Sunday, June 2, 2013

This Is How We Learned Christ


*(I shared the gist of this message with our folks this morning, but found some funny irony involved in the sharing of it and some communication with me afterwards.  We had many people gone this morning with a variety of activities associated with the end of the school year.  A few folks, noting the message was concerning "putting on the new self" and "accountability," communicated with me saying -- wouldn't that message be better for when most of our folks are here?  Fifteen years ago, I might have had a back-up message to run with, as I would have been intent in "getting my message across."  However, now I better understand that it is God's message, not mine.  He is going to do with it (and all others) what He will do.  So...with all of THAT said, here goes...)

Mark Brunner, from a message entitled “Heavenly Citizens,” shares this -- Make-overs! We are a people obsessed with them these days.  We restore our cars, pump botox into our chins and eyelids, remodel our homes at a record pace and are transfixed by the various shows on television whose story lines are founded on make-overs.  What is this fascination with being made-over?  Some psychologists have suggested that it has everything to do with a deep-seated discontent that rules our lives these days.  We grapple with the aging process that slowly but surely is claiming our youth. Where once we kept a car until it had 150,000 miles, more and more Americans are trading in the old before it even becomes “old.”  We are a people obsessed with reclaiming youth and newness. After all of this effort, can we say that we are getting there? Will the “rebuilding” process necessary to this make-over finally find us content?  A property owner once found a buyer for a warehouse property that had been difficult to sell.  As he showed a prospective buyer the property, the owner took pains to say that he would replace the broken windows, bring in a crew to correct any structural damage, and clean out the garbage.  “Forget about the repairs,” the buyer said. “When I buy this place, I’m going to build something completely different. I don’t want the building; I want the site.”  Compared with the renovation God has in mind, our efforts to improve our own lives are as trivial as sweeping a warehouse slated for the wrecking ball.  When we become God’s, the old life is over (2 Cor. 5:17). He makes all things new. All he wants is the site and the permission to build.  I believe that this why Paul says makes such a big deal out of the message in this passage -- that we who are made new in Christ should have no desire to go back to that which is the old dead wood of our old lives.  When we give our lives over to Jesus Christ, we should commit ourselves to His way and “be (continually) spiritually renewed day by day” (2 Corinthians 4:16). 

Paul is straightforward in this section -- as Christians, we are not to imitate the lives of non-Christians around us.  Many people in the world believe they are enlightened because they reject the Word of God and believe the latest philosophies…yet, as Paul says, they are really in the dark (Romans 1:20-23).  We who were once dead in our trespasses and sins should think and behave differently than non-Christians, since we have been raised from the dead and given eternal life…if indeed we have experienced this!  Our whole outlook on things, philosophy of life, is affected when we give our lives to Christ…our values, our goals, our interpretation of life is supposed to change.  Our salvation truly must begin with belief and repentance – a change of mind and a change of heart.  We will cease lying, stealing, or cheating…we will avoid corrupt speech, giving in to anger, worry, envy, strife, and bitterness.  Satan uses these negatives to imprison our spirits and souls so that nothing good would seem to be springing forth.  When it all comes down to it, the fact that we have a relationship with the Lord should positively impact all of our relationships for good…even with those whom we disagree.  People need to see Jesus living in us.  If the world can’t tell that we are Christians, perhaps it is because we have become too much like the world.

Paul tells the Ephesians…and us – this is not how we learned Christ.  Notice that he does not say “learned about Christ,” but “learned Christ.”  It is possible to learn all about Christ and never have salvation in Him.  Our relationship with Jesus should continually whittle away the old self…and continue to bring the renewal to our spirits that we should earnestly desire.  For to learn Christ is to have a personal relationship with Him…knowing Him better day by day.  It is to recognize that He is Lord and allow Him to truly be the Master of our lives.  There are a lot of good folks who “attend church” in this world, but Jesus is not Christ/King, Lord/Ruler of their lives – they, their wants and their habits, are still on the throne of their lives.  Jesus is not some casual relationship as some would have Him to be.  Paul is saying, only when the old life is put away can we walk in the newness of life in Christ.  Our relationship must be based upon new thinking.  We may belong to God’s new creation and be given a new position in it, but we must appropriate it…make it ours.  This takes place through our own personal prayer and Bible study and with the fellowship of the saints.   We must hunger and thirst for relationship with Him…and it needs to begin today!  We must desire relationship with Jesus like it is the only thing that matters…because it really is!  When we do commit our way to Christ, His Spirit makes us better people.  As we learn, grow in Christ, we overcome bad attitudes, poor behaviors…and are replaced with positive fruit.

Just like “make-overs,” accountability is all the rage…not really. :-) Accountability -- We hear it all the time…it tends to be a big management buzz word…but what does it mean? Ac•count•a•ble -- 1. Liable to being called to account; answerable. We talk a lot about being responsible - “The Buck stops here!” etc. But it seems that we sometimes confuse being apologetic with being accountable. As long as “I am sorry” – we think we are accountable, but this is not always the case.  You’re not genuinely accountable until it costs you something to pay for what you have done!  The store sign that says, “You break it, you bought it!” -- That’s accountability. With all of this in mind…every one of us shall give account of him or herself to God. WOW…this is a humbling reality.  We will all have some explaining to do! This should work in us to keep us honest concerning how we conduct our lives.  Ac•count - 1.a. A narrative or record of events. b. A reason given for a particular action.  Someone that understands accountability – understands responsibility, (which requires maturity).  Admiral Rickover: “Unless you can point to a specific person to hold responsible for an action, then you had no one truly responsible.”  There are plenty of opportunities for us to be accountable in our lives…we are accountable to our families, we are accountable to work, and we are accountable to play.  Yet, often, we are not accountable to the Lord or to His body.  I have always found this to be an interesting dilemma…in that so many families think they are being accountable to take care of their kids by making certain that they excel in every athletic, music, academic or work endeavor that they can possibly find for them to do.  But, they neglect the one accountability that matters more than any of the above in the grand scheme of things…and that is accountability to the Lord and to His body.  It is “a-lack-of-accountability” irresponsibility that brings some significant regrets as time goes by. 

This is precisely what Paul means when he talks about our commitment to Christ in putting off the old self and putting on the new.  It may be summer time, but what are we going to do differently in order to improve our relationship with the Lord?  It is important that people be involved, engaged…in short, accountable.  We cannot be coming in and out of focus in relationship to Jesus…we need to be hungering and thirsting for Him.  If Jesus is Lord of our lives, then we need to remove ourselves from the throne of our lives and give Jesus His rightful place.  This is how we were supposed “to learn Christ!”  We need to draw strength from the Lord and from each other through studying together, praying together, and fellowshipping together.  It is what is going to help us, as individuals, as well as the Body prosper and grow. 

Blessings, Don

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