My eyes opened to the glowing green numbers of the alarm clock... 3:08 am. I didn't have to be up for another few hours, but I felt strangely awake. My mind flooded with thoughts of the day to come, so I remained still- trying to will myself back to sleep by staring at the slivers of light that peaked through the blinds from the streetlamp. I asked the Lord for rest, wondering WHEN my eyes would grow heavy again and something about that word stirred in me like bees on the brain... "When?" I was being called to contemplation at this miserable hour, and my heart quickly realized that it was God grabbing my attention. The word reverberated again... "when?" The question was an arrow aimed right at my heart and in the quiet of my mind, I replied... "I'm sorry, Lord. I'm listening. I've been making things about myself again, haven't I?" By 3:20 am, I was awake in more ways than one.
I don't have much trouble recalling that I was made for God's purposes. I do, however, tend to wander from them when life tugs me hard enough. I cut corners and do things my own way when acting "Godly" seems too daunting or inconvenient. I neglect to live boldly for Christ in the midst of my typical "Monday-Friday." Can you relate? Does routine get the best of you too? We spend entire days on “autopilot.” We invest precious moments in monotony. We “clock in” and “clock out” of our weekly patterns like the factory workers in a black and white photo of early America. There will always be a “to do” list; even when there’s nothing to do. We will always find another assignment to complete- another problem to solve- another slew of obligations that won’t disappear. Time becomes the enemy and whether every second sluggishly ticks on or speeds by in a disorienting blur, we can feel equally robbed; left to wonder where it all disappeared to. Didn't we used to feel purpose? The world was new and exciting and there were still a few mysteries left to be discovered. “Isn’t there something more?” we ask ourselves, but we already know the answer. “How do I get there?” we question, but we already know the way. We have the compass, we just wish there was an easier road. Friends, that “something” more can only be found in our response of faith. Unfortunately, our humanity creates a separation that lurks somewhere between the life Christ points us to and the life we favor for ourselves. The question today is “when?” When will we stand on the Solid Rock and leave the sinking sand behind? When will we exchange our admiration of God’s ways for a pursuit of His kingdom? When will we step out of the “Christian lifestyle” and be transformed into the likeness of Christ?
“Those who say they live in God should live their lives as Jesus did.” 1 John 2: 6
No one said it would be easy. We must ask the Lord for wisdom, but imagine how you could flourish if you truly walked like Christ. For many of us, the question isn't "if," but "when" it will happen. It's one little word with a mountain of implications- a short and loaded proposal, solely dependent on our response. We can't blame circumstances for deterring us or ask anyone else to make the tough choices on our behalf. "When?" We ask it all the time as children…“When will we get there? When will I get my presents? When can we eat?" We wait with eager anticipation; longing for results and we loathe that most common of all the answers... “soon.” As we grow older, we gain the understanding that results will only arrive with effort. Standing in wait will rarely bring change. God openly offers us a life preserver, but we have to be willing to swim for it. Christ's call to His disciples was unexpected (and inconvenient), but he required effort- no excuses- no deterrence. Jesus knew there was no time to waste (and no reason to wait) and through Him, we receive that very same proposal today. "Follow me," He says, but WHEN? We put off the journey because we feel like we're not done "packing." At our core, there are areas of life we're just not ready to hand over, but if the Holy Spirit truly dwells within we must get past this and live as Christ lived! Too often, we're torn between loves. "Self" and the Savior are equally appealing, so we attempt a balancing act between them. Unless we can fully commit to discipleship, we are evading God's "when" with a response that postpones the change… “soon, Lord… soon.” The Father knows our intentions; He's not satisfied with that answer (and He shouldn't be)! The Lord desires our utmost for His purposes and "halfhearted" Christianity is (in essence) a fool’s endeavor. What would it look like if Christ had veered from His path? What if Jesus turned His back on the cross as we often do? What if He waved away the will of the Father in favor of a more convenient lifestyle? Yes, Christ WAS sinless- He WAS perfect, but He was also man and He understood the same burdens we know today. Jesus remains our example none the less. When, folks? When...?
When will we learn to love as Christ loves? Not just with the "easy" souls, but the difficult as well; the seemingly "unlovable," even the ones we want to hate. When will we emulate to others what the Father has done for us? When will we center our worship on spirit and truth and finally find balance? When will we free ourselves from the limitations of “religious legalism” and abandon our need to chase fleeting “spiritual highs?" When will we wake up to the immeasurable riches of God’s grace and relinquish our feeble endeavors to achieve His unfathomable love? When will we stop attempting to justify our halfhearted devotion or rate our sins on some non-existent scale? When will we cease to make excuses that toss blame at circumstance rather than at our own poor decisions? When will we throw away our weak arguments for complacency? When will we stop grading our faith on a curve and comparing our holiness to that of others? When will we see God's truth as the ideal option rather than twisting the scriptures to suit our needs and support our narrow views? When will we stop preaching from a shallow understanding of the word and instead speak through the message of the cross? "When?" When will we identify as children of God- viewing ourselves through the Father’s eyes and no longer through the lens of what is socially acceptable? When will we be more concerned with spreading the gospel than we are with “offending” others by it? Friends, the world will attempt to "color" your faith, but it’s beautiful enough on it’s own. When will we get our hands dirty like Jesus did and stop complaining about a need for change when we refuse to be a part of it? When will we stop blaming God for allowing darkness to exist when He’s clearly equipped us to shine light? When will we ditch our attempts to blend in with the culture and "stay in the boat" when Christ's voice unmistakably calls us to the waves? When will we pray BIG prayers with BIG faith, trusting that all will be answered in time? When will we allow God to lead our ministries rather than tailoring them to fit our preferences? When will we leave room for the Spirit to move amidst our many man-made traditions? When will we stop seeking warmth in self-gratification only to act surprised when life feels cold and cruel? When will we make the passions of Christ our own? When will we embrace sinners the same way the Father embraces us? When will we tear down the countless "gods" we have set before the great I AM? When will our “walk” accompany our “talk” so we can make the right decisions even when they're difficult? When will we reach out and feed the hungry- clothe the naked- adopt the orphan and befriend the undesirable? When will we fall out of love with the world to be enamored with the Lord? When will He gain our whole heart rather than an allotted portion? When will we concern ourselves with holiness more than our own need to feel “wholeness?” When will our actions sprout from a selfless faith rather than a guilty conscious? When will we read God’s Word without ulterior motives; simply seeking His face rather than striving for a sense of spiritual accomplishment? When will we see the scriptures as historical facts rather than fantasies with good advice? When will we heed God’s words, cling to His promises and trust in His omnipotence? When will we clothe ourselves in righteousness and finally throw off the selfishness, bitterness, envy, malice and strife we so often wear? When will we stand firm and willingly oppose the issues that spit in the face of the one true King? Jesus came to “upset the apple cart” (and He did), so why are we always trying to reorganize the fruit? When will we invest in our church “family” and look at them as more than just the folks we share a pew with every Sunday? When will we thirst for the living water rather than succumb to the craving for “fast-food-faith?” When will we minister (and be ministered to) without time restraints? We don't always need to run for the door when the Pastor says "amen" or find satisfaction in the minimum quota of "one hour, once a week” church attendance. When will we stop basing our church involvement on the "free time" left in our schedule, the entertainment value of the worship team or the cultural relevance (and trendy style) of the Pastor? When will we appraise a ministry by the fruit it bears and not by how it makes us feel? When will we leave our pessimism behind and trust that there’s still some good left in this world that only happens because God’s not dead or ever off the clock? When will we fight for joy in the midst of sorrow? When will we wake up to the astounding reality of the Holy Spirit? When will we join the race of faith and not watch from the bleachers? When will we be transparent and concede to the fact that we're all fragile, unfinished, imperfect and broken? When will we admit that life is messy and that our circumstances are not as polished or perfect as our Instragram pages may depict? When will put the “golden rule” into practice and finally learn to treat others the way we want to be treated? When will we stop clinging to our comforts while simultaneously begging for "radical" Christianity? When will we choose to follow Jesus whether other people get on board with it or not? When will we feel less of a need to make our faith convincing and more of a need to let it show through our works? When will we make the time to get to know a new face- reach out with a helping hand- learn someone's story and embrace them as a brother or sister? When will we stop judging everything (and everyone) by appearance when we don’t know the first thing about what’s beneath the surface? When will we decide that living like Jesus is the most important thing we could ever do with our time here on earth?
It’s not too difficult to emulate Christ when we meet Him for the first time. The sheer impact He has on our hearts is unmistakable. We're awake and aware of the calling. We hunger for more- enthralled by the encounter- passionate and driven by the new life we've discovered. The jolt of the whole experience is enough to wake any heart and yet... it seldom lasts. This is not to say we "lose" faith or neglect our core belief system; nor is it in any way a claim that we completely turn our backs on Jesus. Yet, so much more of our life is spent in a phase of procrastination- in the fruitless status of answering God's call to action with “soon, Lord... soon.” We have good intentions to do great things for the kingdom, but realize how unwilling we actually are to give up our pride, our comforts and our precious time. Living like Jesus (in thought and deed) can be a challenge, but that must not deter us from the call. When will we drop our nets and follow Him? When will we obey like disciples and step out from among the onlookers? A life with Christ is not a Summer visit with a relative (where we enjoy a few leisurely days with our Savior before stepping back into the real world). A life with Jesus is a full-time investment; a desire and a pledge of allegiance to serve the Father, through the Son, by the Holy Spirit. Why should we want to "punch out" from such purpose and passion? There is freedom in serving like the Savior. Living rightly keeps the conscience clear. It gives reason to rejoice. Hear Paul’s words to the Philippians...
“My dear friends, you always obeyed when I was with you. Now that I am away, you should obey even more. So work with fear and trembling to discover what it really means to be saved. God is working in you to make you willing and able to obey him. Do everything without grumbling or arguing. Then you will be the pure and innocent children of God. You live among people who are crooked and evil, but you must not do anything that they can say is wrong. Try to shine as lights among the people of this world, as you hold firmly to the message that gives life. Then on the day when Christ returns, I can take pride in you. I can also know that my work and efforts were not useless. Your faith in the Lord and your service are like a sacrifice offered to him. And my own blood may have to be poured out with the sacrifice. If this happens, I will be glad and rejoice with you. In the same way, you should be glad and rejoice with me.” Philippians 2: 12-18
So what’s standing in the way of your wholehearted devotion? Why can’t the “when” be NOW? It can be! When we abandon practicing the art of the excuse. I should know- I’ve certainly made enough of my own… “The time just isn’t right for me to go 'all in' on Jesus… I’m not ready... There are things I want to do first… I’m content... I’m already at a good place in my faith… I’m just not feeling or hearing God the way I’d like to." God has heard them all! “Life is just really hard right now... I’m in the middle of a storm, but when things get better my life is completely His…” Ah yes, the storms. Those torrents of life that batter our faith. We blame them most of all. If only our lives could be what WE asked God to make them, THEN there would be no delay in our pursuit of Him; no hesitation in dropping our nets to follow. No, friends, even the storms are necessary. In fact, we may not see our need for God without them. So what arguments do we have left? What excuses can we make to defend our fractured devotion? Our case won’t hold up, the jury has us exposed and the verdict is in. Plain and simple, changed hearts are called to a higher standard...
“As a follower of the Lord, I order you to stop living like stupid, godless people. Their minds are in the dark, and they are stubborn and ignorant and have missed out on the life that comes from God. They no longer have any feelings about what is right, and they are so greedy that they do all kinds of indecent things. But that isn’t what you were taught about Jesus Christ. He is the truth, and you heard about him and learned about him. You were told that your foolish desires will destroy you and that you must give up your old way of life with all its bad habits. Let the Spirit change your way of thinking and make you into a new person. You were created to be like God, and so you must please him and be truly holy.” Ephesians 4: 17-24 (Read v. 25-32 for “Rules for the New Life.”)
Someday, the Lord will take you home to glory. What sort of legacy are you building while you're here? What kind of picture is your life painting? When you stand in God’s presence do you want to hear, “well done, good and faithful servant?” or “well… you didn't do SO bad?” Why tend to some small, quiet faith when it's meant to be cultivated into action? Can a dying plant will itself back to life? No. Can a dormant follower look like Jesus? No! Attention and determination are required. Great news! The heavy lifting was already done for us. Christ came and showed us how to walk- Christ suffered to teach us how to perseverance- Christ rose again to remind us that we will too!
“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!” Galatians 2: 20-21
Did Jesus die for nothing? Your answer is your own, but if (by chance) your answer is "no," be reminded that YOU, my friend, are not YOUR own! We draw attention (in songs and sermons) to "remembering His sacrifice," but our everyday routines often neglect the mandate to live like the One who sacrificed. Is your life a reflection of what God did on your behalf? Has your former self been nailed to the cross with Christ? When will you live like Him? Not just in the crucial moments when every eye is watching, but in the small, the simple and the day to day? Why are you waiting? What does the Lord see when He evaluates your walk? Is the image of Christ living in YOUR shadow? Is your faith quiet- your testimony vague- your ministry full of holes? Is Jesus just a mask you wear for the special performances? How then are we any different from the "religious" who have gone before? (Visit Matt 23: 23-29)
In our church, we practice a particularly meaningful custom. The Sunday prior to communion is centered around a time of "reflection." We're asked to examine ourselves; look in our hearts; take inventory of mind, body and soul and ultimately face the reality of our shortcomings. Why? Because we need to feel the need for saving in order to recognize God’s grace. The text reads...
“Let us also examine our love, both for God and our neighbors. Remember the great and first commandment to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. Let us consciously determine to live a life of loving service to him, through Christ our Lord... If these marks of spiritual life are not evident in us, we may not presume to approach his table. Those, therefore, who live in self-righteousness, who hope in works or virtues of their own, and who do not show love to God and neighbor, have no true place at the Lord's supper.”
-Preparatory Exhortation For the Lord’s Supper (1981)
Friends, we are "works in progress"- fragile lives with frayed and tattered edges. We can't expect to "master" the Christian faith, but we can aspire to imitate Jesus in every facet of this life. God is equipping you daily to make purposeful decisions for His kingdom. He has enabled you in every way to live like His Son. Remember that Christ died so you could be like Him. Be awake to that. Be aware of your walk and be prepared to change your, "soon, Lord... soon" to a resounding, "now, Lord... RIGHT NOW!"