Today’s sermon at Sojourn was pretty good, and it really spurred some reflection in me regarding the nature of the Christian life.
We were going over a passage in Matthew, chapter 24, where Jesus was warning the disciples about what was going to happen after His death and resurrection. The minister pulled three key points out of the passage: first, that deceivers will come; second, to not be alarmed when terrible things happen; and third, to be faithful.
An interesting side note that the minister made was that once, he had worked for a bank, and they had extensive training on recognizing counterfeit bills. However, they didn’t spend much time going over the countless methods people use to counterfeit. They spent an intense amount of time going over and over the real bills: how they felt, how they looked, all the little details of real currency. The idea was that you should be so familiar with the real thing, that the fakes would immediately be obvious.
In life, deceivers will come. And they will come in an infinite variety of directions and approaches, custom-designed to catch you off-guard. You could try to “arm yourself” by concentrating on all the ways the Devil is trying to deceive people. Or you could concentrate on really, deeply getting to know the real thing, so intimately that the fakes immediately become obvious, no matter what form they take.
Now honestly, how do you think Jesus would rather you dedicate your time? Getting to know Him deeper and more completely, or trying to uncover and expose all the Devil’s schemes? Which do you think is a better use of your time and energy? Honestly? Where was Jesus’ focus? The Father’s will, or the Devil’s plans? Do you really think you have enough time to do both well?
The more I really study the scriptures and delve into them, particularly the gospels, the more I am convinced that the Christian life is essentially positive. I’m not saying that it’s perky and well-adjusted. I’m saying that it should be more focused on adding in the things of spiritual significance–the things that Jesus stressed as important and valuable–than focused on eliminating all your bad habits and sins.
I’m not saying sin isn’t a problem; I’m saying it’s a problem that in the larger scheme has already been taken care of for us. I’m not saying ignore your sin or keep sinning, any more than Paul was saying “let sin abound so grace may abound,” in Romans 6. If you get a chance, read the whole chapter in the Message. Here’s a bit of it (emphasis mine):
That means you must not give sin a vote in the way you conduct your lives. Don’t give it the time of day. Don’t even run little errands that are connected with that old way of life. Throw yourselves wholeheartedly and full-time—remember, you’ve been raised from the dead!—into God’s way of doing things. Sin can’t tell you how to live. After all, you’re not living under that old tyranny any longer. You’re living in the freedom of God.
What is God’s way of doing things? Loving God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength. Loving your neighbor as yourself. These are active commands. Essentially positive and expansive, not restrictive and eliminating. They force you to expand your worldview beyond me and my sin and me-me-me to include a big, beautiful, holy, loving, graceful God and my poor, scattered, screwed-up, broken neighbors and all the things standing between them and a relationship with God.
It’s a bigger and scarier world to think that way, because you are much smaller within it. And the people in it are more real–not all the faceless “lost” for whom you throw up a prayer or for whom you expose the evils of Oprah for their protection. They become Joe, who is depressed and occasionally annoying– and needs someone to be his friend anyway. Or Jane, who beats her kid because she’s caught in a cycle of addiction. Or Jane’s kid, who is trying to figure out what she did wrong to get beaten. It may get big enough that the real people are living in another country somewhere and have names you can’t pronounce and problems you can’t currently conceive of.
My hands are not clean in this. Or perhaps my hands are too clean, kept that way because I have not reached out to dig into someone else’s quicksand and if nothing else, just be a firm thing to grab onto. I know that living a “positive Christian life” is not a neat, tidy thing, focused on stripping the dirty words and thoughts and actions out of my life. It seems to me that it would have to be a gritty thing.
I feel that I am preparing for a long and dangerous journey. Better pack well.