Physician

From The Great Physician To The Great Commission (Part 5)

  • A Labor Foreign Secretary (1966-68) named George Brown got this response from another guest at a diplomatic reception: “I shall not dance with you for three reasons. First, because you are drunk, second, because this is not a waltz but the Peruvian national anthem and third, because I am not a beautiful lady in red; I am the Cardinal Bishop of Lima.”
  • When Barbara Bush, the wife of then Vice President George Bush, Sr., was on a diplomatic visit in Japan, she attended a lunch with Emperor Hirohito at Tokyo's Imperial Palace. In spite of her best efforts to start a conversation, the Emperor would only smile and give very short answers. She finally complimented Hirohito on his official residence."Thank you," he said. "Is it new?" pressed Mrs. Bush. "Yes." "Was the palace just so old that it was falling down?" “No, I'm afraid that you bombed it."

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It’s embarrassing when a leader or an ambassador poorly represents something of which you are a part. They are supposed to be a compelling face for something or someone, and it’s hard. At times they fail, sometimes hilariously and other times more seriously. We tend to think of this in politics or schools or sports teams, but Paul wrote to the first followers of Christ,

“Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.” 2 Corinthians 5:20

As followers of Christ, we are His ambassadors to a world that is not our home. We represent another King and another Kingdom. "Our citizenship is in heaven" (Philippians 3:20).

As ambassadors for Christ, we have the same kind of responsibility as the previous spokespeople I mentioned. But now we are going to the Kingdom of the Earth on behalf of the Kingdom of Heaven, and things of eternal import are at stake.  We’ve been talking about spiritual health for the past six weeks. It’s worth noting that we don’t become healthy through Jesus just for our sake. We are made healthy as part of preparation for evangelism and discipleship.

“The Church is the Church only when it exists for others...not dominating, but helping and serving. It must tell [people] of every calling what it means to live for Christ, to exist for others.” (Dietrich BonhoefferLetters and Papers from Prison).

We are made new with a purpose: to fulfill the Great Commission.

We represent Jesus whether we like it or not. We don’t stop representing Christ … ever. We will be an ambassador for better or worse.

When I was in high school, I worked at a restaurant, and I talked with my non-Christian friends about Jesus. One day a girl said to me, “I notice you say X about your faith, but then you do Y. How does that work?” (I don’t remember what the issue was.) That was a really uncomfortable conversation.

People can’t see God, but they can see us. They can be drawn to or pushed away from the One we represent based on how we, as ambassadors, represent God. I gave one verse from Paul earlier. Here is the broader context:

“ Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.  We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.”  (2 Corinthians 5:17- 21).

It is in this light that we need to understand 2 Corinthians 6:1:

“As God’s co-workers we urge you not to receive God’s grace in vain…”

Paul is not saying that God’s grace is unable to save us. He’s not saying that the people reading the letter aren’t Christians. He refers to them as co-workers!  He’s just pointing out that we can be healed and be made new…and watch an opportunity for bringing others to the Great Physician slip through our fingers.  

So, how can we make sure that doesn’t happen?[i]

KNOWLEDGE

First, an ambassador must have some basic knowledge. After I had my second blood clot, I went to my doctor to find out what to do. He said some stuff I knew, then said we were done. I said, “Should I be taking shots until the Coumadin kicks in?” He agreed that would be a good idea. “Should I rest and elevate my leg?” Sure. Why not? I basically walked him through my treatment. I didn’t go back. He did not have saving knowledge – or if he did, he didn’t know how to communicate it well. Knowledge isn’t the only thing, but it’s a crucial thing. And as some of you have experienced, a doctor who lacks knowledge can have a very real impact on how you view the medical profession in general.

An ambassador for Christ needs two kinds of knowledge: factual knowledge and experiential knowledge.

By factual I simply mean never stop learning more about what you believe and why. Knowledge can’t save you, but it can ground and stabilizes you.

  • I was glad I had already wrested mentally with the problem of pain and evil before I wrestled with it experientially when by Dad died and when I had my heart attack. [1]
  • I have found that the more I study God’s plan for marriage and human sexuality the more I am strengthened in the face of temptation. [2]
  • When I hear challenges to the existence of God from atheists, the nature of God from other religions, or the character of God from well-meaning Christians who have non-biblical views of who God is and how he works in the world, I am glad for the solid theology of my Mennonite upbringing, and the Christian voices that have filled me with truth.[3]

By experiential I mean commit to walking in the footsteps of Jesus and committing to life in His Kingdom.  We are called to explain the hope that lies within us. We are going to need to talk about the transformational nature of discipleship. I can talk about being in the military, but I don’t know what it’s like to be in the military. I can talk about football, but I don’t know what it’s like to play football. Ask me about basketball, crossfit, pastoring, teaching or marriage – I’ve experienced it. In all of those, I immersed myself in it for a while. They weren’t just passing fancies. I didn’t dabble. I entered in as fully as I could.

As Christians, we can’t dabble. We can’t pick and choose parts or pick and choose times and expect to be able to tell people what it’s like to really be a sold-out follower of Jesus.  G.K Chesterton is famous for saying:

The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried.”

I’m not talking about perfect knowledge or perfect discipleship. That’s impossible on this side of heaven. If someone expects that level of expertise, everyone on earth is going to fail them. I’m talking about the process of being committed to that process of learning and growing within the framework of the gifts, talents and opportunities God has given you.  

TACT

This knowledge must be deployed in a skillful way with wisdom and persuasiveness.  Paul notes all the ways in which he “becomes all things to all people” in 1 Corinthians 9:19-22 “so that I may save some . . .”

It isn’t possible to never give offense as an ambassador for Christ, because the message of the cross can be offensive (Luke. 6:26; 1 Corinthians 1:23). But we must do our best to take away needless offense.

“We put no stumbling block in anyone’s path, so that our ministry will not be discredited. Rather, as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way…” (2 Corinthians 6:3)

The message of the Gospel is difficult enough without us giving people additional reason to turn away. We must pray for the wisdom to know how to connect and genuinely enter into the lives of those around us without compromising our morality or faith. It’s part of being “in the world but not of it.” (John 17:15-16). [ii]  I'll explain this more fully in my final point, which is...

CHARACTER

Because ambassadors bring themselves along in everything they do, their presence can either make or break the message. After talking a about tact, Paul talks more about his character, or what it is about his life that has  “commended” him to them. After he describes the suffering he endured for the sake of the gospel, he writes the following about how to live:

“…in purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love; in truthful speech and in the power of God…” (2 Corinthians 6:5-7)

“Purity” is used here probably to refer to sexual purity, but it has a broader meaning that encompasses all of life. We are called to be pure from the inside out – morally clean, able to live without fear of what others may find out about us. Think of this as free transparency. Can someone check your internet history right now or your business’s books? If there is a video of how you interact with people throughout the day, would you be embarrassed if someone saw it, or would you be willing to say, “Sure, have a look!”

“Understanding” refers to an in-depth understanding of the Christian worldview (2 Timothy. 2:15). It’s what I talked about earlier.  It doesn’t mean you have to have all the answers, but you are constantly seeking in some way to understand your faith more fully. Study…listen carefully…think and pray and talk with others about your life….learn to process your life with Christ so that when others ask you to talk about what it means to be a Christian, you can draw from past experiences.

 “Patience.”  This is staying power; being long tempered instead of short tempered. Not easily provoked.  We can listen to or see things hostile to our faith without getting immediately angry and defensive.   If someone says, “I think Christianity is stupid,” and starts to rant, can you listen patiently, trying to understand what they are saying?  Or do you get angry and tense and lash back as soon as you have an opening?  When someone posts a comment that challenges your faith or a position that you hold because of your Christian worldview, do you start a fight, or do you patiently engage for the sake of their salvation?

“Kindness” refers to cultivating a high view of other people and treating them with respect.  It’s meeting real needs – not just spiritual, but relational, financial, emotional…. It’s treating people in God’s image as if they bore God’s image.  In talking with those who are skeptical of Christianity, I have fielded questions like this:

·      The Bible is just an old book with a lot of errors. Why would any intelligent person pay attention to it?

·      Believing that Jesus was a God who died and came back to life is like believing in the Easter Bunny. 

·      You are so judgmental about sex.  Why don’t you want other people to be happy?”

So do I respond with anger and defensiveness?  Do I quote, “The fool has said in his heart there is not God” and stomp away, content to have struck a blow for the Kingdom of God? I need to relate to others with patience and kindness. It’s how God treats us, and it’s intended to lead us to repentance (Romans 2:4).  My goal is not win the argument, though that would be nice. My goal is that they be reconciled to Christ, and God forbid my attitude get in the way.

I’ve realized over the past number of years that people skeptical about my faith expect me as a Christian to attack or belittle them.  Somewhere in their lives, they have seen Christians either act like that or be portrayed like that. Whether fair or not, it’s the impression that's out there.  We need to change that impression one person at a time.

“Sincere love” – This is the ‘agape’ we talked about several weeks ago – “deliberately living in a way that shows esteem or value of something or someone as a precious, beloved prize.” If we don’t have this, we are just obnoxious noise makers even if we could speak the language of angels (1 Corinthians 13).

“Truthful Speech” - We can’t compromise on the reality, and we must be willing to defend it even if it is offensive.  Remember, God does not want anyone to perish (2 Peter 3:9), and neither should we. 

 “The Holy Spirit…the Power of God” - We depend on the power of God to take God’s word, our words, our lives, and point people toward Christ.  We don’t have to force the issue.  We “plant and water,” but God brings the harvest. Be content to be faithfully present, looking for opportunities to plant and nourish God’s truth.  At the right time, speak up. At the right time, challenge and encourage. Just always remember that the Holy Spirit is at work, which is good news indeed.

When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were confused and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” (Matthew 9:36-38)

We, the community of the healed and healing, takes the Good News of the Great Physician to a world in desperate need of the redemption offered by Jesus alone. May we are do this with sincere lover, and with the power and protection of the righteousness of God.

[1] So, there’s this book, Learning To Jump Again, that explains my journey through this :) https://www.amazon.com/dp/B005H11AHO/ref=dp-kindle-redirect?_encoding=UTF8&btkr=1

[2] I recommend the following (out of many good options)

  • Real Sex, by Lauren Winner
  • The Thrill Of The Chaste, by Dawn Eden
  • Fill These Hearts, by Christopher West
  • The Mingling Of Souls, Matt and Lauren Chandler
  • The Meaning of Marriage by Tim Keller (youtube speech given for Google employees)
  • Sexual Morality in a Christless World by Matthew W Rueger

[3] I recommend the following as good starting points that give the Big Picture

  • The Story Of Reality, by Greg Koukl
  • The Reason For God, Tim Keller
  • Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis
  • How Shall We Then Live? Francis Schaeffer
  • How Now Shall We Live? Chuck Colson and Nancy Pearcey

[i] I am indebted to Grek Koukl at Stand To Reason (str.org) for a lot of teaching on three characteristics of a good Christian ambassador.

[ii] How can we tell the difference between tact vs. fear or compromise?

  • Someone who is tactful does not compromise the truth; they simply remember that “well-spoken words are like apples of gold in pitchers of silver.”
  • Someone who is tactful does not avoid confrontation; they confront with respect, care and love, remembering that everyone is created in the image of God.
  • Someone who is tactfful seeks to build bridges, not burn them. Tact does not post mean mean or mocking memes. Tact does not name-call. Tact isn’t defensive. Tact listens, engages, seeks to understand even before being understood.
  • Someone who is tactful enters into accountability so that others observe and weigh in on how they are doing.

From The Great Physician To The Great Commission (Part 3)

Here is today’s leading question: how do we reorder our loves and experience what David called ‘the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living’ (Psalm 27:13)? I would like to offer general principles about what I think is the God-ordained path by which our hearts flourish in their new life – and by flourish I mean our hearts increasingly begin to resemble that heart of Jesus.

First, pray for God to do the work only God can do.

He must create a new heart in you (salvation and regeneration), and he must be the foundation of our ongoing heart health (sanctification). I hope my list last week didn’t drive you to despair. It was meant to drive you toward Jesus. Even if we have a sliding scale that showed us how close we were to the right side, it would always remind us of the need for Jesus. No matter how close we get, we will fail. This reality is not meant discourage us. Godly sorrow is intended to bring repentance (2 Corinthians 7:10).

I am reminded of the times when it is clear to me that I fail my wife or friends. I have two choices: I can retreat in frustration and depression (maybe even anger), or I can appreciate how much they must love me to continue to do life with me. So my failure, properly processed, increases my awe at their faithful love. It is often when I am most aware of my sin that I am in awe of God’s love. When I am most aware of my weakness, I marvel at His power. When I am asking others and God to forgive me, I see the cost and beauty of their love as they forgive and remain faithful.

Let your failures increase your awe of God’s love and inspire you even more to press toward the kind of heart that loves like that.

Second, repent of your disordered loves and commit your ways to Jesus.  

To understand this, we need to talk about the biblical definitions of “love” and “repent”.

LOVE

I talked last week about loving the world or loving God. Love, in the Bible, is not usually used in the sense that we use it in 21st century America.[i] We think of falling in and out of love, of passionate feelings, of overwhelming emotions. We use love to mean like, lust, enjoy, approve…we use it far more widely than the Bible does. The Bible is far more pointed.

We often talk about agape, phileo and eros, three Greek words that show up a lot to define different kinds of loves.[1] Agape is the word most often used for how God loves us; it’s also used a LOT to tell us how to love God and others. It has to do with a commitment to self-sacrifice for the sake of the other. We almost always use it to talk about our relationship to God or other people, but it is used in other ways in the Bible as well.

  • I John 2:15 “Do not love (agapao) the world.”
  • 2 Timothy 4:10 “Demas has deserted me, because he loved (agapao) this present world…”
  • Matthew 6:24 “No man can serve two masters…he will love (agapao) the one…”
  • "…men loved (agapao) darkness rather than light." — John 3:19 
  • "For they loved (agapao) the praise of men more than the praise of God." — John 12:43

This is a usage of agape (the verb form is agapao) that is often overlooked. In this kind of context, there is a different emphasis that emerges (which is true of many Greek words).

  • “Agape has to do with the mind: it is not simply an emotion which rises unbidden in our hearts; it is a principle by which we deliberately live.” – William Barclay
  • “Agape is called out of one’s heart by the preciousness of the object loved. It is a love of esteem, of evaluation. It has the idea of prizing.” https://www.mcleanbible.org/sites/default/files/Multiply-Resources/Chap3/GreekWordsforLoveWS_Chapter3.pdf]
  •  Agapao is a "discriminating affection which involves choice and selection." (biblehub.com)

So when I talk about love in this context, I’m talking about deliberately living in a way that shows esteem or value of something or someone as a precious, beloved prize. Here are some (admittedly weak) analogies:

  • I have some Michael Jordan cards that I value. I take good care of them; I protect them. I also have cards of no name journeyman and I don’t care a bit about them.
  • I have a puzzle in my office – a picture of the Sistine Chapel Ceiling - that I shellacked and framed and have it sitting where I can see it every time I walk in to the office.
  • I have family photo albums at home. If there is a fire, I want those first.

I deliberately live in a way that shows esteem or value of a precious, beloved prize. In terms of my lifestyle, there are things I love in this sense as well.

  • I value my health, so I go to the gym regularly. I spend money for a membership. I buy clothes and accessories that help me. I study. I get advice from other lifters (#AJ).
  • I value this job, so I study the Bible, I prepare, I pray, I live submitted to others for accountability, I rest, I listen to podcasts, I buy books, I ask for wisdom from others when I’m in over my head.
  • I value my marriage, so I invest time, energy, and money in my marriage constantly. We spend money on dates nights, on counseling, on vacation together. We listen to sermons and podcasts. We've been to conferences. We seek counsel from others.

In all these things, I am deliberately living in a way that shows esteem or value for something I prize. And the Bible is clear: We can do this for the things of God or the world. We can deliberately make choices to value pornography over purity; wrath over gentleness; gossip over self-control; greed over generosity; hatred over love; resentment over forgiveness.

I’m sure we don’t think of these things as a something we prize, but when we choose them - or when we choose to stay in them - we deliberately live in a way that shows that we esteem or values that over something else.

You might say, “But I don’t like that I use pornography; I don’t like that I keep giving in to gossip; I don’t like that I nourish resentment.” I hear you. We do things we don’t like or that makes us dislike ourselves all the time. That’s because this isn’t about what we like (an emotional response). It’s about what we love (a purposeful choice to value one thing over another).

What we habitually do reveals who or what we consistently love. Our habits reveal our hearts.

If you are a follower of Jesus, you are not a slave to sin (Galatians 4:7; Romans 6:18). In other words, God is stronger than habitual, ongoing sins. The process of living in God-given freedom may be a long and arduous journey as you deal with influences that have formed you (and sometimes formed you deeply), but you don’t have to be stuck in repeated, habitual patterns of sin.

God did not make you a puppet; He has given you the agency to decide what you value more: the freedom that comes from serving Christ, or the continued bondage to habitual patterns of sin. And you will choose a path, and that path will show what you value. It will show what you love. Joshua told the children of Israel:

“Now therefore fear the Lord, and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness; put away the gods which your fathers served beyond the River, and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. 15 And if you be unwilling to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell; but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”(Joshua 24:14-15)

You will choose a path for your life, and that path will show what you value. Elisabeth Elliot, whose husband was killed while on mission work (read Through Gates Of Splendor) once wrote:“When obedience to God contradicts what I think will bring me pleasure, let me ask myself if I love him.”

This isn’t a word about perfection. It can’t be. Look in the Bible: David was “after God’s heart” and he was at times a hot mess. Peter denied his faith at one point. Abraham was willing to let Abimelech add Sarah to his harem to save his skin. But they repented, and re-committed themselves to esteeming and valuing God as their precious, beloved prize. So this is not about the perfection of every moment. It’s about a direction, a trajectory, a commitment of your life in spite of times of failure. 

Agape love describes a chosen commitment and focus. It’s about habits and patterns. It’s about taking up our cross, dying daily, and presenting our bodies as a living sacrifice because we believe in Jesus and we want to give our life to him as an act of honor in worship.[ii] And if we are who we love (or we become like that which we love), we are in the midst of the life-long process of being transformed into the image of Jesus.

REPENTANCE

Loving God is deliberately living in a way that shows that we esteem or value Jesus and righteousness as a precious, beloved prize. It means we orient our life around Jesus (“What did Jesus do? What would he have me do?”)

Repentance is a call to transfer our agape love to God from anything else and keep it there. It’s turning from sin, shifting our gaze, focusing on Jesus. It means we value and prize not just the person of Jesus but also the path of Jesus. In the Bible, obedience to God and love of God are very tightly connected.

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments.  And I will pray the Father, and he will give you another Counselor, to be with you for ever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him; you know him, for he dwells with you, and will be in you. I will not leave you desolate; I will come to you…

He who has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me; and he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him… If a man loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.  He who does not love me does not keep my words…” (John 14:15-24, excerpted)

I don’t know how many times I went up to the altar to rededicate my life to Jesus when I was in my teens and 20’s. I think the reason I kept going back was that I never really repented. I felt sorry in an emotional moment, which is a different thing. I never turned around from following my own law and kept God’s commandments – or I did for a couple weeks, and then slipped right back into those old habits. My life was changed when I realized how closely intertwined repentance was with obedience, that love could not be separated from the orientation of the habits of my life. 

We say “I’m sorry” pretty casually at times. If we really mean it, we stop doing the thing that we said we were sorry for. Or at least – imperfect people that we are – we commit our lives to turning the ship. We pray, we get counseling, we put ourselves in accountability, we study, we do the hard work of repentance. It doesn’t mean we will be perfect, but we demonstrate the reality of our repentance by our re-commitment to obedience to God. We can’t do it alone; we will stumble along the way. Be at peace. God, who is rich in mercy and full of grace, will be faithful to keep doing the things only God can do in our hearts and minds.

Third, focus on Jesus. Read the gospels. Study the person and work of Jesus. Sing about Jesus. Pray in worship of Jesus. Commit yourself to living in the path of life that Jesus has laid out for us. That must include filling yourself with truth, which is can be found not just in Scripture but in teachings, books, podcasts, counseling, and mentoring. [iii] I hope this is something you see happening at CLG consistently, but we can’t do it enough. You are going to need to “feed yourselves” too.

One thing that stands out to me: a life characterized by love of God looks very, very compelling: responsible, open, forgiving, humble, self-controlled, loving, generous, content. That’s why Jesus said his yoke of obedience is easy, and his burden of sacrifice is light (Matthew 11:30). It brings abundant goodness and life (John 10:10).

God’s desire is that we flourish as His children in His Kingdom for His glory. His path is for us; it is the ‘after care’ plan that leads us ever more deeply into the spiritual healing and transformed life that only Jesus can bring. I will close with David’s encouragement: ‘Taste and see that the Lord is good (really dive in and experience it!); blessed are those who trust in him.” (Psalm 34:8)

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[1] There’s more but these are the big three!

[i] Read a book called Misreading Scripture With Western Eyes for more examples.

[ii] Obedience is ideally meant to point us toward the goodness of the one to whom we are obedient.

  • My Crossfit training pointed me toward my instructor’s wisdom.
  • Following a coach’s instruction reveals a coach’s good plan. ‘Buying in’ to the coach’s system is the same as ‘buying in’ to the coach.
  • Following the directions and creating a tasty dish – especially when I am skeptical about the combination of ingredients - points me toward the creative wonder of a good chef.

There is something about the process of obedience that points us to the one who gave the commands. Walking in the path of Jesus helps us to appreciate the person of Jesus. “Taste and see that the Lord is good.” (Psalm 34:8) carries with it the idea of experiencing God, and in the context of the Psalms it so often has to do with obedience.

[iii] I really recommend starting with Philip Yancey’s The Jesus I Never Knew.