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Thursday, 3 July 2014

The marks of true greatness

Famous by numbers
In the world of the internet, it is possible to be famous without being great.

Of course it is you say.

It is also possible to seem great in the kingdom of God because you have vast numbers of followers on Twitter or your blog, or tons of friends on Facebook, or when googled your name appears as the first return.

In other words to be famous by numbers.

It is easy for Christians to fall into the trap of assessing greatness in exactly the way the world does. We ask how many downloads or how many books such and such has to his name and rank them greatest who has the mostest.

But numbers are deceitful
First, because numbers are no test of godliness. As we now know from numerous celebrities of the last few decades, fame in the world can go hand in hand with private sin in the home. Many people who grew up in the 70s and 80s watching family shows on a Saturday evening have now discovered that the hosts of these programs - men as famous as they come - harboured secret sexual sins.

Numbers don't reveal anything about righteousness, except perhaps inversely (out there in the world where sin is prized, fame may in fact be a sign of sinfulness).

In the second place, numbers are transient. Numbers only tell you who is famous today, in this existential slice of now. For all we know tomorrow their numbers may fall, so that someone we esteemed because of numbers yesterday is no longer to be esteemed by numbers today.

Thirdly, numbers, if they mean popularity, probably should be regarded as suspicious. The prophets weren't popular, the apostles weren't popular, especially the greatest ones like Paul. In their day they were hated and despised. And Jesus was not popular. Why? Because truth and popularity are inversely proportional in a fallen world: the more truthful, the less popular, the least truthful, the more popular. As a general rule, those who are prepared to speak the truth are hated in this world.

Fourthly, numbers don't reflect suffering. Those who walk in the footsteps of the despised Jesus, who take up his cross, whose lives are marked by suffering are those who walk closest to the Saviour and who are the greatest in the kingdom of Christ.

     And how many hits you get can't possibly reflect how many hits you get.

Suffering and sacrifice the real mark of greatness
The real mark of greatness in the kingdom is sacrifice and suffering, i.e. likeness unto the Saviour. These saints don't walk through the world - or, note, the church - doing what they want to do, acting how they please, but live submissive, sacrificial, Christ and others-pleasing lives.They often sacrifice what they want to the needs and well-being of others.

The ones we are to follow are those who can say like Paul:

"I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead." (Phil 3:10)

They want to know not only the power of Jesus, but the sufferings of Jesus, and actually, they know a trick: that the cross always comes before the glory, and indeed is the route to glory.

Amy Carmichael, a great missionary to India, at least one point in her life wondered why someone who was regarded as great in the Christian world was being regarded as great (woudn't we like to know who this was?!).  Amy was not having a pity-party.

As she considered this person, she saw no scar, no self-sacrifice, no personal cost, just a life of "doing what I want" (sometimes, of course, wrapped up in high religious lingo). She wrote a famous poem about this so-called-great man (or was it a woman?):

Hast Thou No Scar 
by Amy Carmichael

Hast thou no scar?
No hidden scar on foot, or side, or hand?
I hear thee sung as mighty in the land,
I hear them hail thy bright ascendant star,
Hast thou no scar?
Hast thou no wound?
Yet, I was wounded by the archers, spent.
Leaned me against the tree to die, and rent
By ravening beasts that compassed me, I swooned:
Hast thou no wound?
No wound? No scar?
Yet as the Master shall the servant be,
And pierced are the feet that follow Me;
But thine are whole. Can he have followed far
Who has no wound nor scar?

Don't worry or bother about numbers
So if you are a blogger don't worry one hoot if very few follow you. Rejoice in low numbers. For then you can have some confidence that instead of tickling itching ears you are probably speaking the truth.

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