After sleeping for a thousand years, art woke up in Tuscany at the end of the thirteenth century. The first real genius of the Renaissance was an artist named Giotto (“JOE toe”). But he is most famous not for his sculptures or paintings, but for drawing a big “O”—-just the letter “O”.
Pope Boniface VIII wanted to commission some paintings for St. Peter’s and so he sent a courtier around to find the best painter in Italy. The courtier asked all the artists to give him a sample of their work to send to the Pope. He came to Giotto’s workshop, explained his mission, and asked him for a drawing which would give the Pope some idea of his competence and style. “Sure,” said Giotto; and he laid down a sheet of paper, reached for a brush dipped in red paint, closed his arm to his side to make a sort of compass of it, and in one even sweep drew a perfect circle. “There you are,” he told the courtier, handing it to him with a smile.
“That’s your drawing?” asked the courtier, who didn’t know whether Giotto was being serious or not. “Is that all you’re going to send to the Pope?” “That’s more than enough,” Giotto replied. “
When the courier got back to Rome he showed the Pope the big O and told him how Giotto had drawn it—freehand, without a compass. The pope and his advisors DID understand the achievement of that O and gave Giotto the commission. The man’s work was flawless.
But Giotto practiced writing that O for a long time. It took time and energy. He was known not only for his genius, but for his excellence, determination and dedication to his gift. You don’t become a great painter or writer or athlete just by wanting it, you think about it and then focus your time and energy to acquiring those superlative abilities. A lot of very bright people out there are doing nothing to discipline their God-given gifts. Their lives are mediocre and the world is poorer and darker because of it.
One gift you and I is the gift of sharing what God has done in our lives and what He did on calvary. We are able to share the gift that was shared to us. It’s called evangelism, but a lot of those bearing the name Christian are doing a slovenly job of sharing Jesus Christ. We have the ability and talent to share, but we’re unwilling to work at it, think about it and give the time and energy required. Men and women around us are dying with Jesus Christ because our minds are concentrated on other matters.
Friends, evangelism is the responsibility of every follower of Jesus—-not just those of us who are ministers. But the first step to evangelism is “pre-evangelism”, and that refers to the manner in which I live my life that allows me to earn the respect of those to whom I am trying to share the good news. It involves not only how I treat the one I am trying to evangelize, but also how I live my life.
Here’s Paul’s remarks about pre-evangelism. These admonitions are for all of us in Christian fellowship:
“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.”
So, are these things true of us when it comes to those to whom we are trying to share the gospel and is it true that those who visit this fellowship see this? Are we working at these things and giving our focus to these things? The discipline of rejoicing in all things leads us to not worry, and keeps our minds trained on noble things; it is going to result in excellence in our lives and the outreach of our fellowship.
Do people see us rejoicing….always? Paul said it two times—-it means something when it’s repeated like this. Anyone, atheist, Muslim, criminal, whatever, can “rejoice” and be quite full of an optimistic mind when things are going his/her way. But how do we speak, react and pray when things are not going our way? How do we share the rejoicing mindset on our very faces during the times we are tired and have reason to be troubled? Is He sovereign and omni-present and do we remind ourselves of this when those that don’t know Him throw their hands in the air and cry? Does the world see us as mentally stable and secure and full of faith by bad news or are we spiritual humbugs when times are tough and the days are dreary?
And is my gentleness obvious to everyone….and do others talk about it? Does everyone see it? Even the rude teller at the bank, or the persistent IRS agent, or the confused Principal at the school, or the idiot texting and driving on my side of the road? Gentleness is both a fruit of the Holy Spirit and something that I cultivate by choosing to keep my imagination fixed upon Him.
Paul reminds us that “Jesus is near—-so don’t be anxious!” I am not sure that Paul meant that the parousia, or second coming, was near, or simply, Jesus is right beside you. But both are true! So why worry or fret? Worrying makes others worry! It’s contagious and makes people want to avoid you. George Muller said that , “The beginning of anxiety is the end of faith, and the beginning of true faith is the end of anxiety.” Jesus said one thing about worry: Don’t.
But Pauls’ final exhortations are important for us as we hope to draw people to Jesus Christ, he tells us: “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.”
It’s what we are thinking about that Paul is addressing here. Discipling our minds, imaginations and our tongue is not going to happen naturally—-it takes a decision and determination to be positive and heavenly minded even within a Christian fellowship! The things that will distinguish us as a congregation or individuals serious about our efforts towards saving the lost is our work towards keeping our minds looking for and at things that are lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy.
The enemy is waging a war in our heads to get us to consider things that are ugly, perverse, disgusting and destructive. e.g. of video games—-war, shooting, wrecking a car, and my sons love to watch it and grin as they see things get burned down, blown up or bombed in videos, movies and on-line games. What are we doing? What am I doing as a parent to permit this?
It is the things of nobility that are lasting and tantalizing and cause us to rise up and do more than we thought we could. It gives us a vision and a dream and we are drawn, quite natually, to those things that are pure and excellent. And those are things we should be educating to our students and our children. Are we…..are we?
George Mueller went on to say this: “The first great and primary business to which I ought to attend every day is to have my soul happy in the Lord.” “According to my judgement the most important point to be attended to is this: above all things see to it that your souls are happy in the Lord. Other things may press upon you, the Lord's work may even have urgent claims upon your attention, but I deliberately repeat, it is of supreme and paramount importance that you should seek above all things to have your souls truly happy in God Himself! Day by day seek to make this the most important business of your life.
People watch us—-our children imitate us—-folks visit our fellowship—-we must remove those things that hinder us and concentrate upon those things that lighten our load. Colossians 3:5-8 Paul urges the Christian to: Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips.
The burden is upon you and me to put these things to death and feed those things that allow our minds to be transformed Some things don’t go away by praying, but by our own wills and determination to eliminate the vermin from our lives.
The trouble we have is that most of the sins that Paul told us to avoid, are the easiest to commit in our minds—-that’s the battlefield! No one sees what’s going on in our imagination—or as you daydream even now. It’s between you and God. I can’t speak for the females, but our fight as men is with the sexual sins….impure thoughts…lust…evil desires…greed. The things that no one can see but our mind’s eye—-and of course the eye of God.
And when it comes to being with other people, we must admit that some people quite easily, and perhaps deliberately, bring out the worst in us. It’s strange, but we somehow have come to make heroes of those that get angry and violent, and we laugh when the same heroes let some dirty word come out of their mouth. But this does not represent the hero we’re to be! We’re not called to be X-Men, or Guardians of the Galaxy or Avengers, we’re called to be sons and daughters of God—a very different and superlative kind of superhero. While in seminary I served at a church where the senior pastor was known to tell dirty jokes. I have no idea why he did this—-perhaps to impress the younger pastors of how liberated and radical he was. But I was never able to listen to his sermons or hear his spiritual counsel the same after hearing his dirty jokes. Sadly, Jerry Falwell, Jr. will now have a hard time to demand ethical conduct and behavior from the students at his university because his lack of wisdom and self control. And I don’t stand here in judgment over these two Christian men, but there’s just no place for impurity from the Christian. Those things we think about will soon enough find expression in what we do.
So Paul reminds us, there must be no place for anger, rage, malice (which is setting your mind to do something that you know is evil), slander, filthy language (which refers to dirty jokes) and sexually deranged humor.
Think on these things! We have the ability and talent to share, but are we willing to work at it, think about it and give the time and energy required? Men and women around us are dying with out Jesus Christ—let us force our minds to concentrate on these matters.