Imitation

“I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord” (John 1:23 NRSV)

“Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.” (1 Corinthians 11:1 NIV)

Image result for john the baptist

I was talking to someone today about baseball. We are approximately the same age and had the same favorite team as we grew up. We talked about how we would imitate our favorite player when we played a pick up game. You wanted to imitate their stance, how they swung the bat, ran everything. We seemed to have the childlike idea that if we imitated them enough, we might become like them.

I believe that desire to imitate is a God given gift to children. Children want to know what it means to be an adult. They want to know how do we navigate the world we are in. And so they look to adults around them and often imitate them in order to learn how to live in the world. This is why as parents, and I think in some ways, especially for Fathers, it’s so crucial to exhibit what it means to be a godly man. There are generations looking at us imitating us.  We ought to give them something worth imitating.

I don’t know that we ever outgrow that. We are always looking for people to imitate. I think that’s true for us as Christians. We look to others to imitate their relationship with Jesus, hoping to become like them.  Once more, I don’t think that’s a bad thing. After all, Paul goes so far as to challenge others to imitate him as he imitates Jesus.

I’ve been reading through the Gospel of John, and I’ve found someone else to imitate. Obviously we all should imitate Jesus and allow him to live through us. But I’ve found someone who I want to at least begin to imitate in my leadership and I think my spiritual life as well.

John the Baptist. John the Baptist isn’t in the Gospel of John for very long, but in the few places we see him he gives us great insight into what it means to be a Christian leader. There is a lot to like about him.

Granted John the Baptist (or as we’ll refer to him JtB) wouldn’t win any fashion awards with the camel’s-hair robe. And he was probably never asked to bring anything to the Judean potluck’s after he brought the locust and wild honey casserole for the third time. But look beyond that and there is much to imitate.

Image result for i must decrease he must increase

First, he knew his role was to make the path’s straight not lead people down the path. Isn’t that our role really? To know that it’s not our place to convert anyone. All we can do is to help people be prepared to experience Jesus. Our role is simply to do all we can to prepare people to encounter Jesus and trust that He will do the rest.

Secondly JtB understands his role. His role was to make the paths straight and then to step aside. Often in ministry we try to do too much, often for the fear that if we don’t do it, it won’t be done. JtB knows that all he can do is to do what he is called to do and no more.
Thirdly, JtB knows being prophetic comes with a price. The world doesn’t want to hear the Good News. It pushes back. Being a prophet of God often means saying what the world doesn’t want to hear, but needs to hear.

JtB lives  life that points to Jesus. When Jesus begins his public ministry JtB loses some of his followers. Soon he is completely overshadowed by Jesus. And once do we see JtB get angry or become jealous. His life was about given God the glory and allowing Christ to receive the credit. How often do we complain because we receive no credit for what we do?  Hwo much more peaceful would life be if we did everything to the glory of God and only becomes restless when God didn’t receive the glory?

Look at how JtB answers his followers in John 3:29-30. “My joy is in the coming of the bridegroom. He must increase, but I must decrease’  I can think of no better prayer or any Christian, but especially those in Christian leadership than to pray “Lord may you increase and may I decrease today”.

JtB becomes a martyr. Some might think his life ended too soon, or that he is a tragic figure.  I don’t believe that’s how JtB would have seen it.  He rejoiced in the great privilege of giving his all to God. No one who gives all they can for the truth  is ever a tragic figure. JtB left everything at the feet of Jesus and rejoiced in giving his all. What do you hold back?

The world needs more Christian leaders like JtB.  Knowing our roles, telling the truth, willing to pay the price and be unpopular for the Gospel’s sake. desiring everyday to decrease that teh glory of Jesus might increase.  Will anyone see a bit of John in you?

 

Amen.

 

In Christ,

Rev. Dr. Brian Jones <><

 

Facebook Isn’t Church

“Now you are Christ’s body, and individually members of it.” (1 Corinthians 12:27)

Image result for the church community

I don’t often fall prey to sensationalized headlines, but every now and then one grabs me so hard I just can’t help myself.  For instance , the other day I came across an article with this emblazoned headline, “Will Facebook replace the church?”. I mean, come on, who can resist reading that article?

It seems that Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook, sees the great potential in social media, especially his social media to truly bring us all together. It will be a place that creates and sustains community, even more so than the institutions we have before us, including the church.  And so the article wondered is Facebook would replace the church as it continue to reach out and create community.

First, let me say I want to commend Mr. Zuckerberg on a very astute  observation.  Whether he realizes it or not, he is supporting a very biblical world view.   The Bible says we were created in the image of a Trinitarian God. Therefore, because God is eternally in community we as his creation always desire to live in community. Not only do we function better in community we cannot fully become who God wants us to be outside of a community.

Zuckerberg realizes it’s something we are missing today. We are missing  being a part of community. He sees the crises of a people made to be in community, but lacking anything that truly brings people together. So I admire his effort.

But in all honesty, the answer to the headline is simply, no. No, social media, And we can lump Facebook, Instagram Snapchat, kik, you name it into the same category. But Facebook will not replace the church. And if it does, its surely a poor replacement. There’s no doubt social mdie is here to stay, and I like it. I use it. If you are reading this, its probably via social media.  I’m a fan. But it simply cannot replace the church. The church offers true community.

First the church is the Body of Christ.  That’s not just cool imagery. We are the body of Christ himself. I’m not sure we can take this point too seriously. It is a part of the bedrock of our understanding who we are.

Community is NOT the goal of the church. Nor is unity. I’ve heard this in my own denomination ad nauseum lately. We must be unified.  Let’s not lose our unity.  Even many of the ads made by the UMC center around community as we “Rethink” church.  But no where in the Bible does it say the goal of the church is unity.  Look at the Great Commission of Jesus given to the church at the end of the book of Matthew. We are to go and make disciples of Jesu Christ to the ends of the earth.  Unity and community are beautiful things. Bu they are by products of our being the church, not the end result. When we accept the Lordship of Jesus, allow His Holy Spirit to infuse us, we go and make disciples. That’s unity. Unity in a purpose under Christ.

I mean, can you imagine a scenario where Jesus says at the End of time, begone you never knew me, you never visited the imprisoned, you didn’t feed the hungry you didn’t clothe the naked.  Oh,but Jesus we were unified, we got along and we have community.  Oh, says Jesus, in that case come on in.  All I ever wanted was for you to get along.  I want to be part of something more than a group that makes each other feel better.

The church realizes that community comes through accountability. Social media doesn’t hold us accountable to each other. Oh we argue and point out how someone else is wrong. But really, do we ever hold one another accountable?  It holds up a mirror and calls you into a deeper relationship with Christ. It dares to tell you when you are not following Jesus. The church has a community that forces me to look at the sometimes ugly part of who I am, yet it loves me anyway.

The church knows that true community means loving and living with some really difficult people.  I think one of the great thinks about Facebook is that I don’t have to follow everyone I am friends with. If your posts annoy me, heck if you annoy me, I am free to just not listen to you anymore. I dont’ have to see anything you write.  I can, at the drop of a hat unfriend you.

But the church doesn’t work that way. We actually have to love those we don’t agree with. We see all of their faults and yet love and respect them anyway.  And that’s Ok because they are doing the exact same thing to me. I don’t get to have a homogenized view of community within the church.  We are a part of the Body of Christ, even when we don’t get along. I can’t unfriend the body of Christ without unfriending Jesus Himself.

Like I said, Social Media is a great tool. and it is. It can enhance community by bringing us together, providing a vehicle by which we can get closer.  But it’s not real community, at last not how Jesus defines community.  Real community is somehow more difficult, more problematic, grittier than what the world offers us. Yet in the midst of that it is also infinitely more beautiful as it helps me see the face of Jesus in others and helps inform me so that others might see Jesus in me. That’s community.

 

In Christ,

Rev. Dr. Brian Jones <><