Thursday, May 17, 2007


Some faced jeers and flogging, while still others were chained and put in prison. They were stoned; they were sawn in two; they were put to death by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and ill-treated -- the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground. These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised.

We have this treasure in jars of day to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus' sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body.

Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
but made himself nothing,
taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to death -- even death on a cross!

Don't let the world around you squeeze you into its own mould, but let God re-mould your minds from within, so that you may prove in practice that the plan of God for you is good, meets all his demands and moves towards the goal of true maturity.

(Philippians 3: 7-12; Hebrews 11: 32-39; 2 Corinthians 4: 7-11; Philippians 2:5-8 -- all NIV; Romans 12: 2, Phillips)

History is sprinkled with such people. So is the Bible. People who stand out from the crowd, who don't quite fit the expected model. The dreamers, the high achievers, the entrepreneurs, the eccentrics, the loners, the misfits. Sometimes we admire them, sometimes we demean them. Often we misunderstand them.

Perhaps more conventional people sometimes wonder why such people choose to be different, or at least remain different. It may be for the challenge of being the 'first', or the thrill of being noticed. It may be because that is just the way they are, and to change would be impossible or too painful. This statement by Thoreau provides an alternative perspective (applicable to both genders!):

If a man does not keep pace with his companions,
perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer.
Let him step to the music he hears,
however measured or far away.

Such imagery of course reminds of the precision of a military drill -- there is great pressure on one to keep in step with the rest of the marching team! But the same pressure to conform appears in other contexts: in the peer group we are urged to 'be like us'; in society we are often reminded that 'this is the way we've always done it'.

God's economy is different -- he creates and calls unique individuals, trains us according to his timetable and curriculum, asks that we be willing to be servants and perhaps martyrs. The beat we must listen to does not come from the drummer of external circumstances, but from the inner music of the Holy Spirit. Sometimes that may seem indistinct and out-of-step with our immediate surroundings. For the life of faith, while grounded in history and reality, beckons us towards the unseen and the unknown.

In Christ, we are all called to a journey on which we march to the beat of a different drum. Our challenge is to pick up the beat and make the choice to follow it. When the road seems strange or lonely, we can trust in God whose beat is never devious or 'out of sync' with his purposes. And we can be encouraged by the determination and faithfulness of those who have been ahead of us on the way.

Stories about Abraham or Moses, Joshua or Josiah, Daniel or Esther, Stephen or Paul, were preserved partly to offer examples for other believers called to live by faith, to exercise leadership, to withstand the pressures of rife in a foreign land, to witness boldly before Jews and Gentiles. It is this function of stories which is taken up by a passage such as Hebrews 11. Stories illustrate the commitments which the faith entails.

John Goldingay, Preaching on the stories in Scripture

As we grow up, our minds develop in a score of different ways. Our experience and our insight into people, ideas and problems grows deeper. At the same time, unless we have allowed ourselves to become bogged down by some rigidity in our religious thinking, our ideas of God expand greatly, and there come times when we realise with an awe-struck humility that what we once worshipped as God was only, so to speak, the shimmering hem of his garment.

If we are foolish, we cling with desperate loyalty to the limited conception of God that we have at present, but if we are wise, we 'launch out into the deep' (Luke 5: 4), and allow every true experience of life, every touch or sight of goodness, truth and beauty, to open fresh windows upon the illimitable magnificence of God.

We cannot hold too big a conception of God, but the more our hearts and minds and imaginations are used, the more astounding becomes the central fact of our faith -- that so infinite a God allowed himself to be, so to speak, scaled down to fit the narrow limits of humanity. For all his vastness and mystery, he has made himself known in an unforgettable character by which all can see what sort of a person it is 'with whom we have to do' (Hebrews 4: 13). It is as though, having once accepted this tremendous fact, we view all that we can see or discover of the complex wisdom of God through a Christ-shaped aperture.

J.B. Phillips, Making Men Whole

What were we made for? To know God. What aim should we set ourselves in life? To know God. What is the 'eternal life' that Jesus gives? Knowledge of God. This is life eternal, that they might know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou has sent' (John 17:3). What is the best thing in life, bringing more joy, delight and contentment, than anything else? Knowledge of God.

'Thus says the Lord, "Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, neither let the mighty man glory in his might, let not the rich man glory in his riches; but let him that glories, glory in this, that he understands and knows me."' (Jeremiah 9: 23f). What, of all the states God ever sees human beings in, gives him most pleasure? Knowledge Of himself.

J.I. Packer, Knowing God

The rich variety of differences between us is fully recognised in the Bible. In many things we are encouraged to be different from each other. Yet our differences need to be expressed in a spirit of tolerance and harmony. An appreciation of the factors which make us what we are should not only show us the possibilities and limits of our own freedom to change, but make us understanding towards others who are in the same position. Then, while we seek to live responsibly within the limits of our background, temperament, religious awareness and sexual disposition, we shall do so in the context of living responsibly before God and others.

But perhaps above all, we ought to regard our differences as a challenge and an opportunity -- a challenge to become conformed to Jesus Christ rather than to the world, and an opportunity to contribute uniquely to God's pur poses. For we are not automata, able to do nothing but react mechanically to our genes, our environment or even God's grace. We are personal beings created by God for himself. And just as we have a set of genes possessed by nobody else (unless we have an identical twin), so we have the possibility of serving God in a way that nobody else can. What is true of us is equally true of others. We rejoice in our variety. We affirm with enthusiasm the unique temperaments and gifts which God has given to others as well as to ourselves, all to be used in his service.

John Stott, Free to be Different

Can you become anything you want to be? Unfortunately not. Your genes, for one, will place some limits on your potential. God will have some limits also -- though I find some Christians don't readily accept this. When scripture speaks of the 'body of Christ' (for example, in 1 Corinthians 12: 12-31) it is clear that some of us must be content to be a toe, while others get to be the more glamorous hands or fingers.

Whatever your potential is in the precious life God has given you, it will only be glorious and radiant if it fulfils what God wants you to be. Believe this. Trust this. Follow it with all your heart.

But your problem may be of a different sort. God may want you to be an arm or a head. If so, don't be content to remain a toe. Rise up and claim your potential.

What blocks most men and women from fully developing their gifts and achieving adequate self-esteem is not their lack of talent or their inborn genetic or other limitations. It is their failure to develop and use the talents they have to the fullest. They don't respond to the call of God.

Archibald D. Hart, The Success Factor

In every major city of the world, Christians are being called to moral and spiritual compromise by those people who would easily deny faith. They may dress up their proposals to sound reasonable and modern, but the new moralities are just the old immoralities in a new dress. But the church is not called to be well-adjusted to a society that is going to hell. The church is not called to conform to the standards of this world. Christians today are called to march to the beat of a different drum. We are called not be trendy, but to be transformed into the image of Christ.

Gordon Moyes, Discovering the Young Church

We're pilgrims on the journey of the narrow road,
And those who've gone before us line the way.
Cheering on the faithful,
encouraging the weary,
Their lives a stirring testament to God's sustaining grace.
Surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses,
Let us run the race not only for the prize;
But as those who've gone before us,
let us leave to those behind us
The heritage of faithfulness passed on through godly lives.
After all our hopes and dreams have come and gone,
And our children sift through all we've left behind,
May the clues that they discover
and the memories they uncover
Become the light that leads them to the road we each must find.
Oh, may all who come behind us find us faithful;
May the fire of our devotion light their way.
May the footprints that we leave lead them to believe,
And the lives we live inspire them to obey.
Oh, may all who come behind us find us faithful.

Jon Mohr

Life on the road may well be difficult for some of us, especially if we have been brought up on a privatised Christianity which has avoided the hard socio-economic decisions that are inevitably part of a responsible Christian lifestyle. However, it will never be boring. With each new challenge that comes to us in the community of God's new people also comes a new opportunity to follow Jesus and with that opportunity comes the promise of grace. The Jesus who graciously calls us to a new lifestyle on the road is the same one who accompanies us as we journey into the future.

This life of discipleship is essentially a pilgrimage in the company of all others who are being led by the one who first set his face to Jerusalem. The road to Jerusalem leads to the cross and travels on to the resurrection. The crucified and risen one calls and empowers his followers as they journey towards that day when his kingdom will be revealed in all its glory as his will is accomplished on earth as in heaven, and all his people live together in justice and peace.

Athol Gill, Life on the Road

One of the things a calling to be an individual of integrity means is a calling to speak out, to be outspoken. We are called to overcome the psychology of helplessness, of reticence. If we see a lie, we are called to name it a lie. If we see insanity, we are called to name it as such. If

you are a preacher, you are called to preach the gospel, no matter how unpalatable it may be to your congregations...There are others who will respond to your outspokenness with gratitude for that leadership that gives them the courage to speak out in turn.

Remember that you are marching into this battle to the beat of a different drum. It is a battle to change the rules of human communication. We cannot change the rules through playing by the old ones.

M. Scott Peck, The Different Drum

O Jesus, I have promised to serve you to the end;
Lord, be for ever near me,
my master and my friend;
I shall not fear the battle
if you are by my side,
nor wander from the pathway
if you will be my guide.

Lord, let me see your footmarks
and in them plant my own;
that I may follow boldly
and in your strength alone:
O guide me, call me, draw me,
uphold me to the end;
and then in heaven receive me,
my Saviour and my friend.

John Ernest Bode

A Benediction

May your ears ever be open to the voice of God, may your heart be obedient to his will, and may your feet ever be strong as you walk in his ways, even if it be to the beat of a different drum. Amen.

Rivers in the Desert ed. By Rowland Croucher pp. 202-209

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