Dying to Our Plans

 
 
Most people are not much into personal change.  Change means adjusting to a different reality, and we would much rather prefer others adjusting to how we do things so that we don’t have to change.  We like how we do things. Routine, consistency, predictable outcomes are things we rely on for a sense of safety and stability in our lives. Even good change, like becoming debt-free or getting in shape is difficult, if for no other reason the effort and energy it takes to see our goals accomplished. In order to change something about ourselves, we have to be willing to admit we might have been doing it wrong and try to do something different.
 
            God’s love in Jesus Christ changes everything.  But the kind of change that Jesus talked about and died for is not just making a few alterations to our lives or re-arranging some of our schedule around.  It is not about exerting more effort or adding more to the to-do list.  Jesus, instead, loved us so that we would be completely transformed from the inside-out.  For that to happen, in order to have a new life, the old life must die.  What is more, Jesus does not want us half dead because then we are zombies who are not really living the life God intended for us to live.  No, if there is to be a resurrection and new life, there must be a death.  
 
            We must die to our plans.  Jesus had a crowd of people following him wherever he went.  He was interesting and compelling, even magnetic.  He taught like no other person before him, and healed all kinds of people.  In the first century, Jesus became the latest fad.  With his fame, there were people who looked to Jesus to further their own agenda and their plans about how things should go.
 
            The Apostle John recorded a contrast between two people, Mary and Judas (John 12:1-8).  Mary is a picture of dying to her own plans of how things should go.  Mary took some very expensive perfume, the kind that could have set her up for some needed financial security, and poured it all on Jesus’ feet.  In addition, she humbly wiped it on him with her hair.  It is a picture of giving herself completely and wholly to Jesus, no matter the cost, no concern with how it would look to others, with no strings attached and no other agenda other than total devotion.
 
            Judas, on the other hand, piously objected to Mary’s act of worship.  We might hear him rationally pushback on what Mary was doing:  “My friends, this is a lot of money – money that could be used for the poor instead of needlessly wasting it.  A little perfume is just fine, but to use the whole bottle is just too over the top – it isn’t fiscally responsible!”  Judas had a secret agenda.  He was not thinking of giving himself completely to Jesus, but of how he could use the cash for himself and his own purposes.  Judas is the picture of a zombie – half dead, walking around saying all kinds of spiritual things, but only devoted to Jesus and God’s kingdom when it agreed with him.  Judas had his own ideas of how the kingdom operation ought to go; and, when he became convinced that Jesus was not going to operate according to his agenda and plans, Judas betrayed him.
 
            When it comes to church ministry, every single member must be willing to die to self – to die to our own agendas of how we think things ought to go.  Conflict and contention exist because there are persons who tenaciously hold on to their pet programs or their ideas on how to proceed.  But what needs to occur is that each Christian must serve Jesus with the same attitude and action as did Mary.
 
            A church cannot be revitalized, revived, renewed, or resurrected apart from death.  Something or someone must die for new life to happen.  We must die to our plans so that God’s kingdom agenda can take over.  Believers in Jesus need to express the same devotion and dedication as did Mary.
 

 

            We all become frustrated and discouraged at times with the petty sinfulness of the church.  The answer is not to distance or detach, but to devote ourselves to dying to our plans and personal agendas.  When an entire group of believers does this, there is an abundance of grace and a mass transformation of heart.  May it be so, to the glory of Jesus Christ.

Renewal

 
 
In this time of year, there are many who do not have to think twice about purchasing and giving gifts for Christmas.  We have blessings, both material and spiritual.  And we can always identify those persons who are in much more need than we are.  We may even believe that those in need are in that position because of their own unwise individual choices.  But we must recognize that the maladies of ourhearts are very real. 
 
There are specific conditions in our lives that leave us in bondage and in need of restoration, renewal, and revitalization, just like all kinds of other people. 
 
            Being a vital part of a local church does not automatically immune one from having serious needs.  We must not suppress those realities and those needs, but name the conditions which are packed away in a closet of our heart deep inside us:  the love of things and money; severed relationships; old grudges; hidden addictions; domestic violence; denial of depression; secret affairs; cutting; fear; anger; greed; and, hatred. 
 
Outward smiles and small talk conversations may hide the truth from others, but they do nothing to hide ourselves from a God for whom everything is laid bare.
 
            The good news is not just something for someone else who has “obvious” needs.  The gospel must touch our lives and bring us freedom so that we can pass on that very real good news to the legion of social ills that make our world sick.  There are people all around us who need spiritual, emotional, and material help.  But we will not have eyes to see them or have hearts to help if we are ourselves stuffing burdens so deep within that we are blind to others.
 
            Far too many church-going Christians have become expert emotion and need stuffers.  We might think that other people, “those people,” need ministries of justice and help.  But the truth is that many of us are either one paycheck, one prodigal kid, one mental health diagnosis, one serious illness, one drink, one affair, one bad decision away from being one of “those people” – the people we typically identify as in need – the ones that bad things happen to – the ones we do not want living next door to us.
 
            We just may not yet be vulnerable enough to admit our situation and so we keep practicing the denial of our spiritual poverty.  What should we do?  We should turn from the things that have caused us to be in poverty and be prisoners (not just secretly!) and delight greatly in the LORD by focusing on his grace, mercy, and justice (Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11).  Our souls ought to rejoice in our God because he will make a sprout come up.  God will cause us to grow. 
 
God will rebuild our ruined souls.  God will restore the places of our lives that have been devastated.  God will even renew the places that have not seen renewal for generations. 
 
But it must begin with you and me allowing the justice of God to work within us.  God cannot bring comfort to those who do not mourn; he cannot turn grief into joy if there is no acknowledgment of a dire situation.  If we want to be an oak of righteousness there must be in existence a confession of despair and an allowance of the justice of God through Jesus Christ to work its way completely through us.
 
            What is your true situation?  What are the realities of your life that need to be named?  Where will you go to address those needs and truths?  Will you keep stuffing them, or will you become able to voice your inner personal needs?  Will you be vulnerable enough to allow the church to minister grace to your needy soul?
 

 

            Let us have a vision of Jesus coming into our lives and replacing a tattered hat of grief with a crown of beauty.  Let us picture the Lord placing on us a garment of praise to replace our stinky clothes of grumbling.  Let us allow our lives to display the grace of God in Christ because we have been profoundly touched by the justice of God.  Let us herald the coming of the Christ child as the hope of us all.