Susan was a bright and beautiful 12 year old, active in church and school, captain of the middle school volleyball team, and seemed to always have a song accompanying her wherever she went. But for the past several months, the energy that once drove her through life, the smile, and the song seemed to all be dissipating. The fun didn't seem so fun anymore, food didn't seem to taste so good, jokes were not as funny and music seemed muddled and lifeless. What she felt inside seemed to force it's way out onto her face. No longer was Susan able to keep the inside from coming out.
Johnnie was an average boy in many regards. He was a C student, not too good at music or sports, didn't have many friends, and spent a great deal of time alone. He was awkward socially but He loved the Lord, believed that Jesus was enough and always seemed to find the good in things no matter what life threw his way. He was nothing "special" to the rest of society, sort of a Charlie Brown kind of guy, but whenever he came around others, he always left them thinking. There was a quiet strength about this kid.
High Pressure Baptist Church in Hammond, IN had been having problems for a long time. They weren't able to identify what the problem was with the division in the church. After all, they had the best people in town attending with all the money, they had the best board full of highly successful executives and mid to high level managers. They had more than enough money in the bank and they should be secure and happy! Their building was the best too. They had the biggest parking lot, the best auditorium, the best music and the highest steeple with the most manicured lawn. The people who went there drove the most amazing vehicles. All the programs had so many people attending and they continued to get bigger and bigger every year..., so why were there so many problems in the church?
God Focused Reformed Church in Pella, IA was not a large church. It was full of normal, average people who simply loved God, lived quiet- repentant- God honoring lives and served one another faithfully through the Word. They lived a life of organic evangelism and were more focused on pleasing God, building relationships and evangelizing than just running big programs. The board members were selected because of character and integrity. They didn't say much, but when they spoke, you could tell they had been with God.
What is the common denominator at play here in these stories? I first of all want to take a look at Susan and High Pressure Baptist Church. There is a common thread here. For Susan her parents were teaching her that her value was in success, busyness, and "being somebody." There is nothing wrong with doing your best! There is nothing wrong with someone leading and enjoying life and winning! God expects us to do our best. So what is the issue? The issue was that Susan was being taught that her identity was in what she could do! Her worth was tied to the outward display of achievements! This is an anti-gospel message being sent here.
Salvation can only occur when we realize we cannot save ourselves, when we realize that we are not great, not good and can take no glory to ourselves. It takes place when we realize we cannot save ourselves! Restoration and freedom can only come in what Christ has done for us! Our worth is found in another, Jesus. Our identity is not in us, it is in Christ!
Susan's parents were frustrated not so much that Susan's joy was waning and in jeopardy during her crisis! They began to get anxious, fearful of what their friends and family would think of Susan not achieving so well. Little did they care for Susan's heart.
High Pressure Baptist Church also did the same thing to their congregation. The leadership, being comprised mostly of successful businessmen, communicated to the congregation that only "successful" men could ever get on the board. When the congregation continued to elect these "only successful" men to the board, it communicated that what mattered to the congregation was worldly success. Titus and Timothy was not consulted with choosing these men. This calls for a very sick church and it reveals that the heart of the church, itself, is sick.
Before calling for a cure to this sickness, I would like to visit Johnnie and God Focused Reformed Church. Both Johnnie and God Focused Reformed Church had little by way of worldly glimmer. They did not "have much." What they each had was a high focus on what God wanted. It mattered little to them what others thought, though they were very kind and considerate to others. They valued and placed their identity, not in worldly standards, but in what God valued in His Word. They placed a great amount of focus on what God cared about: Things like character, virtue, honesty, being right with Him and therefore living honestly before God and others. They understood the Gospel in a most real sense. The Gospel shaped and continued to reform their hearts, souls, strength and minds.
We see that Paul was struggling with the Corinthian believers along these lines when they were glorying in earthly things.
1 Cor 1:25-31 "Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men. For you see your calling, brothers, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called: But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God has chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; And base things of the world, and things which are despised, has God chosen, yes, and things which are not, to bring to nothing things that are: That no flesh should glory in his presence. But of him are you in Christ Jesus, who of God is made to us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption: That, according as it is written, He that glories, let him glory in the Lord."
So what is really the one thing separating these two sets? I would have to say the major distinction at play here has two parts related. Susan and High Pressure Baptist were bent on earthly glory. The second part was due to how they defined greatness. Susan and High Pressure were both bent on receiving glory from others not for who they were in Christ but because of what they could do. This will cause ongoing anxiety for the remainder of life both for individuals and groups.
The second group, Johnnie and God Focused understood that their worth is not tied to what they can do, but who God is. God is great. God is strong. God receives all glory!
I draw these two sets of contrasts to illustrate a point today. Does your definition of greatness follow what Jesus defines as truly great? Do you seek to receive glory of your own? Is your identity fixed upon the greatness of Christ, or is it fixed to a worldly understanding of greatness? What about your church? Does your church place a high priority on the greatness of men, the greatness of a program, the greatness of numbers, or is it about the greatness of God as revealed through Theology, doctrine and exegetical teaching applied and practiced?
I am a great sinner saved by far greater grace. God has blessed me with a wonderful family and a beautiful Gospel congregation at Twin Lakes Bible Church.