Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Paint and Renovation

Yesterday, on my day off, I spent most of the day slapping paint on my house.  The siding needed paint a couple of years ago, and it got dry and cracked.  The surface of the wood soaked up the primer like a thirsty man soaks up water, but the primer is doing its job.  The surface is now sealed and looks a whole lot better.  And that's what paint is for, to weather-proof the exterior and make it look good.  But of course paint does nothing to repair the structure, seal the windows, or insulate the walls.  A good paint job can make a dilapidated house look great -- if you don't look too closely.

Some people approach Christianity the same way as painting a house.  Attending church, and taking on Christian culture and speech and dress, can make you look better on the outside -- but right below the surface, the old person still exists, unchanged.  When Jesus invited his original disciples to follow him, he started them on a process that created a change in the innermost being:  thinking, focus, emotions, and responses to other people.  He invites his disciples today to do exactly the same! 

In church we're preaching through the Beatitudes (Matthew. 5:3-10).  Those sayings of Jesus have brought up uncomfortable realities about how we, no matter how long we've gone to church, haven't "arrived" -- we are still on the journey of learning to think and be as Jesus taught.  Jesus meant these sayings to shake us, to wake us up to his new Kingdom reality, and to challenge us to surrender our thinking and emotions to him. 

Paul was concerned for his flock in the same way.  He wrote the epistle to the churches in Galatia to warn people not to get caught up in empty religious forms (in this case, the Old Covenant law -- but it could have been anything) because those had no power to change the inner person.  In Galatians 4:19 Paul tells them his goal for them, that "Christ is fully developed in your lives" and in chapters 5 and 6 he emphasizes the role of the Holy Spirit in change.  That lifelong process of learning about Jesus and letting him change us is what we call "discipleship" or "spiritual formation."  Spiritual formation, for ourselves first of all, is the foundational job of church pastors and leaders.  It's a major part of what we continue to teach and emphasize to all Christ-followers.

Following Jesus isn't a surface-level paint job.  It's a back-to-the-foundation renovation project.  He is exceedingly patient and kind while he works us through this process, but he is exceedingly thorough and persistent, too.  So he asks us to listen carefully to him, to surrender our wills to him and to ask the Holy Spirit's constant help in revising our thinking and our emotions.  And when that happens, something else results -- the outside becomes beautiful.  Let's determine to take on the lifelong work of following Jesus, and see what he wants us to look like!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Football and Jesus

Football is a game of gains and losses -- trying to gain yardage down the field to make a goal, and trying not to lose too much of it.  We have lots of gains and losses in our individual lives, too.  My greatest gains -- and some of my greatest apparent losses -- have been because of Jesus Christ.  You see, God knew me and loved me before I was born, and he called me to be his child, before I was born (just like he knew and loved and called you, whoever you are).  But it was forty years before I really began to know him.

I was brought up with the teachings of Herbert W. Armstrong.  I thought he knew the Bible better than anybody and had the truth revealed to him directly from God.  After he died in 1987, I began to understand how he had made a lot of mistakes interpreting the scriptures, and how I needed to revise my thinking.  Slowly, I began to have a greater appreciation for Jesus Christ.  Finally, in January of 1995, I was faced with the choice of holding on to my attachments to Old Covenant regulations or grasping hold of Jesus Christ.  Letting go meant loss -- cherished memories, the idea that I was more important to God because I did certain things that others didn't, and as it turned out, losing the respect of some family members and friends.  But it meant gaining a much clearer view of Christ and what he did for me. 

In 2 Cor 3:7-18, Paul writes about the difference between the law of Moses and the new covenant in Christ, and it's very plain he is writing about his own Jewish people.  Especially in verses 14 through 16, he shows that it's impossible to really comprehend Christ if we focus on Moses, who only pre-figured Jesus.  That was the change in thinking that I had to make, and that many of us faced, 17 years ago.  It took a leap of faith, since we had been warned that if we abandoned those teachings we would be punished severely by God -- but it meant gaining far more meaning in looking to Jesus Christ directly.

Paul addresses that gain/loss idea again in Philippians 3:5-11.  Especially in verses 7-8, he describes his pedigree of birth and obedience to the law, then says dramatically, "everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord."  I echo Paul's words, with great joy!  Seeing the awesome power of Jesus Christ in scripture and knowing how the whole Bible focuses on who he is and what he did, has brought me incredible riches.

In football, we keep our eyes on the ball.  But what's our spiritual focus?  Jesus.  Heb. 12:1-13 reminds us "...let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith."  Our goal is not physical riches and health, but eternal life and the mind-boggling riches of knowing Christ forever.  That will mean losses in this physical life -- but immeasurable gains in the age to come.  So let's keep our eyes on Jesus!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Darkness and Light

The Amazing Joanne and I went camping last week for a short vacation.  One of the shocking parts of camping in a state park is how dark it is at night, with no bright streetlights around.  We saw stars -- formations like the Big Dipper, Little Dipper, O'Ryan's Belt (he was the first Irishman in space, by the way), and thousands of others.  That was the fun part.  The difficult part was walking to the potty in the middle of the night.  That same darkness became a hazard, because there were rocks to trip over and stickleburrs that we wanted to avoid.  So we turned on the lantern and walked in its light.

Which reminded us, of course, of Psalm 119:105, "Your word is a lamp to guide my feet and a light for my path."  How do we see that "light" of the Word?  Here are some common approaches:
  • The Bible is the instruction book for life; so you should look up the verse that tells you what decision to make or that answers your question.  --This approach unconsciously treats the Bible like a buffet, where we can go in and take just the foods we want, and all we need to do is find the right verse to apply to our questions.
  • The Bible is a set of laws and principles that will guide us, although it doesn't always contain an exact instruction for each situation, but we should follow God's laws for a successful life and to avoid sin.  --This approach unconsciously sees God as some sort of rule-giver, like a supervisor at work or in a boarding school, laying down the law and punishing us for getting out of line. 
  • The Bible is an ancient book of wisdom and we can learn from it, but it's not authoritative.  --This tells us that we are the superior beings, and the Bible is something we can take or leave at our discretion. 
Each of these approaches is fatally flawed because it leaves you and me as the authority in how (or even whether) to interpret and apply the scripture. 

Here's a better way:  The living Word of God, Jesus Christ, is the One to whom this verse points. (I've written about that in previous weeks).  So how do we read "Your word is a light to guide my feet and a light for my path"?  That the whole Bible, as the inspired written revelation of God, tells us who God is and what he is like, most particularly and clearly in the life and teachings of Jesus Christ himself.  That we look to Jesus, in the Gospel accounts and in the other writings, to understand our relationship to God through him, being adopted into the life and love of God (Eph. 1:3-5) and being filled with Christ (Col. 1:27).  That light in us, Christ himself, is the Lamp for our feet.  "I am the light of the world. If you follow me, you won’t have to walk in darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life." (John 8:12). 

Let's follow him, being filled with him, and let his Light guide us.