Isn’t it amazing how the Lord mysteriously and graciously confronts us? Last week I poured myself into preparing a sermon on Pontius Pilate who was nothing if he wasn’t complacent. Pilate’s complacency led him to make the decision to crucify Jesus. He was, from a Roman perspective, the principle reason for Jesus’ crucifixion. Because of his complacency, he lacked courage. He wouldn’t stand for the righteous one in the face of unrighteous, even evil, opposition. We have a lot to learn from him because complacency characterizes our lives as well. And, it takes courage to live as committed Christians today.
A.W Tozer wrote, “One of the greatest foes of the Christian is religious complacency…Orthodox Christianity has fallen to its present low estate from lack of spiritual desire. Among the many who profess the Christian faith, scarcely one in a thousand reveals any passionate thirst for God.” So, we ended our worship time with a call to faith and repentance. As I left worship, I was convicted, but also satisfied because I thought I had preached what God had called me to preach. And, I still think that. But, I am not sure I understood the depth to which God would go to confront the sin of complacency in my life. Enter Mrs. S.
Mrs. S. came into my office on Monday morning. She was confused, broken, perplexed. She truly fit Paul’s description of himself in 2 Corinthians 4 — “afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair…struck down, but not destroyed.” Her daughter had given birth to a still born child and then fell off the delivery table and suffered a life-altering brain trauma. Now, her daughter had been moved to the hospice house to await her untimely death. Mrs. S. was confused, but her faith remained strong. As we talked, I discerned that she was a member of another church, but her church wouldn’t assist her, her husband, nor their daughter. We prayed. We shared in the hope of Christ. And then the Lord burdened me for this woman and her daughter — a burden that I knew was coming — “Go to pray with the family and care for this young lady as I have cared for you.”
My mind is full of uncertainty and even fear — “I have never met Mrs. S. before. I don’t know her, and I surely don’t know her daughter. They are members of another church. Is the daughter a believer in Christ? What will the scene be when I get to the hospice house?How will an African-American family respond to me?” But, the Lord’s call is sure. “Go.” I need courage. My complacency seeks to find an excuse, but the Lord says, “Go. I will give you the strength.” And so, I go. I’m afraid and uncertain, but he supplies the strength I need to be courageous. “God, supply my every need.”
I often tell people, “Be careful what you pray for because you might just get it.” I guess I should learn, “Be careful what you preach for the Lord might just confront you with it.”
For about the past three weeks I have been wrestling with a particular text in Luke’s gospel. In verses 38-42 of chapter 10, Luke tells a story with three main characters: Mary, Martha, and Jesus. Mary and Martha were sisters and the hostesses of a party. Jesus was the invited guest. Martha had a gift of service, and she put it to work. Mary didn’t have that gift. She just hung out at Jesus’ feet. Martha was distracted, and Mary was focused. Martha complained to Jesus; she needed and wanted Mary’s help. But Jesus didn’t respond the way she wanted him to. She wanted him to tell Mary to get up and help her. But, Jesus said, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her” (verse 41-42). I can imagine Martha saying, with jaw dropped, “What? I’m trying to serve you. Is that wrong?”
Did Jesus say that she was wrong by trying to serve him? No. What he meant was that she went far beyond the call on her life to serve him. That led her to a point of sinful, prideful preoccupation with her service. Doug Milne wrote, “Jesus’ reply to her…indicates that she was not wrong to take trouble for Jesus. Her mistake was in going beyond what was necessary in the circumstances when only one thing (a meal) was necessary. Her response was not measured by the wishes or needs of her guest so much as by her own desire to host something grand. Martha ought to have been more taken up with Jesus and less with herself.” Martha let the task overtake the task-giver. She had put her own activity of serving Jesus over and above her own relationship with Jesus. That was her mistake. And, that is my great struggle as well. Often times I think we have a tendency to think about what we can DO for Christ is as important, if not more important, than how we ENJOY Christ. That is a fatal mistake. In fact, it is idolatry. When we do this, our joy and satisfaction is found in what WE have done, rather than in who HE is and what HE has done. Mary, however, got it right. She perceived that there is one thing of most importance: personal communion with the Lord Jesus Christ. And she chose it. That should not and would not be taken from her.
There are many activities in which we can involve ourselves in service to Christ, but one thing is of utmost importance — communion with Christ. Mary shows us that whatever work we do for Christ our primary need is for time spent with him and hearing his word. Daily communion with Christ is essential. Our work for Christ is only resourced by our continual drinking from the fountain of living water. May the Lord burden us with the desire to sit at his feet and to serve him in his great Spirit.
I came across John Mellencamp’s song “Small Town” when I was in college. I have always been a small town guy. Now, by God’s grace, I am a preacher in a small town. And I love it! My wife and I and our little girl are the proud servants of the Lord Jesus Christ and a wonderful congregation. This blog will be about the joys, trials, temptations that we face along the journey while “preaching in a small town.” There is a great line in Mellencamp’s song that says, “Taught to fear Jesus in a small town.” That is my goal: to teach people to love Jesus in our small town, Chester, SC. My prayer is that we will be encouraged in God’s grace as we share together the blessings of following him.