I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.
The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ. We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming. But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.
Pointing to Christ
Days are as long as they will be all year. It’s great, isn’t it?
I don’t mean to be a downer, but from here on in, the days get shorter. I’m told there is liturgical significance to this. The Feast of the Nativity of John the Baptist took place a few days ago (June 24), near the summer solstice, just when the days are beginning to shorten. Six months later, we celebrate the Feast of the Nativity of our Lord, after which days begin to lengthen, bit by bit. That says something about the relationship between Jesus and John the Baptist, an interesting relationship for sure. Each had lots of disciples. Each had a powerful public presence. Each lived out a dynamic call from God. Each sought to usher in the reign of God.
But their relationship can be summed up in one verse from the Gospel of John (3:30). John the Baptist is asked about who he is and who Jesus is. He responds, speaking of Jesus: “He must increase, but I must decrease” (just like the length of days after John’s birth). It’s a witness to the character of John the Baptist, a person of considerable ego strength who also understood humility as right-sized self-awareness. In Christian art, John is often depicted with extended arm and pointing finger. Where does he point? To Christ, and often to Christ on the cross. It’s not about him. In that way, he becomes a guide for us. What would it mean for our lives to point to Christ? We can do it in thought, word and action. We can do it in the affirmation that love wins. We can do it by seeking and serving Christ in all persons.
A few years ago, I was ordained on the Feast of the Nativity of John the Baptist. Sure, it was a date convenient for the bishop, but it was also a day that was important to me because John the Baptist provides an amazing example for ministry. He points to Christ. And that is something I aspire to in ministry, which includes writing these Monday messages.
Which brings me to this bit of news for weekly readers. Starting on July 1, I’m going to take a break from writing each week. I’ve been doing it for about 10 years. I’ll take July and August as a time to refresh and recalculate and reflect on this weekly message. I’ll think about whether the messages have run their course, whether there might be a new direction, whether I should just keep on keeping on. Right now, I’m planning on starting up again in September for anyone who is interested.
I’m honored beyond belief that people have actually read these pieces. I’m well aware that some of my messages have been more coherent than others. It’s been helpful for me to write them for the sake of my own clarity about the mysteries of our faith. A friend who taught composition to college freshmen told me about a time when a student came up and said he had a great idea for a story. The teacher said: “You don’t have an idea for a story until you put it down on paper.” Thank you for the opportunity to put ideas down “on paper”, to share with you each Monday morning.
This break from writing Monday Matters coincides with a shifting role with RenewalWorks. The ministry will now be directed by my two colleagues (Loren Dixon and Samantha Franklin). I’m excited to see what new vision they bring to this work. I will continue to be engaged, serving as advisor and consultant, helping with RenewalWorks as they see best.
As I take a break, let me express my hope that in the work I’ve done, both writing on Mondays and also my work with RenewalWorks, there has been some kind of pointing to Christ. As Alan Gates, predecessor at my church in Illinois (and now bishop of Massachusetts) said: “I never met a motive that wasn’t mixed.” I confess that I wrote in part to gratify ego that someone would actually read them. Folks have often been generous in kind comments. Ego is always part of the picture. Got to watch that. My wife tells me that ego is an acronym. It stands for edging God out.
Having admitted that, we can all make our best efforts to point to Christ, even if there are mixed motives. Thanks be to God for the model of John the Baptist, who was clear about who he was and was clear about who Jesus was (and knew there was a difference).
Let me leave you with this question: How will you point to Christ this week? This summer? How will you do that in thought, word and deed in all the days ahead? See you in September.
Ready to help the folks in your congregation refocus on their spiritual journeys? Join our fall cohort of RenewalWorks participants…
The mission of RenewalWorks is to help churches (and individuals in them) refocus on spiritual growth and identify ways that God is calling them to grow. Now is a great time to engage this process and chart the course forward. We would love to help you on that journey. Contact us if you would like to learn more about RenewalWorks, or if you have other thoughts and ideas about fostering spiritual growth as we emerge from the pandemic.