Thursday, June 23, 2011

On Diapers and Good Deeds

It always amazes me how many diapers we go through each month with our baby.  Thankfully though, we’ve been through this routine before and I know that one day he’ll grow out of them.  He’ll go on to maturity: he’ll start to feed himself, dress himself and make his own bed (well…maybe not that one!) and eventually make it through school.  His growth won’t be easy though – it will require some work and training: potty training, piano lessons, homework, chores…but it’s our prayer that one day he’ll be both mature and fruitful in life.

It also amazes me how many Christians pay little attention to their growth in godliness.  In my last post (WWJD: What Would Jordan Do?) I talked about the importance of practicing the spiritual disciplines that Jesus did.  However, talking about “disciplines” may make some uncomfortable.  Since the Reformation, it seems, many of us have a fear of “good works.”  However, I believe one of the biggest lies of the devil is that any emphasis on deeds or works immediately means legalism.  Some might say: “We’re saved by grace, we don’t need to focus on works!”  Unfortunately, that is plain unscriptural!

Now obviously it’s true that we’re saved by grace alone – but that doesn’t negate the need for us, as believers, to emphasize good works.

I want to share with you a distinction that has helped me tremendously.  It’s the simple truth that there is a vast difference between one’s IDENTITY and their MATURITY
As a believer you can’t change your identity – you are IN CHRIST.  The moment you repented and turned to Jesus you became a child of God…works won't make you a Christian or make God love you more.  That’s your identity – you are a CHILD of God.  However, you can change your level of maturity.

A baby doesn’t work to be born….but to grow to maturity requires LOTS of work!

No matter how long my boys stay in their diapers, they’ll always be my kids…their “works” won’t change my love for them.  However, their “works” will change their maturity, their growth and their fruitfulness!  When my son is 18 and heading off to college, my guess is that he won’t take a box of diapers with him!

YOU ARE IN CHRIST...your works can’t add to your identity.  But the question is – are you going to be a BABY in Christ or an ADULT in Christ?  Are you going to go on to maturity, to fruitfulness?  If you are, that will take work!

That’s why the Scriptures are full of exhortations to “Grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Pet 3:18) and to “make every effort” (2 Pet. 1:5, 15; 3:14; Heb 12:14, etc) and to “train yourself to be godly” (1 Tim 4:7,8)...and that believers are to “prove their repentance by their deeds” (Acts 26:20 – heard a sermon on that one lately?).  And that’s why Jesus said “by your fruit you will recognize them” (Mt 7:20) and why he declares over and over in Revelation “I know your deeds!” (not just “I know your intentions!” – see Rev 2:2,19,23; 3:1,8,15). 

Your deeds – your works, growth and fruitfulness – are of extreme importance both here on earth as well as on judgment day!  (See Rev 22:12 and 1 Cor 3:11-15).

Martin Luther himself, in his treatise on “Christian Freedom” said, of course, that Christians are “justified by faith,” yet he also was emphatic that while still on this earth the believer must:
“give heed to exercise his body by fastings, watchings, labour, and other regular discipline, so that it may be subdued to the spirit, and obey and conform itself to the inner man and faith…True then, are these two sayings: ‘Good works do not make a good man, but a good man does good works’” (Martin Luther – Concerning Christian Liberty ).
That’s why spiritual disciplines are so important – like a child learning practicing piano, or a basketball player doing training – disciplines and good works help us grow in spirit and have a positive impact on the world around us.

Works won’t save you.  But they’ll sure help you get out of your diapers and make a difference for Christ!

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Tuesday, June 14, 2011

What Would Jordan Do?
Reflections on personal discipline...

A while ago it was vogue in Christian circles to ask WWJD: What Would Jesus Do?  But it got a little over-hyped and largely under-practiced (which often happens) and has since received its fair share of criticism.
While I agree that asking WWJD is biblical – Jesus, after all, told his followers to follow him – I think it has inherent problems.  The main one is this: we can’t do what Jesus did just by asking that question.  For even if we think we know what Jesus would do the reality is that we often don’t have the spiritual reserves to follow through.

By itself asking WWJD is just as unreasonable as asking “What Would JORDAN Do? 
I enjoy basketball and always held Jordan’s abilities in high esteem…but I’d never ask that kind of question.  Why?  Because even if I knew the answer, I still wouldn’t be able to do what Jordan did!  I can’t jump like him, shoot like him, or stick out my tongue like him.
And here’s the key point: Unless I practiced the way Jordan did in private, I’d never be able to do what he did in public.   It’s not enough to know what he’d do in a given situation – I must have the strength and ability to do it as well.

The same is very true in our Christian walk.  We’ll never do what Jesus did in public until we learn to do what he did in private.  Unfortunately, a lot of us wear the Jesus-jersey, skip out of practice, then wonder why we’re so lousy when it comes to game time!
Jesus’ life of prayer, sensitivity to the Spirit and obedience to the Father laid the foundation for his amazing ministry.  He knew Scripture inside out and walked in intimacy with the Father.  Doing what Jesus did without his focus and prayer life is like me getting up off the couch and doing a 360 slam dunk from the free throw line.  Ain’t likely that’ll happen!

Dallas Willard puts it this way: "As Jesus’ disciple..I am learning from him how to lead my life in the Kingdom of the Heavens as he would lead my life if he were I.”

So this is a call back to the basics – a call to do things that Jesus did and that his early followers put into practice.  If we want to see even the beginnings of a Jesus-kind-of-life we’ll need to get back to the core practices of fasting and prayer, simplicity of life, memorizing Scripture, self denial and intimacy with God.  Once we begin to do these things not only will we be able to discern what Jesus would do, we would – by His grace – have the power to be able to imitate him as well.  So while it wouldn’t fit a lot of bracelets or make a lot of sales, I would suggest this question is much more appropriate: “What Did Jesus Do in order to Do What He Did? 

I’m never going to be Michael Jordan, but it’s my prayer that each day you and I will grow to be more like Christ!

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Sunday, June 5, 2011

Green Card Christianity

Years ago the movie "Green Card" came out.  The plot revolved around two strangers getting married – not out of love, but out of convenience.  The one would get an American green card, the other a fancy apartment.  After the wedding the two would separate, get on with their lives, and live life as they wanted (at least, that was the plan)...

Unfortunately, it seems, some people go through a similar process in becoming a “Christian".
They hear that the heavenly country is a little better than the other option and that if they say a prayer and sign a card, then presto, they get citizenship and all the rights that go with it!  So they say “I do” to Jesus and then keep right on living as they had before…

But is that what coming to Christ is all about?  Saying “yes,” then living as you please?  Does going to church or saying a prayer mean you are “in”? 
Well, it may - if it’s the start of a life-long passionate relationship with the Son of God. 

But, on the other hand, it may not. 

Jesus and the disciples seemed to suggest that there was much more involved than a good beginning.  When our Master walked this earth he didn’t tell people to just say a prayer.  He told them to follow (Mt 4:19; Lk 5:27).  He called them to repent (Mt 4:17[1]) and leave their old ways behind, walk with him and make him central to everything they would do from that point onwards (Lk 9:23-25).  Saying a prayer is a good way to start…but it needs to be followed up with a life that’s radically centered on Christ.  It means intentionally switching allegiance from self to Him.  It transforms the way we think and talk and spend our money and use our time and talents.  Everything becomes surrendered to Jesus and his kingdom.  Jesus talked about a narrow door and a narrow way (Mt 7:13,14)…not a narrow door with a broad way, where we squeeze in then live as we’d like.

In the movie, things unraveled when an immigration officer checked in on them and discovered the truth.  And I sometimes wonder what would happen if someone checked in on us and our devotion to Jesus?  Would they see much in common with him?  Would our love for each other be visible?  Would we know his ways, spend time together and be growing daily in our relationship with him? 

Just as in a marriage you need to continue to love each other, serve each other, live with each other, listen and talk to each other – the same is needed in our relationship with Jesus!  There’s no such thing as “Green Card” Christianity, if by that we mean saying “I do” then living as we want.[2]  You might be able to fool the American government, but you can’t fool Christ!  

> If you liked this article you may also want to check out:
Spiritual Narcolepsy.

[1] The exact same message of repentance was preached by John the Baptist (Mt 3:2), Peter (Acts 2:38) and Paul (Acts 26:20) and recorded by the apostle John (Rev 2:4,5).
[2] Just so there’s no confusion, let me say that I have nothing against people getting Green Cards.  In fact, my wife is in the process of getting one.  (Actually, being Canadian, it’s commonly referred to as a “Maple Leaf Card”).