Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Battle of Pride

I was out of commission for a few days with illness, but now we return to the topic of Obsession. We are reminded by Francis Chan, "A person who is obsessed with Jesus knows that the sin of pride is always a battle. Obsessed people know that you can never be "humble enough" and so they seek to make themselves less known and Christ more known.". Wow this one is hard. In my lifetime I have grown up in a society which rewarded those who make themselves known. Humanity has always fallen prey to the allure of the superstar, and the church has tragically not been an exception to that.

There is a need to elevate people in the church to a superstar status. Billy Graham, Bill Hybels, Rick Warren, just to name a few. In each of the church circles on travels there will be the "superstar' of those circles. In fact by using the quotes of Francis Chan I run the risk of elevating him to a place reserved only for Christ. I have not had opportunity to talk one-on-one with any of these men I have listed, in fact I am not sure I have ever spoken one-on-one with any of those that would be considered church world superstars. Yet, I have a hunch they walk the tightrope. Having read and heard Billy Graham, I know he recognizes the places God has taken him, yet he knows it is not about him, rather the God whom he serves. I would wager a guess that most of these superstars would say the same thing. However, I am also hoping the battle wages.

The reason I hope the battle wages for them is selfish in and of itself. I know the battle wages with in me. I dream of being a pastor God could use on a national scale to aid in the transformation of the church. In my good moments my ambition is for the kingdom of God. In the moments when I struggle and begin to lose the battle, my ambition is for my own greatness. The reality is, anything targeted at my own greatness has one name, pride. I believe it was Paul who said it is not longer I that live, rather it is Christ who lives in me. This means our lives are not our own. Any opportunity we have is given by God. The fact that those ready these words are stationed all around the globe, is nothing that I can accomplish.

Another stark reality is in earthly terms, I am an overweight, average pastor, in a small obscure community in Central New York. Like many I struggle to get by and make the proverbial ends meet. My faith journey is a constant battle of faithfulness and struggle, often more on the struggle side. Again in terms of earthly clout, not even really a blip on the radar screen. Now before anyone sends me a message about my self esteem, realize that I know that I have value, and matchless value at that, it is just not measured in earthly terms. I get the awesome privilege to impact eternity on a weekly basis, possibly more often than that. God gives me opportunity to speak, teach, and live in community with others. None of that is about me, it is about the God who beacons me, and leads me. When I lose sight of that, enter pride.

Those who are obsessed with Jesus know that life is not about them. Our primary identifier is not our status, or our prestige. We are identified as followers of Christ. This means all things go back to Christ. While the battle is constant, victory can be won, but only through losing. We must lose ourselves. Not diminishing what God is doing with and through our lives, just not elevating ourselves. Not deceiving ourselves into thinking it is us who is at work. I will close with the words of Howard Hendricks, "Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it is thinking of yourself less." May we all radically pursue humility.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Doing the right thing is always advised. We teach children to do the right thing and hope they will do it. Most of us want to do the right thing, just sometimes we get confused about what that is. Today's obsession starting point brings this into focus. Francis Chan offers "Obsessed people are more concerned with obeying God than doing what is expected or fulfilling the status quo. A person who is obsessed with Jesus will do things that don't always make sense in terms of success or wealth on this earth. As Martin Luther put it, There are two days on my calendar: this day and that day""

The drive to do what is right is often laden with self interest, either yours or someone who is advising you. A friend of mine once said the status quo is never neutral, it is always carefully crafted and protected by people's self interest. Persons who are obsessed with Jesus decide what is the right thing to do with a much different filter. Expectation and status quo while a force to be reckoned with, are not what determine their course of action. The very voice and call of God is what determines what is right.

Here is where the fun begins. The suicide bomber sincerely believes they have heard from God to go about their business. The Christians of the Crusades felt they were doing what the voice of God was calling. So how do we go about determining the voice of God. Well lets agree there is not the space or time here to even begin to develop that. The very abbreviated version is found The Sermon on The Mount, the section we have codified as the Lord's Prayer. Repeatedly we ask God to help us to yield to what God would want on earth, more than what we want. "Thy will be done, thy kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven."

There are those moments when we clearly know God is calling us. If we are wondering whether to help the person we walk by who needs help, we do not need a long discernment process, simply help. It is more complicated when decades if not centuries have gone into carefully crafting a current status quo reality. We may hear the voice of God calling us to be the agent of change, but this is one we need to be sure of. Why? Because the cost is great both to the organization and to the individuals involved. People obsessed with Jesus Christ count the cost, seek after God for confirmation, not once but repeatedly. Then they act. There is the difference of the obsessed and the not, action. Obsessed people do not allow expectations and status quo keep them from pursuing God.

In the world of the church when we allow expectation and status quo to eat us up the results are tragic. In the end we end up with a nice church that does some good things, but is nothing more than a social club with crosses. Over time the status quo becomes entrenched, and any attempt to break from it it treated as not only an all out rebellion of the church, but against the very work of God. The end game here is death. Not of the body of Christ, not even the gated of Hades will prevail there, but local and institutionally the church will die. The organization which was initiated to represent the heights of freedom in Christ, will die imprisoned to the status quo of what has always been.

The way we avoid this fate is for there to be a rise of people obsessed with Jesus. Great moves of God begin when people decide to completely, and totally sell out to God through Jesus Christ. I wonder what would happen if today was the day that marked the gathering of the obsessed? What if today was the day we looked back upon and said that was the day everything changed? that was the day people obsessed with Jesus Christ began to walk in that way? I wonder?