Monday, September 28, 2015

Your Spiritual Before & After Picture

We often see pictures of "before" and "after" for weight loss programs.  Yet we Christians are privy to the most powerful and comprehensive transformation known: spiritual rebirth.  I encourage you, sift through your photos.  Find pictures of yourself before and after you encountered Christ.  Upload them to social media, and show your fellows that being a Christian isn't about being a self-righteous snob.  

It's about Jesus Christ changing a real life from something pointless to something special.  People talk so much about how the followers of Christ fail to live up to the standard of Christ.  Let's show people that the transformation is real.  I don't suddenly become perfect, but I do begin down a long, lifelong journey of growth and change as a follower of Christ.  

My first thought is of self-conscious recoil.  But how I looked before is so sad!  People will judge me!  My reputation may be adversely affected.  Aren't Christians suppose to put out a front of being really religious and good?  Well, not really.  If you act all perfect all the time, then people outside the church think maybe they aren't good enough or it's just not for them.  But if you show them that you used to be just as lost and troubled, then they know it's for them too.  

Let me suggest that when I recoil, it's out of pride.  I enjoy a good reputation.  I'm an employee and intern candidate of the Salvation Army.  I'm a college graduate.  I'm known around the area as a decent friendly person.  What if they all knew that only three years ago I had jet black long hair, and I spent my days and nights drinking cough medicine, beer, smoking dope, and causing trouble?  Wouldn't they think less of me?  Some might, don't get me wrong.  But our testimony is vital.

I have not been saved by Justin's ingenuity or Justin's ability to cobble together a systemic transformation.  I've been saved because I was the most despicable worthless man boy doped punk on the face of the Earth, and God saw fit to deliver me from that.  It's all due to his Spirit and his leading.  I did the foot work of course, I didn't just sit there.  I embraced the recovery process, church, bible studies, step groups, and all of that.  I prayed vigorously.  I still do.  But it was the power of God working a mighty orchestra of hope and change in my life.  That's what did it. 

Our mere physical appearance still is only a poor shadow of the change Christ has done.  But most definitely in my case, it is extremely noticeable by appearance alone.  And it probably should be.  But imagine if they could see the spiritual side of it!  The bumps, the bruises, the blood stains, and the scars.  I was talking with a young man at Celebrate Recovery the other day, and we were talking about the transition from being a member of the church to really engaging in intentional ministry.  It's quite a whirlwind of difference.  It's like stepping from sunny suburbia into a brutal, muddy, storming trench of spiritual warfare.  It's like stepping from an airy path to trudging through shin high sludge.  The enemy is fine with spiritual infants who never do more than sit in a pue.  They are fine right where they are.  But the enemy has to stop the maturing warrior Christians who are taking a stand for the truth. And the more intentional and provocative you are in sharing your faith regularly, and really engaging in ministry to the lost, the more intense come the spiritual assaults.  If only we could see the spiritual muscles, the spiritual scars, and the spiritual lightsaber duels, sword fights, struggles, defeats, and triumphs.  In spite of all of it though, we fight on.

Yet even despite the invisible nature of our spiritual war, our physical appearance is a parallel, a mirror of who we are in Christ.  Think about it, can't you see it in the eyes of a godly man?  Can't you feel it in her presence?  Can't you sense it in their being?  It can be seen.  The question is: Are willing to share who we used to be, along side who we are now?  Because then it becomes much more clear, that it wasn't me, it was Christ.  He delivered me from foolishness.

Therefore the question is much more basic than we might think.  It comes down to this: Are you willing to be a fool for Christ?  Are you willing to look stupid for the sake of his mission?  Are you willing to be embarrassed and awkward for his sake?  

Think of what Paul said,"Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.11 I have made a fool of myself." 2 Cor 12:7b-11a NIV

Listen to the Apostle Paul, one of the greatest authors in history.  God spoke through him in the books of the New Testament.  He didn't say "hide your shameful past."  He said "boast of your infinite weakness!"  He even said, "I take delight in them."  And he finally says,"I have made a fool of myself."  Have you made a fool of yourself for Christ yet?  Well, you better get on that.  God bless you.