This week’s guest post on the 2018 Blog Tour comes from Dr Mark Adams. His blog is really well done, so do yourself a favour and check it out HERE.
“It was in the last place I looked.”
One of my least favorite expressions follows an anxious search for keys, wallets, and phones. Having scoured the house, the office, or the last place someone visited, when they find what they’ve been seeking, they might exclaim, “Wouldn’t you know it? I found it in the last place I looked for it!”
My inner response is always, “If you’ve already found it, why would you continue looking?” Nobody ever says, “Hey, now that I have my car keys in hand, I’m going to check a few more places to see if they’re there, also.” While there are aspects of our Christian journey that involve a continual seeking and searching, such as a deeper understanding of God’s inexhaustible love and mercy, there are some things that we should stop seeking the way that we had before we were Christians. Here are three things that Christians can stop seeking.
- You can stop seeking people’s applause and approval.
The great goal for which all Christians are striving is to stand in the presence of God, and to hear God say, “Well done!” We earnestly seek God’s applause. In Christ, we are confident that there is “now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” This frees us to live out of our joy and appreciation for the love God has poured on us with lavishness.
Likewise, it matters to us that people can see the good things that we do because of our faith, and even if they don’t join us, they can still glorify God because of what God has done through us. We care that people will assume things about God because of what they see in us.
Even so, as Christians, we need not seek people’s applause and approval the way that the world does. If your sense of self-worth and happiness derives only from what people think and say about you, you’re going to be drinking from a water source that will generally leave you thirsty. People are fickle. They can love someone one minute and turn on them the next minute for a variety of reasons these days, and the function of the always-present smartphone combined with social media only exacerbates and hastens the problem. If you subject your well-being to the hands of people who are chasing after popularity of their own, no matter how much you’ve been liked or admired, you’re still going to have to keep seeking their approval.
Do you understand that God loves you as his own, irrespective of any other factor you could think up or present? Even if your walk involves the occasional stumble or tumble, you rest safe in the Grace of God whose love for you existed even before you did. You can stop seeking people’s applause and approval because God has the final word, and God loves you dearly. As he demonstrated in Christ, he would rather die than try to imagine Eternity without you there.
- You can stop seeking to establish your value through your own competence.
I struggle with anxiety if I feel underprepared for a situation. I work on my sermons and classes far in advance. I try to study every angle of something about which I believe people might ask me. I’ve always worked hard to be a resourceful person, to whom people feel they can turn if they need knowledge and insight. Sometimes, this can become an idol.
Your idol may not be an idol of knowledge, but there are probably other ways you try to establish your worth through what you can do. Are you the person who can get things done? Are you the person who always directs or volunteers in a certain way? Are you the person on whom everyone has to depend when they need a certain thing?
It is one thing to be a valuable asset because of your love for the greater community. It is another thing to share your gifts and talents, but to have strings attached for what you expect in return. It is a blessing to be able to share, to give, and to inspire. But when we must be seen a certain way because of what we can do, we have stopped relying on God for our sense of worth and have settled for an idol, who will leave us unsatisfied. Your gifts are yours for the building up of the body of Christ. Use them for the good of others, and stop seeking to establish your worth through what you can do, rather than through the way God has valued you.
- You can stop seeking to prove your worth through your possessions.
Christians in the West have a hard time letting go of our cultural tendency to buy things for their status rather than for their usefulness. Name brands, vehicle sizes and features, and a variety of clothing and personal ornamentation do and will continue to grab the world’s attention. It is this tendency, I believe, that Paul is addressing when he warns about the importance of dressing with modesty. Even though he would probably be in agreement with our general aversion to dressing overly “sexy,” Paul is concerned that when a person shows off their value through what they use to clothe themselves, they necessarily exclude and demean the poor among us who have no ability to succeed in a contest of possession acquisition.
Let us not forget that those of us who have been baptized into Christ have clothed ourselves with Christ. Jesus is our brand. Jesus is our identity. Jesus is our greatest treasure and our highest hope.
Before you make your next purchase, you might ask yourself:
- Is this valuable for how it is useful, or for how it will make people see me?
- Does my displaying of this item potentially alienate someone who can’t afford one of the same?
- Do I get uneasy at the thought of people not seeing me as successful for wearing a lesser brand?
Until we stand before God, may we always seek God with a holy hunger. May we never exhaust our desire to learn and embody God’s love. But for now, let’s remember that we’ve already found what matters most. We can stop worrying so much about what other people think about us. We can quit trying to prove how strong we are on our own. If we were really so strong, we wouldn’t have needed a Savior. We can stop distracting people from a treasure of ultimate worth by obsessing over things we know we’ll be donating to Goodwill next year. One of the many ways Jesus lightens our burdens is by helping us to release what we no longer need to seek.
Dr. Mark Adams is the preaching minister for the Kings Crossing Church of Christ in Corpus Christi, Texas. He is married to his wife Carolina, whom he met when the two of them were students together at Harding University. He is also a graduate of Lipscomb University. You can learn more about Mark at his website: https://kingdomupgrowth.com
- Read Romans 15:1-9 here.
- You can listen to this sermon here.
DISCLAIMER: I’m not really someone who’s up on all the latest church trends, so this idea may have been around for a while. Even if my thoughts are not original, I hope they’re encouraging.
I first came across the church motto “Come As You Are” in the excellent 2005 book No Perfect People Allowed by John Burke. He makes an astute distinction between tolerance and acceptance that I expanded upon in my sermon.
Tolerance has become one of the battle cries of our postmodern generation. Postmoderns insist that we allow each person to determine their own path through life without imposing our, or God’s, expectations upon them. Tolerance provides individuals with the freedom they need to move forward on their unique path. However, as Burke says (p91), “Tolerance does not value people but simply puts up with their behavior or beliefs.” Tolerance gives every individual space, but that space can also lead to isolation.
God provides an alternative to tolerance that adds depth and relationship: Acceptance. Acceptance embodies grace. From a Christian perspective, tolerance simply overlooks sin, ignores it, pretends it didn’t happen. In contrast, acceptance recognises the sin, identifies with it, and embraces the individual anyway. Acceptance gives grace and forgiveness. If tolerance provides space, acceptance pulls people closer.
I hope that the image I’ve described of acceptance and grace seems warm and fuzzy. I believe that these values differentiate Christianity from any other religion. Who isn’t attracted to grace? Who doesn’t desire acceptance?
However, the feelings change dramatically when we’re called upon to give grace to others. In these moments we find ourselves at, or beyond, the extremities of our comfort zone. We like that we can “Come as we are”, but allowing all those weirdos to “Come as they are” is another thing altogether! Accepting people we disagree with, or who have hurt us or others, who look or live differently, often challenges our entrenched view of how the world should operate. Grace rejects our comfortable, instinctual reactions and calls us to a higher response.
Receiving grace and acceptance provides comfort and peace. Giving grace and acceptance often creates discomfort and turmoil. Jesus did not call us to be comfortable, but to a life of discipleship. I’ll let Burke have the last word in this post (p91), “God far exceeds the requirements of mere tolerance; he restrains his judgment and even showers unworthy people with grace. If we are to represent God through the church, we must not just occasionally tolerate people we don’t like; we too must show grace.”
You can check out the website of Burke’s Gateway Church in Austin here. You’ll notice that the motto, “Come as You Are” prominently displayed on the home page and throughout the site.
- If your church adopted a motto that described its relationship to the unchurched, what would it say?
- Do you think that Christians can give acceptance to others if we don’t have a strong sense of God’s grace toward ourselves?
- Do you struggle with how we can invite people to “Come as they are” without compromising God’s standards? I suspect this is a common challenge and I’d love your feedback.