Heroes in the Ordinary


All of us admire people who’ve achieved great things in life. We are drawn by heroism in every sphere of life. We want to be like them or be associated with them. You might actually say all our history and moral stories are written with the hero in mind. It’s the man who beat the odds and achieved what looked impossible that has a story to tell. It’s the man who’s brought up a family and educated his children amidst all kinds of challenges that we admire. It’s the leader who’s lead well and made fortunes for his people that wins a legacy. The man who inspires is the one who stood and fought for what he believed to be right even when the whole world was against him. Hero mentality shapes a lot of what we do and desire.

I actually think the recent push in churches on getting people to know their God given purpose is informed by this. We want to believe there’s something great only we can achieve and when we find it then we’ll have made it in life. If we can find something to live for then our lives will count for something. We’ll make it in life leaving an impact and we believe God will be happy with us. Anyone who is a dreamer lives in that world and we cheer them on to keep dreaming. All dreams are valid and the sky is the limit we say.

Some of us aim for higher goals, to become a household name or at least a man of influence in our circles. But then we grow up and realize somethings are not as easy as we had dreamt. Still we hope we’ll make a significant contribution where God has placed us. And at the very least we hope people will remember us for something. Something to be said on our funeral that we did right and lived for. Of course life is not always as linear and we can get bitter, selfish and disillusioned to care for anything. But still for the most part we admire heroism even if only to be associated with it.

Here I’m not just thinking of the public space but even within family. We want to go past where our parents reached or be like them if we deemed them successful. Men want to emulate other men who have done great things for their families however they define that. Dad wants their children to grow up admiring them or at least go beyond them. Women want to be associated with great men whether at home or in the society. We are all drunk with heroism until something else replaces that good addiction. I think the problem with us is we are always looking at the end of the story not the process. For the most part we think it’s an event that will scale us high to raise our heroic flag. It’ll be an impossible situation that only we could help out. It’ll be an instant that calls us to rise to the occasion and showcase our greatness.

But while we know a lot of heroes by key moments in history they are actually defined long before in the ordinary life. They are heroes before they climb the Everest or stand for what’s right. It’s because they stood the ground in the ordinary that they can withstand pressure when it comes to the key moments. But for the most part they are just ordinary people like you and me. Now we don’t have a lot of documented ordinary stories of heroes because for the most part that doesn’t sell. But where we do we realize our heroes are more ordinary than we realize.

I was just thinking about the heroes of faith, pardon me if that’s not something you subscribe to. But if you look at the so called heroes of faith like in Hebrews 11, yes you see great extraordinary things they did that defined them. But if you looked closely you’d also realise a lot of ordinariness that we miss. That they were actually normal people with weaknesses and some made serious blunders in life. But they’re recorded as heroes because of what they believed and were willing to stand and where need be, die for. That faith made them scale high in history but for the most part they applied it in the ordinary life. They were just normal people living for what they believed and sometimes even had their doubts.

Think about Abraham the father of faith. Most people know him for his willingness to leave his home to follow God, for trusting God for a son in old age and even being ready to sacrifice him in obedience and faith to God. But the whole story of Abraham that is undocumented is mostly a man living ordinary life and trusting God to fulfill his promise. Theres a lot of waiting time and Abraham isn’t always a saint through and through. Remember his story in Egypt? Take any other character in the list and you’ll see that one, they were human, weak and sinful. Second, for many we know them by key moments of faith and not much else. But third, we realize that faith must have been practised not only in the key moments but in the ordinary life.

I think it’s the ordinary that shapes heroes long before it comes to a key moment. Think about the greatest of those heroes, our Lord Jesus. The world knows him for his death and resurrection, the sermon on the mountain and maybe his controversy with the religious class. But looking at his life however exceptional we read in a lot of ordinary life. He’s walking with his disciples, he’s eating in a tax collectors house and sometimes he’s hungry and disappointed. But what makes it all different is that his faith permeates through the ordinary. His faith and trust in God doesn’t just appear at the tail end of his life but is evident all through and through.

Perhaps we should focus more on the ordinary life even as we dream of the tail end that defines our heroism. Don’t just dream of one day standing and willing to die for what you believe. Practise what you believe in the ordinary away from the limelight. Because if one day we might call you a hero you’ll have been one long before in the ordinary. When it comes to it the process is what makes heroes in the end. It’s how we live in the ordinary life that will shape us into what we aspire to be. If we do this we might realise it’s easier to be a hero than we imagine. Take one day at a time, live for God and apply what you believe.

True Christian heroism is defined not only by where we stand at the end but by the process. It’s in the ordinary that our sanctification is achieved. It’s in the ordinary that we live for God and our faith shines in this life. When we are at home raising our kids. At school when we are preparing for that exam. In that marriage not on special days. When we are in that office on a Tuesday and it’s just a normal day at work. The difference is our faith should permeate all through it. Our heroism is shaped not by key moments but in the ordinary. And at the end it’s how we lived in the ordinary that will count.

13 Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind.14 For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil.

Ecclesiastes 12.

Christian, don’t waste this Pandemic!

Title borrowed from John Piper’s book, Don’t waste your Life.

20200406_103719

If as Christians we believe that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.” Romans 8:28 then we need to ask whether we are missing the good out of this Pandemic?

It’s inconceivable to the human mind that anything good would come out of tragedy but church history since the Exodus to the Cross and the birth of the early church proves it happens this way. Suffering is the gateway to Christian growth and will ultimately usher in eternal glory with our Lord and Saviour, Jesus.

It was Jesus suffering and death in the hands of evil religious leaders and a cowardly ruler that bought us eternal joy and salvation. The groom and darkness of that Friday birthed the precious Easter Sunday. We were reconciled to the Father and given the hope of eternal life. The resurrection of Jesus from this life of suffering and death is the foundation of our faith and what informs how we live now. Otherwise, as Paul says:

… if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. 19 If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied. 1 Corinthians 15.

So going by this foundation it means death won’t be the end of us. Our hope of resurrection goes beyond the threat of diseases and economic breakdown. Those things will affect us and to some of us worse than others but they won’t steal our hope. On the contrary, God can use this time to shape us to be more like Christ in his sufferings. To grow in the flames of suffering in our love and trust for God if we align ourselves with his plan and purposes.

This could turn out to be a memorable time of Church growth numerically and in regard to its discipleship. But it could also be a time of great confusion and backsliding if we focus on the bad, the uncertain and forget our sovereign Lord is still in control. My cry is that we won’t waste this time but make the most use of it to live for Jesus as we always ought to as strangers in this world.

To turn to God in prayer. Seek to grow in our knowledge and love for Jesus and his Word. Seek to expand his kingdom by our witness in word and deed. To look at the fields as Jesus would say and see it’s ripe for harvest:

I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest. 36 Even now the one who reaps draws a wage and harvests a crop for eternal life, so that the sower and the reaper may be glad together. John 4

This is the time to reach out to friends and family with the Gospel truth and Gospel love. It’s the time to soak in fellowship with God in our devotion and prayer. It’s time to model family devotion and fellowship. It’s time to learn Biblical reflection. Time to encourage one another with the life-giving truths of the Gospel. Time to create and develop good spiritual disciplines. Time to preach. As Steve Lawson echoed;

There has never been a greater hour to preach the gospel. The darker the night, the brighter the light.

We don’t know how long this COVID-19 will take before a cure is found or we recover from it. And we should continue praying for a cure and be wise in controlling it’s spread. But as Christians, we should also make the most use of the time as we live for King Jesus even in this.

15 Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. 17 Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. 18 Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, 19 speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, 20 always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Ephesians 5.

Faithful disciples precede gifted Bible teachers

They say experience is the best teacher and although that’s a dangerous way to learn there’s truth in this. You can be good in theory but the practice is the real test. When I started training to do Gospel ministry I used to try work out some of the things that would be challenging in my future ministry and think of how my Gospel conviction might inform these. I thought of where I wanted to serve, the kind of church, who to partner with and even the ”fights” I was ready to fight informed by my Gospel conviction.

In all this, I never assumed I might be the biggest challenge to all I wanted to do for the Lord. I thought other people and their sin, perhaps lack of Gospel clarity, good systems and structures were what might hinder my ministry. But increasingly I started realising my sin, my unbelief and unreal expectations are what can hinder me from serving King Jesus wholeheartedly as echoed by Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:58:

58 Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.

It’s me who needs the Gospel more for ministry to flourish not just those I teach and work with. It’s me who needs my Gospel conviction to be applied in my day to day living. If I lose this personal battle it doesn’t matter how many external battles I fight well.
I need this body crucified everyday in submission to God and his Word before I call on others to look to the Saviour and do his will.
I need what I know in my head to be what I believe in my heart and what I do with my life. I need the knowledge of the truth that teaches and leads to godly living as Paul instructs Titus:

1 Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ to further the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness… Titus 1

I recently did a talk on servant leadership and as I prepared for this I realized how I knew this in my head and wanted it in my heart and yet how often I hate to be treated as a servant. What I knew differed with my practice making me a hypocrite. In this situation, it’d be easy to run to Romans 7 and say Paul had a similar experience not always doing what he wanted but I think I shouldn’t be quick with excuses. I need the grace that bears the fruit of the Spirit in my life and not merely the knowledge that acknowledges the fruit I should bear.

I’m helpless on my own and yet I know how powerful the one in me is. He’s the one whose voice made the world and by his breath will one day destroy it. He’s the one who made me into a new creation and the one who works in me by his Spirit. I don’t want to hide my failure but rather present my weakness to him who works in me and through me.
I call for his help to work out this salvation in fear and trembling. To make me not just a teacher but his faithful disciple. That I might preach and teach what I truly believe in. Because like Paul I don’t want to guide others to the prize and later be disqualified:

27 No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize. 1 Corinthians 9.

Worship beyond the church door!

*****

I recently listened to this song, My Church by Maren Morris and it got me thinking what Biblical worship means and doesn’t mean. You may need to check the lyrics and maybe listen to the song to understand where I’m coming from. I promise you will find it interesting and won’t fall away from grace.

But if you are not comfortable listening to secular country music then just read along and please tell me what you think.
Here are a few lines:

Can I get a hallelujah
Can I get an amen
Feels like the Holy Ghost running through ya
When I play the highway FM
I find my soul revival
Singing every single verse
Yeah I guess that’s my church…

(My church lyrics by Maren Morris)

Some of us might actually struggle to realize this is not a Gospel song or a church hymn. Perhaps it would pass the test in a couple of churches. But I found the song interesting not because it draws me to worship but as it warns me to be clear what worship is and isn’t about.

Some of you may have valid reservations about listening to this. It is a mockery of what church and worship are about and could even be termed blasphemous. But bear with me for a moment and please let me know what you think in the end. Perhaps I need to be rebuked for entertaining this thought.

In this song you have everything that would make a good “worship experience”: well-played music, a choir, and a congregation to sing along and you can be sure of many “hallelujahs” to this one. But one thing is missing, the one thing that defines Christian worship, God’s Word.

Worship as we see it in the Bible is a response in total surrender, submission, and reverence to God and his Word. It’s God’s Word that cuts people to the heart and brings honor to God through his people’s lives.

It is not a one day in a week affair but affecting all of life. In Romans 12 we are called to a way of life as a living sacrifice in response to what God has said in this amazing Gospel focused letter. This is Biblical worship:

1 Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. 2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. Romans 12:1-2

You cannot read those verses and think Paul has in mind just your normal church service. If so he has missed a lot that would be deemed essential for worship Sunday. He doesn’t even think about music when he talks about worship!

But far from it, the letter has bigger fish to fry. One day a week is too low a bar to define worship. He has in mind your Monday to Sunday, every day, all the time and all of life. Because a Christian is called to a life of worship when he turns to follow King Jesus.

God’s Word as the heart of worship
But it would be a big lie to assume worship is merely our response and outworking for God. As with grace, it is a gift and not something we achieve on our own even with all the right motivations to do so.

No, God produces worship in us as we submit to his word. Not even worship is our own doing but a product of our renewed minds by his word to do his will.
We see this in Romans 12:2:

2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

We can only worship God because of what he has achieved in us as those he has breathed new life in his Son. As he says somewhere else, Christians are God’s new creation made to do his good work:

10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. Ephesians 2

It’s because of what Jesus has achieved in us, our redemption and reconciliation that we have become worshippers, that is, Christians.

And it is the work of his Spirit in us through his Word that brings out a life of worship instead of conforming to the pagan and religious life of this world.

What about the church service?
Back to Maren Morris’ song, if Sunday is just a tip of the iceberg that is a life of worship; why do music, the service, and all the liturgy matter?
To some extent, it doesn’t matter how we organize or sort our music as long as the heart of worship remains to be God’s Word.

I must not be heard as saying music is irrelevant but that it is not the heart or even the catalyst of worship, God’s Word is. Music is very helpful in echoing the truths of God’s word to each other and in response to what God has said.

Mostly I remember the songs more than I remember the sermon outline. But if we don’t have God’s Word at the center then we are not different from Maren driving down the highway with her radio on.

Most of us would enjoy a church service that has well-played music and a good choir but if I left without hearing from God’s Word and speaking this to my brothers, then I should never claim I was in church. At least not a Biblical church as we see it in the New Testament.

Is church just about the sermon then?
God’s word is the heart of worship and yet we don’t go to church as we do a school. Back to our definition of worship from Romans 12, we know worship has life in mind and the Sunday service should have people’s lives at heart.

We are not there merely to tell each other what a book says but to hear from God, encourage one another in this truth and share this life of worship together. Everything we do including music should serve this goal. If music competes or distracts us from this aim then we should be ready to cut it down or even cut it out.

In the rest of the chapter, Paul continues to talk about how church life and the body of Christ looks like and again he has in mind more than just the official Sunday service. He has every member in mind, each of us using our gifts to fully serve and build up one another not to compete with one another.

6 We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; 7 if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; 8 if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully. Romans 12.

And as you read on it becomes perfectly clear that worship life flows beyond the Sunday service in your local church to your work place and community to how you live in this secular world.

When you clearly understand this then Maren’s car or my bicycle becomes a place of worship like anywhere else for a Christian.

*****