January 27, 2011
Rewind: We all dig holes. As humans, it’s something that we are extraordinarily good at. We dig and dig and dig, and then promptly fall into our holes, only to look up from the bottom and wonder how in the world we ended up there. Then, as guest speaker Michael Langley put it on Thursday night, we pray that “Hail Mary play” of prayers – that’s a football term for those of you not in the know, feel free to look it up – that God would step in and save us from complete devastation. And He does. But, if we’re not careful, we walk around for a little while only to find ourselves a new spot, and start digging all over again.
Some holes seem small; more like dips or divots in our paths than real pits. They are annoying and troublesome, no doubt, but unassuming. They appear to threaten us, at worst, with a sprained ankle. Other holes are huge; resembling the deepest of caves; completely devoid of light, and lacking any visible means of escape. No matter their size, we all have them, and we all get used to having them. We realize that we’re all sinners – hole diggers – and that we can’t avoid messing up from time to time. Holes are just a fact of life on Earth, right? The problem is that, sometimes, we end up thinking we’re somehow smart enough to avoid the holes on our own, or even smart enough to explore them. We’re proud; we think we know best. But even the smallest holes grow bigger the more we stumble upon them.
Eventually, we get stuck in the holes we’ve made. Sometimes we’re so far down that we start to believe it’s home: we put up draperies, add a few house plants and a couch. We try to make ourselves comfortable down there; we choose to settle. But we don’t belong in holes. God has called us to a much higher place – He has called us to be holy. The holes we dig are simply proof that holiness is a foreign concept to us; it’s not something that happens naturally or intuitively. It’s a choice: do you accept the life-changing love and saving grace of Jesus Christ, or do you choose to continue living in the hole?
Remember, being holy does not mean the same as being good. To be holy actually means to be set apart. Living a holy life, then, means living a life that looks different because it glorifies God; as Paul wrote, it means offering up our bodies as a “living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God” (Rom. 12:1). As Michael said last night, the truth of the matter is that being good has nothing to do with our relationship with Jesus Christ. After all, God already made the first move: “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). Holiness, or the pursuit of holiness, is not about perfection – if we were capable of perfection, we wouldn’t need Christ – it’s about responding to God’s love; it’s about progress. When we make the decision to take God up on His amazing promise of redemption and grace through Jesus and get out of whatever hole we’re in, we take another step closer to holiness.
Michael explained it like this: pain is redemptive, and God is a gentleman. He’s not going to force you to do anything. He’ll let you keep digging your hole – stay in your pain – until you ask Him to pull you out, to redeem you and start making you holy.
But being holy isn’t even about what you have been set free from; just take a look at Galatians 5:1 – “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.” Being holy is about what you have been set free to do; it’s about getting in the game. So, just do it. Start living for Christ.
“What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.” Romans 6:1-4
“It is God’s will that you should be sanctified…For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life. Therefore, anyone who rejects this instruction does not reject a human being but God, the very God who gives you his Holy Spirit.” 1 Thessalonians 4:3, 7-8
“Therefore, since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God” 2 Corinthians 7:1
Push Play: This sermon reminded me a lot of the book Holes by Louis Sachar (you may have seen the more recent and equally delightful movie by the same name starring Shia Labeouf). Basically, in the story, juvenile delinquents get sent to a work camp out in the desert where they are made to dig holes five feet wide by five feet deep every day. The theory behind making the boys dig literal holes, then, was to teach them not to dig figurative holes – to stop messing up and live better lives. Even though it was supposed to bring about something good, when the boys had finished digging their hole for the day, they were not any more inclined to live differently. They were just as hot, tired, sore, and discouraged as before, but now they were also five feet underground.
No matter what we think we’re doing, nothing good comes from digging holes. Think about it, whenever we actually dig a literal hole, the goal is to fill it back up again, right? You dig a hole in the yard to plant a tree; you dig a hole in a pot to plant a flower; you dig a hole in the ground to make a well, etc. A hole really only becomes useful when it has been filled. Let Jesus fill your holes. He died to save you – to pull you out of your hole. And if you’re sitting there thinking you have no holes, I encourage you to pray about it. Ask God to search your heart and point out the places in your life that need to filled up with Jesus. No matter who dug it or how you fell in it, God can get you out of it.
Here’s the deal: if you miss an Axiom service, or you really loved the message, or you didn’t quite understand the message, or you want to share the message, you should check in every Friday afternoon! Here you’ll find my recap of Thursday’s message, some verses to dwell on over the next week, and a few thoughts on how to take what you learn on Thursday nights and put it into action. That being said, here we go.
January 20, 2011
Rewind: Do you remember the last time you played with Play-Doh? For some of us, it may have been just a few short weeks ago (that’s right, I did play with Play-Doh over break), but for others, you may to have think way back to elementary school when your teacher had to explain to you that the yellow goop in your hands was not actually food. No matter how long ago, I’m sure you remember the way it felt in your hands, the way it smelled, and the way you could mold it into whatever your heart desired; but can you remember ever thinking that God likes to play with Play-Doh too? Maybe, but probably not. In fact, I would venture to guess that most of us at Axiom last night were surprised to hear Aaron draw that conclusion, but it makes sense when you think about it. Every one of us is like Play-Doh – we all have the potential to become something more than what we are right now.
As Aaron said last night, inside each of us is a little bit of Heaven and a little bit of Hell, and it’s not hard to figure out which part God wants to see us embrace; God longs for His children to choose a holy life – one set apart from the rest. The trick is that humans do not naturally gravitate towards holiness; on our own we can’t do anything good or righteous in the eyes of our perfect God. But when we decide to set our eyes on the Lord and walk towards Him, Jesus and the Holy Spirit step in to help us out – to wash away our sins, and help us become more and more holy.
So what exactly does it mean to live a holy life? Basically, it means walking closely with Jesus. Do you pray constantly? Do you ask God to join you for dinner? Do you have real conversations with your Father where you spend time talking and listening? Do you ask Him to search your heart and shine His light into the darkest corners?
It isn’t always easy to do those things; it can be scary to give up control over your life, and sometimes it hurts quite a bit. That fear is where our favorite excuses, or as Aaron termed them, “our misassumptions,” come from, right? We tell ourselves that we have to be perfect before we can be holy, when the truth is that God loves us right now, and He sent His son because we are anything but perfect. We decide that if we were more like C.S. Lewis or Billy Graham, we would have a better shot of becoming holy, when the truth is that they were, and are, just as flawed as you and me. We figure that in order to be holy we have to change absolutely everything, and it’s just too hard, when the truth is that God made you the way you are for a reason – He is, after all, the source of your raw material. The truth of the matter is that, becoming holy doesn’t necessarily mean changing who you are deep down, but rather, changing what you’re doing with who you are.
The question you have to ask yourself then is what type of person are you becoming? God created you in His image, He sent His son to die for you so that you could one day live with Him for eternity, and He’s offered to let His Spirit dwell in you. The God of the universe wants to work on you; He wants to take what He has already given you – your passions, your skills, your dreams – and transform you into something even better, something holy. What Aaron said last night is completely true: God loves you just the way you are, but he refuses to leave you that way. He wants to give you more; to change your flaws into something beautiful. Will you let Him?
“So you are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir.” Galatians 4:7 NIV
“I praise You because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Your works are wonderful, I know that full well… Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” Psalm 139:14, 23-24
“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.” Colossians 3:12-17
Push Play: Not too long ago, I challenged you to join me this year in trying to live as though Jesus was right next to me 24/7. In other words, my goal this year, and hopefully yours too, is to live a life saturated with Jesus. I’ve been trying to spend more time alone with Him each and every day, and so far, I’m happy to say I’ve stuck with it. The thing is, the more time I spend with God, the more I see my imperfections. But that’s what walking with God means. When you ask Him to change your life, to make you more and more holy, He actually does it! Mind you, that doesn’t mean he snaps His fingers and makes us perfect, it means He opens our eyes to our flaws and our sin, and shows us a better way to live. Becoming holy is something we will never be finished with while here on this Earth; our God is infinitely holy, which means there is always going to be something more for Him to teach us. This week, pray that God will open your eyes and your heart to what He wants you to become. It’ll be a humbling experience, but one that is well worth the pain.
I really don’t like New Year’s resolutions. It’s not that I’m against setting goals, or challenging yourself to be better in the coming year; quite to the contrary, I’m all for reevaluating the past and embracing a new start! The only problem is that most of us find it much too easy to break promises to ourselves. In fact, I can’t think of anyone I know who has successfully made, and stuck to, a New Year’s resolution. As such, this year, I’m proposing something slightly different. I warn you, ahead lie a few clichés, some overly used sentiments, and at least one corny phrase we all learned in elementary school, but if you stick with me, I promise there’s a point.
“Preach the gospel always; if necessary, use words.” – St. Francis of Assisi
There’s debate over who actually said it, but in this case, it doesn’t really matter; the sentiment still rings true. There is a lot to be said for boldly declaring your faith to others by speaking truth into the world, and as Christians, we should not back down from opportunities to share the Good News. Nevertheless, we should also be living out our faith with just as much intentionality. Whether you’re sitting in your afternoon math class, or walking on Green Street handing out water to your fellow students, we are called to do it all in the name of the Lord. Wouldn’t it be amazing to live in such a way that your Christ-like actions – your love and compassion, your forgiveness and understanding – spoke even louder of your dedication to Jesus than your words? On paper, it sounds daunting, and in real life it’s even more so, but it is possible, and it’s what we should all be striving for.
The word “whatever” is a big deal here. It doesn’t mean, whenever it’s convenient for you, nor however you want to apply it. Whatever means everything and anything. Think about that for just a second – every single thing you do, every time you do it, should be honoring God. That right there is a huge commitment. Moreover, we are to praise God through everything, for everything, and because of everything – “for better or for worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health.” Never forget that, as a new creation, He is living in you, and you are living for Him.
“Our character is what we do when we think no one is looking” – H. Jackson Browne.
When you’ve chosen to surrender your life to Jesus, everything you do reflects back on Him in the eyes of the world. We all know how broken we are; just because you love Jesus doesn’t mean that you’re suddenly prefect – we’re all sinners, every last one of us. But the fact of the matter is that when non-Christians see us acting poorly, when they see us at our worst, they sometimes superimpose that imperfection onto Christ. The good news, though, is that it works both ways – when you are seen to love others, to have compassion, to do good, to bring joy, to work hard, and to forgive faults, the world notices. They may not always ask you about it, but they notice.
“Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you?” (1 Cor. 3:16)
I hate to break it to you, but as a Christian you should know, the truth is that someone is always watching. The eyes that see may not always be human, but they are always paying attention, because Jesus is a constant. Our God never sleeps or rests; He never takes a vacation or a break; He is always there for us. After all, that’s what omnipresence and omniscience mean, right? All present and all knowing. When you give your life to Christ, it doesn’t mean you just give Him the parts that everyone sees or the parts you choose to show the world– you can’t just “act” Christian when you’re around your Christian friends or when you want to impress people. When you’ve fully submitted and surrendered your entire being to the Lord, He demands everything from you – every word, every act, every thought, every song. He knows the deepest, darkest secrets of our hearts; He knows of our joy and our pain. Try as you might, and we all do at times, you can’t hide from God.
This is a good thing! You never have to question whether or not God loves you for who you really are. God loves you no matter what. You are imperfect, and on your own, you are not good enough. But that’s exactly why Jesus came. When you know God and accept Jesus, the question, “Would You still love me if You knew that…” doesn’t exist. He already knows, and He still loves.
Even as I write this and believe it to be true, I know that I too need to be more cognizant of the fact that my life is no longer my own. Our primary job here on Earth is not to be a daughter/son, or a student, or a friend or a … , but to proclaim the name of Jesus Christ throughout the world. And the truth is, we do not have to wait for the “perfect opportunity” to minister to our peers to arise. The opportunity is now. Live out your faith, and I promise, people will take notice, not of you, but of Christ in you.
Thus, in this new year, rather than making a resolution to lose weight, bring up your grades, clean your room, or what have you, consider making a commitment to God. I’m not talking about promising to read your bible for twenty minutes each day, although that’s not a bad idea. I’m talking about waking up each morning and reminding yourself that Christ is in you. Maybe that means you write out 1 Corinthians 3:16 or Colossians 3:17 on a sticky note and put it up on your mirror, or maybe it means setting your alarm clock to play your favorite worship song each morning, or maybe it means asking a friend to help keep you accountable for your words and actions. However it looks, find a way to remind yourself that you are living as a beautiful child of God, and that what you do and what you say matter.
We’ve all heard it, and I’d venture to guess that most of you agree: Christianity is not a religion, it’s a relationship. Moreover, it’s a life-long commitment to live differently. It’s not always easy or comfortable, but it is right and it is true, and the payoff is truly incredible. This year, I pray that you will join me in trying to live as though Jesus Christ is standing right beside us 24/7, because, guess what – He is.