JANUARY 10, 2016

 

MORE OR LESS

Psalm 29; Luke 3: 15 – 17 & 21 – 22

Rev. Sabrina Ingram

 

A major theme in many recent books is the numbing apathy of western culture.   Our souls have been soothed into complacency.  We’ve lost what Sam Keen called the “Fire in our Belly.”  This spiritual apathy is also true of the Church in the West.  We’ve lost our fire.  We lack urgency and fervency.  The Christ who turned over tables, confronted critics, stood against injustice and rose from the dead has been reduced to “Gentle Jesus, meek and mild” with no more strength than a cotton ball.   Being “nice” is all that’s required of Christians.  Congregations grow smaller and smaller; churches close.  Creeds have been replaced by “political correctness”.   Worship is seen as dull and boring.   We’ve lost the conviction that Jesus can transform our world.  We’ve quenched the fire of Pentecost that energized the early Church and we don’t seem to know how to get it back.  What’s worse, we don’t care.   Pew Research did a world-wide survey asking how important religion is to people in 40 countries.  They found that in the vast majority of Muslim countries the importance of religion ranged from 98 – 83%; in Western countries it averaged about 22% with Canadians coming in at 27%; Latin America lay about half way between these extremes.  Even in the US only 53% said their faith was important.   Richard Wumbrand was a Christian citizen of the USSR who spoke against the communist government and was twice imprisoned and tortured.  After defecting to the US and founded the organization “Voice of the Martyrs” he wrote, “There is no law that requires Christians to be dull, luke-warm, half-hearted.  Christianity can be heroic.  The right spelling of the word ‘love’ is s-a-c-r–f-i-c-e.”

 

Reading over today’s scriptures, I was surprised to be drawn to vs. 15 – 17 of Luke 3, which speak of the ministry of John the Baptizer who came “proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (vs. 3)   We’re told in vs 7 “the crowds came out to be baptized”.    In vs 15 we find “the people were filled with expectation.”  Something exciting was in the air.  They wondered if John were the long awaited Messiah.   John was the superstar of his day.  He had the intense popular power that tempts some people to start a cult.   However when asked if he were the Messiah, John adamantly denied it, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals.  He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” (vs. 16)   The Gospel of John records John’s attitude quite succinctly, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30).  He must become more and I must become less.   There have been times in history when Christians have been on fire for Christ and have put the love of Jesus, the spreading of the gospel and the welfare of others before their own success, safety, ego, and even life.  “He must become more and I must become less” is the mantra of Christians who have set the world on fire for Christ.  Let’s look at the faith conviction that drove these people to live passionately for Christ.

 

Jean Calvin the father of the Reformed tradition said, “We shall never be clothed with the righteousness of Christ except we first know assuredly that we have no righteousness of our own.”

Because we need the grace of Jesus Christ, He must become more, I must become less.

 

Paul Washer, director of HeartCry Missionary Society,which supports indigenous missionary work states, “There is no such thing as a great man of God only weak, pitiful, faithless men of a great and merciful God.”              

He must become more, I must become less.

 

The Canadian born preacher Henry Allen Ironside declared. “All self-effort is but sinking sand.  Christ alone is the Rock of our salvation.” 

 

Joni Eareckson Tada, the inspirational Christian who was left a quadriplegic after a diving accident in her teens reflects, “The greatest good suffering can do for me is to increase my capacity for God.”

He must become more, I must become less.

Billy Graham puts it this way, “Christ demands first place.  There’s no room on the throne of your heart for two gods.”  

Because Jesus is Lord, He must become more, I must become less.

 

English author and fly fisherman, Izaak Walton concurs, “God has two dwelling places, one in heaven and the other in a meek and thankful heart.”

He must become more, I must become less.

 

Gbatiste, the internet evangelist tweets, “Don’t try to impress people, just be sure to glorify God in all you do.”

He must become more, I must become less.

 

The British evangelist Rodney “Gipsy” Smith reminds us, “There are 5 Gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke, John and the Christian.  Most people will never read the first four.”  

Because we are Christ’s witnesses, He must become more, I must become less.

 

The American attorney and freedom fighter Patrick Henry (1700’s) spoke these prophetic words, “It is when people forget God that tyrants form their chains.”

Because of human suffering, He must become more, I must become less.

 

William Booth the founder of the Salvation Army vowed, “While women weep as they do now, I’ll fight; while children go hungry as they do now, I’ll fight.  While men go to prison, in and out, in and out, I’ll fight; while there is a poor lost girl upon the streets, I’ll fight.  While there remains one dark soul without the light of God, I’ll fight.  I’ll fight to the very end!”  

He must become more, I must become less.

 

A devout Christian mystic, Harriet Tubman was an  African-American slave, abolitionist, humanitarian, and, during the American Civil War, a Union spy.   She lamented, “I freed a thousand slaves.  I could have freed a thousand more if only they knew they were slaves.”

He must become more, I must become less.

 

The Chinese missionary Watchman Nee, who spent the last 20 years of his life imprisoned for preaching the gospel in communist China ruminated, “Revelation is the first step to holiness, and consecration is the second.  A day must come in our lives, as definite as the day of conversion, when we give up all right to ourselves and submit to the absolute Lordship of Jesus Christ.  Christ is the Son of God who died for the redemption of sinners and resurrected after three days.  This is the greatest truth in the universe.  I die because of my belief in Christ.

Because Christ died for us, He must become more, I must become less.

 

The German theologian and martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer reminds us all, “When Christ calls a man he bids him come and die”.

Because we said we would follow Jesus, He must become more, I must become less.

 

John Wesley the evangelical revivalist was so certain of the need of humanity and the power of Christ he vowed, “Give me 10 men who hate nothing but sin and love nothing but God, and we’ll change the world.”    He knew from experience and confidently proclaimed, “Catch on fire with enthusiasm and people will come for miles to watch you burn.” 

Is there fire in your belly?  Then He must become more, I must become less because apathetic Christians who see no need for grace, do not allow Jesus to be Lord of their lives, who do not witness, who ignore human suffering, who do not believe in the resurrection and are unwilling to take up their cross and follow Jesus, are like fire-fighters who never leave the station.