Sunday, July 14, 2013

Glory to ..?

When you give to the poor, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving will be in secret.
Matthew 6.2-4

Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.
Matthew 5.16

Entertainers (including athletes and actors) use their fame to sell products and to promote their pet causes.  One of the common scenes in sports is when an athlete recognizes God after a victory. 

Here’s the question we should ask ourselves as disciples of Jesus: “Is this what Jesus intended”?  You might think it’s hard to answer, since we don’t know the heart of the person doing it.  He’s definitely not giving in secret, but then again, maybe the guy means well.  The answer is found when we remember Jesus said, “You will know them by their fruit.”

So … are people coming to serve the Lord because of these “testimonies”?  Actually, this usually doesn't happen.  Tim Tebow makes quite a show of his “faith,” but the world doesn't glorify God, they call it “Tebowing.”  The fruit of his actions bring praise to Tim, not God. 

It’s sad that modern Christians make so little effort to understand and apply the concept of secret giving.  

Our churches and their leaders don’t teach this because they don’t understand it.  Most religious leaders these days want glory for themselves and their churches.  “Successful” ones are those who follow Tim Tebow’s example; and everyone knows their name.  

But - this is not how Jesus or Paul worked.  Consider these excerpts from Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth:
If I have to boast, I will boast of what pertains to my weakness.  The God and Father of the Lord Jesus (He who is blessed forever) knows that I’m not lying.
…on my own behalf I will not boast, except in regard to my weaknesses.  For if I do wish to boast I will not be foolish, for I will be speaking the truth; but I refrain, so that no one will credit me with more than he sees in me or hears from me.
…to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me—to keep me from exalting myself!  Concerning this I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me.
And he has said to me,   “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected [teleiosed] in weakness.”
Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.  Therefore I’m well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.”  (excerpted from 2 Corinthians 11:30-12:10)
People love to debate what might have been Paul’s “thorn in the flesh,” but in doing so, they miss the whole point!  God sent an “angel of Satan” to Paul!  Why would God send one of Hell’s Angels to hurt Paul?  For the same reason God does anything – He loved Paul, and seeing how many great things Paul was doing, God knew that Paul would be tempted to pride.  God used evil to help Paul. 

The real message here for us is that: 
God is glorified through our weaknesses – not our strength   

In fact, our power is actually made teleios in weakness!  When we do something by our own power, it’s not surprising.  But when God powers us to do things we otherwise couldn't do … that is grace!

It’s not amazing when a beautiful “Christian” girl wins Miss America.  God made her pretty, and she exploited it for her glory and profit.  What’s amazing is when an incompetent, weak, silly slave becomes the right-hand man of the king of the most powerful empire in the world.  Joseph was daddy’s special little boy, a tattle-tale filled with pride.  He was so despised that all his brothers were prepared to murder him just to shut him up.  Pharaoh was unimpressed by Joseph, but he saw that Joe’s God had blessed everything he touched.  Joseph’s weakness highlighted God’s strength. 

It was the comparative weakness of Jerusalem that glorified God when the mighty Assyrian empire was defeated in Hezekiah's day.  
It was David’s youth and inexperience that brought glory to God in the defeat of Goliath.  
- But - 
Sampson’s great strength and cleverness brought fame, popularity, pride and eventually - his shameful death. 

Even Solomon’s wisdom and the “glory days” of Israel were not as impressive as when the stuttering old lunatic (Moses) led Israel out of Egypt. 

We love bling, we love having great reputations, and to have everyone like us.  We want to be popular.  And so, we advertise our strengths and hide our weaknesses.  We do it, our churches do it, and in so doing we become just like the world, and nothing like Jesus. 

How often did Jesus say, “Tell no one”?  He told the disciples not to tell the world he was the Messiah.  Even when Jesus raised a girl from the dead, he first said, “She’s sleeping” and then only allowed her parents, Peter, James and John to witness her resurrection; and again he told them to “tell no one.”  The results of his instructions are clear in this story:
Jesus stretched out His hand and touched him, saying,
“I am willing; be cleansed.”
And immediately the leprosy left him.  And He ordered him to tell no one,
“But go and show yourself to the priest and make an offering for your cleansing, just as Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.”  But the news about Him was spreading even farther, and large crowds were gathering to hear Him and to be healed of their sicknesses.  But Jesus Himself would often slip away to the wilderness and pray.  (Luke 5:13-16)
Most people can’t resist this temptation – most of you won’t even try.  Bragging, boasting and self-promotion are so common these days that we simply cannot imagine being silent about our accomplishments and open about our struggles.  We wonder “what will people think”?  And that’s our problem.  We care more about what others think than what God thinks. 

There is only one right reason to give money, time, effort or praise or anything else.  The only right reason to give is: love.  

We love the needy person, and want that person to thank God for the gift.  God so loved the world, He gave His son.  God loves the ignorant, so He gave us His word.  God loves the hungry, so He gives food.  If we are His ambassadors, if we are His servants, then we will do God’s will in HIS service and to HIS glory, and not our own. 

What about you?  Do you need people to be “nice” and praise you, and love you and take care of you and be your friend? 

Or … are you willing to let your weaknesses, failures and struggles point the spotlight on God?  Whose reputation concerns you most – your own, or God’s?

Your fruit (the reactions of people around you) will answer that question more clearly than your words. 

People will praise you - or God.

Your challenge: 
How zealous will you be - to be sure all glory goes to God, and none to you?  
What are you willing to do? 

When I came to you I didn't come with superiority of speech or of wisdom (for I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified).  I was with you in weakness, fear and trembling; and my preaching was not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God.  (1 Corinthians 2:1-5)

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