This is the first of a brand new thing I’m doing. My messages have a tendency to get sort of long, and 2 weeks ago, I kept the kids upstairs, all of us together. That sounds nice, right? Yes, unless the feedback you get from your children is, “soooooooo long,” exhausted, as if they had run consecutive marathons, like I did. So, I am taking a section and silently writing a companion piece.
Welcome to that companion piece, for last week’s message ‘Audience of 1.’.
(Col. 3:23-24 “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.”)
We have an audience of One. We are not actors on a stage, performing for our spouses, friends, parents, families, bosses, neighbors, the people who we see at the grocery store or in church. And this is the issue, isn’t it? We are image-making, wearing masks and watching what we say, so that we sound smart and capable, gauging their reactions to make sure we stay ‘in.’ The Scriptures promise a life free from those masquerade party chains.
However, this verse, this concept can lead to an interesting slide into a different kind of cell. We take this as license to say, ‘I do what I want,’or ‘I don’t care what anyone thinks.’ Which sounds pretty close, but is that really what the Paul is saying to the church in Colosse?
(This is the part of this ‘brand new thing’ where you open your Bibles and read Romans 14 – Unless you happen to be reading this with me in your house, I’m can’t read it to you)
One of the biggest points of contention for the early church was food, and that only makes sense because there were so many laws on what you could or could not eat in the Torah. Religious people were judged on how well they could follow the many, many, many, many different rules. Clean or unclean? was the primary question. When Paul wrote his epistles of a new kind of covenant where the law was fulfilled, where there were no more rules to follow (or foods to eat or not eat) to be loved or accepted by God (that you ALREADY ARE!!!!), well, as you can imagine, that would cause quite the stir.
Circumcision was, also, a hot topic. As Paul was on his journeys, Jewish Christians were traveling behind, teaching a version of the Gospel where you were free as long as you were circumcised. Paul took great exception to this false Gospel, once proclaiming he wished they would go the rest of the way and castrate themselves! He was very clear on the circumcision issue, very clear. Yet later, as he is discipling Timothy, he decides that, in the interest of bringing down more of the walls we use to divide ourselves, Timothy should be circumcised!??! (Acts 16:1-3 NLT “In deference to the Jews of the area, he arranged for Timothy to be circumcised before they left, for everyone knew that his father was a Greek.”)
In other words, Brother A understands his freedom as the ability to eat a BLT, but when he does, Brother B is horrified, sees it as an affront to the Living God, who he has followed since he was born. Now, according to Paul, Brother A is ‘right,’ but Brother B takes his offense down the road, complaining about this new ‘liberal’ heresy, never considering BLT’s or the final sacrifice or grace ever again.
What does it matter, at this point, who’s ‘right?’
If our freedom drives another (who hasn’t yet had his eyes opened) away from the love of Jesus, isn’t this just another kind of narcissism? Another kind of self-righteousness?
Our Romans passage is really telling us that we should not let our freedom get in the way of another, that sometimes, we subjugate our freedom to build bridges, to create relationship, to love. That we will sometimes keep quiet, pass on the BLT today, to create a safe space for Brother B to discover this unbelievable Truth on his own and let it transform his life, so that we can eat BLT’s every day for the rest of eternity.
Nehemiah’s life was entirely about serving others, asking ‘what do they need?’
There are really only 2 postures: serve or be served?
Will you use your power and influence to build into others, to make their lives better? Will you use your freedom to serve someone?
Will you use it to get ahead, to satisfy your every desire, to sit with your ego, praying out loud, thanking God that you are “not like other people—cheaters, sinners, adulterers…certainly not like that tax collector (Luke 18:11)?” Will you eat your BLT alone?
I never believed in angels and demons, thought anything outside of the realm of the senses was hokey and ridiculous, for those who were too (offensive term of derision). I don’t think that way anymore, maybe I’ve become too (offensive term of derision). But now I see that there is so much happening beyond what we might be able to see and hear and explain. We are living in a world at war, a world full of attacks, spiritual and otherwise, but even the otherwise have a gigantic spiritual component to them. What we believe about God and ourselves sets the baseline for how we face anything – any enemy, any circumstance, any trial.
So, speaking of circumstances, trials and enemies. I have been ‘on call’ (which I hate with a white hot rage) and the way these days often go may, in fact, be an act of aggression by the enemy (that’s exactly what it feels like). Even if it is not, it asks several questions of me. Is this fair? Does it have to be fair? What do I deserve? What is work? Is all of this just hanging on my desire for comfortability? On my desire to live a life that is easy?
Is THAT really what I want, deep down? Is easy my primary goal? (Sheesh, I certainly hope not. If it is, I’m not so great at it)
On Fairness: How could that get to me when I have been given so much more than I deserve? Someone who believes in Jesus has no business grumbling about fairness. I am the 5pm vineyard worker. Who am I to talk about fair?
I like things that are easy (like probably everyone), but could it be that it is my chief concern, and when the world conspires against me (overly dramatic, I understand), I am irritated and angry, frustrated, incredulous that that same world doesn’t value my comfort as highly as I do?
So, is the attack the circumstance or the selfish response to it? And then, if it is in the response, where is the enemy? Is this why I am so often defeated? Because I am fighting in the wrong direction? It is, at the very least, possible that the perceived attack – that the circumstance that invites me out of my selfish idolatry, that gives me an escape from my own narcissism – is not from the enemy at all, but from God. A God who wants me bigger, wants to change my focus, to grow, to topple my comfortability from the apex of the hierarchy of my life.
And maybe the enemy is the one whispering how much this sucks, how much more I deserve, how this marriage/job/relationship/whatever isn’t right for me, how wrong this is (“injustice is what it is! They’re taking advantage of you”) and wouldn’t it just be easier if blah blah blah.
It’s not comfortable to stretch. It’s not comfortable to give your life to college students, as Ricky and Chenea do, in Disciplemakers. It’s not easy to go twice a week to Keystone, as the Light of Christ does, to feed and love people who desperately need food and love. It’s not easy to wake up on a Sunday morning. It’s not easy to commit to anything, to give your life to something bigger. In fact, sometimes, it’s really really hard.
And we are ALWAYS better for it.
So, I say let the phone ring, and maybe I can hate it a little less and and crawl a few more inches towards becoming the kind of man I was created to be.
Thank you to Ricky and Chenea for sharing with us today. If you would like to support their campus ministry, you can give at http://www.dm.org. Please pray for their ministry and what they are doing for our college age kids.
This weekend, we have a very special service/very special whole day planned.
Instead of meeting at our building, the Bridge will meet on the Pride of The Susquehanna, the riverboat on City Island! Gisy will sing, we’ll talk about Elisha (the prophet, not my son) and new bowls. Not ‘new’ like the red shoes I just bought. No, this is a different kind of new, a better kind of new.
We should arrive by 9:30 am, the riverboat will set out at 10, returning at 11.
Immediately following, we will eat our lunch together in one of the pavilions provided, then we will take our crew to the Harrisburg Senators for a 1 o’clock game.
With lots of sun and low humidity, it should be a gorgeous day of Gisy’s voice and new bowls on the Susquehanna river, food and baseball on the island.
I hope to see you there! I’ll be the one in the red shoes