I have in my files a number of now-famous and wealthy people who began working at entry level positions with equivalent pay: the classic work that begins at the beginning: as janitors, they began, as MacDonald’s employees, as a nail-puller for his dad—receiving a penny for each nail pulled from old boards, etc., etc.
Which suggests that growth in discipleship needs to be more incremental that sensational; more stair-stepped than inclined; more the building of plateau’s than scaling sheer cliffs. It begins with practices like Bible reading and prayer, church attendance and Christian fellowship. It increases with tithing and sharing one’s faith with unbelievers and offering counsel to troubled, burdened Christians.
The effort protects Christians from falling too far from grace in life’s “quiet times”—the “zero growth plateau” periods. When we’re absorbing and incorporating what had previously been initial impressions. Movie personnel taking the longest to achieve star status usually stay longer in that status. Just so those who gradually and perseveringly deepen in faith are often the long-lasting “work horses” of discipleship. They continue increasing in maturity without achieving it, knowing the pursuit is more challenging than the arrival satisfying. Besides, they know they can only deepen in Christ’s presence, never plumb his depths. They know they’re more mature than they have been, but not as mature as they’re going to be.
There’s one more benefit to incremental growth as a Christian. However useful we have or haven’t been to Jesus, our best is still to come. As Richard Trench wrote in a poem,
“If Heaven has aught for us to do or say,
Our time will come....” Chambers Complete Works, 873
True...that takes little faith when we’re young and feel our time hasn’t yet come. It takes lots more faith to believe when we’re older and feel our time has passed. Nevertheless, faith teaches us that when God wants a servant, he’ll ask only his preparedness to serve, not his age.
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After the Revolution Boston formed militia companies. One, called the Hussars, allowed only the financially and socially prominent to belong—with good reason: equine equipment itself cost $800. The captain sat his white charger as he drilled the men. The Sea Fencibles paraded armed with cutlasses and pikes. Others called themselves New England Guards and Independent Cadets.
Often called to non-existent crises, they went with aplomb. Once, called from a dancing class, a member had to march in dancing pumps. When not marching, they attended “military academies,” one of which specialized in “Cane Fighting,” since it was the weapon of choice when Federalists and Republicans attacked each other. They even marched during the War of 1812, not to fight, but to enjoy the bountiful feast afterwards.
The Regulars naturally held them all in contempt. While the militia paraded for show, the Regulars did the necessary fighting. Bullfinch’s Boston, 236-238
When Jesus sent the Twelve, and later the Seventy, to represent him in Israel, see Matthew 10:1 and Luke 10:1ff, he considered them regular infantrymen armed with spiritual weapons to confront, engage and WHIP satanic forces. They went to SHOW his presence by OVERCOMING Satan.
It isn’t hard for Christians to make a good SHOW on Sundays. In fact, in copying the entertainment world, we excel. The fact is, however, we SERVE when scattered as we WORSHIP when gathered. Bold and sure as we feel when among Christians, Jesus demands we act as bold and sure among the unsaved.
You may read his scorching indictment of leadership hypocrisy in Matthew 23. It isn’t hypocrisy he attacks in Christians, but our reluctance to BE during the week what we SEEM in worship. For Jesus equips us to WORK as well as SHOW! To have substance equal to our appearance.
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A.C. and Emily Craig left Chicago by train August 25, 1897, headed for the Klondike gold fields. The guide hired by their group promised to have them in Alaska in six weeks. Not much later, his rosy promise fading, he deserted. To make a long and interesting story short, the six-week trip turned into a two-year odyssey. By the time they arrived the Rush was over. The Craig’s nevertheless stayed on in Alaska. (A picture on page 50 of Klondike Women, Melanie Mayer, author, looks very much like the writer’s mother. Except that Mom was prettier.)
The story relates to us spiritually. Jesus promised to get us into Heaven, into God’s Very Presence, into eternal life. Not at the cut-rate prices so freely offered in many religions and not a few churches. But at the cost of self-denial, the scariest teaching in the Gospels since it takes aim at our jealously-guarded self-will. And not only at the cost of self-denial, but of relentless faithfulness till death Mark 13:12-13.
Entering into God’s rest remains possible because it’s THERE, whether we enter or not. It’s available, whether we seek it or not Hebrews 4:9-11. But God warns us we can’t force our way in by the dint of human works and worth. Or by some specious religious experience that delights us but offends GOD. It’s guaranteed if we come to Jesus; confess our sins; are baptized, asking him to remove our sins. Then live faithfully in self-denial, aware that his GRACE compensates for our failures to obey, even when you try. Heaven can be achieved if we seek it through the WORTHY Christ of God. No one who trusts in him will ever fail to enter the Father’s HOUSE.
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U.S. Cavalry pushed across the Staked Plains on a punitive expedition against Comanches. On picket duty one night a trooper secured himself to his mount with a lariat that he made fast to his body. He remarked that his horse couldn’t stray if securely tied. The precaution cost his life. A buffalo herd thundered towards the troopers that night. The spooked horse ran away, dragging the hapless trooper to his death.
Sent back to Astor in New York with dispatches from Astoria, Oregon, John Reed stuffed them in a tin case he soldered and strapped to his shoulder. The sight of the box attracted the attention of Indians lurking on the fringes of the travelers. Considering it “great medicine” by being so carefully guarded, they grew obsessed with its importance.
They attacked the sleepers at night, cut it loose from Reed, slicing his head in five places when he resisted. The very precaution taken to protect the box nearly cost Reed his life and did cost the important news for Astor. (Apology to readers. These are true stories, but I have no present access to the sources.)
These examples of excessive preparation in earthly causes condemn our careless attention to discipleship. When have we ever been so dependent on God that we over-pray? Or so generous in giving that we over-pay our tithes? Or so determined to gain his wisdom that we over-read God’s Word? Or so concerned about souls that we over-witness to the lost?
As Jesus said in his parable of duty, Luke 17:1-10, “So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’” Duty itself summons our best, and beyond. Love of God never reaches a saturation point where we can do no more.
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A woman worked in a steel foundry during WWII. She advanced to operating a 50 ton crane. She noticed very little absenteeism in the foundry, herself as an example. In fact, she was never absent, but not because she always felt well and never poorly. Like everyone, she had off days, like a headache. She wanted to stay home, but the vision of soldiers and sailors overseas fighting, or pulling dangerous duty, kept getting her out of bed, whenever she didn’t feel like it. She found that once on the job, she felt O.K. The Homefront, 132-133. I can say the same for Judy when still working. She might have to take Tylenol to get TO the day, but nothing kept her FROM the day.
Being a Christian is often like that. We don’t always feel like serving; or always want to have faith; or always want to be “on duty”; or always want to accept tough challenges. Like Royalists returning to power under Charles II, and after Cromwell, we sometimes want an easier life than Jesus imposes. But when we think of seeking an easier way, we consider Jesus, the Author and Completer of our Faith He left Heaven with God. He lived among us. He met every need confronting him. He loved even those hating him. He forgave even those killing him. His example is what motivates us to leave our laziness and get involved with him in life. When we do, we realize that Christian discipleship is always easier than self-centered living. The very willingness to persevere in serving equips us with the energy God needed to continue.
The denouement of the series. Jesus has multiple joys and excitement for those who outdistance their past or present limitations and go forward to him. That may mean we have to alter present behavior, minimize irreplaceable relationships from the past and assume accountability in discipleship we previously shunned. If we rise to the challenge and dare to go forward with him, we’ll wonder only why we didn’t do it sooner and didn’t do it better.
But what if we won’t go forward to him and with him in his new, difficult life? First, he allows us to stay where we are, where we’re comfortable, where we decide when and how to serve, where we accept the challenges we feel are within our capability.
Second, his willingness to honor our free-will doesn’t include his decision to retreat to our position. THAT he will never do. When he seeks servants of his new life, to be an example of his superior life, to walk or run or crawl forward to his higher level, he chooses those willing to change, wanting to change and paying the price to change.
The challenge to individual Christians, then: determine that you’re not going back to what you were. Indeed, determine that you’re not even content to be what you are. You’re determined to go forward to whatever Jesus has for you. If others we know insist on remaining in the comfort of old lifestyles, that’s their right, but don’t make it your problem. Jesus possesses excellence he’ll share with all who go forward with him. If others join, they share. If we go alone, we gain the advantage. Whatever, go to Jesus and stay with him. Advance into his greater life, however incrementally; and into his Infinite, Mysterious Presence, however fearfully. Above all go to and stay with Jesus. –Fini-
Whether choosing between danger ahead, and safety behind, God orders his people to go forward. The blogs this week came from the writer’s personal experience.
The old story, probably apocryphal, is told about Augustine. He truly led a dissolute life; searching in every nook and cranny of life for meaning. In despair he turned to Jesus: SUCCESS! One day a former female associate passed him. He didn’t acknowledge her. With feminine pertinacity she accosted him: “Augustine, it is I.” “I know, but it isn’t I,” came the reply.
The story seems apocryphal because Augustine wouldn’t have stopped by denying his former life. He would have encouraged the woman to discover Christ’s forgiveness in repentance and baptism.
That challenges us to turn into a witness what begins as a personal relationship with Christ. The message of Christ should always be forwarded to others, not cocooned inside our own experience. The very changes Jesus makes in us prove a stalwart testimony to those who knew us beforehand. While an example is worth many words, Jesus never simply set an example; he always employed words to substantiate and explain it.
A simple principle should guide our witnessing: the impact it makes on us as we deliver it. If it increases our confidence, and impresses the prospect, maintain it. If it continually falls on wayside soil, without result, sow in another soil.
What is our short or long term goal as a Christian? What kind of disciple do we want to be a year, or five years, from now? Extrapolate into those years what we presently are. Will our present views, relationships and habits lead us forward to the goal, however incrementally; or leave us diverted from it, a failed-witness because we didn’t correct thoughts and behaviors that kept us from the Christ-likeness we wanted to possess but didn’t take time to cultivate in daily life? -End Part III-
Note: the blogs this week come from the writer’s inability to sleep in the early morning hours Monday. He suddenly sensed the Holy Spirit’s inspiration in the arrival of the words recorded. It cleared his mind and removed stress. If anyone can profit by what is written, Praise Jesus Christ.
By recording examples of Bible heroes, and leaving Scripture for our instruction, Jesus encourages us to become more informed about God and to associate with Christians whose lives challenge us to grow beyond ourselves. He wants us to speak with, listen to and question those whose knowledge of God and experience in faith are broader and deeper than ours.
That necessarily means we limit the time spent in relationships that mostly remind us of our past and keep us there, strait-jacketed inside the limitations it imposed. True, there we find comfort levels of speech, subjects and habits, but they cannot challenge us to grow beyond to Christ’s more excellent ways. Jesus always calls us from lesser to greater spiritual depths; from what we have allowed ourselves to become to what his power can make us, given the chance.
Sometime in AD 61, 26 years after Jesus opened Paul’s mind by closing his eyes, the apostle reviewed his experience with the Master. Replete with honor Paul may have been; much he had learned and whatever success he enjoyed as an apostle. Replete with honors he may have been. Learned as any writer of sacred scripture he certainly was. And successful as any apostle he had become. He nevertheless viewed it all as a beginning. He realized that the transformation he had experienced in Christ’s service had only begun to mature him. Towards that greater maturity he continued to grow. The best that Jesus had for Paul AWAITED him. Paul always lived each day for the future, where God’s BEST awaits. We would profit by following his example, one of the most challenging and rewarding in scripture. –End Part II-
When the Israelites milled in confusion at the Red Sea, and lookouts shouted the approach of Egyptian chariots, the people “were terrified and cried out to the Lord.” God told Moses, “Why are you crying out to me? Tell the Israelites to move on” Exodus 14:10, 15.
When the apostle Paul summarized his discipleship in AD 61, with a lifetime of experiences fueling his quarter-century apostolate, he refused to consider he had “arrived” at spiritual maturity. Indeed, he pressed on “to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me...Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on...” Philippians 3:12-14.
Jesus always calls us forward to him—because he’s always ahead of us! To his tremendously exciting, transforming presence he calls us. To the ever-deepening experiences of his spiritual life. To the delight of finding in his word the new spiritual discoveries that strengthen our faith.
He also calls us to increase fellowship time with those already beyond our discipleship level. They serve as models of what we can still become. In his book At Ease, General Eisenhower offered challenging advice, based on his acquaintance with General Fox Conners. Knowing him later opened doors for Ike. Which he appreciated. But more importantly, Conners was a person who made Eisenhower a better person by associating with him.
The late Frank Broyles modeled that persona. One of the boys who played football for him at the University of Arkansas said he couldn’t necessarily make you a better player but being with him made you a better person.
The obverse of Christ’s call to fellowship with stronger Christians is to decrease the time spent with those uninterested in Christ’s new dimensions; who remain mired in old constructs of thought and behavior, rutted in empty, frivolous opinions and discussions.
That’s always Christ’s will for us. To go forward with him, whatever changes he makes in us; to desert the past with old acquaintances that always keep us chained where we WERE and never challenge us to freedom that moves us FORWARD to Jesus. –End, Part I-
Japanese advances in Southeast Asia in early 1942 resulted in equivalent Allied retreats. As each territory fell to the invaders radio messages from European capitals sounded less helpful for their nationals in the Far East.
Hong Kong fell. The Malay Peninsula fell. Singapore, gasp, fell. Borneo fell. Home offices in Europe couldn’t defend their nationals. They could only bid them good-bye and to be of “good cheer”. They could only say how sorry they were that they couldn’t help. They could only order them to destroy all resources, to resist passively, to remain at their posts, to refuse co-operation. They could only bid them Godspeed. Three Came Home, 27
How sad to be so helpless as a government. To fail in government’s primary responsibility of protecting its people. “We’ve reached the end of our authority; don’t look to us for help; do the best you can on your own.”
Christians read Matthew 28:16-20 and Hebrews 13:8. Jesus Christ has ALL AUTHORITY over HEAVEN and EARTH...no limit, no concessions, no exceptions.... Jesus Christ the same yesterday, today and forever!
Christians never fear that the HOME OFFICE must radio or e-mail or text or phone that it can no longer help us serve. That its resources have diminished. That its power has vanished before enemies too great to resist. That we must retreat before Satan and take refuge in our worship services and Bible studies.
Up-and-Atom, Christians. The One who is in us overcomes all powers against us. Never fear; Jesus is near. Never dread; Jesus Lives and empowers his people. Amen.