Do you ever feel frustrated because of the huge gap between what we know and what we do? You hear a good sermon or a challenging Bible lesson and you are determined that this week things will be different. And by midday you’ve already fallen back into old habits and faulty ways of thinking. Sometimes we feel like we are never going to change. It’s as if we are caged by bad habits and past failures.
The book You Are What You Love by James K.A. Smith points to a way out of this cage. Traditionally we have thought that the way to transformation is through knowledge. If we saturate our brain with truth and wisdom then our actions will be different. We break the chains of sinful thinking by replacing it with right thinking. In other words, “you are what you think.”
Smith thinks “we are what we love.” Knowledge is a powerful thing, but for it to become transformational it must be coupled with a loving relationship with God. Only love can bring us to the right place for change in our lives. Only love for God can break the chains of habit. We are called to replace our affections for worldly things with a passionate affection for God. Perhaps “we are what we love” does not go far enough rather “we are what we worship”.
There is a real battle for our affection going on. There are competing liturgies like consumerism, sensuality, and techno worship going on that lead us astray. These and other influences are so powerful. They influence us in ways we are not even aware of and foster our crushing bad habits.
Smith believes the way through this is tofirst examine our hearts of for competing loyalties and then replace them with daily habits of prayer, worship, and service. These items are more than a check list for being a “good Christian” they are the life changing dynamic of a personal walk with God. We are in a battle not just for our mind but for our ability to follow the great commandment to love God and tolove people
This summer I am going to try to become more aware of the world’s influence and more affectionate with God. I think it will make a difference. Won’t you join me?
I was sitting with my grandson Luke in a restaurant, waiting for my wife Lynda and granddaughter to join us. Our conversation dwindled and I was about to hand Luke my phone so he could pass the time playing games. For some reason I thought of paper football. I carefully folded the xeroxed menu into a triangle and soon I was initiating Luke into the world of paper football. This game centers on thumping a paper triangle back and forth hoping to leave one hanging on the table edge for a touchdown. It was a favorite for kids everywhere before the age of electronic games like Madden football. Soon we were laughing and enjoying ourselves immensely, (even though he beat me soundly).
I was reminded that our flag is folded in similar fashion thousands of times each day. Many of our flags come down each evening and are folded into a triangle at schools, military bases, and homes. They are unfoIded each morning and raised high. I have done many funerals where the survivors of veterans were gifted with a carefully and reverently folded triangular flag.
There is a rhythm here that points to how the Christian life works. There is an internal life where God folds into us the kind of character He wants us to have. For most of this phase there is no quick changes but a slow and steady progress through prayer, studying God’s word, and faith building life experience. The best way to approach this phase is with patience, thanksgiving and a sense of reverence.
Phase two happens as God begins to gently unfold us and use us to change the world. We are unfolded in the midst of godly relationships and sacrificial service. Soon God is ready to raise us up not for our glory but for His. And as He raises us, so many who have been blind and indifferent will finally see how God works and how He loves.
So there are times of folding and unfolding in our lives. And the turning inward leads to a blossoming outward toward a hurting world. So when you see a paper football game or a flying flag, I hope you will be reminded of how God wants to shape and then use you.
Through my years of youth and college ministry, I used to tell a story meant to illustrate how much the Father loves us. Though there is some truth to it, I question now if I should have told it. It gets it wrong on a most important point
Here is the story in a nutshell. There once was a bridge master who raised and lowered a railroad drawbridge over an inland ocean channel. As promised the bridge master took his son to work on his birthday. The father lost track of the son for a moment and heard the whistle of an oncoming passenger train. He must soon lower the drawbridge or hundreds will die on the train. To his horror he sees his son trapped among the works of the bridge his coat tangled in the gears. If he continues to lower the drawbridge his son will be crushed. The father is forced to make a terrible choice between the hundreds of strangers or his only precious son. With tears in his eyes and the screams of his son in his ears he lowers the span. And the people on the train whiz by, not realizing what a sacrifice has been made for them.
I would then challenge the students to realize the depth of the heavenly Father’s sacrifice of His only Son for our sins. How could anyone pass by the cross and be indifferent?
Here is where the story goes awry. The Father is not helplessly caught in a dilemma. He is not sentencing his son to death. He has loved us from the beginning of time and will always love us. And the Son is not a passive pawn whose sacrifice is hardly voluntary. Out of love for us, the scripture says, he willingly gave up his life to save us. The Father is not punishing the Son for our sake. Both are caught up in a passionate love for human beings and will go to any lengths to save us.
The truth is God is sovereign, good, and loving. God is sovereign because He has a plan that is unfolding that makes sense out of the chaos of life. God is good because His plan for humanity and the universe is good. We are told that we are redeemed and that all of creation will one day be redeemed. And He is loving, because he seeks not to punish humans but to bring them home where they belong.
It is true that in the face of such love and sacrifice we cannot pass by indifferent. Let us instead focus our lives on the great commandment to give our lives up to loving God and loving people.
Here is how Eugene Peterson interprets “Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:5): “You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are—no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought.”
Meekness and contentment are not very popular words in our culture. The first implies a kind of passivity that allows people to run roughshod over your rights. The second seems to say we should feel okay about where we are in life. Many people today use their discontent as an engine that drives their ambition toward wealth and power, thinking that these things constitute success.
Jesus was describing kingdom virtues when he spoke these words. When we place Him in the supreme position in our lives these virtues are enabled and rewarded. When we cede control of our lives to God we can afford to be meek and content, knowing He will bring justice and true success in our lives. The same word is used to describe the regal Jesus as he triumphantly entered Jerusalem riding on a donkey. It was this virtue of “real strength under control” that led to his death on the cross soon after, and makes him both our savior and our Lord.
Discontent is a powerful force. It feels like our entire culture is based on getting us to feel dissatisfied with who and what we are. A constant media barrage bombards us, designed to create in us a hunger for things. These messages to us consumers play on the real hungers we feel inside. And we keep on feeling disappointed and we keep on consuming. When will we learn that things that can be bought never satisfy? We run headlong through life feeling hungry, consuming, and feeling hungrier still.
Here in this passage Jesus promises His followers a different future. If we can be content with His Lordship in our lives, the deep and true things will be ours. Everyone once in a while my mind clears and I see that everything that is real and good in my life comes to me as a gift from God. And I feel content. It’s a great feeling.
One of the hottest shows on television is “The Walking Dead”. This long running show (filmed right here in Georgia) about a zombie apocalypse has broken all the rating records for a non-network show. The zombie genre of films, television and “apps” has generated itself a kind of pop culture phenomena. “Zombie walks,” including thousands in make-up. are bringing flash mob energy to charity fund-raisers.
The real stars of these films and shows are not the living dead, but the living “living”. The flesh eating monsters serve as an elemental force like a flood or fire in a disaster flick. The pressure they bring on the surviving humans births the best and worst in them. They are forced to make choices about who to save and who to leave behind. How much are they willing to risk to save another? The search for a loving community and a meaningful life among a mixed bag of broken humanity becomes a fascinating focus even as they fight to survive in a world gone amok.
For Christians there is a lot to think about here. How do we relate to a world that seems twisted beyond repair? Do we close our communities to those who might contaminate us? What sacrifice will we make to save others who are among these living dead? With a little allegorical twist we could even claim to be “walkers” ourselves tied up into the death and resurrection of Christ.
These movies and shows are fascinating because they tie into people’s fears about the future and their hunger for community. I’m praying that our churches can be a place where people find deep hope and a loving extended family. We could make a huge difference in this community and the world.