Posted by: Billy Marsh | December 8, 2007

“Your Are Our Letters”

Last month I wrote a post entitled, “We Are Your Books,” in which I shared one of the powerful moments recorded in Michael Card’s book, The Walk, concerning Dr. Bill Lane’s life as he began to transition from his position at Seattle Pacific University and move back to Franklin, Tennesee to spend the final stages of his cancer with family, friends, and familiarity. At a sending off gathering for Dr. Lane, hosted by the students and faculty, one of the students praised Dr. Lane for not taking the time to finish his magnum opus on the life, mission, and theology of the Apostle Paul. The student’s comments were qualified when he continued, stating, “For if you had spent the time required to complete the book on Paul, you would not have had the time to invest in us. . . . We are your books Bill!

When first writing that post, I intended to follow it up immediately with this one, but to say the least, I have gotten side-tracked and bogged down in other things and issues. However, this idea is still a very heavy one on my heart insofar as it relates to how I view ministry, but also on how I view people in general. I must state at the very beginning a necessary disclaimer: I am for the writing of many books! Furthermore, I hope to contribute to that list one day for my own part. With that being said, I also want to emphasize the great need to invest in people’s lives and make disciples face-to-face and not from a comfortable distance, say for instance, from a blog.

Old Letter

All throughout the Scriptures, God has been near to his people. Take for instance in the OT, God was in the garden, among the Israelites in the wilderness, in the Temple, and so forth and so on. Moreover, all of those examples were intended to point to the time when God would come as the Incarnation and do just as John in his gospel alludes to when he writes, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us . . .  (Jn 1:14a)” The Greek word translated “dwelt”, as many of you know, is an intentional semantic link to the OT word for “tabernacle” or “tent”. In essence, what is being said is that God has taken up residence on earth with his people, in the flesh. Furthermore, we see that as Jesus ascends into heaven, he does not leave us without a promise; we will not be left abandoned by God. In Matt 28:20b, Jesus declares, “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” But, even more so, we see this point realized in the coming and work of the Holy Spirit. Paul, in his epistle to the Romans, calls the Holy Spirit the “Spirit of Christ” as well as the “Spirit of God,” and does so all in one verse (Rom 8:9). The indwelling of the Holy Spirit is explicit proof that God has not, does not, nor will not only relate to us from a distance. And then, of course, when the end of this age finally arrives, and our cries for “Come Lord Jesus!” are majestically answered, we will experience what the Beloved Disciple records “the voice from the thone” saying: “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God (Rev 21:3).”

If God has been personal and intimate with his people, and intends to be so for an eternity, why should we, his church, fail to make tremendous and enduring impacts on the lives of real people in real relationships. I will be honest, I wish that Dr. Lane had finished his work on Paul. I own his Word Biblical Commentaries (vols. 1 & 2) on the letter to the Hebrews and they are by far my favorite, even before I was aware of his oustanding godly-stature. However, it is a humbling truth to see unfold when something so publicized and prone-to-fame as the writing of a good book can be reduced almost to a non-essential accessory next to pouring your life into another’s for the sake of one’s salvation/sanctification and the glory of God.

The Apostle Paul experienced this situation himself. But I must say, though he had been used as the pen by which God wrote life onto the hearts of many others, he still authored the greater part of our NT including the work which tends to at times overshadow the rest of NT theology, that is, Romans. In 2 Cor 3:1-6, Paul is showing that he doesn’t need “letters of recomendation” to verify his apostolicity. The flesh and blood fruit of his labor is evidence enough to signify the ministry which Christ ordained for him to trailblaze. Obviously, Paul and his companions had made some heavily gospel-centered disciples. He speaks of them saying, “And you show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts (2 Cor 3:3).”

Paul’s ministry was an instrument by which the Spirit of Christ wrote the new covenant law of God’s kingdom upon the hearts of sinners (cf. Jer 31:33-34). This is in turn for Paul was further testimony that in all actuality, the one responsible for the supernatural transformation of these people was God in Christ. He claims, “Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God (2 Cor 3:5).” Therefore, a very real and sobering test of whether or not you are effectively conducting cross-centered relationships with real people is to simply reflect upon the fruit of your ministry in the lives of others. Now, this will look different for everyone. Paul does not get into specifics or numbers. Instead, he very boldy writes that his personal discipleship of others was productive insofar as the recipients of Paul’s ministry were exemplary “letters of recommendation,” that is, “letters of Christ”.

Being a former youth pastor and church worker for many years now, I’ve had an abundance of opportunities to write fleshly “books”. However, I have often not taken the time to mature those relationships, and in other times, I have been somewhat reclusive in my dealings towards others. If you read Card’s memoirs of Dr. Lane in The Walk, you will see a man who utterly spent himself on others in such a selfless and sacrificial way, that at times, it is overwhelming. So I ask you: Have you written any good “human books” lately? And if so, would they emanate the gospel to the point that they would qualify as “letters of Christ”? As many good ol’ Southern Baptist preachers often quote: The Shepherd always smells like the sheep!

“I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep.”

~ John 10:14-15 ~

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