Under New Management
Under New Management by Rev. L. John Gable
June 4, 2017
We have all seen signs hanging in restaurants or hotels or businesses which say, “Under New Management”. Those signs announce that something has changed; that there is new leadership, perhaps a new direction; that old ways have been replaced with new, better and hopefully improved ways. They invite the public to come and see the changes that have been made; to see for ourselves that there is a difference in the way business is being done here. Implied also is, I believe, something of a caveat; that changes are still in process; that things may not be quite perfected yet, but that there is progress, and it is on-going. Things are definitely better than they were, but still not quite what they one day will be.
I would suggest that such a sign indicating “Under New Management” could be hung around the necks of each of the disciples on the Day of Pentecost long ago, and it is my hope and prayer, around each of our necks as followers of Jesus Christ today. For, in a phrase, this is what it means to be a Christian.
To say, “I am a Christian” is an announcement that I am living my life under new management, now under the Lordship of Jesus Christ. It means I have undergone, and am undergoing, a transformation of my values and priorities to better reflect God’s presence in my life. It was Homer who said, “a disciple is one who is in the process of adapting him or herself to a new way of life.” A disciple of Jesus Christ then is one who is in the process of being reshaped or reformed into the image and likeness of Christ. To say, “I am a Christian” is an invitation to others to take notice that there is a difference in me, not necessarily because of anything I have done, but because of what God has done, and is doing, in me. The power for such change is the basis of our witness and the only real evidence of the truth of our claim about the Lordship of Jesus Christ is the demonstration that something within us actually has changed and is changing. William Barclay speaks well of this when he writes, “The idea of secret discipleship is a contradiction in terms. Either the secrecy will destroy the discipleship or the discipleship will destroy the secrecy.”
Yet still we may be hesitant to broadly announce, “Hey, look at me, I am a Christian! I have changed!” because we realize there is still much in us that remains unchanged. William Temple, former Archbishop of Canterbury, once said, “I would hardly expect anyone, after following me around for a week, to fall down on their knees and recite the Apostle’s Creed.” So we issue a caveat, of sorts. When we say, “I am a Christian”, it means, I am not perfect, but I am forgiven. It honestly admits that there is still much in me that does not reflect the presence of Christ, but that there is evidence of change. As one has said, “I am not all that I could be and I’m not all that I one day will be, but thank God, I am not what I used to be.” To say, “I am a Christian” is to say, “I am living under new management. Come, and see the difference Christ is making in my life.”
On this Pentecost Sunday we turn to the first chapter of the book of Acts. This conversation between Jesus and His disciples takes place during that interim period after the Easter event, post-resurrection, yet before Jesus ascends to be with the Father. Surely there were many questions the disciples wanted to ask, and perhaps did ask, but this one, perhaps the most logical one, gets recorded, “Now what? What happens next? Is this the time when You will restore the Kingdom to Israel?” Jesus answers plainly, “It is not for you to know”, then gives them a very specific commandment. He instructs them to remain in Jerusalem until the Father fulfills the promise of the Spirit. At that time, He said, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you and you will be My witnesses”, and with that, He departs from them by ascending into heaven.
“You will be My witnesses”. That much they have already assumed. After three years of following Him, listening to Him teach and preach, watching Him perform miracles, they had plenty of great stories to tell. After watching Him die on the cross of Calvary and then, only three days later, racing to find an empty tomb, they were more than ready to get out there and tell the world, “Jesus is Lord!”; yet instead of being told to “go”, they were told to wait and pray. Instead of being told to go and do “something”, they were told to do “nothing”. Consider their situation. This is perhaps the most difficult instruction they could ever have been given. They were “fired up and ready to go”, but instead they were told to “wait and pray”. For what? For the power of the Holy Spirit to be given to them, the very Spirit of God, about which they had only heard but not yet experienced. Why was that empowering necessary? Because from that moment on they were no longer their own. They now belonged to Christ. They were living under new management.
The call to waiting and prayer implies that things need doing in our world that are beyond our ability to accomplish them merely by our own ways and means. If they, or we, are to succeed in evangelizing and reaching the world for Christ, much less our city or our neighborhood, then some empowerment beyond what we can bring to the table is needed. So the Church, then and now, is called to wait and pray for power from on high. We may plan all the programs we want, but if we are to accomplish the Kingdom work God intends for us to do we must wait and pray for His guidance and direction, His purpose and timing; in a word, His empowering. The challenge for the Church today, just as it has been for the Church through the ages, is not the intellectual challenge of not knowing enough about Jesus; we have plenty of stories to tell. Nor is it the challenge of not having enough resources; we likely have all the resources we need to do nearly anything we put our minds to. But that, at times, is part of our problem. We think we can do this work ourselves. So the real challenge for the Church today, for us, is one of authority and empowerment to bear witness to Him in a manner that is contagious, convincing and life-changing. Until those who know the facts and have the resources also receive the power we would do well to simply wait and pray. Such apparent passivity on our part is in itself an act of faith as it acknowledges that we are no longer pretending to be in control. It is an acknowledgment that we are living under new management, no longer doing things our way, but God’s way.
Just as the Spirit long ago was given to those who waited and prayed for it, so the same is true for us today. Karl Barth writes that we cannot assume the Spirit’s presence, rather “only where the Spirit is sighed, cried and prayed does He become present and newly active.” Receiving the power of the Spirit is not something we do or can manufacture for ourselves, rather it is a gift which God alone gives to us as we open our hearts and surrender our wills to Him. The Spirit of God is given to those who are willing to live their lives under new management, under the Lordship of Jesus Christ.
In his Institutes of the Christian Religion written in the early 16th Century, John Calvin says this about what it means to live under the new management of Christ. “We are not our own; therefore neither our reason nor our will should predominate in our deliberations and actions. We are not our own; therefore let us not propose it as our end to seek what may be expedient for us according to the flesh. We are not our own; therefore let us, as far as possible, forget ourselves and all things that are ours. On the contrary, we are God’s; to Him, therefore, let us live and die. We are God’s; therefore let His wisdom and will preside in all our actions. We are God’s; towards Him, therefore as our only legitimate end, let every part of our lives be directed.” (Institutes III,7)
We look at the disciples at the time of Jesus’ death, even through the resurrection – timid, alone, afraid; but then look at them through the book of Acts – bold and fearless, openly proclaiming the Lordship of Jesus Christ and willingly suffering, even dying, for their faith. What caused such a remarkable change in them? One thing only, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, the power of God poured into them on Pentecost. The Greek word for power is dynamis, from which we get our word, dynamite. On Pentecost the disciples were literally exploded out of the upper room onto the streets of Jerusalem, and out into every corner of the world, with the saving Gospel of Jesus Christ. And the impact of that explosive power continues to be felt today.
There is evidence all around us that God’s Spirit is still working in people’s lives to reshape and transform. Do you feel it in your own life, in those around you, in our church? One of my favorite Sundays in the church year is the Sunday after Easter which we have come to call “Can I Get a Witness” Sunday. On that day we invite members of Tab, common folks like you and me, to tell in their own words what it means to them to say that Jesus is alive and of the difference that that Good News makes in the way they live their lives. Each of their stories, as each of our stories, are different, but all tell of the work of the Spirit of God in them. Each in their own way speak of living under new management.
Such changes take place whenever we open our hearts and surrender our wills to the Spirit of Christ. The power and effectiveness of our witness is not that now we’ve got it all together, but that there is evidence in us of changed lives and transformed values and priorities because the Holy Spirit is dwelling within us and we are in the process of being changed into the likeness of Christ. This is what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. This is what it means to say, “I am a Christian!”
A young African pastor put it this way,
“I am part of the fellowship of the unashamed.
I have Holy Spirit power.
The die has been cast.
I have stepped over the line.
The decision has been made.
I’m a disciple of His…
my past is redeemed,
my present makes sense,
my future is secure.
I’m finished and done with low living,
and dwarfed goals.
I no longer need pre-eminence,
I don’t have to be right,
I now live by faith,
lean on His presence,
walk by patience,
live by prayer
and labor by power…
I am a disciple of Jesus Christ.”
Friends, I don’t know about you, but I want that kind of power and conviction in my life and in my faith, and it is available to us. Pentecost is not their story, it is our story. It is not about God pouring out His Spirit on them a long time ago, but on us today. It is not about the few, or the many, opening their hearts and surrendering their wills to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. It is about us doing the very same today. If we are going to be His witnesses we must not settle for telling someone else’s story about what God has done for them. We must tell our story about what God is doing in us. We must demonstrate the new life that God has given to us. To do this is to say, “I am a Christian! I am living under new management. Come and see the difference God is making in my life.”