Monday, April 14, 2014

After "Yes" II - New Creation

Be a better caterpillar or become a butterfly. 
      OK, so women will get this but guys...I know this doesn't sound very manly but suspend your reality for a moment to get the metaphor.  What does one do to be transformed, not into a better caterpillar but into a new creation, a butterfly?  God calls us to be not re-newed creations but "new" creations.
The main thing that we as Christians must do after saying "Yes" to Christ is to change our thinking [the Greek word for repentance is not turn 180 degrees like most teach but it is "metanoia" which means to think again].  We must change our thinking.  We must think not about learning/understanding/applying more but about getting a suntan.  If we spend time in the sun we will get tanned.  Our "work" consists not of doing anything about our tan but about our position.  We can't learn enough about Christ to become transformed and we can't apply or ply enough understanding into our lives to enact change.  What we can and must do is put ourselves in the sun.  We must spend time doing what we were made to do which is worship and serving others.  If we do those things then transformation happens, not because we are making it happen but because our position with God allows it to happen.  God  operates on us when we put ourselves in His environment.  When we set ourselves up as the arbiter of our lives and control it then God cannot work.  He has bound His power by giving us free will.  We can choose to ignore Him.  We can choose to live lives outside His will.  We can choose, as Christians, to live lives that are "right" but have no relationship to what He is doing and that leave our lives lackluster and shallow and broken....and un-transformed.
      I know many Christians who live pretty exemplary lives doing the do of church attendance and are pretty happy and content with life but whose lives do not exhibit Christ.  I worry about them.  More perhaps than I worry about non-believers.  At least I know, and non-believers know, where they are.  It is this muddled group that rocks my boat.  They have been Christians for years and yet seem to live lives no different than the life of a non-believer.  No greater comfort or solace.  No better relationships.  Same divorce rate.  Same pornography usage rate.  They suffer the same devastation and frustration and despair during trials.
       I also know a few Christians who are in love with Jesus and for whom the tossing of the world seems to have no impact.  They do not seem pressured to perform.  They play well.  They serve easily and have open hands to others.  They engage often in church activities but are not hyper-religious or self-righteous or proud.        They forgive easily and are pliant with others.  They lead if pressed into service but follow well even in leadership with a servant heart.  "How can I be Christ to you?" seems to be the lens through which they look at every encounter.  Not Christ the teacher or lecturer or judge but Christ at the well, Christ with the adulterous woman, Christ washing feet.
      After "Yes"?   Worship and serve.  Those will compel you to learn and understand more about this God we adore.  Metamorphosis happens in His presence, better caterpillars are made the other way around.

After "Yes"

      After one says "Yes" to Jesus and you are in the boat, what happens next?  In James, Scripture says that no one who is double minded can expect anything from God.  Another Lowcountry way to say this is that you can't be double boated and expect to go anywhere.  If you have a foot in the boat of the world and a foot in Jesus' boat, you are not going anywhere.  Jesus can't help you and the world won't help you.  Can't be double-boated.  So we are assuming from last week that both of your feet are in Jesus' boat.
      Interestingly, this is where most of the divisions between Christians takes place.  All denominations believe that to be a Christian someone has to make a decision to follow Christ.  The "now what" hinges on how much of our growth rests on us and how much is pure grace or gift.  To fine tune the argument a tad more, almost every denomination believes that the recipient of grace has to perform a work to get into heaven.  (The strict predestination-ists believe that a few people are created for heaven and the rest are created for hell. This is unpalatable for most people and we can deal with that later if someone comments on it.  For now we will ignore this group.)  So...everyone has to do a work to get into heaven.  The work can be set on a scale from the work being simply saying, "Yes" [Eph 1:4] all the way to the work being cooperating with the Holy Spirit one's entire life [Rom 2:6,7].  An image that may be helpful is communion.  In the Catholic church, one is handed the cup and one must grasp the cup and take a drink - obviously indicating that you are responsible for accepting and actively engaging in the grace that is offered you.  On the other hand, in that same tradition, the bread is placed on one's tongue, obviously indicating you have very little to do with God's grace getting into you - opening your mouth is the extent of your work and the "grace" is put in you.  This is done the opposite way in the Anglican church where one does not hold the cup but the server holds the cup to you, you open your mouth and the server pours the wine into your mouth indicating that you have nothing to do with the grace poured into you - except to open your mouth.  On the other hand, in that tradition one is handed the bread and one must put it into one's own mouth indicating that you must act on the grace place within your grasp.   In most protestant congregations, there is a table set up and you have to do all the "work" yourself of getting to the table and helping yourself which doesn't work as a metaphor of their theology of grace only but that is another discussion. 
       To bring this back into perspective, we all have to somehow act on the grace that is offered to us.  There is no action possible if the bread and the wine of grace do not exist.  God does not bring us into relationship with Him without our consent and even simple consent is a work.
      So now, back to our topic, what next, whether we work a lot or a little?
      Paul in his letter to the Romans tells us that we are a new creation.  Many Christians want that to mean that Walt becomes a better Walt.  The best Walt that he can be, the "perfect" Walt, as it were.  What that means is that I am going to participate with the Holy Spirit in re-tooling myself.  I am going to "study myself to be approved" and obey because the result of my cooperation and obedience will change who I am.  As I spend time in prayer and the simple disciplines of contemplation and recollection and simplicity, the desires of the flesh will fall away and I will gradually move toward holiness.
      The problem with this is that what I am doing is being a caterpillar who is becoming a better and better caterpillar.  What needs to happen is for me to become, not a different species of animal - still a monarch, if you will - but a completely new creation than the caterpillar.  This is the word used by Christ in His transformation on Mt Carmel and Paul's call for us to not be conformed to the world but transformed - to be "metamorphized".  So how in the world do we do THAT?
 ~After "Yes" II~

Formation 3

You have decided to follow Christ.  Now what?
Plumbing has been used many times regarding the simplicity of formation and it remains one of the best metaphors for me.  Plumbing is simple: water flows downhill unless it is under pressure.  If it is under pressure it will go anywhere and find even the smallest means of escape.  Pretty simple.  And not to disparage the plumber's work, but it is actually pretty simple. However, small mistakes can easily and completely ruin a multi-million dollar home.
    After deciding to follow Jesus, the concept of formation is pretty simple.  Spend time worshiping Him, learn about Him, and do some kind of ministry.  You are now good to go.  We can expand this and there are many models which try to get these three concepts across, but it is all very basic.  One easy way to remember it is, Up, In, and Out.  We must direct our focus Up to God which is worship, In as to inwardly learn and digest about God, and Out, take God's message and love out to the world.
    As an aside, there is no pressure regarding failure in formation.  That is what grace is about.  The working out of salvation is like a child in a school play.  The parents (God) would, of course, love for their sweetheart (you) to put on the performance of a lifetime but the performance is really irrelevant to the love they have for their child.  They will love their child standing ovation or rotten tomatoes.  God loves us no matter our performance.  Note however, importantly, that unlike performance in a recital, our performance really does matter in an extraordinary way.  Not in its effect on God's love for us but on the working out of God's story.  What we do has eternal, profound consequences.  That should scare us a bit driving us to our knees to discover what part God wants us to play in this drama of His.  He has created both us in all our glory and designed our work to be done so doing our part is like lungs doing theirs.  The consequences of our activities should also drive us into the fact that He is big and is redeeming.  Should we, on a rare occasion mess up, He can fix things and grow flowers out of our...manure.
    You have decided to follow Jesus.
    The first thing to do next is to begin to hang around Christians.  Unlike most others, this religion is not a philosophy or a system of beliefs but a lifestyle within a group.

spend time telling Him wonderful things about Himself.  Seems very egotistical on His part and yes it is.  Egotism on our part is a sickness believing the world revolves around us and it doesn't.  For God it is simply a fact.  As someone said, "There is one God and you are not Him."  Telling Him who He is is called praise, adoration, worship.  God is great.  God is good.  Yes, but you can be more creative than this.  Reading the Psalms and Isaiah can help with ideas should you get stuck.  For you in particular as you read this, He is your hope, your rescue, your family counselor, your will and ability to reconcile with ________ , your direction, your light on your path in this world.
Many people think that prayer is just asking God for things but perhaps the most substantial part of prayer is to in-form God who He is and that you know what kind of character He is.  This process of telling God who He is changes you.  It is a peculiar spiritual process for which I know no analogies.
    Now many people will say that one needs to start formation with reading the Bible.  That is reasonable advice however most people today join a church family not by an assent to their beliefs but because they find the community warm and welcoming, the experience of being with Christian's astonishing.