Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Mark 1:1-8 -- It's Not About You, It's About Jesus

I have a note on my computer monitor at church that chastises me on a daily basis: "Remember: it's not about you, it's about Jesus." I wrote that after a youth worker seminar a few years ago, during which I heard Phil Vischer, the guy who created VeggieTales, share his testimony about how he lost control over Big Ideas (the company behind VeggieTales) due to a lawsuit. It was devastating to him -- VeggieTales had been at the height of success and Big Ideas employed over 300 people. But God decided to take that away from him in the early 2000's, and during Phil's recuperation period, he realized that VeggieTales' success had taken his focus away from Christ and invested it into pride and self-satisfaction.

Phil Vischer, like me, and perhaps like you, was a disciple of Jesus -- and as such, had to learn the lesson that there's only room for one guy at the top, and it wasn't going to be him. Hit the rewind button to the first century and take a look at another disciple of Jesus.

John the Baptist -- who I affectionately call "J the B" when I teach about him in youth group -- was quite a character, a "card" as my mother likes to say. He wasn't a quiet, meek-mannered bookworm, but a scruffy survivalist who wasn't afraid of the rich or powerful, and upset just as many people as he attracted with his preaching. Every stereotype of a wild-eyed, manic-looking, rag-wearing preacher waving around signs that claim "THE END IS NEAR!" probably owes their inspiration to this guy. Except that for all of how John looked and acted, what with his locust-based diet, this wasn't a man who proclaimed "THE END IS NEAR!" so much as "THE CHRIST IS NEAR!"

His entire life and entire ministry served as a humble prologue to Jesus' arrival on earth. He was Jesus' PR guy, the guy on the loudspeaker who drives a beat-up car around a neighborhood blaring the news about something big about to happen. Or, if you like, John was a blue-collar road-layer, making "straight the paths" (1:3) in the Jewish community so that the people would be prepared and eager to receive Jesus.

In the years that he did ministry in the countryside, J the B was probably tempted to develop a big head. He was a big name of the time, a man who's words carried weight, and who's message drew followers who were baptized by him and dedicated their lives to following him. He could've easily fallen into the trap that Moses did, claiming that his popularity and success came from his own means -- in other words, that it WAS all about him. But he doesn't! Read his message in verses 7 and 8:
"After me will come one more powerful than I, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit."
In John 3:30, J the B said it another way: "He must become greater; I must become less." This was humility in action, a man who wanted what God wanted, who desired what God desired, and couldn't stand the thought of people worshiping him over Christ.

Every time I preach in our church, the part that makes me the most nervous is at the end when I go to the back and shake hands of the congregation. It's a good thing to do -- to be accessible, to minister with a friendly word and touch -- but a lot of people tend to treat it as they would any public performance: to congratulate and praise you. Tell me that's not temptation, after you hear fifty or so people say "Wow, what a great sermon!" or "You did a great job!" or, on the bad Sundays, "You said I'm a sinner, so I might as well go let the air out of your tires." I don't want the attention to be on me after sharing God's Word -- I want it to be on God.

We each are tempted in different ways to accept the glory of successful ministry instead of passing it along to God, particularly when people praise or complement us, or attribute any success to our own efforts. It's not a bad thing to let a complement lift you up, but we should train ourselves to respond to that with "It's not me, it's Jesus. Praise God!"

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Shaken Out Of Apathy

As evidenced by this blog's post schedule, I've fallen into a twin trap of busyness and apathy over the past few months. The more delightful things in my life are easier to focus on, while the harder yet necessary work has been like pulling teeth. I was reminded in a conversation yesterday that spiritual disciplines, such as worship, prayer, Bible reading or scripture memorization do not come naturally to a believer -- these are hard at times, requiring education and persistence and focus. And it's so much easier just to let them slide.

I let a lot of things slide in my life, to my shame. I sometimes fool myself that because I'm so busy and obviously doing things all the time, that I'm okay on the whole, it balances out the things I neglect that are more important. It's the tendrils of apathy clutching at me, urging me not to fight but just to give in. There's nothing Satan likes more in a Christian than one who just doesn't care to stay sharp.

The other day I signed back up with Weight Watchers, because I've been getting apathetic in my physical health, and that needs to be reversed. It's annoying to start a diet on WW, because you have to track everything you eat, make sure you have time in the day for exercise, and be confronted with your weight all the time instead of just comfortably ignoring it. However, in doing so a part of me has stirred to excitement that I'm finally taking action, and I look forward to a year from now when I'm going to lose a whole lot of weight and feel much better for it.

Likewise, I need to go back on a spiritual diet of disciplines and make more time for God in my life. The purpose of this blog, way back at the start of the year, was to hold me accountable for my daily spiritual walk with God -- prayer, scripture reading, journaling. As someone once told me, if I don't take care of my spiritual life, who will? And so I'm returning to it, a bit shamed but still excited. I've loved seminary this semester, and spending a day concentrating on God has become a true joy.