Charlie “Tremendous” Jones once said that “You are the same today as you’ll be in five years except for two things: the books you read and the people you meet.” I submit that the same applies to our walk with Christ. Over the next five years, our growth – our ability to live a life that truly reflects and honors God – will be exactly what it is today except for the books we read and the people we meet.
Sometimes it’s good to go back to the beginning. We need those breaths in our life where we can simply relax and recollect. How did we get here, what decisions have we made – both good and bad – to become the person we are today? Are there opportunities to go back and amend a wrong or to alter our present course? How are our focus and our walk? Sometimes it helps to go back even further, to the very beginning, when life began. As followers of Christ and believers in God, our struggles all began with a simple, but not so innocent, bite of an apple. I know I have often thought that given the opportunity, I would have chosen to obey God and stayed pure. Hindsight is indeed 20/20, and reality often differs from our passions and ideals.
Every day I fall victim to my own apples. I am shown the path of holiness, and it is quite clear. The way is well lighted and the road straight and solidly paved. It’s sad to consider how the path is not well-worn, but rather shows little signs of traffic. It seems so simple. We simply need to wake up each day ready to love others, ready to do all that Christ commands us to do. We can do anything we want as long as it does not go against the character and principles of God. But, just like Eden, that simply isn’t good enough; we want more. More is a funny word, as by definition we will never achieve it. Life becomes an endless struggle to clutch ever more: more pleasure, more possessions, more social standing. It never ends, and thus, I become aware that I would have eaten the apple as well.
I don’t want to admit that I fail. I don’t like failing at anything, and I’m certain you feel the same. If we’re honest with ourselves though, we fail far more times than we succeed every day. We all have our apples that we chew on throughout the day. For some it’s greed, others a sharp tongue and still others an addiction of some sort. We can’t seem to stop ourselves. Sin is an addiction in and of itself. We are all addicted to something, and we need to eradicate it from our lives.
What are your apples, your addictions? May I suggest you jump on the sobriety wagon? Just like those attempting to kick the more publicized addictions, we need to quit our sinful behavior at once, not try and gradually improve. Monitor your progress; keep track of how many days you’ve “been sober”. Write down the areas of your life you know are not pleasing to Christ. Pray that He will help you turn from these behaviors and thought patterns. Then consciously reject those same behaviors one day at a time. Can you make it one week sober? Two weeks? A month? Tackle one behavior at a time. Once you’ve been “six weeks sober”, you can add a new behavior and start your sobriety pledge for that area of your life as well. The longer you stay sober, the harder it will be to go back to that behavior. Who wants to go back to day one after reaching day 50? Although it’s difficult, stay close to God and pray throughout your journey. He will help you stand up under the pressure. The next time someone hands you an apple of sin, smile and hand it back. Tell them you don’t eat those any longer.
I write a lot about personal responsibility, focused here on this blog as our duty to follow Christ with all that we are. This is our call as followers of Jesus. If we are not personally “all in” for Jesus, we cannot expect to have any merit with those to whom we would speak. We have to model our beliefs without wavering, trusting always in Christ rather than in anything we might possess or accomplish. I would be remiss, however, if I were to stop at personal responsibility. We are called the body of Christ, meaning we are part of a connected network, a family. Jesus called this family His bride, the church.
Today we tend to think of church as a building, indeed as several building throughout our cities. This is a misrepresentation of what the Church was created to be. The Biblical church never referred to a building, but rather a body. We are supposed to amplify all the things we are called to do as individual followers of Christ, by gathering with other believers and doing those same things together. The power in a group of followers of Jesus can be breath taking. There is more power in love than any other force in the universe. This is true on an individual level, but even more pronounced when a group of people come together to love others.
Together, through love, we can feed the hungry, give shelter to the homeless, care for the widows and single moms, and look after the orphans and those from broken homes. Love is powerful. Love, amplified, is unstoppable. We are called to be the church, yet most of us associate being the church as going to a predetermined building each Sunday morning, being entertained for an hour or two, then maybe even getting involved in a couple of programs. Mission accomplished, duty fulfilled, right? Doubtful. There are a few modern “churches” that get it right. They do the things Christ commanded us to do. But by and large, the modern Western church has become a divisive collection of mini-corporations with building campaigns, catering budgets and medical insurance benefits. Much of the money collected from the church members goes to pay the overhead of the staff and electricity bills. Thankfully we squeeze small corners of the budget in so we can help out in the inner city and send some rice overseas. We manage to earmark just enough money to soothe our conscious so we can get on with bigger ideas such as building campaigns.
I cannot begin to imagine the sorrow of Christ as He looks down on all of this. Is this the reason He sacrificed His own life, so that we could build better playgrounds and more adequately cool our “sanctuaries”? God, forgive us. What have we become? How we have twisted His mission to the point that our own professed Lord would no longer recognize it. This is not the church Christ died for. We – you and me – we are the Church for which He died. Yet we ignore the commandments of Jesus and we spit on the cross where He bled for us because we can’t see past our own comfort to notice a wounded and dying world, a world that cries out to us for help. We pass by the homeless and overlook the poor. We ignore the needs of the outcast and cater to those more like ourselves. We are the Church, but where is the work of the church, where are the results? We need more than Sunday morning sermons and soon forgotten resolutions of commitment. We need true followers banding together to go out and care for this world. We need to come together and be the Church. We need to be the ones who are not afraid to stand in the face of oppression and persecution. We as the Church should be throwing our bodies over those in need, protecting them, loving them and nursing them back to health.
But we stand off to the side. We bicker over styles of worship, the length of sermons and meaningless nuances of religion. We are not called to be a people divided, but rather a people united under Christ. He is to be our Lord and Leader. So how about it Church, are you with me? Are you ready to abandon the buildings and divisions and begin to be about being the Church rather than simply attending one? The church is the bride of Christ. A bride does not merely attend her wedding but rather is fully engaged in all facets of it and fully focused on the one she loves. It’s time to stop merely being in attendance. It’s time to be the Church, fully devoted, fully alive.
What if we’re not making a difference at all? What if we sit behind our desks all day, every day, for twenty years or more and never make a difference? We weren’t called to this. Indeed, we weren’t made for this.
Increasingly this is becoming the age of the knowledge worker. Many don’t even go into an office at all, and those that do are cordoned off from each other in 5×5 cells we call cubicles. Community and interaction are left in favor of self-achievement and autonomy. Along the way we have lost our mission and I dare say a piece of our humanity. The past couple of generations have been raised in an environment of individualism at the sacrifice of teamwork. Self ambition has blinded us to the beauty of working together and helping each other. When my grandparents were my age, everyone looked out for one another and lent a hand as needed. Now many of us have never even met the neighbor two doors down from us.
God help us. What have we become? It’s no wonder there is a waning interest in Christianity in this country. Those of us who profess to know Christ live identical lives to those who don’t. We’ve been sucked in by the lies of society. We’ve bought into Madison Avenue and it may very well be costing us our soul. We must turn back and repent. We must rediscover our mission in life, and we must refocus our lives on Jesus Christ.
True religion is this, that we care for the orphans and the widows and keep ourselves untainted by the world. (James 1:27) Are we doing it? Do we take the time to mentor kids from a single parent home or to buy a sack of groceries for a single mother? Do we spend time with the elderly and the homeless? Do we give hope to anyone? When was the last time you unconditionally loved someone, the last time you loved someone without expecting anything in return? We are sick, we are selfish and we have lost our way.
There’s no happy moral today, no silver bullet of encouragement. There is only this: take an honest look at your life. Are you living a life worthy to be associated with Jesus? Are you living a life that displays grace, mercy and love to everyone around you? Are there areas of your life that remain closed to God, areas that you will not surrender? When was the last time you told someone about the love and redemption found only in Jesus Christ? We are sick and we need to get well. Repent today. Turn away from the life you’ve bought into and start fresh living the life God planned for you. We must make a difference or there is no point in any of this. We can’t keep doing what we’re doing and hope to make a difference. Modern Christianity is failing and we must change. We must repent of Christianity and turn instead to a life of following Christ. Replace your selfishness with selflessness, your greed with generosity and your bitterness with love. Repent with me today and walk in the way of Jesus.
For many years growing up, I used to dread the inevitable, “Where you from?” question that came with introductions to new people. As a military “brat”, we moved around a lot. I had lived in three states and in three different countries before I ever hit first grade. While being exposed to different cultures and ethnic groups has forever shaped who I am today, in the early years I was left with somewhat of an identity crisis. These days, for the first time in my life, I have a solid handle on that dreaded “Where you from?” question.
One of the reasons I really struggled with the question earlier in my life stemmed from the fact that I didn’t really identify with any area or group of people. Today it’s the same, but I now understand the reason why. I am a follower of Christ, I belong to Him. I identify with Jesus. Spending time with Him is when I feel most at peace, when I feel at home.
Lately I can’t turn on the television or radio, much less pick up a newspaper, without being bombarded with the latest political argument of what it means to be an American. I hear arguments from both Christian and non-Christian friends, both trying to win me over to their point of view. I feel wonderfully disconnected, if not somewhat frustrated, from all the fuss. You see, I’m not from America. Sure, my birth certificate will tell you I was born on United States territory, but that is simply geography. I am extremely thankful to have been born in a country that has allowed me to express my opinion freely, and a country that has let me pursue a way of life of my own choosing. But make no mistake, I pledge my allegiance to the Creator God and to His Son who sacrificed His life for me. I do not pledge allegiance to a colorful rag, but rather to the blood stained robes of my Lord and Savior. I do not love any particular area of dirt, but will bow on any piece of land before my God.
If you ask me where I’m from, I will proudly and unashamedly tell you that I am part of the Kingdom of God. This is where I place my allegiance. How about you? Where are you from? With whom do you identify? The Bible makes it clear that we cannot serve two masters. We can’t serve “God and country”, because our country will most assuredly come into conflict with God. Whom then will you choose? Do you boast in your country of origin or in your true place of origin? God created you with specific talents and abilities, intended for use according to His purpose. All that we have and all that we are originated with God. We are from Him, not any plot of soil. Do you show God the same allegiance you do to your country? If not, it’s time to choose this day whom you will serve.