Article # five: A Sign
F A R
Mannie is not only influenced, she influences.
Mannie is unaware just how hugely she is being influenced by peers and those giving spiritual oversight. And she is unaware just how much she influences others, especially others of the same gender, especially those younger in the Lord.
Every christian is a sign, a sign pointing others to Christ or pointing others away from Christ. Evangelicals in Mannie’s life, mostly, point away from (an intimate relationship with) Jesus. Their arrow is aimed at a way of life, though containing a degree of Christ, foreign to New Testament writings, impotent and wasteful.
As others are an impediment to her, so is Mannie to others. Mannie is a sign pointing to a wayward path. She is a gospel preached daily by her words and lifestyle, a “different gospel,” not the simple gospel of Christ, but Christ plus, plus, plus.
A. W. T o z e r : If we offer our converts something beside Christ or something in addition to Christ we should not be disappointed if they do not run well or long. (God Tells the Man Who Cares)
While being guarded by others to stay within the zone of established protocol, she is herself a guard policing others from straying beyond the boundaries.
The zone. The zone – a walled christian society with keepers at the gate, easy to enter and difficult to leave, a society ruled by salaried protectors faithful to those higher up the ecclesiastical ladder. Faithful underlings such as Mannie, intent on pleasing the keepers, become keepers themselves, watchful and protective, able to apply subtle pressure on dissidents.
Dissidents. The dissident may be a serious defector of New Testament instructions, or simply one threatening the unity of the group by casting off the plus, plus, plus, one rebellious to headship, a loose cannon.
Unity. Unity is a god to be bowed to, more reverenced by far than the Lord Himself, equally worthy of homage as god custom and god tradition. What we do we do together or not at all. God likes unity and God is good; we like unity and therefore we must be good. Bad guys are divisive malcontents, rebellious, refusing to accept their allotted station, refusing to give the keepers due homage.
Homage. Homage is what Mannie gives to others, the influential get the most, and she expects a little in return. Homage feels almost as good as a paycheck. Homage is the price of acceptance, something she couldn’t live without. Never could. As a child, acceptance by parents and siblings was vital. As a teen, acceptance by teens was on par with pizza and oxygen. And now, forty within sight, acceptance is still to be protected at all cost.
Acceptance. Acceptance (and rejection) can be a tool used illicitly to keep others under control, a certain cruelty required to finesse with finesse. Mannie is as skillful as most, knowing when to offer acceptance and on what conditions, when to hold back a little, when to hold back a lot.
Control. Mannie is controlled, not by Jesus (Jesus is not a controller), not by the Holy Spirit (likewise), but by her christian community. And she in turn has become a controller, ably applying peer pressure to keep whosoever in step.
The zone is a comfort to most, a prison to several. Mannie has neither the courage nor the heart to dissent; her arrow will point in the same direction as others. Within the zone is ample acceptance so she will gladly bow to god unity, and give homage to those who demand it. Small payment for controlling and directing her life.
N E A R
Merf, too, is a sign and a gospel. His life points others to Christ, his actions preach a living and caring Jesus.
Merf frightens the keepers, his independence a threat to god unity. He is tolerated, just. Whenever and wherever he shows up he is met with less-than-veiled suspicion, his words closely examined for subterfuge; the congregation, after all, must be protected.
A sign not only points toward but points away from. The arrow pointing to the left points away from the right, and that creates a conflict. Pointing toward a dependence on and loyalty to Christ alone is pointing away from dependence on and loyalty to the group. The group doesn’t like that. All look to leadership for guidance except Merf and a few others. The group looks to each other for support, Merf doesn’t. They don’t have what Merf has, don’t feel what he feels, are not passionate about his passion…. Jesus.
They notice Merf changing, turning serious, even grave. Doesn’t laugh like he used to. Walks around with a concerned look, like something’s the matter. Leadership is wary of his independence.
Leadership: Wouldn’t be so bad if Merf simply kept quiet. But no, Merf seems to have this need to express. You would think since we are doing our best to tolerate him he would show some gratitude. A little sensitivity. When he talks to others about the lordship of Christ over the lordship of man, don’t think we don’t know who he’s talking about. And okay, so he no longer believes in tithing, believes in being led by the Holy Spirit in his givings… but does he have to yak about it? We need healthy collections! And can’t he, at least in front of others, call us Pastor like everyone else? He’s causing division! If it weren’t for Mannie we would give him the left foot of fellowship!
A. W. T o z e r : The fear that keeps us quiet when faith and love and loyalty cry out for us to speak is surely evil. (God Tells the Man Who Cares)
So Merf is a pain in the neck, a thorn in the side, a threat to god unity, not exactly a team player, would never win the layman-of-the-year award. But Merf is happy. No encompassing walls, no man-lords, no need for permission. Merf is the little boy who climbed the fence and is discovering a massive neighborhood that never seems to have an ending no matter what direction he goes.
God is like that, endless. Merf thinks about God increasingly and is discovering God is very interesting and very big and very good. The Father always provides nourishment for His hungry kids. What Merf doesn’t get at church he gets from books. Seems like some writers know a lot about Jesus. Seems like there are christians more radical than he. Seems like no matter how much he learns there is more to learn and someone to teach.
Ever see a kid with a flashlight in his mouth, skin pinky bright as the light leaks through his pores? Merf’s like that…. sort of. With each passing year the light inside gets brighter and he leaks Christ through his pores. People find themselves studying him when he’s looking the other way.
Though life is good, it isn’t easy. A life with and in and through Christ comes with problems…. alienation, misunderstanding, rejection. Those lukewarm toward Christ will be lukewarm toward guys like Merf.
J E S U S : A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. (Mat. 10:24)
C h a l l e n g e : You are a sign pointing toward and away from. You are an epistle recommending a passion for Jesus or something less. Your light, the light of Christ within, can shine brighter. You can use the gift of free will to choose more of Him. Who do you choose as teacher? As master? (God bless you!)
P r a y e r : Lord Jesus, may Your light shine bright because of our choices. Lord, You commissioned me to preach (as You commissioned all), so I preach. I only ask that You anoint my words. (And hopefully the reader says, “Amen!”)