Sunday, June 15, 2008

Of crowns and crayons

This post excerpted from For Your Names' Sake,
Chapter 7 - Today:

by John D Ramsey

In Philippians 4 Paul describes being content in any situation. If he is hungry, he is content. If he is in need, he is content. Then he says, “I can do everything through him who gives me strength.”[1] Paul is not talking about personal ambition. He is talking about enduring hardship. He can be weak, because God makes him strong. In Revelation 3 Jesus talks to the church that is in Philadelphia, he says, “I know your deeds. See I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut. I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name.” To this church, there is no warning or criticism. Jesus knows they are weak. He will be strong for them. He knows they are persecuted, so he promises to keep them “from the hour of trial that is going to come upon the whole world.” He tells them, “Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take your crown.”[2]

Lisa used to play a recording of Twila Paris singing, Let No Man Take Your Crown. Cara’s young ears took what she heard in Twila’s twang and applied what was familiar from her own hand, the result was, “Let no one take your crayon.” This was not surprising from the lips of the little girl who once recited, “Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who’s the fairest of the mall?” Jesus’ admonition to the churches was simple, and perhaps Cara understood this much: he demands faithfulness.

Faithfulness is not march-step obedience to a religious creed or institutional rules. Religious hierarchies are a form of legalism; consequently, they do not convey the truth of the resurrection. Paul called his fellow Apostles, Peter, James, and John, those in Jerusalem who seemed to be something. He then said that it made “no difference” because “God shows no partiality.”[3] Faithfulness to Jesus Christ does include obedience to divine order. We obey the government, for instance. Paul called civil authority a “minister of God to you for good.”[4] God works through governments for our benefit; nevertheless, no one and no thing intervenes in our relationship with Jesus Christ. We will not answer to a church institution on the Day of Judgment. Rather, we will answer to him who paid the price for our salvation.

To the church of Smyrna, Jesus says, “I know your afflictions and your poverty—yet you are rich!” To Philadelphia he said, “I know that you have little strength, yet you have not denied my name.”[5] Jesus does not rebuke these two churches. They are hardly shining castles on a hill. They are oppressed and pressured. In Smyrna, some will be murdered for their faith. Jesus commends these churches. Those in weakness will by faith witness his power!

Of the other churches in Asia he says, “You have forsaken your first love . . . You have people there who hold the teaching of Balaam . . . You also have those who hold the teaching of the Nicolaitans . . . You tolerate that woman Jezebel . . . You have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead . . . You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.” These are serious rebukes; what would he say to the modern church today? Who is our first love? Whom do we worship? Whom will we tolerate? Whom do we serve? What do we think we need?

Too often, we are concerned about buildings, programs, and finances as if these things mattered. Jude says, “Contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints.”[6] Yet nowhere does the faith require buildings, programs, or finances. Almost nothing material is essential. That is why Jesus promised that God would provide us food and clothing in Matthew 6 (Even in our poorest weeks, we have always had food and clothing). When the church becomes self-obsessed then it has left its first love. We need to focus on Jesus Christ rather than on some facility, program, or organization. Churches fall in love with doing church, people fall in love with pastors or leaders and a type of idolatry emerges.

Churches attempting to influence society through political activism are in error. In the Parable of the Weeds in Matthew 13 Jesus tells us to let the weeds grow together with the wheat until the time of harvest. In the parable, the field is the world. The harvesters, who are angels and not men, will separate the wheat from the weeds on the day of harvest. We cannot pull weeds without damaging wheat. The Christian has longer-lasting influence as a messenger of the Gospel than he will ever have as a politician, lobbyist, or protester.

[1] Philippians 4:13 (NIV)
[2] Revelations 3:8, 10, 11 (NIV)
[3] Galatians 2:6 (NASB)
[4] Romans 13:4 (NASB)
[5] Revelation 2:9 (NIV)
[6] Jude 3 (NASB)

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