“The power of the gospel comes in two movements. It first says, “I am more sinful and flawed than I ever dared believe,” but then quickly follows with, “I am more accepted and loved than I ever dared hope.”
Monthly Archives: February 2013
If you look up the word “average” in the dictionary, chances are you will find my picture. I am the definition of average. I am of average height, average build, drive average 10-13 year old cars, have an average number of children, live in an average community, and pastor an average size church.
So why do I feel like “average” is not good enough?
I pondered that question yesterday afternoon as I was considering which of three books to start reading. Two of the books were sent to me to review while I picked up the third from the local library. Reading the dust covers, I learned the following information about the authors. Gods at War is written by Kyle Idleman, teaching pastor of the fourth largest church in America. The Circle Maker is written by Mark Batterson, lead pastor of one of the 25 most innovative churches. The Customer Rules is written by Lee Cockerell, former executive vice president of Walt Disney World Resort. Not an average person among the bunch. Seems like only extraordinary people write books.
On top of that, the premise of each book is that anything short of extraordinary is unacceptable. Batterson’s book teaches, “Define your dream. Claim your promise. Spell your miracle. Pray circles around your fears.” Cockerell’s book promotes delivering sensational service, regardless of your industry.
I began to wonder if I failed God by simply being stark raving average.
Being average is not very popular these days. When pastors gather, the first thing they do is compare attendance and offering numbers. “How much has your church grown? How many people got saved/baptized this year?” If a church is going to invite a guest speaker, we’d prefer hearing from Peter, who preached and 3,000 came to Christ (Acts 2), rather than Philip, who preached to only one man from Ethiopia (Acts 8). We want to hear from the one who fed 5,000, not the one who carried the five loaves and two fish (John 6). If we had our choice, we want to be the soil that produces a hundredfold rather than the one that produces only thirtyfold (Mathew 13:8, 23).
While we know intellectually that God expects and rewards faithfulness (Matthew 25), we’d prefer being faithfully above average rather than faithfully just average.
Let’s face it, being average is just, well, average.
For more on the subject, here are two previous posts I wrote:
Is it a sin to be average? – May 23, 2008
Redefining ministry success – September 17, 2011
“Now that you live in New England, what sports teams will you root for?” I was asked that profound question this past week. It struck me that I will need a new wardrobe. I need to trade in my Seattle Mariners sweatshirt for a Red Sox hoodie. I have to give up my Seahawks t-shirt for a Patriots shirt. While I can still root for the Huskies, it will be of the UConn variety rather than the UW Dawgs.
In the same way my new address requires new attire, the apostle Paul explains that our new identity in Christ requires a new way of living. In Colossians 3:1-4, Paul explained that Christ changed our life. Now, we need to change our lifestyle. Like changing clothes, we are to take off our old sinful actions (3:5-11) and replace them with positive virtues (3:12-14). We are to dress consistent with who we are.
In verse 12, Paul uses three words to describe our new identity in Christ. We are chosen, holy, and deeply loved.
When it comes to being part of God’s team, all of us are first-round draft choices. Ephesians 1:4 says that God sovereignly chose each one of us before the foundation of the world.
We did not do anything to deserve or earn that choice. We didn’t have to worry about our speed in the 40-yard dash, our vertical leap, our GPA or SAT scores, our ranking on the Forbes 500, or any other measure of achievement. We did not do anything to earn or merit our salvation. God chose us because he loved us.
God chose us for a purpose. He chose us to be holy. The word holy means to be set apart from a sinful world for God’s unique possession. We are not our own; we belong completely to Him. Just as the marriage ceremony sets apart a man and a woman for each other exclusively, so salvation sets the believer apart exclusively for Jesus Christ.
The third term Paul uses to describe our identity in Christ is to say that we are “dearly loved.” We were made the objects of God’s matchless love.
Remembering who we are should change how we live. As those chosen, holy, and loved by God, our actions should reflect our identity.
This passage points out the tension of be vs. do. Paul describes what a believer is to be like, not what he or she is to do. I believe that God is far more concerned about who we are than with what we do. I think God does care about what we do. But who we are is more important. If we are the right type of people, we will do the right things. But if we jump to doing the right things, we may do them for the wrong reasons. Even evil people can perform good works.
The passage also addresses the tension of feelings versus actions. The first virtue Paul addresses is compassion. Do I wait until I feel compassionate and then act? Or, do I act compassionately regardless of how I feel? Do I wait until these characteristics are true in my life, or do I act as if they are true? Which comes first, the chicken or the egg?
I think the answer is “Yes.” Both emotions and actions are important. Ideally, both need to line up and be pointed in the same direction. Why we do what we do is as important as what we do.
That being said, remember that “clothe yourselves” or “put on” is a command. Paul tells us to put on compassion. He doesn’t say, wait until you feel compassion and then act compassionately. He says that we are to go to the wardrobe and to put on compassion, and then act as if that were true.
There are times when we need to be obedient and wait for our hearts to catch up with us. There are times where we are to act as if we were compassionate, and in the process of being obedient, we begin to feel compassion and care and concern.
The first piece of clothing we are to put on is compassion. Compassion shows pity and tenderness toward those who are suffering and miserable and in need. It is a deep feeling of concern for the needs of others.
The second item of clothing is simply “kindness.” One of the most beautiful pictures of kindness in the Bible is King David’s treatment of the crippled prince, Mephibosheth. David’s desire was to show “the kindness of God” to King Saul’s family because of his own love for Saul’s son, Jonathan. If David had acted according to justice, he would have condemned Mephibosheth, for the man belonged to a condemned family. David sought Mephibosheth and assured him not to be afraid. He invited Mephibosheth to live in the palace as a member of his family, and to eat at the king’s bountiful table.
The third garment we are to put on is humility. The world of Paul’s day did not admire humility. Instead, they admired pride and domination. People constantly vied with others to attain elusive glory and engaged in a constant game of one-upmanship. This pursuit of honor coaxed outward expressions of egotism and arrogance. That sounds like the storyline for reality TV shows like Survivor, American Idol, The Apprentice, and countless other programs. Humility checks the incessant quest to attain honor and to rise in the pecking order. Humility allows us to serve others without caring whether it is noticed or not.
The next garment we are to put on is gentleness, or meekness. Gentleness is not weakness; it is power under control. This word was used to describe a soothing wind, a healing medicine, and a colt that had been broken. In each instance, there is power: a wind can become a storm; too much medicine can kill; a horse can break loose. Behind the gentleness is a steel-like strength, for the supreme characteristic of the meek man or woman is that he or she is under perfect control.
Next in our wardrobe is the virtue of Patience. Patience is the quality of being long-suffering. When a person is long-suffering, he can put up with people who try his patience. He does not have a quick temper.
The next two virtues, forbearance and forgiveness expand on the idea of patience. Forbearance means putting up with others and enduring discomfort. Closely tied to forbearance is Forgiveness. The Christian who is truly patient will manifest this attitude by a willingness to forgive those they have grievances against.
Paul saves the most important item of clothing for last, love. “And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.”
The apostle envisions a man dressing his body with the flowing garments of the day, and then it occurs to the man that as beautiful and fine as his garments are, they can never be worn with comfort or grace until they are held in place by a belt. So he adds the belt: “love.” It is possible to have some of the recommended garments and not have love, but it is impossible to have love and not have all of the garments. Love is “the grace that binds all these other graces together.”
Because God has chosen us to be part of his team, we are to dress consistent with who we are. We are to wear the clothes of virtue that demonstrate we belong to God.
This message was preached at First Central Baptist Church in Chicopee, MA, on February 24, 2013. It is part of a series on the book of Colossians. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.
The headline arrested my attention this morning. “Man sues parents for not loving him enough” – After reading the story, all I could say was, “Wow!” and, “Really?” I’m not sure any other comments are needed.
It did bring to mind one of my favorite Calvin & Hobbes cartoons.
“Footprints in the sand” is a well known and loved poem about how God carries us during difficult seasons of life. It has provided hope and encouragement to many. Several have claimed authorship, but no one really knows who wrote it.
Last night I had a dream. I dreamed I was walking along the beach with the Lord. Across the sky flashed scenes from my life. For each scene, I noticed two sets of footprints in the sand: one belonged to me, the other to the Lord.
After the last scene of my life flashed before me, I looked back at the footprints in the sand. I noticed that at many times along the path of my life, especially at the very lowest and saddest times, there was only one set of footprints.
This really troubled me, so I asked the Lord about it. “Lord, you said once I decided to follow you, You’d walk with me all the way. But I noticed that during the saddest and most troublesome times of my life, there was only one set of footprints. I don’t understand why, when I needed You the most, You would leave me.”
The Lord replied, “My son, my precious child, I love you and I would never leave you. During your times of suffering, when you could see only one set of footprints, it was then that I carried you.”
A friend (Thanks, Gail) sent me a humorous cartoon of a slightly different take on the same idea. Like the poem, it is just as true.
I don’t know about you, but both scenes are evident in my life.
A friend sent us a “wicked good map of Massachusetts.” She found it on a Facebook page for Boston, MA. Thanks, Julie.
“Prof” Howard Hendricks went to be with his savior this morning. I was fortunate enough to sit under his teaching while a student at Dallas Theological Seminary, to be mentored by his books and videos, and to hear him speak to the faculty of Walk Thru the Bible. He impacted my life in many ways, but especially in teaching me how to study the Bible and how to teach.
During a WTB faculty conference in 1989, I shared with him how I had recently been fired from my first ministry. (I had not done anything wrong, but neither had I done enough right, and the church opted to make a change.) Following that conversation, “Prof” wrote me a note where he said, “Often the disappointments are part of the Lord’s curriculum to prepare you for an even more determinative ministry. Nothing is ever wasted in the will of God. . . . Your future is as bright as the promises of God.” His words of encouragement kept me going.
Thanks, Prof, for your impact on my life.
DTS has posted a tribute to Prof.
Have you ever wondered why a 10-ton elephant is staked down with the same size stake used to anchor a 300 pound baby elephant? It seems strange until you discover two facts: Elephants really do have great memories, but they really aren’t very smart. When they’re babies, their trainers stake them down. They try to tug away from the stake maybe ten thousand times before they realize that they can’t possibly get away. At that point, their “elephant memory” takes over and they remember for the rest of their lives that they can’t get away from the stake.
What is sad for elephants becomes tragic for humans. How often are we anchored in place by misconceptions and false ideas? How often do we tell ourselves we cannot change and thus stop trying? How often do we not try to break a bad habit because we believe that once a (smoker, drug user, angry person, cheater, liar, quitter, etc., etc., etc.), always a . . . . When that happens, our enemy has us right where he wants us.
For those of us who are Christ followers, our savior set us free from the power of sin through his death on the cross. Because Jesus died for us, we have died to sin. Satan wants us to believe sin is still in control, that the chains are strong enough to hold us. But Christ has conquered the enemy and the Holy Spirit gives us the power to pull up our own elephant stakes.
“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.” Romans 8:1-2
This morning, First Central Baptist Church of Chicopee, MA, hosted a February Fun Day. It was a one-day VBS-type program led by Robin Dolbow. The kids enjoyed a Bible story about creation, a creation bingo game, singing, crafts, recreation, and a video. Several parents and youth of the church helped staff the event. As you can see from the pictures, we had a great time.