Publication:Pastoral Letter, July 2000
Dear Friend in Christ:
Greetings in the name of our Lord! I trust that Summer is going well for you and yours. This month, I want to share a principle I pray will be a blessing to you and to those around you.
A recent book by Tom Peters quotes Martha Stewart as saying that she had realized that she was no longer just an individual; she was a “brand” name. Martha Stewart is now a product name. She gave herself to certain goods and services and then she gave them her name. People buy Martha Stewart’s products because her name represents a certain quality.
Martha Stewart is not unique in becoming a brand. Our economy is filled with all kinds of products that bear someone’s name, from blue jeans to automobiles; many individuals have become brands.
In some way we are all “brands.” That is, we give our name to our services or products. Much of who we really are has to do with what we have to give. So, if we are going to give more to God or mankind, we must become more.
JESUS CHRIST GAVE HIMSELF
This principle is very biblical. Jesus gave Himself to us and for us. He represented a unique service and gave Himself in a uniquely divine way. “Christian” became the world’s best-known brand name. Jesus was more than an individual, He represented God to man; indeed He was God in man. His name stands for something that changed human history.
Jesus went beyond giving blessings. He gave Himself. Verses such as Galatians 1:4 and Ephesians 5:25 make it clear that He put Himself into what He did. Isaiah 53:12 speaks of Messiah pouring Himself out unto death. The Gospels tell us that He was sweating blood as He prayed in the garden, and He gave His blood on the cross.
There are two clear issues represented here. One is that the “Christ Brand” represents self-giving. The second is that the “Christ Brand” represents divine quality in what is being given. Christianity is about these two things: self-sacrifice…and giving our best to God and for God.
So, we have received His name. We carry the “Christ brand.” We must therefore deal with these issues: Can we give ourselves for His redemptive purpose as He did, and when we do give ourselves, what quality and value have we brought to the altar?
Jesus was the Lamb of God, “without spot or blemish.” He was the very best of the human flock. Only Jesus could have justified fallen man and satisfied God’s righteous justice. We will never be called upon to give ourselves for that purpose. He completed that transaction. Nevertheless, we are called upon to give ourselves in His service as He gave Himself to serve the Father.
The Apostle Paul says it this way: “I have been crucified with Christ and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, Who loved me, and gave Himself for me” (Galatians 2:20). The Apostle was not speaking theoretically; He gave his life in service and martyrdom. He had the Spirit of Christ and urged us to have the same mind (Philippians 2:5-11).
The Apostle wrote to the Corinthians and recalled how the Macedonian Church gave liberally, even in their poverty. But he reminds the Corinthians that the Macedonians first gave themselves (2 Corinthians 8:5). Once we give ourselves, liberality is automatic. The “Christ brand” is about lavish giving of one’s self and resources. Jesus was not guarded, but gracious in His giving of Himself. His path to life was giving life, not “getting a life.”
In contrast to the Macedonian Church, the Corinthian Church was meager in its giving. They had not learned to sow bountifully. Paul’s ability to minister to them had depended on the generosity of others. So Paul urged Titus to go to Corinth and teach them how to give themselves, and to practice the law of sowing and reaping.
THEY GAVE THEMSELVES
John 12:3 records the story of Martha’s sister, Mary, who anointed Jesus with a pound of spikenard…a very costly perfume. In all likelihood, it cost a year’s wages and was probably Mary’s dowry. Then she wiped Jesus’ feet with her hair. Judas and others were stunned at her act of giving. But Jesus said, her act of giving would be told wherever the Gospel was preached (Matthew 26:13). It should be noted that Judas’ undoing was his own attitude toward money.
Luke 21:1-4 records another example of lavish giving. This time it is a widow who puts two small copper coins in the offering. These coins were all that she had.
In Luke 10, Jesus was asked by a religious expert, “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus answered him with the famous Good Samaritan story. In the story, there is a man who was beaten, robbed, and left “half-dead.” Religious officials passed by, crossing the road to avoid Him. A Samaritan (a disliked race) stopped, washed the victim’s wounds, and anointed him. Then the Samaritan took the man to a hotel and instructed the manager to care for the man at the Samaritan’s expense. The Samaritan gave himself to the man in need.
The second part of that story is that the Samaritan had something to give. He had the means to make a difference. We may want to give all…but if we have little to give, it may make little difference.
The two issues that the “Christ Brand” addresses are: the ability to give one’s self, and the ability to give a quality and quantity that makes a difference.
The disciples gave themselves to follow Jesus. But when Jesus had trained them for 3 and1/2 years, they had more to give than at the beginning. He called common men, but in the end, they became very uncommon men. Their gifts at God’s altar and to human history were lavish ones. They gave themselves, but they grew in what they had to give.
KNOWING THE DIFFERENCE
The contrast between Jesus and the religious leaders of His day are profound. But perhaps the clearest difference, besides His divinity and power, was that they placed demands upon others. Jesus gave Himself. They officiated; Jesus served.
As you may know, I had open-heart surgery January 21, of this year. Thanks to our Lord and good medical attention, I have recovered. But the memory that stands out now was my vulnerability during that time. I could not help myself. In addition, I had to cancel several meetings and the income that would have been a part of my normal budget. And as always, there is a convergence of other demands. When one is in such a place of vulnerability, as you may know, one recognizes the distinct difference between those who say, “God bless you,” and those who become “a blessing from God.”
Vulnerability and difficulty teach us true religion. Someone said, “In prosperity our friends know us; in adversity we know our friends.” I am so grateful to God for so many true friends. They were more in number than I expected or deserved.
James 2:14-17 reminds us that there is a clear difference between religious terminology and real faith. Real faith goes beyond saying to a needy person, “Go in peace, be warmed and be filled.” It goes on to give them what is “necessary for their body.” Nothing shows us that difference between true and false religion quite like being in need.
The second part of that is, in order to give what is needed, we must have something to give. There is a difference between “wishing someone well” and having the resources to help someone be well. When self is given, what value is brought to the altar? To give more, we must be more…we must grow.
Here are some questions to help us assess our personal growth:
- What is God calling me to do?
- Can I give myself to it?
- Is it beyond my current ability?
- Am I willing to grow into it?
- What training am I now pursuing?
- What books have I read lately that will help me practically?
- What task is really motivating me?
- What have I accomplished lately that I couldn’t have accomplished 10 years ago?
- What do I hope to accomplish in the years ahead?
- Is there someone that I can help to accomplish their goals?
Answering these questions can help us to be more and to give more.
HOW TO KNOW YOU ARE GROWING OLD
Now let me “shift gears.” I recently spoke at a Leaders’ Conference during which I discussed my age in a self-deprecating and humorous way. I used some material sent to me by my friend, Ray Ciervo, as well as some of my own material. I have had some requests for it, so here are a few of these thoughts….
In middle age, work is less fun; in old age, fun is more work!
You are growing old when:
- It takes longer to rest than to get tired.
- You have learned to watch your step, but don’t want to go anywhere.
- You don’t have to avoid temptation; it avoids you.
- Your memory is so bad that you finally have a clear conscience.
- Your secrets are safe with your friends; they can’t remember them either.
- Your best friends are medical people.
- Your second golf shot is from the ladies’ tee…and they are still on it.
- You hear snap, crackle, and pop at breakfast, but you are not eating cereal.
- You wake up looking like your driver’s license picture.
- Your idea of weight lifting is standing up.
- Your cologne smells a lot like “Ben Gay.”
- You and your teeth don’t sleep together anymore.
The best thing between us and misery is laughter! Please enjoy your Summer and continue to remember our ministry in your prayers and in your budget. We thank God for you and pray His richest blessings for you and yours.
Scripture References: Ephesians 5:25; Galatians 1:4, 2:20; Philippians 2:5-11; John 12:3; Matthew 26:13; Luke 21:1-4; Luke 10; James 2:14-17