible stem. “Well sir, uh, that’s up to you. You’re welcome to stay of course… but if you feel that it might be better… “

“Don’t worry, I’m leaving,” Rev. Plummet interrupted. And with that he glanced at his pocket watch, and headed down the golden path created especially for him. Jake visibly relaxed behind his podium. He flinched, however, when half way out, Plummet suddenly stopped, turned around and strode back to his table, just as fast as his gait would take him.

“Yes?” Jake asked. Plummet reached to the middle of his table, grabbed the telescope there and tucking it under an arm, responded, “Red dot, you see. I do enjoy my souvenirs.”

“Of course,” Jake said, “you’re welcome to it. The least we can do….” And so the old man finally left, while I wondered how he had managed to land a red dot.

Everyone turned back toward Jake who was running his hand through his hair and smiling. “Oh well, everyone’s a prophet, I guess! What’s next? Uh, well, let’s do introductions later and get that video rolling, while you enjoy your breakfast. I think you’ll find it just tremendous, the video I mean, or both really. We got it ready? OK, let’s roll.”

The rest of the meeting was uneventful, and apart from that one prayer, everyone agreed that it was as successful as always. We never saw or heard from Ezra T. Plummet again, nor learned from what church he came. Doubtless none big enough to do too much damage.

The next year the planning committee instituted admission tickets for the Prayer Breakfast. To communicate properly the importance and quality of the program, you understand. After all, corporations and schools have invitation lists for their award banquets and such. The church of Christ should do no less.

 

 

* Loosely inspired by The War Prayer,

a short story by Mark Twain.

Cathedral close

The communion of which I am a member has from time to time experienced a lively debate between those who wish to advance a more contemporary, “seeker-friendly” worship style on the Lord’s Day and those who wish to uphold (or return to!) the more formal, liturgical forms of traditional Protestant worship. It is a complicated discussion, and opposing camps often too readily form, so that further strife over the subject seems almost inevitable.

But perhaps most disturbing to me is the apparent assumption that those who support the “seeker-friendly” style are more clearly on the side of grace than those who do not. The argument goes something like this: The Gospel is about grace, and grace is about meeting people where they are. Therefore, in order to meet people where they are, we must remove all extra-biblical obstacles from their path to Jesus. Traditional worship forms and language are an extra-biblical obstacle for most people in our culture. Therefore, they must be replaced by cultural forms which are familiar so that the Gospel might become clear to visitors. Likewise, the entire atmosphere of the church must be welcoming and comfortable, and the teaching must be accessible to first-time visitors and clearly applicable to the everyday problems of modern man. Those who insist on traditional worship forms seek to bring people to Law rather than grace, and will become increasingly ingrown, irrelevant, and consequently foul-tempered.

That is, as I see it, the basic argument attempting to link the doctrine of grace with the compulsion to alter one’s worship style to mirror the current culture. And before I state my thesis, it must be said that there is much truth to these reasonings and observations. Far too many traditional Protestant churches are ingrown, irrelevant, and yes, foul-tempered. Far too many are unwilling to alter the least jot or tittle from the way they have done things for years, though the item in question may be a relatively recent innovation only fifty years old or so. Far too many traditional churches think well of themselves, so that for them it is no quandary to emphasize Law and moralism in place of grace. In this sense, the worship progressives are quite correct: there are few churches less effective in communicating the Gospel to our times than a church which is both traditional and ungracious.

But a contemporary worship format does not guarantee a gracious church anymore than a traditional service will guarantee a moralistic church. For the purpose of this essay, I would like to focus on different approaches to preaching. I wish to show first, that it is not as simple as all that; and second, that on the contrary, in the long run, it is traditional Protestant preaching, properly done, that is far better suited to carry the message of grace to our times than its contemporary, “seeker-friendly” rival, which is, ironically, in far greater danger of producing a works-based religion.

One of the common denominators of the seeker-friendly/seeker-driven worship services I have attended these past few years has been the style of preaching. More a teaching really, the intent is to give the hearer a very clear, practical message from the Bible on daily living. Explicitly religious and mysterious terminology is eschewed in favor of every day, concrete expressions. The message is outlined in the bulletin, often with significant words left blank for the hearer to fill in as the preacher gets to them. The use of an overhead or slide presentation of the main points is almost mandatory. Great passion is neither emoted nor invoked; these are reasonable, civil men representing a reasonable, civil God, after all. Sometimes the preacher will sit on a tall stool, as if hosting a talk show. One preached in jeans and a gas-station-attendant shirt with his first name written in cursive on a patch over his pocket. I do not mention these details to ridicule, but to paint a picture. Given what he was trying to do, I thought it rather a nice touch. Gone from every one of these sermons, of course, were all semblances of pulpit, robe, mystery and urgency.

Now I cannot gripe too much with the loss of pulpit or robe which are, in fact, clearly extra-biblical and not necessary for the preaching of the gospel (although I find a music stand or my own memory to be a poor substitute for holding notes.) I do not use a pulpit or robe when I go to a nearby orphanage to lead a Bible study, for instance, though I still expect the Word of God to be made effective by the work of the Holy Spirit. It is the Word, and not the instrument or means, which is authoritative, so the loss of these props is not fatal. But the loss of mystery and urgency in our preaching is, for their replacement with sermons driven by accessibility and practicality cannot help but lead to a common place works-based religion, even if the metamorphosis begins subtly.

Here is what I mean: first, the loss of mystery in favor of accessibility makes God and His Salvation so familiar as to devalue the very Gospel of grace it is purporting to promote. So many of the statements of the New Testament epistles are so vague, spiritual, and well, other-worldly, that on first reading, I have to admit that I have little idea what the author is getting at, much less what sort of immediate application I should derive. And if this is so with the epistles, mind you, how much more the case with the prophets, poets, and our own Lord, who spoke in parables, in part, that those outside the kingdom “may indeed see but not perceive, and may indeed hear but not understand?” (Mark 4:12).

Now the good news is this: when through effort, exasperation and prayer, the Holy Spirit begins to show us the glory and the beauty and the truth in these passages, we find their meaning and import to be far greater than we can have ever imagined at a first reading. This is grace. This is valuable grace. And it cannot be had at a glance or through terms which communicate easily to our world, for heaven is a foreign land with a foreign language. If a first-time visitor is able to easily apprehend the storehouses of our faith, I am not sure that I can wait until Wednesday night to be fed; I would rather doubt that there was enough there to begin with. But when we represent a prize so precious that only words such as “redemption,” “atonement,” “sinner,” “justification,” and “glorification,” can describe it, then we present a prize worth panting after, a prize worth the selling of all one has to get. A sermon diet whose primary purpose is to be palatable to the uninitiated cannot serve forth anything so nutritious as to merit the name of grace. But preaching which retains a mystery about it, which holds the prize a little beyond reach, can only be accessed by one means — that of faith in the Good News of Jesus Christ. That is how real, heart-rending, and life-changing grace is made accessible.

But this is still not the real danger to gracious religion. The real danger is the second characteristic of “seeker-friendly” preaching, that of its practicality. Why so? The loss of urgency to practicality in preaching makes it more man-centered than God-centered, which in turn, leads to us trying to please God by our own efforts, the death-nell to the doctrine of grace. This is not to say that urgent preaching is not ultimately practical, but it starts where it should: the desperate plight of people given over entirely to their own sin so that they have no hope but for the rich, mysterious grace of God. Add to that a God who does what pleases Him without being bound to any machinations of man, and that should create a sense of urgent need for the grace of God to grant us the faith that is needed to produce any sort of helpful activity in our lives. And so the urgent preacher exegetes scripture as it is given, with the hope that his hearers’ hearts would be worked upon by the Holy Spirit, who comes and goes like the wind. Specific application he often cannot give from the text, but must trust that God, in His sovereign ways will be at work the rest of the week.

But if you start with the premise that all messages should be ready-made to take home and apply right away, the urgent dependence upon God is replaced by the hearer’s ability to put the lesson into practice. This inevitably leads one to rely upon oneself to fulfill the very practical and specific applications from the message. And relying upon oneself ultimately leads to one of only two results — self-condemnation, or what is worse, self-commendation. And this is the kind of religion we call moralism or legalism — that the basis of our relationship with God is dependant upon our own behavior. It may not seem like moralism because it is not stern and does not come from a high pulpit, but that is exactly what it is in every danger of explicitly becoming. Moralism in blue jeans is still moralism. Legalism made comfortable is still legalism.

This is our chief complaint with liberal Christianity — not that they engage in empty rituals or support homosexual rights or any number of other things — but that they have abandoned the Gospel of grace, and have nothing to replace it with except moralism. And as liberal aberrations have always been driven by apologetic concerns — to make the gospel relevant to the present age — so the “seeker” movement is likewise driven. And like liberal Christianity, its chief problem is not innovation but simple unbelief — unbelief that God saves people through sincere, rich, sin-and-grace-based preaching. It would rather believe that God needs our help through new and creative methods. And since its methods are essentially man-centered and works-based, so will its disciples also be. I do not doubt that “seeker-driven” churches will thrive in the next few decades; what I doubt is that they will remain Christian.

Below are one hundred verses and brief passages from the Scriptures that bear on the subject of Christian humility.  I am including these in an appendix for a planned book on the subject.   In case the book is never finished or published, I am posting these here in the hopes some random internet travelers may find and benefit from it.   Feel free to copy and use however you wish – after all, I did not write these!

These may be studied at whatever pace you find most useful. It may also be helpful to read the surrounding Biblical context when feasible to discover the full import of each verse or passage. If at first blush, the text does not appear to address humility, then perhaps meditate it upon a little longer, considering that all of Scripture points us to greater humility as we learn to become more God-centered in all things. May God bless your meditation upon His Word, working a greater Christ-wrought humility in you and those you influence by His grace.

 

Humility towards God

Humility as Paradigm ~ Isaiah 57:15

Humility & Holiness ~ Luke 5:8

Humility & Grace ~ Ephesians 2:8-9

Humility & Truth ~ Ephesians 4:4-6

Humility & Experience ~ Jeremiah 17:9

Humility & Glory ~ Romans 11:36

Humility & Honor ~ I Peter 5:6

Humility & Immortality ~ Romans 2:7,10

Humility & Repentance ~ Luke 18:9-14

Humility & Faith ~ Romans 12:3

Humility & Hope ~ Matthew 5:5

Humility & Love ~ I Corinthians 13:1-4

Humility & Conversion ~ John 6:44

Humility & Discipleship ~ Mark 8:34-35

Humility & Sanctification ~ I Peter 1:2

Humility & Obedience ~ Micah 6:8

Humility & Simplicity ~ Hebrews 13:9

Humility & Sovereignty ~ Psalm 115:1-3

Humility & Mystery ~ Romans 11:33-35

Humility & Dependence ~ Mark 10:15

Humility & Worship ~ Psalm 51:17

Humility & Prayer ~ James 4:1-10

Humility & Fasting ~ Ezra 8:21-23

Humility & Warfare ~ Ephesians 6:10

Humility & Testing ~ Deuteronomy 8:2-3

Humility & Suffering ~ James 1:2-4

Humility & Gratitude ~ Ephesians 5:20

Humility & the Kingdom ~ I Cor. 4:10

Humility & Eschatology ~ Hebrews 13:13-14

Humility & Judgment ~ Isaiah 5:15-16

Humility & Revival ~ 2 Chronicles 7:14

 

Humility regarding Yourself

Humility & Christ ~ Matthew 11:29

Humility & Self-Esteem ~ I Timothy 1:15

Humility & Self-Estimation ~ Acts 20:19

Humility & Confidence ~ 2 Corinthians 3:4-5

Humility & Wisdom ~ Proverbs 26:12; 11:2

Humility & Goals ~ James 4:13-16

Humility & Abilities ~ Jeremiah 9:23-24

Humility & Spiritual Gifts ~ Ephesians 4:7

Humility & Character ~ Mark 2:17

Humility & Status ~ I Corinthians 1:26-29

Humility & Heritage ~ Romans 2:28-29

Humility & Legacy ~ Ecclesiastes 2:18-19

Humility & Reputation ~ Matthew 11:19

Humility & Intellect ~ Psalm 131

Humility & Education ~ Ecclesiastes 12:11-13

Humility & Knowledge ~ I Corinthians 8:1-3

Humility & Energy ~ Isaiah 30:15

Humility & Excellence ~ Philippians 3:7

Humility & Health ~ Isaiah 38:9-17

Humility & Wealth ~ James 1:9-10

Humility & Success ~ I Corinthians 4:7

Humility & Failure ~ Proverbs 18:12

Humility & Testimony ~ I Corinthians 15:10

 

Humility towards Others

Humility & Service ~ Philippians 2:3-8

Humility & Rights ~ I Corinthians 6:7

Humility & Roles ~ Ephesians 5:21 – 6:9

Humility & Imitation ~ I Corinthians 11:1

Humility & Conformity ~ Proverbs 3:1-4

Humility & Needs ~ Ephesians 6:19

Humility & Piety ~ Matthew 6:1-8

Humility & Recognition ~ Proverbs 27:2

Humility & Admission ~ Proverbs 6:3

Humility & Confession ~ James 5:16

Humility & Correction ~ Proverbs 13:10; 17:10

Humility & Offense ~ Proverbs 19:11

Humility & Forgiveness ~ Colossians 3:12-13

Humility & Loyalty ~ I Peter 2:18

Humility & Comparisons ~ Galatians 6:4-5

Humility & Power ~ 2 Corinthians 13:4

Humility & Ambition ~ Luke 14:7-11

Humility & Benevolence ~ Luke 14:12-14

Humility & Conversation ~ James 1:19

Humility & Eloquence ~ I Corinthians 2:1-5

Humility & Evangelism ~ I Corinthians 9:19-23

Humility & Apologetics ~ I Peter 3:15

Humility & Boldness ~ Romans 1:16-17

Humility & Credit ~ I Corinthians 3:7

 

Humility Together

Humility & Unity ~ Ephesians 4:1-3

Humility & Fellowship ~ I Corinthians 12:26

Humility & Peace ~ Romans 14:10,19

Humility & Purity ~ Philippians 3:15

Humility & Debate ~ Proverbs 18:2

Humility & Support ~ Ecclesiastes 4:9-12

Humility & Culture ~ Ephesians 2:11-22

Humility & Society ~ Titus 3:1-2

Humility & Separation ~ I John 2:16

Humility & Numbers ~ Judges 7:2

Humility & Ministry ~ I Corinthians 9:16-17

Humility & Church Polity ~ Hebrews 13:17

Humility & Leadership ~ Mark 10:42-45

Humility & Office ~ Matthew 23:5-7

Humility & Titles ~ Matthew 23:8-12

Humility & Rank ~ Romans 12:16

Humility & Mottos ~ Galatians 6:14

Humility & Seating ~ James 1:27-2:5

Humility & Tributes ~ I Corinthians 3:21

Humility & Restoration ~ Galatians 6:1-3

Humility & Rules ~ Colossians 2:23

Humility & the Gospel ~ Psalm 149:4

People

“But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God, and not to us.”~ II Corinthians 4:7

Whenever we ordain new officers, I love to sing the hymn, “Rise up, O Men of God!” Well, except for the words.   It’s a hymn with great energy and a stirring tune (Festal Song), but have you ever really studied the words and where they place emphasis? No? Well, here they are.   Read them and see if you can see what I mean:

Rise up, O men of God!
Have done with lesser things;
Give heart and soul and mind and strength,
To serve the King of Kings.

Rise up, O men of God!
His Kingdom tarries long;
Bring in the day of brotherhood,
And end the night of wrong.

Rise up, O men of God!
The Church for you doth wait,
Her strength unequal to the task;
Rise up, and make her great!

Lift high the cross of Christ!
Tread where His feet have trod;
As brothers of the Son of man,
Rise up, O men of God!

OK then, who in this hymn is doing the work of redemption in the world?  Who is making the church great? Where is Christ’s divinity and sovereignty shown forth? Think, if we sing this at an officer ordination, what are we asking of these poor ordinands? Would you want this burden placed upon your shoulders? Of course there is some truth in these words, but where is the emphasis? Perhaps this is why it is not in the Trinity Hymnal (1990, Great Commission).

What you may not know is that this hymn was actually penned by a Presbyterian minister named William Merrill in the year, 1911. And if you know your historical theology, you can put two and two together and realize that this was written at the high water mark of the optimistic Protestant liberalism in which the Gospel was recast as much more about the Church redeeming all of society, rather than saving souls for eternity. Protestants across all denominations allied themselves with the progressives of society to promote such things as labor reform, prohibition and even eugenics, all with the great hope of a world without poverty or war.

Alas, three more years and one assassin’s bullet would put the lie to this theology as World War I erupted, dashing the dreams of this man-centered gospel. But it would not be fair to leave all the blame for this “manly” optimism found in this hymn on Protestant liberals alone. Conservative Presbyterians in America also absorbed this sort of vainly optimistic mindset from the culture as well. Consider this little anecdote from B.B. Warfield’s essay, Why Study the Shorter Catechism?, (The Westminster Teacher, 1909):

We have the following bit of personal experience from a general officer of the United States Army. He was in a great western city at a time of intense excitement and violent rioting. The streets were over-run daily by a dangerous crowd. One day he observed approaching him a man of singularly combined calmness and firmness of mien, whose very demeanor inspired confidence. So impressed was he with his bearing amid the surrounding uproar that when he had passed he turned to look back at him, only to find that the stranger had done the same. On observing his turning the stranger at once came back to him, and touching his chest with his forefinger, demanded without preface: “What is the chief end of man?” On receiving the countersign, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever” – “Aah!” said he, “I knew you were a Shorter Catechism boy by your looks!” “Why, that was just what I was thinking of you,” was the rejoinder. It is worth while to be a Shorter Catechism boy. They grow to be men.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I do think learning sound doctrine helps us grow up to be godly men. But the question is, what kind of men should we “rise up” to be? The Gospel should not so much turn us into men calm in a riot, but into men humble before God for our own sin. That should be the first and most telling result of sound catechesis in Protestant orthodoxy – meekness before manliness.

So, what shall we do then with “Rise up, O Men of God?” Well, I suggest we take its thoughts captive for Christ – a Christ crucified. I suggest we still sing it, but rewritten to reflect this humility the Gospel brings and to place the emphasis where it belongs – Christ’s work through us. Yes, we are here to bless the world, and yes, God uses us mightily – more than we often know, I think. But it is His work within us. We have this great power in jars of clay, to show that it is from God, and not from us.

So then, here is what I suggest we sing. Read it and see what you think.

Rise up, O men of God!
Have done with lesser things;
Give heart and soul and mind and strength,
To serve the King of kings.

Rise up, O men of God!
His kingdom tarries long;
But soon shall Christ bring in the Day,
And end this night of wrong.

Rise up, O men of God!
The church for you doth wait,
Your strength unequal to the task;
But Christ in you is great!

Lift high the cross of Christ!
Tread where his feet hath trod;
As servants of the King of kings,
Rise up, O men of God!

And so we are still calling one another to rise up and serve Christ and His Church. But rather than emphasizing our strength and our duty, we sing of Christ’s power and His sovereignty. We are but stewards, simply raced to participate in the great victory Jesus has already won.

 

S0932093

For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them.  To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews.  To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law.  To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law.  To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak.  I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some.   I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.

~ I Corinthians 9:19-23

Brothers, this week I want to make just one simple observation and one suggestion from this famous text from Paul.  This text is well known and well taught in our day as an apologetic for contextualizing our ministry – that we are to major on the majors and not let matters of Christian freedom become an obstacle to the Gospel.  How to apply that principle today – say to the question of worship music – is, of course, an item of hot debate and I do not intend to help at all in that effort.  Except to suggest that there is one kind of person, just as they are, we are not meant to reach.

The immediate context of this passage is a long answer Paul gives to one of the questions the Corinthians wrote to Paul – whether Christians may eat meat previously used in pagan ceremonies.  And in three chapters, Paul famously answers by saying:  sometimes yes, sometimes no, depending on your motive for eating it and what it does to your neighbor (cf. I Corinthians 8:4-13, 10:23-31).  If these three chapters are chiastic in structure as I think, then the two principles in 8:1 and 10:31 frame the debate:  first, that “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up;” and second, “Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”  In other words, the bigger questions when it comes down to matters of Christian Freedom are not so much whether to smoke or not smoke cigars, but to ask:  1) which choice most loves my neighbor?; and 2) which choice most glorifies God?

So it is important to understand this principle of contextualization within its original context.   Paul is trying to love both Jew and Greek as best he can to the glory of God and for the advancement of the Gospel.  But it is perhaps even more important to understand our text within the larger context of the whole of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians.  Paul wrote this letter to answer a number of questions the Corinthians had, and he does answer them in turn, beginning in chapter 7.  But before he even gets to their questions, he first deals with the real issues which are really going on, things he has heard from “Chloe’s people” (cf. 1:11).  (How would you have liked to be Chloe when this letter first got read out loud in church?) And what Chloe’s people reported is that the Corinthians were divided, quarrelsome and proud.  They were the mega-church of their day with many gifts and much wealth, but boy, were they dysfunctional.

So Paul spends the first six chapters going after the Corinthians’ pride, reminding them of their calling, that “not many of you were wise, not many powerful, not many noble; 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… so that no flesh might boast in the presence of God.” (1:26-29, sel.). Paul says that when he himself preached to them, he came not “with lofty speech or wisdom, but decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified; and I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling.” (2:1-3).   And when it came to church leaders, Paul reminded them that neither he who plants or he waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth” (3:7); that the truest leaders of Christ’s church are like “the scum of the world, the refuse of all things” (4:13).  Imagine being a Christian in Corinth who was proud of your church and its many gifts and achievement with your strong, polished leaders – and then reading that!

Now, all of that background is necessary if my simple observation and suggestion are to make any sense.  The observation is this.  In Chapter 9:20-22, Paul describes two pairs of people he “becomes like” in order to reach them – except that the second pair is incomplete.  Look at the text:

9:20 – Paul becomes as a Jew, to win Jews

9:21 – Paul becomes as a Gentile (those outside the Law), to win Gentiles

9:22 – Paul becomes as weak, to win the weak

Now, what is missing?  We have Jews and Gentiles, mentioned over against each other.  And we have the weak, then the…. nothing.  There is no counterpoint to the weak.  That is my simple observation.  Paul leaves off there, and never mentions becoming strong to win the strong.  Do you see that?

Now my suggestion is this, based on the main thrust of I Corinthians as a whole.  I believe that Paul left out “the strong” from his list quite on purpose.  He meant to leave off where he did to make a point.  Why?  Think about it.  We can make cultural accommodations at times in order for the Gospel to go forth, surely.  Few of us sing in Latin or worship in non-climate controlled church buildings, for instance.  And we can – and should – become weak, to those who are weak.  We are to follow Paul’s example in 2:1-5, so that when we preach, we preach not ourselves but Christ as strong.  We should preach plainly and passionately, of a Savior who was crucified – something that the weak will begin to understand, but the world will not until it is too late.

But following that same thinking, it makes no sense that we try to “become strong” to win the strong, because the very sin which is keeping them from the Kingdom is their own self-evaluation of themselves as strong in the first place!  How can we cozy up to a vainglorious man with our own pathetic versions of vainglory and hope to show them a crucified Lord in that?   We can’t.  We might win them to our church, or to a more moral lifestyle, or even as a friend.   But we will never win them to Christ that way.

And yet, I think, churches and ministries around the world are trying to do just that.  They are trying to become strong to the strong.  They may be growing their ministry that way but they are not growing the Kingdom.  Think about every time you try to get someone interested in your church because of how well things are going outwardly, some program or growth.  We all do it.  And it may get folks there, and there they may hear of Christ.  But telling them of successful programs and growth is not Christ.  And in fact, if we emphasize the successful programs, we actually may be undermining the Gospel since we would be trying to win people by strength rather than by a crucified Lord.

Now, one last thing.  I do not think we should give up on the proud and self-strong.  Otherwise, there would have been no hope for any of us.  We should try to reach them.  And I have no golden keys to share of how to do that – except to say that if they are to come to Christ, it will not be until they are humbled, until they are weak.  And so we must not try to “become strong” with them in order to win them, but rather, display our own weakness and tell them of Christ’s grace.  Such an approach will do two things – it will both attract and repel.  It will repel those who wish to remain strong in themselves.  But it will attract those who know they need God’s grace – those who know they are weak.  Them we can reach.  And if we aim to do that, to really aim for the weak, I think our churches will begin to overflow so that we become weak in our inability to serve them all, and must depend on God all the more.  That is the way of true growth.

Cambria Depot

7Now he told a parable to those who were invited, when he noticed how they chose the places of honor, saying to them, 8“When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in a place of honor, lest someone more distinguished than you be invited by him, 9and he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this person,’ and then you will begin with shame to take the lowest place. 10But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at table with you. 11For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” 12He said also to the man who had invited him, “When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. 13But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, 14and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.” ~ Luke 14:7-14

Brothers, when you attend presbytery meetings or other ministerial gatherings, whom do you seek out to spend time with and engage in fellowship? And for that matter, how about in your congregation and community? Why those folks? Jesus gives us food for thought about such questions in Luke 14.

I have only flown first class once in my life. But it was not exactly a luxury flight. I was packed onto a 747 with the rest of the 3rd Battalion, 7th Infantry, on the way to Desert Shield in 1990.   Our unit, the 24th Mechanized Infantry Division, was the first heavy division deployed to stop a threatened invasion of Saudi Arabia by Saddam Hussein and we were flown over in a hurry.

On the way there we made one stop at some random airbase in Germany. It is the only time I have ever been in Germany and I can’t even tell you where it was. But I do remember that at this airbase there were other American troops who did what they could to take care of us. They provided cots, fed us snacks, and loaded us up with insect repellent and sun block (neither of which we used). They greeted us, cared for us, and then sent us on our way. We never saw them again.

What about these troops in Germany? Did they provide us a valuable service on our way to war? Did they also serve? All they did was man a way station. I have often thought about them as I pastor a church in a college town. Like many of you, we see tremendous turn over every year.   The core members of our church pour themselves out into folks who will be here just a few years at most and then are gone. We send them off to other places and other churches. In many ways, we are just a way station. But the same is true for every church if we see clearly what we are about.

In Luke 14, Jesus gives clear guidance to how we should conduct our lives and ministries. He does so in two parts, each half wrapped around the axle of verse 11. Did you notice that? The first half of the text instructs how to act when invited to a feast, while the second half tells us what to do when we are the ones who throw the feast. But both lessons are wrapped around this theme verse: “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and everyone who humbles himself will be exalted.” This is one of three times in the gospels where Jesus states this idiom, each time in a different context. If nothing else, the very fact that Jesus uses this same phrase to teach three different lessons teaches us the centrality of humility to the work of the Gospel. (The others are Luke 18; and Matthew 23, both of which deserve their own study. Look them up.)

So, how do we apply this humility to our lives and careers? First, Jesus tells us how to act when we find ourselves in the nether regions of the Totem Pole; when we are kept outside of the Inner Circle – say at an awards banquet, or in a committee meeting, or at presbytery. I remember going to church conferences as a recently fired pastor with no other prospects on the horizon.   It’s funny how quickly ministers can end a conversation once they figure out that you have nothing to contribute to their own situations.

So here is the question. When we find ourselves in such an unfavored position, what should we do? Jesus tells us: do not promote yourself but wait until you are invited up. Trust God. Be content with the position and the influence He has given you, knowing that man does not see how God sees. Otherwise, the widow’s two mites would amount to nothing. But in God’s sight, they are a fortune.

So use your gifts, plow your field, and trust God that if He wants to give you more influence in this world, He will. But none of us know the labyrinths of God’s plan, of why He has anyone where He does. If you think you do, just read Ecclesiastes one more time. In the meantime, don’t invite yourself up until God does. If you are like me and struggle with always wanting more influence, or desiring a group of men to respect your work, then I can recommend no better reading than CS Lewis’ little essay, The Inner Ring. Read it and ask God to purge this idol from you. I wish it were required reading for all ministerial candidates everywhere.

Then after all this, Jesus turns the situation around in verse 12, to when you are the one in a position of influence. You are the one throwing the party and need to decide whom to invite. But the same principle of humility applies. As you throw a banquet, are you trying to exalt yourself or humble yourself? Are you putting on that conference for your own benefit and reputation or legitimately to serve others?

And so Jesus is quite explicit about what we should do – invite those who cannot pay you back. Now, clearly Jesus’ teaching has an important social element to it – He says to invite the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind. And there is no reason to over-spiritualize that. As John Newton wrote, “One would almost think that Luke 14:12-14 was not considered part of God’s word, nor has any part of Jesus’ teaching been more neglected by his own people. I do not think it is unlawful to entertain our friends; but if these words do not teach us that it is in some respects our duty to give a preference to the poor, I am at a loss to understand them” (as quoted in Generous Justice by Tim Keller).

And so we must remember this text when asking who it is that our churches are trying to attract. Well, how about it, church planters? Are you happy for people to come who don’t obviously add to the ministry by their gifts or social status or tithing ability? We all need to ask that question as we seek to grow our churches to God’s glory.

But what interests most for our purposes is the motive Jesus gives to why we should invite the poor and lame. It is precisely because they cannot pay us back. It is not just to engage in some sort of social justice or leveling. It is to demonstrate our faith in the Gospel – that there is a place called heaven where our true reward lies. That is what Jesus says: “For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just” (verse 14). By pouring ourselves into those who cannot pay us back, we are demonstrating that we are all pilgrims on the way to the New Heavens and New Earth.

But we have not always acted this way in our ministries, have we? Influenced by such books as The Master Plan of Evangelism, we have developed “key person” mentalities where we think it is our job to hang out with the “key” people in our church, and then let them hang out with the poor and so forth. I do realize there is much practical wisdom to be found in Robert Coleman’s book which was a welcome corrective to the event-driven evangelism that characterized so much of evangelicalism. But when we read Jesus’ words in Luke 14, we have to ask if such discipleship strategies have caused us to over-evaluate a person’s practical worth when we decide whether to invest time in them or not. We may come to think, “I need to pour myself into that energetic young couple because they can help lead our youth ministries,” rather than thinking, “I need to pour myself into that young couple, because they need Christ, period.” And then as part of their discipleship, you might look with them at how they might serve. But you do it out of love for them, not because some ministry hole in the church needs plugging.

Do you see the difference? Do you see how ministry is like throwing a banquet? You need to decide whom to spend time with, whom to invest in, and for whom to pour yourself out. And you can look at people in terms of how they will pay the church back – in the form of tithes or service. Or you can throw a banquet for those who cannot easily pay you back, pouring yourself into the sick, the elderly, the imprisoned, that drunken college student who may never darken the church’s doors. I realize there is balance, as Newton himself says. You need to invest in your elders and deacons and women’s ministry leaders. But do not neglect those on the fringe. Live for heaven, and treat every seeker and believer as valuable in Christ period, not for what they can bring to the table.

So, how about it? You know who the poor are in your community – to whom God is calling you – those who need the Gospel but will not be able to pay you back in this life. Pour yourself into those people, and your ministry will be like throwing a banquet for the poor. And you will show that you actually believe in a place called heaven where your true reward awaits.

A few years ago, I went and visited a member of our church who was recently put on hospice.   He is a dear, older man, who lost his wife many years before. He came to us a refuge from another denomination. He just wanted a church which preached the gospel. I had no earthly comfort to offer him other than a little bit of friendship and prayer. But whenever I talked to him about the certainty of his salvation in Christ and the sure promise of heaven, he always quietly nodded, looked away into the distance, and then lifted his hands a bit out of his lap, palms upward and empty, and says amen. I don’t even know if he realized that he made this gesture each time, but I see it. And it is the gesture of faith. Of knowing he was going to that better place, that place won for him by Christ.

Now, what good did it to the ministry of the Church for me to spend time visiting with this man on hospice?   What gift or service could he contribute?

Brothers, do you remember when I said that all of our churches are just way stations?   It is not just college churches, though it is painfully obvious to us each May. All of us are only here as pilgrims, plodding along with fellow pilgrims on that Gospel road. All we can do is to keep pointing the way to our fellow pilgrims, knowing that we only have them on our section of the road for a season. Our calling, brothers, is not to hold onto people and milk them for every gift they might have, treating them as one more commodity, some cog in the factory of our church.   Our calling is to point them to heaven, and help them on their way.

And when we remember that, that frees us up to pour ourselves into those who cannot pay us back for all who are in Christ are living for the next world not this one. It frees us up to put people before our reputations, and service above our careers. It frees us up to plant new churches, sending off dear families we love, rather than holding onto them, as if this life and our church’s size are all that matters. We will have time enough with them in heaven, as we put the kingdom ahead of our own ministries. We are way stations, and we throw banquets for those who cannot pay us back.

So, how about it, brothers? Whom do you seek to spend time with at ministerial meetings or in your congregation? Can you see how Jesus makes this a relevant question in light of His teaching in Luke 14? Will you exalt yourself by only hanging out with those who can repay you in some way? Or will you humble yourself and seek to serve someone, no matter how unimportant in the eyes of the world? Maybe it is just to listen to them for a bit. Or to pray with them. It may not be anything big. But then again, neither was two mites.