Out running a few weeks ago, I heard this song by Rich Mullins. Although I had known it for years, the power of the words had never hit me until that day.
The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law. –Mark 1:22
One of the things that I enjoy more than anything else is working with others to create some sort of dramatic production. It could be a brief skit, a short drama for VBS, or a lengthy production. I can direct, act, write, or perform whatever role. It doesn’t matter; I simply enjoy watching the final project unfold. (Okay, I lied. I enjoy acting more than any of the rest.)
In my current church, I have become the go-to person for directing dramatic work. It’s not that I’m particularly gifted in directing, but I seem to be the best person available. In the course of doing several productions, I’ve discovered something interesting. When I have written the script, I find myself much more confident in my decisions than if I’m attempting to interpret someone else’s text.
In the same vein, I’ve sat under choir directors who had written the music in our laps. Those people know precisely what they intended measure 33 to sound like. They understand exactly how much that crescendo on the second page is supposed to grow or just how much slow down the molto ritard on the last page was intended to evoke. Anyone else, even someone who has spoken with the actual writer, will be doing their best to interpret what the other person said. They might be imposing their own view intentionally or unintentionally, but they’ll undoubtedly impose their own ideas.
When Jesus taught in the synagogue, he didn’t simply appear as the author of the scriptures that he read. He stood there as the author of human life, of the natural world, and of everything that those scriptures related to. The only thing Jesus did not author was himself. (And if we think too hard in that area, our brains begin to hurt.)
When I teach Sunday School, I will be like one of the teachers of the law, an interpreter of someone else’s text (even though I wrote this month’s curriculum). When you share the gospel with someone, you’ll be like a teacher of the law. Regardless of how you encounter God’s Word, it will always be God’s Word, not yours.
However, with the aid of the Holy Spirit, we can speak as one with authority. When Stephen delivered the eloquent sermon that wound up placing him on the wrong end of a stoning, do you believe that those were just his interpretation? When, on the day of Pentecost, Peter preached and drew 3,000 people into fellowship, did he speak under his own authority or Christ’s?
I cannot speak with the same authority that Jesus employed in Capernaum, but I can, I must, speak with the Spirit’s guidance and authority rather than as a mere interpreter of the law. Failing that, we’re no better than the scribes of Jesus’ day.
And this was his message: After me comes the one more powerful than I, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit. –Mark 1:7-8
Fanny Crosby wrote some 8,000 hymns during her ninety-five years. Probably none is better known than “Blessed Assurance.” In fact, my guess is that by simply putting the title and author of that hymn–actually, it should be termed a gospel song according to one common definition–I have you humming the refrain already: “This is my story. This is my song. Praising my Savior all the day long.”
If you read up on Crosby, you’ll discover that praise of her Savior truly did seem to be her story and her song. This woman, blind from infancy, recognized God not only as the being on whom she depended for her life but as the source of her poetic talents. She could see no better use of that talent than to proclaim the message of Christ as the one more powerful than her–and of you.
Bing Crosby–no relation to Fanny–lived for seventy-four years and, during the decades before and after World War Two, dominated movies, radio, and recorded music like nobody else. If nothing else, you might remember Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas.” Other big hits included “Swinging on a Star” and “Don’t Fence Me In.” The message–the story and song, if you will–of Bing Crosby was decidedly individualistic. All you have to do is look at the photos of the man with his pipe jauntily sticking from his mouth to get the sense that it’s all about him.
Although at his peak, Bing Crosby certainly carried more fame than did Fanny Crosby, neither of the two is quite a household name today. I shouldn’t wonder, however, if more young people today couldn’t identify Fanny than Bing. In another thirty years, my guess is that few under forty will know who traveled the “Road to Morocco” with Bob Hope.
I don’t want to be unfair to Bing Crosby, whose spiritual life and condition I really cannot guess. However, I can see the message that the two Crosby’s put forward. Like John the Baptist, Fanny promoted the idea that somebody greater should receive the lion’s share of the attention.
Which Crosby do you and I resemble more? Is your story and song clearly pointing to Jesus, like Fanny and John the Baptist, or are you more of a self-promoting Bing? I must confess to spending time in both camps. May our message always be clear: There’s one more powerful than me. His name is Jesus.