When he spoke to us three days ago Pastor John began our final serving of Freedom in Christ by reading the last portion of the Apostle Paul's Letter to the Galatians chapter 6 verses 11 through 18: “See what large letters I use as I write to you with my own hand! Those who want to IMPRESS PEOPLE by means of the flesh are trying to compel you to be circumcised. The only reason they do this is to avoid being persecuted for the cross of Christ. Not even those who are circumcised keep the law, yet they want you to be circumcised that they may boast about your circumcision in the flesh. May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is the new creation. Peace and mercy to all who follow this rule—to the Israel of God. From now on, let no one cause me trouble, for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers and sisters. Amen.”
Impressing people. How much of our time, energy, thought and worry goes into trying to IMPRESS PEOPLE? Do you see it in yourselves? Do you see it in other people? Pastor John began to illustrate the moral issue that Paul noted in the last part of the letter by showing a picture from...
The Wizard of Oz. The video clip is from a scene where Dorothy's little dog Toto pulls back the curtain behind which the itinerant “Professor Marvel” (“itinerant” meaning he wandered here and there because he couldn't get a regular job) was busy. What was he busy with? He was busy trying to IMPRESS PEOPLE and make himself out to be very much more than what he really was (an old man who could not be sure where his next meal was coming from).
Okay, then: do we, like Professor Marvel, seek to hide our true selves? Honestly, do we prefer calculated presentation over genuine substance? Do we know the “right” answers so that we can put on a good show for those to whom we feel the urge to show off?
Pastor John further illustrated the point with his own story about participating in a five-mile run for charity. As a youth Pastor John was recruited into the race “to help fight cancer”. That idea sounded good, but going further our future Pastor John thought; “in doing this I will add to my community service hours which I need to be considered for acceptance to good schools”. At bottom, Pastor John way back then didn't really care about the stated purpose of the five-mile run. For him the main thing was that participating in the run would make him look good and he quite naturally calculated that he needed to IMPRESS PEOPLE – the right people.
Sounds pretty normal, right?
But Pastor John asked us: “Can you perform your way to God?” He continued: “Can you earn salvation by putting on a good show?” So that begs the question “Do you fear men or do you revere God?” Having total reverence for God completely drives out the fear of men. After that, there is none of the urge to IMPRESS PEOPLE.
Now, as the Apostle Paul writes in his letter, there is such a thing as a good boast. Think about it: what you boast in underlines your VALUES. Pastor John brought up the case of Eric Liddell and the 1924 Paris Olympics. He was thoroughly trained for the 100-meter run. But, he would not run on the Lord's Day no matter what. So, he missed his one big chance to impress people in the race he had so well trained for, because his VALUES were elsewhere. Perhaps we should not be greatly surprised. Though British (Scots, to be exact), he was born in China to parents doing missionary work there. Evidently the values his parents must have had to keep at the Lord's work in what was then a very poor and dangerous country must have been impressed upon him as he grew up.
Well, to continue the story, the 400-meter race was run during the week in the 1924 Olympics. Though not trained in that event Eric Liddell entered it. He won the race. God has His ways!
Eric Liddell could easily have gone from his triumph in the Olympics to a successful sports career and the fame and fortune that could have come with it. But his life was not for show. He felt no need to impress people. He went back to China and worked for many years as a missionary. When the Sino-Japanese War of 1937 merged into the Second World War in 1941, as an enemy national he was put into an internment camp by the Japanese Army. Conditions in the camp were poor. Eric Liddell did all he could to ease the lot of his fellow internees even at the expense of his own health. He died in the camp several months before the end of the war. In all that he said and did he witnessed the Christ literally to his last breath.
What drove Eric Liddell in the choices he made and the life he led? Pastor John gave us a big clue when he read from Paul's second Letter to the Corinthians 3:15-18 “Even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts” (Paul is talking about Jews who did not accept the Christ and instead tried to impress each other with outward adherence to the Mosaic law). “But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.”
Even in the internment camp Eric Liddell, with an unveiled face, had the Spirit. He had true freedom in Christ. What about each of us?