In 1986 on a Sunday morning, Charles and Janet Morris walked into the gym. They had just moved to the area and were looking for a church. Charles felt he belonged to a church that had soft organ music and stained glass windows, but New Life was closer. He tells his story.
“There was a band that burst into praise and a front row of men confined to wheelchairs who were swaying to the music. The first Sunday we visited, a man in a pinstriped suit casually slipped out his harmonica and started playing along. Seated a few rows over was a woman whose hat definitely belonged at a garden party sitting next to a man I was pretty sure belonged to a motorcycle gang.
When the preacher stood up he beamed out at the congregation with a barely suppressed joy and said, “Greetings. My name is Jack Miller and I am a recovering Pharisee.” And then, chuckling he added, “and you are one also, but don’t worry, Jesus is a great Savior.”
Charles telling this story in his book Missing Jesus wrote, “There was no danger of forgetting the gospel in this church or of turning it into some sterile doctrinal formulation. It was up front and center all the time because the leadership of this church understood that Christians need to keep on being evangelized.”
Needless to say they stayed.
What did Jack, a professor at WTS and a pastor mean when he said, “I am a recovering Pharisee?” This is his story.
In 1970, my husband resigned from his teaching at Westminster Seminary, and his pastorate in Buck’s County. He was depressed, angry, and feeling sorry for himself. He wasn’t doing his job and neither was anyone else, so he thought. After a few weeks God showed him that his biggest problem wasn’t other people, it was his pride.
So, we took our three youngest children and went to Spain where he studied the promises of God for three months—from Genesis to Revelation. He returned a changed man. What had he learned? He learned that God had an incredible plan to reach the nations through the death and resurrection of Christ and this would be accomplished with men/women who were filled with the Holy Spirit. He knew the gospel, but he had forgotten that it was the work of the Holy Spirit. He knew the gospel, but he had forgotten he was a sinner who needed the gospel every day.
His preaching and teaching changed. He became gospel centered and Spirit filled.
At the same time we took in very needy young men/women into our home. Jack spent hours sharing with them that they had a bad heart, bad record, bad master, but believing in Jesus his death and resurrection, they were given a new record, new heart, and a new master. Where would all these broken people go to church? New Life Church was born, and the new converts had in their hand the little booklet, “Have you ever wanted a New Life” to share with other needy people like they were.
Jack knew that he and others could not change if the Holy Spirit did not do the work of convicting of sin, righteousness and judgment to come. The Spirit of God was at work sending worship leaders, teachers, seminary students, men/women who came alongside Jack. He taught everyone they needed the gospel every day. Then he trained them by taking them out in the market places, on street corners, into art galleries, into schools. This is where Bob Heppe and Angelo Juliani got their first taste of street ministry.
He also knew that without prayer this church could not survive. All day prayer meetings were started on Tuesday. “Come and pray stay as long as you can. Pray for someone else, it will help you forget about yourself.” We prayed before the church service. Wednesday evening our large living room was filled with people eager to learn, to worship, to pray. When Ugandan refugees arrived we were told, “You don’t pray enough. We need all night prayer meetings.” They knew that more prayer was needed to drive Idi Amin out of Uganda. He was destroying the church, the people, and their country. So some prayed all night.
Jack knew he was a recovering Pharisee. He struggled with pride all his life. He knew how needy he was and how needy others were also. His love for Jesus and others always pushed him out to the rest of the world. In 1977, he took a group to Ireland, and two years later to Uganda. From these two trips Serge, (formerly World Harvest Mission) was born. Now we are in 17 different countries.
In February of 1996, he was invited to speak to a large charismatic church in Germany. He was very weak with heart problems, but we went. The theme for the seven days was the glory of God. Two months later he entered into that glory.
Today, Jack would be the first person to point you to Christ, not to remember him but to remember Christ and His glory. The gospel is for us, and for the world: family, friends, neighbors and to the uttermost part of the earth. We are in daily need of the Holy Spirit to convict, to cleanse and renew our hearts to have a heart for the lost. You are the church, and the church is more than coming on Sunday. We are here to reflect the blessings of the past, but now we press on to the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Jesus said, “I will come to you. I will not leave you as orphans I will send my Spirit. Each one of you has a gift and if you don’t know what it is just begin to serve others and reach out into your community. That is how we live out the gospel—as a city on the hill shining with the light of Christ as we lay down our life for others.
Today each family will receive a gift. They are excerpts of Jack Millers’ sermons put into a daily devotion for each day of the year. Today we are celebrating 40 years of God’s faithfulness to His people. The devotion for this day is from Mark 14:8, “She has done what she could she has anointed my body beforehand for burial.”
Here is what Jack said, “Jesus’ view of Mary’s gift to him is that “she did what she could.” Jesus is telling his disciples and us that if you give what you can; if you serve with all your heart, then that’s all you need to do. Martha was chasing many things. She put on quite a banquet all by herself (Luke 10:38-41) but that’s not what Jesus is asking us to do. When you are in Christ, you simply use what you have and are for God’s glory. You do what you can. That’s very freeing, isn’t it? Implicit in Jesus’ words is the idea of total giving. There wasn’t any more that could be done.
We constantly want to protect ourselves, so we fear that if we give too much, we will lose it. But what is given to Christ is never wasted or lost. Parents, are you doing what you can? Are you bringing your child to Christ in prayer? Are you sharing with them your weaknesses? If I could go back again, I would have done so much more to open up and show my children how Christ helped me with my weakness. Do what you can. Don’t try to cover up. Be vulnerable. Accept criticism. Let your life be like a broken perfume jar.”
So let us move forward giving all we can, asking where we are holding back, where we are hoarding blessings, where we have grown complacent in grace. Ask the Lord of Glory for a new heart of prayer for the nations, the lost, and the needy.
Blessings, on the journey
Rose Marie Miller
October 26, 2014