A Buddhist, a Muslim, and a Christian... Sounds like the opening line to a joke that might get me in trouble. What I'm about to share isn't a joke, yet has ruffled some feathers. Walk into your average church in America, take the most devout 20% of the congregation. You know, the ones who are zealous, highly involved, spiritually disciplined, and deeply in love with Jesus. They might be elders of the church, key leaders in some ministry, or highly respected men or women of character. They are the "best" we have to offer.
Gather this 20%, the Varsity squad of Christianity. Then go do the same with those of the Buddhist and Muslim faith. Take all of them, mix them together, and then objectively examine their lives. Observe how they talk, interact with others, and what their marriages look like, Notice the quality of their morality and the positive impact they have on the world. Simply evaluate what kind of person they are. How kind, generous, loving, compassionate, chaste, or sacrificial they are.
Do this and you'll come to what should be a sobering conclusion: A devout Christian doesn't look all that different from an equally devout Muslim or Buddhist. In this collection of religious elites it would be hard to pick the Christian out of the crowd. The moral quality of their lives and positive impact they have on the world is indistinguishable from that of the Muslim or Buddhist. It seems that almost anyone, who devotes themselves to a moral code that at all resembles that taught by Jesus, will end up being as "good", and often better, than our best representatives in the church.
Yet we believe the Holy Spirit, the God of the universe, lives in us. If this is true, why are we so average? Shouldn't the most devout Christian among us look dramatically different than their counterparts in other faiths?
Jesus in Acts 1:8 says, "But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and Samaria, and to the ends of the ends of the earth."
I believe this verse. I believe there is something unique about us being indwelt by Holy Spirit. There is a power within us. Jesus' words are true. The problem isn't with Him but us. We believe too little of ourselves, what we hope to accomplish is small, the impact we dream of having often goes no further than having a good moral life.
But maybe you and I were meant for more. Maybe God's indwelling Spirit longs for us to have deeper and more profound impact upon a world that needs to see Jesus.
Maybe we are meant to be the greatest people on the planet for the glory of God and the good of the world.
If that were true how might you live your life differently today?
We've all heard it before, "Live as if today was your last day." Its good advice but has become a cliche. Maybe for a moment, we consider how we might live differently if we knew death was imminent. But most of us, quickly fall back into the routine of the day.
This is unfortunate. The truth is, our time is limited, our moments precious. Today could be my last day. How could I allow that to practically change the way I live?
I'm a fan of journaling. Writing out my thoughts helps me make sense of all the noise between my ears. I find insights, discover buried emotions, and solve problems as I put pen to page. Its the swiss army knife of self care.
Regarding "mortality awareness": consciously facing my death in a way that brings more meaning to life, I've found the following journaling exercise helpful.
I'll ask myself, "If you were to die tonight how would you have wanted to live the preceding 12 hours?"
I asked myself that this morning, here's an portion of my response:
That was my answer to the question, "If you were to die tonight how would you have wanted to live the preceding 12 hours?" It changed the way I lived that day.
What would your answer be? Taking a moment to figure that out just might change the way you live today.
Sitting in Church last week someone said, "Christ came to die for our sins."
My mind flashed with the following, "Christ didn't come to die for our sins. He died to restore our glory."
I sat back. Picked at this thought for a few minutes. Looked at it from one side, then another. Honestly, it felt a little heretical or at least unorthodox. The more I thought about it, though, the more I came to agree with it.
Sin is a huge deal. We're stuck if Christ doesn't provide a solution. Christ did die for our sins. At the same time, sin isn't the point of our story. Sin is an interruption to the original story. A detour that for some centuries moved humanity away from God's original intent.
Looking back at the creation account in the bible we see that God made man and woman "in his own image". Scholars suggest that Moses, the author of Genesis, was borrowing from the culture of his day. This idea of something "In his own image" was commonly used by kings ruling over vast empires.
These kings, lacking the enormous communicative reach of our technology, had to find some way to remind their subjects in distant lands of their kingship. To this end, they'd have the finest artists craft statues of the king. These statues were of the highest quality, adorned with gold and precious stones. They were works of art, images representing the king.
Statues of the king were placed throughout the empire to remind the people of his authority, power, and majesty. They were to be treated with the same reverence as the king himself. To disrespect the image of the king, was an offense against the king and would bring about harsh punishment.
This practice is likely the source of Moses describing the first man and woman as being fashioned, "In the image of God." Yet this is more than a cultural reference. It carries with it a deep theological message. Man and woman made "In the image of God" have purpose, dignity, and majesty. By reflecting aspects of the king, we declare his rule to the world. Unlike statues of stone, we "images" aren't static but demonstrate the kings rule in our words, actions, deeds, our very lives.
But of course, if you read further in Genesis a problem arises. Sin enters the story with a myriad of consequences. The one relevant to our discussion here, is that sin warps, twists, mars the images of God we were intended to be. Our lives no longer accurately portray the King. Its as if someone were to cover Michael Angelo's "David" with graffiti. Sin has defaced and hidden the images of God that we were meant to be.
The statement, "Sin is an interruption to God's original plan" flows out of this reality. We were meant to shine forth as magnificent images of God, but instead are broken and deformed by sin. Christ came not simply to remove the sin, but to restore the image.
So what does this mean for you? Let me suggest three things.
First, you aren't some piece of trash Christ was kind enough to save. You are an image of God. This is what is most true about you. It is woven into what you were created to be.
Second, sin has obscured the image of God in you and I. Christ's death provides a way for this to be set right.
Third, you were meant to shine. You were meant to represent the king. You were meant to move with dignity and power. You were meant to be brilliant, spectacular, world changing. You were meant to be all these things because they are a reflection of who God is.
What does this mean to me?
As I work with people, I see the affect of sin. I see the way they've been damaged. How who they were supposed to be has been tarnished and distorted. I walk with them as they heal.
But what a waste to stop there. I long for people to discover the "image" they were meant to be. For people to come to understand the greatness, power, brilliance that God has placed in them. I long for that to happen not so they can admire themselves but go out and change the world.
In a clients initial session I'll invite them to tell me when I'm wrong.