Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Getting Simple

Some time back I wrote about "Keeping it Simple," trying to point out some reasons our lives get too complicated and some examples of complication that hurt us.  But how to simplify life in a way that matters?

Here's an idea I read recently:  "Does it bring you closer to Jesus Christ?  Throw out everything that doesn't."  (From "Measuring What Matters" at www.BuildingChurchLeaders.com.)  That could make a lot of sense.  How would outright sin bring us closer to Jesus?  Or when we think in ways that lead to sin, or let movies or music or books or friends influence us in ways that lead to sin?  But if we're trying to be diligent, how do we avoid everything that might not lead us closer to Jesus?  If we wrap ourselves in bubble-wrap and never answer the phone or go outside, how can we have a productive life?  If we deny everything, what's left?

Being a disciples of Jesus Christ is like being an apprentice - learning how to do what the Master does.  We can find his example in Scripture, and try to do what he did.  But more than that, he's alive and busy even today, so we should look for him in everything and try to contribute.  So Christian life is more than not doing things, it's doing right things.

Paul describes old life/new life as like taking off old, dirty clothes and putting on fresh new ones, in  Colossians 3:8-10:  "But now is the time to get rid of anger, rage, malicious behavior, slander, and dirty language. Don’t lie to each other, for you have stripped off your old sinful nature and all its wicked deeds. Put on your new nature, and be renewed as you learn to know your Creator and become like him."  And in Romans 12:2 Paul writes "Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect."

Christian discipleship isn't like living in bubble wrap -- it's more like putting on a pair of gloves and getting to work.  If our lives are full of activities that help us follow Jesus, like prayer, meditation and the other spiritual disciplines, those will draw us into his will and help us see him in everything.  This is not a frantic effort to jam every minute with activity -- it is deliberately setting out to serve our Master, which draws us away from those things that don't.  Confused about which is which?  Reading scriptures describing Christlike behavior, and praying for guidance, helps a lot.  Still confused?  Maybe I can help!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Each One Teach One

The Wonderful Joanne and I were blessed by spending last weekend with a bunch of wonderful young people, helping them learn more about the good news of God's grace in Jesus Christ, and his desire to share that same good news with everyone on the planet.  I was inspired by the love shown by all those young folks for their friends who don't yet believe and can't participate in the divine relationship we've been given (Eph. 2:6).  And I was thrilled to see the older leaders bringing those young people into leadership.

Recently I was awed by the testimony of a young woman, about age 25, telling how she had been working in camp ministry for several years.  She realized that it was time for her to step aside from the ministry she truly loves (and is very good at) in order to make room for teenagers who were showing leadership.  She's transitioning from doing the work, to teaching multiple others to do it.  They'll come up with ways to do it that she (or I) would never have thought of, and we pray they will also bring others into leadership.

Paul told Timothy to pass along what he had been taught, multiplying leaders four generations deep:  "You have heard me teach things that have been confirmed by many reliable witnesses. Now teach these truths to other trustworthy people who will be able to pass them on to others." (2 Tim. 2:2)  The job of every Christian servant is not simply to enjoy the work we get to do for Jesus, but always to be looking for others who can do it and who will pass it on to the next ones. 

Water gets to the top leaf of tall trees because each water molecule bonds to the next one, creating a chain that pulls more molecules along, even against gravity.  They move upward because the water at the top is being 'breathed out' by the leaves, and a water molecule evaporating from the leaf draws another one up.  As servants of Jesus we should bond, like those water molecules, to someone who will slip seamlessly into our place when we move to whatever God has for us next.  We may feel a sense of loss as we give up what we've enjoyed doing; but it's not really ours to keep anyway, it was only ours to pass on.

Whatever place of service you have, in church, or your home or outside of it, can you name someone you are bringing into service?  If not, how about asking God for someone you can mentor, and asking him to show you how to do it?  It may be the most rewarding thing you've ever done!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Clear Vision

Finally, The Lovely Joanne and I have un-decorated our Christmas tree, put all the symbols of Christ and the Christian life (light, fruits of the spirit, praise, thanksgiving, proclamation, etc) back in their boxes and taken the tree out to be mulched. 

I noticed something interesting as we took all the ornaments and lights off.  We own 'sets' of various ornaments: several angels, four flame-shaped glass ones, and so forth, so we wanted to box them up together again.  But looking for the fourth snowflake or the last angel became a chore, as one individual piece was hard to find in the midst of the strings of lights and other ornaments.  So we had to un-clutter our view of the tree by unwinding the lights and the gold ribbon from it, so that the missing piece would become obvious.

As you might guess, there's a spiritual lesson from all this.  Christian life is wonderful but we can complicate it with too much activity--even serving--and miss the point of following Jesus.  In Hebrews 12:2 we're reminded that to succeed in the Christian life, we need to be "keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith."  When my appointment book or to-do list gets too cluttered, I can lose sight of just following Jesus.  Then I tend to fall back on my own energy and wisdom--which, trust me, ain't enough.  Peter found this out when he was walking on water in Mt 14:24-33.  When he took his eyes off Jesus (he "saw the wind and the waves" -- what was he doing looking at them?) he fell into the lake.

'Keeping our eyes on Jesus' might require un-cluttering our lives by fasting from food or some favorite distraction like watching football games, even during the playoffs.   It might require taking our burdens of guilt, anger, and unforgiveness and loading them on Jesus instead of trying to haul them around ourselves.  Or it might mean completely trusting Him instead of our own performance, law-keeping or some other form of self-righteousness, which we humans tend to fall back into regularly.

The exercise of looking once more to Jesus and Him alone for our salvation--our acceptance into the love of God--would be a good thing to do at the beginning of 2011.  The exercise of looking to Him for direction at every point in the day instead of following our human motivations, helps us focus on finding following His will.  You might have to unwind some of the 'stuff' that's become wound around your life, in order to see Him clearly, just like I unwound a bunch of stuff from the tree to see those last few ornaments.  But the vision of Jesus, a clearer understanding the glory He has called us into, will take your breath away.  Aren't quite sure what I mean by that?  I'll see if I can describe it for you next time.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Truly Human

It's a new year. Some of us have decided to exercise more, be kinder to others, give more, spend less, save more, and in general, be nominated for sainthood and the Nobel Prize.  Today being January 4, most of those resolutions have already been broken, and we're no closer to working ourselves into sainthood than ever! 

Here's a single resolution that could cut through all the other noise and clutter:  surrender to God

That's right, drop all the pretense (it doesn't fool anybody), the self-driven effort (it won't get you any higher than your own bootstraps) and the hopeless struggle against your faults.  Neither of us, you nor I, can create a better human than we already are.  Only God can do that, and in Christ, he has already done it.  Jesus was the first real human, living as the kind of human God created us to be in the first place. And if we surrender -- give up and ask Jesus to think and speak and act for us, through us -- we are on the road to being truly human too.

Paul tells us in Colossians 1:27-28 "The mystery in a nutshell is just this: Christ is in you, so therefore you can look forward to sharing in God's glory. It's that simple. That is the substance of our Message...We teach in a spirit of profound common sense so that we can bring each person to maturity. To be mature is to be basic. Christ! No more, no less."  The essence of maturity, Paul says, is simply to let Christ be Christ, in us.  And in Psalm 46:10 God is telling us, in the context of war and external threats, "Stop [your fighting]—and know that I am God, exalted among the nations, exalted on the earth." 

No matter what battle we face, victory is found in surrender -- to God, who is Christ-in-us, the only true human.  Surrendering to him, every day in every way, is the solution to all the resolutions.